Inter Press Service » Poverty & MDGs http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Tech-Savvy Women Farmers Find Success with SIM Cardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/tech-savvy-women-farmers-find-success-with-sim-cards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tech-savvy-women-farmers-find-success-with-sim-cards http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/tech-savvy-women-farmers-find-success-with-sim-cards/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 04:46:06 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139489 Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
MAHABUBNAGAR, India, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Jawadi Vimalamma, 36, looks admiringly at her cell phone. It’s a simple device that can only be used to send or receive a call or a text message. Yet to the farmer from the village of Janampet, located 150 km away from Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana, it symbolises a wealth of knowledge that changed her life.

Her phone is fitted with what the farmers call a GreenSIM, which sends her daily updates on the weather, health tips or agricultural advice.

“My profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (80-232 dollars) each season.” -- Jawadi Vimalamma, a smallholder farmer participating in a mobile technology scheme to create awareness among rural women.
Three years ago, a single message on this mobile alerted Vimalamma to the benefits of crop rotation.

“My profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (80-232 dollars) each season,” says the smallholder farmer, who now grows rice, corn, millet and peanuts on her three-acre plot, instead of relying on a single crop for her livelihood.

Not far away, in the neighbouring village of Kommareddy Palli, a woman farmer named Kongala Chandrakala is using the same SIM card on a device nicknamed a ‘phablet’ – a low-cost combination mobile phone and tablet computer that dispenses vital information to small farmers.

The little machine has been a lifeline for this woman, who survived years of domestic violence before striking out on her own.

“Fifteen years ago, I was a school dropout, living in an abusive marriage. Today, I have my own farm, and am making money,” Chandrakala tells IPS.

Both women are members of Adarsh Mahila Samakhya (AMS), an all-women collective that helps empower smallholder women farmers through modern technologies.

The collective has 8,000 members, 2,000 of whom use the GreenSIM card, the result of a collaboration between the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) – an international research organisation headquartered in Hyderabad – together with the Indian Farmers’ Fertiliser Cooperative and Bharti Airtel – one of India’s largest mobile service providers.

The scheme began in 2002, when the government asked ICRISAT to help train local farmers in drought-resilient agricultural practices. When the Institute started searching for local partners on the ground to help execute the project, AMS – then a fledgling group of just a handful of women – came forward.

Shortly after, the collective used its small office to host a Village Knowledge Centre, a kind of experimental technology hub where women could learn how to operate basic devices such as mobile phones and computers, and use them to get information on climate change, groundwater levels, and adapted farming techniques that would help them increase the yields on their small plots of land.

According to Dileep Kumar, senior scientist at ICRISAT, the most popular tool by far has been the GreenSIM, which disseminates a variety of bulletins daily, ranging from market prices, to weather forecasts, to tips on accessing farmers’ welfare schemes, as well as guides to crop planning and best-practices for fertiliser use.

A fight against suicide

A mobile phone may seem like a humble intervention into the vast and poverty-ridden arena of Indian agriculture, but it has proved to be a literal lifesaver for many.

Data from the 2011 census indicates that there are 144.3 million agricultural labourers in India, including 118.6 million cultivators, comprising over 30 percent of the country’s total workforce of roughly 448 million people.

A huge portion of this workforce survives on between one and two dollars a day, pushing many people heavily into debt as they struggle to make payments on farm equipment, and costly pesticides and fertilisers.

A changing climate, resulting in extreme weather events and prolonged periods of drought, does not help the situation, and scores of farmers are impacted by what experts are calling the country’s agrarian crisis.

With few options open to them, hundreds of thousands of farmers choose death over life: data from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicates that 270,940 farmers have committed suicide since 1995, rounding out to a total of 45 farmer deaths every single day.

Mahbubnagar, the district where the AMS is located, is well known for its recurring droughts and a wave of suicides. The district receives only 550 mm of rainfall each year, well below India’s national average of 1,000-1,250 mm per annum.

The district has seen about 150 suicides since 2013 alone.

Erkala Manamma, president of the AMS collective, claims that the introduction of the GreenSIM is changing this reality. Crop failure is less of a crisis here today than it was a decade ago, and thousands of farmers now feel empowered by the knowledge source that fits snugly in the palms of their hands.

Gopi Balachandriya, a 50-year-old farmer from Rachala village in Mahbubnagar District, is one such example.

In December 2013, he was waiting for an astrologically auspicious day to harvest peanuts on his three-acre farm until a message on his GreenSIM cell phone one morning warned him of a coming storm. “I quickly harvested my crop before the rains came. It saved me from losing my produce,” he recalls.

A similar message helped Mallagala Nirmala, a farmer from the village of Moosapet, understand the need for sustainable usage of fertilisers.

One day a voice message asked, ‘Have you had your farm soil tested?’ A curious Nirmala visited the Village Knowledge Centre where she learnt the basics of healthy soils, including when to add inputs of additional nutrients, which she receives free of cost from ICRISAT. The farmer is now the secretary of AMS.

One of the more tangible results of this experiment in knowledge sharing has been better profit for the farmers involved. Chandrakala, one of 20 female farmers using the ‘phablet’, has increased the rice yield on her one-acre farm from 55 to 75 kg at each harvest.

If she hears, via voice message, that groundwater levels are too low to support a healthy rice crop, she switches to growing grass, which she sells to a nearby community-managed dairy that produces 2,000 litres of milk a day.

Having these options allows her to make between 20 and 30,000 rupees each season, a princely sum compared to the average earnings of farming families in the region, which barely touch 10,000 rupees a month.

The GreenSIM initiative is certainly not the first time groups have partnered together to empower farmers using modern technology.

In the northern Indian state of Haryana, for instance – where 70 percent of the population of roughly 25 million people relies on agriculture for a living – widespread use of a handheld device known as the GreenSeeker, which calculates the health of a particular crop using infrared censors, had massive success among rural communities.

And in 2013, the World Bank reported on a scheme using a mobile phone app that allowed insurance agencies to collect reliable data on crop yields, thus enabling them to offer lower premiums to farmers who rely largely on rain-fed agriculture and were desperately in need of robust safety nets in the form of insurance policies.

In the first year alone, some 400,000 farmers in 50 districts across the northern and western states of Maharashtra and Rajasthan benefitted from the scheme.

The challenge for policy makers is how to replicate such initiatives on a wider scale, in order to ease the abject poverty facing millions of farmers across India – particularly the women, who are most vulnerable to the crushing impacts of poverty and hunger.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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An American Missionary Kidnapped in Nigeria as Neighbouring Countries Seethehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 01:45:46 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139488 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

With kidnappings and violent attacks almost a daily occurrence in Nigeria, the disappearance of an American missionary appears to have stirred a new wave of outrage among the international community at the worsening conditions in the West African country, once considered a rising star and the largest economy on the continent.

Phyllis Sortor, a reverend with the Free Methodist Church USA, was taken from Hope Academy in Kogi state, central Nigeria, where she had been working since 2005.

The kidnapping was probably not the work of Boko Haram, said Philip Obaji Jr., a freelancer and founder of 1 GAME, an advocacy group that fights for the right to education for disadvantaged children in northeastern Nigeria.

Kogi state police commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi announced that a ransom of around 300,000 dollars had been demanded by Tuesday afternoon, barely 24 hours after the kidnapping, which is not typical for Boko Haram.

“Kidnapping is big business here in Kogi. Most of the times, ransoms are paid to secure the release of abductees,” Ahmed, a local journalist, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a ransom is paid to secure Ms. Sortor’s release.”

On the same day as Sortor’s kidnapping, a Chinese construction worker was abducted from his work site by armed men. All of southern Nigeria is prone to kidnappings, and public officials, their relatives, and foreign workers are regularly abducted for ransom. An estimated 1,500 kidnapping cases are reported every year.

Meanwhile, it has been nearly one year since over 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Chibok, Nigeria.

Local activists have been stepping up their demands that the government make the disappearance of the Chibok girls the top priority. “Our rallies are the reason why [the government] remembers,” organizer Funmi Adesanya told TIME magazine, “but I don’t think they are really doing anything about it.

While President Goodluck Jonathan and his national security advisor promised to end the Boko Haram threat before elections now scheduled for March 28, the new multinational force of Cameroon, Chad and Niger appears to be drawing new and dangerous fire from the insurgents.

On Saturday, some 5,000 Cameroonians marched in their capital, Yaounde, and denounced the violence caused by Boko Haram.

“It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” newspaper editor Gubai Gatama told Al Jazeera. “About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, some 200,000 Nigerians are in refugee camps and 170 schools in Cameroon have been closed,” he said. “I am sure Boko Haram has got the message that the people are united against them.” Two hundred Cameroonian soldiers have been killed in the cross-border skirmishes so far.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139478 Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

If we look at the headlines or the latest horrifying YouTube clip, Mar. 8 – International Women’s Day – may seem a bad time to celebrate equality for women.

But alongside the stories of extraordinary atrocity and everyday violence lies another reality, one where more girls are in school and more are earning qualifications than ever before; where maternal mortality is at an all-time low; where more women are in leadership positions, and where women are increasingly standing up, speaking out and demanding action.How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained!

Twenty years ago this September, thousands of delegates left the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on a high. The overwhelming feeling was that women had won a great victory. We had indeed – 189 world leaders had committed their countries to an extraordinary Platform for Action, with ambitious but realistic promises in key areas and a roadmap for getting there.

