Inter Press Service » Poverty & MDGs http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:19:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136267 Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and former Sudan People’s Liberation Army member. He’s started a war veteran’s co-op in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

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Zambia’s Cash Transfer Schemes Cushion Needy Against Climate Shockshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zambias-cash-transfer-schemes-cushion-needy-against-climate-shocks/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:30:59 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136248 Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba in southern Zambia is a beneficiary of the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA DISTRICT, Zambia, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

“Last season, I lost an entire hectare of groundnuts because of a prolonged drought. Groundnuts are my hope for income,” says Josephine Chaaba, 60, from Pemba district in southern Zambia.

A widow since 2002, Chaaba’s story is not unique in this part of Zambia.

Here, in what the Zambia Meteorological Department classifies as a region characterised by low rainfall, most families are entirely dependent on agriculture and have gone through similar hardships.

But when these disasters strike, families haven proven resilient and are finding ways to cope.

“The rainfall pattern has been getting erratic with each passing season, and as a widow I decided to start a small business of selling tomatoes and vegetables to sustain my family,” Chaaba, who looks after her 17-year-old son and two grandchildren, tells IPS.

But with only a working capital of 200 Zambian Kwacha (about 35 dollars), Chaaba had to seek assistance from the government-run Social Cash Protection Scheme.

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Josephine Chaaba, a widow who looks after her son and two grandchildren, is a beneficiary of Zambia’s social protection grant. Courtesy: Friday Phiri

Stella Kapumo of the Social Welfare Department in Pemba district explains that “there are three schemes under which our department gives support to the vulnerable in the community.”

“The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme is where material support such as shelter and food aid are given, and there are two cash protection schemes – a social cash transfer and a social protection fund,” Kapumo tells IPS.

According to Kapumo, the cash transfer is a bi-monthly cash allowance of 25 and 50 dollars respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities. The social protection fund is a once-off grant of up to 670 dollars for viable business proposals.

“The cash schemes are the most popular and have proven to be a powerful relief to the socio-economic challenges of the vulnerable communities where they are being implemented.

“However, here in Pemba we are implementing the ‘social protection fund’  where we give cash grants targeting vulnerable families to either boost and/or venture into viable businesses,” Kapumo says.

Piloted in 2003 in Kalomo district, southern Zambia, the social cash transfer has expanded to 50 districts currently providing social protection to about 60,000 vulnerable households.

“I benefited from a grant of 1,500 Zambian Kwacha [250 dollars] to boost my business. I have since added fish to selling tomatoes and vegetables.

“I just have to work extra hard to grow my capital and then school fees will no longer be a problem. I am thankful to the government for this scheme,” Chaaba says cheerfully, adding that she would not be too worried if she were to suffer another crop failure in the near future as she now has an alternative livelihood.

Communities in Zambia that rely on agriculture for their livelihoods are already suffering the consequences of climate change due to their limited resource capacity to adapt.

But stakeholders here are still searching for adaptation options that can be brought within reach of the rural poor.

And social protection may be the key.

Mutale Wakunuma, Zambia coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, who has witnessed the positive impact of the Social Cash Protection Scheme across the country, believes the strategy is a key step towards transformation and climate change adaptation.

“We believe cash transfers offer flexibility to beneficiaries as compared to food aid or agricultural inputs, and we are encouraging people working on climate change adaptation to consider cash transfers as a coping strategy,” Wakunuma tells IPS.

As government targets to reach over 390,000 households by 2015 through its social cash transfer schemes, it is expected that social protection could become a major socio-economic intervention for the most vulnerable communities in Zambia.

Wakunuma, however, cautions that the social cash transfer is not a holistic social protection strategy when it comes climate change adaptation, although it plays a “significant role in cushioning climate shocks.”

Robson Nyirenda, the training and extension coordinator at Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, argues for a knowledge-based approach in the fight against socio-economic challenges.

Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, a Catholic institute run by the Society of Jesus, promotes sustainable agricultural practices among smallholder farmers in the surrounding community.

“We believe knowledge is sustainable and lasts a lifetime. However, we cannot run away from the fact that some people are more vulnerable and require assistance in form of cash or food aid for them to survive,” Nyirenda tells IPS.

“On our part, we have continued teaching farmers climate change adaptation through sustainable farming methods in our role to compliment government efforts in empowering vulnerable communities.”

Wakunuma tells IPS, “the role of social protection cannot be overemphasised but it has to be implemented with the seriousness it deserves.”

And 22-year-old Allens Malambo, an orphan from Pemba and a beneficiary of the social protection grant, agrees.

“For the past two seasons, we have had poor yields due to poor rainfall and it has been a struggle for me and my six siblings,” Malambo tells IPS.

“At 64, grandma has no energy to sustain us. But with this money, I am determined to achieve my dream of getting into college and I urge the government to invest more and help more young people, the majority of whom are unemployed,” he says of the 420 dollars he was awarded to support his poultry business.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on fphiri200@gmail.com 

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Caregiving Exacerbates the Burden for Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:46:05 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136246 Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Hortensia Ramírez feels like she needs more hands to care for her 78-year-old mother, who suffers from arteriosclerosis, do the housework, and make homemade baked goods which she sells to support her family.

She starts her day at 6:00 AM, putting the sheets that her mother wet during the nighttime to soak, before preparing the dough for the pastries and making lunch for her two sons; one works in computers and the other is in secondary school.

“Two years ago I quit my job as a nurse because my mother couldn’t be alone, and although I have a brother who helps with the expenses, I provide the day-to-day care,” the 57-year-old, who separated from her second partner shortly before her mother started to need round-the-clock care, told IPS.

“Since then my life has been reduced to taking care of her, but it’s more and more complicated to put food on the table and to get her medication – and don’t even mention disposable diapers on my limited income…Well, let’s just say I end my day exhausted.”

Like the majority of middle-aged Cuban women, Ramírez feels the burden of domestic responsibilities and family care, exacerbated by economic hardship after more than 20 years of crisis in this socialist country.

The burden of caretaking traditionally falls to women, which sustains gender inequalities and makes women vulnerable to the reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro since 2008, aimed at boosting productivity and the efficiency of the economy, but without parallel wage hikes.

The reduction of the number of boarding schools where students combine learning with agricultural work in rural areas, the closure of workplace cafeterias, and cutbacks in the budget for social assistance have left families on their own in areas where they used to receive support from the state, and which affect, above all, the female half of the population of 11.2 million.

“The state is passing part of the burden of caregiving and healthcare and education to families, but economic development should take into account the contributions made by families,” economist Teresa Lara told IPS.

If no one cooks, takes care of the collective hygiene, helps children with homework or cares for older adults and the ill, then the workforce won’t grow, the expert said.

Cuban women in the labour market

- In Cuba there are 6,976,100 people of working age, and the active population amounts to 5,086,000. Of the 3,326,200 women of working age, 1,906,200 have remunerated work.

- Women who work in the public sector are mainly concentrated in services, where they total 1,071,400.

- Over 31,000 Cuban women belong to cooperatives, 175,500 work in the private sector, and of this group, 73,300 are self-employed.

- And of the 1,854,753 homemakers, 92 percent are women.

- Of the 67,664 unemployed women in the country, 19,360 were heads of households.

Sources: Statistical Yearbook 2013 of the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) and Census on Population and Housing 2012

But these tasks, which almost always fall to women, remain invisible and unpaid.

Cuban women dedicate 71 percent of their working hours to unpaid domestic work, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study, whose results remain valid today according to experts, found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

Based on those tendencies, Lara estimates that unremunerated domestic work and caregiving would be equivalent to 20 percent of GDP – a larger proportion than manufacturing.

And that percentage could be even higher today given the complexity of daily life in Cuba, the economist said.

Without laundries, dry cleaning services, industries that produce precooked foods or other services that ease domestic tasks at affordable prices, Cuban families have to redouble their efforts to meet household needs.

To that is added the rundown conditions of homes for the elderly and public daycare centres and the reduction of the state budget for social assistance, from 656 million dollars in 2008 to 262 million in 2013, according to the national statistics office (ONEI).

Women often end up stuck in lower level jobs, or dropping out of the job market altogether, because of the burden of caretaking for children, the ill or the elderly, on top of the other household duties.

Many women find it hard to cope financially with the burden of caregiving, in a country where the average monthly salary is 20 dollars a month while the minimum amount that a family needs is three times that, even with subsidised prices for some food items and services.

ONEI statistics show that the female unemployment rate rose from two percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2013, parallel to the drastic pruning of the government payroll, which could soon bring the number of people left without a job up to one million.

Although the number of areas where private enterprise or self-employment is permitted was expanded, they do not guarantee social security coverage. Nor do they tap into the expertise accumulated by women, who make up over 65 percent of the professional and technical workforce in this Caribbean island nation.

Sociologist Magela Romero says that burdening women with the social role of caretaker buttresses the unequal power relations between the genders, with economic, emotional, psychological and sexual consequences for women.

A qualitative study of 80 women from Havana carried out by the university professor in 2010, which IPS saw, concluded that a number of those interviewed were caught up in an endless cycle of caregiving: after they completed their studies they spent the rest of their lives raising children and taking care of parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, spouses and other family members.

This situation is especially complex in a country with an aging demographic, where 18 percent of the population is over 60 and 40 percent of households include someone over that age.

Adriana Díaz, an accountant, was only able to work in her profession for less than a decade.

“First my kids were born, and I raised them. Then I got divorced and I went back to work for four years, which were the best years of my life. But when my mother fell seriously ill, I quit again,” the 54-year-old told IPS.

Nearly nine years taking care of her mother round the clock left Díaz with a bad back and cardiovascular problems. Besides the fact that she is entirely dependent on her children, who moved abroad.

Social researcher María del Carmen Zabala says the gender gaps in employment that are a by-product of the fact that the responsibility for caregiving falls almost exclusively on women require policies that specifically address women, in line with the changes currently underway in the country.

Citing the rise in the proportion of female-headed households to 45 percent, according to the 2012 Census on Population and Housing, Zabala said specific policies targeting these families are needed, because they are especially vulnerable.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Saving a Forest, Kenyans Find a Better Quality of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:23:24 +0000 Peter Kahare http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136217 People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

By Peter Kahare
KASIGAU, Kenya, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Mercy Ngaruiya first settled in Kasigau in south eastern Kenya a decade ago, she found a depleted forest that was the result of years of tree felling and bush clearing.

