Inter Press Service » Poverty & MDGs http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 23 Oct 2014 00:50:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Nagoya Protocol: A Treaty Waiting to Happenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:13:10 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137324 Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For over 20 years, Mote Bahadur Pun of Nepal’s western Myagdi district has been growing ‘Paris polyphylla’ – a Himalayan herb used to cure pain, burns and fevers.

Once every six months, a group of traders from China arrive at Pun’s house and buys several kilos of the herb. In return, Pun gets “a lump sum of 5,000 to 6,000 Nepalese rupees [about 50 dollars],” he tells IPS.

But ask Pun who these traders are and what they plan to do with bulk quantities of Paris polyphylla, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and he stares blankly.

“This is a medicinal herb, so I assume they use it to make medicines,” is his only explanation.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help [states] bring down the cost of biological conservation." -- CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza
In fact, trade in Paris polyphylla has been banned since it falls under the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal covering over 7,600 square kilometres in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

From ancient times local communities have utilised the herb to cure a range of ills, but traders like those who come knocking at Pun’s door are either unaware or unconcerned that Paris polyphylla represents centuries of indigenous knowledge, and is thus protected under a little-known international treaty called the Nagoya Protocol.

Adopted in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Japan, the agreement “provides a transparent legal framework for […] the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

Designed to prevent exploitation of people like Pun by traders who buy traditional medicinal resources for a paltry sum before turning huge profits from the sale of cosmetics or medicines derived from these species, the treaty covers all genetic resources including plants, herbs, animals and microorganisms.

Impressive in its scope, the protocol has hitherto largely been confined to paper. This year, however, at the recently concluded COP 12, which ran from Oct. 6-17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, scores of experts agreed to put the provisions of the treaty front and center in efforts to preserve biological diversity worldwide.

With support from 54 countries – four more than the mandatory 50 ratifications required to bring the treaty into effect – the Nagoya Protocol will now form a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, as the world charts a more sustainable path forward for humanity and the planet.

‘Biopiracy’

According to environmentalists and scientists, the Nagoya Protocol could help curb ‘biopiracy’, broadly defined as the misappropriation of traditional or indigenous knowledge through the system of international patents that primarily benefit large multinationals in developed countries.

For instance, a pharmaceutical company that develops and sells herbal-based medicines will now – under the terms of the protocol – be required to share a portion of its profits with the country from which the resources, or the traditional knowledge governing the resources, originate.

In turn, these earnings are expected to help low-income countries finance conservation efforts.

A clause on access also provides mechanisms for local communities or countries to limit or restrict the use or extraction of a particular resource.

These clauses guard against biopiracy of the kind that was witnessed in the 1870s when the British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds from Brazil, which were subsequently dispatched as seedlings to plantations across South and Southeast Asia, thus breaking the Brazilian monopoly over the rubber trade.

Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Brazil again fell victim to biopiracy when the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Squibb used venom from the fangs of the jararaca, a pit viper endemic to Brazil, in the creation of captopril, a medication used to treat hypertension.

The New York Times reported that the drug earned the company revenues of 1.6 billion dollars in 1991, but Brazil itself did not see a cent of these profits.

The potential success of the treaty hangs on the support it receives in the international arena. So far, two-thirds of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have failed to ratify the protocol, representing what some have referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help the parties bring down the cost of biological conservation,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza told IPS, adding, however, that nothing will be possible until nations make the agreement legally binding.

Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest that is considered a mine of genetic resources, is yet to throw its weight behind the Nagoya agreement, a move experts say would benefit over three million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

Roberto Cavalcanti, secretary for biodiversity in the Brazilian environment ministry, informed IPS that President Dilma Rousseff has submitted the legislation under an urgency provision, so it’s now in the top three pieces of legislation pending approval by Congress.

“We anticipate that with the approval of Brazil’s new domestic Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) legislation, there will be a good environment for the ratification of the Protocol,” he added.

The government has already begun the task of informing local communities about the merits of the Nagoya Protocol and its economic benefits for generations to come.

The work is being done in collaboration with the environmental conservation organisation Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico, which is helping to educate communities around the country.

Since January this year, the organisation has helped over 10,000 locals put together a set of rules called Protocolo Communitaro (Community Protocols), which promotes preservation and sustainable use of forests and water sources, including medicinal plants and fish.

Missing skills

Unlike Brazil, several other countries are struggling to pave the way for ratification of the Protocol, largely due to a lack of technical and economic capacity.

This past June, the CBD organised a workshop in Uganda where several African states could learn more about the treaty and its ABS mechanism.

Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to a huge reserve of genetic resources and biological diversity including the world’s second largest rainforest, attended the workshop and admitted to being constrained by financial and technical limitations in implementing international agreements.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Nayoko Ishii told IPS her office stands ready to increase financial support to developing countries that lack capacity.

The GEF’s 15-million-dollar Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) has already begun to support global initiatives, including a 4.4-million-dollar project to help Panama operationalise the ABS mechanism.

However, Ishii added, demand for the support has to come from within.

“Every country has a different degree of capacity. People come to us with a plan to build a particular skill in a particular area and there are of course specific programs for that.

“But I would encourage them to look at the entire strategy as one big capacity building investment [and] use that money wisely, to better manage their protected area systems [and] their administrative structures,” she concluded. 

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: The Politics of Biodiversity Losshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-politics-of-biodiversity-loss/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 13:43:50 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137321 Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora, Mexico. Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Roseate spoonbills (Platalea ajaja), coastal birds in Sonora, Mexico. Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

To mainstream biodiversity concerns into development planning, we must offer a compelling rationale and demonstrate biodiversity’s relevance to wealth generation, job creation and general human wellbeing. Only a persuasive “why” resonating throughout society will successfully get us to urgently needed negotiations of who, what, where, when and how to halt disastrous biodiversity loss.

Experts in a broad span of disciplines — taxonomists, agronomists, social scientists, climate scientists, economists and others — are working together to arm the public and their policymakers with relevant evidence on which to base decisions.A need quickly became apparent for a sustained, ongoing mechanism to bridge the gap between policymaking and the scientific world’s ever-accumulating insights.

Scientists have authoritatively established links between biodiversity and climate change, food security, water security, energy security and human security.

In 2005, with input from more than 1,000 experts worldwide, we published the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, elevating the issues to policymakers and decision-makers as never before. It was hailed for its success as a platform to deliver clear, valuable, policy-relevant consensus on the state, trends and outlooks of biodiversity.

A need quickly became apparent for a sustained, ongoing mechanism to bridge the gap between policymaking and the scientific world’s ever-accumulating insights. In response, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was established in 2012.

IPBES’ initial deliverables included a policy-support tool based on the economic values of biodiversity, a fast-track assessment on pollination services and food production, insights into the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and a global assessment of the overall state of biodiversity and ecosystem services. IPBES also aims to integrate indigenous and local knowledge systems in its work.

The dollar values of biodiversity and ecosystem services are difficult but not impossible to quantify. In 1997, experts estimated the global value of ecosystem services at an average of 33 trillion dollars per year. An update this year of that study nearly quadrupled the estimated annual value of those services to 125 trillion dollars.

Within that number, for example, is the 2010 estimate by economists that the planet’s 63 million hectares of wetlands provide some 3.4 billion dollars in storm protection, food and other services to humans each year. And, a large portion of the 640-billion-dollar pharmaceutical market relies on genetic resources found in nature, with anti-cancer agents from marine organisms alone valued at up to one billion dollars annually.

The loss of biodiversity through deforestation, meanwhile, is estimated to cost the global economy up to 4.5 trillion dollars every year.

The fast-track assessment on pollination services will address profoundly worrisome changes in the health of bees and other pollinator populations, the services of which underpin extremely valuable — some might say invaluable — food production.

The assessment of the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity will address the ecological, economic, social and cultural importance of mainly harvested and traded biodiversity-related products and wild species.

The IPBES global assessment of biodiversity and its many benefits will build on Global Biodiversity Outlook reports, the latest of which this month urged the world to step up efforts to meet agreed-upon biodiversity targets for 2020.

We have generated much knowledge and continue to add to it. Achieving our sustainable development goals, however, depends on the successful application and sharing of that knowledge.

A workshop last November concluded most nations, unanimously committed to protecting biodiversity, nevertheless lack capacity to measure and assess their genetic and biological resources, or to value key ecosystem services. Helping remedy that capacity shortfall is a core function of IPBES.

Communicating our findings will also be critical in mainstreaming this agenda, using both conventional and new social media platforms, framing the issue as one of development rather than of strictly conservation.

All stakeholders — the business community, in particular — must be engaged, and we must incorporate biodiversity studies at every educational level.

Speaking of his admiration of Malaysia’s towering Cengal tree, his nation’s equivalent to the magnificent California Redwood, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently noted: “Such giants may take centuries to reach their awe-inspiring height and girth, but can be felled in less than a few hours by an unscrupulous timber contractor with a chainsaw.”

Such outstanding monuments of nature are, indeed, so much more valuable than their wood fibre — they engender a sense of pride in our natural heritage.

This appreciation will, I believe and hope, ultimately draw the interest of our most brilliant minds and drive the innovative, nature-based solutions to global challenges on which future generations will depend.

The promising U.N. discussions of post-2015 global development goals should help put biodiversity where it belongs at the heart of the agenda — recognised as a prerequisite for poverty alleviation, good health, food and water security, and more. As we design an age of sustainable development, let us recognise that maintaining a biodiverse world is not a hindrance to development, it is fundamental to development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ebola Outbreak Threatens Food Crisis in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ebola-outbreak-threatens-food-crisis-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-outbreak-threatens-food-crisis-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ebola-outbreak-threatens-food-crisis-in-west-africa/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:30:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137306 German aircraft arrives in Ghana to help deliver U.N. supplies for emergency Ebola response. Credit: UN Photo/UNMEER

German aircraft arrives in Ghana to help deliver U.N. supplies for emergency Ebola response. Credit: UN Photo/UNMEER

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The widespread outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, which has resulted in over 4,500 deaths so far, is also threatening to trigger a food crisis in the three countries already plagued by poverty and hunger.

Dr. Shenggen Fen, director-general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told IPS the crisis is expected to be confined mostly to the countries directly affected by the spreading disease: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Asked whether the food shortages will also reach countries outside West Africa, he said Ebola is triggering a food crisis through a series of interrelated factors, including farmer deaths, labour shortages, rising transportation costs, and rising food prices.

“Within these countries, where undernourishment has long been a problem, the food crisis may persist for decades,” he warned.

And because Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia are all net food-importing countries, the Ebola-triggered food crisis is unlikely to spread to other countries in the region or beyond, Dr. Fan added.

Global food prices tend to have transmission effects on regional or national food prices, but for small markets (on a global scale) such as these three countries, the transmission effect of food prices is unlikely to pass beyond their own boundaries - so long as the disease itself is not transmitted, he said.

According to the latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are over 9,000 cases of Ebola, including 4,262 cases in Liberia, 3,410 in Sierra Leone and 1,519 in Guinea.

