Inter Press Service » Poverty & MDGs http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 21:10:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Internal Ruling Party Wrangles Stall Development in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:39:32 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137970 Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

With the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front party in Zimbabwe seized with internal conflicts, attention to key development areas here have shifted despite the imminent end of December 2015 deadline for global attainment of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The eight MDGs targeted to be achieved by 31 December 2015 form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions.“Every development area is at a standstill here as ZANU-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline” – Agrippa Chiwawa, an independent development expert

But, caught up in the succession fight among ruling party politicians as the country’s 90-year old President Robert Mugabe – who has ruled this Southern African nation for the last 34 years – reportedly  battles ill health ahead of the party’s elective congress in December, development experts say the Zimbabwean government has apparently shifted attention from development to party politics.

“Every development area is at a standstill here as Zanu-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline,” independent development expert Agrippa Chiwawa told IPS.

The battle to succeed Mugabe pits Justice Minister Emerson Mnangagwa and the country’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is currently receiving a battering from the former’s faction which has won sympathy from the country’s first family, with First Lady Grace Mugabe venomously calling for the immediate resignation of Mujuru before the ZANU-PF congress.

Chiwawa told IPS that despite the government having contained recent strikes by medical doctors here through appeasing them by reviewing their salaries, the public health sector is in a state of decay amid acute shortages of treatment drugs.

Elmond Bandauko, an independent political analyst, agrees with Chiwawa. “Internal fights within the ZANU-PF party are stumbling blocks to national, social and economic prosperity; the ZANU-PF government is concentrating on its party succession battles as the economy is on its knees and there is no projected solution to the economic woes the country faces at the moment,” he told IPS.

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Policy makers from the ZANU-PF government, who are supposed to be holding debates and parliamentary sessions and special meetings on how to move the country forward, are wasting time on political tiffs that do not save the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans,” Bandauko added.

Even the country’s education system has not been spared by the ruling party political milieu, according to educationists here.

“Nobody is talking about revamping the education system here as government officials responsible are busy consolidating their powers in the ruling party while national examinations are fast losing credibility amid leakages of exam papers before they are written, subsequently tarnishing the image of our country’s quality of education,” a top government official in the Ministry of Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation.

Even the country’s ordinary subsistence farmers, like Edson Ngulube from Masvingo Province in Mwenezi district, are feeling the pinch of the failure of politicians. “We can’t beat hunger and poverty without support from government with farming inputs,” Ngulube told IPS.

Yet for many Zimbabweans like Ngulube, reaching the MDGs offers the means to a better life – a life with access to adequate food and income.

Burdened with over half of its population starving, based on one of the U.N. MDGs, Zimbabwe nevertheless committed itself to eradicating hunger by 2015. But, with the Zanu-PF government deeply engrossed in tense power wrangles to succeed Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be way off the mark for reaching this target.

In addition, in September, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri went on record as saying that Zimbabwe could fail to meet the target to eradicating hunger by 2015 owing to conflict and natural disasters.

Zimbabwe’s 2012 National Census showed that more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people live in rural areas and, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), this year about 25 percent of them need food aid or they will starve, and between now and 2015, 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food support.

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is, however, confident the country is set to end hunger before the 2015 deadline. “We have land and we have hardworking people utilising land and for us there is no reason to doubt that by 2015 we would have eradicated hunger,” Made told IPS.

Claris Madhuku, director for the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, perceive things rather differently.

“What actuates Zimbabwe’s failure to attaining MDGs is the on-going governance crisis, a result of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s internal wars to succeed the party’s nonagenarian President, which have not made development any easier,” Madhuku told IPS.

According to the PYD leader, in order for Zimbabwe to experience magnificent development, “the ruling party has to try and get its politics right.”

But with Zimbabwean President Mugabe apparently clinging to the helm of the country’s ruling party with renewed tenacity, it remains to be seen whether or not real development will ever touch the country’s soils.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Women on the Edge of Land and Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:36:05 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137977 In the village of Dakshin Shibpur, located on the Indian Sundarbans Delta, the poorest and most vulnerable women group together to set up grain banks, to get them through the toughest months of the year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In the village of Dakshin Shibpur, located on the Indian Sundarbans Delta, the poorest and most vulnerable women group together to set up grain banks, to get them through the toughest months of the year. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

November is the cruelest month for landless families in the Indian Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world lying primarily in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

There is little agricultural wage-work to be found, and the village moneylender’s loan remains unpaid, its interest mounting. The paddy harvest is a month away, pushing rice prices to an annual high.

For those like Namita Bera, tasked with procuring 120 kg of rice per month to feed her eight-member family, there is seldom any peace of mind.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more." -- Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans
That is, until she came together with 12 other women from the poorest households in the Dakshin Shibpur village of the Patharpratima administrative division of West Bengal to insure their families against acute hunger.

Humble women with scant means at their disposal to withstand savage weather changes and national food price fluctuations, they did the only thing that made sense: set up a grain bank under the aegis of their small-savings, self-help group (SHG) known as Mamatamoyi Mahila Dal.

The system is simple: whenever she can afford it, each woman buys 50 kg of low-priced paddy and deposits it into the ‘bank’, explains Chandrani Das of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), the Kolkata-based non-profit that matches the quantity of grain in a given number of community-based banks.

In this way, “At least one-third of the 75-day lean period becomes manageable,” Shyamali Bera, a 35-year-old mother of three, whose husband works as a potato loader at a warehouse in the state’s capital, Kolkata, told IPS.

For impoverished families, the bank represents significant savings of their meagre income. “Earlier, the only spare cash we had on us was about 10 to 25 rupees (0.16  to 0.40 dollars),” she added. “Now we have about 100 rupees (1.6 dollars). We buy pencils and notebooks for our children to take to school.”

The women’s ingenuity has benefited the men as well. Namita’s husband, a migrant worker employed by a local rice mill, borrowed 10,000 rupees (about 160 dollars) from the SHG last winter and the family reaped good returns from investing in vegetables, seeds and chemical fertilisers.

The scheme is putting village moneylenders out of business. Their five-percent monthly interest rates, amounting to debt-traps of some 60 percent annually, cannot compete with the SHG’s two-percent rates.

But their problems do not end there.

Battling climate change

Designated a World Heritage Site for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, the Sundarbans are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and intense storms.

Half of the region’s mass of 9,630 square km is intersected by an intricate network of interconnecting waterways, which are vulnerable to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Roughly 52 of the 102 islands that dot this delta are inhabited, comprising a population of some 4.5 million people. Having lost much of their mangrove cover to deforestation, these coastal-dwelling communities are exposed to the vagaries of the sea and tidal rivers, protected only by 3,500 km of earthen embankments.

Most of the islands lie lower than the 3.5-metre average of surrounding rivers.

Using data from India’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the West Bengal government’s latest Human Development Report warns that sea-level rise over the last 70 years has already claimed 220 sq km of forests in the Sundarbans.

Increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms due to global warming poses a further, more immediate threat to human lives and livelihood, the report added.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF), analyses of 120 years’ worth of data show a 26-percent rise in the frequency of high-intensity cyclones.

Nearly 90 percent of people here live in mud and thatched-roof homes. Paddy is the primary crop, grown only during monsoon from mid-June to mid-September.

Forests and fisheries, including harvesting of shrimps, provide the only other source of income, but with a population density of 1,100 persons per square km, compared to the national average of 382 per square km, poverty among island households is twice as high as national rates.

The issue of food security coupled with the damage caused by natural disasters presents itself as an enourmous twin challenge to women here who by and large see to the needs of their families.

Resilient as the forests around them, they, however, are not giving up.

Fuel, fodder, food

At low tide, the river Gobadia flows just 100 metres away from the Ramganga village embankment, where members of the Nibedita self-help group gather to talk to IPS.

Typically, landless agricultural labourers who comprise some 50 percent of the Sundarbans’ population live in villages like this one, totaling no more than 7,500 people, because natural resources are close at hand.

Population density is high here.

The members tell IPS that four fairly severe storms from May to December are the norm now. Rain spells continue for a week instead of the earlier two days.

When 100 km-per-hour winds coincide with the two daily high tides, storm surges are likely to breach embankments, cause saline flash floods, devastate both homes and low farmlands, and leave the area water-logged for up to four months.

“The local village government kept promising that it would stone-face the embankment’s river flank and brick-pave the embankment road, which becomes too slippery [during the rains] to cycle or even walk,” group members told IPS.

When these promises failed to materialize, the women took matters into their own hands. Using money from their communal savings, they leased out part of the land along the embankment and planted 960 trees over 40,000 square feet of the sloping property, hoping this would arrest erosion.

“For the nursery they chose 16 varieties that would provide firewood, fodder to their goats, and trees whose flowers and [fruits] are edible,” said Animesh Bera of the local NGO Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which guides this particular SHG.

Nothing is wasted. All the forestry by-products find their way into the community’s skilful hands. The mature trees fetch money in auctions.

Coaxing nutrition from unyielding soil

A 2013 DRCSC baseline survey found that three-quarters of households in Patharpratima block live below the poverty line. Financial indebtedness is widespread. Fragmentation of landholdings through generations has left many families with only homesteads of approximately 0.09 hectares apiece.

Maximizing land is the only option.

In Indraprastha village, women are growing organic food on their tiny 70-square-foot plots, adapting to local soil, water and climate challenges by planting an array of seasonal vegetables, from leafy greens and beans, to tubers and bananas.

These miniature gardens are now ensuring both food and economic security, pulling in a steady income from the sale of organic seeds.

Tomatoes are trained to grow vertically, ginger sprouts from re-used plastic cement bags packed with low-saline soil, while bitter gourds spread outwards on plastic net trellises.

