Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:06:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Antiguan Shanty Dwellers Ask if Poverty Will Be the Death of Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:06:04 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138887 Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GREEN BAY, Antigua, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

It was early on a Saturday morning and there was no sign of life in the community. The shacks erected on both sides of the old, narrow road that winds through the area are all surrounded by zinc sheets which rise so high, it’s impossible to see what lies on the other side.

But behind those walls is a story of life on the margins: poverty and fear for women. In spite of noticeable improvements in the overall quality of life in Antigua and Barbuda, inequality and deprivation continue to challenge development, with pockets of extreme poverty in some areas.“Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.” -- Cynthia James

For Cynthia James and other women living in this shoreline community on the outskirts of the capital St. John’s, hope is all but lost.

“A politician came here once and called me a dog,” James said as she stood outside her gate holding her one-year-old grandson. “The politician said all of us in here are dogs and are not used to anything good and we will always be dogs. I will never forget that. When you get hurt you never forget it.”

The two main political parties here hold differing views about the level of poverty and unemployment in the country. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) has consistently placed the poverty level at around 35 per cent but the United Progressive Party (UPP) placed the percentage of the working population living on less than EC$10 a day at 12 per cent, the lowest in the region.

“The highest is in Haiti: 79 percent of the population, that is eight out of 10, live on approximately EC$10 a day. Guyana, 64 percent; Suriname, 45 percent; Jamaica, 43 percent; Dominica, 33 percent; St Vincent & the Grenadines, 33 percent; Grenada, 32 percent; St. Kitts, 31 percent; Trinidad, 21 percent; St. Lucia, 19 percent; Barbados, 14 percent; Antigua, 12 percent,” said former legislator Harold Lovell, citing World Bank figures. Lovell served a minister of finance in the former administration.

James, 53, does not care much for the numbers being debated by politicians. For year now, she and the other women living in this vulnerable area have been watching a drain which runs through the community wreak havoc on their modest dwellings whenever it rains.

James, her 78-year-old mother Gertrude and 28-year-old daughter Terry-Ann Lewis all live on the same street. Their biggest fear now is that the drain which runs through the area will one day cause their deaths.

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“When I was a little girl they would always come and clean out the gutter, they would send the prisoners to clean up the area, but all of that has stopped,” James told IPS. “Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.”

The dozens of families here have thought about moving to safer communities but they say they are just too poor to relocate without assistance.

In 2014, the issue of poor drainage that leads to flooding in this and other communities across the country came into focus with a series of community consultations led by the Environment Division.

Senior Environment Officer Ruleta Camacho said the aim was to establish a sustainable financing mechanism and develop a climate adaptation project that could bring about significant changes to affected communities.

“Due to the impact of climate change we are having exacerbated drought and exacerbated rainfall – we are having large amounts of rain in a short amount of time and what we need to do at this point is to make sure our waterways and drains can handle that volume of water,” she said.

Terryann Lewis is anxiously awaiting the commencement of the promised project. She recalled her brush with death on Oct. 13, 2014 when Tropical Storm Gonzalo passed near Antigua, tearing roofs from people’s homes and knocking down trees.

For several hours, heavy rain and strong winds lashed Antigua, which bore the brunt of the storm as it cut through the northern Leeward Islands. Downed trees blocked many island roads and people lost power or reported that the storm damaged, or in some cases destroyed the roofs of their homes.

“I went to sleep that night and when I woke up, I was in water. I had just come home from work and I was tired so I just went to sleep but when I woke up the whole place was flooded. Everything gone; everything was soaked or washed away. I lost everything and I had to start fresh again,” Lewis told IPS.

“The gutter that runs through this community collects waste from all over the place so everything ends up right here in this community.

“That gutter is going to kill all of us; that is the only thing I can tell you. The gutter is blocked so whenever we have rain the water is not free to run. The drain is clogged up so the water quickly overflows. Whenever it rains this whole area is like a beach,” she added.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, whose administration came to power just seven months ago, said his government will focus on improving human development, putting people first. He has consistently said he intends to make Antigua the region’s economic powerhouse, a Singapore on the Caribbean Sea.

“We will focus on building our human capital into internationally competitive individuals capable of driving the growth and social development of our nation state,” Browne said.

“We will concentrate on youth empowerment, providing our youth with employment, the opportunity to own a piece of the rock under our land for youth programme, a home under our home for youth programme or his/her own business through a dedicated entrepreneurial loan programme, that will commence in 2015 at the Antigua & Barbuda Development Bank.

“Our main focus of human development will be through education and training. No one will be left behind,” Browne added.

The International Monetary Fund anticipates growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in the region of 2.2 percent for 2015. This represents something of a rebound for the region, as growth in 2014 was estimated to be 1.3 percent.

But whether that figure will translate into improved living conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable remains to be seen.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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U.S.-India Partnership a Step Forward for Low-Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:44:06 +0000 David Waskow and Manish Bapna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138861 President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By David Waskow and Manish Bapna
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

As President Barack Obama visited the country at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation, the two leaders announced a new U.S.-India agreement on clean energy and climate change.With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

The agreement will help turn India’s bold renewable energy targets into reality.

Rather than relying on one major plank, the collaboration is a comprehensive set of actions that, taken together, represent a substantial step in advancing low-carbon development in India while also promoting economic growth and expanding energy access.

This agreement comes just two months after the U.S-China climate agreement.

While expectations for the two agreements were quite different — India’s per capita emissions are a fraction of those from China and the United States, and India is in a very different phase of economic development— Modi’s commitments are significant steps that will help build even further momentum for a new international climate agreement.

Prime Minister Modi’s new government has made a significant commitment to sustainable growth in the past several months, setting a goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2022 and considering a new target of 60 GW in wind energy capacity.

The Indian government has also created a new initiative to develop 100 “smart cities” across the country, aimed at building more sustainable, livable urban areas.

The U.S.-India collaboration takes a multi-pronged approach to turn these promising pledges into concrete results. For example:

Setting a renewable energy goal

Building on India’s 100 GW solar capacity goal, Modi announced India’s intention to increase the overall share of renewable energy in the nation’s electricity supply.

Setting a percentage of overall energy consumption that will come from renewables can not only help India reduce emissions, it can also play a key role in expanding energy access.

Roughly 300 million Indians—nearly 25 percent of the country’s population—lack access to electricity.

Solar power—which is already cheaper than diesel in some parts of the country and may soon be as cheap as conventional energy—can put affordable, clean power within reach.

