Inter Press ServicePoverty & SDGs – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sustainable Energy Critical for Achieving Overall Goals of Paris Climate Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/sustainable-energy-critical-achieving-overall-goals-paris-climate-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-energy-critical-achieving-overall-goals-paris-climate-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/sustainable-energy-critical-achieving-overall-goals-paris-climate-agreement/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 16:06:58 +0000 Miroslav http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153865 Miroslav Lajčák, President of the UN General Assembly, speaking at the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi

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Miroslav Lajčák, speaking at the 8th IRENA Assembly in Abu Dhabi. Credit: UN Photo

By Miroslav Lajčák
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

The Paris Agreement ushered in a new global approach to climate change. At the core of this agreement are the Nationally Determined Contributions. We are now implementing these pledges.

Over the last few days we have heard much about challenges and opportunities. Challenges are nothing new. It is how we respond that determines our fate.

That being said, the size and extent of the climate change threat is new. It is arguably the biggest challenge humanity faces today. This means that we must act urgently and seize opportunities quickly. One such opportunity is renewable energy.

We are now implementing the pledges. And we are more than halfway to the 2020 finish line. There will be checkpoints along the way. Later this year, there will be the 2018 facilitative dialogue. This is a much-needed chance to assess how far we have come and how much further we have to go.

We already know that the current pledges are not enough to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. We have the tools, the plan and will submit new and more ambitious pledges in 2020. But we need urgent action now.

So where do we stand today?

First, access to energy remains a major development concern. The importance of access to modern and affordable energy lies in the impact it has on people’s lives.

Billions of people around the world still lack access to affordable and modern energy. For example, in Africa just under 50% of the population had access to electricity.

The energy challenge is many-sided. But with the right energy policies we can provide energy to everyone without creating additional burden on our planet. Many developing countries are investing in low-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency measures. This can ensure that economic growth is not coupled with pressure on the environment. Likewise, the share of renewable energy in the mix is growing steadily.

To make this transition to sustainable energy, many countries need support –such as capacity building and transfer of technology. Inclusion of renewable energy plans in nationally determined contributions can help attract the financing needed to implement them. Which brings me to my next point:

Nationally determined contributions are critical tools for saving our planet.

As we are all aware, the current pledges will carry us over the 2 degree Celsius precipice, and far beyond, our 1.5 degree aspiration. On one hand, we must commend the 165 countries that made pledges. These pledges form a good basis for action. But at the same time, we cannot afford to ignore the reality that they are far from enough. We should consider the pledges as a floor rather than as a ceiling.

We need urgent and far-reaching pre-2020 action. Time is running out for the woman losing her livelihood to climate-induced desertification. For the child who will have to abandon her home to a rapidly-rising sea level.

And for the communities that will have to build back only to be washed away again. Time is already up for many lives lost in heatwaves, droughts, extreme weather events and public health crises – all due to climate change.

Simply put: We must do what we have pledged to do. We must pledge to do more. And we must take urgent action to fulfil these promises. This is our joint and individual responsibility to our people and our planet.

My third point is that SDG 7 is pivotal for the achievement of Agenda 2030. It calls on us to provide energy for all by 2030, and to do so sustainably. This means increasing access, efficiency, renewables and the means with which to do it. Sustainable energy is also critical for achieving the overall goal of the Paris Agreement – to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

Development does not necessarily equal more carbon emissions. In fact, sustainable development, creating a decent life for all on a sustainable planet, involves less carbon emissions. Instead of a vicious cycle involving development for some and increased carbon emissions, we have the chance to create a “virtuous circle” of raising ambition, development and renewable energy deployment.

In conclusion, we live in a time of challenges, opportunities and high stakes. Our failure to act decisively and unequivocally at this critical moment in history will determine our future.

The Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals are our plans. The climate pledges manifest our collective promise to the people of this world, and it is the lives of these people that should spur us into action.

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Can Uganda Reduce Financial Exclusion to 5% in 5 Years?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 19:06:11 +0000 Nathan Were http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153810 Nathan Were, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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A financially excluded smallholder farmer in northern Uganda opens the lock box where he keeps his savings. Credit: Allison Shelley for CGAP

By Nathan Were
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

In October 2017, Uganda launched a new five-year National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The strategy seeks to reduce financial exclusion from 15 to 5 percent by 2022 by ensuring that all Ugandans have access to and use a broad range of quality and affordable financial services.

But what are some of Uganda’s key challenges, and how is the strategy supposed to achieve this ambitious goal?

Uganda has made a lot of progress in financial inclusion as a result of financial sector reforms that started in the 1990s, such as interest rate liberation, reductions in directed credit and legal and regulatory changes. These reforms have improved people’s access to financial services through banks, regulated microfinance institutions and mobile financial services providers (FSPs).

According to FinScope 2013, 54 percent of Ugandans are now formally financially included, while 32 percent use informal financial services like savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs).

These are important gains, but Uganda still faces significant financial inclusion challenges. Here are a few of those challenges and some thoughts on how the new strategy aims to tackle them.

Reduce access barriers to financial services

According to the 2013 FinScope Survey, only 16 percent of Ugandans live within 1 km of a point of service for a bank. The situation is better when it comes to mobile money, as 54 percent of the population lives within 1 km of a point of service. Yet even when people make it to a bank branch or mobile money agent, there are other barriers to confront, particularly in rural areas.

These include know-your-customer (KYC) requirements, lack of liquidity at agents, GSM network coverage and high interest rates that can range from 22 to 25 percent per annum. Uganda’s new strategy takes aim at these challenges with an emphasis on making it easier for youth (ages 15 – 17) to open accounts.

KYC is especially difficult in Uganda, so it is nice to see that the strategy calls for an electronic payments gateway to facilitate digital KYC. In 2016, CGAP’s nationally representative smallholder household survey found that only 61 percent of smallholder families had a national ID. Current KYC rules also make it difficult for small businesses, many of which are unregistered, to become merchants, further limiting the growth of the digital financial services ecosystem. Digital KYC will enable FSPs to access businesses’ and individuals’ identity information.

The government’s recognition that a one-size-fits-all KYC requirement doesn’t work is a positive development and a promise that we might see tiered, custom KYC requirements for excluded segments.

Build up the digital infrastructure

Roughly 74 percent of Ugandans live in sparsely populated rural areas where FSPs do not have an incentive to build costly brick-and-mortar branches. The lack of competition in these areas means the rural poor often face limited access to financial services, high transaction fees, poor customer service and loss of money through fake financial institutions.

Uganda plans to address these gaps by supporting companies to provide low-cost, interoperable digital services. Interoperability will make payments easier and produce cost efficiencies for providers. Uganda will also encourage financial-sector players to design customer-friendly interfaces for products and services, such as USSD code menus in local languages.

The strategy’s focus on simple user interfaces and on educating customers throughout the customer journey will be key to increasing the use of digital financial services, especially given the low levels of digital literacy in Uganda. The focus on USSD is especially important given the low smartphone penetration. However, the issue of mobile money transaction fees needs to be addressed, as it remains one of the biggest barriers in mobile money use cases.

Deepen and broaden formal savings, investment and insurance use

According to Uganda’s National Social Security Fund, 11 million Ugandans (26 percent of the population) don’t have any form of social security. Insurance penetration is also low at just under 3 percent, and the ratio of domestic savings to GDP is only 13 percent. These challenges mean that many Ugandans have few ways to deal with financial shocks, such as poor harvests or family illnesses.

The new financial inclusion strategy proposes a host of strategies to tackle these challenges, from adopting a national policy on insurance and pension sector liberalization to strengthening rural financial intermediaries through regulation. SACCOs can become strong delivery mechanisms for reaching people in rural areas, but they face liquidity challenges, governance issues, low skills capacity, fraud and political interference. Limited innovation in products is also a major challenge. FSPs will need support to adopt more human-centered design approaches to design relevant products.

Increase the availability of agricultural credit

In Uganda’s mostly agricultural economy, micro, small and medium enterprises and smallholder families often struggle to get credit, which limits their ability to grow and create jobs. According to the Bank of Uganda’s state of the economy report 2016, credit flow to agriculture stands at a paltry 10 percent of total credit. Uganda’s strategy recognizes that agriculture is the engine for the economy.

To make credit more available in the sector, the strategy addresses a few key barriers such as credit reference bureaus’ limited coverage of smallholders, sparse rural access points, weak public awareness about the importance of credit history and challenges around communal property rights. Beyond addressing these issues, Uganda will need to find a way to tap into the vast amount of informal credit input data available at large agricultural buyers to further strengthen smallholders’ credit histories and position smallholders for easy access to credit and other financial services.

Empower and protect individuals with enhanced financial capability

Issues like low digital literacy and data protection are becoming more urgent as poor people make the leap from traditional to digital financial services. Uganda’s new strategy proposes a review of the national financial literacy strategy and FSPs’ consumer protection practices, as well as routine regulatory checks on providers.

Other measures include periodic demand-side needs studies and data sharing among FSPs to improve product development. Greater consumer literacy will empower customers to understand product terms and conditions and help them to make informed choices about financial products and services.

Will these measures get Uganda to its 5 percent goal?

Overall, Uganda’s new strategy clearly addresses the key financial inclusion challenges it faces. The strategy focuses on the most important financial inclusion enablers, such as progressive regulation, flexible and custom KYC, infrastructure to support scale at low cost and customer centricity. Considering these strengths and the progress Uganda has already made with recent financial sector reforms, cutting financial exclusion to 5 percent by 2022 is achievable.

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The Data Revolution Should Not Leave Women and Girls Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 16:20:56 +0000 Jemimah Njuki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153800 Jemimah Njuki is an expert on agriculture, food security, and women’s empowerment and works as a senior program specialist with IDRC. She is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.

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Most African farmers are women. Credit: IPS

By Jemimah Njuki
OTTAWA, Canada, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

If there is one political principle that has been constant throughout the history of human civilization it is the fact that land is power. This is something that is particularly true, and often painfully so, for women who farm in Africa.

Though women in Africa are far more likely to farm than men, they are also much less likely to have secure rights to the land where they cultivate crops and they typically hold smaller plots of inferior quality.