“This region was literally burning. There were no trees on my farm when I moved here, the area was so dry and people were cutting down trees and burning bushes for their livelihood,” Ngaruiya, a community leader in Kasigau, told IPS.

Back then, she says, poverty and unemployment levels were high, there was limited supply of fresh water, and education and health services were poor.

Mike Korchinsky, the president of Wildlife Works, a Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project development and management company, remembers it all too well.

“When I came here, you could hear the sounds of axes as people constantly cut trees. Cutting down trees is doubly alarming because you have an immediate emission when the carbon that has been stored in the forest for centuries is released into the atmosphere, and then there is nothing to sequester the carbon that is being produced by human activities,” Korchinsky told IPS.

Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

“Things are changing now since my fellow villagers agreed to embrace environmental conservation. The environment is continuing to improve,” Ngaruiya said.

The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities.

A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

“We no longer need to cut trees now for charcoal, we use biogas and eco-friendly charcoal made from pruned leaves. We cook while conserving trees,” resident Nicoleta Mwende told IPS.

Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation.

“Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources.

Trading in carbon credits is still in a nascent stage in Kenya.

But according to Alfred Gichu, the forestry climate change specialist at Kenya Forest Service, a state corporation that conserves and manages forests, the future of carbon credits trade in Kenya is bright.

There are 16 active, registered carbon credits projects and 26 others are in the process of being registered.

“Of the 26, 19 are energy-based, like the Geothermal Development Company, and seven involve reforestation projects,” Gichu told IPS. The expansive Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a key target by the government for the carbon credits trade, he added.

When it comes to forests conservation, Kenya is one of the countries where policies have led to success according to “Deforestation Success Stories 2013” a report by the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report cites the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project as a major success story, noting that by late 2012, revenues generated from the sale of voluntary carbon credits from the project had reached 1.2 million dollars.

According to a UNEP’s 2013 “Emissions Gap” report, promotion of tree planting on farms, schools and other public institutions; prohibiting harvesting of trees in public forests; and awareness creation by both the government and private conservationists are some of the policy measures in Kenya that have boosted forest cover.

But there are also challenges that hinder development of REDD+ projects here.

Moses Kimani, the director of the African Carbon Exchange, cites lack of expertise and finances as some of the major challenges hindering development of carbon credits trade.

“Besides poor policies and weak legislative framework, many carbon credits projects in Kenya and Africa lack the much-needed expertise and finance,” Kimani told IPS.

During last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Poland, participants agreed on a framework for REDD+ and pledged 280 million dollars in financing.

But environmentalists lament a lack of clear mechanisms to enable these adaptation funds to trickle down and reach local communities.

John Maina, an environmental conservationist, says that Kenyans running these projects were losing out to traders after selling carbon at throwaway prices due to low level of understanding.

“The government, civil society sector and NGOs should work together to strengthen regulations and sensitise Kenyans on carbon projects and how they can access financing,” Maina told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

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India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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TNT and Scrap Metal Eviscerate Syria’s Industrial Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 17:53:37 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136210 Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria / GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Numerous mechanics, tyre and car body shops used to line the busy streets near the Old City of Syria’s previous industrial and commercial hub.

Now car parts, scrap metal, TNT and other explosive materials are packed into oil drums, water tanks or other large cylinders from regime areas and dropped from helicopters onto civilian areas in the same city, in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139.

In the days spent inside the city in August, IPS frequently heard bombs throughout the day and night and visited several sites of recent attacks on civilian areas. Locally organised civil defence units could be seen trying to extract survivors from the rubble, but often nothing could be done.

Roughly six months ago, on February 22, the U.N. resolution ordered all parties to the conflict to halt the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on populated areas. The Syrian regime has instead intensified its use of them.An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in late July saying that it had identified ‘’at least 380 distinct damage site in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo’’ through satellite imaging in the period from October 31, 2013 to the February 22 resolution, and over 650 new impact strikes on rebel-held areas in the period since, marking a significant increase.

One of the deadliest days of recent months in the city was on June 16, when 68 civilians were killed by aerial attacks, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The centre also noted that in the five months between February 22 and July 22, a total of 1,655 civilians were killed in the Aleppo governorate by aerial attacks.

An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced. He said that every month the number of people in the area is re-counted for food supply and other requests to donors given the huge displacement under way.

The only road heading towards the Turkish border in rebel hands is now in danger of falling to the fundamentalist Islamic State (IS) – previously known as Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – even if the armed opposition groups manage to keep government troops at bay.

Regime forces are trying to inflict a siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held areas to force them into submission, as they have done to other cities in several parts of the country.

The removal of the jihadist IS group from large sections of territory not under regime control has been entirely due to the fighting by the rebel groups themselves, and it is likely that many will face brutal execution if the group enters the city again – a prospect the regime seems to be favouring.

Barrel bombs are not dropped on IS forces or on the territory held by them, and until recently there were few cases of any sort of attack at all by regime forces against IS-held areas.

A local activist from IS-controlled Jarabulus, now living across the border in Turkey – after coming under suspicion of “speaking negatively of IS” within the community – told IPS that since the jihadist group had taken control of the city, ‘’there has not been a single attack on any part of it’’ by the regime.

The TNT-filled cylinders dropped by Syrian government forces have in recent months instead been destroying the few productive activities that had remained in a city formerly known worldwide for its olive oil soap, textiles and other industries.

Aya Jamili, a local activist now living in Turkey, told IPS that the few Aleppo businessmen who had tried to keep their operations up and running through the years of the conflict had in recent months either moved their equipment across the border or just moved whatever capital they had available and started over again.

Much activity needed for day-to-day survival in the city has moved underground. Underground structures have been renovated by civil defence units into shelters, which also served to hold the festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. Any large gathering in the streets would have been likely to attract the attention of the regime.

People who can have moved to basement flats, as have media centres and bakeries, which work at night to avoid being targeted.

Produce is brought in from the countryside and stands sell melons and tomatoes in the streets nearer the regime ones. Because barrel bombs cannot be precisely aimed, there is too large a risk for the regime of dropping them close to its own side, so these locations are deemed ‘safer’.

Nevertheless, there is still the constant risk of snipers and large sheets of bullet-scarred canvas have been hung across some of the streets to minimise their line of vision.

The once bustling, traffic-clogged streets farther away resemble for the most part desolate wastelands.

On the way out of the city, two barrel bombs were dropped in quick succession near the neighbourhood through which IPS was travelling and, just as the driver said ‘’the helicopters only carry two each, so for the moment that’s all’’ and sped onwards, a third, deafening impact occurred nearby, shaking the ground.

Further down the road, signs indicating the way to ‘Sheikh Najjar, industrial city’ are shot through with bullet holes, an apocalyptic scene of crumbling buildings behind them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Recurrent Cholera Outbreak in Far North Cameroon Highlights Development Gapshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/recurrent-cholera-outbreak-in-far-north-cameroon-highlights-development-gaps/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 09:30:30 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136203 Lara Adama digs for water in a dried up river bed in Dumai, in Cameroon’s far north. There has been a nine-month drought in the region and recurrent cholera outbreaks. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Lara Adama digs for water in a dried up river bed in Dumai, in Cameroon’s far north. There has been a nine-month drought in the region and recurrent cholera outbreaks. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
DUMAI/YAOUDE, Cameroon, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Under a scorching sun, with temperatures soaring to over 40 degrees Celsius, Lara Adama’s family is forced to dig for water from a dried-out river bed in Dumai, in northern Cameroon. 

This is one of the rivers that used to flow into the shrinking Lake Chad but there is not much water here.

There has been a nine-month-long drought in the region and Adama tells IPS that her family “digs out the sand on this river bed to tap water.”

“We depend on this water for everything in the house,” Adama, a villager in Mokolo in Cameroon’s Far North Region, says.

A cholera outbreak has been declared in Adama’s village. But she and other community members have no choice but to get their water from this river.

The lone borehole in this village of about 1,500 people is out of use due to technical problems.

“Every family comes here to retrieve drinking water. Our animals too depend on this water source to survive. When we come after the animals have already polluted a hole, we simply dig another to avoid any health problems,” she says.

This region is threatened by extreme water shortages and climate variability. Barren soils constitute some 25 to 30 percent of the surface area of this region. Lake Chad is rapidly shrinking while Lake Fianga dried up completely in December 1984.

Gregor Binkert, World Bank country director for Cameroon, tells IPS that a water-related crisis is prevalent in the north and there is an increased need for protection from floods and drought, which are affecting people more regularly.

“Northern Cameroon is characterised by high poverty levels, and it is also highly vulnerable to natural disasters and climate shocks, including frequent droughts and floods,” Binkert explains.

The protracted droughts in Far North Region have triggered a sharp increase in cholera cases. The outbreak is mainly concentrated in the Mayo-Tsanaga region as all its six health districts have cases of the infectious disease. The current outbreak has already resulted in more than 200 deaths out of the 1,500 cholera cases reported here since June.

According Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health Andre Mama Fouda, “poor sanitation and limited access to good drinking water are the main causes of recurrent outbreak in the Far North. A majority of those infected with the disease are children under the age of five and women.”

Since 2010 three cholera outbreaks have been declared in Far North Region:
  • In 2010, a cholera outbreak spread to eight of Cameroon’s 10 regions, resulting in 657 deaths – 87 percent of which where were from the Far North Region.
  • In 2011, 17,121 suspected cholera cases, including 636 deaths, were recorded in Cameroon. Again a majority of those who died were from the Far North.
  • The latest cholera case in Far North was registered on Apr. 26, when a Nigerian family crossed into Cameroon to receive treatment. Neighbouring Nigeria has reported 24,683 cholera cases since January and the first week of July.

Poor hygiene practices

“Cholera in this region is not only a water scarcity problem, it also aggravated by the poor hygienic practices that are deeply rooted in people’s culture. Water is scarce and considered as a very precious commodity, but handling it is quite unhygienic,” Félicité Tchibindat, the country representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Cameroon, tells IPS.

Cultural practices are still primitive in most villages and urban areas.

Northerners have a culture where people publicly share water jars, from which everyone drinks from.

“These practices and many others make them vulnerable to water vector diseases. [It is the] reason why cholera can easily spread to other communities. Cholera outbreaks are a result of inadequate water supplies, sanitation, food safety and hygiene practices,” Tchibindat says.

Open defecation is also common in the region. According Global Atlas of Helminth Infections, 50 to 75 percent of the rural population in Far North Cameroon defecate in the open, compared to 25 to 50 percent of people in urban areas.