Accelerating clean energy finance

Given that the entire world’s installed solar capacity in 2013 was 140 GW, India’s plan to reach 100 GW by 2022 is nothing short of ambitious.

The Modi government estimates that scaling up its 2022 solar target from 20 GW to 100 GW will save 165 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent emissions of about 23 million American households’ annual electricity use.

The U.S.-India announcement reveals a clear commitment from both countries to stimulate the public and private investment needed to achieve this bold target.

Improving air quality

Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution, India houses 13 of them.

The cost of premature deaths from air pollution in the country is already 6 percent of GDP, and it’s poised to worsen as the urban population increases from 380 million to 600 million over the next 15 years.

The U.S.-India plan to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AIR Now-International Program can help cut back on harmful urban air pollution, improve human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modi’s plan to establish 100 “smart cities” can support this initiative by designing compact and connected rather than sprawled urban areas, which are associated with a heavy transportation-related emissions footprint.

Boosting climate resilience

India is already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change: rising sea level threatens 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half of its 28 states.

The U.S.-India deal builds on both countries’ previous commitment to climate adaptation, outlining a plan to better assess risks, build capacity and engage local communities.

With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

This action is not only important for reducing emissions in the three nations, but also for building momentum internationally. Obama and Modi have created a direct line of communication, a relationship that will be important for securing a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

Prime Minister Modi made it clear that he sees it as incumbent on all countries to take action on climate change.

Rather than being motivated by international pressure, he said what counts is “the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure… We understand this pressure and we are responding to it.”

Modi is tasked with confronting not just global warming, but a number of immediate threats—alleviating poverty, improving air quality, expanding electricity access and enhancing agricultural productivity, just to name a few.

Many of the actions under the U.S.-India agreement will not only reduce emissions, but will also help address these development challenges.

With the new agreement, India is positioning itself as a global leader on pairing climate action with economic development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Young People in Latin America Face Stigma and Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:43:39 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138864 Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Young people in Latin America now enjoy greater access to education. But in many cases their future is dim due to the lack of opportunities and the siren call of crime in a region where 167 million people are poor, and 71 million live in extreme poverty.

“We are concerned, even alarmed, at the situation facing Latin America’s youth,” Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

“We believe young people should be the central focus of the next regional meetings, but with a different vision this time, not just focusing on drugs and violence,” she added.

According to ECLAC figures, one out of four of the 600 million inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean is between the ages of 15 and 29.

Despite that, spending on the young is relatively low, especially if you compare the region’s public and private investment on post-secondary education with what is spent in emerging countries of Southeast Asia, or in Europe.“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas.” -- Alicia Bárcena

The report, Social Panorama of Latin America 2014, presented Monday Jan. 26 in the Chilean capital, revealed significant advances in educational coverage among Latin America’s young people, but also found that they continue to suffer from higher unemployment rates and lower levels of social protection than adults.

They are also the main victims of homicides in the region, where seven of the 14 most violent countries in the world are located.

The ECLAC report shows that the progress in reducing poverty has slowed down. Poverty continues to affect 28 percent of the population in the region, while extreme poverty grew from 11.3 to 12 percent, based on the 15 countries that provided up-to-date statistics.

However, inequality has been reduced in nearly every country.

There are some 160 million young people in this region of 600 million. And although the population has begun to age, the young will remain a significant proportion of the population over the next few decades.

The report says that “Despite these major attainments in terms of education coverage and lower inequality, there are still large structural divides in capacity-building opportunities between the region’s young people.”

Bárcena said it’s not just about achieving greater social spending on education, housing or health, but also about things that are less tangible but no less important, such as improving participation by young people in the design of public policies.

“Transparency and information have to go farther than what is happening today,” she said.

Although they have greater access to education, inequality is still a problem for young people in the region.

For example, people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the three lowest income quintiles have unemployment rates between 10 and 20 percent, compared to rates of five to seven percent among young people in the two highest income quintiles.

And only 27.5 percent of young wage earners between the ages of 15 and 19 are enrolled in the social security system, compared to 67.7 percent of adults aged 30 to 64.

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

“The idea is to advance in social policies that take into account the complete cycle of life and the different priorities that arise throughout a person’s life,” Daniela Trucco, social affairs officer with ECLAC’s Social Development Division, told IPS.

She said the assessment and analysis of public policies in the region should take into account the differences between sub-regions, because Latin America is very diverse.

For example, “the Southern Cone countries are much more advanced, with a much more educated young population that has unemployment problems similar to adults,” she said.

By contrast, “in the countries of Central America young people aren’t even finishing secondary school. A large proportion of adolescents and young people are outside the educational system, and that is where we have the worst problems of violence and gangs.”

Trucco said there are key areas to be addressed among the young, such as education and employment. But although these are the most important, they are not the only ones, she added.

“There is a proportion of young people who don’t fall into these areas, but it’s not because they aren’t doing anything; they’re often employed without pay, for example, in domestic or care work in the home, a very important question for young and adult women,” she said.

The Social Panorama reports that 22 percent of people aged 15 to 29 in Latin America were neither studying nor in paid employment in 2012. Of that proportion, a majority were women engaged in unpaid care and domestic work.

Another essential area to be addressed, besides health, is participation, with the aim of involving young people themselves in the formulation of better public policies targeting that segment of the population.

“We have to think about the issue of participation in a modern, up-to-date manner,” Trucco said.

“There is a great deal of interest in political participation, but not the traditional politics linked to political parties. The question of social networks, and digital inclusion, also has to be considered,” she said.

She stressed the work carried out by ECLAC to combat two kinds of stigmas faced by young people: those who neither work nor study, and the question of youth violence.

And although the main victims of homicide are between the ages of 15 and 44, the stigma of youth violence distorts public policy options, the report says.

“We see that adolescents do participate significantly [in the violence], but young adults do too,” said Trucco. “They are young people not incorporated in other forms of social inclusion, or maybe they are, but with different expectations, and caught up in contexts of violence or inclusion in other groups.”

The expert called for “a change in approach to the problem of violence to figure out how society can overcome it and what alternatives can be offered in terms of development and opportunities.”

A prejudiced approach makes people forget that young people are the principal victims of crime, as shown by the fact that on average, 20 percent of young people in the region say they have been the victims of crimes, four percentage points higher than adults.

The proportion of victims who are young people is higher in the countries with the highest crime rates, such as the seven that are on the list of the world’s 14 most violent countries: Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and Colombia, in that order.

Mexico is in the process of joining that list of violent countries, Bárcena said in her interview with IPS.

The head of ECLAC said greater comprehension is needed with respect to violence among the young.