If countries had lived up to all those promises, we would be seeing a lot more progress in equality today than the modest gains in some areas we are currently celebrating. We would be talking about equality for women across the board – and we might be talking about a saner, more evenly prosperous, more sustainably peaceful world.

Looking today at the slow and patchy progress towards equality, it seems that we were madly ambitious to expect to wipe out in 20 years a regime of gender inequality and outright oppression that had lasted in some cases for thousands of years.

Then again – was it really so much to ask? What sort of world is it that condemns half its population to second-class status at best and outright slavery at worst? How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained! If world leaders really saw the Beijing Platform for Action as an investment in their countries’ future, why didn’t they follow through?

Some women are taking a seat at the top table. There were 12 female Heads of State or Government in 1990, and 19 in 2015. But the rest are men. Eight out of every 10 parliamentarians worldwide are still men.

Maternal mortality has fallen by 45 per cent; but the goal for 2015 was 75 per cent. There are still 140 million women with no access to modern family planning: the goal for 2015 was universal coverage.

More girls are starting school and more are completing their education; countries have largely closed the “gender gap” in primary education. Many more girls are entering secondary school too, but there is a wide gap between girls’ and boys’ attainments.

More women are working: Twenty years ago, 40 per cent of women were in waged and salaried employment.  Today that proportion has grown to some 50 per cent. But at this rate, it would take more than 80 years to achieve gender parity in employment, and more than 75 years to reach equal pay.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

This year marks a great opportunity for the world’s leaders, and a great challenge. When they meet at the United Nations in New York in September, they will have the opportunity to revisit and re-commit to the goals of Beijing.

Today, we call on those leaders to join women in a great partnership for human rights, peace and development. We call on them to show an example in their own lives of how equality benefits everyone: man, woman and child. And we call on them to lead and invest in change at a national level to address the gender equality gaps that we know still persist.

We must have an end point in sight. Our aim is substantial action now, urgently frontloaded for the first five years, and equality before 2030. There is an urgent need to change the current trajectories. The poor representation of women in political and economic decision-making poses a threat to women’s empowerment and gender equality that men can and must be part of addressing.

If the world’s leaders join the world’s women this September; if they genuinely step up their action for equality, building on the foundation laid in the last 20 years; if they can make the necessary investments, build partnerships with business and civil society, and hold themselves accountable for results, it could be sooner.

Women will get to equality in the end. The only question is, why should we wait? So we’re celebrating International Women’s Day now, confident in the expectation that we will have still more to celebrate next year, and the years to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gaza Reconstruction, Hampered by Israeli Blockade, May Take 100 Years, Say Aid Agencieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 18:07:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139469 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Despite all the political hoopla surrounding an international pledging conference in Cairo last October to help rebuild Gaza, the reconstruction of the Israeli-devastated territory is apparently moving at the pace of paralytic snail.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the reconstruction of Gaza has been so inadequate that at current rates, aid agencies calculate it will take 100 years just to import enough construction materials.“It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most." -- Catherine Essoyan of Oxfam

“The blockade of Gaza is collective punishment, and donors to Gaza should not just fulfill their pledges but pressure Israel to lift it and Egypt to stop supporting it,” she said.

In several cases, Whitson said, children have died from hypothermia in winter storms due to lack of shelter and heating.

Oxfam International, reaffirming the time frame, said it could take “more than 100 years to complete essential building of homes, schools and health facilities in Gaza — unless the Israeli blockade is lifted.”

Quoting aid agencies on the ground, the London-based charity said Gaza needs more than 800,000 truckloads of construction materials to build homes, schools, health facilities and other infrastructure required after repeated conflicts and years of blockade.

Yet in January, only 579 such trucks entered Gaza. This is even less than the 795 trucks that entered the previous month, Oxfam said, in a statement released here.

Around 100,000 people – more than half of them children – are still living in shelters, temporary accommodation or with extended family after their homes were destroyed. Tens of thousands more families are living in badly damaged homes.

Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam’s regional director, said, “Only an end to the blockade of Gaza will ensure that people can rebuild their lives. Families have been living in homes without roofs, walls or windows for the past six months.”

She said many have just six hours of electricity a day and are without running water. Every day that people are unable to build is putting more lives at risk.

“It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most,” Essoyan said.

Last week, 30 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and humanitarian aid agencies – including Oxfam, ActionAid, Save the Children International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Movement for Peace and Handicap International – said six months have passed since the August 2014 ceasefire ended over seven weeks of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

In a joint statement titled “We must not fail Gaza”, they said: “As UN agencies and international NGOs operating in Gaza, we are alarmed by the limited progress in rebuilding the lives of those affected and tackling the root causes of the conflict.”

The Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralysed, and living conditions have worsened, the groups warned.

Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow. Sporadic rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups has resumed.

Overall, the lack of progress has deepened levels of desperation and frustration among the population, more than two-thirds of whom are Palestinian refugees, they said.

The 30 organisations also included U.N. agencies such as UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), U.N. Women, World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR).

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were 1,976 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 459 children who were killed largely by aerial bombings. In contrast, 66 Israelis were killed, including two soldiers.

The hostilities also left about 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment. Additionally, about 7,000 homes were destroyed and 89,000 damaged.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

Meanwhile, the aid agencies also complained little of the 5.4 billion dollars pledged in Cairo has reached Gaza.

Cash assistance to families who lost everything has been suspended and other crucial aid is unavailable due to lack of funds. A return to hostilities is inevitable if progress is not made and the root causes of conflict are not addressed.

The funds were pledged mostly by the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

The aid agencies said Israel, as the occupying power, is the main duty bearer and must comply with its obligations under international law. In particular, it must fully lift the blockade, within the framework of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009).

“The fragile ceasefire must be reinforced, and the parties must resume negotiations to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. All parties must respect international law and those responsible for violations must be brought to justice.”

Accountability and adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law are essential prerequisites for any lasting peace, the group said.

Also imperative, Egypt needs to open the Rafah Crossing, most urgently for humanitarian cases, and donor pledges must be translated into disbursements.

Under the blockade, Oxfam said, exports of agricultural produce from Gaza have fallen in the last year to just 2.7 percent of the level before the blockade was imposed.

Fishermen are still restricted to an enforced fishing limit of six nautical miles – far short of where most fish are – and farmers are restricted from accessing much of the most fertile farmland.

Gaza continues to be separated from the West Bank, and most people are still prevented from leaving. The border with Egypt has also been shut for most of the past two months, preventing thousands of people from travelling.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women Leaders Call for Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-leaders-call-for-mainstreaming-gender-equality-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-leaders-call-for-mainstreaming-gender-equality-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-leaders-call-for-mainstreaming-gender-equality-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 18:01:22 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139467 Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during the closing ceremony of the international meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”. On the podium, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Credit: Government of Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during the closing ceremony of the international meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”. On the podium, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Credit: Government of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Women leaders from every continent, brought together by U.N. Women and the Chilean government, demanded that gender equality be a cross-cutting target in the post-2015 development agenda. Only that way, they say, can the enormous inequality gap that still affects women and children around the world be closed.

“We celebrate that there has been progress in these last twenty years (since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing) in this area…and the evidence is all the people around who came, shared their experiences, the good, the bad, the struggle ahead, the challenges ahead,” U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri told IPS.

And while “some countries have made no progress at all, some countries, some progress, and some countries better progress, no country has reached what we should need to reach,” she added.“At the current pace of change, it will take 81 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, more than 75 years to reach equal remuneration between men and women for work of equal value, and more than 30 years to reach gender balance in decision-making.” – Santiago Call to Action

“If you’re talking about poverty, you need voice, participation and leadership for women, if you’re talking about economy, you need voice and participation, if you’re talking education, you need women – both education for voice, participation and leadership, capacity-building, and you need them to be leaders in education,” she said.

“Similarly health: you want women leaders in the health sector. Just as they need to have a voice in the design of the health sector and services,” said Puri, from India. “Women in the media is another critical area – you need voice, participation and leadership for women in the media, otherwise you will never get past the inequality and the negative stereotyping of women and their role in the media.”

The high-level event, “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, held Feb.27-28 in the Chilean capital, assessed the advances made towards gender equality in the last 20 years and what still needs to be done.

One example raised at the meeting was the failure to reach the goal on gender balance in leadership positions.

The participants also discussed the route forward, towards the Sustainable Development Goals, for the period 2015-2030, designed to close gaps, build more resilient societies, and move towards sustainable prosperity for all.

The SDGs will replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set out the international community’s collective development and anti-poverty targets for the 2000-2015 period.

The women leaders meeting in Santiago demanded that gender equality be mainstreamed into the 17 projected SDGs to prevent the progress from being slow and uneven, as it has been in the last 20 years in the case of the Beijing Platform for Action agreed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995.

U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the high-level international event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the high-level international event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“At the current pace of change, it will take 81 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, more than 75 years to reach equal remuneration between men and women for work of equal value, and more than 30 years to reach gender balance in decision-making,” reads the Call to Action document produced by the conference in Santiago, part of the activities marking the 20 years since Beijing.

Puri pointed out that in the future SDGs, number five will promote “gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.”

But she said it is equally important for “the other SDGS to have gender-sensitive targets and indicators that capture on one hand the impacts and needs of women, and that also capture the agency of women,” she said.

“How can you get health for all without health for women and by women and for women; similarly how can you get education for all, and sustainable energy for all. So all of those SDGs are intimately related to this, to the realisation and achievement of the gender equality goal.”

“I was looking at an IPS article about the gender goal which said it is not a wish-list but a to-do list, so then I used it for the call to action (in Santiago),” she said.