Access to good drinking water and sanitation is also very limited. Two out of three people do not have access to proper sanitation and hygiene. While about 40 percent of the population has access to good drinking water, this figure is much lower in rural areas. In rural Cameroon only about 18 percent of people have access to improved drinking water sources, which are on average about over 30 minutes away.

Development challenges

Water sanitation and health (WASH) is vital for development, yet Far North Region has some of the most limited infrastructure in the entire nation, coupled with security challenges as the region is increasily throated by Nigeria’s extremist group Boko Haram.

Poverty is high in the region, UNICEF’s Tchibindat says. And the security issue in neighbouring countries has not helped Cameroon provide proper access to medical services here.

According to UNICEF, major challenges abound in Cameroon. There is a low capacity of coordination for WASH at all levels, and poor institutional leadership of sanitation issues. The decentralisation of the WASH sector means there is no proper support with inequitable distribution of human resources in regions.

“The government and many development partners have provided boreholes to communities and the region counts more than 1,000 boreholes today,” Parfait Ndeme from the Ministry of Mines, Water Resources and Energy says.

But about 30 percent of boreholes are non-functional and need repair, according to UNICEF.

Ndeme explains that, “the cost of providing potable water in the sahelian region might be three times more costly than down south. Distance is one major factor that influences cost and the arid climate in the region makes it difficult to have underground water all year round.”

A borehole in the northern region costs at least eight million Francs (about 16,300 dollars) compared to two million Francs (about 4,000 dollars) in other regions.

Health care challenges are prominent.

“The Far North has limited access development which also has a direct influence of the quality of health care,” Tchibindat says.

The unavailability of basic infrastructure and equipment in health centres makes it difficult to practice in isolated rural areas. Consequently, most rural health centre have a high rate of desertion by staff due to the low level of rural development, she adds.

Most of Cameroon’s health workers, about 59.75 percent, are concentrated in the richest regions; Centre, Littoral and West Region, serving about 42.14 percent of Cameroon’s 21 million people.

According to the World Health Organisation:

  • 30.9 percent of health centres in Cameroon do not have a medical analysis laboratory.
  • 83 percent of health centres do not have room for minor surgery.
  • 45.7 percent of health centres have no access to electricity
  • 70 percent of health centres have no tap water.

“Due to lack of equipment in hospitals, the treatment might only start after a couple of hours increasing the probability of it spreading,” Peter Tambe, a health expert based in Maroua, the capital of Far North Region, tells IPS.

“Report of new cholera cases are numerous in isolated villages and the present efforts by the government and development partners are not sufficient to treat and also monitor prevalence,” Tambe says.

Since the discovery of cholera in the region, the government and UNICEF and other partners have doubled their services to these localities to enforce health facilities and provide the population with basic hygiene aid, water treatment tablets and free treatment for patients, regardless of their nationality, along the border with Chad and Nigeria.

“Despite insecurity challenges facing this region, the government and its partners have embarked on information exchanges with Niger, Chad, and Nigeria to avoid further cross-border cases,” Public Health Minister Fouda tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at nformonde@gmail.com

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Despite Current Debate, Police Militarisation Goes Beyond U.S. Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136197 "Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in the southern United States earlier this month has led to widespread public outrage around issues of race, class and police brutality.

In particular, a flurry of policy discussions is focusing on the startling level of force and military-style weaponry used by local police in responding to public demonstrations following the death Aug. 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.“We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.” -- WOLA's Maureen Meyer

The situation has galvanised support from both liberal and conservative members of Congress for potential changes to a law that, since the 1990s, has provided local U.S. police forces with surplus military equipment. The initiative, overseen by the Department of Defence and known as the “1033 programme”, originally came about in order to support law-enforcement personnel in the fight against drug gangs.

“We need to de-militarise this situation,” Claire McCaskill, one of Missouri’s two senators, said last week. “[T]his kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”

In a widely read article titled “We Must Demilitarize the Police”, conservative Senator Rand Paul likewise noted that “there should be a difference between a police response and a military response” in law enforcement.

During attempts to contain public protests in the aftermath of the shooting, police in Ferguson used high-powered weapons, teargas, body armour and even armoured vehicles of types commonly used by the U.S. military during wartime situations. Now, it appears the 1033 programme will likely come under heavy scrutiny in coming months.

“Congress established this programme out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals. We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Carl Levin, chair of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday.

“[W]e will review this programme to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Drugs and terrorism

Despite this unusual bipartisan agreement over the dangers of a militarised police force, there appears to be no extension of this concern to rising U.S. support for militarised law enforcement in other countries.

While a 2011 law requires annual reporting on U.S. assistance to foreign police, that data is not yet available. However, during 2009, the most recent data available, Washington provided more than 3.5 billion dollars in foreign assistance for police activities, particularly in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and the Palestinian Territories.

According to an official report from 2011, “the United States has increased its emphasis on training and equipping foreign police as a means of supporting a wide range of U.S. foreign-policy goals,” particularly in the context of the wars on drugs and terrorism.

In the anti-terror fight, African countries are perhaps the most significant recipients of new U.S. security aid. Yet a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the dangers of this approach, focusing on the U.S.-supported Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Kenya.

The report, released Monday, builds on previous allegations against the ATPU of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Yet neither the Kenyan authorities nor the ATPU’s main donors – the United States and United Kingdom – have seriously investigated these longstanding allegations, HRW says.

Washington’s support for the ATPU has been significant, amounting to 19 million dollars in 2012 alone. Yet while U.S. law mandates a halting of aid pending investigation of credible reports of rights abuse, HRW says Washington “has not scaled down its assistance to the unit”.

“The goals of supporting the police in general are laudable and in line with concerns over rule of law,” Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher with HRW’s Africa division, told IPS.

“The problem here is it’s clear that, notwithstanding the goals of the assistance, it’s serving to undermine rule of law because the ATPU is taking matters into its own hands. So, our call is for donors to be smarter about providing this kind of assistance.”

Unseen since the 1980s

Meanwhile, Mexico and Latin American countries have been seeing an uptick in U.S. assistance for security forces as part of efforts to crack down on the drug trade.

“Currently the Central American governments are relying more and on their militaries to address the recent surge in violence,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here.

“While the U.S. is saying it’s not providing any assistance to these forces, there is significant assistance being provided through the Department of Defence for counter-narcotics, which is channelled through the militaries of these countries.”

According to a new paper from Alexander Main, a senior associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a think tank here, U.S. security assistance to the region began strengthening again during the latter years of President George W. Bush’s time in office.

“Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed ‘dirty wars’ of the 1980s,” Main writes, noting that a “key model” for bilateral assistance has been Colombia. Since 1999, an eight-billion-dollar programme in that country has seen “the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups”.

Yet last year, nearly 150 NGOs warned that U.S. policies of this type, which “promote militarization to address organized crime”, had been ineffective. Further, the groups said, such an approach had resulted in “a dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.”

Mexico has been a particularly prominent recipient of U.S. security aid around the war on drugs.

“From the 1990s onward, the trend has been to encourage the Mexican government to involve the military in drug operations – and, over the past two years, also in public security,” Maureen Meyer, a senior associate on Mexico for WOLA, told IPS.

In the process, she says, civilian forces, too, have increasingly received military training, leading to concerns over human rights violations and excessive use of force, as well as a lack of knowledge over how to deal with local protests – concerns startlingly similar to those now coming out of Ferguson, Missouri.

“You can see how disturbing this trend is in the United States, and we are concerned about a similar trend towards militarised police forces in Latin American countries,” Meyer notes. “We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Orphanages – Black Holes for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 21:35:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136195 Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Homes for orphans or children in vulnerable situations in Mexico lack the necessary state regulation and supervision, which leads to scandalous human rights violations.

“The situation is very serious,” said Laura Martínez, director of the non-governmental Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño, in the city of Irapuato in the central state of Guanajuato, some 300 km north of Mexico City. “The higher interests of the children aren’t taken into account. Their rights are violated.

“There is no national census on where they are, who takes care of them, under which methodology. We should be well-regulated, well-supervised. The regulations are not followed and there is no legislation on this,” she told IPS.

Her shelter, known as the Villa Infantil Irapuato, has been taking in children since 1969 and has a capacity to house 40 orphans or children in an at-risk situation, between the ages of six and 20. Since 2003 it has applied its own care protocol.

The children are referred by the state office of the National System for Integral Development of the Family (DIF), and the shelter receives public and private financing.

Orphanages in Mexico operate in a vacuum of legislation, official records and supervision, with widespread problems of noncompliance and a lack of professionalism and funding – a situation that experts say is in violation of international treaties signed by Mexico.

In this country of 118 million people, with some 45 million children under the age of 18, there are around 700 public and private homes providing shelter to 30,000 children. But the Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (Latin American Foster Care Network) estimates that there are roughly 400,000 children in Mexico without parental care, including 100,000 who live on the streets.

The latest scandal over how these institutions are run broke out on Jul. 15, when the attorney general’s office announced that 596 people, including 458 children, were rescued from the “La Gran Familia” shelter in Zamora, a city in the western state of Michoacán. They were living in squalid conditions, in rooms infested with cockroaches and rats, according to the authorities.

Residents said they were raped, beaten, held against their will, and forced to beg. “We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisation and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions.” Martin Pérez

The home, which was founded in 1947, was run by Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, known as “Mamá Rosa”. She was deemed unfit to face prosecution because of her age and health problems, but six of her collaborators have been charged with kidnapping, child abuse and sexual abuse. The centre was shut down permanently on Jul. 30.

“The state is 30 years behind in terms of guaranteeing the rights of children in public policies,” said Martín Pérez, executive director of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children. “The state has never supervised these establishments; every once in a while something comes to light and it remembers them and turns its attention to them.”

Since the state does not provide funds, it does not exercise oversight either. “And that leaves children in a vulnerable position. The shelters become a black hole; no one knows what educational method they’re using…what damage is caused,” Pérez told IPS.

Although the “Mamá Rosa” case was the highest profile scandal, whenever one of the orphanages or children’s homes makes it into the news, they all have one thing in common: irregularities in the way they are run.

On Jun. 17, the authorities rescued 33 children ages five to 17 and 10 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from the Casa Hogar Domingo Savio in the central city of Puebla, in response to signs of abuse by the director of the home.