“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Developing Nations Write Hopeful New Chapters in a Toxic Legacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:35:56 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138854 Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

The village of Dong Mai in Vietnam’s agricultural heartland had a serious problem.

To boost their meager incomes, its residents – former artisans who once produced and sold bronze casts – had taken to cannibalizing old car and truck lead-acid batteries and smelting them by hand in their own backyards. As a result, the 2,600 people living there had some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded."Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it." -- Stephan Robinson

Dong Mai’s water and soil had become terribly contaminated — 32-36 times higher than the acceptable limits. People were getting sick, including children. One home assessed with an X-ray Florescence (XRF) analyser had lead levels 50 times the higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard.

Local government knew of the problem, but the cost of cleaning it up – expected to run into the millions – was daunting. Then, a collaboration with the Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth found ways to remediate the lead for much less: about 20 dollars a person.

Once major remedial work was completed, in February 2014, lead levels in the population fell by nearly a third in six months.

“Political will takes time to build,” Rich Fuller, Blacksmith’s president, told IPS. “Governments need solid data on the scope of problems, and how to solve them. Most governments are just starting to build their teams for pollution, and those NGOs that provide support, rather than criticism, have really been a huge help.”

Together with Green Cross Switzerland and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), the Blacksmith Institute released a report Tuesday highlighting cleanup success stories like Dong Mai’s.

Top Ten Countries Turning the Corner on Toxic Pollution notes that pollution kills more than 8.9 million people around the world each year, most of them children, and the vast majority — 8.4 million — in low- and middle-income countries.

To put that figure in perspective, it is 35 percent more than tobacco-related deaths, almost three times more deaths than malaria and 14 times more deaths than HIV/AIDS.

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

“Contrary to popular belief, many of the worst pollution problems are not caused by multinational companies but by poorly regulated small-scale operations like artisanal mining, small industrial estates or abandoned factories,” Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland told IPS.

“However, high-income countries are indirectly contributing by their demand for commodities and consumer goods to the issue as many of these small-scale operations produce the raw or precursor products,” he added. “They thus support many of these smaller industries, adding to the severity of pollution problems in low-income countries.”

Lead, the culprit in Dong Mai, is especially devastating for children. It can damage the brain and nervous system, cause developmental delays, and in cases of extreme exposure, result in death. Children also tend to have higher exposures because they play in dirt and put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

The economic toll of pollutants on poor and middle income countries is high: the costs of air pollution alone range between six and 12 percent of GDP.

Previous Blacksmith reports had focused on the 10 worst toxic hotspots, but this year, the groups chose to look at practical, replicable solutions that don’t require a vast amount of resources to implement.

“There is so much to do,” Fuller said. “Only a few countries have started down the path. We wanted to give them credit, and have them be examples for expanding work on pollution in other countries.”

In the case of Dong Mai, mobilising the active participation of villagers and local officials was key.

Instead of removing the contamined soil and carting it off to landfills, the backyards were capped with sand, a layer of geotextiles, 20 centimetres of compacted clean soil, bricks, and finally, concrete on top, safely sealing away the lead.

After an educational campaign, 50 villagers took on the task of remediating their own yards in this way. What could have cost about 10 million dollars was accomplished for 60,000.

“GAHP members are encouraged to help their neighbours,” Fuller said. “Often, a success in one country can translate into a project in another.  This is certainly true of lead poisoning and e-waste. The GAHP model is collaborative between international agencies, and between countries, all helping each other work out how to solve these awful problems.”

The other success stories in the report were led by Ghana, Senegal, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Indonesia, Philippines, the Former Soviet Union and Kyrgyzstan.

In Thiaroye Sur Mer, Senegal, lead battery recycling was replaced with profitable hydroponic gardens.

In Mexico City, a contaminated oil refinery was turned into an urban park with one million visitors a year.

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, informal e-waste recycling by burning electronic scrap that released toxins is now performed safely by machines.

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

“We worked hard to find solutions that would work for the local recyclers,” Kira Traore, Blacksmith’s programme director for Africa, says in the report. “Simply banning burning wouldn’t help them earn an income. Rather, forbidding burning in Agbogbloshie might push the practice elsewhere, thus expanding the pollution and the number of people affected by it.”

Experts note that local sources of pollution – particularly heavy metals like mercury and arsenic – are often very mobile and can have health impacts thousands of kilometres away.

“Mercury from unsafe artisanal gold mining and coal plants travels the globe and is found in our fish which, e.g., we eat as sushi in London,” Robinson said. “DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is found in the body fat of the inhabitants of Greenland, though there was never agriculture in Greenland.

“Contaminated air from China and elsewhere can be measured in other countries. Radionuclides from nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, have reached other countries in most of Europe,” he noted.

In essence, rich countries have not only a moral obligation but a vested interest in helping poorer nations address pollution.

“Western nations have had success in cleaning up their toxic and legacy pollution over the last 40 years and can transfer technology and know-how to low- and middle-income countries today. Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it,” he said.

“Pollution problems can only be solved by organisations joining forces and bringing in what they are best at…These are stories proving we are on the right track, and moving forward. But we need to do more with industrialisation in full swing around the world.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:20:34 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138850

In this column, Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, argues that the United States and the European Union are working hand in hand in a takeover of Ukrainian agriculture which – besides being a sign of Western governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict – is of dubious benefit for the country’s agriculture and farmers.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received 350 million dollars in U.S. military aid, coming on top of a one billion dollar aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in March 2014. 

Western governments’ further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a U.S.-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the U.S. government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country.

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports – The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture and Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict – the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector.

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych’s removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union (EU) Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the
EU – an agreement that was tied to a 17 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the president’s departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform programme that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country.“The manoeuvring for control over the country’s [Ukraine’s] agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War”

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the “structural roots” of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country.

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government’s readiness to follow their advice.

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties.

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector – the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat – could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land – the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union.

The manoeuvring for control over the country’s agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years.

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilisers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country.

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested 140 million dollars in building a new seed plant in Ukraine.

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country.

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping.

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a “25% +1 share” in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tons of grain per year. 

All aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain – from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country – are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms.

European institutions and the U.S. government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a “pro-business” reform agenda, as described by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014.

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies” within the country.

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto.

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians.

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers.

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern “pro-Russian” part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country’s ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit.

As for U.S. and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Zimbabwe Battles with Energy Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:59:47 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138847 Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Janet Mutoriti (30), a mother of three from St Mary’s suburb in Chitungwiza, 25 kilometres outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, frequently risks arrest for straying into the nearby urban forests to fetch wood for cooking.

