Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:46:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Caregiving Exacerbates the Burden for Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/caregiving-exacerbates-the-burden-for-women-in-cuba/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 19:46:05 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136246 Women buying food at a farmers market in the Playa neighbourhood of Havana. More than 98 percent of the unpaid domestic work and family care in Cuban homes falls to women. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

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

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuban women in the labour market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Karachi Residents Trapped Between Armed Assassins and Private Bodyguardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:49:33 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136237 Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

With a rise in sectarian killings, extortion, drug peddling, kidnappings and land grabbing, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has become a hotbed of crime.

Fearing that they may soon bear the brunt of this lawlessness, the city’s elite – often the target of kidnapping for ransom – has begun hiring personal bodyguards and moving through the streets in armoured or bombproof vehicles.

The result, experts say, is an increasingly dangerous city, where trigger-happy thugs operate with impunity, while an understaffed police force struggles to keep tabs on rampant crime.

A recent study carried out by the Sindh Province police indicates that the available strength of the police force in Karachi is just 26,847, of which 8,541 are deployed to protect individuals and sensitive installations like the port, airport and oil terminal, among others.

Some 3,102 policemen are assigned to investigation. Only 14,433 policemen, working on back-to-back shifts of 12 hours each, are responsible for maintaining law and order, and protecting the lives and properties of ordinary Karachi residents.

That works out to just one policeman per 1,524 people in a city that clocked 40,848 crimes (with 2,700 people killed) in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“There is blatant misuse of police in Karachi because of the persistent VIP culture that keeps officers from working in their respective police stations,” said Jameel Yusuf, former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLP), an organisation working closely with Karachi’s police force and the provincial government.

A dearth of state security coupled with a burgeoning demand for protection over the last two decades has created a huge market for private security companies.

Colonel Nisar Sarwar, former chairman of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA), told IPS there are currently approximately 300,000 registered private security guards in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Some 50,000 of these guards are based in Karachi, capital of the Sindh.

Of the 1,500 security agencies in the country, 300 are members of APSAA, but Sarwar said there were countless other private groups, complete with sophisticated weapons, that provide security to individual families.

Affluent consumers are willing to pay handsomely for their own safety. Various Pakistan media have reported that armouring and bulletproofing a 4X4 vehicle costs between 30,000 and 45,000 dollars.

A new bulletproof armoured vehicle costs some 150,000-170,000 dollars on the international market according to Pakistan Today, a princely sum in a country where 60.19 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Despite a recent crackdown on crime – including the launch last September of a joint operation to cleanse the city of criminals, led by a paramilitary force called the Sindh Rangers – residents continue to be skeptical of official law enforcement.

CPLC Chief Ahmed Chinoy told IPS there has been a “50-percent reduction in various crimes” over the last year.

But Sarwar, who now heads Delta Security Management, one of the first security agencies set up back in 1988, said many wealthy families and individuals are continuously turning to private companies to protect them.

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) for the Sindh province, Mushtaq Shah (2011-2012), echoed his claim, calling the demand “immense”.

“There are some 20,000 banks in the city, as well as consulates, businessmen, factories […],” he told IPS. “How can we protect these without private security?”

Politicisation of crime

Profiles of alleged criminals provided by the police portray a disturbing picture of the politicisation of crime in Karachi.

Former police chief Shahid Hayat Khan told IPS that criminality and politics go hand in hand here.

“They are complementing each other. Different political parties use criminals to [do their bidding]. There are a few who belong to different political parties, but most are from criminal gangs who have gotten into extortion, or the narco-business.

“Then there are a few who are from religious militant groups. And sometimes militant groups are inter-linked with the narco-business,” Khan added.

Private guards have been roped into this matrix, with security personnel themselves being implicated in several bank heists.

Others blame the escalation in crime on political interference in the police department.

“Give the police chief a three-year term [with] complete authority to steer his team, of course with due accountability, and see the difference,” Shah stated.

Frustrated with political involvement in the affairs of the police department, he himself remained in his post for just one year, from 2011 to 2012. He alleged that whichever government is in power appoints its preferred man as the “top cop” in order to sidestep certain legal regulations.

Given the dismal police-civilian ratio, CPLC’s former chief, Yusuf, believes that outsourcing certain tasks to private agencies will bring about a safer climate.

“The burden on the police will lessen if area-patrolling, protecting sensitive installations, and VIP duties can be carried out by private companies,” Yusuf said, adding that this would be cheaper than recruiting more personnel into the existing force.

It would also achieve the twin goal of providing employment and training for educated young people who have joined the ranks of Karachi’s jobless, he added.

Currently, he said, the average private security guard is “just a slightly more sophisticated ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) in uniform. He is undertrained, under-supervised and underpaid.”

According to APSAA’s Sarwar, guards are paid anywhere from 11,000 rupees (about 110 dollars, the minimum monthly wage as set by the government for a skilled worker) to 45,000 rupees (about 450 dollars) for armed guards. Two-thirds of their pay goes directly to the agency as a commission.

“They hardly receive any training,” Shah said, “and their weapons, if they are licensed to carry them, are outmoded. Some of them double up as peons, taking files from one desk to another and bringing meals to the office staff.”

APSAA runs two training institutes, one in Karachi and the other in the eastern city of Lahore in the Punjab province, which offer new recruits a three-day programme during which retired army personnel instruct them in basic self-defence and assembling of weapons.

Still, experts like Sarwar believe that trainings will be inadequate unless guards are equipped with the necessary weapons to deal with the militarism that grips Karachi’s streets.

“The agencies are not permitted to provide their guards with automatic weapons, and they are only allowed to fire in defence or if they are fired upon first,” he informed IPS.

“I am personally not in favour of weapons, but if a client requires an armed guard, the agencies should be permitted to equip some of their workforce with something more than single-shot pistols and shotguns,” he stressed. “Today, even robbers use Kalashnikovs and private security personnel cannot compete with their sophisticated weapons.”

According to GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, Pakistani civilians hold a combined total of 18 million guns, accounting for both licenced and illicit weapons.

For the last two years, APSAA has been demanding that the interior ministry be given license to carry weapons that will enable them to protect vulnerable institutions like banks.

While the debate rages on, ordinary Karachi residents must navigate a city that is armed to the teeth, and place their hopes on a struggling police force.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obstacles to ending child marriages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First land rights, then education

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

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

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

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

Upper and Lower Bondas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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U.N. Prepares for Overhaul of Arms Trade Reportinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-prepares-for-overhaul-of-arms-trade-reporting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-prepares-for-overhaul-of-arms-trade-reporting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-prepares-for-overhaul-of-arms-trade-reporting/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:23:51 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136187 The Arms Trade Treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2, 2013. It is seven ratifications away from entering into force. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The Arms Trade Treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2, 2013. It is seven ratifications away from entering into force. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty is about to provide the biggest shake-up to conventional arms trade transparency since the end of the Cold War.