Multi-tier arrangements of plants to maximize sunlight in the garden, the use of cattle and poultry litter as bio-fertilizer, and recycling water are all steps women here take to coax a little nutrition from a land that seems to be increasingly turning away from them.

While NGOs praise the women of the Sundarbans for their ingenuity in the face of extreme hardships, others blame the government of West Bengal for failing to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more,” Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans, told IPS at his Kolkata residence.

“It needs to urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for Sundarbans’ development anchored on a reliable database and make one agency responsible for all development work,” added the head of the non-profit Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD).

Until such time as the government takes development into its own hands, self-help groups like those budding all over the Sundarbans – comprising thousands of members – will be the only chance poor communities stand against poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: The Decline of Social Europe is Part of a World Trendhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-decline-of-social-europe-is-part-of-a-world-trend/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-decline-of-social-europe-is-part-of-a-world-trend http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-decline-of-social-europe-is-part-of-a-world-trend/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:15:40 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137963

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that social criteria are taking a back seat to financial and economic criteria in the policies of European countries.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

After the Italian sea search-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum at a cost of nine million euros a month, through which the Italian Navy has rescued nearly 100,000 migrants – although perhaps up to 3,000 have died – from the Mediterranean since October 2013, Europe is now presenting its new face in the Mediterranean.

The European Union is launching Joint Operation Triton with a monthly budget of 2.9 million euros and funds secured until the end of the year. Its function is to enforce border controls – not to save “boat people” – and it will patrol just thirty nautical miles from the coast, which pales in comparison with Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation which saw patrols being sent close to the Libyan coast.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Even with this very limited operation, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the United Kingdom will not contribute because operations that save migrants make them more willing to try to cross the Mediterranean. Of course, there is a perverted logic in this: the more migrants that die, the greater will be the discouragement for others to try.

Following this logic through, the ideal situation therefore would be to reach a death rate that would stop illegal immigration once and for all!

In this context, it is worth noting that the U.K. government is considering withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (something that even Russian President Vladimir Putin has never considered). The argument is that nobody can be above U.K. courts.

London is also refusing to pay its share of increased of contributions to the European Union and is considering how to put an annual cap on the number of Europeans who are entitled to work legally in the United Kingdom.“Since 1986, the year of signing of the Single European Act, Europeans have never been able to agree on a minimum social basis, which would have given them rights as workers to act collectively as Europeans in the face of a market which is economically unified, but with no common social legislation”

And finally, the U.K. government received with great uproar the sentence of the European Court of Justice, which placed a European cap on banker bonuses, rejecting Britain’s claims that it was illegal. The British argument was that pay levels (also of discredited bankers) were part of social policy and thus under the authority of member states not of the European Union.

Meanwhile, the same Court has issued another sentence under which E.U. member states are not obliged to support European citizens who do not have economic activities in the E.U. countries to which they have migrated. And the German Parliament is now preparing a law to expel European immigrants who do not find a job within six months.

Of course, this will open the doors to all other countries to reduce the free movement of Europeans in Europe, a cornerstone of the original vision of a solidary Europe. Now Europeans will be obliged to take any job, and therefore the law of market will become the primary criterion for their movements in Europe.

Since 1986, the year of signing of the Single European Act, Europeans have never been able to agree on a minimum social basis, which would have given them rights as workers to act collectively as Europeans in the face of a market which is economically unified, but with no common social legislation.

In fact, the point has now been reached where social criteria are the last to be used to judge whether a country is recovering or not, well after economic and financial criteria.

A devastated Greece is now again being considered in financial markets because its economic indicators are on the up. And, at the last G20 meeting in Brisbane, Spain was touted as the example that austerity policies – those indicated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the example for laggards like Italy and France – are the correct way out of the crisis.

At the same time, a very different source, Caritas, has reported that only 34.3 percent of Spaniards live a normal life, while 40.6 percent are stuck in precariousness, 24.2 percent are already suffering moderate exclusion and 10.9 percent are living in severe exclusion.

To understand the trend, six years ago, 50.2 percent of Spaniards had a normal life. Now, one citizen in four is suffering exclusion, and of those 11 million excluded citizens, 77.1 percent have no job, 61.7 percent no house and 46 percent no health care support.

According to UNICEF’s recent report on children under recession, 76.5 million children in the rich countries live in poverty, and in Spain, 36.3 percent of the country’s children (2.7 million) are living in a state of precariousness.

What is now new is that some major financial institutions have started to draw attention to social issues.

Janet L. Yellen, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has declared that she is concerned about the growing inequality of wealth and income in the United States, and that chances for people to advance economically appear to be diminishing. And Mario Draghi, governor of the European Central Bank, is now constantly mentioning the issues of “unbearable unemployment “and “growing exclusion”.

In the background there is the proven fact that countries which took emergency measures to reduce public borrowing have mostly had weaker growth, like most European countries (with the exception of Germany, helped by a boom in machinery exports to Russia and China), while those which introduced a policy of stimulus, like the United States, Japan and Britain, have done much better, also in reducing unemployment.

But Merkel continues to ignore calls from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other monetary institutions – she is only interested in pleasing her constituency, which is increasingly looking to its immediate interests and losing sight of European perspectives.

In all this, the banks continue to be uninterested in any social perspective. A few days ago, European and U.S. regulators imposed new fines worth 4.5 billion dollars on a number of major banks (we are now approaching the 200 billion dollar mark since the crisis started in 2008) for illegal activities.

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of the largest of them, JP Morgan, declared in an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC that it is important that United States creates a “safe harbour” where JPMorgan’s illegal practice of hiring the relatives of political leaders “is not punished”.

In Dimon’s country, between 2009 and 2010, 93 percent of incomes ended up in the pockets of one percent of the population, according to Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and the 16,000 families with wealth of at least 111 million dollars have seen their share of national wealth double since 2012 to 11.2 percent.

The last U.S. presidential elections cost 3.4 billion dollars, and most of that came from this small minority. Democracy, where all votes are equal, is increasingly becoming a plutocracy where money elects.

Meeting leaders of social movements on Oct. 26, Pope Francis told them: “They call me a communist [for speaking of] land, work and housing … but love for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel.” Certainly, governments are doing otherwise …

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Filipino Farmers Protest Government Research on Genetically Modified Ricehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:13:49 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137948 Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila, plants a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his main crop, rice, is under threat. He claims that approval by the Philippine government of the genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that is fortified with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, could ruin his livelihood.

Sarmiento, who is also the sustainable agriculture programme officer of PAKISAMA, a national movement of farmers’ organisations, told IPS, “Genetically modified rice will not address the lack of vitamin A, as there are already many other sources of this nutrient. It will worsen hunger. It will also kill diversification and contaminate other crops.”

Sarmiento aired his sentiments during a protest activity last week in front of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an office under the Department of Agriculture, during which farmers unfurled a huge canvas depicting a three-dimensional illustration of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in the northern part of the Philippines.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’." -- Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila
Considered by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world, the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces represent the country’s rich rice heritage, which some say will be at stake once the golden rice is approved.

The protesting farmers also delivered to the BPI, which is responsible for the development of plant industries and crop production and protection, an ‘extraordinary opposition’ petition against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new bio-safety permit for further field testing, feeding trials or commercialisation of golden rice.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’,” Sarmiento said, echoing the theme of a national advocacy campaign aimed at cultivating rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

Currently, this Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people is the eighth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8 percent of global rice production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

But it was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, largely because the Philippines’ area of harvested rice is very small compared with other major rice-producing countries in Asia.

In addition to lacking sufficient land resources to produce its total rice requirement, the Philippines is devastated by at least 20 typhoons every year that destroy crops, the FAO said.

However, insufficient output is not the only thing driving research and development on rice.

A far greater concern for scientists and policy-makers is turning the staple food into a greater source of nutrition for the population. The government and independent research institutes are particularly concerned about nutrition deficiencies that cause malnutrition, especially among poorer communities.

According to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), “Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the country, affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women.”

The vast majority of those affected live in remote areas, cut off from access to government nutrition programmes. The IRRI estimates that guaranteeing these isolated communities sufficient doses of vitamin A could reduce child mortality here by 23-34 percent.

Such thinking has provided the impetus for continued research and development on genetically modified rice, despite numerous protests including a highly publicised incident in August last year in which hundreds of activists entered a government test field and uprooted saplings of the controversial golden rice crop.

While scientists forge ahead with their tests, protests appear to be heating up, spurred on by a growing global movement against GMOs.

Last week’s public action – which received support from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and included farmers’ groups, organic traders and consumers, mothers and environmentalists – denounced the government’s continuing research on golden rice and field testing, as well as the distribution and cropping of genetically-modified corn and eggplant.

Monica Geaga, another protesting farmer who is from the group SARILAYA, an organisation of female organic farmers from the rice-producing provinces in the main island of Luzon, said women suffer multiple burdens when crops are subjected to genetic modification.

“It is a form of harassment and violence against women who are not just farmers but are also consumers and mothers who manage households and the health and nutrition of their families,” she told IPS.

Geaga said she believes that if plants are altered from their natural state, they release toxins that are harmful to human health.

Protestors urged the government to shield the country’s rice varieties from contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and instead channel the money for rice research into protecting the country’s biodiversity and rich cultural heritage while ensuring ecological agricultural balance.

Though there is a dearth of hard data on how much the Philippine government has spent on GMO research, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines estimates that the government and its multinational partner companies have spent an estimated 2.6 million dollars developing GM corn alone.

Furthermore, activists and scientists say GMOs violate the National Organic Law that supports the propagation of rice varieties that already possess multi-nutrients such as carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, and potassium, according to the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The NNC also said other rice varieties traditionally produced in the Philippines such as brown, red, and purple rice contain these nutrients.