In 2011, 19 children were freed from the Instituto Casa Hogar Nuestro Señor de la Misericordia y Nuestra Señora de la Salette in Mexico City. The victims of abuse had received death threats to keep them from reporting the conditions they were held in.

Two years earlier, the authorities removed 126 mistreated youngsters from the “Casitas del Sur” shelters run by the non-governmental organisation Reintegración Social. They also found that 15 had gone missing, three of whom are still lost.

The Social Assistance Law requires the health ministry to monitor the homes for children. But the supervision is practically nonexistent.

International concern

For over a decade, Mexico has been in the sights of international bodies for these practices.

In its recommendations to the Mexican state in 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the large number of children placed in private institutions without any supervision, and suggested the creation of a directory and database of children in private homes.

“The Committee is concerned about lack of information (number, conditions of living, etc.) on children separated from their parents who are living in institutions. The Committee notes the large number of children in institutions managed by the private sector, and regrets the lack of information and oversight by the state on these institutions,” the document says.

The Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that the state establish regulations based on children’s rights and introduce effective legislation, reinforcing existing structures such as the extended family, improving training of staff and allocating increased resources to the relevant bodies.

In the February 2014 report “The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative Care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas”, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Organisation of American States (OAS) member countries to “properly regulate the operation of residential care facilities and carry out proper oversight, investigating them and, where appropriate, punishing any violations of children’s rights that take place in these facilities.”

“Institutionalising children continues to be a common response to these situations in the countries of the region, although evidence shows that the way many residential institutions currently operate does not guarantee that the rights of the children who are put in them are protected, and exposes them to situations of violence, abuse, and neglect,” the IACHR concluded.

Civil society groups in Mexico plan to launch an offensive to pressure the state to fulfill its obligations.

During the 69th session of the pre-sessional Working Group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to be held Sept. 22-26, a delegation of children, along with UNICEF – the U.N. chidren’s fund – and non-governmental organisations, will present a report in Geneva on the situation of children, including minors without parental care.

In May-June 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, made up of 18 independent experts, will evaluate Mexico.

And the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Rosa María Ortiz, will visit Mexico in October to draw up a report on the situation here.

“We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisaton and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions,” said Pérez of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children.

Martínez, the head of the Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño de Irapuato children’s home, said it is important to take a close look at what kind of care each organisation provides. “The current model is too welfare-oriented. And who can guarantee monitoring of the cases? There is another approach that should be followed – working for a child’s development.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Island States to Rally Donors at Samoa Meethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/island-states-to-rally-donors-at-samoa-meet/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:49:19 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136190 Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Flood damage in St. Vincent. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid accelerating climate change and other challenges, a major international conference in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa next month represents a key chance for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean to turn the tide.

“This is an opportune moment where you will have all of the donor agencies and the funding partners so as civil society we have prepared a draft which looks at agriculture, health, youth, women and many other areas to present to the conference highlighting the needs in the SIDS,” Pamela Thomas, Caribbean civil society ambassador on agriculture for the United Nations, told IPS."We face particular vulnerabilities and our progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon." -- Ruleta Camacho

“My primary area is agriculture and in agriculture we are targeting climate change because climate change is affecting our sector adversely,” she said.

“One of the projects we are putting forward to the SIDS conference is the development of climate smart farms throughout the SIDS. That is our major focus. The other area of focus has to do with food security, that is also a top priority for us as well but our major target at this conference is climate change,” added Thomas, who also heads the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN).

SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway, a 30-page document developed ahead of the conference, outlines the particular challenges that SIDS face.

These include addressing debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, climate change, biodiversity conservation and building resilience to natural systems, sustainable energy, disaster risk reduction, threats to fisheries, food security and nutrition, water and sanitation, to name a few.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator on sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, said the challenges faced by Caribbean SIDS are related to sustainable development issues.

She pointed out that there are still significant gaps with respect to sustainable development in SIDS and developing countries generally.

“With respect to SIDS we face particular vulnerabilities and our development progress is impacted more than other developing countries by climate change and other natural phenomenon,” she told IPS. “So because of our isolation and other physical impacts of these phenomenons we are sometimes held back.

“You take the case of Grenada where its GDP went to zero overnight because of a hurricane. So we have these sorts of factors that hinder us and so we are trying our best.”

Despite these circumstances, Camacho said Caribbean SIDS have done very well, but still require a lot of international assistance.

“The reason for these conferences, this being the third, is to highlight what our needs are, what our priorities are and set the stage for addressing these priorities in the next 10 years,” she explained.

In September 2004, Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean region in a decade, laid waste to Grenada. The havoc created by the 125 mph winds cut communication lines and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of all buildings on the island.

Thomas’ group, CaFAN, represents farmers in all 15 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Initiated by farmer organisations across the Caribbean in 2002, it is mandated to speak on behalf of its membership and to develop programmes and projects aimed at improving livelihoods; and to collaborate with all stakeholders in the agriculture sector to the strategic advantage of its farmers.

Camacho said the Sep. 1-4 conference provides opportunities not only for farmers but the Caribbean as a whole.

“Because we are small we are a little bit more adaptable and we tend to be more resilient as a people and as a country,” she said. “So with respect to all our challenges what we need to do is to communicate to our funders that the one size fits all does not work for small island developing states.

“We have socio-cultural peculiarities that allow us to work a little differently and one of the major themes that we emphasise when we go to these conferences is that we don’t want to be painted with the broad brush as being Latin America and the Caribbean. We want our needs as small island Caribbean developing state and the particular opportunities and our positioning to be recognised,” Camacho said.

And she remains optimistic that the international funding agencies will respond in the affirmative in spite of a recurring theme in terms of the Caribbean requesting special consideration.

“Like any business model, you can’t just try one time. You try 10 times and if one is successful then it was worth it. Yes there have been disappointments where we have done this before, we have outlined priorities before,” she explained.

“To be quite frank, this document (S.A.M.O.A) seems very general when you compare it to the documents that were used in Mauritius or Barbados, however, we have found, I think Antigua and Barbuda has been recognised as one of the countries, certainly in the environmental management sector to be able to access funding.

“We have a higher draw down rate than any of the other OECS countries and that is because of our approach to donor agencies. We negotiate very hard, we don’t give up and we try to use adaptive management in terms of fitting our priorities to what is on offer,” Camacho added.

The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States is “The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships”.

The conference will include six multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues, held in parallel with the plenary meetings.

It will seek to achieve the following objectives: assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation; seek a renewed political commitment by focusing on practical and pragmatic actions for further implementation; identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS and means of addressing them; and identify priorities for the sustainable development of SIDS to be considered in the elaboration of the post-2015 U.N. development agenda.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Helping Uganda’s HIV positive Women Avoid Unplanned Pregnancieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/helping-ugandas-hiv-positive-women-avoid-unplanned-pregnancies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-ugandas-hiv-positive-women-avoid-unplanned-pregnancies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/helping-ugandas-hiv-positive-women-avoid-unplanned-pregnancies/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 12:05:08 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136181 Contraception is a smart choice but HIV positive women have to jump through the hooks to get it. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Contraception is a smart choice but HIV positive women have to jump through the hooks to get it. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Barbara Kemigisa used to call herself an “HIV/AIDS campaigner”. These days she would rather be known as an “HIV/AIDS family planning campaigner”.

“We need to reduce unplanned pregnancies and the HIV infection rate in our country,” Kemigisa told IPS during Uganda’s first national family planning conference on July 28. “It’s about dual protection.”

Raped by two uncles from an early age, Kemigisa later became promiscuous. When she was 22, she discovered she was HIV positive – and two months pregnant. Her daughter, Kourtney, now five, was born negative. But the mother couldn’t afford to buy her formula milk and, when she was just six-months-old, the baby tested positive, through breastfeeding.

Fast Facts About HIV AND Women in Uganda 2013

36.3m population
58 life expectancy
7.2% HIV prevalence
780,000 women living with HIV
6 total fertility rate
30% modern contraceptive use
57% births with skilled attendant

Source: UNICEF

Kemigisa, an informed activist who gets her ARVs the Infectious Diseases Institute at Mulago Hospital and works with KiBO Foundation in Kampala,never had any problem obtaining contraceptives.

The same can’t be said for many young HIV positive women Kemigisa regularly meets.

“Health workers tell them ‘you’re positive, you’re not supposed to be having children’,” she says.

In the last decade, Uganda’s modern contraceptive use among women has slowly increased from 18 percent to 26 percent.

Though low, this level of contraceptive use likely averted 20 percent of paediatric HIV infections and 13 percent of AIDS-related children’s deaths, says a study. Expanding family planning services can substantially reduce child infections, it concluded.

This is crucial. Uganda’s HIV infection rate of seven percent is steadily rising after a steep drop in the 1990s, when more than a quarter of the population was infected.

Uganda now accounts for the third largest number of annual new HIV infections in the world, after South Africa and Nigeria, according to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Turning women away

Contraception is the second pillar of preventing mother to child HIV transmission (PMTCT) but one that is often neglected although, at an average of six children per woman, Uganda has one of the world’s highest fertility rates.

Women trying to cope with HIV also struggle to get the “right and correct information” on family planning, says Dorothy Namutamba, of the International Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS Eastern Africa (ICWEA).

“Information doesn’t reach women living with HIV in their reproductive age,” she says.

Women may face violence at home for being HIV positive and for using contraception, only to be further mistreated when they turn to health workers, says Namutamba.

“Some are told ‘oh, this is best for you’ and brushed off at the health facility,” says Namutamba.

In the worst-case scenarios, some HIV positive women have undergone coerced sterilisation.

Namutamba says this may happen when the woman has a caesarean section or goes for family planning services: “They’re told that this is the best for you as a HIV positive woman.”

In Kenya, ICWEA and other groups have documented about fifty cases of coerced sterilisation and will release later this year a report about similar cases in Uganda.

Because of discriminatory attitudes, “a large percentage of women are hesitant to share their status with health workers when they come to receive family planning services,” Dr Deepmala Mahla, country director for Marie Stopes Uganda, told IPS.

Two services, one trip

Inadequate coverage, frequent stock outs of commodities, limited offer of contraceptive methods and lack of trained staff affect family planning services for all women in Uganda, says Dr Primo Madra, programme officer with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kampala.

But for women living with HIV, he says, the main problem is the time and effort required.

An HIV positive woman who goes to the clinic for a refill of ARV pills must line up at the HIV clinic and then at the family planning clinic, both likely with long queues. She may have to do two trips.