The death toll is highest in Liberia (2,484), followed by Sierra Leone (1,200) and Guinea (862).

U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday the WHO has officially declared Nigeria free of Ebola virus transmission, after 42 days without a single case.

WHO called it “a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained”.

“Such a story can help the many other developing countries that are deeply worried by the prospect of an imported Ebola case and are eager to improve their preparedness plans,” he said.

Dujarric said the announcement comes only a few days after Senegal was also declared Ebola-free.

He said the trust fund set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to battle the deadly disease now has about 8.8 million dollars in deposits and 5.0 million dollars in commitments.

In total, 43.5 million dollars have been pledged and the secretary-general continues to urge countries to turn these pledges into action as soon as possible.

He expressed regrets over the Ebola-related death of a UN-Women staff member in Sierra Leone. His spouse is currently receiving treatment.

“All measures to protect staff at the duty station in Sierra Leone are being taken as best as possible under the current circumstances,” Dujarric said.

This includes decontamination of the U.N. clinic, disposal of the isolation facility and contact tracing, he added.

In a statement released Tuesday, IFPRI painted a grim picture of the situation facing all three countries.

Schools in Sierra Leone have closed, shutting down critical feeding programmes for children. And restrictions on the consumption of bush meat, the suspected source of Ebola, have eliminated a traditional source of protein and nutrition from local diets.

“In addition, the costs of staple foods including rice and cassava are rising precipitously in the affected areas as crops are abandoned and as labor shortages grow,” the statement added.

Food that would be imported from these areas is not making its way to other regions, either.

“So, as we weigh the dangers of this dreaded disease, we must not forget the very real threats it poses to food security,” the group warned.

“The global community must come together to ensure that there are safety nets to protect not only those infected with the disease, but also those whose access to food is severely affected,” IFPRI added.

Asked to identify these safety nets, Dr. Fan told IPS social safety nets are needed to protect not only those infected with Ebola, but also those whose access to food is severely affected.

These safety nets, which could be in the form of cash or in-kind transfers (context-specificity is important here), should be accompanied with nutrition and health interventions.

For example, a conditional cash transfer programme linked to health can help improve access to nutritious foods, particularly when prices are high, while promoting health service use, he added. “This is important, because investing in the nutrition and health of vulnerable populations could lower the mortality rate of diseases like Ebola, as nutritional status and infection are intricately linked.”

In the post-Ebola era, Dr. Fan said, combined social protection and agricultural support interventions will be crucial to build resilience to future livelihood shocks.

Asked how many people will be affected by this impending food crisis, he said with Ebola claiming lives of thousands of people in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the mounting food crisis is impacting thousands more still.

Recent efforts by the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide food assistance to around 1.3 million people in these three countries indicate an idea of the scope of the current crisis.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also providing food assistance to nearly 90,000 farming households to abate the food security crisis, he pointed out.

As the harvest season is beginning, labour shortages are putting the food security of tens of thousands of people at risk in particularly affected areas, he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Panama’s Indigenous People Want to Harness the Riches of Their Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:58 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137302 Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

By Emilio Godoy
PANAMA CITY, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For indigenous people in Panama, the rainforest where they live is not only their habitat but also their spiritual home, and their link to nature and their ancestors. The forest holds part of their essence and their identity.

“Forests are valuable to us because they bring us benefits, but not just oxygen,” Emberá chief Cándido Mezúa, the president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP), told Tierramérica.

“It is organic matter, minerals in the forest floor, forms of life related to the customs of indigenous peoples,” added Mezúa, the seniormost chief of one of Panama’s seven native communities, who live in five collectively-owned indigenous territories or “comarcas”.

In this tropical Central American country, indigenous people manage the forests in their territories through community forestry companies (EFCs). But Mezúa complained about the difficulties in setting up the EFCs, which ends up hurting the forests and the welfare of their guardians, the country’s indigenous communities.

Of Panama’s 3.8 million people, 417,000 are indigenous, and they live on 16,634 sq km – 20 percent of the national territory.

According to a map published in April by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), drawn up with the support of United Nations agencies, 62 percent of the national territory – 46,800 sq km – is covered in forest.

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

And this Central American country has 104 protected areas that cover 35 percent of the national territory of 75,517 sq km.

But each year 200 sq km of forests are lost, warns ANAM.

The EFCs “are an effort that has not been well-developed. They merely extract wood; the value chain has not been developed, and the added value ends up outside the comarca,” said Mezúa, the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan comarca on the border with Colombia, where his ethnic group also lives, as well as in Ecuador.

The indigenous leader said the EFCs help keep the forests standing in the long term, with rotation systems based on the value of the different kinds of wood in the management areas. “But it is the big companies that reap the benefits. The comarcas do not receive credit and can’t put their land up as collateral; they depend on development aid,” he complained.

Only five EFCs are currently operating, whose main activity is processing wood.

In 2010, two indigenous comarcas signed a 10-year trade agreement with the Panamanian company Green Life Investment to supply it with raw materials. But they only extract 2,755 cubic metres a year of wood.

The average yield in the comarcas is 25 cubic metres of wood per sq km and a total of around 8,000 cubic metres of wood are extracted annually in the indigenous comarcas, bringing in some 275,000 dollars in revenue.

In five years, the plan is to have 2,000 sq km of managed forests, the indigenous leader explained.

The government’s Programme for Indigenous Business Development (PRODEI) has provided these projects with just over 900,000 dollars.

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

But only a small proportion of forests in indigenous territories is managed. Of the 9,944 forest permits issued by ANAM in 2013, only 732 went to the comarcas.

Looking to U.N. REDD

In Mezúa’s view, the hope for indigenous people is that the EFCs will be bolstered by the U.N. climate change mitigation action plan, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

“We want to pay for the conservation and sustainable use of forests,” the coordinator of REDD+ in Panama, Gabriel Labbate, told Tierramérica. “It is of critical importance to find a balance between conservation and development. But REDD+ will not resolve the forest crisis by itself.”

REDD+ Panama is currently preparing the country for the 2014-2017 period and designing the platform for making the initiative public, the grievance and redress mechanism, the review of the governance structures, and the first steps for the operational phase, which should start in June 2015.

UN-REDD was launched in 2007 and has 56 developing country partners. Twenty-one of them are drawing up national plans, for which they received a combined total of 67.8 million dollars. The Latin American countries included in this group are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay.

Because forests trap carbon from the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks and the soil, it is essential to curb deforestation in order to reduce the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

Panama’s indigenous people believe that because of the position that trees occupy in their worldview, they are in a unique position to participate in REDD+, which incorporates elements like conservation, improvement of carbon storage and the sustainable management of forests.

But in February 2013, their representatives withdrew from the pilot programme, arguing that it failed to respect their right to free, prior and informed consultation, undermined their collective right to land, and violated the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

They only returned in December, after the government promised to correct the problems they had protested about.

In REDD+ there should be a debate on “the safeguards, the benefits, the price of carbon, regulations on carbon management, and legal guarantees in indigenous territories,” Mazúa said.

“We want an indigenous territory climate fund to be established, which would make it possible for indigenous people to decide how to put a value on it from our point of view and how it translates into economic value,” the chief said.

“The idea is for the money to go to the communities, but it is a question of volume and financing,” said Labbate, who is also in charge of the Poverty-Environment Initiative of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Programme.

Poverty and the environment are inextricably linked to Panama’s indigenous people. According to statistics published Sept. 28 by the government and the U.N., Panama’s overall poverty rate is 27.6 percent, but between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous families are poor.

Indigenous representatives are asking to be included in the distribution of the international financing that Panama will receive for preserving the country’s forests.

They also argue that the compensation should not only be linked to the protection of forests and carbon capture in the indigenous comarcas, but that it should be part of an environmental policy that would make it possible for them to engage in economic activities and fight poverty.

Indigenous leaders believe that their forests are the tool for reducing the inequality gap between them and the rest of Panamanian society. “But they have to support us for that to happen, REDD is just part of the aid strategy, but the most important thing is the adoption of legislation to guarantee our territorial rights in practice,” Mazúa said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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We Must Think of “Security” in New Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:28:57 +0000 Zafar Adeel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137299 Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities.  Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities. Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

By Zafar Adeel
HAMILTON, Canada, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Recent events in the Arab world and elsewhere have underscored the point that traditional notions of security being dependent solely on military and related apparatus are outmoded.

Security is a multi-faceted domain that operates at the nexus of human development and sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

“Water, Energy and the Arab Awakening,” a new book from an association of former world leaders, the InterAction Council, co-edited and published by the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, explores dimensions of security from a range of angles and offers some uncommon conclusions.

Much has been written in the recent years about water security as the crucial fulcrum on which human development and overall security balances. Access to modern energy services and adequate food, safe drinking water and sanitation are now deemed key determinants.

A clear indication of this increased awareness was provided by global business and political leaders in Davos last year, who recognised water insecurity as one of the five most important world risks.

Energy generation and consumption are driven by access to clean water and often generate polluting wastewater. Conversely, about eight percent of energy generated is used for treating, pumping, and transporting clean water and wastewater.

And food production is integrally linked to water availability – in most water-scarce countries, over 80 percent of water withdrawals support agricultural production.

It is also increasing clear that our use of resources, particularly freshwater, is not in line with availability. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arab region, where countries suffer water scarcity, worsening with rising population and changing (warming) climate patterns.

Some leading experts argue that Syria’s security crisis is rooted in ineffective water management and drought, problems amplifying long-standing political, religious and social disputes. The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

New window into security

The new book argues that reversing this situation requires consumption patterns realigned with available resources. And it downplays the significance of military might as part of the overall security equation.

Enhancements in the energy sector — utilising newer technologies and greener generation — can conserve water resources, improve access to energy and boost energy markets. In the book, Majid Al-Moneef of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia argues that national energy companies must play an enhanced role in this re-alignment.

Meanwhile, the food prices spikes of 2006-2008, argues Rabi Mohtar of Texas A&M University, can be linked to steep energy prices and to steering agricultural land to biofuel crop production. While the precise drivers of the global food prices are debatable, it is clear that availability of water and productive land, and the cost of energy are key.

The nexus of water, energy and food security demands re-thinking governance of these sectors. We can no longer afford isolated, ‘siloed’ management. The magnitude of these sectors and the respective proportion each contributes to national GDP varies very significantly from country to country.

But the water sector almost always comes out as a junior ministry or bureaucracy in national governments, making its integration difficult.

The book presents the Red Sea – Dead Sea canal as an example of achieving multi-faceted energy, food and water security goals while promoting regional peace. This 180-km long canal will siphon water from Red Sea to replenish the disappearing Dead Sea.

Some of the water will be desalinised for consumption, while also facilitating energy generation and food production. Former Jordanian Prime Minister Dr Majali notes that Israel, Palestinian Authority, and Jordan are all potential beneficiaries.

Climate change as exacerbating factor

There is little argument left that the greatest impacts of climate change are on the water cycle. And these changes can already be observed in spades — for example, in the extreme floods in Australia, Pakistan, Western Europe, and Canada of the last five years. The same can be said of prolonged droughts in Middle East and Central Asia.