Despite living in the city, Janet’s is among the 20 percent of the urban households which do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs.

Worldwide, energy access has become a key determinant in improving people’s lives, mainly in rural communities where basic needs are met with difficulty.

In Zimbabwe, access to modern energy is very low, casting doubts on the country’s efforts at sustainable development, which energy experts say is not possible without sustainable energy.

In an interim national energy efficiency audit report for Zimbabwe issued in December, the Sustainable African Energy Consortium (SAEC) revealed that of the country’s slightly more than three million households, 44 percent are electrified.“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country” – Chiedza Mazaiwana, Practical Action Southern Africa

They consumed a total of 2.7 million GWh in 2012 and 2.8 million GWh in 2013, representing 34 percent of total electrical energy sales by the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Transmission Company.

According to SAEC, of the un-electrified households, 62% percent use wood as the main source of energy for cooking, especially in rural areas where 90 percent live without access to energy.

A significant chasm exists between urban and rural areas in their access to electricity. According to the 2012 National Energy Policy, 83 percent of households in urban areas have access to electricity compared with 13 percent in rural areas.

Rural communities meet 94 percent of their cooking energy requirements from traditional fuels, mainly firewood, while 20 percent of urban households use wood as the main cooking fuel. Coal, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas are used by less than one percent.

Engineer Joshua Mashamba, chief executive of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which is crusading the country’s rural electrification programme, told IPS that the rate of electrification of rural communities was a mere 10 percent.

“As of now, in the rural areas, there is energy poverty,” he said. “As the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), we have electrified 1,103 villages or group schemes and if we combine that with what other players have done, we are estimating that the rate of rural electrification is at 10 percent. It means that 90 percent remain un-electrified and do not have access to modern energy.”

Since the rural electrification programme started in the early 1980s, Mashamba says that 3,256 schools, 774 rural centres, 323 government extension offices, 266 chief’s homesteads and 98 business centres have also been electrified.

Zimbabwe Energy Council executive director Panganayi Sithole told IPS that modern energy services were crucial to human welfare, yet over 70 percent of the population remain trapped in energy poverty.

“The prevalence of energy of poverty in Zimbabwe cuts across both urban and rural areas. The situation is very dire in peri-urban areas due to deforestation and the non-availability of modern energy services,” said Sithole.

“Take Epworth [a poor suburb in Harare] for example. There are no forests to talk about and at the same time you cannot talk of the use of liquefied petrol gas (LPG) there due to costs and lack of knowledge. People there are using grass, plastics and animal dung to cook. It’s very sad,” he noted.

Sithole said there was a need to recognise energy poverty as a national challenge and priority, which all past and present ministers of energy have failed to do.

Zimbabwe currently faces a shortage of electrical energy owing to internal generation shortfalls and imports much its petroleum fuel and power at great cost to close the gap.

Demand continues to exceed supply, necessitating load shedding, and even those that have access to electricity regularly experience debilitating power outages, says Chiedza Mazaiwana, an energy project officer with Practical Action Southern Africa.

“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country. The percentage of people relying entirely on biomass for their energy is 70 percent,” she adds.

According to the World Bank, access to electricity in Southern Africa is around 28 percent – below the continental average of 31 percent. The bank says that inadequate electricity access poses a major constraint to the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the region.

To end the dearth of power, Zimbabwe has joined the global effort to eliminate energy poverty by 2030 under the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

The country has abundant renewable energy sources, most of which are yet to be fully utilised, and energy experts say that exploiting the critical sources of energy is key in closing the existing supply and demand gap while also accelerating access to green energy.

By 2018, Zimbabwe hopes to increase renewable energy capacity by 300 MW.

Mashamba noted that REA has installed 402 mini-grid solar systems at rural schools and health centres, 437 mobile solar systems and 19 biogas digesters at public institutions as a way to promote modern forms of energy.

A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) led by Zero Regional Environment Organisation and Practical Action Southern Africa is calling for a rapid increase in investment in energy access, with government leading the way but supported in equal measure by official development assistance and private investors.

Though the current output from independent power producers (IPPs) is still minimal, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) says that contribution from IPPs will be significant once the big thermal producers come on stream by 2018.

At the end of 2013, the country had 25 power generation licensees and some of them have already started implementing power projects that are benefitting the national grid.

Notwithstanding the obvious financial and technical hitches, REA remains optimistic that it will deliver universal access to modern energy by 2030.

“By 2018, we intend to provide rural public institutions with at least one form of modern energy services,” said Mashamba. “In doing this, we hope to extend the electricity grid network to institutions which are currently within a 20 km radius of the existing grid network. Once we have electrified all public institutions our focus will shift towards rural homesteads.”

For CSOs, achieving universal access to energy by 2030 will require recognising the full range of people’s energy needs, not just at household level but also enterprise and community service levels.

“Currently there is a lot of effort put in to increasing our generation capacity through projects such as Kariba South Extension and Hwange extension which is good and highly commended but for us to reach out to the rural population (most affected by energy poverty, according to our statistics, we should also increase efforts around implementing off grid clean energy solutions to make a balance in our energy mix,” says Joseph Hwani, project manager for energy with Practical Action Southern Africa.

Practical Action says that on current trends, 1.5 billion people globally will still lack electricity in 2030, of whom 650 million will be in Africa.

This is some fifteen years after the target date for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which cannot be met without sustainable, affordable, accessible and reliable energy services.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138835 The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Looking Two Steps Ahead into Saudi Arabia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:08:41 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138838 King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Much has been written about King Abdullah’s legacy and what Saudi Arabia accomplished or failed to accomplish during his reign in terms of reform and human rights. Very little has been written about the role that Muhammad bin Nayef, the newly appointed deputy to the crown prince, could play in the new Saudi Arabia under King Salman.

King Salman is 79 years old and has reportedly suffered one stroke in the past that has affected his left arm. The next in succession, Crown Prince Muqrin, is 69 years old.The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family.

Muhammad bin Nayef—or MBN as he is often referred to in some Western capitals—is only 55. As age and ill health incapacitate his elders, MBN could play a pivotal role as a future crown prince and a potential king in the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia, but more importantly in the kingdom’s regional politics.

The uncomfortable truth is that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia maintained a terrible human rights record, undermined the democratic ideals of Arab Spring, and supported dictatorships in Egypt and Bahrain. It also promoted ugly sectarianism, preaching an ideology that gave rise to the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and other terrorist organisations. The kingdom supposedly did all of these things in the name of fighting Iran.