“Most often the woman will prioritise the ARVs,” says Madra.

In a number of districts, the government and UNFPA are setting up “one-stop-shops” that offer both HIV and reproductive health services, and training health workers in the new system.

“This will enable a woman who walks into an ARV clinic to access all services more conveniently,” Primo told IPS.

But, he adds, the nationwide rollout of one-stop-shops is constrained by lack of staff: “Many health facilities have vacant health worker positions and are overwhelmed by the patient load.”

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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TB Epidemic Threat Hangs Over Ukraine Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tb-epidemic-threat-hangs-over-ukraine-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tb-epidemic-threat-hangs-over-ukraine-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tb-epidemic-threat-hangs-over-ukraine-conflict/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 10:40:33 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136171 By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Aug 17 2014 (IPS)

Doctors are warning of a worsening tuberculosis epidemic in Eastern Ukraine as the continuing conflict there begins to take a heavy toll on public health.

With thousands of people fleeing the region every day, medical supplies severely disrupted and those left behind under growing physical stress and increasingly unable to access medical services, conditions are ripe for a rise in new TB cases.

Dr Masoud Dara, Tuberculosis Programme Manager at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe, told IPS: “The situation with TB was not good before the conflict, but we can say that the conflict has certainly made it worse.”Since the outbreak of hostilities and the Ukrainian military’s push to reclaim control of areas in Eastern Ukraine from pro-Russian separatists, health care providers in the region have come under increasing pressure

Since the outbreak of hostilities and the Ukrainian military’s push to reclaim control of areas in Eastern Ukraine from pro-Russian separatists, health care providers in the region have come under increasing pressure.

Not only have hospitals been forced to deal with treating of casualties of the fighting, they have also had to cope with patients being moved in and out of hospitals and abandoning or interrupting treatment as the security status of individual towns and cities changes.

It has also become increasingly difficult to obtain supplies of vital medicines, and terrified staff – up to 70 percent of medical staff are estimated to have fled Donetsk and Luhansk, according to U.N. officials – have left hospitals and clinics.

The problems have been particularly acute with regard to TB. Ukraine has one of the worst TB problems in Europe, second only to Russia in terms of infection numbers.

According to official data, there are 48,000 people registered with the disease and it claimed the lives of just over 6,000 people in 2013. However, one in four people with TB are not officially registered, according to WHO.

The country also has a particular problem with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) which is much harder to successfully treat than normal TB.

WHO reports that Ukraine is one of “27 high multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) burden countries in the world,” adding that “despite the adoption of the Stop TB Strategy by the National TB Programme (NTP), its components have not been sufficiently implemented.”

Organisations working in the region say they fear the disease will claim lives as the fighting is making it impossible to identify cases, monitor or guarantee timely treatment for those who need it.

Dr Dara told IPS: “There are indications that incidence of TB may increase. TB sufferers need to have medicines provided to them in a timely fashion and if that cannot be done and TB sufferers’ treatment is interrupted and they cannot access treatment elsewhere, there is a risk that the disease could then be spread and that people may die.

“We do not have detailed information at the moment on how exactly the conflict has affected the TB situation in Eastern Ukraine, but we do know that it has, at least, affected TB control efforts. It is hard to thoroughly implement checks on all people with TB in the conflict zone.”

Doctors in Donetsk, a city of one million and regional stronghold for pro-Russian separatists, have told humanitarian organisations working in the region of their fears over the fate of patients needing treatment.

Ole Solvang of Human Rights Watch, who carried out detailed research in Eastern Ukraine on the effects of the current conflict on the region’s health care, told IPS: “One hospital administrator in the main hospital in Donetsk told us that his hospital had a capacity for 1,200 patients but that because of the war they had only 450 at the moment.”

Solvang said that “the explanations put forward for this are that because people were afraid of travelling they were not coming to the hospital, that they were saving money and did not want to pay to get to hospital or that so many people have left the region because of the conflict.”

But his fear was that people with medical problems not connected to the conflict, such as serious diseases, are now not getting the treatment that they need.

Other doctors have warned that problems with medicine supplies because of the conflict could turn out to be an even bigger problem than the interruption of TB treatment.

One who spoke to IPS said that if a TB patient was given only a few drugs instead of the full range of medicines needed as part of treatment, it could lead to developing the much more dangerous drug-resistant TB.

The true scale of the problem with TB in the region is impossible to ascertain clearly because of the rapidly changing conditions in the conflict zone, while many under-pressure medical staff working directly in the conflict zone have been reluctant to speak in detail to anyone other than colleagues.

Regional officials also declined to comment when approached by IPS.

One doctor from Donetsk who spoke to IPS said that TB patients in regional hospitals, as well as hundreds being treated on an out-patient basis, were receiving the treatment they needed.

According to Dr Yuriy Semionovich, “there are 550 tuberculosis patients in Donetsk and Slavyansk hospitals at the moment. They are getting all the medicines and treatment they need. There are 200 patients treated on an out-patient basis and they too are receiving what medicines they need. We have the situation under control.”

However, some others are far more pessimistic in their assessment of the TB threat to the region.

Natalia Chursina, deputy head of the Donetsk Regional Tuberculosis Hospital, told local media earlier this month that “we will definitely have an outbreak in prevalence of all forms of TB after all this ends”.

Despite claims from some Ukrainian officials that the separatists will soon be dealt with and that fighting could be over in a matter of weeks, many experts say a quick end to the conflict is unlikely. And even if that were to happen, it is unclear how quickly medical service provision would return to normal, nor how many TB patients may have abandoned or interrupted treatment.

What is clear though is that without a change in current conditions, the situation with TB in the region is unlikely to improve any time soon.

“If conditions improve with regard to the supply of treatment, medicines and provision of health care services then we can foresee some improvement with the TB situation,” Dr Dara told IPS. “But without a change in those, then there is little hope that TB treatment can improve.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Côte d’Ivoire Steps Up Public Education to Keep Ebola Count at Zero Amid West Africa’s Worst Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cote-divoire-steps-up-public-education-to-keep-ebola-count-at-zero-amid-west-africas-worst-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoire-steps-up-public-education-to-keep-ebola-count-at-zero-amid-west-africas-worst-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cote-divoire-steps-up-public-education-to-keep-ebola-count-at-zero-amid-west-africas-worst-outbreak/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 09:31:23 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136158 Translator Serge Tian in village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire. He translates sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi’s message about the spread of Ebola in West Africa and how people can recognise the virus and avoid infection. Credit: Marc-Andre Boisvert/IPS

Translator Serge Tian in village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire. He translates sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi’s message about the spread of Ebola in West Africa and how people can recognise the virus and avoid infection. Credit: Marc-Andre Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
GUEYEDE, Côte d’Ivoire, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

The whole village of Gueyede in south-west Côte d’Ivoire gathers under the tattered roof of a shelter as the rain drizzles outside, and listens carefully as sub-prefect Kouassi Koffi talks.

“We are not allowed any complacency. You might not know Ebola. And it is better that you don’t,” says Koffi, the highest governmental authority of the area, through translator Serge Tian.

Koffi explains how one can contract the virus and how to recognise the basic symptoms of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

He has held hundreds of meetings like this since the first Guinean cases of Ebola appeared last March. He travels from village to village in the Tiobli region he is in charge of, often visiting the same village two, three or four times, to utter the same message.

After the stop at Gueyede, IPS will follow him in another village, to answer the same questions from locals with well-prepared lists.

“It is a lot of work. But I think the population gets the message as we discuss [Ebola],” Koffi tells IPS as he drives his SUV on a particularly bad road.

His peer sub-prefects and prefects hold the same meetings in other Ivorian regions. This West African nation has had no cases of Ebola yet. But the Liberia border is few kilometres away. And the epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak is not more than 100 kilometres in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

“We should not wait to have a first case of the illness to take measures. Public mobilisation is important as the state cannot be everywhere,” said the Health Minister Raymonde Goudou Coffie during her last press conference on Thursday, Aug. 14.

Two of out of the four countries hit by the current epidemic, now declared out of control by the World Health Organisation (WHO), share a border with Côte d’Ivoire. Nigeria is the fourth country in West Africa that has had cases of Ebola.

And many worry that Côte d’Ivoire will soon be the next country to be hit by the most severe outbreak of the illness since its discovery in 1976. So far, there have been more than 1,000 deaths and the number of infected people is expected to soon hit 2,000. However, WHO said Friday, Aug. 15 that those numbers were “vastly underestimated”.

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Credit: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

Moving fast to implement preventive measures

When the first cases appeared in Guinea last March, the Ivorian government took several preventive measures, including the creation of advanced detection centres, and a strict ban on bush meat — which is believed to be a vector of contamination for the Ebola virus.

For the inhabitants of Gueyede, it is a big deal to not eat bush meat. Most of their protein comes from it. They especially fancy grass-cutter, a big rodent. Giving up this popular delicacy has meant that Ivorians had to change their habits. But they did. And government has closed all bush meat markets in the area.

“At first, we thought Ebola was a joke — a rumour invented." -- Albertine Beh Kbenon, Gueyede villager

Nevertheless, locals still have to figure out what to eat and what not to eat. “We can eat fish. But we can’t eat bush meat. So can we eat crocodile?” asks Gueyede chief Bernard Gole Koehiwon.

Puzzled, the under-prefect redirects the question to the area nurse, Drissa Soro. “I’m not sure. But I think it is safe. I will check and come back to be sure,” Soro says.

Diet is not the sole concern, and is not enough to fight the spread of a disease that kills almost 90 percent of infected persons and which spreads mostly through body fluids.

At public meetings villagers learn what to do if someone seems to have the illness. But they mostly share their thoughts, try to figure out how the disease spreads, and to sift out the facts amid the rumours about the virus that spread very fast.

The sub-prefect has a difficult task explaining why it is dangerous to shelter a member of their family from Liberia. In Côte d’Ivoire, the ethnic groups here are split along the Liberia’s borders with families having members living in both countries.

In addition, 50,000 Ivorians are still sheltered in refuge camps in Liberia since the 2010-2011 electoral crisis here.

One lady at the meeting, who came back from Liberia few weeks ago, worries about who will take care of her old parents that she left in the refugee camp. She travelled home ahead of them to prepare the house for their return. The sub-prefect says that they are taken care of, but it is difficult to find the words to reassure her.

Involving communities

Changing diet and avoiding family members are difficult changes. But Ivorian authorities are betting that it is possible through peer education.