As a researcher who studies the role of gender in agriculture, I want to do my part to address this injustice, because when women have stronger rights to land, their crop yields increase and they have higher incomes and more bargaining power within the household. Research has shown that stronger land rights leads to other benefits such as better child nutrition and improved educational attainment for girls.

But as I delve deeper in to the issue, I frequently encounter another political constant, which is the fact that information is power. And one manifestation of the chronic neglect of women in agriculture is the lack of data that would help illuminate and address their plight.

For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched the Goal Keepers Initiative, which is making a concerted effort to track progress toward achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Examining the first ever report on the program launched just a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was scroll down to the section on Goal 5, “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls.” When examining the indicators related to gender, which include tracking the percentage of women who have secure land rights, I kept encountering the phrase, “Insufficient data” in big, bold red capital letters!

Without data, it is impossible to track progress or identify policies and interventions that are achieving gender equality. In order to develop solutions—whether around land rights or the many other challenges women and girls face–we need data that highlights current problems and assesses their impact.

A good example of how sex-specific data fosters progress is in financial inclusion. Sex-specific data gives us information about who is accessing which kind of products, which channels they use and what the gaps are. Being aware of these gaps is essential to overcome them, and this is impossible without data sets for both men and women. In Rwanda, use of sex-specific data has led to the targeting of groups who are excluded from the financial system, raising the financial inclusion index rise from 20 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2012.

A report by Data2X, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation, indicates that although close to 80 percent of countries globally regularly produce sex-specific statistics on mortality, labor force participation, and education and training, less than one-third of countries separate statistics by sex on informal employment, entrepreneurship (ownership and management of a firm or business) and unpaid work, or collect data about violence against women. This leads to an incomplete picture of women’s and men’s lives and the gaps that persist between them, which constrains the development of policies and programs to address these gaps.

A key challenge to collecting these data sets is investment. We need financial investments to collect data on the situation of women and girls at different levels –local, national and international. A study carried out by the UN Statistics Division in collaboration with the UN regional commissions in 2012, showed that out of 126 responding countries only 13 percent had a separate budget allocated to specific gender statistics, 47 percent relied on ad-hoc or project funds and the remaining 39 percent had no funds at all.

In 2016, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested US $80M to improve the collection of sex specific data. In Uganda, the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study is collaborating with the United Nations Evidence and Data for Gender Equality initiative and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics to collect and analyze asset ownership by different members of households.

It would help to know for example what assets women own so as to develop programs and policies that benefit both men and women and that close persistent gender gaps. At Canada’s International Development Research Centre, we are supporting sex-specific reporting and registration of vital and civil events—including births and deaths to help track progress on such indicators as women’s reproductive health and child mortality.

Globally, there is still no available data on how many women own customary land. One challenge is that the rules, norms, and customs which determine the distribution of land and resources are embedded in various institutions in society—family, kinship, community, markets, and states. For example, when I was visiting Mali in 2012, I attended a village’s community meeting where I witnessed the village chief grant a local women’s group a local deed so they could farm together and raise their incomes. But there was no formal document or record.

Without this data, when land is privatized or formalized, women often lose control of customary land. For example in post-independence Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, during the land registration and formalization experience, lack of data and consideration of women in customary land rights led to the documentation of land in the name of the head of the household only, often a man. This gave the man authority to use, sell, and control the land, with women losing the customary access and rights that they had previously enjoyed.

International agencies and governments must commit to investing in collecting more data on women and girls. Closing this gender data gap is not only useful for tracking progress of where we are with the SDGs, but it can also point to what interventions are working, and what needs to be done to accelerate progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

What gets measured matters, and what matters gets measured. Women and girls matter.

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Clean Energy Sources Manage to Cut Electricity Bill in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/clean-energy-sources-manage-cut-electricity-bill-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-energy-sources-manage-cut-electricity-bill-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/clean-energy-sources-manage-cut-electricity-bill-chile/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 01:59:20 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153796 A 75 percent drop in electricity rates, thanks to a quadrupled clean generation capacity, is one of the legacies to be left in Chile by the administration of Michelle Bachelet, who steps down on Mar. 11. In December 2013, the electricity supply tender for families, companies and small businesses was awarded at a price of […]

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The Maipo River, where the Alto Maipo hydroelectric project is being built, flows down from the Andes range to Santiago and is vital to supply drinking water to the Chilean capital, a city of seven million people. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

The Maipo River, where the Alto Maipo hydroelectric project is being built, flows down from the Andes range to Santiago and is vital to supply drinking water to the Chilean capital, a city of seven million people. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

A 75 percent drop in electricity rates, thanks to a quadrupled clean generation capacity, is one of the legacies to be left in Chile by the administration of Michelle Bachelet, who steps down on Mar. 11.

In December 2013, the electricity supply tender for families, companies and small businesses was awarded at a price of 128 dollars per megawatt hour, compared to just 32.5 dollars in the last tender of 2017.

“An important regulatory change was carried out with the passage of seven laws on energy that gave a greater and more active role to the State as a planner. This generated the conditions for more competition in the market,” Energy Minister Andrés Rebolledo told IPS."According to the projections, from here to 2021 there is a portfolio of projects totaling 11 billion dollars in different tenders on energy, generation and electricity transmission. The interesting thing is that 80 percent are NCRE projects." -- Andrés Rebolledo

Four years ago, large companies were concerned over the rise in electricity rates in Chile, and several mining companies stated that due to the high price of energy they were considering moving their operations to other countries. Currently, big industrialists have access to lower prices because they renegotiate their contracts with the generating companies.

The new regulatory framework changed things and allowed many actors, Chilean or foreign, to enter the industry, thanks to bidding rules that gave more room to bids for generating electricity from non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE), mainly photovoltaic and wind, the most efficient sources in the country.

“This happened at a time when a very important technological shift regarding these very technologies was happening in the world. We carried out this change at the right time and we took advantage of the significant decline in cost of these technologies, especially in the case of solar and wind energy,” the minister said.

Eighty companies submitted to the tender for electricity supply and distribution in 2016, and 15 submitted to the next distribution tender, “in a phenomenon very different from what was typical in the Chilean energy sector, which was very concentrated, with only a few players,” he added.

Manuel Baquedano, president of the Chilean non-governmental Institute of Political Ecology, believes that there was “a turning point in the Chilean energy mix, with a shift towards renewable energy.”

This change occurred, Baquedano told IPS, “because people didn’t want more megaprojects like the Hydroaysén hydroelectric plant in the south, and Punta de Choros in the north (both widely rejected for environmental reasons), and that curbed the growth of the oligopolies.”

The Atacama desert in northern Chile has the highest solar radiation on the planet, one of this country’s advantages when it comes to developing solar energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

The Atacama desert in northern Chile has the highest solar radiation on the planet, one of this country’s advantages when it comes to developing solar energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

“Globally, solar and wind energy are much more competitive than even fossil fuels. Today solar energy is being produced at a lower cost than even coal. That has led to the creation of a new scenario, thanks to this new regulation policy,” he added.

In addition, said the expert in geopolitics of energy, “that change was approved by the community and environmentalists who have raised no objections to the wind and solar projects.”

... But conflicts over hydroelectric projects continue to rage

Marcela Mella, spokesperson for the environmental group No al Alto Maipo, told IPS that they have various strategies to continue opposing the construction of the hydroelectric project of that name, promoted by the US company AES Gener on the river that supplies water to Santiago.

The project would involve the construction of 67 km of tunnels to bring water to two power plants, Alfalfal II and Las Lajas, with a capacity to generate 531 megawatts. Started in 2007, it is now paralysed due to financial and construction problems. But in November the company anticipated that in March it would resume the work after solving these problems.

"The project puts at risk Santiago's reliable drinking water supply. This was demonstrated when construction began and heavy downpours, which have been natural phenomena in the Andes mountain range, dragged all the material that had been removed and left four million people without water in Santiago," said Mella.

He added that Alto Maipo will also cause problems in terms of irrigation water for farmers in the Maipo Valley, who own 120,000 hectares.

“In the past four years, the government enjoyed a fairly free situation to develop projects (of those energy sources) that some have qualms about from an environmental perspective,” he said.

“It is not a process that any future government can stop. It is a global process into which Chile has already entered and is being rewarded for that choice. There is no longer a possibility of returning to fossil fuels, as is happening in the United States where there is an authoritarian government like that of Donald Trump,” Baquedano added.

The environmental leader warned that although “there is a margin for the rates and costs to decrease, it will not last forever.” For that reason, he proposed “continuing to raise public awareness of NCRE.”

The energy sector was a leader in investments in the last two years in Chile, surpassing mining, the pillar of the local economy.

Rebolledo said: “During the government of President Bachelet, 17 billion dollars have been invested (in the energy industry). In Chile today there are some 250 power generation plants, half of which were built under this government. And half of that half are solar plants.”

In May 2014, just two months after starting her second term, after governing the country between 2006 and 2010, Bachelet – a socialist – launched the “Energy Agenda, a challenge for the entire country, progress for all“.

“According to the projections, from here to 2021 there is a portfolio of projects totaling 11 billion dollars in different tenders on energy, generation and electricity transmission. The interesting thing is that 80 percent are NCRE projects,” he said.

Currently there are 40 electrical projects under construction, almost all of them involving NCRE.

Another result is that Chile now has a surplus in electricity and the large increase in solar power is expected to continue as the country takes advantage of the enormous possibilities presented by the north, which includes the Atacama desert, with its merciless sun.

Chile’s power grid, previously dependent on oil, coal and large hydroelectric dams, changed radically, which led to a drop of around 20 percent in fossil fuel imports between 2016 and 2017. In addition, it no longer depends on Argentine gas, which plunged the country into crisis when supply was abruptly cut off in 2007.

“In March 2014, when Bachelet’s term began, the installed capacity in Chile of NCRE, mainly solar and wind, was five percent. This changed significantly, and by November of this year it had reached 19 percent,” said Rebolledo.

The minister pointed out that if solar and wind generation is added to the large-scale hydropower plants, “almost 50 percent of everything we generate today is renewable energy. The rest is still thermal energy, which uses gas, diesel and coal.”