The equally inconvenient truth is that the Obama administration in the past four years has barely objected to Saudi Arabia’s undemocratic, corrupt, and repressive policies. The Saudi noose around the American neck should no longer be tolerated. MBN, two kings down the line after Salman and Muqrin, could reset Saudi Arabia’s domestic and regional policies and free Washington of Riyadh’s burden.

As king, MBN would be the first such monarch of the second generation of al-Saud. As a relatively young ruler, he would be comfortable in entertaining new ideas and communicating credibly to Saudi youth. I base this analysis on interactions I had with him during my government service several years back.

I discerned several characteristics in MBN that could help him as a future king of Saudi Arabia to nudge the country forward and perhaps usher in a period of real reform. He has a sophisticated knowledge of the root causes of terrorism and radicalisation and how to combat them. He also has a pragmatic approach to regional politics, especially Iran’s role as a regional power, and the linkage between regional stability and Saudi security.

Counterterrorism and deradicalisation

According to media reports, MBN started a comprehensive deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia with an eye toward persuading Saudi youth to recant radicalism and terrorism. His two-pronged strategy has exposed youth to moderate Islamic teachings and provided them with jobs and financial support to buy a house and get married.

MBN believes that extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and hopelessness drive young people to become radicalised. Despite the relative success of his programme, however, more and more Saudi youth have joined the ranks of radical groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS.

MBN must have realised by now that the roots of radical Sunni ideology come from the mosque sermons and religious fatwas of Salafi-Wahhabi Saudi clerics. Even as he receives hundreds of thousands of dollars to get settled in a home as a married man with a job, a young Saudi continues to be exposed to the poisonous ideology spewed by some religious leaders just outside the walls of the deradicalisation “school.”

Lacking a position of national authority beyond his counterterrorism portfolio, MBN could not really address the source of radical ideology without bringing the wrath of the Saudi religious establishment down on his head. As king, however, he might be able to tackle this sensitive issue.

MBN will face huge obstacles if he decides to address this issue—politically, historically, and culturally. Conservative, intolerant radical Sunni ideology has existed in Saudi Arabia for a long time and can be traced back to the 18th-century teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Since then Saudi culture has been imbued with this interpretation of Islam.

However, as a king representing a younger, Western-educated generation of royals and cognizant of the growing desires of Arab youth for freedom, MBN might feel more empowered to face down the religious establishment in the country.

Furthermore, he might feel less bound by the generations-old agreement between the founder of Saudi Arabia and the al-Shaykh family, which gave al-Saud greater leeway to rule and reserved to the Salafi religious establishment the authority to act as the moral guardian of Saudi society.

Domestic and regional politics

Significant segments of the Saudi people want economic and political reform. They have expressed these views in petitions, on social media, and in action. Shia activists have protested systemic regime discrimination for years. The Saudi government has illegally jailed these activists, convicted them in sham trials, tortured them with impunity, and even killed them.

The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family. In order to avoid a “Saudi Spring,” which is destined to erupt if current policies continue, MBN will have to inject large amounts of money into job creation projects.

He will also have to provide a new kind of education, which would allow Saudi job seekers to compete for employment in the technology-driven, 21st-century global economy. Despite the astronomical wealth Saudi Arabia has accumulated in the past half-century, Saudi education still produces school graduates unqualified to compete in the global economy. As a modernising king, MBN will have to change that.

Regionally, MBN realises that Gulf stability is integral to Saudi security. For Gulf security to endure, he will have to accept Iran as a significant Gulf power and search for ways to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with his Persian neighbour. Iran could be a helpful partner in helping settle the conflicts in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other spots in the region.

If the P5+1 bloc concludes a nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States and Iran would embark on a new relationship, with which Saudi Arabia will have to come to terms.

MBN will also realise, for example, that continued conflict in Bahrain will ultimately destabilise the Gulf region, which will harm Saudi interests. As such, he would have to push al-Khalifa to institute genuine political reform in Bahrain, end systemic discrimination against the Shia majority, and include them in the economic and political process. As a first step, he would have to withdraw Saudi troops from Bahrain, where they have failed to quell anti-regime protests.

Will MBN be able to do it?

Based on MBN’s knowledge of the region and of the terrorist threat to his country, the chances of instituting real political and religious reform during his future reign are 60-40 at best. As a prerequisite for success, he will have to consolidate his power vis a vis the conservative and powerful elements within the royal family. Most importantly, he will have to overcome the opposition of the religious establishment.

His success could be historic. But his failure would be catastrophic for the future of Saudi Arabia. Al-Saud and other Gulf ruling families would not be able to maintain control forever over a population that is increasingly alienated, unemployed, and constantly yearning for a more hopeful future.

The United States should also pay close attention to MBN’s chances of success and should tacitly encourage him to move forward with courage. Regardless of the party controlling the White House, Washington can’t remain oblivious to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa’s Rural Women Must Count in Water Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:58:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138833 Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

More women’s voices are being heard at international platforms to address the post-2015 water agenda, as witnessed at the recently concluded international U.N International Water Conference held from Jan. 15 to 17 in Zaragoza, Spain.

But experts say that the same cannot be said of water management at the local level and countries like Kenya are already suffering from the impact of poor water management as a result of the exclusion of rural women.

“At the Zaragoza conference, certain positions were taken as far as water is concerned, but the implementers, who are often rural women, are still in the dark,” environment expert Dismas Wangai told IPS.

Wangai gives the example of the five dams built around the Tana River, the biggest in Kenya. “It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices” – Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania

He says that the dams have not been performing optimally due to poor land management as farmers continue to cultivate too close to these dams.

“This is a major cause of concern because about 80 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from these dams, as well as 60 to 70 percent of hydropower,” he says.

According to Wangai, there is extensive soil erosion due to extensive cultivation around the dams and as a result “a lot of soil is settling in these dams and if this trend continues, the dams will produce less and less water and energy.”

Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women rights,  and one of the speakers at the Zaragoza conference, told IPS that women must be involved in water management at all levels.

“It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices,” she said.

According to Rusimbi, across Africa women account for at least 80 percent of farm labourers, and “this means that if they are not taught best farming practices then this will have serious implications for water management.”

Alice Bouman, honorary founding president of Women for Water Partnership, told IPS that a deficit of water for basic needs affect women in particular, “which means that they are best placed to provide valuable information on the challenges they face in accessing water.”

She added that “they are therefore more likely to embrace solutions to poor water management because they suffer from water stresses at a more immediate level.”