Once the under-prefect leaves, community leaders push the message. In each village, a coordination committee incorporating several members from all ages and genders is created to pursue the discussion.

“Those villages are very isolated. Some of them are not accessible by car,” explains sub-prefect Koffi. It would not be possible to contain an eventual pandemic without community support.

Nurse Soro agrees. “I am on alert since last March. Every time I see someone, I talk to him about Ebola. I try to see if there could be possible cases,” he tells IPS.

As there are no doctors in the area, Soro is the most qualified medical source for about 6,000 inhabitants. Even if he drives from village to village in his little motorcycle on muddy tracks, he does not have the time to see everyone.

“Community health aides are necessary. They know how to speak to their community. And they are able to maintain presence for me.”

Albertine Beh Kbenon is part of the coordination committee in Gueyede. “At first, we thought Ebola was a joke — a rumour invented,” she tells IPS.

She is now taking the threat seriously enough to go from door to door and to talk about it. She was herself first very sceptical of what authorities were saying. When the local and international media, especially radio, relayed the information, she realised that it was serious.

“In Liberia they took this as a joke. They believed the government was lying. This killed them. We don’t want this to happen here,” concludes Kbenon.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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U.S. Urged to Put Development Aid over Border Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:24:28 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136144 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When U.S lawmakers departed Washington for a month-long recess, they left behind a simmering debate over what to do about the tens of thousands of Central American children and adults that continue to cross the U.S. southern border.

Many potential solutions have been tabled as to how the federal government should handle the unprecedented influx. Yet these strategies, which include two proposals pending in Congress, are built on starkly differing views over why these migrants are leaving their homes in the first place.

“The question is simple,” Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank here, told IPS. “Are people migrating because of security and opportunity, or are people migrating from danger and violence?”

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama's failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Orzoco’s field research, released this week, seems to point to the latter.

“[I]ntentional homicides emerge as a more powerful driver of international migration than human development,” his report notes, cautioning that “migrants are primarily coming from some of the most populous violent municipalities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”

“They’re actually, for the most part, escaping for fear for their life,” he says, clarifying that these threats apply to both minors and adults in Central America.

Yet despite the fact that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – produce higher homicide rates than war zones such as Afghanistan or Iraq, some U.S. lawmakers doubt that this phenomenon is responsible for recent months’ mass Central American migration.

Instead, sceptics attribute the inflow of tens of thousands of migrants to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

For these lawmakers, then, the answer is more security at the southern border.

Indeed, this is precisely what the Republican-led House of Representatives has prioritised in its current bill worth some 700 million dollars, more than half of which would be allocated to tighten security along the southern U.S. border. The remainder would be used to accelerate deportations.

President Obama has said he would veto the bill, calling it “extreme” and “unworkable”.

Orzoco, too, considers the security-focused approach to be “myopic”. Instead, he and others say that lawmakers must focus on increasing assistance to Central America – dealing directly with the poverty and violence that appear to be spurring much of the recent influx.

“It’s good not to look just under security lines, and that we invest in real economic development while also addressing the security situation,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

1.3 percent

U.S. aid to Central America has historically been weak. In 2013, the region received just 1.3 percent of U.S. foreign assistance, according to a new fact sheet from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a Washington-based network of businesses and NGOs.

But the White House has put forward a proposal that would bolster Central American assistance by some 300 million dollars. Larry Knowles, a consultant with the USGLC, informed IPS of the bill’s relative breakdown.

While one third of this aid would go towards improving governance standards, including fiscal and judicial reform, another third would go towards economic development, and the remainder would be earmarked for crime-prevention efforts, youth-at-risk programmes and reintegration initiatives.

The fate of that bill remains unclear, however, as it is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives. Unlike the Senate, the House has not declared Central America’s internal strife worthy of “emergency aid appropriations”.

Still, the general thrust has received significant applause in certain quarters. The Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco is enthusiastic, suggesting the assistance could be used to improve Central America’s education, strengthen its labour force’s skills, and aid small businesses.

“There needs to be a much more inclusive strategy to address all of these problems,” Orzoco said.

Such analysis is also supported by Oscar Calvo-Gonzalez, chief economist for Central America at the World Bank, though he cautions that violence is “one of the many causes that drive people to move.”

Calvo-Gonzalez says that municipal-level programmes that can help the situation.

“Crime is a highly localised phenomenon, so you want to have highly localised intervention,” Calvo-Gonzales told IPS.

Economic growth in Central America must be shared, Calvo-Gonzalez emphasises, citing high inequality and “limited opportunities for advancement” as his primary concerns.

“Central America stands out as poverty has not declined consistently,” he says, “though [poverty in] the rest of Latin America has declined, Central America’s poverty is stagnant.”

He says the World Bank has been working in Central America to mobilise additional tax revenues and build the capacity of domestic governments in the region.

WOLA’s Beltran echoed the effectiveness of such a localised approach, calling in particular for greater investment in violence prevention.

“There is evidence of programmes working at the community level to address youth violence and security,” she says, citing a 40 percent  reduction in Honduras’ Santa Tecla as one such example. “Social services, the police, the church and other local bodies can come together to find a solution.”

Shared responsibility

For the Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco, fixing such problems is beyond the domain of the Northern Triangle and its governments. “These issues require responsibility of both Central American governments and the United States’ government,” he says.

Orzoco justifies strengthened U.S. development assistance for the region by first pointing to the shortcomings of Central American efforts, listing an ongoing lack of legislation and inadequate initiatives to “prevent the continuing outflow of kids” as examples.

“Central American governments, so far, have not been very accountable,” he says.

Orzoco also says the U.S. government has generally refused to share responsibility for Central America’s problems, despite Washington’s history of economic and political hegemony and interventions in the region. He points, for instance, to a “complete neglect” of organised crime.

“What organised crime has done is create an ecosystem of irregular economic activity that presents itself as a profitable one, given the context of property,” Orzoco says.

Other analysts have gone further, suggesting that the United States has contributed to the region’s growth in organised crime through its “war on drugs” and fostering of influential gangs in U.S. prisons.

But Orzoco cautions that despite the United States’ qualified intention to assist Central America, some lawmakers may be doing so for political purposes – a factor that will only continuing to strengthen as the November elections here draw closer.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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East Africa Breaks the Silence on Menstruation to Keep Girls in Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/east-africa-breaks-the-silence-on-menstruation-to-keep-girls-in-school/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 14:30:18 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136145 Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Great Horizon Secondary School in Uganda's rural Kyakayege village pose proudly with their re-usable menstrual pads after a reproductive health presentation at their school. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When Peninah Mamayi got her period last January, she was scared, confused and embarrassed. But like thousands of other girls in the developing world who experience menarche having no idea what menstruation is, Mamayi, who lives with her sister-in-law in a village in Tororo, eastern Uganda, kept quiet.

“When I went to the toilet I had blood on my knickers,” she told IPS. “I was wondering what was coming out and I was so scared I ran inside the house and stayed there crying.

“I just used rags. I feared telling anybody.”For girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks” -- Dennis Ntale, 18, a student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, Uganda

Not having access to or being able to afford disposable sanitary pads or tampons like millions of their Western counterparts, desperate Ugandan girls will resort to using the local ebikokooma leaves, paper, old clothes and other materials as substitutes or even, as a health minister told a menstrual hygiene management conference this week, sitting in the sand until that time of the month is over.

“We always try to give them something to use at school, just at school,” Lydia Nabazzine, a teacher at Mulago Private Primary School in Kampala, where about 300 out of 500 students are female, told IPS.

“When they go home we don’t know how they go about it, because we cannot afford funding up to home level.”

But the 2012 Study on menstrual management in Uganda, conducted by the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and IRC International Wash and Sanitation Centre in seven Ugandan districts, found that over 50 percent of senior female teachers confirmed there was no provision for menstrual pads for schoolgirls.

When some girls have their period, they may miss up to 20 percent of their total school year due to the humiliation of not having protection, according to separate research from the World Bank. This profoundly affects their academic potential.

“Those days when I was menstruating I could be absent for up to five days a month until menstruation had stopped,” recalled Mayami.

It’s a continent-wide problem. The United Nations Children’s Fund says one in 10 African girls skipped school during menstruation. Some drop out entirely because they lack access to effective sanitary products.

A number of recent initiatives have, however, tried to address this.

On May 28 this year, the world marked the first Menstrual Hygiene Day to help “break the silence and build awareness about the fundamental role that good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.”

On Aug. 14 – 15, East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference, which has the theme “breaking the silence on menstruation, keep girls in school,” has been taking place in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

At least 100 schoolteachers, schoolgirls – and boys – NGOs, including Network for Water and Sanitation (NETWAS) Uganda, civil society members and others are taking part in the two-day event. They’re calling on the government to put in place a menstrual hygiene management school policy. They also want the government to provide free sanitary pads to girls in schools, like neighbouring Kenya has done.

Despite keeping silent about the horrors of menstruation for months, Mamayi shared with the conference attendees the solution she found to that time of the month.

The student, now 13, had been walking home from school when some older pupils told her, “madam [the teacher] said menstruation is a normal thing for every girl.”

“So I asked them about it,” she told IPS.

“Now I’m using AFRIPads.”

Invented by the eponymous Uganda-based social business, AFRIPads are washable cloth sanitary towels designed to provide effective and hygienic menstrual protection for up to a year.

One Ugandan, Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, a senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kampala’s Makerere University, has also invented the environmentally-friendly MakaPads, from papyrus reeds and waste paper. MakaPads are said to be the only trademarked biodegradable sanitary pads made in Africa.

Mamayi said the re-useable pads work out to be 5,500 Ugandan shillings (2.11 dollars) a year, compared to the 30,000 shillings (11.49 dollars) that disposable pads would have set her back.

“Now when I go somewhere [when I have my period] I sit and am comfortable,” said Mamayi. “I’m not bothered by anything. I don’t worry whether I’ve got anything on my skirt. I don’t miss school.”

She added: “I’m going to tell my friends that menstruation is a normal thing in girls.

“I want my friend also to be free, to tell their parents to buy for them pads. Let them not fear.”

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Courtesy: Amy Fallon

Understanding and Managing Menstruation, was launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at East Africa’s first national menstrual hygiene management conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Breaking the culture of silence around menstruation is the aim of a new book, Understanding and Managing Menstruation, launched by Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports at the conference. The 50-page reader has photos and a section on how to make reusable pads at home, and sections for parents, guardians, peers, friends and schoolboys.