In the Energy Agenda, as in the nationally determined contribution (NDC), the commitment assumed under the Paris Agreement on climate change, Chile set goal for 20 percent of its energy to come from NCRE by 2025 – a target that the country already reached in October.

“We have set ourselves the goal that by 2050, 70 percent of all electricity generated will be renewable, and this no longer includes only the NCRE but also hydro,” Rebolledo said.

For the minister, a key aspect was that these goals were agreed by all the actors in the sector.

“Because this change happened so rapidly, that 70 percent could be 90 percent by 2050, and within that 90 percent, solar energy will probably be the most important,” he said.

Baquedano, for his part, argues that now “comes the second stage, which is to democratise the use of energy by allowing solar energy and renewables to reach citizens and small and medium industries directly, therefore modifying distribution.”

“”Democratisation means that we are going to demand that all NCRE projects have environmental impact studies and not just declarations (of environmental impact),” he said.

“Democratisation means that every person who has resources or who can acquire them, becomes a generator of energy for their own consumption and that of their neighbours. Let new actors come in, but also citizens. These new actors are the indigenous communities, the community sector and the municipalities, which are not after profits,” he asserted.

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Policy Support Gap for “Climate-Smart” Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/policy-support-gap-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=policy-support-gap-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/policy-support-gap-climate-smart-agriculture/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 01:11:26 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153791 Conditioned that ploughing is the sure way to produce crops, Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima surprised himself by trying a different method. He planted cowpea seeds directly without tilling the land. It worked. The new method tripled Zvomarima’s cowpea yield when many farmers did not harvest a crop following the El Nino-induced drought which affected more […]

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Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima (centre) and family members admiring their cowpea crop in Shamva District, planted using conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima (centre) and family members admiring their cowpea crop in Shamva District, planted using conservation agriculture techniques. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

Conditioned that ploughing is the sure way to produce crops, Zimbabwean farmer Handrixious Zvomarima surprised himself by trying a different method. He planted cowpea seeds directly without tilling the land. It worked.

The new method tripled Zvomarima’s cowpea yield when many farmers did not harvest a crop following the El Nino-induced drought which affected more than 40 million people in Southern Africa.Some of the technologies that more farmers need include access to resilient seeds and livestock breeds, timely weather information and weather index insurance.

Zvomarima from Shamva District, 120 km northwest of Harare, adopted the water-saving method known as ‘no till farming’. This is part of the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices and approaches developed and promoted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This model of climate-smart agriculture seeks to sustainably increase productivity and incomes while helping farmers adapt to and become more resilient to the effects of climate change. CSA practices also aim to reduce and remove agriculture’s greenhouse gases emissions, where possible.

With policies, CSA practices pay

“Policymakers have a role to play in climate-smart agro-technological innovation; the researchers suggest traditional supply-side measures and equivalent demand-side measures (such as tax breaks) could reduce cost and increase return on investment for users,” said Dr. Federica Matteoli, project Manager at FAO Climate Change and Environment Division in Rome.

She shared a case study of Italy’s embrace of CSA at the 4th Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture in Johannesburg, South Africa in November 2017. Matteoli said policies need to be compatible with CSA objectives and their ability to boost the development and adoption of CSA technological innovation.

Italy was currently at the forefront of promoting research and developing scientifically supported policies related to climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, Matteoli said. At the same time the country was promoting the application of the principles of CSA to locally building resilience throughout the food system.

Matteoli said cooperation and knowledge sharing can promote an enabling policy environment at national and local level in promoting CSA. Italy has promoted conservation agriculture, no tillage practices, climate-smart production systems and knowledge transfer which have collectively been called the Italian Blue Agriculture.

For an enabling environment to promote CSA, potential users must be engaged with earlier in the innovation process, ensuring sharing of information and linkage with universities, technical bodies and national institutions. In addition, there is need for appropriate education programmes and awareness campaigns and the identification of knowledge needs for CSA and priority areas for intervention using consultative and participatory approaches, Matteoli said.

CSA adoption down, time to scale up

Researchers say CSA techniques are effective but there is urgency to quickly spread out the practices, innovations and technologies as climate change threaten agriculture productivity. Some of the technologies that more farmers need include access to resilient seeds and livestock breeds, timely weather information and weather index insurance.

Scaling up CSA needs bold and inclusive policies which are still lacking several decades after CSA approaches were introduced. Researchers and development actors argue that alternative farming methods have been proven to help farmers cope with weather variability and still harvest crops even in poor rainfall.

Another Zimbabwean farmer, Fungisai Masanga (44) saved 150 dollars in labour in the last season after adopting conservation agriculture, another approach of climate smart agriculture. She intercropped maize with nitrogen fixing cowpeas, pigeon pea and lablab.

“This system has allowed us to have more crops in the same field,” says Masanga, a mother of five children. “We have harvested some of the cowpeas which my family has enjoyed and we are soon to harvest maize too, all from the small field where we did not have to plough.”

Zimbabwe has a national investment framework which has recognized CA as a sustainable agriculture intervention and as a tool in climate change adaptation. Promoters of conservation agriculture laud it for saving soil moisture, enabling farmers to plant crops earlier and produce more yield and income in 2-5 cropping seasons.

However, mass adoption of these production changing innovations is not happening across Southern Africa, much to the chagrin of scientists. One reason being the promotion of manual CA systems to farmers, competition for crop residues with livestock, lack of access to appropriate machinery, and increased need for weed control in the first cropping seasons after conversion.

Many innovative climate-smart agriculture practices have been developed in Africa with the capacity to increase productivity and build resilience. These are largely unknown and therefore not adopted, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) found in a 2015 study.

Dr. Christian Thierfelder from CIMMYT explains the multiple benefits of ‘climate-smart agriculture’, in conservation agriculture plots with a maize-cowpea intercropping system outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Dr. Christian Thierfelder from CIMMYT explains the multiple benefits of ‘climate-smart agriculture’, in conservation agriculture plots with a maize-cowpea intercropping system outside Harare, Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Agriculture on the global agenda

Several countries who signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 have included agriculture as both an adaptation and mitigation strategy on climate change in their national development plans and climate-related strategies including the Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs).

The United Nations recently agreed to discuss issues related to agriculture, paving the way for the promotion of CSA approaches such as heat adapted crops and weather index insurance for crops and inputs.

This actually means that if one has policy that supports climate smart technologies then one needs to tackle a wide range of policy issues, says Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Campbell cites improving the regulatory framework for index-based insurance, enhancing the ICT regulations so they can foster the spread of mobile phones and connectivity and enhancing the business operating framework so that private sector can function easily.

“Scaling up is crucially dependent on government, providing an enabling policy environment for farmers and business,” Campbell told IPS. “Research also needs to be changed, to be much more connected to the end-users of stakeholders – research must be directed to the issues that stakeholders see as priorities.”

Show us the money

Food security is an urgent priority but agriculture has been the poor cousin when it comes to investment both in research and innovations compared to other sectors. Campbell predicts a slow process in agriculture investment.

“Agriculture is also to blame – the sector lags behind in terms of its excitement around innovation – when one thinks of climate smart solutions, the public think of electric cars, wind energy,” he said, adding that, “Agriculture needs to up its game on innovation and communicating about the exciting things that are indeed happening in agricultural innovation.”

Upping agriculture’s game needs money, which the sector does not have.  Global costs of adaptation in the agricultural sector have been estimated at 7 billion dollars per year to 12.6 billion per year but only. 2.5 percent of public climate finance goes to agriculture. The majority of the needs for finance will have to be derived from private sources, making it imperative to get markets in agriculture working in Africa, currently a net food importer spending more than 50 billion dollars annually.

“Without a conducive policy environment, we cannot achieve much,” argues Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), an ACP-EU institution based in The Netherlands, which has just launched a 1.5 million Euro regional project to help more than 150,000 smallholder farmers in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe address the impacts of climate change.

Stable and clear CSA policies matter in attracting public investment in public goods such as weather stations, data quality and training, Ajayi says while highlighting the need by researchers and development workers to effectively engage in CSA policies by understanding the political process, and identify policy champions and shapers that could help in policy engagement.

“We need to create an enabling policy environment with government and private sectors cooperating in order to upscale CSA,” said Ajayi. “We have to make sure that within policies, we emphasize empowering women and youths.”

The challenge to science and policy makers is how to bring the science/policy nexus and to directly bear on accelerating and expanding the evolution, adaptation and uptake of climate smart farming practices, Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), who gave a keynote address at the 4th Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture in South Africa last November.

According to the Malabo Montpellier Panel – a group of international agriculture experts guiding policy choices on food and nutritional security in Africa – examples and innovations in climate smart agriculture have multiple benefits. For example, agroforestry helps to diversify the produce of farms, improves soil quality and enhances resilience. Solar irrigation enables smallholder farmers to increase their yields without contributing to emissions while the use of stress tolerant seed varieties counter climate change, are more nutritious and are often more pest and disease resistant.

Climate Smart Agriculture not smart?

The concept of ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ was originally developed by the FAO and the World Bank, claiming that “triple wins” in agriculture could be achieved in mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation (supporting crops to grow in changing climate conditions), and increasing crop yields. The FAO views CSA as an approach for developing agricultural strategies for food security under climate change.

But the global civil society organization, ActionAid, says there is confusion on the meaning and benefits of climate smart agriculture.

A number of industrialised countries (the US in particular), along with a number of agribusiness corporations, are now the most enthusiastic promoters of the concept, ActionAid says.

“But increasingly civil society and farmer organisations express concerns that the term can be used to green-wash industrial agricultural practices that will harm future food production, said ActionAid in briefing.

ActionAid contends that some governments and NGOs also worry that pressure to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture will translate into obligations for developing countries’ food systems to take on an unfair mitigation burden. They point out that their agricultural systems have contributed the least to the problem, but that mitigation obligations could limit their ability to effectively adapt to the climate challenges ahead.

“Ultimately, there are no means to ensure that ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is actually smart for the climate, for agriculture, or for farmers,” says ActionAid.

While there is debate on the benefits and constraints of climate smart agriculture technologies, its techniques such as conservation agriculture have improved the productivity for farmers like Zvomarima.