Danilo Ocampo, ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the “flawed regulatory system” in the BPI, the sole government agency in charge of GMO approvals, “has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard to their long-term impact on the environment and human health.”

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens. It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Ocampo.

“It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” he asserted.

Greenpeace explained in statements released to the media that aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

Greenpeace Philippines said genetically modified crops such as corn or rice contain built-in pesticides that can be toxic, and their ability to cross-breed and cross-pollinate other natural crops can happen in an open environment, which cannot be contained.

Last week saw farmer activists in other cities in the Philippines stage protest actions that called on the government to protect the country’s diverse varieties of rice and crops and stop GMO research and field-testing.

In Davao City south of Manila, stakeholders held the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress. In Cebu City, also south of Manila, farmers protested the contamination of corn, their second staple food, and gathered petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of golden rice.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Central American Civil Society Calls for Protection of Local Agriculture at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/central-american-civil-society-calls-for-protection-of-local-agriculture-at-cop20/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 18:12:27 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137946 A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Worried about the effects of global warming on agriculture, water and food security in their communities, social organisations in Central America are demanding that their governments put a priority on these issues in the COP20 climate summit.

In the months leading up to COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – civil society in Central America has met over and over again to reach a consensus position on adaptation and loss and damage.

These, along with mitigation, are the pillars of the negotiations to take place in Lima the first 12 days of December, which are to give rise to a new climate change treaty to be signed a year later at COP21 in Paris.

“Central American organisations working for climate justice, food security and sustainable development are trying to share information and hammer out a common position,” Tania Guillén, who represents Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre environmental group at the talks, told IPS.

That consensus, in one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to global warming, will serve “to ask the governments to adopt positions similar to those taken by civil society,” said the representative of the Humboldt Centre, a regional leader in climate change research and activism.

Guillén said the effort to hold a Central American dialogue “is aimed at guaranteeing that adaptation will be a pillar of the new accord, and there is a good climate for that.”

The Nicaraguan activist stressed that the other question of great interest to the region is loss and damage, aimed at addressing and remedying the negative effects of climate change already suffered by the countries of Central America.

“Studies indicate that we have spent 10 percent of GDP to recover from Mitch, which was basically the starting point of risk management in the region,” said Guillén, referring to the hurricane that caused billions of dollars in damages and claimed thousands of lives in Central America in 1998.

These two main thematic areas dominate the agendas of Central American networks seeking solutions to climate change, like the Central American Alliance for Resilience, the Regional Coalition for Risk Management and the Vulnerable Central America Forum.

On Nov. 14 these organisations signed the declaration of the Second Central American Conference on Loss and Damage from Climate Change, where activists from the region studied water stress, food security and the risks facing the population.

One of their demands was that during COP20 the seven governments of the region “promote the declaration of Central America as a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The same thing was demanded by the Fifth Regional Meeting on Vulnerable Central America, United for Life, held in September.

Another gathering in preparation for COP20 will take place Wednesday Nov. 26 in Honduras.

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The demands set forth by civil society are backed by studies highlighting the climate fragility of this region, which is set between two oceans.

In the 2012 report “The economics of climate change in Central America”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that precipitation in the region would decline by at least 11 percent by 2100.

This year, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that forecast.

The effects of climate change on agriculture in this region could also be devastating.

ECLAC estimated that if global warming continues at the current pace, the negative impacts on agricultural production would lead to a loss of nearly 19 percent of GDP in Central America.

For all of these reasons, civil society groups are demanding that governments in the region and the Central American Integration System (SICA) take a firmer stance on climate change adaptation.

In the meantime, they are developing projects to curb the negative effects of global warming in the region.

In Costa Rica, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) is working with local authorities to implement a river basin management plan.

The plan includes the Barranca river, which flows into the Pacific ocean after running through an important farming area.

“We are developing a master plan for the basin and we put special importance on future scenarios of climate change and variability,” the coordinator of the CATIE programme, Laura Benegas, told IPS.

The research centre is also carrying out an ambitious seed protection and improvement programme, to guarantee food security in Costa Rica.

SICA, the government counterpart to the regional social organisations, is currently presided over by Belize, whose government ensured that addressing climate change would be among its top priorities.

However, the organisations are sceptical about the possibility of the government delegations taking their positions on board.

“Civil society does not have an influence on the official position to be taken to the talks because there are no mechanisms for that and because many segments of civil society are still having a hard time taking that step,” Alejandra Granados, president of the Costa Rican organisation CO2.cr, told IPS.

With respect to the climate summit in Lima, Central America has the advantage that Costa Rica currently presides over the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, made up of middle-income countries pushing for an adaptation initiative within the UNFCCC.

The group also includes Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Chile and the COP20 host country Peru.

During the Sep. 23 climate summit held at U.N. headquarters in New York, the countries of Central America committed themselves to making their economies even greener.

Costa Rica confirmed its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021, Nicaragua promised to continue to invest in renewable energies, and Guatemala pledged to reforest 3.9 million hectares between 2016 and 2020.

Nevertheless, this region shares very little responsibility for global warming.

While China and the United States together account for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Central America is responsible for just 0.8 percent.

By contrast, according to the Global Climate Risk Index produced by GermanWatch, three nations in this region were among the 10 countries in the world affected the most by climate change between 1993 and 2012.

Honduras is in first place on that list, Nicaragua in fourth place and Guatemala in 10th place. El Salvador is in 13th place, Belize 22nd, Costa Rica 66th and Panama 103rd.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:50:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137936 Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue." -- Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Water and Sanitation Report Card: Slow Progress, Inadequate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 23:06:32 +0000 Tim Brewer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137930 A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Tim Brewer
LONDON, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The Ebola crisis has thrown into sharp relief the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene in treating and caring for the sick. Dying patients are being taken to hospitals which never had enough water to maintain hygiene, and the epidemic has pushed the system to the breaking point.

Last week’s World Health Organisation report produced by UN Water, the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), has provided a sobering picture of water and sanitation services so necessary to healthcare systems around the world.Half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

The annual analysis is a gold mine of data, covering 94 countries and using information from 23 aid agencies. The story it tells this year is of modest progress alongside inadequate funding, poor monitoring and a desperate need for skilled regulators, administrators and engineers to keep services running effectively.

Among GLAAS’s most important findings are how poorly finances intended to address the water and sanitation crisis are targeted.

Urban areas are prioritised over rural regardless of the level of need – nearly three-quarters of aid spending goes to urban areas and more than 60 percent of aid is in the form of loans, which are rarely targeted to the poor. This suggests rural people and the urban poor are being further marginalised.

Nearly three-quarters of the aid targeted at water, sanitation and hygiene programmes is spend on drinking water supplies. Despite these investments in improved supplies, 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s fair to assume that this is linked to the 2.5 billion people still without a basic toilet. Too much money is being invested in finding or making clean water, and not enough in containing the waste that contaminates it.

Addressing these issues effectively requires money, training and monitoring, but these, too, are falling short.

The GLAAS report has found that financing for water and sanitation in 70 percent of responding countries covers less than 80 percent of the costs of operation and maintenance for existing services.

Regulators, administrators and engineers are all in short supply in developing countries. All are of critical importance in the safe, sustainable delivery of water and basic sanitation services, fundamental to good public health and economic growth. Yet it’s rare to see plans or investment to address this. Only one third of countries even have a human resources strategy in place.

Monitoring is also seriously lacking. WaterAid is examining the sanitation transformations that took place in East Asia, and has found that responsive monitoring which actually leads to changes in policy and investment is a crucial driver of sanitation improvements. But very few countries have enough personnel to collect or review data, or enough senior political interest to demand it.

Less than half of countries have a formal rural service provider that reports to a regulatory authority, and effectively monitors its services.

What does this mean? It means that half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

But there is progress. Proposals for the U.N.’s new Sustainable Development Goals, now under negotiation, include goals for water and sanitation services that include schools and healthcare facilities along with households.

This is of huge importance, particularly when we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa – where healthcare systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular were broken in years of conflict and never properly rebuilt – or this year’s cholera outbreak in Ghana, where 20,900 people were infected and 166 died of preventable infection transmitted by water contaminated with human waste.

The GLAAS reports that less than one-third of countries have a plan for drinking water or sanitation in health care facilities and schools that is implemented, funded and reviewed regularly. These targets are long overdue.

The state of water and sanitation is a global health crisis. Some 10 million children have died since 2000 of diarrhoeal illnesses, directly linked to growing up without clean water, basic toilets and hygiene. It is possible to reach everyone, everywhere with water, sanitation and hygiene education, but it will require strong political will, a comprehensive and accelerated approach, and financing.

As the U.N. negotiates the new Sustainable Development Goals, including a strong, dedicated goal on water and sanitation that incorporates water and sanitation targets into goals on healthcare will address many of these shortfalls.

What the present shortlist does not include, but which the GLAAS report has clearly shown, is the need to find and train people to drive this transformation, and keep services running sustainably.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gated Communities on the Water Aggravate Flooding in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 21:31:28 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137925 Part of the Nordelta gated community in the Paraná river delta, which led the new trend of building private neighbourhoods on the rivers and canals of Greater Buenos Aires. The community is made up of 11 neighbourhoods and is dubbed a “city-ville”. Credit: Elinmobiliario.com

Part of the Nordelta gated community in the Paraná river delta, which led the new trend of building private neighbourhoods on the rivers and canals of Greater Buenos Aires. The community is made up of 11 neighbourhoods and is dubbed a “city-ville”. Credit: Elinmobiliario.com

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The construction of gated communities on wetlands and floodplains in Greater Buenos Aires has modified fragile ecosystems and water cycles and has aggravated flooding, especially in poor surrounding neighourhoods.