The Santiago call to action calls for a renewed political commitment to close remaining gaps and to guarantee full implementation of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action by 2020.

This includes balanced representation of women and men in all international decision-making processes, including the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the SDGs, financing for development and climate change processes.

It also includes the empowerment of women, the realisation of human rights of women and girls, and an end to gender inequality by 2030 and to the funding gap on gender equality, as well as the matching of commitments with means of implementation.

The executive director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima of Uganda, told IPS that in the post-2015 agenda, “gender equality should be measured in all the goals, in other words, each goal must be measured for how it is achieved for men and for women, in different ethnic groups, in cities, in rural areas….so that we will know that each sustainable development goal has been achieved not only for men but also for women, not only for boys but also for girls, rather than averages.”

She stressed that “the technical groups working within…the United Nations must make sure that they select standards and indicators that are going to be measurable in a gender disaggregated way so that all countries are able to collect gender disaggregated data to enable monitoring progress for men and women.”

In the conference’s closing event, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said that “for those of us who have taken part in this gathering, it is not possible to think of a successful development agenda that does not have at its heart the central aim of achieving equality between boys and girls, and men and women.”

“We need the banner of equality to wave soon in all nations, and we must be optimistic, because we have a real possibility to make every place on earth more humane, more just, more dignified, for each person who lives there,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139452 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Everyone Benefits from More Women in Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:38:47 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139448 Group photo at the high-level international meeting on Women in Power held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile, which analysed the human rights of women, as part of the major events held worldwide 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing. Credit: Ximena Castro/Government of Chile

Group photo at the high-level international meeting on Women in Power held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile, which analysed the human rights of women, as part of the major events held worldwide 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing. Credit: Ximena Castro/Government of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Women’s participation in decision-making is highly beneficial and their role in designing and applying public policies has a positive impact on people’s lives, women leaders and experts from around the world stressed at a high-level meeting in the capital of Chile.

“It is not about men against women, but there is evidence to show through research that when you have more women in public decision-making, you get policies that benefit women, children and families in general,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, told IPS.

“So women tend, when they’re in parliament, for example, to promote women’s rights legislation. When women are in sufficient numbers in parliaments they also promote children’s rights and they tend to speak up more for the interests of communities, local communities, because of their close involvement in community life,” she added.

Byanyima, from Uganda, is one of the more than 60 women leaders and government officials who met Friday Feb. 27 and Saturday Feb. 28 at the meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, organised by U.N. Women and the Chilean government in Santiago.“There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women's leadership. Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions.” -- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The conference was led by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who was the first executive director of U.N. Women (2010-2013), and her successor, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also took part in the inauguration of the event.

The meeting kicked off the activities marking the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in September 1995 in the Chinese capital, where 189 governments signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which contained a package of measures to bolster gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Two decades later, defenders of the human rights of women recognise that progress has been made, although they say it has been slower and more limited than what was promised in the action plan.

In terms of women’s access to decision-making, representation remains low.

In 1995, women accounted for 11.3 percent of the world’s legislators, and only the parliaments of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden had more than 30 percent women. And only three women were heads of state and seven were heads of government.

Today, women represent 21.9 percent of parliamentarians globally, and 39 lower houses of Congress around the world are made up of at least 30 percent women. In addition, 10 women are heads of state and 15 are heads of government.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, one of every four legislators is a woman, and in the last 23 years, six women were elected president of their countries, four of them in the last decade. And three of them were reelected.

In March 2014 Bachelet took office for a second time, after her first term of president of Chile in 2006-2010. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff began her second consecutive term on Jan. 1. And in Argentina, Cristina Fernández has been president since 2007, and was reelected in 2011.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, during her participation in the high-level event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”,in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, during her participation in the high-level event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”,in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world” was attended by a number of high-level women leaders, such as Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaité, First Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia Vesna Pusic, several vice presidents, and ministers from around the world.

Speakers mentioned achievements as well as multiple political, cultural, social and economic barriers that continue to stand in the way of women’s access to positions of power.

There are still countries that have not made progress, said Byanyima, of Oxfam, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations.

Tarcila Rivera, a Peruvian journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous women, told IPS that when assessing the progress made in the last two decades, “it should be made clear that we have advanced but have only closed some gaps.”

Rivera, the founder of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru, said the progress made has been uneven for native and non-native women, while there are continuing gaps in education, participation, violence and economic empowerment.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), one of every two women in the region is outside the labour market, and one of every three does not have her own income, while only one of every 10 men is in that position.

Another study by the United Nations regional body concluded that if women had the same access to employment as men, poverty would shrink between one and 14 percentage points in the countries of Latin America.

“There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women’s leadership,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, who prior to heading U.N. Women served as South Africa’s first female vice president (2005-2008).

“Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions,” she added.

But she said “We know that this is not happening enough, and we know that there can be both overt and subtle resistance to women’s leadership. We also know the devastating impact of leaving things as they are. We know that for women’s leadership to thrive, and for change to happen, all of us need greater courage and decisiveness.

“According to available data, it will be some 50 years before gender parity is reached in politics. Unless political parties take bolder steps,” she said.

Mlambo-Ngcuka recounted that during a Thursday Feb. 26 meeting with Chilean civil society representatives she called on a pregnant woman set to give birth in six weeks.

“I reminded everyone that her unborn daughter will be 50 before her world offers equal political opportunity. And that baby will be 80 before she has equal economic opportunity.”

According to the female leaders and experts meeting in Santiago, change cannot continue to be the sole responsibility of civil society groups that defend the rights of women, but requires action by the authorities and those in power – both men and women.

“The heirs of Beijing are the heirs of voices that call on us and urge us to put equality on the political agenda,” said Alicia Bárcena of Mexico, the executive secretary of ECLAC.

“Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women know what is needed to reach gender equality. Now it is time to act,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrian-conflict-has-underlying-links-to-climate-change-says-study/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139443 On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”"Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict." -- climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Environmental Damage to Gaza Exacerbating Food Insecurityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/environmental-damage-to-gaza-exacerbating-food-insecurity/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:38 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139435 Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Safa Subha and three-year-old Rahat rely on Oxfam aid for food to fight malnutrition after having been accustomed to living on a diet of bread and tea. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
BEIT LAHIYA, Northern Gaza Strip, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Extensive damage to Gaza’s environment as a result of the Israeli blockade and its devastating military campaign against the coastal territory during last year’s war from July to August, is negatively affecting the health of Gazans, especially their food security.

“We were living on bread and tea and my five children were badly malnourished as my husband and I couldn’t afford proper food,” Safa Subha, 37, from Beit Lahiya told IPS.

“My children were suffering from liver problems, anaemia and weak bones. It was only after I received regular food vouchers from Oxfam and was able to purchase eggs and yoghurt that my children are now healthier.Lack of dietary diversity is an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat

“But it is still a struggle as I have to ration out the food and my doctor has warned me to keep giving the children these foods to prevent the malnutrition returning,” said Safa.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in several communities, lack of dietary diversity was highlighted as an issue of concern, particularly for children and pregnant and lactating women, due to the lack of large-scale food assistance programmes and the high prices of fresh food and red meat.

Before the war, Safa’s husband Ashraf worked as a farmer, renting a piece of land on which he grew produce that he then sold.

“My husband used to earn about NIS 300 per week (about 75 dollars) from farming. After the land became too dangerous to farm, because of Israeli military fire and much of it destroyed in Israeli bombings, my husband tried to earn some money renting a taxi,” said Safa.

However, Ashraf’s attempts to support his family as a taxi driver did not provide sufficient income for their survival.

“He can only use the taxi a couple of days a week because it doesn’t belong to him and he often doesn’t have money to buy fuel because it is so expensive and Israel only allows limited amounts of fuel into Gaza because of the blockade,” said Safa.

Kamal Kassam, 43, from Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, has had to rely on Oxfam’s Cash for Work programme to support his wife and five children aged 6 to 12.

During the war the Kassam’s had to flee to a U.N. shelter after the family home was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which also wounded his wife and left one of his daughters severely traumatised, suffering from epilepsy and soiling herself at night.

Kassam’s wife Eman is ill and another daughter needs regular medical treatment for cancer.

The Kassams were provided with a temporary tin caravan to live in by aid organisations but were unable to purchase food or school clothes because they had received housing aid and were therefore “less desperate”.

“I used to work in a factory but lost that job after Israel’s blockade. Before the war I made about NIS 30 (about 7.50 dollars) a day by picking up and delivering goods from my donkey cart,” Kassam told IPS.

But during a night of heavy aerial bombardment, a bomb killed his donkey and destroyed the cart as well as his only way of supporting his family.

Israel’s extensive bombing campaign during the war also destroyed or damaged, infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power plant and water sanitation projects.

As a result, untreated sewage is pumped out to sea and then floods back into Gaza’s underground water system, contaminating drinking water and crops and leading to outbreaks of disease.

Israeli restrictions on imports, including vital spare parts for the repair of sewerage infrastructure and agricultural equipment such as fertiliser and seedlings, has limited crop production.

Furthermore, the regular targeting of fishermen and farmers, trying to access their land and Gaza’s fishing shoals in Israel’s Access Restricted Areas (ARAs), by Israeli security forces has severely hindered the ability of Gazans to earn a living from farming and fishing.

OCHA identified the most frequent concerns regarding food security and nutrition as “loss of the source of income and livelihoods due to severe damage to agricultural lands; death/loss of animals; inability to access agricultural lands, particularly in the Israeli-imposed three-kilometre buffer zone; and loss of employment.”