“CA has produced good results for me and as I apply its methods more, I am convinced my crop yields can only get better.”

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How Low-Income Bangladeshis Use Loanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/low-income-bangladeshis-use-loans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=low-income-bangladeshis-use-loans http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/low-income-bangladeshis-use-loans/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:07:55 +0000 Stuart Rutherford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153786 Stuart Rutherford, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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Stuart Rutherford, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

By Stuart Rutherford
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

Bangladeshis have a long tradition of borrowing from family, neighbors and other informal sources. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) have proliferated over the past three decades and offer a more formal loan service that has been taken up with enthusiasm, and today some 25 million Bangladeshis borrow from MFIs.

Rickshaw driver Ram Babu took MFI loans so that he’d have cash on hand to pay medical bills for his sick mother. Credit: Stuart Rutherford

But how are these MFI loans used? Do people take them for the same reasons they borrow from informal sources, or do they use MFI loans differently?

To help answer questions like these, the Hrishipara daily diaries project tracks all the daily money transactions of a group of poor respondents in central Bangladesh. For 40 of our diarists, we have data for more than two years.

We recorded them borrowing between them 954 times from both MFIs and informal sources, for a total value of 6.7 million Bangladesh taka (about PPP$210,000). Then we watched what happened next. Here are two key observations from the exercise.

Borrowers spend informal loans more swiftly

MFI loans are rarely less than $300 in value, whereas informal loans range from a few dollars up to several thousand. To make sure we compared like with like, we took 50 loans of each kind with a value of at least $300 and for which we have records of the borrower’s subsequent transactions.

Perhaps the most striking difference between MFI and informal loans is how soon they are used. Informal loans are spent quickly: Our data show a major expenditure of at least 80 percent of the value of the loan on the same day that an informal loan was taken in almost half the cases, and within one week in all but 18 percent of cases. Two-thirds of MFI loans, by contrast, show no clear corresponding expenditure in the week following receipt of the loan.

When were loan proceeds spent? (%)

Informal loans are used for a single purpose, while MFI loan use is more nuanced

To understand why informal loans are used faster, it helps to look at the uses to which the loans are put. Informal loans are most often used for a single purpose, like paying for a ceremony, setting up a business, buying land, dealing with an emergency or paying for work migration. Some MFI loans are taken for these purposes, of course, but they also have other uses. Here are some of them:
On-lending to others. Seven of the 50 MFI loans, but only one informal loan, were on-lent to others. MFIs usually disburse loans on an annual cycle, so borrowers may get a loan at a time when they have no immediate use for it, leading them to on-lend. It may take time to find a good borrower. The pressure MFI fieldworkers put on clients to accept loans may also lead borrowers to lend them out to others, for lack of other profitable uses for them. This was observed in two of the seven cases.

Repaying debt. Twelve of the MFI loans were used to repay other private or MFI debt, but only six informal loans were used that way (and then only in part). This is often because of the annual loan disbursement rhythm of MFIs. Clients borrow privately for some urgent need at the time it arises, and then, when they are next eligible for an MFI loan, they take it to “refinance” the private loan. MFI loans are cheaper than some private on-interest loans, and some borrowers find it easier to repay MFI loans week-by-week than to find a large lump sum to repay a private loan in full.

Held in reserve. We were surprised to find how often MFI loans are held at home (or in a shop) as a liquidity reserve, rather than spent. At least 18 of the 50 MFI loans were used in this way, as opposed to two informal loans. For example, Ram Babu is an extreme-poor rickshaw driver with three daughters, a wife and a sick mother to support. He kept taking MFI loans to ensure he would have cash on hand should his mother’s health take a turn for the worse. After his mother died, he stopped taking MFI loans. The MFI repayment schedule — small weekly amounts over many months — makes this behavior possible and may well encourage it. It imitates the “little and often” set-asides of regular savings accounts or of informal deposit-takers like the susu collectors of West Africa.

The MFI loan – a substitute for savings?

Informal loans are usually taken for a single purpose and used quickly. Some MFI loans are used in the same way, but MFI loans serve other purposes, like refinancing private debt and ensuring that cash reserves are always available. As such, they offer an expensive but attractive substitute for a savings regime.

Our findings show how Bangladeshis have learned to use MFI and informal loans in tandem, exploiting the best features of each. Far from consigning informal borrowing to the history books, formal innovations like MFI lending tend to strengthen informal practices.

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2017 Was a Year of Record-Breaking Climate Eventshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/2017-year-record-breaking-climate-events/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-year-record-breaking-climate-events http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/2017-year-record-breaking-climate-events/#respond Sat, 06 Jan 2018 07:51:23 +0000 Kelly Levin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153777 Kelly Levin, World Resources Institute, Washington DC
We’re only a few days into the new year, but it’s already off to an extreme start.

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South Carolina National Guard clears debris from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Credit: Capt. Tammy Muckenfuss/U.S. Army

By Kelly Levin
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 6 2018 (IPS)

Parts of the United States are experiencing blizzard and record low temperatures, with sharks freezing in the Atlantic and cold-snapped iguanas falling from trees in Florida.

The frigid, snowy conditions could be related to climatic changes—recent studies show that melting Arctic sea ice can disrupt the jet stream and push cold air south. Meanwhile, other parts of the world are currently experiencing warmer-than-average temperatures.

It’s reminiscent of the kinds of extremes we saw over and over last year. Across the world, extreme events hammered communities and smashed records, while scientists gained a better understanding of just how much climate change is fueling many of the disasters we’re witnessing.

We took stock of some of the most noteworthy impacts and scientific advances of 2017. One thing was clear: Climate change is creating conditions that put all of us at risk.

Texas National Guard soldiers help citizens evacuate during Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD/The National Guard

Temperature

• Although the year-end data have yet to be released, 2017 will likely be the third-warmest year in the 138-year record (possibly even the second-warmest, according to one report). Notably, it is on track to be the warmest year without an El Niño, a weather pattern that typically boosts average global temperatures.

Extreme Events

• As of early October, there had already been 15 weather and climate disaster events in the United States with losses of more than $1 billion, tying 2016’s total and only one shy of 2011’s record number of “billion-dollar disasters.”

• California just experienced its largest-ever wildfire, causing at least 50,000 people to evacuate. This came on the heels of a wildfire in northern California only a few weeks earlier, which killed more than 40 people and destroyed at least 8,400 homes.
• Hurricanes came in rapid succession, including Hurricane Harvey (with flooding from storm surge and extreme rainfall that left nearly 800,000 people in need of assistance), Hurricane Irma (the strongest in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005) and Hurricane Maria (the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928). Scientists are at work researching the role of climate change in these events, but have already found that human-induced climate change likely increased the chances of Harvey’s heavy rainfall by at least 3.5 times and its intensity by almost 20 percent.
• East Africa fell deeper into a humanitarian crisis due to devastating drought, compounded with conflict, with millions going hungry.
• Australia broke more than 260 heat and rainfall records and witnessed its warmest winter on record.
• The 2017 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that scientists are increasingly able to discern whether climate change is impacting extreme events. The report reviewed work from 116 scientists from 18 countries and found that multiple extreme events in 2016—such as the extreme heat across Asia and a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska—could not have even been possible without human influence to the climate. Another noteworthy publication found a connection between the severity of a number of extreme events and climate impacts to the jet stream.

Sea Level Rise

• Scientists mapping Greenland’s coastal seafloor and bedrock found that 2 to 4 times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting than previously considered.
• In Antarctica, scientists for the first time documented widespread movement of meltwater and large-scale surface drainage systems, which could send water to areas of ice shelves already vulnerable to collapse and accelerate future ice-mass loss.

Glaciers in Disko Bay, Greenland. Credit: twiga269 ॐ FEMEN/Flickr

Ice

• Scientists determined that the extent and rate of Arctic sea ice decline is unprecedented for at least the past 1,500 years.

Graphic by NOAA Climate.gov, Kinnard et al., 2011

• Arctic sea ice dipped to its smallest maximum extent ever recordedduring the month of March (it has been dropping about 2.8 percent each decade since 1979). Additionally that month, there was less than one percent of older sea ice (lasting longer than four winters), which is much more resistant to melt than new ice.
• Although summer ice extent in Antarctica has been generally growing over the past years, in 2017, scientists recorded the lowest summer ice extent ever. Scientists will need several more years of data to understand whether this was due to variation alone or indicative of more systemic changes.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

• The World Meteorological Bulletin found that concentrations of carbon dioxide – 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 – were the highest in at least 800,000 years and were 45 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. The last time Earth experienced comparable concentrations of carbon dioxide was when sea level was 10-20 meters higher than today and global average temperature was 2-3°C warmer. While it’s too early to tell what 2017’s annual concentrations will be, for the first time, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded readings exceeding 410 ppm.
• The Global Carbon Project and University of East Anglia found that 2017 experienced the highest levels of carbon pollution on record, reversing course on a flattening of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry over the past three years.

Scotland oil rig. Photo by Steven Straiton/Flickr

Ecological Disruption

• Scientists discovered that tropical forests may have reached a critical threshold — turning from a carbon sink, where they suck up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, to a carbon source, thanks to deforestation, degradation and other land use changes.

• Permafrost temperatures were warmest on record in 2016, and preliminary data suggest they will be for 2017 as well. This warming could cause permafrost ecosystems to thaw, destabilize and release greenhouse gases locked inside.
• A study published in Nature found that ecosystems have taken longer to recover from droughts, especially in the tropics and northern high latitudes, than ever before. Recovery time is a signal of ecosystem resilience; compromised recovery could lead to widespread tree death.
• Scientists found that previous estimates of climate change’s impacts on species were highly underestimated — almost 1 in 2 threatened mammals and 1 in 4 threatened birds have already been negatively impacted by climate change in at least some part of their range.

We Need to Reverse Course

It’s clear that trends are headed in the wrong direction. But 2018 brings a fresh start, and an opportunity to learn from 2017 and the record-breaking years that came before it. May this new year bring a new resolve to reverse course and take actions that move toward a low-carbon future.