According to Bouman, the time has come for global water partners to begin embracing local women as partners and not merely as groups vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

Water partnerships, she said, must build on the social capital of women because “women make connections and strong networks very easily. These networks can become vehicles for creating awareness around water management.” She called for developing a more comprehensive approach to water management through a gender lens.

Noting that rural women may not have their voices heard during international water conferences, “but through networks with civil society organisations (CSOs), they can be heard”, Rusimbi called for an end to the trend of international organisations bringing solutions to the locals.

This must change, she said. “We need to rope the rural women into these discussions while designing these interventions. They have more to say than the rest of us because they interact with water at very different levels – levels that are very crucial to sustainable water management.”

Wangai also says that rural women, who spend many hours looking for water, are usually only associated with household water needs.

“People often say that these women spend hours walking for water and they therefore need water holes to be brought closer to their homes” but, he argues, the discussion on water must be broadened, and proactively and consciously address the need to bring rural women on board in addressing the water challenges that we still face.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Renewables Can Benefit Water, Energy and Food Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:48:33 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138830 The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

With global energy needs projected to increase by 35 percent by 2035, a new report says meeting this demand could increase water withdrawals in the energy sector unless more cost effective renewable energy sources are deployed in power, water and food production.

The report, titled Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy & Food Nexusby the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), says that integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability.

The  report, launched at the International Water Summit (Jan. 18-21) in Abu Dhabi, examines how adopting renewables can ease trade-offs by providing less resource-intensive energy services compared with conventional energy technologies. Integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability

“Globally, an energy system with substantial shares of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaics and wind power, would save significant amounts of water, thereby reducing strains on limited water resources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin.

Unfortunately, he said, detailed knowledge on the role of renewable energy at the intersection of energy, food and water has so far been limited.

In addition to the water-saving potential of renewable energy, the report also shows that renewable energy-based desalination technologies could play an increasing role in providing clean drinking water for people around the world.

Amin said although renewable desalination may still be relatively expensive, decreasing renewable energy costs, technology advancements and increasing scales of deployment make it a cost-effective and sustainable solution in the long term.

Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance division, told IPS that “water, energy and food systems are inextricably linked: water and energy are needed to produce food; water is needed for most power generation; and energy is required to treat and transport water in what is known as ‘the water-energy-food nexus’.”

She said deployment of renewable energy is already showing positive results in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an over 50 percent cost share of global desalination capacity.

Some 120 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi lies the Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, which generates over 100 MW of electricity for the United Arab Emirates national grid.

Shams 1, which was designed and developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture among Masdar (60 percent), Total (20 percent) and Abengoa Solar (20 percent), accounts for almost 68 percent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and close to 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

Abdulaziz Albaidli, Sham’s Plant Manager, told IPS during a visit to the plant that the project reduces the UAE’s carbon emissions, displacing approximately 175,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year.

Located in the middle of the desert and covering an area of 2.5 km² – or 285 football fields – Shams 1 incorporates the latest in parabolic trough technology and features more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors.

By concentrating heat from direct sunlight onto oil-filled pipes, Shams 1 produces steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. Shams 1 also features a dry-cooling system that significantly reduces water consumption – a critical advantage in the arid desert.

“This plant has been built to be a hybrid plant which allows us to produce electricity at very high efficiency, as well as allowing us to produce electricity when there is no sun. Also the use of an air-cooled condenser allows us to save two hundred million gallons of water. That is a very important feature in a country where water is scarce,” said.

In addition, he continued, “the electricity we produce is able to provide twenty thousand homes with a steady supply of electricity for refrigeration, air conditioning, lighting and so on.”

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar – the majority shareholder in Shams 1 – told delegates at the just concluded Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit (Jan. 18-21) that “through Masdar, we are redefining the role our country will play in delivering energy to the world.”

“From precious hydrocarbons exports to commercially viable renewable energy projects,” he said, “we are extending our legacy for future generations.”

Morocco is another country aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to nearby Europe through the water, energy and food nexus.

Its first CSP plant located in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate, which is now operational, is part of a major plan to produce over 2,000 megawatts (MW) at an estimated cost of nine billion dollars with funding from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Meanwhile, South Africa is taking advantage of a solar-powered dry cooling system to generate power. In collaboration with Spanish-based CSP technology giant Abengoa Solar, the country is installing two plants – Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One – that will generate up to 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030 and reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas.

Dr Linus Mafor, an analyst with the IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre, told IPS that there is an encouraging trend across the globe with countries implementing projects that aim to account for the interdependencies and trade-offs among the water, energy and food sectors.

He said that the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is one of the promoters of the water, energy and food nexus in six Asian countries which are integrating the approach into development processes.  According to Mafor, such initiatives will see more affordable and sustainable renewable energy deployed in water, energy and food production in the near future.

The Austria-based Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is one of the supporters of the nexus among clean energy, food production and water provision. Its Director-General, Martin Hiller, told IPS that understanding the inter-linkages among water resources, energy production and food security and managing them holistically is critical to global sustainability.

The agrifood industry, he said, accounts for over 80 percent of total freshwater use, 30 percent of total energy demand, and 12 to 30 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

REEEP is supporting countries like Kenya, Indonesia, Kenya and Burkina Faso, among others, in developing solar-powered pumps for irrigation, with the aim of improving energy efficiency.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Aboriginal Businesses Stimulate Positive Change in Australiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 07:51:12 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138815 Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
MOSSMAN, Queensland, Australia, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, would watch thousands of tourists and vehicles trampling his pristine land while working on the sugarcane fields in Far North Queensland. His people were suffering and their culture was being eroded. The native wildlife was disappearing. He dreamt of turning this around.

It took 20 years to bring his vision to fruition, but today the Mossman Gorge Centre is a successful indigenous ecotourism business in the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people.
With more people travelling the world and seeking authentic experiences, tourism has acted as a catalyst for preserving indigenous culture, providing employment, education and training opportunities and protecting the environment – especially in remote locations such as the Mossman Gorge, the ancestral home of the Kuku Yalanji people in the southern tip of the Daintree National Park.

Roy and the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community worked in collaboration with the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), to build the Centre, which has a 90-percent indigenous workforce – 61 employees and 21 trainees.

Roberta Stanley, 18, who joined the Centre as a trainee along with her twin sibling, says, “Every morning, when I step out of home in my work uniform, I can’t stop smiling. It has helped me reconnect with our history, legends, languages, music and the arts. I feel a sense of immense pride and have the confidence to pursue my dream of becoming an artist and dancer.”