Food insecurity in Gaza is not caused by lack of food on the market alone. It is also a crisis of economic access to food because most Gazans cannot afford to buy sufficient quantities of quality food.

“As a result of the lack of economic access to food due to high unemployment and low wages, the majority of the population in Gaza has been pushed into poverty and food insecurity, with no other choice but to rely heavily on assistance to cover their essential needs,” said ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector’, a report by the World Bank, European Union, United Nations and the Government of Palestine.

“The repetition of one harsh economic shock after the other has resulted in an erosion of household coping strategies, with 89 percent of households resorting to negative coping mechanisms to meet their food needs (half report purchasing lower quality food and a third have reduced the number of daily meals),” said the DNA report, adding that the situation was expected to worsen in 2015.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Farm Projects Boost Bangladeshi Women, Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/farm-projects-boost-bangladeshi-women-children/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139423 Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

By Josh Butler
NEW YORK, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

Women in Bangladesh are carving healthier, wealthier futures for themselves and their children – and they have chicken eggs and pineapples to thank.

Since 2009, the non-profit group Helen Keller International has overseen programmes in the eastern Bangladesh region of Chittagong, mentoring women in agriculture to produce food not only for their own families, but also to sell at market."It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.” -- Kathy Spahn

Kathy Spahn, president of HKI, said one-fifth of homes in Chittagong are considered hungry, while half the children are stunted and one-third are underweight due to poor nutrition. In the area HKI works, around 75 percent of people survive on just 12 dollars a month.

“The area is stigmatised and has little access to health services,” Spahn said at an event this week organised by Women Advancing Microfinance New York.

“We’re teaching women to grow nutritious fruit and vegetables, raise chickens for meat and eggs, and grow enough to sell at markets for extra money.”

The programme, ‘Making Markets Work For Women,’ or M2W2, gives both initial start-up capital and ongoing guidance. Women in Chittagong, who may have previously been viewed solely as homemakers, are given tools to grow nutrient-rich crops like spinach and carrots to feed their own families, as well as more lucrative crops like pineapple and maize to sell.

Chickens are raised, eggs are eaten and sold, ginger and turmeric are harvested and refined and packaged using supplied machinery; and women who never before had any control over family finances are suddenly bringing in their own income to pay for education and healthcare.

Helen Keller International – named for its founder, the inspirational deaf and blind author and activist – traditionally focused on sight and blindness projects, but today focuses on a broader gamut of health and nutrition issues, including blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency. The group now runs 180 programmes in more than 20 Asian and African countries.

“HKI has been working in Bangladesh since 1978, doing work on nutritional blindness. Doing nutrition surveillance there, we saw the deeper pockets of Vitamin A deficiency,” Spahn told IPS.

“We call the programme ‘enhanced homestead food production.’ With that, comes nutrition information. It’s not just about growing their incomes, it’s about education leading to healthier and more productive lives.”

Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. While each household may only produce an amount too small to make market sale effective, joining forces with other women means each collective has a larger volume to sell.

“We want to build their capacity in business and marketing. We give them training on market research, demand, book-keeping, and organise the households into groups so they can aggregate their products,” Spahn said.

Credit: Helen Keller International

Credit: Helen Keller International

A group savings scheme is also offered, whereby women can place some of their income into a shared pool that any member can access for large expenses such as hospitalisation or replacement of packaging machinery.

“If something breaks down, we can’t replace it because that’s not sustainable. This is about development, not charity,” Spahn said.

M2W2 was originally a three-year pilot programme from 2009 to 2012, but received an extra injection of funds from the British government to continue until January.

“We are looking for more support to keep going,” Spahn said.

The programme’s outcomes are resounding. Spahn said of the 2,500 households involved, “nearly all” saw a 30 percent increase in income.

“When we started, everybody had a poor diet. Three years later, nobody did,” she said.

Eggs, a rich source of Vitamin A, helped address deficiency of that vitamin and vision problems associated with such deficiencies, but Spahn said the most powerful benefit was social, rather than physical.

“We found 90 percent of women had the sole decision over the money their raised. They were bargaining more efficiently, and feeling more empowered,” she said.

Empowerment and financial independence for women is one of the ideological pillars of Women Advancing Microfinancing New York. WAMNY board member Danielle LeBlanc said the microfinancing and social entrepreneurship can be among the simplest and most effective ways to advance the economic prospects of disenfranchised women in poorer countries.

“With an opportunity to earn income on their own, it helps women gain some independence and increase the financial sustainability of their families,” LeBlanc told IPS.

“When women received the profits from these businesses, they spent it back on their families – sending their kids to school, improving their home. The goal is not just to help create businesses, but to improve the welfare of the family.”

LeBlanc said the term ‘microfinancing’ was a broad concept, viewed differently by many parties. She said governments consider it to be grants of under 50,000 dollars and that banks consider the threshold to be closer to 250,000, but LeBlanc said vast progress can be made with an initial outlay of as little as a few hundred dollars.

“In the U.S., microfinancing might help out street vendors like in New York City, or to fund home daycare centres, or even small businesses with shopfronts. Overseas, we can be talking about the very poor, like women selling goods by the roadside, farmers, or craft makers,” she said.

“To us, the increase in income for a family in poor countries might seem very small, but it makes a huge difference in their lives. It helps increase the nutrition of children, increases the standing of the woman in the family, or can put a tin roof on a thatched house.”

LeBlanc said the increase standing of women in the eyes of their husbands and their community is one of the most important benefits that such projects can offer.

“It changes from community to community, but when women start bringing income into their family, it increases their confidence and they move from being totally dependant on their husband to someone bringing income into the house,” she said.

“There is more respect there for the woman. It makes a huge difference.”

She said the M2W2 programme was selected for presentation at the WAMNY event on Tuesday because of its “holistic” approach to empowering women, benefiting families, and changing communities.

“It is working with various women’s issues, from joint savings programmes to technical assistance and increasing farming output,” she said. “It is getting women working together, to co-operate as a community. Projects like this encourage our members to think outside the box for how to work.”

At its core, M2W2 is a simple one – give seeds and tools to women, show them how to farm, and teach them how to sell their produce. But both Spahn and LeBlanc said that, in the field of microfinance, often the simplest ideas can have the most impressive outcomes.

“The key to whether a programme is successful isn’t necessarily the budget, it’s about whether it is based on a need. It needs clear communication with the community, if it is a programme they like and can use,” LeBlanc said.

Spahn said HKI is currently working on a project in African countries including Mozambique and Burkina Faso, helping women there to grow sweet potatoes to make into chips, bread and cookies – again, both to sell and to feed to their own families.

“We’ve always said, we should aim for complex problems and simple solutions. We want to take a problem apart, and find a solution that isn’t overwhelming,” Spahn said.

“The problem is in scaling things up, from one community to a nationwide programme. Once you have the solution, how do you reach the people hardest to reach? How do you take it past the village?”

Spahn said HKI hopes to institute the M2W2 programme in other other countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bamboo – An Answer to Deforestation or Not in Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139394 Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares into private hands.

According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is also on record as saying the African continent loses over four million hectares (9.9 million acres) of natural forest annually, which is twice the world’s average deforestation rate. And deforestation, according to UNEP, accounts for at least one-fifth of all carbon emissions globally.

The dangerous pace of deforestation has triggered a market-based solution using bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics.“If grown in the right way, and under the right sustainable management system, in certain areas, bamboo can play a role in reversing ecosystem degradation” – Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean human rights activist

EcoPlanet Bamboo, a multinational company, has been expanding its operations in Africa while it promotes the industrialisation of bamboo as an environmentally attractive alternative fibre for timber manufacturing industries that currently rely on the harvesting of natural forests for their raw resource. The company’s operations extend to South Africa, Ghana and Nicaragua.

For EcoPlanet and some African environmentalists, commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent.

“If grown in the right way on land that has little value for other uses, and if managed under the right sustainable management system, bamboo can play a role in restoring highly degraded ecosystems and connecting remnant forest patches, while reducing pressure on remaining natural forests,” Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told IPS.

Happison Chikova, a Zimbabwean independent environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University here, agreed.

“Bamboo plants help fight climate change because of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and act as carbon sinks while the plants can also be used as a source for wood energy, thereby reducing the cutting down of indigenous trees, and also the fact that bamboo can be used to build shelter, reduces deforestation in the communal areas where there is high demand of indigenous trees for building purposes,” Chikova told IPS.

But land rights activists are sceptical about their claims.

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS.

Mutsvanga’s fears of small sustainable farms losing out to foreign-owned export-driven plantations were echoed by Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned African environmentalist and head of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank and advocacy organisation.

“No one can seriously present a bamboo plantation as a cure for deforestation,” Bassey, who is based in Nigeria, told IPS, “and unfortunately the United Nations system sees plantations as forests and this fundamentally faulty premise gives plantation owners the latitude to see their forest-gobbling actions as something positive.”

“If we agree that forests are places with rich biodiversity, it is clear that a plantation cannot be the same as a forest,” added Bassey.

Currently, bamboo is widely grown in Africa by small farmers for multiple uses. The Mount Selinda Women’s Bamboo Association, an environmental lobby group in Chipinge, Zimbabwe’s eastern border town, for example, received funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in order to create sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo resources.

Citing its many benefits, IFAD calls bamboo the “poor man’s timber.”

Further, notes IFAD, bamboo contributes to rural poverty reduction, empowers women and can be processed into boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed.