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‘Red Alert’ 2018 – Global Unity, Media & Humanitarian Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/red-alert-2018-global-unity-media-humanitarian-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red-alert-2018-global-unity-media-humanitarian-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/red-alert-2018-global-unity-media-humanitarian-action/#comments Fri, 05 Jan 2018 06:50:49 +0000 Purnaka de Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153759 Dr Purnaka L. de Silva is Director, Institute for Strategic Studies and Democracy (ISSD) Malta

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Nigerian refugees leave their camp in Ngouboua, on the coast of Lake Chad. Credit: UNHCR/Olivier Laban-Mattei

By Purnaka L. de Silva
NEW YORK, Jan 5 2018 (IPS)

“Unity is the path. Our future depends on it,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, as he issued an unequivocal global ‘Red Alert’ in his New Year message on December 31, 2017.

He listed the rise of nationalism and xenophobia foremost among many new dangers to global peace and stability – that included deepening conflicts, possible nuclear war, negative impact of climate change worsening at an ever-alarming rate, growing societal inequalities and appalling violations of human rights.

Underpinning his optimistic hope that the planet can be made more safe and secure, Guterres called for unity among the global community to tackle these overwhelming challenges, settle conflicts, overcome hatreds and defend values shared by all human beings.

Secretary-General Guterres’ ‘Red Alert’ underlines a stark reality, where over 135 million crisis-affected people globally require humanitarian assistance.

On December 22, 2017 he launched the UN-OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data (a major initiative of the Agenda for Humanity) in The Hague to provide humanitarian actors secure access to critical and sensitive information needed to make responsible, informed and timely decisions and interventions.

The Centre concentrates on four key areas: (a) data services; (b) data policy; (c) data literacy; (d) network engagement. Guterres noted that: “Accurate data is the lifeblood of good policy and decision-making. Obtaining it, and sharing it across hundreds of organizations, in the middle of a humanitarian emergency, is complicated and time-consuming – but it is absolutely crucial.”

Obtaining and sharing real time data to assist humanitarian action is critical, as are responsible media, research and scholarship. The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action co-edited by me and Professor Robin Andersen (published September 2017) focuses on the nexus between media and humanitarian action, and delves deep into some of the manifold contexts of these unprecedented humanitarian crises – where representations of global disasters are increasingly common media themes globally.

The Preface to this timely volume is written by Sir Peter Sutherland, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration (January 2006 to March 2017) on combating the scourge of human trafficking and forced migration – with more than 240 million migrants every year and almost 20 million people forced from their countries by conflicts and disasters.

Not since the Second World War, have so many people fled their homes to escape persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations.

UNHCR’s report on global trends in forced displacement estimated that by the end of 2016, 65.6 million individuals would be forcibly displaced worldwide, including 40.3 million people uprooted within the borders of their own countries; 2.8 million seeking asylum; and 22.5 million people seeking safety across international borders as refugees.

UNHCR also estimated that in 2016 there were 10.3 million people newly displaced by conflict or persecution, with an average of 20 people driven from their homes every minute, or one every three seconds.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes that 49,310 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 7 May, with the vast majority arriving in Italy and the rest in Greece, Cyprus and Spain. More than 1,200 people lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the European Borders and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the majority of refugees and migrants now “irregularly residing” in Europe, fled their homes because their lives were at risk. In many cases, they may have escaped situations where they were at risk of atrocity crimes or where these crimes were ongoing.

The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action was launched at the UN Bookshop, hosted by UN-DPI, and moderated by Assistant Secretary-General Maher Nasser – where the two coeditors and fellow chapter contributor Under-Secretary-General Adama Dieng (Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide) addressed attendees with support from other chapter contributors who were present during the proceedings, which were broadcast online by UN Publications:
https://www.facebook.com/unpublications/videos/10155083991629599/?hc_ref=ARQtBNC2DhBOWdd_VuSd9cM5yeQyHLOy56ZI_aAU7w3nA_3gbKoFe1E4W589-nMNUs0

The contributors to the volume include media professionals, international development cooperation specialists, emergency medical experts and humanitarian actors, many working for the UN, some at the highest echelons – providing privileged access and insights to the inner-workings of the Security Council and other key decision making bodies and organs of that august institution.

https://www.routledge.com/Routledge-Companion-to-Media-and-Humanitarian-Action/Andersen-de-Silva/p/book/9781138688575

Responsible journalism, detailed research and scholarship on critical subject matter dealing with media and humanitarian action has never been at a greater premium than in the current geopolitical climate – where facts appear to have a diminished value, and anti-intellectualism and fake news is on the rise – to the detriment of humanitarian laws and basic freedoms.

The Routledge Companion to Media and Humanitarian Action contributes to existing data and knowledge necessary to inform politicians, policymakers, media professionals and humanitarian actors across the globe, and thereby to the work of the Centre for Humanitarian Data.

Unity has never been at a greater premium in these dystopian times, where extrajudicial (e.g. Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela), anti-humanitarian (e.g. Yemen, Syria, Eritrea), nationalist and xenophobic (e.g. USA, Austria, Hungary) policies are being enacted and implemented by would-be-dictators, autocrats and rightwing populists – harking back to darker times like during the pre-World War Two era.

In contrast, Secretary-General Guterres has urged leaders everywhere to resolve in the New Year: “Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals.”

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Disasters Bring Upheaval to Sri Lanka’s Rural Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/disasters-bring-upheaval-sri-lankas-rural-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disasters-bring-upheaval-sri-lankas-rural-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/disasters-bring-upheaval-sri-lankas-rural-economy/#respond Fri, 05 Jan 2018 00:01:09 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153753 Last year was an annus horribilis for 52-year-old Newton Gunathileka. A paddy smallholder from Sri Lanka’s northwestern Puttalam District, 2017 saw Gunathileka abandon his two acres of paddy for the first time in over three and half decades, leaving his family almost destitute. The father of two had suffered two straight harvest losses and was […]

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The worst drought in 40 years has forced thousands in Sri Lanka to abandon their livelihoods and seek work in cities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The worst drought in 40 years has forced thousands in Sri Lanka to abandon their livelihoods and seek work in cities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
PERIYAKULAM/ADIGAMA, Jan 5 2018 (IPS)

Last year was an annus horribilis for 52-year-old Newton Gunathileka. A paddy smallholder from Sri Lanka’s northwestern Puttalam District, 2017 saw Gunathileka abandon his two acres of paddy for the first time in over three and half decades, leaving his family almost destitute.

The father of two had suffered two straight harvest losses and was over 1,300 dollars in the red when he decided to move out of his village and look for work in nearby towns.

“What am I to do? There is no work in our village, all the fields have dried up, everyone is moving out looking for work,” Gunathileka told IPS.

He was left to work in construction sites and tobacco fields for a daily wage of about five dollars. When jobs became scarcer, his wife joined the search for casual work. The couple, who have been supporting their family off casual work for the last four months, is unsure whether they will ever return to farming despite the drought easing.

Gunathileka is not alone. Disasters, manmade and natural, are increasingly forcing agriculture-based income earners, especially small farmers, out of their villages and into cities looking for work.

In the village of Adigama, in the same district, government officials suspect that between 150 and 200 villagers, mainly youth, have left looking for work in the last two years. Sisira Kumara, the main government administrative officer in the village, said that the migration has been prompted by harvest losses.

“There was no substantial rain between October of 2016 and November 2017. Three harvests have been lost. Unlike in the past, now you cannot rely on rain patterns which in turn makes agriculture a very risky affair,” he said.

“In Sri Lanka, poverty, unemployment, lack of livelihood options and recurring climate shocks impact the food security of many families, resulting in migration to find secure livelihoods,” the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said last year in a joint communiqué with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to commemorate World Food Day.

Women, particularly single breadwinners, have been left vulnerable in Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken former northern war zone. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women, particularly single breadwinners, have been left vulnerable in Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken former northern war zone. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Climate shocks have been severe in Sri Lanka in the past few years. In 2017, a drought affected over two million people and floods impacted an additional 500,000. The vital paddy harvest was the lowest in over a decade, falling 40 percent compared to the year before. The UN has termed the 2017 drought as the worst in 40 years..

According to M.W, Weerakoon, additional secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, paddy farmers have to work throughout the year just to stay above the poverty line. He estimates that a paddy farmer needs to cultivate 2.6 acres without a break just to make the 116 dollars (Rs 17,760) needed monthly for a family of four to remain above the poverty line.

“That is not possible with the unpredictable rains, so farmers are moving out,” he said. Around 20 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21million are internal migrants, according to government statistics, and experts like Weerakoon say that this movement is heightened by climate shocks.

Staying in their native villages and continuing to farm pushes victims further into a debt trap. Last August, when the drought was at its peak, a WFP survey found that the family debt of those surveyed had risen by 50 percent compared to a year back. And as formal lenders like banks shy away from lending to them, these farmers tend to seek the help of informal lenders.

Human-made disasters are also pushing the poor out of their homes to seek jobs elsewhere. In Sri Lanka’s North and East, ravaged by a deadly civil war till 2009, high poverty rates are forcing vulnerable segments of society like war widows to seek work elsewhere.

In the Northern Province where the war was at its worst, female unemployment rates are almost twice the national rate of 7 percent, at 13.8 percent. There is no data available for single female-headed households of which there are at least 58,000 out of the provincial total of 250,000.

Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar, a 52-year-old war widow from the North, spent three harrowing months in Oman after being duped by job agents. Credit: Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar family

Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar, a 52-year-old war widow from the North, spent three harrowing months in Oman after being duped by job agents. Credit: Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar family

Last year, the Association for Friendship and Love (AFRIEL), a civic group based in the province, located 15 women stuck in Muscat, Oman, after being sent there by job agents. At least four were from the war zone and none had been paid for months and were being moved around the Omani capital daily working in odd jobs.

Nathkulasinham Nesemalhar a 54-year-old war widow who was part of the group, said that they were being sent for casual work by the job agents to recoup costs. “All of us could not work in the households due to various issues, so for three months we kept doing odd jobs, so that the agents made their money,” she said. The group was finally brought back to Sri Lanka after the government intervened.