In the 1990s a high-end property boom led to the construction of private neighbourhoods in vital ecosystems, and the emergence of barriers – actual walls – between social classes in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

In the first week of November, the “sudestada” or strong southeast wind left 19 municipalities in and around Buenos Aires under water.“But in the last five years we have seen a new phenomenon: flooding from rainfall, and it’s no coincidence that it happens mainly in neighbourhoods located next to gated communities built over the last decade.” -- Martín Gianella

The sudestada is a phenomenon that affects the Rio de la Plata basin. It consists of a sudden rotation of cold southern winds to the southeast, bringing strong winds and heavy rain. In the first week of November the wind gusts reached over 70 km an hour and more rain fell in two days than the total forecast for two months. Rivers overflowed their banks, large areas were flooded and cut off, and more than 5,000 people were evacuated.

Jorge Capitanich, President Cristina Fernández’s cabinet chief, attributed the floods to “a combination of sudestada, heavy rains, and the saturation of the water basins.”

But Patricia Pintos of the University de la Plata’s Centre of Geographic Research said this confluence of factors was aggravated by the growing urbanisation and the proliferation of “barrios náuticos” – closed private neighbourhoods built on the water.

These gated communities are built near or on artificial or natural bodies of water, Pintos, a geographer who is co-author of the book ”La privatopía sacrílega. Efectos del urbanismo privado en la cuenca baja del río Luján” (Sacrilegious privatopia: Effects of private urbanism on the lower Luján river basin), told Tierramérica.

Many of these wealthy private neighbourhoods have been built on floodplains and wetlands, ecosystems that are vital to water drainage.

The new urban developments have advanced on areas that play a crucial role in managing floods, she said.

“Wetlands are getting stopped up by housing developments that ironically promote a lifestyle associated with enjoying water and nature,” Laila Robledo, an urban planner at the General Sarmiento National University, told Tierramérica.

Four of the municipalities in the lower stretch of the Luján river basin most affected by the growth of high-end neighbourhoods on floodplains and wetlands are Pilar, Campana, Escobar and Tigre, which cover more than 7,000 hectares.

Traditional houses on stilts in Tigre along the Arias canal in the Paraná river delta. These traditional neighbourhoods have suffered the environmental and social impacts of the construction of gated communities for the wealthy that are built on land prone to flooding. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Traditional houses on stilts in Tigre along the Arias canal in the Paraná river delta. These traditional neighbourhoods have suffered the environmental and social impacts of the construction of gated communities for the wealthy that are built on land prone to flooding. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“The emergence of 65 housing developments of this kind modified the terrain at the mouth of the river and blocked drainage during weather events like the ones we experienced this month,” Pintos said.

These neighbourhoods, which the expert described as “polderised closed housing developments” – a reference to polders or low-lying tracts of land enclosed by dikes – “entail major modifications of the natural topographical characteristics, not only to raise the level of the ground in order to build housing but also to create new bodies of water.”

That involves, for example, excavating to build artificial lakes and using the dirt to fill in low-lying areas.

And because these housing developments are in flood-prone areas, embankments six to 10 metres high are built around them to keep water out.

“They protect these developments but they work as dikes that contribute to flooding in surrounding neighbourhoods…What protects them hurts those who are outside,” Pintos said.

Ten percent of the 350,000 inhabitants of Tigre live in gated communities, which cover half of the municipality’s land area, Martín Gianella, the municipal general secretary, told Tierramérica.

“This is what we call a model of socio-territorial segregation,” he said. “Walls are dividing the territory and society.”

Gianella said that Tigre, on the north side of Greater Buenos Aires, has historically suffered from flooding during the sudestadas.

“But in the last five years we have seen a new phenomenon: flooding from rainfall, and it’s no coincidence that it happens mainly in neighbourhoods located next to gated communities built over the last decade,” he added.

The official urged the municipal government to oversee and regulate the construction of private neighbourhoods “and to levy a special tax on these mega-developments, to invest in the necessary hydrological works.”

Robledo, the urban planner, stressed that changes in the hydrologic regimes don’t only affect the areas near the gated communities, because Buenos Aires was built on a plain crisscrossed by rivers.

“The city is part of an urban metabolism – what happens in one place affects the rest,” she explained. That is why solutions must be “interjurisdictional,” she added.

According to Robledo, the construction of these gated communities “favours the privatisation of the city and real estate speculation, to the detriment of the rest of the population.”

Driven by the profit motive, “the companies buy up historically cheap land prone to flooding, fill it in to make it inhabitable, and earn extraordinary profits,” she said.

Pintos said “this is the result of the growth of a model of urban development followed by municipalities that are prone to favouring big investment flows.”

Pintos and Robledo agreed that while regulations and maps of socio-environmental risks posed by this kind of housing development exist, they are not enforced.

Big real estate entrepreneurs in the province of Buenos Aires, like Gonzalo Monarca, the president of the Grupo Monarca, deny that they are responsible for the problems, which they blame on climate change.

“That’s a fallacious argument,” Robledo said. “Climate change is happening at a global level, but the consequences are stronger or weaker depending on the way cities have been built and inhabited.”

“If we build in a drainage basin that receives overflow when the water level in the river goes up, it’s obvious that the water is going to run off into other areas,” she said.

Robledo stated that if this kind of housing development is not banned or regulated, cities will be flooded more frequently and for longer periods of time, even when the rainfall is not particularly heavy.

Pintos went even further, calling for solutions that are “not very popular” in political terms, and which may be complex and burdensome, but which she said should not be ruled out if the problem continues to grow.

As an example, she cited the relocation of families from the banks of the Mississippi river in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Other intermediate solutions, she said, would be to prohibit the construction of new private neighbourhoods in fragile ecosystems, and a review of the permits already granted.

She also said companies should assume the costs of remediation of environmental problems, although such works would be a “bandaid in the face of a critical situation that could have been avoided if rationality had prevailed.”

Leandro Silva, the head of environment at the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación – Argentina’s ombudsperson’s office – pointed out to Tierramérica that in 2010 his office warned the municipalities of Zárate, Campana, Escobar, Tigre and San Fernando about the risks posed by the expansion of gated communities in the ecosystem of the Paraná river delta, and urged them to respect environmental impact studies and to impose strict controls.

“The recurrent flooding and the impact on the most vulnerable segments of society make it necessary to reinforce these mechanisms and proactively exercise prevention, implementing in the watersheds all of the environmental management instruments required by our legislation: environmental impact assessments, citizen participation, environmental zoning and access to public information,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Lessons from Jamaica’s Billion-Dollar Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:17:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137917 The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MORANT BAY, Jamaica, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

As Jamaica struggles under the burden of an ongoing drought, experts say ensuring food security for the most vulnerable groups in society is becoming one of the leading challenges posed by climate change.

“The disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Jamaica means that persons living in poverty, persons living below the poverty line, women heading households with large numbers of children and the elderly are greatly disadvantaged during this period,” Judith Wedderburn, Jamaica project director at the non-profit German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), told IPS."The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices." -- Judith Wedderburn of FES

“The concern is that as the climate change implications are extended for several years that these kinds of situations are going to become more and more extreme, [such as] greater floods with periods of extreme drought.”

Wedderburn, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a FES and Panos Caribbean workshop for journalists held here earlier this month, said Caribbean countries – which already have to grapple with a finite amount of space for food production – now have the added challenges of extreme rainfall events or droughts due to climate change.

“In Jamaica, we’ve had several months of drought, which affected the most important food production parishes in the country,” she said, adding that the problem does not end when the drought breaks.

“We are then affected by extremes of rainfall which results in flooding. The farming communities lose their crops during droughts [and] families associated with those farmers are affected. The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices and that contributes to substantial food insecurity – meaning people cannot easily access the food that they need to keep their families well fed.”

One local researcher predicts that things are likely to get even worse. Dale Rankine, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told IPS that climate change modelling suggests that the region will be drier heading towards the middle to the end of the century.

“We are seeing projections that suggest that we could have up to 40 percent decrease in rainfall, particularly in our summer months. This normally coincides with when we have our major rainfall season,” Rankine said.

“This is particularly important because it is going to impact most significantly on food security. We are also seeing suggestions that we could have increasing frequency of droughts and floods, and this high variability is almost certainly going to impact negatively on crop yields.”

He pointed to “an interesting pattern” of increased rainfall over the central regions, but only on the outer extremities, while in the west and east there has been a reduction in rainfall.

“This is quite interesting because the locations that are most important for food security, particularly the parishes of St. Elizabeth [and] Manchester, for example, are seeing on average reduced rainfall and so that has implications for how productive our production areas are going to be,” Rankine said.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced recently that September 2014 was the hottest in 135 years of record keeping. It noted that during September, the globe averaged 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), which was the fourth monthly record set this year, along with May, June and August.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, the first nine months of 2014 had a global average temperature of 58.72 degrees (14.78 degrees Celsius), tying with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record.

Robert Pickersgill, Jamaica’s water, land, environment and climate change minister, said more than 18,000 small farmers have been affected by the extreme drought that has been plaguing the country for months.

He said the agricultural sector has lost nearly one billion dollars as a result of drought and brush fires caused by extreme heat waves.

Pickersgill said reduced rainfall had significantly limited the inflows from springs and rivers into several of the country’s facilities.

“Preliminary rainfall figures for the month of June indicate that Jamaica received only 30 per cent of its normal rainfall and all parishes, with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54 percent), were in receipt of less than half of their normal rainfall. The southern parishes of St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Thomas along with St Mary and Portland were hardest hit,” Pickersgill said.