U.N. officials and civil society experts expect the quality and quantity of reports on the international arms trade to increase as the current platform, the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, is augmented by the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty.“There is a culture of secrecy in a number of states. In general, they don’t want to produce any information for the public domain.” -- Paul Holtom

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1991, the U.N. Register requests that countries produce official reports of their arms imports and exports each year. The information is then published for all to see on a U.N. website.

However, reporting to the U.N. Register is purely voluntary.

Daniël Prins, chief of the Conventional Arms Branch at the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS that “most countries in the world have at one time or another reported to the U.N. Register, but on a year on year basis we don’t receive the complete picture.”

Glancing through the U.N. Register’s yearly summaries, it is easy to see that something is missing. According to the data in the Register, 760 battle tanks were exported in 2012, but only 446 were imported.

Exporters of weapons are generally more willing to provide information than importers, according to Paul Holtom, head of the Peace, Reconciliation and Security Team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

“There is a culture of secrecy in a number of states,” Holtom told IPS, specifically mentioning arms importers in the Middle East and Africa. “In general, they don’t want to produce any information for the public domain.”

Countries have also blamed their incomplete reports on unavailability of information, lack of resources, poor inter-agency cooperation, and lack of time.

Participation in the U.N. Register peaked in 2001, when 126 countries submitted national reports. By 2012 it had dropped to 72 countries.

Enter the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly on Apr. 2, 2013 and is expected to enter into force in late 2014 or early 2015. The ATT is much more than just a transparency convention, since it regulates arms transfers at a broader level, but it does specifically address reporting.

Unlike the voluntary U.N. Register, the ATT’s reporting requirements are legally mandated.

Countries that ratify the ATT “have an obligation as a state party to produce an annual report on imports and exports,” Holtom said.

The ATT’s reporting requirements include all seven categories of weapons from the U.N. Register: battle tanks, combat vehicles, large calibre-artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

But the ATT goes one step further by requiring reports on small arms and light weapons as well. With the U.N. Register, small arms were only a secondary consideration.

Civil society members see the inclusion of small arms in the ATT as a much-needed development, since the majority of conflict deaths are caused by small arms.

“The Arms Trade Treaty has the potential to increase the level of reporting on small arms and light weapons, and to improve comprehensiveness and level of detail,” Sarah Parker, a senior researcher at the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, told IPS.

However, Parker also cautioned that the scope of the ATT’s categories will need to expand to accommodate new weapons and technologies.

Daniël Prins says the ATT has the capacity to keep up with the times.

“Of course it doesn’t include every item that militaries use – trucks for instance – but all major weapons systems are covered,” he said.

“The treaty has provisions for changing it, for adaption, at least six years after entry into force. Of course, you need a willingness of its members to go there, but it’s perfectly possible to keep the treaty’s scope up to date with technology.”

The U.N. Register and the ATT’s reporting instruments will run in parallel.

According to Holtom, who served as the consultant for a 2013 group of governmental experts on the U.N. Register, getting rid of the Register would mean losing valuable information from countries that are not ready to start reporting for the ATT.

“Russia and China… report regularly to the U.N. Register,” he told IPS, but “they’ve made no signal of having any intention in the near future to sign the ATT, let alone ratify.”

One hundred and eighteen countries have signed the ATT, and 43 states have ratified. The treaty officially enters into force three months after the fiftieth ratification.

“I’m surprised that it’s actually been so quick,” Holtom said.

A 2015 entry into force was originally seen as a best case scenario, but it is soon likely to become a reality.

Prins expressed the expectation that the number of ratifications will grow well over the minimum of 50. The immediate goal should be to have more than half of the U.N.’s members be a State Party — a fuller embrace of the treaty will take years of concerted action, but is very much possible, he said.

Of course, the ATT will have less of an impact if the leading importers and exporters are not on board. The European Union is committed to the treaty, but the United States and Russia seem disinclined to join.

President Obama signed the treaty last year, but a bipartisan majority of Congress has come out in opposition to ratification. Still, even outside the ATT, the U.S. does not have total freedom to export arms as it chooses.

“The U.S. argues that it already has one of the most rigorous export control systems in the world,” Parker told IPS. “I think this is legitimate, frankly.”

India and China, the two largest importers of conventional arms, both abstained from the General Assembly’s vote on the ATT in 2013. India pledged to assess the treaty’s impact on its defence, security, and foreign policy interests. China’s abstention was procedural, as it did not object to any specifics of the treaty.

Preparation for the ATT’s entry into force has already begun.

The U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs has established a trust fund to assist countries with implementation of the treaty, Prins told IPS.

States parties will establish specific procedures for reporting as the ATT system develops over the years.

“Mexico has offered to host the first conference of states parties, which will likely take place next year, sometime between April and September,” Parker said.

Stepping back from the technical details, on the broader scale, does arms trade transparency actually deter war?

According to Paul Holtom, “transparency on its own is insufficient for addressing conflict. What you really want to have is transparency connected with responsibility and accountability.”

The public dissemination of export and import numbers should spur active national debates on the merits of particular weapons transfers, Holtom believes.

Public debates could be also be initiated by an independent observer body.

“There are plans for something called an ATT monitor,” Parker told IPS.

NGOs, civil society and academic institutions in the ATT monitor would scrutinise where states were transferring weapons and evaluate the advisability of the export based on the circumstances of the importing country, she said.

Whatever happens, it is clear that the ATT will be an improvement over the U.N. Register.

Take the recent decisions by the United States and France to arm the Kurdish militia in Iraq, for example. Neither country has indicated the number of weapons being transferred.

Because the Kurds are a sub-national group, these transfers do not fall under the scope of the U.N. Register, which only applies to state-to-state exchanges. However, according to Holtom, the ATT requires transparency on transfers to non-state actors as well. Under the ATT, the United States and France would need to report those transfers.

The U.N. Register was developed in the context of the immediate post-Cold War. As the nature of warfare shifts from international disputes to conflicts involving sub-state armed groups, the ATT will bring arms trade transparency into the present.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Does Iceland Gain From Whaling?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-iceland-gain-from-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:39:28 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136177 Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Although fin whaling by Icelanders has encountered increasing opposition over the last year, Icelandic whaling boats headed off to sea again in mid-June for the first hunt of the summer and by August 14 had killed 80 fin whales.

The story of what then happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image.

As soon as the whales are landed in Iceland, work begins on dismembering the whales. But does the meat get sold and where? How much money does it bring in for the Icelandic economy? And are the costs involved more than the revenue?

All of the whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered a great deal of resistance in transporting it there and has had to resort to commissioning a ship to take the meat directly from Iceland to Japan, undoubtedly leading to extra costs.“The story of what happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image”

IPS was unable to find out the fate of the fin meat sent to Japan earlier this year. Two months after arriving at its final destination, a Japanese source, who did not want to be named, told IPS: “My colleague told me that the whale blubber is still in the cold storage of Osaka customs.” The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledges that there is at least some sale of fin whale meat, but actual figures do not seem to be available.

Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental groups started to pressure North American companies to stop buying fish from Icelandic fishing company HB Grandi because of its links with Hvalur hf. Almost immediately, the Canadian/U.S. company High Liner Foods said it would no longer buy fish from HB Grandi and a number of other companies followed suit, including the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods.