Currently, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s footprint in Africa includes 5,000 acres in Ghana in a public-private partnership to develop commercial bamboo plantations. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, certification is under way to convert out of production pineapple plantations to bamboo plantations for the production of activated carbon and bio-charcoal to be sold to local and export markets.

Environmentalist Bassey worries whether all these acres were unutilised, as the company claims. “Commercial bamboo, which will replace natural wood forests and may require hundreds of hectares of land space, may not be so good for peasant farmers in Africa,” Bassey said.

EcoPlanet Bamboo, however, insists it does not convert or plant on any land that could compete with food security.

“(We) convert degraded land into certified bamboo plantations into diverse, thriving ecosystems, that can provide fibre on an annual basis, and yet maintain their ecological integrity,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman’s claim, however, did not move long-time activist Bassey and one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, who questioned foreign ownership of Africa’s resources as not always to Africa’s benefit.

“Plantations are not owned by the weak in society,” said Bassey. “They are owned by corporations or rich individuals with strong economic and sometimes political connections. This could mean displacement of vulnerable farmers, loss of territories and means of livelihoods.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/ Phil Harris   

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Tobacco Workers in Cuba Dubious About Opening of U.S. Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tobacco-workers-in-cuba-dubious-about-opening-of-u-s-market/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:57:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139419 Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Tobacco pickers carry leaves to one of the sheds where they are cured on the Rosario plantation in San Juan y Martínez, in Vuelta Abajo, a western Cuban region famous for producing premium cigars. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN JUAN Y MARTÍNEZ, Cuba , Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

“We have to wait and see,” “There isn’t a lot of talk about it,” are the responses from tobacco workers in this rural area in western Cuba when asked about the prospect of an opening of the U.S. market to Cuban cigars.

“If the company sells more, I think they would pay us better,” said Berta Borrego, who has been hanging and sorting tobacco leaves for over 30 years in San Juan y Martínez in the province of Pinar del Río, 180 km west of Havana.

The region of Vuelta Abajo, and the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez, San Luis, Guane and Pinar del Río in particular, combine ideal climate and soil conditions with a centuries-old farming culture to produce the world’s best premium hand-rolled cigars.

In this area alone, 15,940 hectares are planted every year in tobacco, Cuba’s fourth top export.

While continuing to hang tobacco leaves on the Rosario plantation, Borrego told IPS that “there is little talk” among the workers about how they might benefit if the U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, is eased, as part of the current process of normalisation of bilateral ties.

Borrego said “it would be good” to break into the U.S. market, off-limits to Cuban cigar-makers for over half a century. And she said that raising the pay of day workers and growers would be an incentive for workers, “because there is a shortage of both female and male workers since people don’t like the countryside.”

Cuban habanos, rum and coffee represent a trade and investment opportunity for Havana and Washington, if bilateral ties are renewed in the process that on Friday Feb. 27 reached the second round of talks between representatives of the two countries.

Habanos have become a symbol of the thaw between the two countries since someone gave a Cuban cigar to U.S. President Barack Obama during a Dec. 17 reception in the White House, a few hours after he announced the restoration of ties.

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Berta Borrego in the shed where she hangs green tobacco leaves to dry. For over 30 years she has dedicated herself to that task and to selecting the dry leaves for making cigars, on the Rosario plantation in the Cuban municipality of Juan y Martínez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Among the first measures approved by Washington to boost trade and ties between the two countries was the granting of permission to U.S. tourists to bring back 100 dollars worth of cigars and rum from Cuba.

But the sale of habanos in U.S. shops, where Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars reign, is still banned, and U.S. businesses are not allowed to invest in the local tobacco industry here.

Furthermore, the lifting of the U.S. embargo depends on the U.S. Congress, not the Obama administration.

In 2014, Tabacuba adopted a plan to double the production of tobacco leaves in the next five years, in the 15 Cuban provinces where over 16,000 producers, mainly private farmers or members of cooperative, produce tobacco.

Experts say that while Cuba stands out for the quality of its tobacco, it is not among the world’s biggest producers – which are China, the United States, Brazil, India and Turkey, in that order – nor is it among the countries with the highest yields –which are Taiwan, Spain, Italy, Japan and the United States.

In fact, due to armed conflicts in different parts of the world, high import tariffs in Europe, and climate change in Cuba, the sales of the country’s cigar company, Habanos SA, fell one percent from 2013 to 2014, to 439 million dollars.

But when it happens, annual sales of habanos in the U.S. market are expected to climb to at least 250 million dollars, according to estimates by the only company that sells Cuban cigars, Habanos SA, a joint venture between the state-run Tabacuba and Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.

The corporation estimates that 150 million cigars from the 27 Cuban brands could be sold, once the U.S. market opens up.

The new permission for visitors to take home 100 dollars worth of cigars was called “symbolic” by Jorge Luis Fernández Maique, vice president of the Anglo-Cuban company, during the 17th Habanos Festival, which drew 1,650 participants from 60 nations Feb. 23-27 in Havana.

“The increase in sales in Cuba won’t be big,” the businessman forecast during the annual festival, which includes tours to tobacco plantations and factories, visits to auctions for humidors – a specially designed box for holding cigars – and art exhibits, and combined cigar, wine, rum and food tastings.

In its more than 140 locations worldwide, La Casa del Habano, an international franchise, sells a pack of 20 Cohiba Mini cigarrillos for 12 dollars, while a single habano cigar costs 50 dollars.

Premium cigars are the end result of a meticulous planting, selection, drying, curing, rolling and ageing process that involves thousands of humble, weathered hands like those of day worker Luis Camejo, who has dedicated eight of his 33 years to the tobacco harvest.

During the October to March harvest, Camejo picks tobacco leaves and hangs them in the shed on the Rosario plantation. Like the others, he is reticent when asked how he and his fellow workers could benefit from increased trade with the United States. “I wouldn’t know,” he told IPS.

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A benefit auction for humidors in the Habanos Festival. The festival drew 1,650 participants from 60 countries to the Cuban capital this year. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

He said he earns 1,200 Cuban pesos (50 dollars) a month during harvest season, and a bonus in convertible pesos after the plantation owner sells the tobacco to the state-run companies.

That is more than the average of 19 dollars a month earned by employees of the state, by far the largest employer in this Caribbean island nation. But it is not enough to cover people’s needs, given that food absorbs 59 to 75 percent of the family budget, according to the Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy.

“To reach a dominant position in markets, we have to grow from below, that is, in quality and yield, because Vuelta Abajo isn’t growing,” said Iván Máximo Pérez, the owner of the 5.4-hectare Rosario plantation, which produces 2.5 tons of tobacco leaves per hectare. “In terms of production, the sky is our limit,” he told IPS with a smile.

In his view, “tobacco is profitable to the extent that the producer is efficient.”

“The current harvests even allow me to afford some luxuries,” he admitted.

He said he continues to plant tobacco because “it’s a sure thing, since the state buys everything we produce, at fixed prices based on quality.”

Pérez, known as “El Gallego” (the Galician) among his people, because of his northern Spanish ancestry, is using new technologies on his farm, where he employs 10 men and eight women and belongs to one of the credit and services cooperatives that produce for the tobacco companies.

He has his own modern seedbed, is getting involved in conservation agriculture, plants different varieties of tobacco, uses organic fertiliser, and has cut insecticide use to 30 percent.

“I never thought I’d reach the yields I’m obtaining now,” he said. “Applying science and different techniques has made me see tobacco in a different light.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Reporting on Violence in Mexico Brings Its Own Perilshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:46:19 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139409 Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

Organised criminals in Mexico are forcing the media to stop reporting on crime, by turning their violence against journalists.

With the Mexican state offering journalists little protection, the resultant drop in freedom of information has contributed to a heightened sense of insecurity in the country."People are saying 'we are not going to cover certain areas', fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.” -- Claire San Filippo

Claire San Filippo, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Americas desk, told IPS that journalists in Mexico are self-censoring due to threats and violence, but also because violence against journalists is rarely punished by the state.

“It is of tremendous concern for information freedom because people are saying ‘we are not going to cover certain areas’, fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.”

San Filippo says that the state bears the primary duty under international law to protect journalists.

“The state obviously has a responsibility to protect the journalist, and to make sure that they can guarantee their security,” she said.

“There is a mechanism to actually protect human rights defenders and journalists and unfortunately, the mechanism hasn’t been working in a very efficient manner and hasn’t really helped the situation overall.”

The first two months of 2015 have already seen marked violence and intimidation towards journalists, including kidnappings and threats.

Reporting for Journalism in the Americas Mariana Muñoz wrote last week, “An increase in organized crime-related violence has terrorized the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas over the past week. Conflicts between rival cartel factions in the neighboring border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros have left dozens dead, escalating the present danger for journalists practicing in the region.​”

The newspaper El Mañana reported on a gunfight that killed nine people. Although they did not name any cartel individuals involved, their editor, Juárez Torres, was kidnapped and warned “We are going to kill you.”

Torres later “fled the country, half of the staff did not return to work the following day, and at least four journalists at the publication immediately announced their resignation,” Muñoz reported.

El Mañana has since avoided reporting on violent crime in Tamaulipas.

Speaking about Torres’ kidnapping and other similar incidents, San Filippo said, “When you look at the beginning of this year, it’s obviously dramatic and extremely preoccupying because we have journalists who say ‘we are not going to cover the issues of insecurity, violence and it’s consequences on people’ or we’re actually going to leave the country to go to the United States because we feel so unsecure.”