Clarendon, he said, received only two percent of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester with four percent, St. Thomas six percent, St. Mary eight percent, and 12 percent for Kingston and St. Andrew.

Additionally, Pickersgill said that inflows into the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro Rivers are now at 4.8 million gallons per day, which is among the lowest since the construction of the Yallahs pipeline in 1986, while inflows into the Hermitage Dam are currently at six million gallons per day, down from more than 18 million gallons per day during the wet season.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change,” Pickersgill told IPS.

Wedderburn said Jamaica must take immediate steps to adapt to climate change.

“So the challenge for the government is to explore what kinds of adaptation methods can be used to teach farmers how to do more successful water harvesting so that in periods of severe drought their crops can still grow so that they can have food to sell to families at reasonable prices to deal with the food insecurity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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The Double Burden of Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-double-burden-of-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:26:37 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137900 These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

Not only do 805 million people go to bed hungry every day, with one-third of global food production (1.3 billion tons each year) being wasted, there is another scenario that reflects the nutrition paradox even more starkly: two billion people are affected by micronutrients deficiencies while 500 million individuals suffer from obesity.

The first-ever Global Nutrition Report, a peer-reviewed publication released this month, and figures from the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlight a multifaceted and complex phenomenon behind malnutrition.

“The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country”, according to Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director. “And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition”."The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country. And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition” – Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director

Beside hunger then, governments and development organisations have also been forced to start tackling over-nutrition.

“While under-nutrition still kills almost 1.5 million women and children every year, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are driving rising diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organisation (WHO), explained in a statement.

The solution does not lie in the realm of science, health or agriculture alone. It requires a cross sectorial and multi dimensional approach that includes education, women’s empowerment, market regulation, technological research and, above all, political commitment.

For this reason, representatives of governments, multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector met in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) that took place at FAO headquarters on Nov. 19-21. Jointly organised by FAO and WHO, the conference came 22 years after its first edition and, unfortunately, addressed the same unsolved problem.

Malnutrition, in all its forms, has repercussions on the capability of people to live a full life, work, care for their children, be productive, generate a positive cycle and improve their living conditions. Figures from the Global Nutrition Report estimate that the cost of malnutrition is around four to five percent of national GDP, suggesting that prevention would be more cost-effective.

With the goal of improving nutrition through the implementation of evidence-based policies and effective international cooperation, ICN2 produced two documents to help governments and stakeholders head in the right direction: the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and a Framework for Action.

The conference also heard a strong call for accountability and for the strengthening of nutrition in the post-2015 development agenda.

Flavio Valente, who represented civil society organisations at ICN2, remarked that “the current hegemonic food system and agro-industrial production model are not only unable to respond to the existing malnutrition problems but have contributed to the creation of different forms of malnutrition and the decrease of the diversity and quality of our diets.”

This position was shared by many speakers, who stressed the negative impact that advertising of unhealthy food has, mainly on children.

According to a participant from Chile, calling obesity a non-communicable disease is misleading, because it spreads through the media system very effectively. He added that Chile currently risks being brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by multinational food companies for its commitment to protect public health by regulating the advertising of certain food.

This happens in a country where 60 percent of people suffer from over-nutrition and one obese person dies every hour, according to the permanent representative of Chile at FAO, Luis Fernando Ayala Gonzalez.

In an address to the conference, Queen Letizia of Spain also acknowledged the responsibility of the private sector: “It is necessary to help the economic interests converging towards public health. It is worth remembering that no country in the world has been able to reverse the epidemic of obesity in all age groups. None.”

The outcome of ICN2 brought consensus around a plan of action and some key targets.

Educating children about healthy habits and women who are in charge of feeding the family was recognised as crucial, as was breastfeeding, which should be encouraged (through paid maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities in the workplace), and the need to empower women working in agriculture.

Supporting small and family farming would also give people better opportunities to eat local, fresh and seasonal produce as well as fruit and vegetables, reducing the consumption of packaged, processed food that is often low in nutrients, vitamins and fibres and high in calories, sugar, salt and fats.

However, teaching people how to eat is not enough, if they cannot easily access quality food – hence the need for relevant policies targeting the food chain and distribution.

Initiatives like the Fruit in Schools programme proposed by New Zealand go in the right direction, especially when implemented within a coordinated policy that promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle that fights consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

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To Fight Inequality, Latin America Needs Transparency…and Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:39:38 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137869 Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As public policy, political transparency and open data need an active ingredient to bring about social change that would reduce inequality in Latin America: citizen participation, said regional experts consulted by IPS.

That is the link that ties together open data and the transformation of society and that democratises access to rights and opportunities, said activists and government representatives working to democratise access to information and public records in the region.

During the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, held Nov. 18-19 in San José, Costa Rica, experts in transparency referred over and over to a central idea: only empowered citizens can leverage information to create a better democracy.

“Simply opening up information never changed anyone’s reality, nor did it reduce the inequality gap,” Fabrizio Scrollini, lead researcher of the Open Data Initiative in Latin America, told IPS. “Just opening up access to information in and of itself doesn’t do that. Miracles don’t exist.”

What does happen, he said, “is that with a specific policy there is a set of parallel actions that can be major facilitators of these processes of empowerment of societies in the region.”

Scrollini said citizen participation makes it possible to turn a simple technological advance, such as a government platform or web site, into a tool for social change. Change is built from the grassroots level up, working with people, he said.

As an example, he cited the Uruguayan project Por mi Barrio (For My Neighbourhood), which enables the residents of the capital, Montevideo, to report problems in their community, from a pothole in the road or piles of garbage to a faulty street light, which are immediately received by the city government.

To that end, the municipal government allowed the developers of the project, a civil society group, access to its computer system for the first time.

“It brings the government closer to all segments of the population,” Fernando Uval told IPS. “We are holding workshops in different neighbourhoods, to inform people about how it works.”

“The emphasis is especially on those who have the least access to technology, so they can report problems in their neighbourhood and improve their living conditions,” said Uval, a Uruguayan who represents Open Data, Transparency and Access to Information (DATA), the organisation behind Por mi Barrio.

The key, experts say, lies in making open data and public policies on transparency a means to achieving social change, and not an end in themselves.

Moreover, if all information were open in real time, public policies and people’s response to social problems could be more effective.

“If government information were in a totally open format that would enable a political scientist to know where the inequality lies – through the GINI index, which measures it, for example – and to combine it with data related to economic or population growth, we could make better decisions,” Iris Palma told IPS.

Palma is the executive director of the non-governmental organisation DatosElSalvador, dedicated to securing the release of public information in that Central American country.

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike – in easily managed formats.

For example, if an economist were to request information from a census, a digital version would be easier, to analyse the data using models and statistical programmes, instead of receiving them only in print.

The concept of open government stipulates that public administration should be transparent, provide easy access to information, be held accountable to the citizens, and integrate them in decision-making.

In the world’s most unequal region, governed by authoritarian regimes for decades, the concept of a participative government is relatively recent.

“We went from states and governments that operated on the basis of secrecy to a radical change, based on openness,” Scrollini said.

“That poses new challenges, because information should be used, and to be used, policies are needed to help people do so, and people need to be empowered,” he added.

Nevertheless, civil society in Latin America is forging ahead. For example, people in Mexico can find out how their tax money is used through the Open Budget programme.

In the region, the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency brings together efforts to monitor the activities of the legislatures of nine countries in the region.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, a group of enterprising young people took public data from the Economy Ministry to create a smart phone app called “Ahorre Más”, which helps people make decisions when they’re shopping in the supermarket.

“With respect to the issue of open government, Latin America and the Caribbean are a step ahead, and are in the vanguard around the world,” said Alejandra Naser, an Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) researcher who led a workshop on open government during this week’s regional meeting.

“It is precisely for that reason that we want to reinforce the movement with tools for decision-makers,” she added.

The challenge is how to get citizens involved in these processes.

Scrollini says technology cannot be the only route to achieve open data, and calls for a rethinking of traditional social input tools, such as community workshops or neighbourhood meetings, to figure out how people’s ideas can be incorporated into the design of these policies.

Other methods target key segments of the population, which could later foment greater use by other social sectors – from marathon sessions where the groups are invited to work with data to broader programmes with the users of the future.

“We actively work on ‘hackathons’ (an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects), to get journalists involved, because these reporters then foment the involvement of society at large,” said Cristina Zubillaga, assistant executive director of the National Agency for e-Government and Information Society, a Uruguayan government agency.

At the same time, she said, “we work with academia to train students in data management.”

International development aid, meanwhile, the big source of financing for these programmes in the region, underlines that it is essential to support civil society groups that already have some experience and can serve as spearheads.

“We support organisations that can translate information into easily understood terms, showing people that they can get involved and that the availability of information affects and involves them,” Ana Sofía Ruiz, an official with the Dutch development organisation HIVOS’ Central America programme, told IPS.

“We are trying to draw people in, to get them involved in this,” said the representative of HIVOS, which has financed projects like Ojo al Voto, a Costa Rican initiative that provided independent information during this year’s presidential and legislative elections.

Ojo al Voto wants to help provide oversight of the work of the Costa Rican parliament.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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AIDS Is No. 1 Killer of African Teenagershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/africa-aids-is-no-1-killer-of-teenagers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-aids-is-no-1-killer-of-teenagers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/africa-aids-is-no-1-killer-of-teenagers/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:02:19 +0000 Sam Olukoya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137909 As AIDS becomes the leading cause of death of adolescents in Africa, empowering youth – especially girls - to make safe life choices and avoid HIV is crucial. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues

As AIDS becomes the leading cause of death of adolescents in Africa, empowering youth – especially girls - to make safe life choices and avoid HIV is crucial. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues

By Sam Olukoya
LAGOS, Nigeria, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, Shola* was kicked out of the family house in Abeokuta, in southwestern Nigeria, after testing HIV-positive at age 13. He was living with his father, his stepmother and their seven children.