The campaigners also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to invoke the Pelly Amendment, which allows the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries operating in a way that undermines a conservation treaty – in this case, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Obama decided to invoke the Amendment, and has already implemented one albeit diplomatic rather than economic action, which was not to invite Iceland to the large international “Our Ocean” conference hosted by the United States in June.

Besides the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which allows the President to block foreign fleets from access to U.S. fisheries if their country is deemed to have diminished the effectiveness of an international conservation programme.

In 1984, Iceland and the United States signed an agreement whereby Iceland would obtain fishing permits in U.S. waters if it agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications, although Iceland stopped whaling for 20 years in 1986, it did not start fishing in U.S. waters until December 1989 and then only caught a few tonnes of fish.

In spring this year, Social Democrat MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir and seven other Icelandic opposition MPs tabled a parliamentary resolution calling for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

There was not enough time to discuss the matter in the last parliamentary session that ended mid-May, but Ingadottir is currently revising and updating the proposal with a view to submitting it early in the next parliamentary session, which starts in September.

“There are two main aspects to the proposal. One concerns the economic and trade interests of the country and the second Iceland’s image on an international scale,” she told IPS.

According to a report published in 2010, “In the years 1973-1985, when Hvalur hf pursued whaling of large cetaceans, whale processing usually stood for about 0.07 percent of GNP. The contribution of whaling itself to GNP is not known.” Minke whaling is not included in these figures.

Ingadottir, who trained as an economist, says that this figure is very low. “At that time, whaling was an industry and pursued systematically. Since then, a range of other large industries and commercial enterprises have sprung up, so the figure is likely to be lower,” she notes.

Gunnar Haraldsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies and one of the authors of the 2010 report, told IPS: “The problem is that no official figures exist on the returns of whale watching and various other parameters, thus there is a need to collect this sort of data specifically. It is therefore necessary to carry out a new study if we want to know what the national gains (and costs) actually are.”

Whale watching has blossomed over the last few years and at least 13 companies run whale-watching trips from various places around Iceland. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of whale watchers increased by 45,000, and the total number is now around 200,000 annually.

Three MPS had also called for an inquiry into whaling in the autumn of 2012. This was supposed to cover overall benefits to the economy, including economic interests, animal welfare issues and international obligations. A committee was set up to look into the organisation and grounds for whaling, but this petered out.

“The committee has not actually been dissolved, but it hasn’t met since the new government took over (in May 2013],” Asta Einarsdottir from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told IPS. When asked why the committee had not met, Einarsdottir replied: “The Minister has not had a chance to meet with the Chair of the committee, despite repeated requests.”

Einarsdottir said that the committee was quite large and included representatives from the whale-watching and conservation sectors as well as from the whaling industry and various ministries.

Meanwhile, Icelandic lamb has also been affected by the whaling dispute. Over the last few years, Icelandic lamb has been exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of shops under the banner of “Icelandic lamb”.

Last year, however, the chain decided not to brand the lamb as Icelandic because Iceland’s whaling activities had given Iceland a bad name. The expected increase in sales did not occur, and considerable pressure had to be applied to persuade them to keep selling the meat at all.

Ingadottir is forthright in her opinions. “Are they damaging our interests? Are they protecting a narrow group of interests rather than the national interest? What are we actually protecting with this whaling?” she asks, adding: “Iceland has to come up with very good reasons for pursuing whaling in order to continue doing it.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Protecting America’s Underwater Serengetihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/protecting-americas-underwater-serengeti/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 16:09:49 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136151 The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. Credit: ukanda/cc by 2.0

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed to more than double the world’s no-fishing areas to protect what some call America’s underwater Serengeti, a series of California-sized swaths of Pacific Ocean where 1,000-pound marlin cruise by 30-foot-wide manta rays around underwater mountains filled with rare or unique species.

Obama announced in June that he wants to follow in the steps of his predecessor George W. Bush, who in 2010 ended fishing within 50 nautical miles of five islands or groups of islands south and west of Hawaii. Bush fully protected about 11 percent of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a total of 216,000 km2, by declaring them marine national monuments under the Antiquities Act, which does not require the approval of Congress.“This would be by far single greatest act of marine conservation in history.” -- Fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly

Obama is expected to use the same tool to extend the ban to 200 nautical miles and protect the rest of the EEZs, or a whopping 1.8 million km2. Given that the only two other giant fully protected areas, the U.K.’s Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, total about one million km2, Obama would more than double the no-take areas of the world’s oceans.

“This would be by far the single greatest act of marine conservation in history,” said Daniel Pauly, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia. “It’s particularly welcome because overfishing is shrinking the populations of fish almost everywhere.”

By increasing the number of fish, the closure would boost genetic diversity, which will be increasingly valuable as marine species adapt to an ocean that is becoming warmer and more acidic at unprecedented speeds, he explained. The area is rich in sea-mounts, underwater mountains where species often evolve independently.

The move would create giant havens where fish, turtles and birds could reproduce unhindered and edge back to their natural levels. The Pacific bigeye tuna population, the most prized by sushi lovers after the vanishing bluefin, is down to a quarter of its unfished size, according to official estimates, and calls for reducing their take have been ignored.

The five roundish EEZs are called PRIAs, for Pacific Remote Island Areas. They are: Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnston Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; Palmyra and Kingman Reef, in the U.S. Line Islands south of the Kiribati Line Islands; Jarvis, just below, and Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 km2-Phoenix Islands Protected Area. President Anote Tong has pledged to end all commercial fishing in the Phoenix protected area by Jan 1, 2015. The two areas together would create a single no-take zone the size of Pakistan, by far the world’s biggest.

None of the islands have resident populations. Palmyra has a scientific station with transient staff and Wake and Johnson are military, with small staffs. The others are uninhabited.

“These islands are America’s Serengeti,” said Douglas McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who once worked as an observer on a long-lining vessel based in Honolulu. “That’s where you can still find the grizzlies and the buffaloes of the sea.”

In Honolulu Monday, a public hearing recorded testimony from opponents and supporters. Though only four percent of the take of the Hawaii fleet in 2012 came from PRIAs, criticism from fishermen ran strong. A local television station headlined its story, “It’s designed to protect the environment, but could it put local fishermen out of business?”

Opposition was led by the Western Pacific Fisheries Advisory Council, known as Wespac and controlled by the local fishing industry. Wespac issued a report citing the “best available scientific information” that asserted the closure was unnecessary because, it claimed, the fisheries in the five areas, which are open only to U.S. vessels, were healthy and sustainable.

Like many academics, McCauley, the ecologist, disagreed. He pointed to official statistics that show the Pacific tuna, the world’s most valuable fishery, are becoming smaller and fewer, the result of the same kind of overfishing that pummeled populations in the other tropical oceans.

John Hampton, the Central and Western Pacific fishery’s chief scientist, analyses whole stocks – in this case Pacific populations of skipjack, bigeye, albacore and yellowfin, along with billfish like marlin and swordfish. He said closing even such large areas won’t help because the fish move around the entire ocean.