She says that Reporters Without Borders calls on the Mexican government to take the threats against journalists seriously and “not try to either diminish them or try to discredit the journalists by saying that they are actually not journalists and saying they are not related.”

She said the state should also provide timely and effective protection to journalists and their families when the journalists request it and importantly, must hold perpetrators of violence against journalists accountable.

San Filippo said this was important so that “journalists can feel secure and feel that they can carry out their job without risking their lives or lives and physical integrity of their loved ones.”

“This is the only way that you can make sure that you can ensure that there is no self-censorship and journalists don’t feel that they have to go to another country to feel safe.”

Home of organised crime

According to In Sight Crime, a foundation that studies organised crime in the Americas, “Mexico is home to the (Western) hemisphere’s largest, most sophisticated and violent organized criminal gangs.”

“They traffic in illegal drugs, contraband, arms and humans, and launder their proceeds through regional moneychangers, banks and local economic projects. They have penetrated the police and border patrols on nearly every level, in some cases starting with recruits for these units. They play political and social roles in some areas, operating as the de facto security forces.”

Steve Killelea, executive chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace, wrote last year that since “the start of the calamitous drug war in 2007” Mexico has dropped 45 places on the International Peace Index – down to 133 of 162 countries on the most recent (2013) index.

Killelea says that although Mexico does well in terms of development indicators such as life expectancy and youth empowerment, its poor overall rating in peace is partly due to the consequences of violence against journalists and poor freedom of information.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Rousseff’s Brazil – No Country for the Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:15 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139404 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil, one of the countries with the highest concentration of land ownership in the world, some 200,000 peasant farmers still have no plot of their own to farm – a problem that the first administration of President Dilma Rousseff did little to resolve.

In its assessment of the situation in the 2011-2014 period, the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) found the worst progress in that period in terms of agrarian reform in the last 20 years, one of the church-based organisation’s coordinators, Isolete Wichinieski, told IPS.

“Historically, there has been a high concentration of land in Brazil,” she said. But what is worrisome, she added, is that during the first presidency of Rousseff, whose second term started on Jan. 1, 2015, “land ownership has become even more concentrated.”

“There was a fall in the numbers of new rural settlements and of land titling in indigenous territories and ‘quilombos’ (communities of the descendants of African slaves), while on the other hand, investment in agribusiness and agro-industry grew,” said Wichinieski.

Social movements had hoped that Rousseff, who belongs to the left-wing Workers’ Party like her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), would take up the banner of democratisation of land ownership.

But her government’s economic policies have focused on incentives for agribusiness and agro-industry, mining and major infrastructure projects.

According to the CPT report, during the first Rousseff administration (2011-2014), 103,746 families were granted land under the government’s agrarian reform programme. But that figure is actually misleading, because in 73 percent of the cases, the land settlement process was already in progress before the president took office, and the families had already been counted in previous years.

If only the new families settled on plots of their own during Rousseff’s first administration are counted, the total shrinks to 28,000.

The government reported that in 2014 it regularised the situation of just 6,289 families – a number considered insignificant by the CPT.

Since 1995 agrarian reform was given a new boost, with the creation of a special ministry answering directly to the president, and other legal instruments, largely due to the intense lobbying and protests throughout the country by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).

As a result, during the presidency of Luis Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), 540,704 families were given land, and 614,088 were settled on farms during Lula’s two terms (2003-2011), according to the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which reported that 9,128 rural settlements have been created since 2000.

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

In order for land reform to be effective, the CPT argues, more settlements must be created and the concentration of rural property ownership must be reduced in this country of 202 million people. But the organisation does not believe Rousseff is moving in that direction, Wichinieski said.

Agrarian reform was not on the agenda of the campaign that led to the president’s reelection in October, and the new government includes names from the powerful rural caucus in Congress, which represents agribusiness and agro-industry.

The agriculture minister is former senator Kátia Abreu, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture. She surprised people when she stated in a Feb. 5 interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that there are no “latifundium” or large landed estates in Brazil.

“Abreu has backwards, outdated views of agriculture,” complained Wichinieski. “She denies that there is forced labour in the countryside, she isn’t worried about preserving the environment, and she argues in favour of the intensive use of agrochemicals in food production.”

The conflict over land has intensified, according to the CPT, with the expansion of livestock-raising and monoculture farming of soy, sugarcane, maize and cotton, and growing speculation by large landowners with close ties to politicians.

A typical case

One example is the case of the 20,000-hectare Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from the national capital, Brasilia, in the state of Goiás, part of which has been occupied by families belonging to the MST.

The property belongs to Senator Eunício Oliveira, considered the wealthiest candidate for governor in Brazil in the last elections.

In the Senate, Oliveira heads the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Rousseff’s main ally in Congress. He served as communications minister under Lula in 2004-2005 and last year lost the elections for governor of the state of Ceará.

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Valdir Misnerovicz, one of the leaders of the MST, told IPS that the estate is unproductive and that its only purpose at this time is land speculation.

Strategically located between the municipalities of Alexânia, Abadiânia and Corumbá, Santa Mônica represents the largest land occupation by the MST in the last 15 years.

It all started on Aug. 31, when 3,000 families marched on foot and in 1,800 vehicles to the estate, part of which they occupied.

Since then, more than 2,000 men, women, children and elderly persons have been living in a camp and control 400 hectares of the estate. They are determined to win a portion of the land to farm.

This is one of the MST’s strategies, said Misnerovicz. “We occupy large areas of unproductive land. In the camp we grow a variety of food like green leafy vegetables, manioc, maize, rice, beans and squash. All of the families plant healthy food in chemical-free agroecological community gardens,” he said.

The tents in the Dom Tomás Balduíno camp were set up on the bank of a river that cuts across the estate, which comprises 90 different properties that the senator purchased over the last two decades.

“The day we got there, they tried to keep us out but there were thousands of us. We are never armed. Our strength is in the number of peasants who accompany us,” said Misnerovicz.

In November, a court ruled that Oliveira has the right to recover the property. But the MST leader is confident that despite the risk that the families will be evicted, they will be successful in their bid for the Santa Mônica estate to be expropriated under the land reform programme.

Misnerovicz said the government itself has encouraged the families occupying the land to continue negotiating.

“Then it would be possible, after a year, to make the biggest rural settlement in recent times in Brazil. We were with the president in January, who committed to a plan with targets for settling (MST) families camped around the country,” he said.

INCRA has avoided taking a public position on this specific case. But it pointed out that, by law, “all of the occupied properties are off-limits for inspections to evaluate the situation with a view to agrarian reform.”

The administrator of Santa Mônica, Ricardo Augusto, told IPS that the occupied area is productive agricultural property where soy, maize and beans are grown.

“The purchase of the property was notarised. The MST is not telling the truth. We advocate a negotiated, peaceful solution. Productive, occupied land can’t be expropriated, and there is no interest in selling the property,” he said.

But João Pedro, who was granted a plot of land in a municipality near Santa Mônica, sees things very differently.

During a Feb. 21 demonstration in favour of the occupation, near the camp, the farmer said the families camping there were merely seeking the enforcement of Brazil’s laws: “the land has a social function, and that’s all we want – for the constitution to be applied.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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From the Police Station Back to the Hellhole: System Failing India’s Domestic Violence Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:03:42 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139401 Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

“One time my husband started slapping me hard on the face because I had not cooked the rice to his satisfaction,” Suruchi* told IPS. “He hit me so hard that my infant daughter fell from my arms to the ground.”

For 20 years 47-year-old Suruchi, a resident of India’s coastal megacity Mumbai, faced physical and verbal abuse within the walls of her home. Her husband would often lock her out of their apartment through the night and one day even tried to strangle her.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying [my husband] things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood [...] that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.” -- a domestic violence survivor in Mumbai
“I never knew what would set him off – it could be talking to a neighbour or looking out of the window. I would get ready for work in the morning and he would suddenly announce that I had to stay home all day.”

Suruchi had no access to her earnings as she was expected to hand her salary over to her in-laws. “On the rare occasion that I spoke out, I would get beaten up.” Her parents sensed that she was unhappy but Suruchi never told them the full story.

She was just 20 when she got married, she told IPS, and the constant abuse has left a profound impact on her and her children, especially her son who is anxious and largely uncommunicative.

It was only after she suffered a nervous breakdown following an especially violent assault that she finally acted.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying him things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood that my attitude had fuelled the abuse and that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.”

Today Suruchi has put the past behind her. She lives independently and is pursuing a degree in law. However, her story is all too common in millions of homes across India.

A 2006 government survey, the last time the state collected comprehensive household data, stated that 40 percent of Indian women faced domestic violence.

Considering that women comprise over 48 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, this means that hundreds of millions of people are living a nightmare in what is considered the world’s largest democracy.

However many experts believe that a 2003 survey conducted by a non-profit and supported by the Planning Commission of India that threw up a figure of 84 percent paints a more accurate picture.

“It tells us that many cases are going unreported,” says Rashmi Anand, a domestic violence survivor who runs a free legal aid and counseling service for victims in the capital, New Delhi, in collaboration with the police.

Interestingly, figures for domestic violence reported in crime statistics in many states are significantly higher than those that find their way into national-level databases.

An abundance of violence, too few solutions

In a 2013 study by the New Delhi-based think tank National Council for Applied Economic Research, over half of the married women surveyed said that they would be beaten up for going out of the house without permission (54 percent); not cooking properly (35 percent) and inadequate dowry payments (36 percent).