“The stepmother insisted that Shola must go because he is likely to infect her children,” Tayo Akinpelu, programme director of Youth’s Future Savers Initiative, told IPS.

SNAPSHOT: ADOLESCENTS WITH HIV IN TANZANIA
In Tanzania, alarmingly, HIV prevalence has not decreased among adolescents aged 15-19 between 2007 and 2012.
An estimated 165,000 adolescents live with HIV, of whom 97,000 girls and 68,000 boys. Some were born with HIV and others contracted it as children or teens.
To better understand their needs, the Tanzania Commission for AIDS conducted a survey of HIV positive teenagers aged 15-19 in seven regions.
Among its findings:

• Four in ten were sexually active, mostly with a regular partner.
• Just a little more than half reported using condoms at last sex.
• A third reported they had experienced sexual violence. Few had discussed the abuse with friends or relatives or reported it to authorities.
• Just over one-third were aware of family planning and child protection services
The study urges delivering information about child protection and sexual and reproductive health services to teens living with HIV so they can make safe life choices and access care and support.
National HIV prevalence is five percent, according to UNAIDS.
Akinpelu turned to Shola’s mother, who had remarried. But she refused, arguing that his father should be responsible for their son.

“Shola felt as an outcast,” says Akinpelu. Eventually, Shola’s grandparents took him in.

HIV among teenagers is devastating families in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, where AIDS has become the leading cause of death among adolescents.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” says Craig McClure, chief of HIV programmes with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in New York. “What’s more, AIDS-related deaths are decreasing for all age groups except adolescents.”

The global AIDS death toll fell by 30 percent between 2005 and 2012 but increased by 50 percent among adolescents, says a UNICEF report.

Fear of seeking help

One reason for this shocking teen death toll, says Dr. Arjan de Wagt, chief of HIV/AIDS with UNICEF in Abuja, is the low number of adolescents on antiretroviral treatment (ART).

Of the 3.1 million Nigerians living with HIV, half are under 24 years. But only two out of ten HIV positive youth over 15 and just one out of ten under 15 received the lifesaving drugs in 2013, de Wagt told IPS.

Rejection by family and society, as happened to Shola, or fear of rejection, prevents adolescents from seeking help.

“Many HIV positive adolescents are dying in silence because they are too ashamed to access treatment,”’ Blessing Uju, a Lagos-based youth counsellor, told IPS.

“The shame is even bigger for the girls. In Nigeria, if you are HIV positive, the impression is that you are a commercial sex worker,” she says.

Sally* did not tell her parents or siblings when she tested HIV positive four years ago, at age 19.

“At the family level, there is a lot of stigma,” she told IPS.

Although aware of the danger of not taking her medication regularly, Sally often skipped it to avoid being seen with pills at home.

“As a young person, you need a confidant. If you are not strong, you might end up taking your life,” she says.

Teenagers need family help to stay on ART, says Akinpelu.

Shola’s grandparents would normally cook the first meal for the day in the afternoon until Akinpelu explained to them that the pills can cause nausea on an empty stomach and Shola needed a hearty meal earlier.

Uju says that treatment fatigue hits adolescents hard. “Some say they prefer to die than to continue taking their drugs,” she says.

adolescents_graph_unaids

High death toll

Of the 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV worldwide in 2012, more than 80 per cent are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Malawi, with 93,000 HIV positive teenagers, has 6,900 annual AIDS-related adolescent deaths.

The death toll is linked to late diagnosis and starting ART too late, explains Judith Sherman, of UNICEF in Lilongwe.

Malawi’s policy is that all children seen in health facilities should be offered an HIV test. “Unfortunately, this does not happen routinely,” she says.

FAST FACTS

AIDS DEATHS AMONG ADOLESCENTS IN 2013


• South Africa 11,000
• Tanzania 10,000
• Ethiopia 7,900
• Kenya 7,800
• Zimbabwe 6,500
• Uganda 6,300
• Malawi 5,600
• Zambia 4,400
• Mozambique 3,900
• Rwanda 1,200
• Lesotho 1,200

Teenagers’ adherence to ART is lower than adults, says Sherman, “for a range of reasons like treatment fatigue, depression, fear of stigma, denial and unstable family relationships.”

Tanzania’s estimated 165,000 adolescents living with HIV face similar challenges as their peers in Nigeria and Malawi. (see sidebar)

Allison Jenkins, chief of HIV/AIDS with UNICEF in Tanzania, says that one effective way to help teenagers are clubs.

“Teen clubs improve adherence to treatment, especially among members who attend regularly,” she told IPS.

HIV among teen girls

Alarmingly, adolescent HIV prevalence is highly gendered, with teen girls showing infection rates that UNAIDS calls ”unacceptably high”.

Teen girls aged 15-19 in Mozambique have a prevalence of seven per cent, more than double the boys of the same age. Botswana presents a similar scenario.

Lucy Attah, of the Lagos-based Women and Children Living with HIV & AIDS, blames poverty.

“Girls have to trade sex for money to sustain themselves,” she says. “The pressure for money is higher in the cities where teenage girls compete to get the best mobile phones and clothes.”

Adolescents become sexually active, try drugs and alcohol, feel invulnerable, and experience the social and economic pressures of becoming an adult. HIV and the lack of youth-friendly health services compound the problem, says the UNICEF report.

 “We must do more and do it well, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and on adolescent girls, where the heaviest burden lies,” says McClure.

*names changed to protect privacy

Edited by Mercedes Sayagues

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Proposal for International Anti-Corruption Court Seeing “Significant” Momentumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/proposal-for-international-anti-corruption-court-seeing-significant-momentum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposal-for-international-anti-corruption-court-seeing-significant-momentum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/proposal-for-international-anti-corruption-court-seeing-significant-momentum/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 01:28:00 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137864 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

The key U.S. advocate of a proposal to create a multilateral body mandated to investigate allegations of political corruption says the idea is receiving significant interest from civil society, politicians and major business leaders.

Mark L. Wolf, a U.S. federal judge, first proposed the idea of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) in two articles this summer (available here and here). Since that time, Wolf told a recent briefing at the U.S. Congress, the proposal has seen “remarkable progress”.“In the developed world we can make the mistake of seeing corruption as merely stealing money, but in fact political corruption kills more people than war and famine put together – 140,000 children a year, by our estimates.” -- Akaash Maharaj of GOPAC

“There are, of course, challenges to refining the concept of an IACC,” Wolf told a House of Representatives committee last week. “However, since July 2014 significant support has developed for meeting these challenges.”

Wolf reported ongoing meetings with U.S. officials and the World Bank, and reported that the new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has made the IACC proposal a “personal priority”. Hussein was a key force in the creation of the International Criminal Court, a potential model for the IACC.

This week, Wolf is addressing representatives of major global companies.

“American companies generally want to behave ethically and, in addition, are significantly deterred by the threat of prosecution,” Wolf stated. “They know they would benefit from the more level playing field an IACC would provide.”

Indeed, many say the speed with which the congressional committee moved to hold last week’s briefing is remarkable. It underscores a uniquely broad consensus, both domestically and internationally, around the need to crack down on what is referred to as “grand corruption” – the abuse of political office for personal gain.

Increasingly, this issue is being seen as less one of theft than of basic human rights.

“Today’s briefing seeks to foster an understanding that human rights and anti-corruption efforts are inseparable,” James McGovern, the member of Congress who chaired the committee’s discussions, stated in opening remarks.

“Currently, there is a lack of reference to human rights in international anti-corruption commitments and, conversely, the lack of reference to corruption in international human rights instruments.”

140,000 children a year

Grand corruption is today thought to eat up more than five percent of global gross domestic product. According to estimates cited by Judge Wolf, illicit financial flows out of developing countries are 10 times larger than the foreign assistance those countries receive – losses that have direct human consequences.

“In the developed world we can make the mistake of seeing corruption as merely stealing money, but in fact political corruption kills more people than war and famine put together – 140,000 children a year, by our estimates,” Akaash Maharaj, the executive director of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), told IPS.

“If a political actor were to kill that many people, there would be very few people who wouldn’t say that we have to deal with this problem. But those who bring about human suffering through political corruption are no less guilty.”

GOPAC, which includes legislators from almost every country, has been mobilising around the need for concerted international action against corruption for the past three years. Maharaj says that his organization’s membership has lost faith in the ability of many countries to deal with political corruption at the national level.

While there are international mechanisms that threaten penalties for egregious human rights abuse, for the most part corruption continues to fall into a nebulous zone of national responsibility. Existing multilateral agreements, including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which came into effect in 2003, lack substantive enforcement mechanisms.

Yet while anti-corruption legislation exists in almost every country, advocates note that many of the most corrupt officials are often able to use their wealth and power to subvert these laws. These figures are typically the least likely to face domestic justice, and thus can come to expect impunity.

“There are certain crimes so beyond the pale and beyond state capacity to prosecute that it becomes appropriate for the international community and for international law to become engaged. Certainly the harm grand corruption causes in many developing countries is enormous,” Zorka Milin, a legal adviser with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“An international court would be a good mechanism for trying to translate that momentum into meaningful accountability, which we haven’t really seen so far. It’s important to frame the discussion in terms of ending impunity, and this court would be one piece of that, together with other legal anticorruption tools at the domestic level.”