But studies have shown that varying percentages of tuna are actually quite sedentary and stay inside PRIA-sized areas; most Hawaii yellowfin, for instance, stay within a few hundred miles of the islands.

McCauley pointed to statistics collected by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service that show that the number of fish caught per 1,000 hooks by long-line vessels is higher in the PRIAs than in non-U.S. waters. For skipjack and albacore tuna, the ratio is two to one, and for yellowfin it’s six to one.

“This indicates that there’s already more fish inside the PRIAs, which illustrates that if you fish less, the population increases,” he said.

Alan Friedlander, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii, said even seabirds, the category of birds undergoing the steepest decline, would benefit from a ban on fishing.

Many species depend on tuna and other predators that feed on schools of small fish by driving them to the surface, where the birds can pick them off. “If you have more tuna, there’s going to be more prey fish driven to the surface and that will help the sea birds,” Friedlander said.

McCauley agreed and noted that historically, efforts to prevent the complete collapse of overfished species had focused on the species themselves.” “But by closing giant areas like these, you allow the ecosystem to become whole again,” he said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.3 percent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free-for-all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Certification momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiscal mismanagement or odious debt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sovereign bankruptcy and the “Global Economic Reset”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are back, he says, to square one.

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

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

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Mining Firms in Peru Mount Legal Offensive Against Inspection Taxhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mining-firms-in-peru-mount-legal-offensive-against-inspection-tax/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mining-firms-in-peru-mount-legal-offensive-against-inspection-tax http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mining-firms-in-peru-mount-legal-offensive-against-inspection-tax/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 01:10:35 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136119 Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

The leading mining companies in Peru have brought a rash of lawsuits to fight an increase in the tax they pay to cover the costs of inspections and oversight of their potentially environmentally damaging activities.

The lawsuits have come one after another. As of Aug. 7, 14 mining companies had filed legal injunctions in different courts to fight the “Aporte por Regulación” (APR – Regulation Contribution) that they are charged, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told IPS.

The legal action targets different institutions in the executive branch, including the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, which collects the APR.

Javier Velarde, the general manager of the Yanacocha mining company, told IPS that a total of 26 mining corporations, including his firm – the largest gold producer in Latin America – have brought legal action against the APR.

Yanacocha is a joint venture owned by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation and the Peruvian company Buenaventura.

The National Society of Mining, Oil and Energy, which represents the leading companies in the industry, also brought action against the APR, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

At the same time, four companies opened administrative proceedings with the Commission for the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers of the National Institute for Defence of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property (INDECOPI).

The companies argue that the APR amounts to a “confiscation”.

One of the companies that turned to INDECOPI is the Peruvian firm Caudalosa, which in 2010 caused a major spill of toxic waste from a tailings dam, poisoning the rivers that provide water to the people of Huancavelica in central Peru, one of the poorest departments (regions) in the country.

The corporations that have brought court action include foreign firms like Cerro Verde, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, and two subsidiaries of the Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore Xstrata.

The Peruvian companies include Casapalca, which is facing several lawsuits for environmental, labour and safety violations, and Volcan, which has been fined on a number of occasions for causing environmental damage.

“Companies are getting bolder and bolder,” in a political context where efforts are being made to reduce “bureaucratic hurdles” to investment, Deputy Minister of Environmental Management José de Echave told IPS.

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru's environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

In July, Congress approved a package of measures introduced by the government of President Ollanta Humala to boost private sector investment by simplifying environmental requirements and streamlining bureaucratic procedures, due to the slowdown in the economy triggered by declining demand for raw materials.

Peru is the world’s fifth-largest producer of gold, second of silver, third of copper, zinc and tin, and fourth of lead. Mining accounts for nine percent of the country’s GDP, 60 percent of exports, 21 percent of private investment and 30 percent of income tax. It also provides mining companies with billions of dollars in profits.

“We are defending ourselves and we are sure that we will demonstrate that the measure has sound legal standing,” Minister Pulgar-Vidal told IPS, after confirming that the judiciary had already thrown out one of the lawsuits, filed by Antapaccay, a subsidiary of Glencore Xstrata.

The inspection tax was originally created in 2000 to finance the regulatory agencies. It was established at the time that the contribution would not exceed one percent of a company’s annual earnings after taxes, OEFA officials explained.

But in December, the government decreed that the contribution would be reduced to 0.15 percent of annual sales in 2014 and 2015, and to 0.13 percent in 2016.

The president of the OEFA board of directors, Hugo Gómez, said that if one percent was not a “confiscation” then a smaller contribution was even less so.

But Yanacocha’s Velarde argued that the decree that set the amount of the contribution was tacked onto the original law, which it distorted, because the amount “far exceeds the cost of activities of monitoring and oversight.”

At stake in this legal battle is not only money but also the Independence of environmental oversight activities.

Before OEFA took over the environmental monitoring of the mining industry in 2010, the task was in the hands of the Supervisory Body for Investment in Energy and Mining, which charged a “mining tariff”.

The tariff was calculated according to what the Supervisory Body specifically spent for each company inspected: days of work for the inspector, costs of lab testing of samples, and other expenses for services. The companies were billed directly for the cost of the inspections, OEFA director of supervision, Delia Morales, told IPS.

The tariff system was inherited by OEFA, but in December 2013, a percentage for the APR was set, which brought in more money.

From nearly 400,000 dollars, which the regulatory body took in with the mining tariff in 2013, the total went up to nine million dollars under the APR in the first half of this year alone.
OEFA estimates that it will bring in some 15 million dollars this year for oversight of the mining industry alone. Up to mid-2013, it had collected 17 million dollars for monitoring and inspection of three sectors: fossil fuels, mining and electricity.

IPS learned that in its court injunction against the APR, Xstrata Las Bambas, which also belongs to Glencore Xstrata, argued that with the new APR it ended up paying 36 times more than what it paid with the mining tariff.

OEFA official Sandra Rossi told IPS that technical calculations were made to set the amount of the APR because the way the mining tariff was determined “limited oversight.”

“It was an outdated system” that did not make it possible to carry out technical work and prevention efforts to inform communities of what impacts the extractive industry activities could have, Morales said.

The manager of Yanacocha said he did agree that mining companies should finance oversight activities. But he argued that they should be charged in relation to “the real costs” and should not have to finance other activities that are not directly related to monitoring and inspection.

But Iván Lanegra, a specialist in environmental policy questions and a former deputy minister of intercultural issues, told IPS that “environmental oversight is not limited to specific monitoring of a given company. It is broader than that. What was created was not an OEFA for each company, but an overall oversight and inspection structure.”