This was something young people like her couldn’t do before the Centre began providing accredited skills training in tourism, hospitality, retail and administration. Both her parents also work at the Centre. With four members of the Stanley family employed, it has made life easier.

In 2011, an estimated 207,600 indigenous people were in the labour force. About two in five (42 percent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over were employed, compared with about three in five non-indigenous people (61 percent).

With limited employment opportunities, pursuing their dreams is not something every native Australian is free to do.

Pamela Salt, 41, used to be a cleaner and paint in colours representing the rainforest and sea during her spare time. Since she began working at the Mossman Gorge Centre, she feels a sense of ownership with the place.

“Physically, mentally and emotionally, it has given our people the confidence that we can do it. One of my daughters is also employed here,” Pamela told IPS. A self-taught artist with no formal training, today her work is on display in the Centre’s gallery and bought by national and international visitors.

Since July last year, 250,000 tourists, 40 percent of them international, have visited the Centre. As Mossman Gorge Centre’s General Manager Greg Erwin told IPS, “Indigenous tourism is gaining momentum. It will add a cultural depth to the experiences that visitors have in any destination. The Kuku Yalanji people, like other Aboriginal communities, have been nurturing and looking after the environment for thousands of years. It is their supermarket and their pharmacy.”

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

In the next 10 to 15 years, the business will be totally owned by the aboriginal people of the Gorge – a long way from the ‘Stolen Generation’: the tens of thousands of children who were forcibly removed from their families between 1900 and 1970 under Australian government assimilation policies to “breed out” their Aborigine blood and supposedly give them a better life.

Roy, 58, who also belongs to the ‘Stolen Generation’, doesn’t want his people to ever experience that psychological trauma again.

“This Centre is a role model for our younger generation dreaming of a better life.” He, along with other indigenous guides, takes visitors on “dreamtime walks” highlighting the nuances of the world’s oldest rainforest, relating stories spun around creation, food sources, flora and fauna, the caves and Manjal Dimbi (Mt. Demi), a mountain with spiritual significance for the indigenous people.

“Now we are able to protect our ecosystem and at the same time provide visitors an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of the Kuku Yalanji people and their connection to the natural environment. Our emphasis is on sustainability,” Roy told IPS.

Stimulating positive change

Sustainable indigenous businesses like the Mossman Gorge Centre are not only helping protect and preserve the ecosystem, but lifting out of poverty some of the most disadvantaged communities that suffer from alcohol abuse, domestic violence, chronic diseases, unemployment and high suicide rates.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australians; about half of the young people in juvenile detention are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Meanwhile, indigenous women are hospitalised for family violence-related assaults at 31 times the rate of non-indigenous women, according to the 2014 Social Justice and Native Title Report.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people. The remoteness of places where many indigenous people reside plays a large part in this.

Still, Tourism Research Australia’s 2014 figures show 14 percent of international visitors enjoy an indigenous experience and these visitors spent 5.2 billion dollars in Australia, highlighting a huge demand for authentic experiences in out-of-the-way locations.

ILC subsidiary, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, offers unique experiences in iconic locations around Australia. Besides the Mossman Gorge Centre, it manages the Ayers Rock Resort and Longitude 131° in the Northern Territory, Home Valley Station in The Kimberley in Western Australia.

While the ILC is focused on acquiring land and assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders manage that land to provide sustainable benefits, Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) is a commercially focused organisation providing sustainable economic development opportunities for indigenous Australians.

As IBA’s CEO Chris Fry said, “Our Business Development and Assistance Programme (BDAP) assists indigenous entrepreneurs to start and grow their own enterprises, and indigenous-owned businesses to be strong employers of indigenous peoples.”

Jo Donovan, a beneficiary of the programme, turned her hobby into a business after attending IBA’s BDAP. She formed Bandu Catering with her son Aaron Devine and daughter Jessica, both chefs. Bandu (‘food’ in the Dhanggati language) provides quality food, blending native ingredients and flavours with innovative, contemporary Australian cuisine.

The BDAP, which has partnered with the banking sector, has provided over 90 loans valued at 55 million dollars during the last financial year.

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners currently hold more than 68 million dollars in equity across a range of commercial businesses and assets through IBA’s Equity and Investment Programme and the IBA purchased over 2.4 million dollars [of] goods and services from approximately 30 indigenous businesses,” Fry told IPS.

IBA also has a scholarship programme for mature-age, full-time indigenous students to complete tertiary qualifications in business, financial, commercial or economic management disciplines.

As the international community prepares for a new era of development, one that puts sustainability at the heart of poverty-eradication, initiatives like these can provide a blueprint for inclusive and equal growth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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After Nine Years of Foot-Dragging, U.N. Ready for Talks on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 16:43:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138808 Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

After four days of intense negotiations – preceded by nine years of dilly-dallying – the United Nations has agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The final decision was taken in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the United Nations was fast asleep.

The open-ended Ad Hoc informal Working Group, which negotiated the deal, has been dragging its collective feet since it was initially convened back in 2006.

The High Seas Alliance, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty.

Karen Sack, senior director of international oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the coalition, told IPS a Preparatory Committee (Prep Com), comprising of all 193 member states, will start next year.

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

“As part of reaching consensus, however, there was no deadline set for finalising the treaty,” she said.

Asked if negotiations on the treaty would be difficult, she said, “Negotiations are always tough but a lot of discussion has happened over almost a decade on the issues under consideration and there are definitely certain issues where swift progress could be made.”

The Prep Com will report to the General Assembly with substantive recommendations in 2017 on convening an intergovernmental conference for the purpose of elaborating an internationally legally binding instrument.

The four-day discussions faced initial resistance from several countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, and to some extent Iceland, according to one of the participants at the meeting.

But eventually they joined the large majority of states in favour of the development of a high seas agreement.

Still they resisted the adoption of a time-bound negotiating process, and “setting a start and end date was for them a step too far,” he added.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS: “Regarding the United States in particular, we are very pleased to see them finally show flexibility and hope that moving forward they find a way to support a more ambitious timeline.”

In a statement released Saturday, the High Seas Alliance said progress came despite pressure from a small group of governments that questioned the need for a new legal framework.

“That minority blocked agreement on a faster timeline reflecting the clear scientific imperative for action, but all countries agreed on the need to act,” it added.

The members of the High Seas Alliance applauded the decision to move forward.

Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defence Council said many states have shown great efforts to protect the half of the planet that is the high seas.