AFRIEL head Ravidra de Silva told IPS that women like Nesemalhar were among the most vulnerable due to almost zero chances of jobs in their villages. “So they will take any chance that is offered to them. What we need are long-haul policies that target vulnerable communities.”

Unfortunately, there have been few such interventions since the war’s conclusion.

The IOM office in Colombo said that climate-driven migration was fueled by complex and diverse set of drivers and required multi-dimensional risk assessments and interventions.

Government official Weerakoon said that one of the main ambitions of the government in 2018 was to increase the planted extent of paddy and other crops. The government also plans to introduce measures to increase value addition among farmers who remain by and large bulk suppliers of raw produce.

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

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

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move or drown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme weather

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

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

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

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

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

A lost history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Central America Weakens Forest Shield Against Future Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts/#respond Sun, 31 Dec 2017 17:55:22 +0000 DANIEL SALAZAR http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153692 Jazziel Baca lives in the municipality of Esquías, in western Honduras, one of the areas hardest hit by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which damaged almost 500,000 hectares of forest in that Central American country between 2013 and 2015. Supposedly, the pest that was destroying the pines would stop spreading with the rains, but […]

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Costa Rica increased its forest cover, but some wetlands and areas in the north of the country have been affected by deforestation and drought. The high use of agrochemicals and fertilisers in agro-industrial activities and logging in neighboring lands damaged the Palo Verde wetland and the surrounding forests. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

Costa Rica increased its forest cover, but some wetlands and areas in the north of the country have been affected by deforestation and drought. The high use of agrochemicals and fertilisers in agro-industrial activities and logging in neighboring lands damaged the Palo Verde wetland and the surrounding forests. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

By Daniel Salazar
SAN JOSE, Dec 31 2017 (IPS)

Jazziel Baca lives in the municipality of Esquías, in western Honduras, one of the areas hardest hit by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which damaged almost 500,000 hectares of forest in that Central American country between 2013 and 2015.

Supposedly, the pest that was destroying the pines would stop spreading with the rains, but the rainy season came and there was no rain. He told IPS that apart from fewer trees, his town also has less water, the soil has eroded and some of the neighboring communities face drought.

This is not the only problem causing them to run out of water.

In Honduras, forest coverage shrank by almost a third, from 57 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2015, explained by an increase of monoculture, extractive projects, livestock production and shifting cultivation. It is the Central American country with the greatest decline in forest cover, in a region where all of the countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, are destroying their forests.The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

According to the State of the Region Programme, the 2017 environmental statistics published this month, since 2000 Central America has lost forest cover and wetlands, vital to the preservation of aquifers, which coincided with a widespread regional increase in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

It is not good news, said Alberto Mora, the State of the Region research coordinator, who noted that the region could have 68 departments or provinces suffering severe aridity towards the end of the century, compared to fewer than 20 today.

Mora also stressed that demand for drinking water could grow by 1,600 percent by the year 2100, according to the study prepared by the State of the Nation of Costa Rica, an interdisciplinary body of experts funded by the country’s public universities.

“This greatly exacerbates the impacts of global warming and rising temperatures, on ecosystems and their species. It is really a serious problem in Central America,” he told IPS.

Fewer trees, less food

Baca, an environmental engineer active in the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth, explained that farmers are moving higher up the mountains, because the soil they used to farm is no longer fertile. Using the slash-and-burn technique, they grow their staple foods.

But also, he said, “we have very long droughts and, without rainy seasons, the peasant farmers can’t plant their food crops, which gives rise to emergency situations in terms of food security.”

To the west of Honduras, in neighboring Guatemala, losses are also reported in forest cover. In 2000, 39 percent of the territory was covered by trees; that proportion had fallen to 33 percent by 2015.

The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Although fewer and fewer hectares of forest are cut down in that country, the problem persists and continues to generate serious food security challenges.

Agricultural engineer Ogden Rodas, coordinator of FAO’s Forest and Farm Facility in that country, explained to IPS from Guatemala City that the loss of forests is affecting Guatemala’s ability to obtain food in multiple ways.

Currently, he said, peasant and indigenous communities have less food from seeds, roots, fruits or leaves and fewer jobs, which were previously generated in activities such as weeding and pruning.

Their ability to put food on their tables is also affected, as the destruction of the forest cover impacts on the water cycles, affecting irrigated agriculture.

Rodas believes that her country needs to strengthen governance, the management of agribusiness crops such as sugar cane and African oil palm, to create alternatives for forest-dwelling communities and develop strategies for the sustainable use of firewood, a problem common to the entire region.

In Honduras, another FAO specialist, René Acosta, told IPS from Tegucigalpa that the government has committed to reforesting up to one million hectares by 2030, but the task will only be possible if it is coordinated with all the actors involved, and incentives and ecotourism business capabilities are generated.

Costa Rica increases its forest cover

The forest cover in Central America decreased from 46 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2015.
Forest cover shrank from 32 to 26 percent in Nicaragua, from 66 to 62 percent in Panama, and from 16 to 13 percent in El Salvador.

The exception was Costa Rica where more than half (54 percent) of the land is covered by trees, compared to 47 percent 15 years ago.

Pieter Van Lierop, subregional forestry officer and team leader of the FAO Natural Resources, Risk Management and Climate Change Group in Costa Rica, explained that there are many factors driving this process.

The progress made is due, he said, “in part to the priority put in this country on its forest policy.”

“Another factor is the structural changes in agriculture, which have reduced the pressure to convert forests into agricultural land and have led to an increase in the area covered by secondary forests and to legal controls to prevent the change from natural forest to other uses for the land,” he said.

Some sustainable practices contribute to this increase in forested areas in the country.

For example, there has been a programme of payment for environmental services in place for two decades, financed by a tax on fossil fuels, among other sources.

The State pays the equivalent of 300 dollars every five years for each privately-owned hectare of protected forest and 1,128 dollars to owners who wish to create a secondary forest on their farms.

“What have we gained with this? That many more people come to see the forests,” said Gilmar Navarrrete, one of the heads of the programme of the.National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO).

“Hurricane Otto also hit recently: if we didn’t have the forest cover we have, the impact would have been very serious,” he told IPS.

There are other programmes in place. Lourdes Salazar works in Paquera, Lepanto and Cóbano, in northwest Costa Rica, with 83 farmers in a programme financed by the non-governmental Fundecooperación and supported by other public institutions.

“We work together with farmers because we want them to adapt to climate change, establish improved pastures, and change their mentality. We want them to let fruit trees grow, as well as timber trees for shade, which will also help them produce more,” the agricultural engineer told IPS.

Salazar takes part in a 10 million dollar project which aims to impact 400 farms around five hectares in size, which each farmer must reforest while raising cattle and pigs and growing organic produce.

“The farmers themselves say it’s more beneficial. If there was only one tree in a pasture all the cows would huddle there. Why not leave more trees? They have been learning that they produce more when they implement this type of practices,” said Salazar.

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US Faces Collective Defiance at UN Over Jerusalemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:45:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153682 When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President. Turkish Foreign Minister […]

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UN voting -- electronic board. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 2017 (IPS)

When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking on behalf of a country that has been a longstanding American ally, declared that Donald Trump’s threat last week to cut off American aid to countries voting for the UN resolution, as an act of “bullying,” and the General Assembly “would not bow to such bullying”.

“It is unethical. The votes and dignity of member states are not for sale– and it was unacceptable for a member state to threaten other member states. A vote in favour of the Palestinian people would place Member States on the right side of history”, he noted.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “I think this was a significantly self-inflicted wound and really unnecessary, clumsy diplomacy on the part of the United States.”

“More than that, I think it symbolizes the self-defeating notion that for the United States, ‘it’s my way or the highway,’” he said.

Regrettably, there is no love lost between Trump and the United Nations, which he once denounced as just another “social club” – a remark made more through sheer ignorance than a well-thought-out diplomatic pronouncement.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, went one step further by not only warning member states but also the United Nations itself. In an implicit threat on US funding for the UN, she said: “We will remember it (the voting against the US), when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution (22 percent of the regular budget) to the United Nations”.

The final tally on the vote was 128 in favour to 9 against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States), with 35 abstentions.

The non-binding General Assembly resolution, which expressed “deep regret” over recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, also stressed that the future of the Holy City “is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant UN resolutions” – and, in a stinging rebuke to the US, declared “null and void” any actions intended to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition.

Adopted at an emergency special session of the General Assembly on Thursday, the resolution was a devastating attack against Trump’s recent unilateral decision to recognize the historically disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a pledge to relocate the US embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv—the only country to do so.

The 128 member states supporting the resolution included four of the five permanent members of the Security Council: the UK, France, China and Russia. The fifth permanent member is the US.

Last week, speaking on the impending UN vote, Trump blustered he will not tolerate “all of these nations that take our money and then vote against us in the Security Council and at the General Assembly. They take hundreds of millions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well we’re watching those votes.”

But some of his threats, which is rare for a head of state, have proved to be empty. Trump threatened to hold up aid to Pakistan if it did not cooperate more on US counter-terrorism efforts and also warned he will withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) if it did not increase its joint military spending.

US economic and military aid to American allies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, run into billions of dollars annually—but all of these countries voted for the resolution.

One of the strongest denunciations came from Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi of Pakistan who told delegates that the unilateral actions of one country were set to undo decades of work by the international community and to defy international law.

She said Pakistan rejected the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy to the Holy City in contravention of several provisions of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

“Member States must recommit to thwarting any attempts to violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the ultimate goal of a two State solution”.

Expressing her support for the Palestinian cause, she said it was a key pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy, recalling that her country had led and sponsored the Assembly’s first ever resolution on Jerusalem.

“In that regard, Pakistan was proud to join the international community once again in adopting a landmark draft resolution to reject the “revisionist” decision of the United States,” declared Dr Lodhi.

Riad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Palestine, said while the State of Palestine respected the sovereignty of all States, it refused to have that principle used as an excuse to deny Palestinians their rights.

“We stand today united for justice,” he declared, stressing “the veto will not stop us”. The State of Palestine would not accept any justification — security, religious or otherwise — to excuse Israel’s continued occupation, he said. The United Nations was today undergoing an unprecedented test “with Palestine as its headline”.