In his view, “It’s fair for the companies that receive significant benefits” to pay for the oversight, because they carry out activities that pose serious environmental risks. Lanegra said it would not be right for the expense to be financed with the taxes paid by all Peruvians.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tajikistan Struggles to Stem Rise of Jihadi Recruitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tajikistan-struggles-to-stem-rise-of-jihadi-recruits/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 19:48:14 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136111 Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Tajik men board a flight from Dushanbe to Russia in June 2013. Many of the Tajik militant jihadis fighting in Syria either fly through Russia on their way to the conflict or are recruited while they are migrant workers in Moscow, from where they eventually travel to Turkey before crossing the border into Syria. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
DUSHANBE, Aug 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Before he became a jihadist, Odiljon Pulatov would travel each year from Tajikistan to Moscow to earn money as a construction worker.

“The money I made was enough to sustain my family. But the last time I went there, I met different people, Tajiks and other [Central Asians]. They persuaded me that jihad is a must for every Muslim,” Pulatov told EurasiaNet.org.“We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war." -- Abubakr

Pulatov, a father of four, traveled from Russia to Syria, via Turkey. Once there, over the course of two weeks, Uzbek speakers like himself indoctrinated him, emphasising the importance of jihad.

“Jihad is conducted for an idea, so that you can be closer to Allah,” explained Pulatov, 29.

Pulatov found conditions in Syria harsh, though, and in July he accepted a Tajik government amnesty, returned home and confessed. Now he is back in Spitamen District in northern Tajikistan, building a home for his family. Authorities made Pulatov accessible to various media outlets, including EurasiaNet.org, in an apparent effort to highlight the amnesty.

Madjid Aliev, a police investigator in Spitamen, says Pulatov remains under investigation. “But we are sure he won’t have any issues. That’s why he has not been detained,” Aliev said.

According to the Interior Ministry, almost 200 Tajiks are fighting in Syria. Aliev, the investigator, said officials were negotiating with others who are in Syria, offering a safety guarantee as an enticement for them to return home.

Along with the amnesty, parliament this summer toughened penalties for Tajik citizens who participate in armed conflicts abroad. But, critics say, such punishment is not a deterrent and the government’s response to the rising threat of homegrown jihadis is ineffective.

“I don’t think that this law on punishing participants will resolve the problem and stop Tajiks from participating. There’s a need to take preventive measures, so that we’re not fighting the consequences, but the reasons [men travel to Syria to fight],” said Dushanbe-based religious affairs expert Faridun Hodizoda.

A lack of work is one of those reasons, contends Hodizoda. Unemployment in Tajikistan is so high that over a million Tajiks work abroad: most, like Pulatov, find work in Russia. That number constitutes approximately half of Tajikistan’s working-age males.

In Russia, labour migrants are widely distrusted and subjected to various forms of harassment, including frequent police shakedowns. The difficulties prompt some to turn to Islam for solace.

At home, Tajikistan’s notoriously corrupt government does little to create jobs. And when it comes to religious affairs, officials tend to crack down on moderate expressions of Islam, harassing members of the Islamic opposition and banning children from attending mosques.

Tajiks in Russia – who are often young men with rudimentary educations and few prospects – are an important source of recruits for Jihadist causes.

“Being a gastarbeiter [migrant labourer] is not an easy thing, there’s a lot of humiliation. But recruiters speak to the gastarbeiters kindly. They provide moral support,” Hodizoda explained, adding that money is also a temptation. “When our citizens are told what they will be doing there [in Syria] and that they will be paid 3,000 dollars and treated well, of course they agree. In Russia, they earn 500-600 dollars a month.”

Tajik officials frequently assert that young Tajik men who go to Syria are, in effect, mercenaries, driven to fight by the allure of a substantial payday. But Pulatov says he was not promised a cent. “When we were recruited, no one said we would be paid,” he said.

Another potential fighter, who introduced himself as Abubakr, 23, communicated with EurasiaNet.org from Russia through a social network. Abubakr, who is from Kulyab, said he is working in Moscow with his father and brother, but he is also in touch with a Chechen friend he met online. “We both have a dream to go to Syria and participate in the war,” he said.

“We weren’t promised any money. How can one talk about money when our [Muslim] sisters and children are being killed there. I [communicated] with Tajiks who are there now, and they tell me sometimes they starve, sometimes there’s no place to sleep, but they are fighting infidels,” Abubakr said via Odnoklassniki – which has been blocked in Tajikistan since mid-July, by some accounts because radicals use it as a recruiting tool.

Abubakr believes that Muslims who criticise jihad do not understand their faith. “My mother is also trying to persuade me [not to fight], but there’s a lot she doesn’t understand about [jihad],” he said.

Officials try to use reason to appeal to vulnerable young men, according to the head of the Fatwa Department at the state-run Muftiate, Jamoliddin Homushev.

“It is said that paradise is beneath your mother’s feet and that by insulting her no one gets to paradise. In Syria, an inter-ethnic fight is going on, like it was in the 1990s in Tajikistan. They [the Syrians] should solve their own problems without external interference,” Homushev told EurasiaNet.org.

Such explanations do not seem to convince many young Tajik Muslims, who do not feel their government listens to their concerns. Others feel the authorities exaggerate the extent of radicalism in the country in order to target the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT).

Embattled IRPT leader Muhiddin Kabiri told EurasiaNet.org that authoritarianism, the government campaign against Islam and poverty drive young men into the arms of radicals. “They do not have an opportunity to improve their lives at home,” Kabiri said, referring to young Tajiks.

“We still have time to fix the situation, reform the law so young people feel their rights, including religious, are respected. […] So they realise there is no need to take up arms,” he said. “But the government is failing to address their concerns.”

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Gender Equality Gains Traction with Pacific Island Leadershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/gender-equality-gains-traction-with-pacific-island-leaders/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 11:35:59 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136042 Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Progress on gender equality in the Pacific Islands is gaining momentum following a pledge by political leaders. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

A pledge by political leaders two years ago to accelerate efforts toward closing the gender gap in the Pacific Islands has been boosted with the announcement that three women will take the helm of the regional intergovernmental organisation, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, headquartered in Suva, Fiji.

At this year’s Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ summit in Palau, former Papua New Guinean diplomat and World Bank official, Dame Meg Taylor, was named the new secretary-general, taking over this year from the outgoing Tuiloma Neroni Slade. Taylor, who will hold the post for three years, joins two female deputy secretaries-generals, Cristelle Pratt and Andie Fong Toy.

The appointment is a significant breakthrough for women in the upper echelons of governance. According to Pratt, the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration made at the 2012 leaders’ summit in the Cook Islands has galvanised leadership action on the issue.

“A positive change has been the indirect creation of a peer review process on gender at the highest level,” Pratt told IPS, adding that gender equality is “slowly gaining traction at the central policy making level”, as high up as the prime minister’s office in some Forum countries.

Raising the status of women in the Pacific Islands is an immense challenge, given that the region has the lowest level of female political representation in the world at three percent, compared to the global average of 20 percent.

Furthermore, violence against women is endemic and they are poorly represented in formal employment. Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a gender inequality index of 0.617 and Tonga 0.462, in contrast to the most gender equal nation of Norway at 0.065.

The declaration is a sign of greater recognition by the male political elite of the critical role women have to play in achieving better human development outcomes across the region.