The InterAction Council (IAC) – an association of 40 member former heads of state including Bill Clinton (USA), Jean Chrétien (Canada), Vincente Fox Quesada (Mexico), Andrés Pastrana Arango (Colombia), and Gro Harlem Bruntland (Norway) – notes that the U.N. Security Council has recognised climate change as an agenda for its consideration.

The IAC, however, argues in the book that water security should be a major consideration for the UNSC as climate change impacts manifest themselves in the form of water insecurity.

Looking for solutions

How the international community delivers its response to these multi-faceted problems is key; piecemeal solutions are clearly inadequate. The international development community, often led by the U.N. system, has an obvious central role. Numerous caucuses, most notably the summit-level G20, also have an increasing role to play in ensuring that these responses are comprehensive, geographically appropriate, and adequately resourced.

The Arab region is truly the test-bed of whether these solutions will work or not. As all eyes are turned towards the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, there is a wider narrative that relates to stemming problems before they get out of control elsewhere in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warmer Days a Catastrophe in the Making for Kenya’s Pastoralistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/warmer-days-a-catastrophe-in-the-making-for-kenyas-pastoralists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warmer-days-a-catastrophe-in-the-making-for-kenyas-pastoralists http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/warmer-days-a-catastrophe-in-the-making-for-kenyas-pastoralists/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 08:54:53 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137268 Arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of Kenya’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of Kenya’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Seif Hassan is a pastoralist from Garissa, Northern Kenya, some 380 kilometres outside of the capital, Nairobi. He sells his animals at the Garissa livestock market where, during a good season, pastoralists can sell up to 5,000 animals per week and “it is a cash-making business.” 

“In a good season, an ox can go for as much as 1,000 dollars, a heifer for 560 dollars while a camel can be sold for as much as 3,400 dollars,” he tells IPS.

But as weather patterns become extreme with more frequent and prolonged dry spells, “life has become difficult for the pastoralist community,” he says.

Michael ole Tiampati, the national coordinator for the Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya, a network of organisations that support pastoralist development in this East African nation, tells IPS that during dry spells “an ox is sold for between 200 and 300 dollars, a heifer at 50 to 170 dollars, while a camel is sold at between 1,000 and 1,700 dollars.”

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released last month, it emerged that temperatures on the African continent, particularly in the more arid regions, are likely to rise more quickly than in other land areas.

Experts like Dr George Keya, assistant director for Range and Arid Lands Research, tells IPS that if the expected short rains in October fail, “we will be facing a catastrophe in arid and semi-arid areas where pastoralists live.”

Keya says that pastoralists are an extremely vulnerable group “because their capacity to cope with extreme and unpredictable weather changes is significantly low.”

This, he says, compounded with their few livelihood options, makes the community extremely vulnerable.

As arid and semi-arid rangelands face warmer days, with frequent heat waves as predicted by the IPCC report, it poses an increased risk to the livelihoods of the pastoralist community.

“Climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability….particularly in semi-arid environments,” the report states.

Tiampati says that while in the past droughts would occur every 12 years, “we are now experiencing droughts every two to three years.”

As a result, “lands have insufficient time to recover. Pastoralists are also no longer able to practice herd splitting to protect their herds from climate change.”

Herd splitting is where pastoralists divide their herds into groups and take them to different areas with less-severe weather changes.

“But now climate change is affecting arid lands in a uniform manner, and there is no place to shelter the herds,” Tiampati says.

Keya says that extreme weather changes are also resulting in the occurrence of livestock diseases that easily wipe out entire herds. Pastoralist Hassan says that if the disease does not kill them, they die from the extreme weather changes.

“Drought brings Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) — a contagious disease that affects goats and sheep. The disease is also trans boundary and can move easily from Northern to Southern Kenya and beyond,” he says.

He adds that it is not just rising temperatures that pastoralists have to contend with, but torrential rains and consequent flooding.

Keya says that East Coast Fever, a disease that infects cattle, sheep and goats and which is caused by ticks, occurs during floods and is just as threatening as PPR.

“These diseases add to the vulnerability of the pastoralist community.”

Keya says that pastoral systems as they are cannot withstand climate change. He says that Vision 2030 — Kenya’s economic blueprint to move from a low- to a middle-income country — lays out a strategy to establish livestock disease free zones. But this is yet to be implemented.

“Pastoralists believe in keeping large herds and disposing of them when they are convinced that the situation is too dire for the animals to survive. We have seen them sell emancipated mature animals for a mere five dollars,” he says.

Tiampati says that pastoralists must begin to see that livestock keeping “as more than a way of life, they need to begin being more commercially oriented.”

He says that heifers raised on ranches are ready for the market in 18 months, but pastoralists take four to five years to get a similar cow ready for the market.

“Losing an animal that they have reared for years is usually a hard blow,” he says.

Statistics by the Range and Arid Lands Research show that arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of the country’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population.

“There is sufficient land for investors to set aside large areas where animals can be bought from pastoralists and fattened within three months and either consumed locally or exported,” Keya says.

He says that Kenya has a beef deficiency with “about 40 percent of our beef com[ing] from neighbouring countries.”  He says that it can easily be met by assisting pastoralists better manage their livestock.

Tiampati says that pastoralists need assistance in diversifying their livelihoods. He says that in some arid areas, such as in Laikipia in Rift Valley region, women are making good use of the aloe vera plant, which grows in arid areas, to make soap.

Keya says that also in the Rift Valley region, in Narok, pastoralists are making good use of the highlands and lowlands.

“During the rainy seasons, pastoralists are farming in highlands and keeping their animals in lowlands. While in dry spells, they take the animals to the highlands to feed on fodder from the harvest as the lowlands recover,” he says.

While the IPCC report predicts very tough times ahead for the pastoralist community, experts are convinced that with the right interventions, the Kenyan pastoralist will survive the vagaries of nature.

“Without these [interventions], we are watching a catastrophe in the making,” Keya says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

 

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

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

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Israel Planning Mass Expulsion of Bedouins from West Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/israel-planning-mass-expulsion-of-bedouins-from-west-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-planning-mass-expulsion-of-bedouins-from-west-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/israel-planning-mass-expulsion-of-bedouins-from-west-bank/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:21:04 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137252 Makeshift Bedouin home in a camp east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Makeshift Bedouin home in a camp east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Thirty-year-old Naifa Youssef and 50 other members of her Bedouin community live a precarious life, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence alongside the main road which links Jerusalem with the Dead Sea and the ancient city of Jericho.

Home for this community, east of Jerusalem, comprises a collection of shanty structures and hovels as well as tents erected on the rugged and rocky hills which line the road.

These makeshift homes are not connected to the electricity grid or to water and waste infrastructure. In winter the bitter cold rain and howling winds creep into the structures while mud and sewerage build up in pools around the tents.“We have nowhere else to go, we’ve lived here for many years and have no other land. We also can’t afford to move into a Palestinian village because we can’t afford the rent” – Naifa Youssef, a Palestinian Bedouin

Water has to be purchased and brought in by hand from the nearest village of Anata, a 15-minute and 5-km taxi journey away costing about two dollars per person.

Youssef’s community lives below the poverty line as the men folk struggle to make ends meet from casual day labour and herding their goats and sheep, with the area they can graze on limited by Israeli settlements.

The community has lived there for 50 years following their expulsion from the Negev Desert in 1948 when the Israeli state was established. The majority of the West Bank’s Bedouin communities were expelled from the Negev Desert during the same year.

Over the next few years, Israel plans to forcibly expel and relocate approximately 27,000 Palestinian Bedouins from Area C of the West Bank to make way for Israeli settlements.

This followed an announcement by the Israeli government in August that it planned to confiscate over 1,000 acres of West Bank land – the biggest land grab by the Jewish state in three decades.

The West Bank is divided into Area A, under nominal Palestinian control, Area B under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and Area C (which comprises approximately 60 percent of the territory) under full Israeli control, although overall control of the entire West Bank ultimately falls under Israeli control.

The Israelis argue that under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Area C does not belong to the Palestinians and that most of the structures built there were constructed without permits.

However, obtaining the requisite Israeli building permits for Palestinians is notoriously difficult in East Jerusalem and most parts of the West Bank, and almost impossible in Area C. Critics argue that this is a deliberate policy by the Israeli authorities to keep the occupied territory part of Israel.

The Israeli authorities have warned the Youssefs and their neighbours that they have less than two months to evacuate and that if they refuse to leave they will be forcibly expelled by Israeli security forces.

“We have nowhere else to go, we’ve lived here for many years and have no other land. We also can’t afford to move into a Palestinian village because we can’t afford the rent,” Youssef said.

Youssef’s problems have been experienced by thousands of other Bedouins and will be experienced by thousands more once again as Israel moves to keep most of the West Bank free of Palestinians and exclusively for Israeli settlers and settlements.

In preparation for what some have labelled an accelerated wave of ethnic cleansing, officials from Israel’s Civil Administration, which administers the West Bank, have been demolishing Palestinian infrastructure in Area C including shacks, tents, animal shelters and homes and other structures deemed to have been built “illegally”.

As part of the forced relocation, more than 12,000 Bedouins will be relocated to a new settlement near the West Bank city of Jericho where they will be surrounded by a firing zone, settlements and an Israeli checkpoint which will limit their ability to graze their herds, the main source of income for these nomadic pastoralists.

Several Bedouin communities were forcibly relocated in the 1990s by the Civil Administration from near East Jerusalem to an area of land near a garbage dump in Abu Dis which falls in Area B.

The expulsion of the Bedouins in the 1990s was primarily to make way for enlarging the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, one of the largest in the West Bank.

Further to enlarging Maale Adumim, part of Israel’s plan has been to keep an area known as the E1 corridor, which links the settlement with East Jerusalem, contiguous and under Israeli control by building more settlements, effectively dividing the West Bank in two.

The move also further isolates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. East Jerusalem is of great importance to Palestinians due to cultural, educational, family, business, and religious ties. Palestinians also hope to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“The Civil Administration’s plan blatantly contravenes international humanitarian law, which prohibits the forced transfer of protected persons, such as these Bedouin communities, unless the move is temporary or is necessary for their safety or to meet a military need,” says Israeli rights group B’tselem.

“The Civil Administration’s expulsion plan meets none of these conditions. Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated to act for the benefit and welfare of residents of the occupied territory. Expansion of the settlements does not comport with this requirement.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Family Farmers – Forward to the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-forward-to-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farmers-forward-to-the-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-forward-to-the-future/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:09:32 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137246 "Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?" – Pope Francis. Credit: By CIAT [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

"Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?" – Pope Francis. Credit: By CIAT [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

“Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?”

Pope Francis posed the question in a message read by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino, Permanent Observer of the Holy See for the celebration of World Food Day on Oct. 16 at the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Pope’s message went to the heart of this year’s World Food Day theme – Family Farming: Feeding the Planet, Caring for the Earth – as part of the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).

The celebration of World Food Day offered an opportunity to share experiences and steps forward towards the eradication of hunger in a way that is sustainable for the future.