The General Assembly resolution followed a failed attempt by the 15-member Security Council last week to adopt a similar text reflecting regret about “recent decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem.” But that resolution, despite a vote of 14 to 1, was vetoed by the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council.

Both the General Assembly and the Security Council votes have underlined the increasing isolation of the Trump administration—amongst its Western allies and at the United Nations.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Central America Hashes Out Agenda for Sustainable Use of Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-hashes-agenda-sustainable-use-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-hashes-agenda-sustainable-use-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-hashes-agenda-sustainable-use-water/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 22:02:35 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153673 The countries of Central America are striving to define a plan to promote the sustainable use of water, a crucial need in a region that is already suffering the impacts of climate change. This effort has materialised in Central America’s Water Agenda, the draft of which was agreed in November, in Tegucigalpa, by the governments […]

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A child fills his jug with water at a community tap in Los Pinos, in the municipality of Tacuba, in the western Salvadoran department of Ahuachapán. Access to piped water is still a problem in many rural communities in Central America. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

A child fills his jug with water at a community tap in Los Pinos, in the municipality of Tacuba, in the western Salvadoran department of Ahuachapán. Access to piped water is still a problem in many rural communities in Central America. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Dec 21 2017 (IPS)

The countries of Central America are striving to define a plan to promote the sustainable use of water, a crucial need in a region that is already suffering the impacts of climate change.

This effort has materialised in Central America’s Water Agenda, the draft of which was agreed in November, in Tegucigalpa, by the governments of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, along with the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation the Dominican Republic.

These countries form part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), the economic and political organisation of Central American countries, since December 1991, where they are working to address the issue of water with a regional and sustainable perspective."In the region there has been no political instrument to establish a common agenda on water issues, which is why this effort has been made: to generate a space for coordination among the environment ministers, who are responsible for the management of water.” -- Fabiola Tábora

The document is expected to be approved at a regional meeting to be held in February in Santo Domingo, according to Central American officials and experts interviewed by IPS.

“We saw that it was convenient for us to work on a plan, a sort of agenda, that would give expression to the issue of the integral management of the resource,” Salvador Nieto, executive director of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD), told IPS.

This is the SICA agency made up of the environment ministers of the eight countries, focused on coordinating efforts to collectively preserve the region’s ecosystems.

And water is a vitally important issue for the 50.6 million Central Americans, especially farmers who have lost their crops due to a lack or excess of rainfall, as a result of climate change.

“All the studies recognise the vulnerability of the region, and point out that the most severe impacts of climate change for Central America will be because of the water issue,” Nieto added.

He said that although reports show that there will be intense storms, they also warn that in the medium term the main problem will be a shortage of water throughout the region.

In 2014, drought caused some 650 million dollars in losses in agriculture, hydroelectric power generation and drinking water, according to the study Situation of Water Resources in Central America: Towards Integrated Management, published in March by the Global Water Partnership (GWP).

However, the region has good water availability, because Central American countries use less than 10 percent of their available resources, points out the August edition of Entre-aguas, a report by the regional office of the GWP, an international network of organisations involved in the question of the management of water resources.

The problem, the report says, is the irregular temporal and geographical distribution of precipitation, and the scarce mechanisms of water storage and regulation.

That limits an optimal and efficient use of water, which leads to basins with problems of water scarcity in the dry season.

The GWP report adds that, due to the high climate variability associated with climate change, the concentration of rainfall in certain regions or in certain periods and droughts in others, affects the quantity and quality of water available.

Fabiola Tábora, the executive secretary of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) office in Central America, takes part in one of the preparatory meetings for the World Water Forum, which will be held in Brasilia in March 2018. Credit: GWP Central America

Fabiola Tábora, the executive secretary of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) office in Central America, takes part in one of the preparatory meetings for the World Water Forum, which will be held in Brasilia in March 2018. Credit: GWP Central America

In 2014, 17 percent of Central America’s total population, some 7.8 million people, did not have drinking water in their homes, according to the World Bank.

In this sense, the Agenda seeks to ensure water availability for present and future generations, but also to establish actions to face extreme climate events.

This situation in Central America, a region constantly affected by climate phenomena, convinced the political elites to take action not only in their countries, but at a regional level.

For example, droughts “generate more political will (in the governments of the region) to promote these instruments, and to reach agreements in presidential summits to draft a work agenda,” the executive secretary of the GWP for Central America, Fabiola Tábora, told IPS.

The GWP has been working with the CCAD to promote the strengthening of governance of water resources in Central America.

“In the region there has been no political instrument to establish a common agenda on water issues, which is why this effort has been made: to generate a space for coordination among the environment ministers, who are responsible for the management of water,” Tábora said, from the GWP regional office in Tegucigalpa.

The Agenda emerges from the effort to establish integrated management of water resources, one of the objectives contained in the CCAD Regional Environmental Framework Strategy, approved in February 2015 by the environment ministers of the region.

This integrated management, from which the Agenda arises, contemplates addressing key areas, such as the promotion of governance systems for the sustainable use of water, which involves actions, for example, to generate and share data and experiences regarding the problems involving water.

“The development of knowledge about water resources is through research, monitoring, or establishing measuring stations and sharing information, a recurrent need in all the countries of Central America,” José Miguel Zeledón, water director in Costa Rica’s Environment and Energy Ministry, told IPS.

He stressed that “we have to make progress in assessing the water situation, because our countries lack information, in order to know what water resources we have, what state they are in and how we can distribute them.”

Another strategic area is the development of instruments for the integrated management of international water bodies, which involves the promotion of a political dialogue at the highest level on protocols, agreements or successful model agreements on the subject.

“The implementation of the Agenda would bring benefits because many communities with water problems are in shared or transboundary basins, and that is why a main focus is to work on the question of international water bodies,” Silvia Larios, an expert on water in El Salvador’s Environment Ministry, told IPS.

Of the river basins in Central America, 23 are transboundary, covering approximately 191,449 square km (37 percent of the Central American territory), and the region has 18 transboundary aquifer systems, according to the GWP.

The GWP also emphasises the importance of promoting technology exchange, as there are communities that cannot be supplied with traditional systems, or cannot properly manage their wastewater, but will have to look for other technical options.

Larios stressed that the Agenda seeks both to reduce conflicts over the use of water resources and to guarantee availability. She also recognises access to water as a human right, to guarantee the supply to communities.

The GWP’s Tábora said that Central America has made progress in water coverage and infrastructure development, but that there is still a gap between rural and urban areas.

“Rural areas continue to be but on the back burner,” she said. Of Central America’s total population, 58 percent lives in urban areas, according to the GWP study.

Also, added Tábora, water quality has been neglected, both in cities and in rural areas.

Addressing the challenges related to water, she said, necessitates an understanding that solutions have inherent political actions, such as the enactment of water laws, given that the resource is linked to economic interests.

To set the Agenda into motion, its operational plan has yet to be implemented, alliances have to be built with various organisations and its funding must be organised and managed by the regional cooperation mechanisms.

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

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Kumi Naidoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can young people steer the planet away from insanity?

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

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

Can local innovation change the whole world?

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

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

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

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

What’s your dream for the future?

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

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


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

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Rise of Teenage Pregnancy Deters Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rise-teenage-pregnancy-deters-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rise-teenage-pregnancy-deters-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rise-teenage-pregnancy-deters-development-goals/#respond Tue, 19 Dec 2017 20:02:45 +0000 Lorenzo Jmenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153624 Lorenzo Jiménez de Luis, is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Dominican Republic

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Teenage pregnancy: 2 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the Dominican Republic have been pregnant or have been mothers

Teenage mom with her baby. Credit: IPS

By Lorenzo Jiménez de Luis
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Dec 19 2017 (IPS)

A few years ago, someone shared a video with me that deeply impacted me. It was called “The Girl Effect”. In three minutes, the video demonstrates the fate of millions of girls and teenagers around the world.

Years later, when I arrived in the Dominican Republic and studied its challenges in terms of human development, I remembered that video and concluded that if the Dominican Republic does not resolve the problem of teenage pregnancy, despite its high sustained economic growth, its important social transformation and its modernization, it will never reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

A few days ago, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched its 2017 National Human Development Report for Dominican Republic devoted to this topic. This report is complemented in turn by another report presented by UNICEF and the World Bank in August and also by the report presented in November by the National Statistics Office (ONE in Spanish) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The three documents make up a global and coherent product of a sinister reality. Two out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the Dominican Republic have been pregnant or have been mothers; representing 15.9% of the country’s population. Surely it will be a higher percentage given that pregnancies begin to occur as early as twelve years of age.

The causes of this sinister reality, briefly described, are multiple; but its consequences are clear: low or very low quality of life, poor welfare, recurrent poverty, exclusion.

The link between poverty and child and teenage pregnancy is clear, and the UNDP National Human Development Report shows that the mentioned link is to be found in the opportunity cost that teenage pregnancy represents for the human development of these young women. That is, the opportunities that they lose as a consequence of those early pregnancies or maternities.

This reality, I insist sinister indeed, worsens when considered that it has an equally quantifiable impact on the young pregnant woman, on the family environment of the pregnant girl or teenager and of course also on the child, the product of that pregnancy.

We are talking about half of the population of the country. The good news, however, is that the spooky effects of teen pregnancy are not necessarily irreversible.

The trend could be reversed if a new architecture of policies that affect and integrate prevention is urgently introduced, as well as the mitigation of the effects of pregnancy through care and protection policies. Policies that ensure greater opportunities.

A new architecture with a multidimensional character, that reaches the local level (territorial approach) and is implemented over time.

If the above is adopted and introduced soon, the possibilities of complying with the commitments acquired by the State can be fulfilled. If it is not the case; I am afraid that we will be talking about a country with a half future. The one of the privileged half of the population.

 

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Production Diversity, Diet Diversity and Nutrition in Sub -Saharan Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/production-diversity-diet-diversity-nutrition-sub-saharan-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=production-diversity-diet-diversity-nutrition-sub-saharan-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/production-diversity-diet-diversity-nutrition-sub-saharan-africa/#respond Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:13:20 +0000 Raghav Gaiha and Shantanu Mathur http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153622 Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Insitute, University of Manchester, England; & Shantanu Mathur is Lead Advisor, Programme Management Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome, Italy. The views are personal.