Indian law bans dowry, but the practice remains widespread.

Studies also indicate that economic and social gains have put women at far greater risk in a deeply patriarchal country like India.

A 2014 report in Population and Development Review, a peer reviewed journal, shows that women who are more educated than their husbands are at higher risk of domestic violence as men see in it a way to re-assert their power and control over their wives.

In 1983 domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However only in 2005 was a separate civil law to deal with the specifics of domestic violence introduced.

Among other things, the law defines domestic violence and widens the scope to verbal, economic and emotional violence. It also takes into account a woman’s need for financial support and protects her from being thrown out of her home and provides for monetary relief and temporary custody of children.

Since it came into force, activists say there has been a gradual rise in the number of women seeking help.

“Earlier women would seek legal help only when they were thrown out of their marital homes”, says New Delhi-based lawyer C.P Nautiyal, who counsels victims of domestic violence.

“Most women believe that suffering verbal abuse or being slapped by their husbands is expected behaviour. Since the law came into being there is greater awareness regarding domestic violence.”

However, there is still considerable stigma attached to being divorced and this prevents many women from reaching out.

“Economically women in India have made great progress but not so much when it comes to personal growth,” says Anand. “The attitude remains skewed when it comes to relationships. A woman continues to be defined by marriage and this cuts across all classes.”

Veteran lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes agrees.

“There is a lot of pressure to stay married,” she tells IPS. “I have found that even highly placed women don’t like to reveal that they are divorced or separated. It’s like being raped, they will hide it as much as possible.”

Experts say that it is women from under-educated or underprivileged backgrounds who are reaching out for help in greater numbers. “Those who come from the upper classes are generally more reluctant to walk out as they stand to lose social status or a certain lifestyle,” Agnes says.

However it is precisely those women who are reaching out in greater numbers that the system is failing the most.

Most keenly felt is the lack of adequate government-run shelters. Barring the southern state of Kerala where shelter homes for domestic violence victims have been set up across 12 districts, authorities in other states have been neglectful.

“I am constantly looking for places where I can send impoverished, battered women to stay,” says Anand. Of the five shelters for women in crisis in the capital New Delhi, only two are functional. Even these can accommodate just 30 women each, and not for more than a month.

“Women are kept like prisoners there,” Agnes tells IPS about the shelters. “They can’t leave, not even to go to their places of work. Children above seven cannot stay with their mothers. Only those who are utterly destitute and desperate consider staying there.”

Another critical need is for fast-track courts to ensure cases get heard rapidly. The Indian legal system is notoriously slow and cases drag on for years, even decades.

However tougher laws alone cannot stem the tide of domestic violence as long as attitudes stay rooted in patriarchy.

The last government study done in 2006, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), revealed that over 51 percent of Indian men didn’t think it wrong to assault their wives. More shockingly, 54 percent of the women themselves felt such violence was justified on certain grounds.

Activists say such biases are reflected every time a victim of domestic violence comes seeking help.

“We see it on the part of the police, NGOs, stakeholders and religious authorities,” points out Agnes. “The protection officer is supposed to collect evidence, file an order and take the victim to court. Instead the tactic is to tell her, ‘He slapped you a few times that’s all. Don’t make a big deal and sort it out’, and she is sent back to the hellhole.

“We have to stop this current approach of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, bleeding wound [if we want] change to come about,” she stressed.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-middle-east-and-perpetual-war/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139398 Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson
PHILADELPHIA, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite U.N. Treaties, War Against Drugs a Losing Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:10:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139383 Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by a British charity concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago.

“Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest, released Thursday by the London-based Health Poverty Action."This approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful." -- Catherine Martin of Health Poverty Action

The study also cites an opinion poll that shows more than eight in 10 Britons believe the war on drugs cannot be won. And over half favour legalising or decriminalising at least some illicit drugs.

The international treaties to curb drug trafficking include the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But over the last few decades, several countries have either decriminalised drugs, either fully or partially, or adopted liberal drug laws, including the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

These countries include the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, among others.

According to the report, the governments of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala seek open, evidence-based discussion on U.N. drugs policy reform.

And “both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS not only share this view, but have called for the decriminalisation of drugs use.”

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough in the battle against drugs, Catherine Martin, policy officer at Health Poverty Action, told IPS, “The problem is that the U.N. is doing too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things.”

She pointed out that an estimated 100 billion dollars worldwide is poured into drug law enforcement every year, driven by U.N. conventions on drug control.

“However, this approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful (fuelling corruption); spurs violent conflict and human rights violations; and disproportionately punishes small-scale drug producers and people who use drugs,” she added.

The report says UK development organisations have largely remained silent, while calls for drugs reform come from Southern counterparts, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, current and former presidents, Nobel prizewinning economists and ex-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The charity urges the UK development sector to demand pro-poor moves as nations prepare for the U.N. general assembly’s special session on drugs next year.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including British groups, have no lead contact or set process for participating in the session, says the report.

The report claims many small-scale farmers grow and trade drugs in developing countries as their only income source.

And punitive drug policies penalise farmers who do not have access to the land, sufficient resources and infrastructure that they would need to make a sustainable living from other crops.

Alternative crops or development programmes often fail farmers, because they are led by security concerns and ignore poor communities’ needs, the report notes.

The charity argues the militarisation of the war on drugs has triggered and been used to justify murder, mass imprisonment and systematic human rights violations.

The report stresses that criminalising drugs does not reduce use, but spreads disease, deters people from seeking medical treatment and leads to policies that exclude millions of people from vital pain relief.

Less than eight per cent of drug users have access to a clean needle programme, or opioid substitution therapy, and under four per cent of those living with HIV have access to HIV treatment.

In West Africa, people with conditions linked to cancer and AIDS face severe restrictions in access to pain relief drugs, amid feared diversion to illicit markets, according to the study.

Low and middle-income countries have 90 per cent of AIDS patients around the globe and half of the world’s people with cancer, but use only six per cent of morphine given for pain management.

Health Poverty Action states the war on drugs criminalises the poor, and women are worst hit, through disproportionate imprisonment and the loss of livelihoods.

Drug crop eradication devastates the environment and forces producers underground, often to areas with fragile ecosystems.

Asked what the U.N.’s focus should be, Martin told IPS the world body should focus on evidence-based, pro-poor policies that treat illicit drugs as a health issue, not a security matter.

These policies must protect human rights and end the harm that current policies do to the poor and marginalised, she said.

“Drug policy reform should support and fund harm reduction measures, and ensure access to essential medicines for the five billion people worldwide who live in countries where overly strict drug laws limit access to crucial pain medications,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the report says that drug policy, like climate change or gender, is a cross-cutting issue that affects most aspects of development work: poverty, human rights, health, democracy, the environment.

And current drug policies undermine economic growth and make development work less effective, the report adds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Sometimes a Single Tree Is More Effective than a Governmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sometimes-a-single-tree-is-more-effective-than-a-government/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sometimes-a-single-tree-is-more-effective-than-a-government http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sometimes-a-single-tree-is-more-effective-than-a-government/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 20:03:16 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139375 Every morning Raj Kumari Chaudhari offers prayers to this mango tree where she took shelter during the floods in 2014 in mid-west Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Every morning Raj Kumari Chaudhari offers prayers to this mango tree where she took shelter during the floods in 2014 in mid-west Nepal. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
BARDIYA, Nepal, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Every morning, Raj Kumari Chaudhari walks from her home to the other end of Padnaha village, located in the Bardiya district of mid-west Nepal, to a big mango tree to offer prayers.

The tree is majestic, its branches spreading as far as the eye can see. “This tree doesn’t bear fruit, but it saved my family from death,” she says. In her eyes, this single tree did more for her family at their time of need than the government of Nepal.

“We’re no strangers to rebuilding our lives […] but I hope my daughters won’t have to do it over and over again, like we did.” -- Raj Kumari Chaudhari, a survivor of the floods that swept away her village in mid-West Nepal in August, 2014
On the night of Aug. 14, 2014, Chaudhari lost her home when a big flood washed her entire village away. Her husband grabbed their eldest daughter, while she carried her twins on her shoulders, and ran.

When they reached the other side of the village, they realized there was no escape. They climbed the nearest tree and took shelter. In a matter of minutes 11 other people from her village had climbed the tree.

“My six-month old baby was the youngest amongst us, I tied him with my shawl so he wouldn’t fall,” says Kalpana Gurung, 27.

Bardiya, one of three districts in mid-west Nepal, was the hardest hit by last year’s flood; the District Disaster Relief Committee of Bardiya says more than 93,000 people were affected.

The gushing waters killed 32 and 13 still remain missing. Almost 5,000 people were affected in Padnaha village where the Chaudhari family lived.

The year 2014 was considered the deadliest on record in Nepal in terms of natural disasters. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs 492 people were killed and over 37,000 households affected by disasters between April 2014 and February 2015.

Still, experts say, the government hasn’t formulated a long-term response for those like the Chaudhari family who survived these catastrophic events.

Raj Kumari and Hira Lal Chaudhari, their 11-year-old daughter, and their eight-year-old twins survived the August 2014 flood in mid-west Nepal by climbing a mango tree and waiting for the waters to recede. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Raj Kumari and Hira Lal Chaudhari, their 11-year-old daughter, and their eight-year-old twins survived the August 2014 flood in mid-west Nepal by climbing a mango tree and waiting for the waters to recede. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

It took the community of Padnaha five months to get their lives back together. Now 12 families have rebuilt their homes. “This entire village was like a desert after the floods,” Raj Kumari Chaudhari, one of the survivors recalls. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

It took the community of Padnaha five months to get their lives back together. Now 12 families have rebuilt their homes. “This entire village was like a desert after the floods,” Raj Kumari Chaudhari, one of the survivors, recalls. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

“The government has no direction, no plans for rehabilitating survivors – those who lost [their] lands essentially became stateless,” says Madhukar Upadhya, a watershed and landslide management expert.