“Family farming is key in this effort”, said FAO Director-General José Graziano Da Silva, praising the contributions of farmers around the world. “For decades they were seen as a problem to be dealt with. The truth is that they are an important part of the solution to sustainable food security.”"For decades they [family farmers] were seen as a problem to be dealt with. The truth is that they are an important part of the solution to sustainable food security" – FAO Director-General José Graziano Da Silva

Food insecurity within the context of a growing world population, increasingly disruptive climate change and environmental destruction, scarce access to land and resources, discrimination against women and lack of financial support for smallholders and youth were some of the problems that were recognised as crucial in the global struggle to feed all.

Sustainable development and smart agriculture, climate change mitigation and adaptation to changing and more extreme conditions were raised as necessary strategies.

FAO figures show that increasing production is not the silver bullet – the world already produces 40 percent more than is needed.

Leslie Lipper, Senior Environmental Economist at FAO’s Economic and Social Department, raised the problem of access: “Today there is enough food in the world for everybody to be food secure, and we still have over 809 million people that are food insecure.”

“They don’t have the means to either buy or in some way get the food they need. We are looking at the need for an agriculture world strategy that increases income, not just production”, she added.

From a social perspective, Giuseppe Castiglione, Undersecretary at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy, highlighted the role of family farmers in terms of employment and social inclusion, saying that they offer the opportunity of involving vulnerable people in a familiar working environment that is more welcoming than other forms of employment.

The International Year of Family Farming has been a demonstration of what the United Nations system does well: gathering people, starting dialogue, creating platforms for discussion, raising awareness and sharing knowledge.

In this context, many speakers called for policy-makers to follow up and implement strategies that permit the creation of supporting infrastructures. In fact, farmers’ challenges include distributing food efficiently, gaining access to markets and financial investments, reducing waste and improving quality.

“Financial services enable farmers to generate income and insulate themselves from income shocks”, said Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.

“Even a small amount of savings can mean that a mother does not have to sell her chickens or other income-earning assets in order to pay a doctor’s fee,” she added.

The crucial role of women as the backbone of agricultural production was not forgotten, and every speaker called for recognition of their role and for gender equality.

Santiago Del Solar Dorrego, Argentine agronomist and former president of a farmer group, suggested that while innovation is crucial, farmers should not go down that path alone if they do not have the scale to absorb the shock of failure. “Go together,” he said.

Jorge Anrango, responsible for food in rural and indigenous communities in the Ecuador delegation to FAO, talked to IPS about the experience of his country. “Everybody wanted to study, study, study. Nobody wanted to cultivate land”, he said, explaining that the IYFF has raised awareness of the importance of farming and has spurred people to return to the fields.

John Kufuor, former President of Ghana, highlighted the need for political leadership in policy-making for agriculture. He said that the 30 percent increase in rice production in his country had been made possible through offering landless people, women and youth degraded but usable land plots.

By providing them with access to training, markets and services, it had been possible to involve them in a system of plantation development and profit sharing and this programme had created jobs and improved income, food security and nutrition.

In a reference to the recent natural disasters that have hit the host country, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, a movement promoting local food systems, said that the floods and landslides that affected parts of northern Italy earlier in the month were the result of terrible hydrogeological conditions.

This, he explained, was because while family farmers used to clean canals and rivers and to ensure that the land was looked after, their role had been weakened, negatively affecting the public service they had once provided.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: The Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 15:19:03 +0000 Yury Fedotov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137243

Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Oct. 18 is the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day, as well as the United Kingdom’s Anti-Slavery Day. These events offer a good opportunity to talk about human trafficking within Europe’s borders, but we should not forget that there are victims and survivors all over the world.

People like Grace, not her real name, who grew up in a large family in Western Nigeria. On leaving high school her uncle lured Grace to Lagos with false promises that her education would continue. But instead of libraries and lessons, this young Nigerian girl was forced to wear suggestive clothing and work long hours in her uncle’s beer parlour. She was pressured into sleeping with any customer willing to pay. Her aunt kept the money.

Courtesy of UNODC

Courtesy of UNODC

Those who are trafficked, like Grace, are often destitute, alone and afraid. In the face of exploitation and constant abuse it is difficult to summon the courage to flee. Fortunately, she had access to a radio and overheard a show on human trafficking.

One of the interviewees, a staff member for the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development, encouraged anyone needing help to contact the centre. Grace realised there might be a way out.

Grace approached the centre after running away from her aunt and uncle. She was given a medical examination, as well as a place to sleep and counselling. The centre later sponsored her training as a seamstress, and later, with support, she was able to open a shop to sell her clothes. Grace had successfully taken the long journey from victim to human trafficking survivor.

Although Grace’s cruel experiences are individual to her, they are sadly not unique. In its publication, Hear Their Story, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights numerous stories of children and young people forced to sell themselves, and their labour.

UNODC’s human trafficking report found that 136 different nationalities detected in 118 countries between 2007 and 2010, making this a truly global crime.

Around 27 per cent of those trafficked are children forced into numerous sordid occupations, including petty crime, begging and the sex trade. 55-60 per cent of individuals trafficked globally are women. If the figure for women is added to those for young girls, it becomes 75 per cent.

The majority of these women are coerced into the sex trade; many others find themselves working as domestic servants or forced labour. There is also a commonly held myth that men are not trafficked. This is untrue. Men are also exploited for forced labour and can suffer extreme forms of abuse.

To counter this crime that shreds both dignity and human rights, there is a need to work constantly at the grassroots level. We have to be present where the traffickers are committing their gross crimes, and where victims can be helped to make the transition to a new life.

Countries also need to ratify and adopt the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking. The Convention creates a legal framework for mutual legal assistance and other means of tackling organised crime. But what is really needed is comprehensive data, meaning better reporting from countries, and proper funding.

In 2011, the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for human trafficking managed by UNODC, and which has a special emphasis on children, provided grants to 11 organisations working at the ground level. Thanks to their work, children and young adults, such as Grace, have been supported. But more funds are needed to provide legal support and advice, treatment for physical abuse, safe houses, additional life skills, as well as schooling and training.

Grace’s life changed when she heard a radio story that helped her become a survivor. On the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day and the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day, we have to ensure that other victims find their voices, and when they escape or are freed, we are waiting to offer much needed protection.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Cocktail of Political and Narco-Violence and Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:45:29 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137238 Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

The images filled the front pages of Mexico’s newspapers: 61 half-dressed state policemen kneeling, with their hands tied, in the main square of the town of Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo, while local residents threatened to burn them alive.

It was Feb. 19, 2000. The reason the townspeople were furious was the police occupation of the Normal Rural Luis Villarreal rural teachers college in the town of El Mexe, and the arrest of 176 of the students, who had been on strike because of the government’s announcement that enrollment would be reduced.

Between that episode and an incident on Monday Oct. 13 in the southwest state of Guerrero, when teachers, students and local residents of the town of Ayotzinapa set fire to the state government building, there has been a history of repression and criminalisation of the country’s poorest students: the sons and daughters of small farmers who study to become teachers in rural schools.

“It’s built-up anger,” Etelvina Sandoval, a researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Mexico’s national university for teacher training, told IPS. “For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.”

Guerrero is the third-least developed state in the country, and one of the most politicised. It has been the birthplace of social movements, and four decades ago it was one of the targets of the “dirty war” – a time of military repression of opponents of the government, which left a still unknown number of dead and disappeared.“For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.” -- Etelvina Sandoval

It is also one of the most violent states. And since Sept. 26 it has been in the global spotlight, after police in the city of Iguala attacked three buses full of students fom the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

The reason for the attack is not yet clear. But it was reported that the police handed over a group of students to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

In the clash with police, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 mainly first-year students went missing.

Implicated in the massacre were Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, both of whom are fugitives from justice and who, according to investigations, were on the cartel’s payroll.

In the search for the students, 23 mass graves have been found so far, containing dozens of corpses.

“The indiscriminate violence against the civilian population that we saw during the six-year term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) has been directed towards organised social movements since the change of government. What happened in Iguala was just a question of time,” said Héctor Cerezo, a member of the Cerezo Committee, an organisation that documents forced disappearances and the dirty war.

The young people who study at the rural teachers colleges – known as “normales” or normal schools – are the poorest students in the country, who receive training to educate poor “campesinos” or peasant farmers in the most marginalised and remote communities, where teachers who have trained in urban areas do not want to go.

The students are themselves campesinos whose only chance at an education is the normales, which were founded in 1921 and are the last bastion of the socialist education imparted in Mexico from 1934 to 1945.

In the normales, which function as boarding schools, and where students are given meals as well as a scholarship of three to seven dollars a day, the students are in charge.

They participate directly in administrative decision-making, and have established support networks among schools through the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico, the country’s oldest student organisation, which has frequently been accused of churning out guerrillas.

Through its ranks passed legendary guerrillas like Lucio Cabañas, who in 1967 founded the Party of the Poor, and Genaro Vázquez (both of whom were graduates of the Ayotzinapa teachers college). Another was Misael Núñez Acosta, who studied at the “normal” in Tenería, in the state of Mexico, and in 1979 founded the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación teachers union and was killed two years later.

“They were created for that reason – to do political work and consciousness-raising. The students are very independent young people [in comparison with students at the urban ‘normales’] with very strict discipline,” said Sandoval, who added that the rural teachers colleges have been “a thorn in the side of the governments.”

Of the 46 original rural teachers colleges, only 15 are left. Half of them were closed after the 1968 student movement by then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970).

The ones that are still open have been waging a steady battle since 1999 to avoid being turned into vocational-technical schools. But the state governments have financially suffocated them, with the argument that the country doesn’t need more primary school teachers, because the declining birth rate has reduced student enrollment.

As a result, fires and other incidents have become common in the rural teachers colleges as the installations have become more and more rundown. In 2008, for example, two students died in a fire caused by a short circuit in the first rural school of its kind in Latin America, the Normal Rural Vasco de Quiroga in the northwest state of Michoacán.

“What I can say is that there are not enough teachers in the most remote areas,” Sandoval said. “There are communities who go for months without a teacher. In some places a ‘non-teacher’ covers the gap temporarily, working without any contract or fixed timeframe.”

The attack on the buses carrying students from the Ayotzinapa school has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s human rights policy to the test.

The incident occurred in the context of growing tension caused by attempts by the latest governments to close down the school.

In January 2007, then state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca tried to reduce the number of students enrolled and declared that his government’s aim was to reduce the “studentocracy”. In November of that year, the anti-riot police cracked down on students when they demonstrated outside the state legislature.

On Dec. 12, 2011 the police killed two normal school students: phys-ed student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and primary education student Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino.

They were taking part in a roadblock to protest cuts in the school budget. In addition, Édgar David Espíritu Olmedo was seriously wounded, and 24 other students were beaten and injured.

“Ayotzinapa is standing up to fight for justice. The academic excellence that we are seeking cannot be conditioned on our political submission,” the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico stated in a communiqué at the time.

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

Nearly three years later, as they were getting ready to visit Mexico City to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Oct. 2, 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco square in Mexico City, the students from the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa were ambushed by municipal police, and the detained students, according to the investigations and testimony, were handed over to a criminal group that the mayor worked for.