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Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Insitute, University of Manchester, England; & Shantanu Mathur is Lead Advisor, Programme Management Department, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome, Italy. The views are personal.

By Raghav Gaiha and Shantanu Mathur
NEW DELHI, Dec 19 2017 (IPS)

Lack of diet diversity is viewed as the major cause of micronutrient malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Imbalanced diets resulting from consumption of mainly high carbohydrate based-diets also contribute to productivity losses and reduced educational attainment and income. Consequently, micronutrient malnutrition is currently the most critical for food and nutritional security problem as most diets are often deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. In Tanzania, for example, most rural and urban households consume mainly staples as their main food, which are high in carbohydrates, but low in micronutrients and vitamins. Staple food items increase energy availability but do not improve nutritional outcomes if not consumed together with micro-nutrient rich foods.

Raghav Gaiha

A positive relationship between farm production diversity and diet diversity is plausible, because much of what smallholder farmers produce is consumed at home. However, this is more plausible for a subsistence economy than one in which market transactions are prominent. Instead of producing everything at home, households can buy food diversity in the market when they earn sufficient income. Farm diversification may contribute to income growth and stability. Besides, as the majority of smallholder households in developing countries also have off-farm income sources, the link between production diversity and diet diversity is further undermined. Finally, when relying on markets, nutrition effects in farm households will also depend on how well the markets function and who decides how farm and off-farm incomes will be allocated to food. It is well-known that income in the hands of women frequently results in more nourishing food-especially for children.

A recent study analyzed the relationship between production and consumption diversity in smallholder farm households in four developing countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Malawi (Sibhatu et al. 2014). These four countries were selected mainly because of availability of recent household data. The results are classified under (i) association between production and diet diversity, (ii) role of market access, and (iii) role of selling and buying food. Farm production diversity is positively associated with diet diversity, but the effect is relatively small. In the pooled sample (of all four countries), producing one additional crop or livestock species leads to a 0.9% increase in the number of food groups consumed This effect, however, varies across the countries in question. In Kenya and Ethiopia, the estimates are very small and not (statistically) significant. In these two countries, average production diversity is quite high; further increasing farm diversity would hardly contribute to higher diet diversity. One indicator of market access is the geographic distance from the farm household to the closest market where food can be sold or bought. The estimated effects are negative, implying that households in remoter regions have lower dietary diversity. Better market access through reduced distances could therefore contribute to higher diet diversity. Reducing market distance by 10 km has the same effect on diet diversity as increasing farm production diversity by one additional crop or livestock species.

Shantanu Mathur

A more pertinent question is whether this also leads to more healthy diets. Depending on the type of food outlets available in a particular context, buying food may be associated with rather unhealthy diet diversification, for instance, through increased consumption of fats, sweets, or sugary beverages. This is examined by using alternative diet diversity scores, including only more healthy food groups. The finding that better market access tends to increase diet diversity also holds with this alternative measure. However, it is not self-evident that this measure is appropriate for two reasons: (i) one is the failure to distinguish between processed and unprocessed, say, vegetables (eg French fries and boiled potato) with vastly different nutritional implications; and (ii) at best, diet diversity (restricted or unrestricted) is an approximation to nutrients’ intake as there are substitutions both within and between food groups in response to income and price changes (a case in point is different grades of rice).

Another approach is to take into account what households sell and buy. This information is only available for Ethiopia and Malawi. If a household sells at least parts of its farm produce, it has a positive and significant effect on diet diversity. It is also much larger than the effect of production diversity. This comparison suggests that facilitating the commercialization of smallholder farms may be a better strategy to improve nutrition than promoting more diversified subsistence production. Furthermore, the negative and significant interaction effect confirms that market participation reduces the role of production diversity in dietary quality.

Better market access in terms of shorter distance and more off-farm income opportunities increase the level of purchased food diversity. If off-farm income opportunities are greater in rural areas with short distances to market, the market access effect can’t be disentangled from the income effect. The interaction between level of farm income and participation in off-farm activities is often complex as small farmers tend to work as labourers in the latter while relatively affluent dominate as owners in more remunerative enterprises. The two important inferences are: (i) increasing on-farm diversity among smallholders is not always the most effective way to improve diet diversity and should not be considered a goal in itself; and (ii) in many situations, facilitating market access through improved infrastructure and other policies to reduce transaction costs and price distortions seems to be more promising than promoting further production diversification. One major caveat, however, remains. Even the alternative measure of diet diversity/quality is merely a crude approximation to nutrition (Gaiha et al. 2014).

In brief, market access through buying/selling food is more closely associated with diet diversity than production diversity. Diet diversity, however, is a weak proxy for nutrition. Indeed, there is no shortcut to empirical validation of the link between diet diversity and nutritional outcomes-especially consumption of micronutrients.

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Key Facts You Should Know About Global Migration Trendshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/key-facts-know-global-migration-trends/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-facts-know-global-migration-trends http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/key-facts-know-global-migration-trends/#respond Tue, 19 Dec 2017 13:56:54 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153615 The UN International Organization for Migration –IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources. Considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out: In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people […]

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Credit: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Dec 19 2017 (IOM)

The UN International Organization for Migration –IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources.

Considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out:

In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – was the highest ever recorded, having reached 244 million (from 232 million in 2013).

As a share of the world population, however, international migration has remained fairly constant over the past decades, at around 3 per cent. While female migrants constitute only 48 per cent of the international migrant stock worldwide, and 42 per vent in Asia, women make up the majority of international migrants in Europe (52.4 per cent) and North America (51.2 cent).

South-South migration flows
(across developing countries) continued to grow compared to South-North movements (from developing to developed countries): in 2015, 90.2 million international migrants born in developing countries resided in other countries in the Global South, while 85.3 million born in the South resided in countries in the Global North.

Germany became the second most popular destination for international migrants globally (in absolute numbers), following the United States and preceding the Russian Federation, with an estimated 12 million foreign-born residing in the country in 2015 (against 46.6 million in the U.S. and 11.9 million in the Russian Federation).

As a proportion of the host country’s population, however, numbers of international migrants continue to be highest in Gulf Cooperation Council countries: the foreign-born population makes up 88.4 per cent of the total population in the United Arab Emirates, 75.7 cent in Qatar and 73.6 cent in Kuwait.

Close to 1 in 5 migrants in the world live in the top 20 largest cities, according to IOM’s World Migration Report 2015. International migrants make up over a third of the total population in cities like Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and London, and at least one in four residents in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris is foreign-born.

The year 2015 saw the highest levels of forced displacement globally recorded since World War II, with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people across various regions of the world – from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia.

The world hosted 15.1 million refugees by mid-2015. This is a 45 per vent increase compared to three and a half years ago, largely due to continued conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, now well into its 5th year. Some 8.6 million persons were newly displaced in 2015 alone.

In 2015, Germany also became the largest single recipient of first-time individual asylum claims globally, with almost 442,000 applications lodged in the country by the end of the year.

The number of asylum claims worldwide almost doubled between the end of 2014 and the first half of 2015, from 558,000 pending applications at the end of 2014 to almost 1 million by the end of June 2015. This figure continued to increase, rising to about 3.2 million pending asylum applications globally by the end of 2015.

By the end of 2015, the EU as a whole received over 1.2 million first-time asylum claims, more than double the number registered in 2014 (563,000), and almost double the levels recorded in 1992 in the then 15 Member States (672,000 applications). The increase in 2015 is largely due to higher numbers of asylum claims from Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis).

Almost 1 in 3 first-time asylum applicants in the EU were minors, a 9 per cent increase compared to 2014 levels; also, 1 in 4 of these were judged to be unaccompanied by national authorities – the highest number since 2008 and a three-fold increase on numbers registered in 2014.

Still, the vast majority of refugees continue to be hosted by developing countries, particularly those that are proximate to the refugees’ countries of origin: for instance, the bulk of the Syrian refugee population is hosted by Turkey (2.2 million), Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan (almost 630,000), according to figures recorded in December 2015.

Also, most forced displacement globally still occurs within countries’ borders, with an estimated 38 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence at the end of 2014 – from Iraq to South Sudan, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

The year 2015 was also the deadliest year for migrants: increased levels of forced displacement globally were tragically accompanied by record-high numbers of people perishing or going missing while trying to cross international borders.

Over 5,400 migrants worldwide are estimated to have died or gone missing in 2015.

According to IOM’s Missing Migrant project, migrant fatalities during migration to Europe increased by 15 per cent compared to the previous year, reaching at least 3,770.

From 2014 to 2015, a major and sudden shift in routes of irregular migration by sea to Europe occurred – with about 853,000 arriving to Greece compared to almost 154,000 to Italy, as opposed to about 34,400 and 170,100 respectively in 2014.

In 2015, the number of voluntary returns of migrants (e.g. failed asylum-seekers, and other groups) from EU countries was for the first time higher than the number of forced returns (81,681 against 72,473). Moreover, the number of IOM-assisted voluntary returns from EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 reached a figure of almost 56,000.

New estimates for the number of migrant workers globally show that the large majority of international migrants in the world are migrant workers. Migrants have higher labour force participation than non-migrants, particularly due to higher labour force participation rates for migrant women relative to non-migrant women.

Remittances continue to climb globally while remittance-sending costs remain relatively high. The sum of financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families in origin countries amounted to an estimated 581 billion dollars in 2015 – over three-quarters of which were sent to low and middle-income economies. In Tajikistan remittances constituted over 40 per cent of the country’s GDP.

However, average remittance transfer costs were still at 7.5% of the amount sent in the third quarter of 2015, higher than the 3 per cent minimum target set in the Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Remittance transfer costs are particularly high in Sub-Saharan Africa – now standing at 9.5% on average.

Finally, public opinion towards migration globally is more favourable than commonly perceived – with the notable exception of Europe, according to an IOM-Gallup report, “How the World Views Migration”. The report is based on a Gallup poll conducted across over 140 countries between 2012 and 2014.

The post Key Facts You Should Know About Global Migration Trends appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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