After the 2008 flooding of the Koshi River in east Nepal the government established a disaster-training centre, the police force now has a disaster division and Nepal’s army has a disaster directorate. But the government’s focus is on rescue and relief, and not rehabilitation and resettlement, experts say.

Living on a knife’s edge in disaster-prone Nepal

Chaudhari’s family and the majority of her neighbours are from the Tharu community, indigenous to western Nepal. They are former ‘kamaiya’, meaning people affected by the oppressive system of bonded labour that was abolished by law only in 2002.

After being liberated, her family were evicted from their homes by their former masters and lived out in the open for years. Two years ago, the government finally resettled them in Padnaha.

“It took us a long time to build our homes, the kids were finally feeling settled, and then the floods washed away everything,” Chaudhari tells IPS.

After spending 24 hours on the tree branches, water swirling below, Chaudhari and her family were finally able to come down and rush to a school nearby. When the water level receded, they saw that everything had been washed away.

“We may have lost our homes and belongings, but unlike other survivors of floods and landslides, we still had our lands to come back to,” says 18-year old Sangita, another tree survivor.

With assistance in the form of raw materials from Save the Children, and Nepal’s 13-day Cash for Work programme that provided them 3.5 dollars a day for their labour, the community started to rebuild.

In a matter of a few days 12 households cleared away the debris and erected their huts.

Kalpana Gurung inspects her vegetable garden and hopes she will harvest enough green leafy vegetables for her family this spring. As a nursing mother, she is worried she won’t be able to provide enough nutrition to her nine-month-old baby. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Kalpana Gurung inspects her vegetable garden and hopes she will harvest enough green leafy vegetables for her family this spring. As a nursing mother, she is worried she won’t be able to provide enough nutrition to her nine-month-old baby. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eleven-year-old Saraswati Chaudhari and her twin sisters Puja and Laxmi are ready for school. Activists say the government must formulate a comprehensive disaster management plan to safeguard families living in disaster-prone areas. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eleven-year-old Saraswati Chaudhari and her twin sisters Puja and Laxmi are ready for school. Activists say the government must formulate a comprehensive disaster management plan to safeguard families living in disaster-prone areas. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Sangita remembers the night when she woke up to water surrounding her bed. Pointing at the tree where she took shelter she says, “That tree over there saved my life, but I want to forget about that horrible night.” Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Sangita remembers the night when she woke up to water surrounding her bed. Pointing at the tree where she took shelter she says, “That tree over there saved my life, but I want to forget about that horrible night.” Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Today, Chaudhari has planted some vegetables in the garden, an additional source of nutrition for her family. She is worried that what happened last year may happen again and she realizes now that she has to be prepared.

Climate experts say that the little model community is not sustainable – changes in weather patterns mean that every monsoon is likely to bring floods and even landslides to vulnerable regions of Nepal.

A study released last year by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) found that climate variability and extreme weather events costs the government of Nepal the equivalent of between 1.5 and two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

Twelve massive floods over the last four decades have cost every single affected household, on average, the equivalent of 9,000 dollars.

Considering that the country’s average income per family was about 2,700 dollars in 2011, this represents a major burden, borne primarily by the poor – like the Chaudhari family – who live in disaster-prone areas.

Every year since 1983, floods in Nepal have caused an average of 283 deaths, destroyed over 8,000 houses and left close to 30,000 affected families to deal with the fallout of the disaster.

As Chaudhari gazes off into the distance towards their sacred mango tree she says, “We’re no strangers to rebuilding our lives […] but I hope my daughters won’t have to do it over and over again, like we did.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Families of ‘Desaparecidos’ Take Search into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:33:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139372 “Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Carlos Trujillo refuses to give up, after years of tirelessly searching hospitals, morgues, prisons, cemeteries and clandestine graves in Mexico, looking for his four missing brothers.

The local shopkeeper has left no stone unturned and no clue unfollowed since his brothers Jesús, Raúl, Luís and Gustavo Trujillo vanished – the first two on Aug. 28, 2008 in the southern state of Guerrero and the last two on Sep. 22, 2010 on a highway that joins the southern states of Puebla and Veracruz.

“The case has gone nowhere; four agents were assigned to it, but there’s still nothing concrete, so I’m forging ahead and I won’t stop until I find them,” Trujillo told IPS.

On Feb. 18, Trujillo and other relatives of “desaparecidos” or victims of enforced disappearance founded the group Familiares en Búsqueda María Herrera – named after his mother – as part of the growing efforts by tormented family members to secure institutional support for the investigations they themselves carry out.

“We want to create a network of organisations of victims’ families,” the activist explained. “One of the priorities is to strengthen links and networking, to ensure clarity in the search process, and to share tools. The aim is for the families themselves to carry the investigations forward.”

The group is investigating the disappearance of 18 people. Prior to the creation of the organisation, some of the members found six people alive, in the last two years.“Each one of us started with our own particular case. We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.” -- Diana García

With determination and courage, the family members visit morgues, police stations, prisons, courtrooms, cemeteries and mass graves, trying to find their lost loved ones, or at least some clue that could lead them in the right direction.

The group grew out of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which in 2011 brought together the families of victims of the wave of violence in Mexico, and held peace caravans throughout the country and even parts of the United States, where the movement protested that country’s anti-drug policy.

Enforced disappearance became a widespread phenomenon since the government of conservative Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drug trafficking.” His successor, the conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved the problem, which has become one of the worst tragedies in Latin America’s recent history.

But the phenomenon has only drawn international attention since the disappearance of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, which exposed a cocktail of complicity and corruption between the police and the mayor of the town of Iguala and a violent drug cartel operating in Guerrero.

Thursday marks the five month anniversary of their disappearance.

The families have not stopped their indefatigable search for the students, even though the attorney general’s office announced a month ago that they were killed by the organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos” and their bodies were burnt.

The humanitarian crisis prompted the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances to demand on Feb. 13 that Mexico pass specific laws to combat the problem, create a registry of victims, carry out proper investigations, and provide justice and reparations to the victims’ families.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people went missing between 2007 and October 2014. However, the office does not specifically indicate how many of these people were victims of enforced disappearance, as opposed to simply missing. Human rights organisations put the figure at 22,600 for that period.

Most enforced disappearances are blamed on drug cartels, which dispute smuggling routes to the lucrative U.S. market, in some cases with the participation of corrupt local or national police. The victims are mainly men from different socioeconomic strata, between the ages of 20 and 36.

“Each one of us started with our own particular case,” Diana García, whose son was disappeared, told IPS. “We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.”

Her son, Daniel Cantú, disappeared on Feb. 21, 2007 in the city of Ramos Arizpe in the northern state of Coahuila.

García, who has two other children and belongs to the group Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, is convinced that only by working together can people exert enough pressure on the government to get it to search for their missing loved ones.

With the support of the Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios, a church-based human rights organisation, a group of family members of victims came together and founded Fuerzas Unidas in 2009, which is searching for a total of 344 people.

The organisation successfully advocated the creation of a new local law on the declaration of absence of persons due to disappearance, in effect since May 2014, as well as the classification of enforced disappearance as a specific crime in the state of Coahuila.

Other groups have emerged, such as Ciencia Forense Ciudadana (Citizen Forensic Science), founded in September to create a forensic and DNA database.

“The initiative is aimed at a massive identification drive,” one of the founders of the organisation, Sara López, told IPS. “To do this we need a registry of victims of disappearance, a genetic database, and a databank for what has been found in clandestine graves.”

The project plans to cover 450 families affected by enforced disappearance and to reach 1,500 DNA samples. So far it has gathered 550, and it has representatives – victims’ relatives – in 10 of the country’s 33 states.

On Feb. 16, Ciencia Forense identified the remains of Brenda González, who went missing on Jul. 31, 2011 in Santa Catarina, in the northern state of Nuevo León, with the support of an independent forensic investigation carried out by the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team.

“With the organisation that we just created, we will also try to provide a broad assessment of the question of enforced disappearances,” Trujillo said.

Human rights organisations say that until the case of the missing Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college students erupted, the authorities did very little to combat the phenomenon, and failed to adopt measures to comply with sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

The plight of the families is described in the song “Desaparecido” by French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manu Chao, dedicated to the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in Latin America and their families: “I carry in my body a pain that doesn’t let me breathe, I carry in my body a doom that forces me to keep moving.”

And their lives are put on hold while they visit registries, fill out paperwork, lobby, take innumerable risks, and rack up expenses as they search for their loved ones and other desaparecidos.

“For now, I’m not interested in justice or reparations,” said García. “What I want is to know the truth, what happened, where he is. I’m looking for him alive but I know that in the context we’re living in there may be a different outcome. It’ll probably take me many years and I am desperate, but I continue the struggle.”

Her organisation, Fuerzas Unidas, drew up a plan that includes the analysis of crime maps, a genetic registry, awareness-raising campaigns, and proposed measures to hold those responsible for botched investigations accountable.

“The families are more familiar with the situation than anyone else, they know what has to be done. The problem is that we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the phenomenon in Mexico,” said López.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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