National leaders have committed to reforms, such as adopting enabling measures for women’s participation in governance and decision-making at all levels, improving their access to employment and better pay, and supporting female entrepreneurs with financial services and training. They have also promised to deliver improved legislative protection against gender-based violence and support services to women who have suffered abuse.

“What is significant about the declaration is that leaders have taken it on board as a priority and I believe our leader took it seriously and followed it through with a law change in Samoa,” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s minister of justice and veteran female parliamentarian, told IPS.

Last year a law was passed in Samoa reserving 10 percent, or five of a total of 49 seats in parliament for women.

“It is a significant step in that it provides a ‘floor’ as opposed to a ‘ceiling’ and there will never be less than five women in any future parliament,” she continued. “It is important that women are in parliament to be seen and heard and to serve as evidence that it can be done.”

Women’s low political representation ranges from two percent in the Solomon Islands to 8.7 percent in Kiribati, with no female political representation at all in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu, with populations of 103,000 and 247,000 respectively.

Contributing factors include entrenched expectations of a woman’s place in the domestic sphere, low endorsement from political parties and the greater difficulties women have in accessing funding and resources for election campaigning.

There has been incremental progress in other countries with last year witnessing the first female elected into the parliament of Nauru -the smallest state in the South Pacific – in three decades, and three women winning seats in the Cook Islands national election this July.

Women’s participation in local level governance received a boost in Tuvalu after the government passed a law requiring female representation in local councils. Blandine Boulekone, president of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, noted that women gained five of a total of 17 seats in the Municipal Elections held in the capital, Port Vila, in January.

Gender parity in education, necessary for improving women’s status in all areas of life, has, according to national statistics, been achieved in most Pacific Island states, except PNG, Tonga and Solomon Islands, with girls outperforming boys at the secondary level in Samoa and Fiji.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Islands Forum reported last year that “higher education for young women does not necessarily lead to better employment outcomes due to gender barriers in labour markets”, with most countries reporting less than 50 percent of women in non-agricultural waged jobs.

Last year Samoa passed legislation against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, while similar draft legislation is being developed in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Tonga.

Pratt also claims there has been good progress with “the enactment of domestic violence legislation in Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.” Last year domestic violence also became a criminal offence in PNG following the passing of the Family Protection Bill.

Sixty to 75 percent of women in the region experience family and intimate partner violence. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by early marriage, the practice of ‘bride price’, low levels of financial independence and women’s inadequate access to justice systems.

However, Shamima Ali, coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, commented, “As practitioners on the ground, we can say that while all these policies and legislations look great on paper, the implementation is another matter.”

“One also needs to invest financially to ensure new legislation and policies are effective.”

Fiji has had a domestic violence decree since 2009, but Ali said, “While most magistrates and judges deal well and follow the new decrees, there are many who still display traditional entrenched views regarding rape and domestic violence and often injustice is meted out to survivors, particularly for ‘sex crimes’.”

Law enforcement is a great challenge, too, especially in rural communities.

“Women, girls and children in rural and maritime areas have little recourse to justice for crimes of violence committed against them due to lack of police presence and resources in these areas,” she said.

Pratt agrees that the road to real change in the lives of ordinary Pacific women is a long one.

“The declaration is still new and there is a need for more awareness, advocacy and accountability toward meeting the goals,” she emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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What’s More Important, the War on AIDS or Just War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 07:20:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Mercedes Sayagues http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136087 The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Mercedes Sayagues
JOHANNESBURG/NEW YORK, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

They say there is a war on and its target is the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   

This war runs worldwide but its main battleground is sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations.

A ragtag army is fighting the war on AIDS. Sometimes it is comprised of well-dressed aid officials sitting in conference rooms allocating funds. At other times, it deploys shabby foot soldiers – community healthcare workers and AIDS activists – into desolate rural areas with no running water, let alone antiretroviral therapy.

With many competing health problems, funding for AIDS is a growing concern. Yet a look at the defence of budgets of several countries plagued by HIV portrays a startling picture of governments’ priorities, with huge military expenditures belying the argument that the key obstacle to winning the war against AIDS is money.

Nigeria's Military Budget Dwarfs AIDS Budget
 
With an HIV prevalence of three percent, Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV in Africa – 3.4 million in 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Government’s response to the epidemic picked up last year but is still woefully inadequate. Many people are not accessing the treatment and care services they need, or at a steep price. Out of pocket expenditure for HIV and AIDS services accounts for 14 percent of household income, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Nigeria has US$600 million for AIDS until 2015, with donors shelling out 75 percent. This is an improvement: government provided only seven percent of total AIDS funding in 2010, compared to 25 percent now.
 
This year, the government is expected to allocate 373 million dollars to HIV programmes and 470 million in 2015, to meet the target of contributing half of AIDS financing needs.
But it remains to be seen if this will be done. Nigeria has many competing health priorities, and the recent Ebola fever outbreak will require extra funding and urgency.
Meanwhile, the proposed defence budget for 2014 awarded 830 million dollars to the Nigerian army, 440 million to its navy, and 460 million dollars to the air force.
 
In total, the country has allocated 2.1 billion dollars to defence this year, according to the Nigerian Budget Office.
 
This includes 32 million dollars for two offshore patrol vessels purchased from China, and 11.2 million dollars for the procurement of six Mi-35M attack helicopters, according to DefenceWeb.

And, as the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals looms large – with donor countries tightening their purse strings – health experts worry about financing for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment after 2015.

New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013, says a joint report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released in June.

Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year.

And yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for other wars seems much more forthcoming.

Spending on arms and on AIDS

Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report entitled Smart Investments.

In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

True, Kenya is under attack from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Still, five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Mozambique’s fighter jets

In Mozambique, a dearth of funding puts the country’s recent military expenditures into a harsh light.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year.

Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments.

“Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

The same week, the government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars.

 The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water.

Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.

Military Spending in Africa
Angola spent 8.4 percent of its 69 billion dollar budget on defence and just 5.3 percent on health in 2013.
In 2013, Morocco’s military expenses of 3.4 billion dwarfed its health budget of just over 1.4 billion dollars.
South Sudan spent one percent of its GDP on health and 9.1 percent on military and defence in 2012.

“The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS.

“We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.

A coalition of NGOs has requested the government to explain “its decision to spend that money without authorisation from Parliament when the country is experiencing severe shortages of personnel and supplies in the health sector,” Matine explained.

The coalition argues that, if defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

A similar pattern unfolds across the continent where, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree.

The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Failing Abuja 

At the same time, the 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, told IPS.

 “Regardless of our calls, very few countries have even come close to 12 percent, including some of the richer African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria,” Dubula said.

Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible [use] of public resources.”

Mozambique is a sad example of Abuja failure. Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget, tailing the Abuja target. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS. “We have seen that in countries that had the political will to turn around their health sectors, they upscale finance and really invest in the health sector.”

If this is true, the budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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IFC Warned of Systemic Safeguards Failures in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 00:34:01 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136085 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

For the second time this year, an internal auditor has criticised the World Bank’s private sector investment agency over dealings in Honduras, and is warning that similar problems are likely being experienced elsewhere.