Since then, there has been no sign of the 43 missing students.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Writing the Final Chapter on AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/writing-the-final-chapter-on-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=writing-the-final-chapter-on-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/writing-the-final-chapter-on-aids/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 06:50:55 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137230 Testing, treating and suppressing viral load in massive numbers could curb the spread of AIDS by 2020. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Testing, treating and suppressing viral load in massive numbers could curb the spread of AIDS by 2020. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Although AIDS has defied science by killing millions of people throughout Africa in the last three decades, HIV experts now believe that they have found the magic numbers to end AIDS as a public health threat in 15 years.

The magic numbers are 90-90-90 and are informed by growing clinical evidence showing that HIV treatment equals prevention because putting people on antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces new infections.

The new treatment targets seek that, by 2020:

  • 90 percent of people living with HIV get diagnosed
  • 90 percent of people diagnosed with HIV will be on ART
  • 90 percent of people on ART achieve durable viral suppression

The 90-90-90 plan, unveiled by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) earlier this year, seeks to halt the spread of HIV by 2020 and to end the epidemic by 2030.

While this is the most ambitious strategy to eliminate HIV yet, experts such as Dr Lucy Matu, director of technical services at the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation in Kenya, says that it can be done.

She told IPS that in Kenya 72 percent of the estimated total number of people living with HIV have been tested, and 76 percent of the 880,000 adults and children diagnosed with HIV were on ART by April 2014.

Kenya will get closer to the 90-90-90 target as it implements the 2013 World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, which increased the CD4 count threshold to start ART from 350 to 500, says Matu.

As eligibility for ART becomes broader, she explains, “it will push the number of people on ART up by at least 250,000 to 300,000 to at least 90 percent of those in care, and of course more people will continue to enroll in care.”

An attainable goal

The WHO guidelines build on the clinical benefits of starting ART earlier. Patients stay healthier and avoid opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis and TB.

Kenya is not the only country on track to achieving the ambitious 90-90-90 targets. In Botswana, which has a very high adult HIV prevalence, surpassed only by Swaziland globally, more than 70 percent of people living with HIV are on ART.

All East and Southern African countries are adopting the new guidelines, says Dr Eleanor Gouws-Williams, senior strategic information adviser with UNAIDS.

Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland are “finalising their national guidelines while others like South Africa are planning to implement the new guidelines next year,” she told IPS.

Gouws-Williams believes that the 90-90-90 plan is attainable.

90-90-90: the formula that experts believe could write the final chapter on AIDS in 15 years. Courtesy: UNAIDS

90-90-90: the formula that experts believe could write the final chapter on AIDS in 15 years. Courtesy: UNAIDS

Testing is the first step

Only half of all people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa have been diagnosed, says UNAIDS, so getting them to test is the first step.

Studies in Kenya and Uganda show that including HIV testing in multi-disease campaigns drove coverage up by 86 percent and 72 percent respectively.

But experts caution that the targets are more than putting loads of people on ART. Attaining viral suppression is key.

“In Rwanda, 83 percent of people receiving ART were found to be virally suppressed after 18 months of therapy,” says Gouws-Williams.

In Zimbabwe, Dr Agnes Mahomva, country director for the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation, told IPS that 90-90-90 is not too ambitious for the Southern African country.

Already, she told IPS, “HIV positive pregnant and breast feeding mothers are universally eligible for ART for life as well as HIV positive children below five years, regardless of their CD4 count.”

While many experts are optimistic that 90-90-90 targets will be met, Ugandan HIV activist Annabel Nkunda says the targets do not necessarily speak to each other.

Nkunda told IPS that many HIV positive people, “when put on treatment, do not adhere to the treatment because of stigma.”

Without a specific target to reduce stigma, she says, “no amount of intervention will get us to zero HIV/AIDS.”

But some experts like Dr Matu disagree: “If you know your status, you are more likely to be put on HIV care. If you are on ART, you are more likely to stay within the health system for follow up.”

Finding funding

While it is still too early to estimate how much countries will spend to make 90-90-90 work, the consensus is that a lot of resources will be needed. Already, some African countries are exploring innovative financing options such as AIDS tax levies and national HIV trust funds.

Gouws-Williams points out that ART has become far more affordable. In Malawi, it costs less than 100 dollars per person per year.

Nonetheless, donor assistance will still be critical, especially for five poor countries where HIV treatment costs exceed five percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Burundi.

Matu says that achieving 90-90-90 requires a combination of factors, including a robust health system, good laboratory capabilities, cheaper viral load testing and a strong health work force.

Mahomva adds that a strong community component is needed, “because this is where several bottlenecks such as stigma happen, compromising adherence to HIV treatment.”

In spite of the uphill task ahead, many are optimistic that 90-90-90 will write the final chapter of the AIDS epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Pressure Building on Obama to Impose Ebola Travel Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 01:27:23 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137228 Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama is under significant pressure to impose a range of restrictions on travellers coming to the United States from West African countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak.

Yet public health experts and development advocates warn that such restrictions would harm the already reeling economies of Ebola-hit countries in the region, and squeeze the international community’s ability to get health workers and goods into these countries.“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States.” -- Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development

“An accelerated mobilisation of personnel and resources is necessary to control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and care for patients, through the establishment of new Ebola management centres,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the humanitarian group that has been at the core of the international response to the epidemic, told IPS.

“For this reason, it is crucial that airlines continue flying to the affected region.”

Calls for halting flights and imposing visa restrictions have been floating around Washington since the virus’s spread caught the world’s attention over the summer. Yet these have strengthened substantially in recent days, following the confirmation of three cases of Ebola in the United States.

The first of those was unknowingly carried by a man from Liberia. He died last week after infecting two of the health workers attending to him, and the case has prompted an intense and at times vitriolic response.

“A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider,” John Boehner, the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the most powerful figures in Washington, said Wednesday.

In fact there are no direct air connections between the United States and any of the three countries most affected by the current outbreak. Further, it would be extremely complex to impose such a ban in tertiary transit countries.

On the other hand, it would be possible to create additional hurdles for those applying for U.S. visas in West Africa. But this would do nothing to deal with, for instance, the many U.S. passport holders living in these countries, and would likewise be logistically complex.

Nonetheless, Boehner was echoing a clear tide of U.S. support for the imposition of travel restrictions. According to a poll released Tuesday, two-thirds of people in the United States would support “restricting entry” of incoming travellers from Ebola-afflicted countries.

The federal government’s response to Ebola has suddenly become a defining issue in the U.S. midterm elections, slated for next month.

Dangerous isolation

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed more than 4,000 people, almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to make available a billion dollars to allow those combating the disease to meet a target of reducing the virus’s transmission rates by the beginning of December.

In the United States, meanwhile, the public support for travel restrictions has risen by six percentage points since just last week. And lawmakers, many of whom are currently in the last stages of political campaigns, are responding.

Though Congress is currently on recess, lawmakers held a rare hearing on Ebola Thursday. By Thursday evening, members of Congress who supported some sort of travel restrictions outnumbered those who didn’t by 56 to 13, according to a list compiled by a Washington newspaper.

While those who do not support a travel ban were all Democratic, the support for such restrictions stretches across both parties.

“I’ve been struck by just how intense this political pressure has become, and the pressure is bipartisan,” J. Stephen Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“While the arguments made against travel bans have been solid, they don’t win the day with the public. Further, if the base population carrying the virus continues to grow, the threat won’t ease and neither will this pressure.”

Even as lawmakers increasingly funnel – and perhaps fuel – concern over Ebola in this country, the Obama administration remains adamant that it is not considering any travel restrictions beyond health scans and interviews at international airports.

“Shutting down travel to that area of the world would prevent the expeditious flow of personnel and equipment into the region,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told journalists Wednesday. “And the only way for us to stop this outbreak and to eliminate any risk from Ebola to the American public is to stop this outbreak at the source.”

Earnest did not reject the possibility completely, however, noting that a travel ban is “not on the table at this point.”

Yet many of those closest to the Ebola response warn that travel restrictions would be not only unfeasible but outright dangerous, exacerbating the outbreak.

“You don’t want to do something that inadvertently accelerates the economic collapse of these countries or impedes the flow of health workers and critically needed commodities,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “Our ability to get ahead of this crisis necessitates the flow, back and forth, of thousands of health-care workers and commodities.”

Indeed, such concerns have already been borne out. African Union aid workers, for instance, were recently delayed for a week getting into Liberia due to travel restrictions imposed in a number of African countries.

“It has been quite challenging over the last several months, because there have been a reduction in commercial flights … a reduction in shipping that comes into the country,” Debra Malac, the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, told journalists Thursday. “[That’s made it] very difficult to get things like food as well as supplies in that are critically needed in order to help address this epidemic.”

Devastating economies

U.S. travel restrictions could also pose significant economic risks, both to Ebola-hit countries and Africa as a whole.

“There’s a lot of air traffic between Africa and the U.S. that’s very important for trade and investment, the tourism industry, for the diaspora,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “All of that is reliant on air links, so how do you make sure you’re not kicking the pins out of those economic processes?”

Already there are widespread fears over the financial impacts of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. Last week, the World Bank estimated that the epidemic could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States,” Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Imposing any kind of travel ban would tank the economy of these three countries, and that will have knock-on effects on dealing with the disease – increasing the suffering and the number of people with the disease.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Cash-Strapped Human Rights Office at Breaking Point, Says New Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:47:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137225 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

After six weeks in office, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan launched a blistering attack on member states for insufficient funding, thereby forcing operations in his office to the breaking point “in a world that seems to be lurching from crisis to ever-more dangerous crisis.”

“I am already having to look at making cuts because of our current financial situation,” he told reporters Thursday, pointing out while some U.N. agencies have budgets of over a billion dollars, the office of the UNHCHR has a relatively measly budget of 87 million dollars per year for 2014 and 2015."I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood." -- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein

“I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood,” he said, even as the Human Rights Council and the Security Council saddles the cash-strapped office with new fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry – with six currently underway and a seventh “possibly round the corner.”

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum (GPF) in Bonn, told IPS that governments treat the United Nations like firefighters.

“They call them to a fire but don’t give them the water to extinguish the fire and then blame the firefighters for their failure,” he said.

Martens welcomed the “the powerful statement” by the UNHCHR, describing it as a wake-up call for governments to take responsibility and finally provide the necessary funding for the United Nations.

Martens said for many years, Western governments, led by the United States, have insisted on a zero-growth doctrine for U.N. core budget.

“They bear major responsibility for the chronic weakness of the U.N. to respond to global challenges and crises,” he added.

The Office of the UNHCHR depends on voluntary contributions from member states to cover almost all of its field activities worldwide, as well as essential support work at its headquarters in Geneva.

“Despite strong backing from many donors, the level of contributions is not keeping pace with the constantly expanding demands of my Office,” Zeid said.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the dramatic gap between the demands on the U.N. human rights office and the resources it has available is unsustainable.