Maggie Kasiko, a gender technical advisor at the Ministry of Education and Sports, told IPS that the government hoped the book would reach as many students, teachers and parents across the country as possible.

“Not many girls have the opportunities to have their mothers and aunties around, so they start their menstruation without knowing,” she said, adding many parents and relatives were busy trying to earn a living for their families.

Dennis Ntale, 18, a senior five student at co-ed Mengo Senior School in Kampala, said he didn’t know what menstruation was when he encountered a fellow student with her period in class earlier this year, and tried to comfort her. It was only sometime later when he relayed the incident to his male friends and they told him she was “undergoing her MP [menstrual period].”

“They’re [teachers] not teaching this to the boys in schools,” Ntale told IPS.

“I believe boys should be informed about this because there are many of them out there who have no idea about this.”

He said for girls, “pads are as good as schoolbooks”.

“If you don’t have that pad she won’t be able to do a thing,” Ntale said. “[We should] make sure she has what will keep her in school.”

Kasiko said the Ministry of Education and Sports was continuing to ensure schools had separate facilities for boys and girls, with the girls having washrooms and changing rooms where they could bathe and change, had access to clean water, extra pads and Panadol.

But she said she didn’t see the government providing free pads to girls “in the short-term or the long-term”.

“Starting to distribute sanitary towels to each and every girl, every month, is quite a cost for the ministry when you look at all the other areas that the ministry needs to take care of,” she said.

“That, our guidelines for Universal Primary Education (UPE) is very clear, is a role of parents. It’s sanitary wear. Just like you buy a panty for your child, you should be responsible for buying a sanitary towel for your child.

Kasiko added: “But we’ll support the parents and work together with the parents to give them knowledge to ensure the environment is clean and girls stay in school.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

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Brazil’s “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” Faces Death Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 22:45:14 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136140 Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami people in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, who is internationally renowned for his struggle against encroachment on indigenous land by landowners and illegal miners, is now fighting a new battle – this time against death threats received by him and his family.

“In May, they [miners] told me that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the year alive,” Armindo Góes, 39, one of Kopenawa’s fellow indigenous activists in the fight for the rights of the Yanomami people, told IPS.

Kopenawa, 60, is Brazil’s most highly respected indigenous leader. The Yanomami shaman and spokesman is known around the world as the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” and has frequently participated in United Nations meetings and other international events.“The landowners and the garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace.” -- Davi Kopenawa

He has won awards like the Global 500 Prize from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). His voice has drawn global figures like King Harald of Norway – who visited him in 2013 – or former British footballer David Beckham – who did so in March – to the 96,000-sq-km territory which is home to some 20,000 Yanomami.

Kopenawa is president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), which he founded in 2004 in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima. Before that he fought for the creation of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory (TI), which is larger than Portugal, in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, on the border with Venezuela.

On Jul. 28, HAY issued a statement reporting that its leader had received death threats in June, when Góes, one of the organisation’s directors, was accosted on a street in the Amazonas town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira by “garimpeiros” or illegal gold miners, who gave him a clear death message for Kopenawa.

Since then “the climate of insecurity has dominated everything,” Góes told IPS.

Garimpeiros are penetrating deeper and deeper into Yanomami territory in their search for gold, in Brazil as well as Venezuela, encroaching on one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

The Yanomami TI was demarcated just before the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. And it was the Rio+20 Summit, held in this city in 2012, that made Kopenawa more prominent at home, where he was less well-known than abroad.

“Davi is someone very precious to Brazil, but some people see him as an enemy. He is a thinker and a warrior who forms part of Brazil’s identity and has fought for the rights of the Yanomami and other indigenous people for over 40 years,” activist Marcos Wesley, assistant coordinator of the Rio Negro sustainable development programme of the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), told IPS.

The Rio Negro, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River, runs across Yanomami territory.

In the 1990s, Kopenawa managed to get 45,000 garimpeiros evicted from the Yanomami TI, Wesley noted. “He and Hutukara are the spokespersons for the Yanomami, for their demands. I can imagine there are people who have suffered economic losses and are upset over the advances made by the Yanomami,” he added.

“There are threatening signs that put us on the alert,” Góes said. “We are working behind locked doors. Two armed men were already searching for Davi in Boa Vista. They even offered money if someone would identify him. We are getting more and more concerned.”

The director of HAY explained that “our lives are at risk, and our elders advised Davi to take shelter in his community.”

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Although the Yanomami TI was fully demarcated, illegal activities have not ceased there.

“There are many people invading indigenous land for mining,” Góes said.

Kopenawa comes from the remote community of Demini, one of the 240 villages in the Yanomami TI. The only way to reach the village is by small plane or a 10-day boat ride upriver.

On Aug. 8, IPS managed to contact the Yanomami leader, just a few minutes before he set out for his community. But he preferred not to provide details about his situation, because of the threats.

“At this moment I prefer not to say anything more. I can only say that I am very worried, together with my Yanomami people; the rest I have already said,” he commented.

Five days earlier, Kopenawa had been one of the guests of honour at the 12th International Literature Festival in Paraty in the southern state of Rio de Janeiro. He talked about the violence facing his people, when he presented his book “The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman”.

Violence against environmentalists and indigenous activists

The organisation Global Witness reported that nearly half of the murders of environmentalists committed in the world in the last few years were in Brazil. In the 2012-2013 period the total was 908 murders, 443 of which happened in this country.

The 2013 report by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) on violence against indigenous people in Brazil documented 53 victims of murder, 29 attempted murders, and 10 cases of death threats.

The executive secretary of CIMI, Cleber Buzatto, told IPS that threats against indigenous leaders had increased in the last year.

“Economic interests act together and mount violent attacks on the rights of indigenous people, especially in terms of their rights to their territory,” he added. “It’s a very touchy situation. The threats continue to occur because of the existing impunity and because the authorities have not taken effective action.”

“The landowners and garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace,” he said.

He had previously denounced that “They want to kill me. I don’t do what white people do – track someone down to kill him. I don’t interfere with their work. But they are interfering in our work and in our struggle. I will continue fighting and working for my people. Because defending the Yanomami people and their land is my work.”

In its communiqué, HAY demanded that the police investigate the threats and provide Kopenawa with official protection.

“The suspicion is that the threats are in reprisal for the work carried out by the Yanomami, together with government agencies, to investigate and break up the networks of miners in the Yanomami TI in the last few years,” HAY stated.

Kopenawa and HAY provide the federal police with maps of mining sites, geographic locations, and information on planes and people circulating in the Yanomami TI. Their reports have made it possible to carry out operations against garimpeiros and encroaching landowners; the last large-scale one was conducted in February.

According to the federal police, in Roraima alone, illegal mining generates profits of 13 million dollars a month, and many of the earnings come from Yanomami territory.

Góes stressed to IPS that mining has more than just an economic impact on indigenous people.

“It causes an imbalance in the culture and lives of the Yanomami, and generates dependence on manufactured, artificial objects and food. It changes the entire Yanomami world vision. Mining also generates a lot of pollution in the rivers,” he complained.

“We know that in Brazil we unfortunately have a high rate of violence against indigenous leaders and social movements,” Wesley said. “Impunity reigns. Davi is a fighter, and will surely not be intimidated by these threats. He believes in his struggle, in the defence of his people and of the planet.”

In Brazil there is no specific programme to protect indigenous people facing threats.

Representatives of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS that a request from protection was received from Kopanawa and other HAY leaders, and that it was referred to the programme of human rights defenders in the Brazilian presidency’s special secretariat on human rights.

But they said that in order to receive protection, the Yanomami leader had to confirm that he wanted it, and the government is waiting for his response to that end.

In this country of 200 million people, indigenous people number 896,917, according to the 2010 census.

 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Waives Sanctions on Myanmar Timberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-waives-sanctions-on-myanmar-timber/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136138 Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Commercial logging and firewood extraction for domestic use have accelerated Myanmar's deforestation rates in the last three decades. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are split over a decision by the U.S. government to waive sanctions on Myanmar’s timber sector for one year.

The decision, which went into effect late last month, is being hailed by some as an opportunity for community-led and sustainability initiatives to take root in Myanmar, where lucrative forestry revenues have long been firmly controlled by the military and national elites. The European Union, too, is currently working to normalise its relations with the Myanmarese timber sector.“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process.” -- Kevin Woods of Forest Trends

Yet others are warning that Washington has taken the decision too soon, before domestic conditions in Myanmar are able to support such a change.

“Lifting sanctions on the timber industry now appears to be a premature move by the U.S., and risks lessening Burma’s impetus towards reform,” Ali Hines, a land campaigner with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Burma is not yet in a position to state convincingly where and how timber is sourced, meaning that U.S. importers and traders have little way of knowing whether Burmese timber is illegal, or linked to social or environmental harm.”

In June, Washington granted a limited one-year license to the 200 members of the U.S.-based International Wood Products Association (IWPA) to engage in transactions with the Myanma Timber Enterprise, the state logging agency. U.S. officials say the aim of the decision is to allow U.S. companies and customers to help strengthen reforms in the Myanmarese timber trade, hopefully promoting transparency and building nascent sustainability practices.

“Interaction with responsible business can help build basic capacity so that Burma can begin to tackle the long-term systemic issues present in its extractive sectors,” Kerry S. Humphrey, a media advisor with the U.S. State Department, told IPS.

“The State Department has been in consultations with IWPA to ensure that any trade conducted under this license is in line with U.S. Government policies, including promoting sustainable forest management and legal supply chains.”

Humphrey notes that IWPA will now be required to file quarterly reports with the State Department on its “progress in helping to ensure legal timber supply chains”.

Yet critics worry this will simply create two parallel timber sectors, one licit and another that is little changed. The industry, as with Myanmar’s broader extractives sector, has long been notorious for deep corruption and human rights abuses.

“The concern is that the system that is gaining traction with the international timber industry is to bypass any national systemic forestry reform process,” Kevin Woods, a Myanmar researcher with Forest Trends, a watchdog group, told IPS.

Instead, Woods says, the end result could be to “create a wall around a few government-managed timber reserves to feed global tropical timber demand, leaving the rest of the country’s forests located in ethnic conflict zones to be continually pillaged and sold across its borders.”

Free-for-all?

Nearly a half-decade after Myanmar began a stuttering process of pro-democratic reform, many today are increasingly concerned that this process is slowing or even reversing course. Late last month, 72 members of the U.S. Congress warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that conditions in the country have “taken a sharp turn for the worse” over the past year and a half.