The investigation found that the bank’s private sector investment agency, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took on a significant stake in a Honduran bank but undertook “insufficient measures” to assess that institution’s own investments. These included at least one company involved in a deadly land dispute.“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite.” -- La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras

The auditor, known as the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), also levels a broader critique of the IFC’s investments in third-party groups such as the Honduran bank. When dealing with these “financial intermediaries”, the CAO warns, financial considerations appear to be receiving far more attention from officials than the environmental and social policies meant to safeguard local communities.

“IFC acquired an equity stake in a commercial bank with significant exposure to high risk sectors and clients, but which lacked capacity to implement IFC’s environmental and social requirements,” the CAO states in a report released Monday.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment.”

The report focuses on a 2011 IFC investment, worth 70 million dollars, in Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’s third-largest bank. CAO found that important information was withheld between IFC offices over the extent of business between Banco Ficohsa and Corporacion Dinant, an agribusiness company that for years has been accused of waging a violent campaign to expand its palm oil plantations in the country’s Aguan Valley.

In January, CAO issued critical findings on a separate IFC investment in Dinant, from 2009, worth 30 million dollars. Dinant is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and reportedly a backer of the 2009 military coup that ousted a pro-reform president.

Over the past half-decade, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in the Aguan Valley in clashes between Dinant security personnel and local cooperatives.

IFC has put on hold the Dinant deal and enacted a plan aimed at ameliorating the situation. The new report does not find evidence that the Banco Ficohsa deal was aimed at funnelling additional funds to Dinant, but CAO researchers suggest that the effect was the same.

“[W]aiving a key financial covenant and then taking an equity position in Ficohsa … facilitated a significant ongoing flow of capital to Dinant, outside the framework of its environmental and social standards,” the report states.

Local civil society groups say the effect has been devastating.

“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite,” La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras, a Honduran network, told IPS in Spanish.

“Instead, we’ve seen greater wealth for corporations and transnational landowners and greater poverty for the poor, who have been driven from their lands. And although the previous CAO report was very critical, the World Bank has continued to finance Dinant through Ficohsa.”

Beneath the intermediaries

In a formal response also released Monday, the IFC does not dispute the CAO findings. But it does suggest that they are no longer relevant, following changes put in place in part in response to the January CAO report on Dinant.

New procedures, for instance, will now allow for additional oversight visits to “medium risk clients”. Multiple new processes will also aim to close information gaps of the type that led to the Ficohsa revelations, including the creation of a new vice-president-level position to focus on “risk and sustainability”.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” two IFC vice-presidents wrote in a letter to CAO.

Yet the remarkably critical CAO report has already added momentum to an ongoing campaign to convince the World Bank Group to reform the IFC’s dealings with financial intermediaries such as Banco Ficohsa. Such deals have become increasingly important to the IFC’s portfolio over the past decade, but they have traditionally offered far less oversight for the agency.

In such projects, the IFC requires the intermediary to set up a system aimed at ensuring that stringent environmental and social safeguards are met. But analysis of the effects of this system on the ground is left to the intermediary.

“This issue has been questioned in many cases – where a financial intermediary is the one doing the disbursements and the IFC is completely separate and doesn’t know what’s going on,” Carla Garcia Zendejas, a programme director at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.

“That’s the case here. Even if you have a system in place to assess these risks, if you’re not doing that properly the whole system is worthless.”

Systemic reassessment

The CAO has repeatedly questioned the IFC’s policies on investments in financial intermediaries (a broad investigation can be found here). This time, the investigators are clear that the Honduras situation is likely not an isolated incident.

“[T]he shortcomings identified in this investigation … are indicative of a system of support to [financial intermediaries] which does not support IFC’s higher level environmental and social commitments,” CAO states.

“CAO’s findings raise concerns that IFC has, through its banking investments, an unanalyzed and unquantified exposure to projects with potential significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”

The auditor warns that, under current disclosure mechanisms, “this exposure is also effectively secret”, and calls for a “reassessment” of the agency’s management of social and environmental risk in its dealings with financial institutions.

Rights advocates note that similar concerns are cropping up in IFC investments in financial intermediaries elsewhere.

“One of this report’s main findings is that there is a breakdown in the IFC’s systems approach to [financial intermediaries], especially in risk categorization,” Jelson Garcia, of the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS in an e-mailed statement. “This … links to recent cases in Myanmar and India as yet another example of the IFC needing to take stringent and urgent reforms of its financial markets lending approach.”

Advocacy groups say a primary concern is the IFC’s institutional culture, which they say prioritises the volume of loans disbursed over their quality. BIC, CIEL and others are now calling on World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to order the preparation of a reform plan in time for the next big World Bank Group meetings, in October.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Eco-Friendly Agriculture Puts Down Roots in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/eco-friendly-agriculture-puts-down-roots-in-spain/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:26:17 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136081 An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

An ecological market that is set up every weekend on one of the busiest streets in Málaga. Similar markets can be found in towns and cities all around Spain. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

José María Gómez squats and pulls up a bunch of carrots from the soil as well as a few leeks. This farmer from southern Spain believes organic farming is more than just not using pesticides and other chemicals – it’s a way of life, he says, which requires creativity and respect for nature.

Gómez, 44, goes to organic food markets in Málaga to sell the vegetables and citrus fruits he grows on his three-hectare farm in the Valle del Guadalhorce, 40 km west of Málaga, a city in southern Spain,

And every week Gómez, whose parents and grandparents were farmers, does home deliveries of several dozen baskets of fresh produce, “thus closing the circle from the field to the table,” he told Tierramérica on his farm.

The economic crisis in Spain, where the unemployment rate stands at 25 percent, hasn’t put a curb on ecological farming. In 2012, organic farming covered 1.7 million hectares of land, compared to 988,323 in 2007, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.

Organic farming generated 913,610 euros (1.22 million dollars) in 2012, 9.6 percent more than in 2011.

“Ecological farming is growing in Spain and Europe despite the crisis because those who consume organic produce are loyal,” agricultural technician Víctor Gonzálvez, coordinator of the non-governmental Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (SEAE), told Tierramérica.

Organic food markets have mushroomed in the streets and plazas of cities and towns around Spain, and some supermarket chains now sell ecological produce.

The southern community or region of Andalusía has the largest extension of land under organic farming: 949,025 officially registered hectares, equivalent to 54 percent of the national total, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Most production from Andalusía is exported to other European countries, like Germany and the United Kingdom – which seems contradictory to those in favour of organic farming that truly provides a local alternative to intensive, industrial agriculture, with a short food supply chain.

“It doesn’t make sense to talk about exporting ecological foods because production should bring benefits to the local economy,” Pilar Carrillo told Tierramérica from her La Coruja farm in the municipality of Tacoronte on Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands.

She and her partner, Julio Quílez, have been living there for a year with their young son. They have less than half a hectare of land, where they practice permaculture – the use of ecology and local ecosystems to design self-sustaining productive landscapes that, once established, need a minimum of human intervention. They sell their produce every Saturday in the nearby farmer’s market.