“It’s time for states to match their commitment to human rights by providing the resources needed for the High Commissioner and his team to do their jobs,” she said.

Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS it is wrong that the office of the UNHCHR’s core and mandated activities are not fully funded from the U.N.’s regular budget.

This, despite the fact, – as the High Commissioner himself points out – human rights are regularly described as one of the three pillars of the United Nations (along with development and peace and security).

Pomi said the office receives just over three percent of the U.N.’s regular budget.

“That makes for a short pillar and a badly aligned roof. U.N. member states should make sure that its core and mandated activities are properly funded,” he added.

Singling out the cash-crisis in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Martens told IPS a recent example is the weakness of WHO in responding to the Ebola pandemic.

Due to budget constraints WHO had to cut the funding for its outbreak and crisis response programme by more than 50 percent in the last two years.

It’s a scandal that the fraction of the regular budget allocation for human rights is less than 100 million dollars per year, and that the Office of the High Commissioner is mainly dependent on voluntary contributions.

Human Rights cannot be promoted and protected on a mere voluntary basis.

He said voluntary, and particularly earmarked, contributions are often not the solution but part of the problem.

Earmarking tends to turn U.N. agencies, funds and programmes into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects, eroding the multilateral character of the system and undermining democratic governance, said Martens.

“In order to provide global public goods, we need sufficient global public funds,” he said.

Therefore, member states must overcome their austerity policy towards the United Nations.

For many years Global Policy Forum has been calling for sufficient and predictable U.N. funding from governments, said Martens. In light of current global challenges and crises this call is more urgent than ever before, he added.

Zeid told reporters human rights are currently under greater pressure than they have been in a long while. “Our front pages and TV and computer screens are filled with a constant stream of presidents and ministers talking of conflict and human rights violations, and the global unease about the proliferating crises is palpable.”

He said the U.N. human rights system is asked to intervene in those crises, to investigate allegations of abuses, to press for accountability and to teach and encourage, so as to prevent further violations.

But time and time again “we have been instructed to do these and other major extra activities within existing resources,” said Zeid, a former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Panama’s Coral Reefs Ringed with Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-coral-reefs-ringed-with-threats/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:28:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137217 The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

The town of Taboga viewed from the sea. Credit: Creative Commons

By Emilio Godoy
TABOGA, Panama, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Fermín Gómez, a 53-year-old Panamanian fisherman, pushes off in his boat, the “Tres Hermanas,” every morning at 06:00 hours to fish in the waters off Taboga island. Five hours later he returns to shore.

Skilfully he removes the heads and scales of his catch of sea bass, snapper, marlin and sawfish. He delivers the cleaned fish to restaurants and hotels, where he is paid four dollars a kilo, a good price for the local area.

“I use baited hooks, because trammel nets drag in everything. That’s why the fishing isn’t so good any more: the nets catch even the young fry,” said this father of three daughters, who spent years working on tuna-fishing vessels.

Gómez lives 200 metres from Taboga island’s only beach, in a town of 1,629 people where the brightly painted houses are roofed with galvanised iron sheets. Located 11.3 nautical miles (21 kilometres) from Panama City, the mainstay of the island is tourism, especially on weekends when dozens of visitors board the ferry that plies between the island and the capital twice a day.

Gómez, who comes from a long line of fishermen, tends to go out fishing at midnight, the best time to catch sea bass. On a good day he might take some 30 kilograms.

“The fishing here is good, but we are dependent on what people on the other islands leave for us,” said Gómez, tanned by the sun and salt water.

The island of Taboga, just 12 square kilometres in area, lies in the Gulf of Panama and is the gateway to the Las Perlas archipelago, one of the most important nodes of coral islands in this Central American country of 3.8 million people.

From the air, they appear as mounds emerging from the turquoise backdrop of the sea, surrounded by what look like dozens of steel sharks, the ships waiting their turn to pass through the Panama Canal.

The isthmus of Panama possesses 290 square kilometres of coral reefs, mostly located on the Atlantic Caribbean coast, which harbour some 70 species. Coral reefs in the Pacific ocean host some 25 different species.

What the fisherfolk do not know is that their future livelihood depends on the health of the coral reefs, which is threatened by rising sea temperatures, maritime traffic, pollution and illegal fishing.

(2)Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

 Seabed corals on underwater mountains in Coiba National Park in Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

In Coiba National Park, in western Panama, and in the Las Perlas islands, “the diversity of the coral and associated species has been sustained in recent years. We have not detected any bleaching, but a troublesome alga has appeared,” academic José Casas, of the state International Maritime University of Panama (UMIP), told IPS.

“It’s threatening the reef,” said the expert, who is taking part in a project for the study and monitoring of reef communities and key fisheries species in Coiba National Park and the marine-coastal Special Management Zone comprising the Las Perlas Archipelago. The study’s final report is due to be published in November.

Algal growth blocks sunlight and smothers the coral, which cannot survive. Experts have also detected the appearance of algae in Colombia and Mexico.

The project is being carried out by UMIP together with Fundación Natura, Conservation International, the Autonomous University of Baja California, in Mexico, and the Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP).

Researchers are monitoring the coral in Coiba and Las Perlas in Panama. They took measurements in March and August, and they will repeat their survey in November.

There are differences between the two study zones. Coiba is little disturbed by human activity; it is a designated natural heritage area and a protection plan is in place, although according to the experts it is not enforced. Moreover, Coiba Park is administered by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM).

A protection programme for Las Perlas, to be managed by ARAP, is currently in the pipeline.

Reefs are essential for the development and feeding of large predators like sharks, whales, pelagic fish such as anchovy and herring, and sea turtles, the experts said.

In Panama’s coral reefs, ARAP has identified species of algae, mangroves, sponges, crustaceans, molluscs, conches, starfish, sea cucumber, sea urchin, as well as groupers, snappers, angelfish and butterflyfish.

Fishing generates some 15,000 jobs in Panama and annual production is 131,000 tonnes, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census.

An Environmental Agenda for Panama 2014-2019 (Agenda Ambiental Panamá 2014-2019), published by the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON),

Fundación MarViva, Fundación Natura and the Panama Audubon Society, proposes the passage of a law for wetlands protection, emphasising mangroves, mudflats, marshes, swamps, peat bogs, rivers, coral reefs and others.

On the Caribbean coast, coral reefs around the nine islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, 324 nautical miles (600 kilometres) west of Panama City, are experiencing bleaching caused by high water temperatures.

This was a finding of a study titled “Forecasting decadal changes in sea surface temperatures and coral bleaching within a Caribbean coral reef,” published in May by the U.S. journal Coral Reefs.
Angang Li and Matthew Reidenbach, of the U.S. University of Virginia, predict that by 2084 nearly all the coral reefs they studied will be vulnerable to bleaching-induced mortality.

They simulated water flow patterns and water surface heating scenarios for the present day and projections for 2020, 2050 and 2080. They concluded that reefs bathed by cooler waters will have the greatest chances of future survival.

Bocas del Toro adjoins the Isla Bastimentos National Park, one of 104 protected areas in Panama covering a total of 36,000 square kilometres, equivalent to 39 percent of the national territory.

“Local communities need education in resource management, sustainable use, fisheries zoning and fisherfolk organisation,” Casas said.

The next phase of the corals project, financed with 48,000 dollars this year and requiring about 70,000 dollars for 2015, will involve quantifying the value of ecosystem services provided by coral reefs.

Gómez has no plans to change his trade, but he can see that his grandchildren will no longer follow the same occupation. “Fishing is going to be more complicated in future. They will have to think of other ways of earning a living,” he told IPS, gazing nostalgically out to sea.

Edited byEstrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Vanishing Species: Local Communities Count their Losseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:08:40 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137211 Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

The Mountain Chicken isn’t a fowl, as its name suggests, but a frog. Kimisha Thomas, hailing from the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, remembers a time when she could find these amphibians or ‘crapaud’ as locals call them “just in the backyard”.

Known also as the Giant Ditch Frog, these creatures form a crucial part of Dominica’s national identity, with locals consuming them on special occasions like Independence Day. Today, hunting mountain chicken is banned, as the frogs are fighting for their survival. In fact, scientists estimate that their numbers have dwindled down to just 8,000 individuals.

Locals first started noticing that the frogs were behaving abnormally about a decade ago, showing signs of lethargy as well as abrasions on their skin. “Then they began to die,” explained Thomas, an officer with Dominica’s environment ministry.

“People also started to get scared, fearing that eating crapauds would make them ill,” she adds. In fact, this fear was not far from the truth; preliminary research has found that Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease that affects amphibians, was the culprit for the wave of deaths.

Some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered -- International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Besides the mountain chicken, there has been a sharp decline in the population of the sisserou parrot, which is found only in Dominica, primarily in the country’s mountainous rainforests. Thomas says large-scale destruction of the bird’s habitat is responsible for its gradual disappearance from the island.

Dominica is not alone in grappling with such a rapid loss of species. According to the Red List of Threatened Species, one of the most comprehensive inventories on the conservation status of various creatures, some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered.

Compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Red List aims to increase the number of species assessed to 160,000 by 2020. But even with only half the world’s biological species included in the index, the forecast is bleak.

While the extinction or threat of extinction of thousands of species poses huge challenges across the board, tribal and indigenous communities are generally first to feel the impacts, and will likely bear the economic and cultural brunt of such losses.

As Thomas points out, “The crapaud was our national dish. The sisserou parrot [also known as the Imperial Amazon] sits right in the middle of our national flag. Their loss means the loss of our very cultural identity.”

A similar refrain can be heard among the Parsi community of India, whose culture dictates that the dead be placed in high structures, called ‘towers of silence’, that they may be consumed by birds of prey: kites, vultures and crows. The unique funeral rites are an integral part of the Zoroastrian faith, which stipulates that bodies be returned to nature.

But over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared, making it impossibly difficult for the Parsi community to keep up with a centuries-old tradition.

Rising economic burden

Besides severely affecting ancient cultural and spiritual practices, the disappearance of various species is also taking an economic toll on indigenous communities according to 65-year-old Anil Kumar Singh, who was born and raised in the village of Chirakuti in India’s northeastern hill districts.

Singh says that as a child, he never saw a doctor for minor ailments like the common cold or an upset stomach.

“We used Vishalyakarni [a herb] for pains and cuts. We drank the juice of basak leaves (adhatoda vasica) for a cough and used the extract from lotus flowers for dysentery,” he tells IPS.

“But today, these plants don’t grow here anymore. Even when we try, they die out soon and we don’t know the reason. We now have to buy medicines from a chemist’s shop for everything,” he asserts.

Sometimes, the cost is much higher. Northern Indian states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have experienced an explosion in the population of stray dogs, giving rise to health risks among locals.

By way of explanation, Neha Sinha, advocacy and policy officer of the Bombay Natural History Society in India (BNHS), a Mumbai-based conservation charity, tells IPS that the phenomenon of increasingly feral dogs can be traced to Indian farmers’ practice of leaving dead cattle out in the open to be consumed by birds of prey.