Kerry was in Myanmar over the past weekend, where he reportedly raised U.S. concerns over such regression with multiple top government officials.

Yet he also rejected concerns that Washington is “moving too quickly” in rolling back punitive bilateral sanctions on Myanmar. He had gone through “a long list of challenges” with Myanmarese officials, Kerry told journalists Sunday, “in a very, very direct way”.

With the removal of sanctions, however, many worry that Washington is losing important leverage. In the timber sector in particular, some question the extent to which U.S. and other foreign companies will have the wherewithal, or interest, to effect change on the ground in Myanmar – particularly given the tepid commitments made by the country’s government.

“This is not the time for U.S.-based timber importers to be investing in Burma,” Faith Doherty, a senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“Secretary Kerry … raised serious questions as to the backsliding of reforms and continuing human rights abuses within the country – how do companies within the IWPA think they are able to avoid contributing to these issues that are prevalent throughout the timber sector?”

Indeed, some observers suggest that Myanmar’s opening-up has been accompanied by a sense of free-for-all.

“Illegal logging and natural resource grabbing, including land, in ethnic states and regions … have become worse since the reforms started and the influx of foreign investment into the country,” Paul Sein Twa, with the Burma Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organisation, told IPS.

“Remember, we are still in a fragile peace-building period and there is no rule of law in the conflict areas. So our recommendation is to go slowly on reforming law and policies – to open up more space, engage with civil society organisations and the ethnic armed groups.”

Certification momentum

Any ultimate success in reforming Myanmar’s forestry sector will depend on future actions by both the country’s government and the foreign companies that end up purchasing the country’s timber. Yet some are applauding the lifting of U.S. sanctions as an important opportunity to finally begin the work of reform.

“The problem with sanctions is that they restrict buyers in our country from engaging in the sector – the international marketplace, which today includes strong preferences for sustainable products, is inaccessible,” Josh Tosteson, a senior vice-president with the Rainforest Alliance, a group that engages in the certification of tropical forest products, told IPS.

“Particularly if the lifting of sanctions comes along with some commitments from significant buyers to work cooperatively to support and incentivise the march toward sustainability certification, that can inject some real energy to drive this process forward.”

This week, the Myanmar Forest Department accepted a proposal from the Rainforest Alliance for a pilot production community forest in the country’s south.

“Having market mechanisms there that provide a minimum preference and a new market norm that won’t allow anything other than responsible or sustainably produced products to enter the market – that will be the key element,” Tosteson says.

“Particularly in intra-Asian trade you’ll need to have buying companies get on board with these norms. That will be a significant challenge, but if they’re not stepping up to create these new market norms no other efforts will matter – illicit products will simply flow through the routes of least resistance.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Cry for Argentina: Fiscal Mismanagement, Odious Debt or Pillage?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cry-for-argentina-fiscal-mismanagement-odious-debt-or-pillage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cry-for-argentina-fiscal-mismanagement-odious-debt-or-pillage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cry-for-argentina-fiscal-mismanagement-odious-debt-or-pillage/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 20:01:34 +0000 Ellen Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136137 By Ellen Brown
SONOMA, California, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Argentina has now taken the U.S. to The Hague for blocking the country’s 2005 settlement with the bulk of its creditors. The issue underscores the need for an international mechanism for nations to go bankrupt.

Better yet would be a sustainable global monetary scheme that avoids the need for sovereign bankruptcy.Better than redesigning the sovereign bankruptcy mechanism might be to redesign the global monetary scheme in a way that avoids the continual need for a bankruptcy mechanism.

Argentina was the richest country in Latin America before decades of neoliberal and IMF-imposed economic policies drowned it in debt. A severe crisis in 2001 plunged it into the largest sovereign debt default in history.

In 2005, it renegotiated its debt with most of its creditors at a 70 percent “haircut.” But the opportunist “vulture funds,” which had bought Argentine debt at distressed prices, held out for 100 cents on the dollar.

Paul Singer’s Elliott Management has spent over a decade aggressively trying to force Argentina to pay down nearly 1.3 billion dollars in sovereign debt. Elliott would get about 300 million dollars for bonds that Argentina claims it picked up for 48 million. Where most creditors have accepted payment at a 70 percent loss, Elliott Management would thus get a 600 percent return.

In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a New York court’s order blocking payment to the other creditors until the vulture funds had been paid. That action propelled Argentina into default for the second time in this century – and the eighth time since 1827.

On Aug. 7, Argentina asked the International Court of Justice in the Hague to take action against the United States over the dispute.

Who is at fault? The global financial press blames Argentina’s own fiscal mismanagement, but Argentina maintains that it is willing and able to pay its other creditors. The fault lies rather with the vulture funds and the U.S. court system, which insist on an extortionate payout even if it means jeopardising the international resolution mechanism for insolvent countries.

If creditors know that a few holdout vultures can trigger a default, they are unlikely to settle with other insolvent nations in the future.

Blame has also been laid at the feet of the IMF and the international banking system for failing to come up with a fair resolution mechanism for countries that go bankrupt. And at a more fundamental level, blame lies with a global debt-based monetary scheme that forces bankruptcy on some nations as a mathematical necessity. As in a game of musical chairs, some players must default.

Most money today comes into circulation in the form of bank credit or debt. Debt at interest always grows faster than the money supply, since more is always owed back than was created in the original loan. There is never enough money to go around without adding to the debt burden.

As economist Michael Hudson points out, the debt overhang grows exponentially until it becomes impossible to repay. The country is then forced to default.

Fiscal mismanagement or odious debt?

Besides impossibility of performance, there is another defense Argentina could raise in international court – that of “odious debt.” Also known as illegitimate debt, this legal theory holds that national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation should not be enforceable.

The defence has been used successfully by a number of countries, including Ecuador in December 2008, when President Rafael Correa declared that its debt had been contracted by corrupt and despotic prior regimes. The odious-debt defence allowed Ecuador to reduce the sum owed by 70 percent.

In a compelling article in Global Research in November 2006, Adrian Salbuchi made a similar case for Argentina. He traced the country’s problems back to 1976, when its foreign debt was just under six billion dollars and represented only a small portion of the country’s GDP. In that year:

An illegal and de facto military-civilian regime ousted the constitutionally elected government of president María Isabel Martínez de Perón [and] named as economy minister, José Martinez de Hoz, who had close ties with, and the respect of, powerful international private banking interests.

With the Junta’s full backing, he systematically implemented a series of highly destructive, speculative, illegitimate – even illegal – economic and financial policies and legislation, which increased Public Debt almost eightfold to 46 billion dollars in a few short years.

This intimately tied-in to the interests of major international banking and oil circles which, at that time, needed to urgently re-cycle huge volumes of “Petrodollars” generated by the 1973 and 1979 Oil Crises.

Those capital in-flows were not invested in industrial production or infrastructure, but rather were used to fuel speculation in local financial markets by local and international banks and traders who were able to take advantage of very high local interest rates in Argentine Pesos tied to stable and unrealistic medium-term U.S. dollar exchange rates.

Salbuchi detailed Argentina’s fall from there into what became a 200 billion dollars debt trap. Large tranches of this debt, he maintained, were “odious debt” and should not have to be paid:

“Making the Argentine State – i.e., the people of Argentina – weather the full brunt of this storm is tantamount to financial genocide and terrorism. . . . The people of Argentina are presently undergoing severe hardship with over 50% of the population submerged in poverty . . . . Basic universal law gives the Argentine people the right to legitimately defend their interests against the various multinational and supranational players which, abusing the huge power that they wield, directly and/or indirectly imposed complex actions and strategies leading to the Public Debt problem.”

Of President Nestor Kirchner’s surprise 2006 payment of the full 10 billion dollars owed to the IMF, Salbuchi wrote cynically:

“This key institution was instrumental in promoting and auditing the macroeconomic policies of the Argentine Government for decades. . . . Many analysts consider that . . . the IMF was to Argentina what Arthur Andersen was to Enron, the difference being that Andersen was dissolved and closed down, whilst the IMF continues preaching its misconceived doctrines and exerts leverage. . . . [T]he IMF’s primary purpose is to exert political pressure on indebted governments, acting as a veritable coercing agency on behalf of major international banks.”

Sovereign bankruptcy and the “Global Economic Reset”

Needless to say, the IMF was not closed down. Rather, it has gone on to become the international regulator of sovereign debt, which has reached crisis levels globally. Total debt, public and private, has grown by over 40 percent since 2007, to 100 trillion dollars. The U.S. national debt alone has grown from 10 trillion dollars in 2008 to over 17.6 trillion today.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2014, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde spoke of the need for a global economic “reset.”

National debts have to be “reset” or “readjusted” periodically so that creditors can keep collecting on their exponentially growing interest claims, in a global financial scheme based on credit created privately by banks and lent at interest. More interest-bearing debt must continually be incurred, until debt overwhelms the system and it again needs to be reset to keep the usury game going.

Sovereign debt (or national) in particular needs periodic “resets,” because unlike for individuals and corporations, there is no legal mechanism for countries to go bankrupt. Individuals and corporations have assets that can be liquidated by a bankruptcy court and distributed equitably to creditors.

But countries cannot be liquidated and sold off – except by IMF-style “structural readjustment,” which can force the sale of national assets at fire sale prices.

A Sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism ( SDRM) was proposed by the IMF in the early 2000s, but it was quickly killed by Wall Street and the U.S. Treasury. The IMF is working on a new version of the SDRM, but critics say it could be more destabilising than the earlier version.

Meanwhile, the IMF has backed collective action clauses (CACs) designed to allow a country to negotiate with most of its creditors in a way that generally brings all of them into the net. But CACs can be challenged, and that is what happened in the case of the latest Argentine bankruptcy. According to Harvard Professor Jeffrey Frankel:

“[T]he U.S. court rulings’ indulgence of a parochial instinct to enforce written contracts will undermine the possibility of negotiated restructuring in future debt crises.”

We are back, he says, to square one.

Better than redesigning the sovereign bankruptcy mechanism might be to redesign the global monetary scheme in a way that avoids the continual need for a bankruptcy mechanism. A government does not need to borrow its money supply from private banks that create it as credit on their books.

A sovereign government can issue its own currency, debt-free. But that interesting topic must wait for a follow-up article. Stay tuned.

Ellen Brown can be found on her Web of Debt Blog.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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