Under Wolf’s proposal, an IACC would be mandated to investigate and prosecute officials from countries that are unable or unwilling to undertake such actions on their own. He suggests making acceptance of the proposed court’s jurisdiction a pre-condition for membership under the Convention Against Corruption or at the World Trade Organisation, or for obtaining loans from multilateral banks.

Inevitable, unclear action

The global discussion today is increasingly conducive to some sort of concerted global action against political corruption. In part, this trend is driven by strengthened concern around the effects that tax evasion is having on public coffers in both developed and developing countries.

“Unquestionably, there is today more momentum and awareness on the issue of grand corruption, and that’s the major reason these issues are rising on the international agenda,” Milin says.

GOPAC’s Maharaj agrees. “I’m struck by the extraordinary level of consensus across the world,” he says. “This is absolutely inevitable. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Exactly what should be done about the issue, however, remains highly contentious. There are multiple potential options, after all, with an international court being just one.

Others include expanding the purview of the International Criminal Court or other regional human rights courts. Likewise, the jurisdiction of national judicial systems could be enlarged to be able to deal with allegations of corruption in other countries.

Another possibility could be to coordinate national legislation – and priority – in developed countries, aimed at seizing the assets of or denying visas to corrupt officials. While this would not result in jail time, it would make it harder to spend ill-gotten wealth while simultaneously emphasising international disapproval.

Importantly, some countries have become increasingly aggressive in this regard in recent years, particularly the United States and Switzerland. Watchdog groups say these nascent initiatives are important and already having impact.

“Over the last eight years there’s been growing official action against kleptocracy in the U.S. and elsewhere,” Arvind Ganesan, the head of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“Strengthening those efforts now – meaning fully resourcing and expanding them, and pushing other countries to put in place similar policies – will build momentum towards an International Anti-Corruption Court.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-undead-rise-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137856 Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Inequality in Mexico Is All About Wageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 16:09:50 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137848 Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Sandra G. works Monday through Saturday in a beauty salon on the south side of Mexico City, where she earns slightly more than the minimum wage, which in this country is just five dollars a day.

The 30-year-old, who studied cosmetology and asked that her last name not be published, does beauty treatments and sells products like skin cream and lotions, which boost her income thanks to small commissions on her monthly sales.

But the pressure to reach the minimum sales target of 3,000 dollars a month makes the work “quite stressful,” she said.

“The owner told me that since she was just starting up her business she could only pay minimum wage, but that if I was good with sales, I could increase my income,” she told IPS.

Sandra said she and her husband, an engineer, get by but without anything left over for luxuries.“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages.” -- Alicia Puyana

“My husband was unemployed for a couple of months and things were really tight,” she said. “He found work and that gave us some breathing room, but we’re worried that the possibility of prospering is far off because wages are too low compared to the cost of living.”

Stories like Sandra’s are typical and illustrative of the inequality that reigns in this country of 118 million people. But the current debate over a rise in the minimum wage seems to ignore the reality of millions.

“The issue of wages is a question of inequality,” said Miguel López, a member of the Observatory of Wages at the private Iberoamerican University of Puebla, a city in central Mexico. “Wages can be a mechanism to mitigate inequality. But there are more workers and they get a smaller piece of the pie. It’s a problem of redistribution.”

In its 2014 report, published in April, the Observatory underlined that “the absolute impoverishment of the working class is reflected in the reduction of the cost of labour, the more intense exploitation of the working day, and the growing precariousness of working conditions, housing and living conditions in general.”

The current minimum wage of around five dollars a day is the lowest in Latin America, followed by Nicaragua, Haiti and Bolivia, according to the Observatory.

But the most worrisome aspect is the enormous wage gap, as reflected by a 2013 study by the global management consultancy, Hay Group, on the difference between the pay earned by senior employees and new workers.

According to the report, the base salary of an executive in Mexico City is 10,000 dollars a month, just 417 dollars less than what an executive in a similar company in New York earns. But in the United States, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 dollars an hour, compared to 5.05 dollars a day in the Mexican capital.

The Presidents’ Compensation Study by the international human resources consultancy Mercer found that in Mexico the CEO of a large company earned 121 times the minimum wage – the biggest gap in Latin America.
Article 123 of the Mexican constitution states that “the minimum wage in general should be sufficient to meet the normal needs of the head of the family, in material, social and cultural terms, and to provide obligatory education for the children.”

According to official figures, Mexico’s economically active population totals 52 million, of whom more than 29 million work in the informal sector. The official unemployment rate stands at 4.8 percent and underemployment at seven percent.

“Factory of the poor”

A study by the Multidisciplinary Research Centre (CAM) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that 4.4 million workers in Mexico earn from one to three times the minimum wage.

The report, “Factory of the Poor”, published in May, adds that just over two million workers earn from three to five times the minimum wage.

According to the report, the number of Mexicans who earn up to two times the minimum wage grew nearly three percent from 2007 to 2013, while the number of those who earned three to five times the minimum wage shrank 23 percent – a reflection of the impoverishment of the middle class.

Ernesto C. earns nearly 5,000 dollars a month, plus a productivity bonus, at one of the largest private banks in Mexico.

“The pay is good, it’s at the same level as other banks in the country and is similar to what is earned by colleagues from the United States who I deal with,” said the 34-year-old executive, who lives with his girlfriend in an upscale neighbourhood on the west side of the city.

Ernesto, who also asked that his last name not be used, and who drives the latest model SUV and spends nearly 300 dollars on an evening out, said he obtained financing to study abroad.

“When I came back, it wasn’t like I had expected – it was actually hard for me to find a good job. But I finally found one and I managed to climb up the ladder quickly,” he said.

The Federal District sets an example

On Sept. 25, Miguel Mancera, Mexico City’s left-wing mayor, presented a proposal to raise the minimum wage for city employees to six dollars a day as of June 2015, with the aim of extending the measure to the private sector.

The study “Policy for restoring the minimum wage in Mexico and the Federal District; Proposal for an accord”, drawn up by a group of experts, which forms the basis of Mancera’s offer, reported that the real value of wages has gone down 71 percent at a national level.

That reduction, the document says, pulls down other remunerations, just as “the minimum wage affects the entire income structure.”

Alicia Puyana, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico, says the fight against poverty has been given higher priority than efforts to reduce inequality.

“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages,” she said.

In Mexico, 53 million people are poor, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policies.

By contrast, the number of billionaires, and their fortunes, grew between 2013 and this year, says the report “Billionaire Census 2014”, produced by the Swiss bank UBS and the Singapore Wealth-X consultancy.

The number of billionaires in Mexico grew from 22 to 27 and their combined income increased from 137 billion to 169 billion dollars.

“We need a social pact and a real policy on wages. What better social policy could there be than one that directly tackles the distribution of income?” López said.

The Multidisciplinary Research Centre says the minimum wage needed to cover a basic diet would be 14 dollars a day, while the Mexico City Federal District government sets it at 13 dollars a day.

“Raising the minimum wage 15 or 20 percent is just a crumb. It doesn’t compensate the general decline, which could be remedied with a progressive fiscal policy, to capture part of the major income flows,” Puyana said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Israel’s Arabs – Marginalised, Angry and Defianthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:37:54 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137844 Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

The recent killing of an Arab youth by the police in the Israeli Arab village of Kufr Kanna, outside Nazareth, the ongoing bloody violence in Jerusalem, and the growing tensions between the Israeli security services and the Arab community in Israel could be a dangerous omen for Israeli domestic stability and for the region.

Should a third intifada or uprising erupt, it could easily spread to Arab towns and cities inside Israel.Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Foreign media is asking whether Palestinians are on the verge of starting a new intifada in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, and perhaps in Israel. Ensuing instability would rattle the Israeli body politic, creating new calls from the right for the transfer of the Arab community from Israel.

As Israeli politics moves to the right and the state becomes more Jewish and less pluralistic and inclusive, the Palestinian community, which constitutes over one-fifth of the population, feels more marginalised and alienated.

In response to endemic budgetary, economic, political, and social discrimination, the Arab community is becoming assertive, more Palestinian, and more confrontational. Calls for equality, justice, and an end to systemic discrimination by “Israeli Arab” civil society activists are now more vocal and confrontational.

The Israeli military, police, and security services would find it difficult to contain a civil rights intifada across Israel because Arabs live all over the state, from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south.

The majority of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslims, with a small Druze minority whose youth are conscripted into the Israeli army. The even smaller Christian minority is rapidly dwindling because of emigration.

The vast Muslim majority identifies closely with what is happening at the important religious site of al-Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria and the rise of Salafi groups in Sinai and Gaza will surely impact the Arabs in Israel.

In addition to Arabic, Palestinians in Israel speak Hebrew, travel throughout the country, and know Israel intimately. A potential bloody confrontation with Israeli security forces could wreak havoc on the country.

Israeli Arab Spring?

Based on conversations with “Israeli Arab” activists over the years, a possible “intifada” would be grounded in peaceful protests and non-violent civil rights struggle. The Israeli government, like Arab regimes during the Arab Spring, would attempt to delegitimise an “Israeli Arab Spring” by accusing the organisers of supporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

One Palestinian activist told me, however, “The protests are not about religion or radicalism; they are about equality, justice, dignity, and civil rights.”

Analysis of the economic, educational, political, and social status of the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel shows not much improvement has occurred since the bloody events of October 2000 in which 13 Arabs were killed during demonstrations in support of the al-Aqsa intifada. In fact, in welfare, health, employment, infrastructure, public services, and housing the situation of Israeli Arabs has retarded in the past decade.

For years, the Arab minority has been called “Israeli Arabs” because they carry the Israeli citizenship or the “’48 Arabs,” which refers to those who stayed in Israel after it came into being in 1948.