With no vultures to pick the beasts clean, dogs are now getting to the carcasses, growing more and more vicious and resorting to attacks on humans. BNHS is currently breeding vultures in captivity in order to prevent their complete extinction, but it is unlikely the birds will regain their numbers from 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, according to a study by Birdlife International, the population of feral dogs in India has grown by 5.5 million due to the disappearance of vultures.

The report says there have been “roughly 38.5 million additional dog bites and more than 47,300 extra deaths from rabies, [which] may have cost the Indian economy an additional 34 billion dollars.”

Legal and knowledge gaps

The near extinction of vultures in India is attributed to diclofenac, a painkiller that is often given to cows and buffalos to which vultures are allergic. Intense campaigning against use of the drug led to a government ban in 2004, but implementation of the law has been poor, and diclofenac is still widely used, according to Singh of BNHS.

“The farmers know [the drug] is banned but they continue to use it because the law is not being enforced,” she said.

In several other cases, communities are left confused as to the reasons behind species loss, making it increasingly hard to settle on a solution. For instance, even after a decade of seeing their unique creatures vanish, Dominica still does not know what brought the Chytridiomycosis fungus to their soil, or how to deal with it.

This knowledge gap is a double whammy for indigenous communities, whose lives and livelihoods depend heavily on the species they have lived side by side with for millennia.

Lucy Mulenekei, executive director of the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), tells IPS on the sidelines of the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that the decline in the livestock population in Kenya has affected the Maasai people, a pastoral tribe that has always relied on their herds for sustenance.

Now forced to live off the land, the tribe is faltering.

“The Maasai people don’t know what kind of farming tools they need, or how to use them. They don’t know what seeds to use and how to access them. There is a huge gap in knowledge and technology,” explains Mulenekei, who is Maasai herself.

In response to the growing crisis, governments and U.N. agencies are pushing out initiatives to tackle the problem at its root.

Carlos Potiara Castro, a technical advisor with the Brazilian environment ministry, is leading one such project in the Bailique Archipelago, 160 km from the Macapa municipality in northern Brazil, where local fisher communities are taught to conserve biodiversity. Already, community members have learned the properties of 154 medicinal plants.

The annual cost of the project is about 50,000 dollars, but Potiara says a lot more funding will be needed in order to scale up the work and replicate such efforts around the country.

This might soon be possible under a new initiative launched by the government of Germany together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which offers 12.3 million euros over a period of five years to indigenous communities in over 130 countries to help them conserve protected areas.

Yoko Watanabe, a senior biodiversity specialist at the natural resources team of the GEF Secretariat, tells IPS the grants will also cover the cost of trainings, to pass on necessary skills to indigenous communities who are recognised as “indispensable to biodiversity conservation.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kyrgyzstan Looks to Alternative Fuels Ahead of Looming Winter Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kyrgyzstan-looks-to-alternative-fuels-ahead-of-looming-winter-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstan-looks-to-alternative-fuels-ahead-of-looming-winter-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kyrgyzstan-looks-to-alternative-fuels-ahead-of-looming-winter-shortages/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 12:36:10 +0000 Anna Lelik http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137208 Young people heat themselves by the eternal flame at a WWII monument in Bishkek last February. Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Young people heat themselves by the eternal flame at a WWII monument in Bishkek last February. Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Anna Lelik
BISHKEK, Oct 16 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Each winter in Kyrgyzstan the energy situation seems to worsen; blackouts last longer, and officials seem less able to do anything to improve conditions. This year is expected to be particularly difficult.

The winter heating season has not even begun and already lots of people are bracing for months of hardship. A video, posted Oct. 12 on YouTube, depicting Kyrgyz doctors having to perform open-heart surgery amid a sudden blackout, is helping to heighten anxiety about the coming winter.Last year, when temperatures dropped to -20C (-4F), the 89-year-old pensioner spent three months living in a vegetable storage shed with a small stove she kept going with a mix of coal dust and dung.

In another alarming signal, Bishkek’s local energy-distribution company, Severelectro, sent out advisories with recent utility bills, describing the situation as “critical” and begging customers to conserve electricity and use alternatives to heat their homes.

Southern Kyrgyzstan has been without gas since April, when Russia’s Gazprom took over the country’s gas network, and neighbouring Uzbekistan said it would not work with the Russians. That has forced residents in the south to use precious and expensive electricity to cook, or resort to burning dung and sometimes even furniture.

On top of that, a drought has hampered operations at Kyrgyzstan’s main hydroelectric plant at the aging Toktogul Dam.

After President Almazbek Atambayev criticised the energy minister on Oct. 9, the minister promptly quit. But a personnel reshuffle will not do much to reassure citizens, such as pensioner Valentina Chebotok, who lives in Maevka, a Bishkek suburb.

When she began to contemplate the hassles associated with winter, Chebotok started to cry. Last year, when temperatures dropped to -20C (-4F), the 89-year-old pensioner spent three months living in a vegetable storage shed with a small stove she kept going with a mix of coal dust and dung. This year, Chebotok managed to secure a gas heater, but on her pension of 87 dollars per month she will have to use it sparingly.

There has been some good news: Kazakhstan agreed on Oct. 14 to supply over a billion kWh of electricity this fall and winter. In September, the Russian energy giant Gazprom announced gas prices for exports to northern Kyrgyzstan – that is, the only areas connected to its network, since Uzbekistan refuses to supply its gas to the southern network – would fall 20 percent.

But in many parts of the country the electrical system is overloaded. Prior to the Gazprom deal, many consumers grew tired of constant gas shortages, and converted their heating systems to run on electricity. That is what Maksim Tsai, a mechanical engineer in Bishkek, did seven years ago.

“I was forced to switch to electric heating. And Kyrgyzstan was [at the time] considered a country with abundant electricity,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Citing a need to conserve electricity, government officials have made often contradictory statements about the type of three-phase electrical adaptors that Tsai and many others now use. Some officials have said they want to ban three-phase adaptors, which can support higher electricity loads; others express an interest in increasing tariffs for three-phase households. Tsai said he now plans to switch back to gas.

“The government took the right decision to transfer Kyrgyzgaz to Gazprom. Now I have got assurance that we won’t have problems with gas, though it is still expensive,” he said.

The current confusion offers crooked officials an opportunity to line their pockets. A hotel owner in Bishkek complained in September that Severelectro officials came to his business and attempted to seize his three-phase adaptor.

“They came over and made us sign a document saying that we understood why the three-phase adaptor was being confiscated. We asked for a copy of the document, but they said we couldn’t get one because ‘we don’t want the press to get hold of this.’ We were allowed to keep our adaptor after we paid a bribe,” the hotel owner said.

The officials warned the hotel owner to expect blackouts this winter at his central Bishkek location, “‘Maybe five hours a day, maybe more, they said.’”

Another heating alternative is coal. In August, Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev called on Kyrgyzstanis to use coal this winter for heating, since it is “a relatively inexpensive fuel.”

Though Kyrgyzstan is endowed with plenty of coal, the industry is plagued by scandals and, reportedly, organised criminal activity – factors that drive up prices and force consumers, including government agencies, to buy imports.

Sultanbek Dzholdoshbaev, a wholesaler at the main coal market outside of Bishkek, said that supplies from the famed and fought-over Kara-Keche deposit have decreased in recent years, pushing up prices.

He explained that local gangs took control of Kara-Keche during the chaos following President Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s 2010 overthrow. Moreover, the state-run company that manages Kara-Keche is unable to run such a large-scale operation efficiently, Dzholdoshbaev asserted.

Meanwhile, prices keep rising. According to sellers and buyers at the coal market, the price for a tonne of coal has increased 25 to 35 percent this season. That might be in part due to demand. Delivery-truck drivers say demand has been high since August, when the government started warning about the tough winter ahead.

If those living in freestanding homes have options, such as gas and coal, the tens of thousands of Bishkek residents living in multi-story buildings with central heating provided by Severelectro have only electricity as backup.

Larisa Musuralieva, who lives in an apartment block in a southern district of the capital, said that the old radiators in her flat do not provide sufficient warmth: “These radiators heat so badly […] so we use an electric heater. If blackouts happen this winter, it will be very cold at home.”

Editor’s note:  Anna Lelik is a Bishkek-based reporter. Chris Rickleton contributed reporting. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa Can Be its Own ‘Switzerland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:58:30 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137171 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Africa has the capacity to access at least 200 billion dollars for sustainable development investment but it will remain a slave to foreign aid unless it improves the climate for investment and trade and plugs illicit financial flows, development experts say.

“Africa is not poor financially but it needs to get its house in order,” Stephen Karingi, director of regional integration, infrastructure and trade at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS during the commission’s Ninth African Development Forum, which is being held in Morocco from Oct. 13 to 16.

“For too long we have allowed the narrative of Africa to be one about raw materials and natural resources coming out of Africa, yet Africa can take advantage of its own comparative advantages, including these natural resources, and become the leader in the value chains that require these raw materials.”

Research by the ECA shows that the total illicit financial outflows in Africa over the last 10 years, about 50 billion dollars a year, is equivalent to nearly all the official development assistance received by the continent.

“Africa is ready for transformation and we have the continental frameworks [for it],” said Karingi.

A combination of luring private equity investment, remittances and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development.

Sub-saharan Africa has one of the highest number of hungry people and has a growing youth population in need of jobs.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by, among other factors, improved governance and macroeconomic management, rapid urbanisation and expanding regional markets.

Currently Africa is estimated to have a 100-billion-dollar annual funding gap for infrastructure development with about 45 billion dollars of this set to come from domestic resources.

Carlos Lopes, ECA executive secretary, said developing countries must strive to mobilise additional financial resources, including through accessing financial markets. He added that at the same time developed countries must honour the financial commitments they have made in international forums.

“The continent must embark on reforms to capture currently unexplored or poorly-managed resources,” Lopez said.

This is the first time that the Africa Development Forum has focused on the continent’s development.

Discussions focused on enhancing Africa’s capacity to explore innovative financing mechanisms as real alternatives for financing transformative development in Africa.

It aims to forge linkages between the importance of mainstreaming resource mobilisation and the reduction of trade barriers into economic, institutional and policy frameworks, and advancing the post-2015 development goals.

Macroeconomic policy division head at ECA, Adama Elhiraika, told IPS that the new sustainable development goals present an opportunity for Africa to excel by prioritising its development issues.

Elhiraika said Africa has all the ingredients to be a financial hub and investment magnet along the lines of “Switzerland” if only it can improve its investment and trade climate, tackle corruption and raise money internally.

“We need to get our policies right and allow for the kind of investments that people [can make] in Switzerland,” Elhiraika said.

“Given the size of Africa, there is need to promote free movement of capital, which is as important as the free movement of goods and services in boosting trade and investment.”

According to the World Bank, of the 50 economies that recorded improved in their regulatory business environment in 2013, 17 are from Africa, with eight of those economies being ranked ahead of mainland China, 11 ahead of Russia and 16 ahead of Brazil.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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High-Tech, High Yields: Caribbean Farmers Reap Benefits of ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:21:49 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137194 Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Farmers in the Caribbean are being encouraged to make more use of farm apps and other forms of ICT in an effort to increase the knowledge available for making sound, profitable farming decisions.