“When you buy local ecological products you are eating healthy food, you’re interacting with people from the countryside, and you generate wealth in your local surroundings,” engineer Juan José Galván, who for five years has been buying food in organic markets in Málaga, told Tierramérica.

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

José María Gómez walking among the tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm in the Valle de Guadalhorce near the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where he grows organic vegetables and fruits. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Spain, with its mild climate, has the largest area dedicated to organic farming in the European Union, according to Eurostat 2012 figures, and the fifth largest area in the world, after Australia, Argentina, the United States and China, according to a report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

But the controls and certification of ecological agricultural production, which in Spain are carried out by both public and private bodies, are neither simple nor free of cost.

To be sold as organic food, products must carry a label with the code of the corresponding authority in each community, the Ministry of Agriculture explains on its website.

Certification of ecological farming takes at least two years to obtain, and the inspections are thorough, farmers told Tierramérica. The requisites and controls involved and the economic effort entailed drive up the prices of organic products, they argued.

Quílez, who grows aromatic and medicinal plants in Tenerife, said he has to pay for certification “as an ecological farmer and also as a seller of organic produce, which doubles the cost; a large part of the price of ecologically produced food goes into red tape.”

According to Gonzálvez, public funds in Spain go more towards conventional agricultural production and research in biotechnology than into supporting ecological farming.

He said farmers “are afraid to take the leap” into this kind of alternative production because there are no advisory services, unlike in intensive, industrial agriculture.

“Ecological agriculture is very empirical. If an aphid attacks my melons, I plant beans next to the melons because they draw the aphids away. Every year you get wiser,” Gómez said, standing among his tomato plants on his Bobalén Ecológico farm.

Gómez, who has tousled dark hair and skin tanned by the sun, argues that while “big industry produces market-oriented varieties, ecological agriculture, especially local farming based on geographical proximity, focuses on producing quality food,” as well as preserving the environment and soil fertility.

Critics argue that organic products are expensive and the production methods inefficient, “but it depends on what you buy, and where,” Esther Vivas, with the Centre for Studies on Social Movements at the Pompeu Fabra university in the northeast city of Barcelona, wrote in her article “Who’s afraid of ecological agriculture?”

Vivas told Tierramérica that although the level of consumption of organic products in Spain is still low compared to conventional farm products, the market for ecological produce is growing, as interest has been boosted by various scandals involving food products.

Galván said that while it is true that the higher cost of organic products can turn away consumers, “demand is steadily growing.”

“The real revolution has to come from below, from the consumer who goes to the markets to buy and who demands high-quality products,” Gómez said.

The ecological farmer – who worked for years as an environmental agent – stressed the social dimension of organic agriculture and short food supply chains, pointing to “the affection that your customers give you, as they are aware of the health benefits of the food and of the sustainability of the production.”

Quílez, who left a well-paid job in computers to dedicate himself to ecological farming, said “exploitative agriculture undermined food sovereignty,” and this is seen clearly in the Canary Islands “where 85 percent of the products consumed come from outside.”

On Gómez’s farm it’s time to plant beans, potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli to harvest in October and November. “I get up at 5:30 in the morning and farm for 15 or 16 hours,” he said.

But “it’s the best job I’ve had in my life,” he added, smiling.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Youth Suicides Sound Alarm Across the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/youth-suicides-sound-alarm-across-the-pacific/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 15:50:23 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136071 Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Suicide rates in the Pacific Islands are some of the highest in the world and have reached up to 30 per 100,000 in countries such as Samoa, Guam and Micronesia, double the global average, with youth rates even higher.

On International Youth Day, which this year focuses on ‘Youth and Mental Health’, young Pacific Islanders have highlighted the profound social and economic challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Youths committing suicide seem to get younger and younger by the year,” Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based advocacy and support group, Youth Champs for Mental Health, told IPS. “Stressors contributing to the growing trends of suicide are unemployment, social and cultural expectations, family and relationship problems, bullying, violence and abuse.”

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health. This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.” -- Lionel Rogers of the Fiji-based Youth Champs for Mental Health
The Pacific Islands has an escalating youth population, with 54 percent of people in the region now aged below 24 years and those aged 15-29 years are at the greatest risk of taking their lives, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Tarusila Bradburgh, coordinator of the Pacific Youth Council, believes that “the burden of multiple issues that affect young people in the Pacific Islands is enormous and many are not well-equipped to cope.”

A decade ago there were an estimated 331,000 annual suicides in the region, accounting for 38 percent of the world total.

Anne Rauch, organisational development advisor for the Fiji Alliance for Mental Health said, “There is […] significant under-reporting of suicide deaths. On outer islands and remote areas the body is buried before an autopsy can be performed. There is a lot of family shame about suicide so doctors will sometimes sympathetically report the causes of death.”

In 2012, there were 160 reported suicides in Fiji with the majority under 25 years of age, but accurate statistics are not available.

Under-funded and under-resourced mental health services are struggling to address the issue, with suicide representing 2.5 percent of the disease burden in the Western Pacific region, nearly double the rate of 1.4 percent worldwide.

According to a 2008 report by the non-governmental organisation Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific International, a significant root cause of young people taking their lives is intergenerational conflict as modern lifestyles based on individual freedom and independence challenge centuries of conformism to traditional Pacific communal social hierarchies and conventions of behaviour.

In the tiny central South Pacific territory of Tokelau, located north of Samoa, a national health department report claims a significant factor in youth suicide is relationship breakdowns, including those between parents and children.

There were 40 attempted suicides in the territory, which has a population of 1,500, during a 25-year period ending in 2004, with 83 percent of fatalities involving people under 25 years, and physical punishment of youth by their elders contributing to 67 percent.

Rauch added, “There are an increasing number of young people [committing] suicide because of poor examination results and failure to reach the academic standards expected by parents.”

An equal challenge facing the vast majority of Pacific youth is poor prospects of employment and fulfilment of aspirations generated by exposure to affluent global lifestyles through the digital and mass media.

In the small economies of most Pacific developing island states, high population growth of up to 2.4 percent is far outpacing job creation, thus greater access to education for many is not translating into better chances of gaining paid employment.

In the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, there are an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, but only 10,000 will secure formal jobs. Youth unemployment is an estimated 45 percent in the neighbouring Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that “denial of economic and social opportunities leads to frustrated young people” and “the result can be a high incidence of self-harm” with “the loss of the productive potential of a large section of the adult population.”

According to SPC, actions to combat the tragic fallout of youth suicide for families, communities and a generation that has an important role to play in the region’s future should include measures to reduce the social stigma of mental illness and build the capacity of youth-friendly health and counselling services.

“Many youths refuse to seek assistance from medical professionals due to the stigma associated with suicide and mental health,” Rogers said. “This along with our culture of silence has driven them further away and forced them to suppress their emotions.”

Bradburgh advocates for all stakeholders, including communities and churches, to actively promote greater public understanding of mental illness, while governments need to invest in better mental health and outreach services.

“The more we openly discuss the issues in safe places and forums, the more knowledgeable we will be and better prepared to address the issue of suicide,” she said.

(END)

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