Although they have lived with multiple identities—Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Israeli—in the past half dozen years, they now reject the “Israeli Arab” moniker and have begun to identify themselves as an indigenous Palestinian community living in Israel.

Arab lawyers have gone to Israeli courts to challenge land confiscation, denial of building permits, refusal to expand the corporate limits of Arab towns and villages, meager budgets given to city and village councils, and limited employment opportunities, especially in state institutions.

In the Negev, or the southern part of Israel, thousands of Arabs live in “unrecognized” towns and villages. These towns often do not appear on Israeli maps! Growing calls by right-wing Zionist and settler politicians and their increasingly virulent “Death to Arabs” messages against the Arab minority have become more shrill and threaten to spark more communal violence between Jews and Arabs across Israel.

Deepening fissures in Israeli society between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will have long-term implications for a viable future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The Arab community expects tangible engagement initiatives from the government to include allowing Arab towns and villages to expand their corporate limits in order to ease crowding; grant the community more building permits for new houses; let Arabs buy and rent homes in Jewish towns and ethnically mixed cities, especially in Galilee; increase per capita student budgetary allocations to improve services and educational programmes in Arab schools; improve the physical infrastructure of Arab towns and villages; and recognise the “unrecognised” Arab towns in the Negev.

Depending on government policy and regional developments, Israeli Arabs could be either a bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbours or a potential domestic threat to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, or multicultural state. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

The Islamic Movement, which constitutes the vast majority of the Arab community, is also becoming more cognizant of its identity and more active in forging links with other Islamic groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

The growing sense of nationalism and Islamisation of the Arab community is directly related to Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank, continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and refusal to recognise the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. Long-term government-minority relations in Israel, whether accommodationist or confrontational, will also affect American standing and national interest in the region.

Although secular activists within the Arab community are wary of the Islamist agenda, they seem to collaborate closely with leaders of the Islamic Movement on the need to assert the political rights of Israeli Arabs as full citizens.

In 2006-07, Arab civil society institutions issued three important documents, known collectively as the “Future Vision,” expressing their vision for the future of the Palestinian community in Israel and its relations with the state.

The documents called for “self-reliance” and described the Arab minority as an “indigenous, Palestinian community with inalienable rights to the land on which it has lived for centuries.” The documents also assert the Arabs in Israel are the “original indigenous people of Palestine” and are “indivisible from the larger Palestinian, Arab, Islamic cultural heritage.”

Arab activists believe that recent Israeli policies toward the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the Knesset are undermining the integrationist effort, empowering the Islamist separatist argument, and deepening the feeling of alienation among the Arab minority.

Way forward

Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Many of the conditions that gave rise to the bloody confrontation with the police on Temple Mount over a decade ago, including the demolition of housing, restrictions on Arab politicians and Knesset members, restrictive citizenship laws, and budgetary discriminatory laws remain in place.

A decade ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) anticipated the widespread negative consequences of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority and its findings still stand. Perhaps most importantly, the organisation judged the probability of violence to remain high as long as “greater political polarization, frustration among Arab Israelis, deepening Arab alienation from the political system, and the deteriorating economic situation” are not addressed.

In order to avoid large-scale violence, the ICG recommended that the Israeli government invest in poor Arab areas, end all facets of economic, political, and social discrimination against the Arab community, increase Arab representation at all levels in the public sector, and implement racism awareness training in schools and in all branches of government, beginning with the police.

A poor, marginalised one-fifth of the Israeli population perceived as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish identity of the state can only be defused by a serious engagement strategy—economically, educationally, culturally, and politically.

If violence and continued discrimination are part of Israel’s long-term strategy against its Arab minority to force Arab emigration, it is unlikely that the government would implement tangible initiatives to improve the condition of the Arab minority.

Accordingly, communal violence in Israel would increase, creating negative ramifications for regional peace and stability and for U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137836

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Missing in Child Rights Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:08:24 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137823 Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

On Nov. 20, the whole world will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world’s most universally ratified human rights treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Sadly, the United States of America won’t be at the party or will simply be watching from the sidelines.

The U.S. remains the odd man – the odd country – out, accompanied only by Somalia and South Sudan in having failed to ratify this landmark instrument of international law.

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The absence of Somalia and South Sudan is understandable as these are among the world’s most fragile, failed or failing states. But one would expect the U.S. which claims to be a great champion of human rights in the world to be at the front and centre of this celebration, not missing in action.

One hundred ninety-four nations – including all of America’s closest allies — have ratified the CRC. It baffles non-Americans, and even many Americans, as to why the U.S. is reluctant to ratify this Convention.

This example of negative “American exceptionalism” is illogical and perverse. The Convention upholds the very same principles that underpin American democracy. It says that all children, everywhere, have the same human rights to survive and thrive, to learn and contribute.

It obligates states that embrace it to do all that is humanly possible to ensure children’s wellbeing, dignity and protection. It is supportive of parents and respectful of cultures.

Many American scholars and experts were actively involved in drafting the CRC, and the U.S. government played a leadership role in negotiating and shaping it. But most U.S. citizens remain unaware of this great human rights treaty which their country helped create.

The CRC recognises every child’s right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence; to express his or her views and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future.The experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries - rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

It reaffirms the primary role of parents and the family in raising children. It seeks to emulate key provisions on child rights and well-being under the U.S. Constitution and laws.

Some opponents of the CRC in America have argued that it would impose on this country all kinds of terrible obligations that may be harmful to America and its children and families.

These range from how possible U.N. interference might compromise the sovereignty of the U.S. and undermine its Constitution; to how the CRC might weaken American families and role of parents in bringing up their children; how it might bring about a culture of permissiveness, including abortion on demand, and unrestricted access to pornography; and how it might empower children to sue their parents and disobey their guidance.

Such concerns are not unique to America. Many groups in other countries have expressed similar fears from time to time. But in 25 years of experience in over a hundred countries, rich and poor, with liberal as well as conservative governments, such concerns have proven to be unfounded, exaggerated and hypothetical.

Some Americans argue that as the U.S. has a great Constitution and laws that are already strong and often superior to what is contained in the CRC, it is unnecessary and undesirable to ratify the Convention as it might actually lower the standards of child protection rather than strengthening them.

But the experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries – rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

In its website, the U.S. Coalition for Ratification of CRC has listed some of the common myths and real truths regarding worries about the possible negative impact of CRC on American children and families.

America is, of course, a nation of extraordinary wealth. Most children in this country are beneficiaries of this affluence. They live in comfortable homes and safe neighbourhoods; have a decent standard of living, health, education and social welfare. But there is room for some humility.

Studies by the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF, and others show that compared to the wealth of the U.S., a shocking number of children continue to lack the basics of life. Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators.

The U.S. is towards the bottom of the league in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors in jail.

For many people outside the U.S., it is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth lets every sixth child live in (relative) poverty; how its laws allow a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families can live without basic health insurance.

It is equally difficult to understand why a nation that can afford two billion dollars a day in military spending, and a trillion dollar bail-out package to huge Wall Street banks and corporate giants that brought its economy to its knees, cannot rescue its children from sickness, illiteracy, violent crimes and poverty.

Now, ratifying the CRC will not by itself dramatically change the situation of America’s children. But it would help establish a critical national framework to formulate clear goals and targets which the federal and state governments, private organisations, and individuals can use to shape policies and programmes to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Internationally, ratification of the CRC would help enhance U.S. standing as a global leader in human rights. As a party to the Convention, the U.S. would be eligible to participate in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the international body that monitors the CRC’s implementation), and work toward strengthening further progress for children in all countries.

To many people in the world, the United States of America is not just a country, but it represents an ideal – the ideal of democracy, of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and a certain global moral leadership.

That ideal image is often shattered and the reputation of the U.S. tarnished around the world whenever the U.S. government chooses to follow an arrogant, unilateralist approach; disparaging its allies and the United Nations; withdrawing its support for the International Criminal Court, abandoning its commitments under the Geneva Conventions, even condoning torture – all in the name of national security and fighting terrorism.

Still, many friends of America see these as aberrations and continue to be inspired by the ideals of democracy and human rights on which this country was founded.

On behalf of President Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright signed the CRC in 1995, signaling the U.S. government’s intention to move toward ratification. But the George W Bush administration took no further action.

Even President Obama, whose outlook and vision most closely match the spirit of the Convention, has done nothing tangible towards getting the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The global celebration of CRC@25 is a fitting opportunity for President Obama to make good on the promise he made as a presidential candidate in 2008 while speaking at Waldon University in Minnesota: “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. It is important that the U.S. return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. I will review this and other treaties to ensure that the U.S. resumes its global leadership in human rights.”

One doesn’t have to be much of a political analyst to understand that following the recent elections to the U.S. Congress, ratification of the CRC doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in the current political climate in Washington.

But President Obama has often shown a willingness to surmount political deadlocks by taking what actions he is authorised by law to take on his own, when he deems the national interest to be at stake.

One such measure that is in the president’s power to enact would be to immediately order the State Department to undertake a thorough review of the CRC, so that it is ready for submission to the Senate for ratification as soon as the situation becomes more favourable.

Some 109 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organisations and faith-based groups have recently made an impassioned joint appeal to Obama to order such a review.

In this world where kids too often come last, the Convention serves as a reminder that they must come first. It is a moral compass, a framework of accountability against which all societies can assess their treatment of the new generations.

In many parts of the world, the 20th of November is celebrated as universal children’s day. Many faith-based organisations also celebrate it as a “World Day of Prayer and Action for Children”.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CRC this year, many of us will be praying and hoping that the world’s most powerful and influential state, the United States of America, will soon join the international community in embracing the CRC as a bulwark for the defence of children’s rights and a beacon of hope for the world’s children.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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