Peter Thompson of Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) said Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is being increasingly used to track “localised conditions, pests and disease prevalence. The technology will not only add value to us but to the farmers in giving information that they need.”“The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death." -- Peter Thompson

Thompson spoke to IPS at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), held Oct. 6-12 in Paramaribo, Suriname.

A great deal of attention was given to “scaling up” the integration of technology into day-to-day farming practices at CWA 2014, co-sponsored by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, showcased apps that students in the Department of Computing and Information Technology had developed as part of the AgriNeTT project, a collaborative effort between the Department, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, and farmers’ representatives.

AgriNeTT’s project leader/coordinator, Dr. Margaret Bernard, said “the main focus…is developing intelligent systems within agriculture. There is a lack of data [and] many of the models being built did not have real data from the field.”

The apps are intended to support agriculture, she told IPS. “A big part of the AgriNeTT project is the development of an Open Data repository, particularly to house agriculture data on a national level… The repository will house different data sets, including farm level production data, commodity prices and volumes, farm land spatial data, soils, weather, and pest and diseases tracking data.”

Dr. Bernard said the aim of the Open Data repository was to build a platform that would be accessible throughout the Caribbean. The project seeks to encourage all in the Caribbean farming community to share in uploading data so that “developer teams can use that data creatively and build apps [for agriculture].”

She added that the creation of apps and tools based on the data would help to modernise Caribbean agriculture. “The collection, aggregation, analysis, visualisation and dissemination of data are key to Caribbean competitiveness,” Dr. Bernard said.

Dr. Bernard holds high hopes for a new app, called AgriExpenseTT, which her team developed for farm record-keeping. The app, now available for download at Google Play, allows farmers to track expenses of more than one crop at a time, track purchases of agricultural products they use on their farms, as well as track how much of the products purchased are actually used for each crop.

She said farmers who opted for the subscription service for this app would then have their data stored which would allow researchers “to verify some of the models for cost production, so we know this is what it costs to produce X amount of [any crop].”

Another reason for encouraging the use of ICT in agriculture is the need to make farming a more attractive career option for young people, CTA’s Director Michael Hailu explained. He said an important dimension to family farming, the theme of this year’s CWA, was the significant role that young people should and could play in the development of the region’s agriculture.

Since the region’s farming population is aging, “we at CTA are making a special effort to encourage young people to engage in agriculture—in ways that they can relate to, using new technologies that are far removed from the old image of farming,” he said.

To this end, CTA offered a prize to young app developers in the region who would develop innovative ICT applications to address key Caribbean agricultural challenges and foster agri-enterprise among young people.

Winners of this year's AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Winners of this year’s AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Photo Courtesy of CTA

Many of the apps developed for the CWA 2014 AgriHack Talent competition focused on providing farmers with useful information that is not always readily available.

Jason Scott, part of the Jamaican team that won the agricultural hackathon with their app named Node 420, said, “Collecting the information they need can be a real problem for farmers.” He said he and his colleague Orane Edwards “decided to design some hardware that could gather all sorts of data to help them with their cultivation, including planting, sowing and harvesting.”

RADA’s Thompson said, “The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death…We have these young guys coming in who are just hungry to do things in terms of technology. We have to help them.”

However, Faumuina Tatunai, a media specialist who works with Women and Business Development, an NGO that supports 600 farmers in Samoa, told IPS that excessive focus on attracting youth to farming through ICT may be short-sighted.

“The reality of farming is that we need young people on the farms as part of the family. To do that we need to attract them in quite holistic ways…and ICT is just part of the solution but it is not the only solution.”

She said her organisation seeks to encourage interest in farming among youth by taking a family-centred approach and encouraging all members of the family to learn about agriculture and grow together as farmers through the use of training and other opportunities.

“Everyone in the family is a farmer, whether they are six or 70 years old…our approach is to build capacity with mother, father, and child,” Tatunai said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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OPINION: The U.S. and a Crumbling Levanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:18:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137192

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

As the international media is mesmerised by the Islamic State’s advance on Kobani or ‘Ayn al-Arab on the Syrian-Turkish border, Arab states and the United States would need to look beyond Kobani’s fate and the Islamic State’s territorial successes and defeats.

The crumbling Levant poses a greater danger than ISIL and must be addressed—first and foremost by the states of the region.Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

The British colonial term Levant encompasses modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, with a total population of over 70 million people. The population—mostly young, unemployed or underemployed, poor, and inadequately educated—has lost trust in their leaders and the governing elites.

The Levant has become a bloody playground for other states in the greater Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. While dislocations in the Levant could be contained, the regional states’ involvement has transformed the area into an international nightmare. The resulting instability will impact the region for years to come regardless of ISIL’s short-term fortunes.

The Levantine state has become marginalised and ineffectual in charting a hopeful future for its people, who are drifting away from nationalist ideologies toward more divisive, localised, and often violent, manifestations of identity politics. National political identity, with which citizens in the Levant have identified for decades, has devolved mostly into tribal, ethnic, geographic, and sectarian identities.

The crumbling state structure and authority gave rise to these identities, thereby fueling the current conflicts, which in turn are undermining the very existence of the Levantine state.

The three key non-state actors—ISIL, Hizbollah, and Hamas—have been the beneficiaries of the crumbling states, which were drawn up by colonial cartographer-politicians a century ago.

Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

This phenomenon is readily apparent in Baghdad, Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza, partially so in Beirut, and less so in Amman. Salafi groups, however, are lurking in the background in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine ready to challenge state authority whenever they sense a power vacuum.

Political systems in the Levant are often propped up by domestic ruling elites, regional states, and foreign powers for a variety of parochial and transnational interests. More and more, these ruling structures appear to be relics of the past. A key analytic question is how long would they survive if outside economic, military and political support dries up?

Levant regimes comprise a monarchy in Jordan; a perennially dysfunctional parliamentary/presidential system in Lebanon; a brutal, teetering dictatorship in Syria; an autocratic presidency in Palestine; and an erratic partisan democracy in Iraq. They have subsisted on so-called rentier or “rent” economies—oil in Iraq, with the rest dependent on foreign aid. Providers of such aid have included GCC countries, Iran, Turkey, the United States, the EU, Russia, and others.

Corruption is rampant across most state institutions in the Levant, including the military and the key financial and banking systems. For example, billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq following the 2003 invasion have not been accounted for. According to the New York Times, American investigators in the past decade have traced huge sums of this money to a bunker in Lebanon.

The collapse of the Levant states in the next decade is not unthinkable. Their borders are already becoming more blurred and porous. The decaying environment is allowing violent groups to operate more freely within states and across state boundaries. ISIL is causing havoc in Iraq and Syria and potentially could destabilise Jordan and Lebanon precisely because the Levantine state is on the verge of collapse.

As these states weaken, regional powers—especially Saudi Arabia plus some of its GCC junior partners, Iran, and Egypt—will find it convenient to engage in proxy sectarian and ethnic wars through jihadist and other vigilante mercenaries.

Equally disturbing is that U.S. policy toward a post-ISIL Levant seems rudderless without a strategic compass to guide it. It’s as if U.S. policymakers have no stomach to focus on the “morning after” despite the fact that the airstrikes are proving ineffective in halting ISIL’s territorial advances.

Kobani aside, what should the Arab states and the United States do about the future of the Levant?

1. Iraq. If the Sunnis and Kurds are to be represented across all state institutions in Iraq, regional states with Washington’s help should urge Prime Minister Abadi to complete the formation of his new government on the basis of equity and fairness. Government and semi-public institutions and agencies must be made accountable and transparent and subject to scrutiny by domestic and international regulatory bodies. Otherwise, Iraq would remain a breeding ground for terrorists and jihadists.

2. Syria. If Washington remains committed to Assad’s removal, it should end its Russian roulette charade toward the Syrian dictator. Ankara’s view that Assad is more dangerous in the long run than ISIL is convincing and should be accepted and acted upon.

If removing Assad remains a serious policy objective, is the coalition contemplating imposing a no-fly zone and a security zone on Syria’s northern border any time soon to facilitate Assad’s downfall?

3. Lebanon. If Hizbollah and other political parties do not play a constructive role in re-establishing political dialogue and stability in Lebanon, it won’t be long before the ISIL wars enter the country. Are there regional and international pressures being put on Hizbollah to end its support of Assad and disengage from fighting in Syria?

The upcoming presidential election would be a useful barometer to assess the key Lebanese stakeholders’ commitment to long-term stability. If no candidate wins a majority, does Washington, in conjunction with its Arab allies, have a clear plan to get the Lebanese parliament to vote for a president?

Unless Lebanon gets its political house in order, religious sectarianism could yet again rear its ugly head in that fragile state and tear Lebanon apart.

4. Palestine. If the Obama administration urges Israel to facilitate a working environment for the Palestinian national unity government, to end its siege of Gaza, and dismantle its 47-year occupation, Palestine would no longer be an incubator of radical ideologies.

An occupied population living in poverty, unemployment, alienation, repression, daily humiliation, and hopelessness and ruled by a corrupt regime is rarely prone to moderation and peaceful dialogue. On the contrary, such a population offers fertile recruiting ground for extremism.

5. It is in the United States’ interest to engage Iran and Saudi Arabia—the two countries that seem to meddle most in the Levant—in order to stop their proxy wars in the region. These sectarian wars could easily lead to an all-out military confrontation, which would surely suck in the United States and other Western powers. Israel would not be able to escape such a conflict either.

The Saudi government claims that it opposes ISIS. Yet one would ask why hasn’t the Saudi clerical establishment denounced—forcefully and publicly—the ISIL ideology and rejected so-called Islamic State Caliphate? Why is it that thousands of ISIL jihadists are from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf countries?

6. Since Levant countries face high unemployment, it’s imperative to pursue serious job creation initiatives. Arab states, with Washington’s support, should begin massive technical and vocational education programs and entrepreneurial initiatives in the Levant countries. Young men and women should be trained in vocational institutes, much like the two-year college concept in the United States.

Vocational fields that suffer from shortages in Levant countries include plumbing, carpentry, home construction, electricity, welding, mechanics, automotive services, truck driving, computers and electronics, health services, hotels and tourism, technology management, and TV and computer repairs. Services in these fields are badly needed. Yet thousands of young men and women are ready to be trained and fill these needs.

In addition to vocational training, wealthy Arab countries should help the Levant establish funds for entrepreneurial, job-creation initiatives, and start-ups. A partnership between government and the private sector, with support from the U.S and other developed countries, could be the engine that drives a new era of job creation and economic growth in the region where the ISIL cancer is metastasizing.

Let’s be clear, the United States has significant leverage to help implement these policies should American leaders decide to do so. One could ask why should the US make such a commitment? If ISIL is primarily a threat to Levantine countries, why can’t they deal with it?

These are fair questions but, as we have discovered with Ebola, what happens in Liberia doesn’t stay in Liberia. A crumbling Levant will have ramifications not just for the region but for the United States and the rest of the world as well.

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

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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