“We know that these states will continue to champion the urgent need for more protection in the process before us,” she added.

Daniela Diz of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Saturday’s decision was a decisive step forward for ocean conservation. “We can now look to a future in which we bring conservation for the benefit of all humankind to these vital global commons.”

Mission Blue‘s Dr Sylvia Earle said, “Armed with new knowledge, we are taking our first steps to safeguard the high seas and keep the world safe for our children.”

The outcome of the meeting will now have to be approved by the General Assembly by September 2015, which is considered a formality.

The high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the Alliance.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas ‑ and therefore the entire global ocean ‑ from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Greece Gives EU the Chance to Rediscover Its Social Responsibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Marianna Fotaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138804 Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

By Marianna Fotaki
COVENTRY, England, Jan 24 2015 (IPS)

The European Union should not be afraid of the leftist opposition party Syriza winning the Greek election, but see it as a chance to rediscover its founding principle – the social dimension that created it and without which it cannot survive.

Greece’s entire economy accounts for three per cent of the euro zone’s output but its national debt totals €360 billion or 175 per cent of the country’s GDP and poses a continuous threat to its survival.

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

While the crippling debt cannot realistically be paid back in full, the troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF insist that the drastic cuts in public spending must continue.

But if Syriza is successful – as the polls suggest – it promises to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and ask for substantial debt forgiveness, which could change the terms of the debate about the future of the European project.

It would also mean the important, but as yet, unaddressed question of who should bear the costs and risks of the monetary union within and between the euro zone countries is likely to become the centrepiece of such negotiations.

The immense social cost of the austerity policies demanded by the troika has put in question the political and social objectives of an ‘ever closer union’ proclaimed in the EU founding documents.The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

Formally established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries tied closely the economies of erstwhile foes, rendering the possibility of another disastrous war unaffordable. Yet the ultimate goal of integration was to bring about ‘the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of their peoples’.

The European project has been exceptionally successful in achieving peaceful collaboration and prosperity by progressively extending these stated benefits to an increasing number of member countries, with the EU now being the world’s largest economy.

Since the economic crisis of 2007, however, GDP per capita and gross disposable household incomes have declined across the EU and have not yet returned to their pre-crisis levels in many countries. Unemployment is at record high levels, with Greece and Spain topping the numbers of long-term unemployed youth.

There are also deep inequalities within the euro zone. Strong economies that are major exporters have benefitted from free trade and the fixed exchange rate mechanism protecting their goods from price fluctuations, but the euro has hurt the least competitive economies by depriving them of a currency flexibility that could have been used to respond to the crisis.

Without substantial transfers between weaker and stronger economies, which accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the EU’s budget at present, there is no effective mechanism for risk sharing among the member states and for addressing the consequences of the crisis in the euro zone.

But the EU was founded on the premise of solidarity and not as a free trade zone only. Economic growth was regarded as a means for achieving desirable political and social goals through the process of painstaking institution building.

With 500 million citizens and a combined GDP of €12.9 trillion in 2012 shared among its 27 members the EU is better placed than ever to live up to its founding principles. The member states that benefitted from the common currency should lead in offering meaningful support rather than decimating their weaker members in a time of crisis by forcing austerity measures upon them.

This is not denying the responsibility for reckless borrowing resting with the successive Greek governments and their supporters. However, the logic of a collective punishment of the most vulnerable groups of the population must be rejected.

The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

With youth unemployment above 50 per cent, many well-educated people have left the country. There is no access to free health care and the weak social safety net from before the crisis has all but disappeared. The dramatic welfare retrenchment combined with unemployment has led to austerity induced suicides and people searching for food in garbage cans in cities.

A continued commitment to the policies that have produced such outcomes in the name of increasing the EU’s competitiveness challenges the terms of the European Union’s founding principles. The creditors often rationalise this using a rhetoric that assumes tax-evading unproductive Greeks brought this predicament upon themselves – they are seen as the undeserving members of the euro zone.

Such reasoning creates an unhealthy political climate that gives rise to extremist nationalist movements in the EU such as the Greek criminal Golden Dawn party, which gained almost 10 per cent of votes in the last European Parliament elections.

Explaining the euro zone debt crisis as a morality tale is both deleterious and untrue. The problematic nature of such moralistic logic must be challenged: one cannot easily justify on ethical grounds forcing the working poor to bail out a banking system from which many wealthy people benefit, or transferring the consequences of reckless lending by commercial outlets to the public.

Nor can one explain the acquiescence of creditors to the machinations of the nepotistic self-serving corrupt elites dominating the state over the last 40 years that got Greece into the euro zone on false data and continue to rule it. As I have argued, the bailout money was given to the very people who are largely responsible for the crisis, while the general population of Greece is being made to suffer.

Greece’s voters are determined to stop the ruling classes from continuing their nefarious policies that have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, but in the coming elections their real concern will be opposing the sacrifice of the futures of an entire generation.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138790 President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A “Rosetta Stone” for Conducting Biodiversity Assessmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:56:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138781 Species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Credit: Biodiversity Act/cc by 2.0

Species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Credit: Biodiversity Act/cc by 2.0

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

This month saw an important milestone reached by the U.N.’s young Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): Publication of its first public product.

It wasn’t a biodiversity-related trend analysis nor a policy prescription, however. The first of those from IPBES will appear at about this time next year.Its first assessment will focus on the issue of pollination and the threats to insect pollinators essential to much of the world’s food production.

What the organisation published was something more fundamental — the result of two years collaboration by hundreds of experts. It is an agreed scaffolding for assessments that integrate the information and insights of indigenous and local knowledge holders as well as experts in the natural, social, and engineering science disciplines.

IPBES is akin to the U.N.’s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in that it will carry out assessments of existing knowledge in response to governments’ and other stakeholders’ requests.

Some argue IPBES confronts a challenge as complex as its sister organisation, if not more so. That’s because species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Solutions, therefore, need to be tailored to a fine local and regional degree.

And the relative contributions of efforts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss also vary enormously — complete success of efforts somewhere with little biodiversity might not be nearly as important as a little success in a megadiverse area in the tropics, for example.

Step 1 in the ambitious IPBES work programme, however, has been to agree on how to integrate diverse, strongly-held, culturally-formed attitudes and viewpoints in as simple and effective a way as possible.

The IPBES’ Conceptual Framework, published by the Public Library of Science, is the end result, connecting the dots and illustrating the inter-relationships between:

Nature (which includes scientific concepts such as species diversity, ecosystem structure and functioning, the biosphere, the evolutionary process and humankind’s shared evolutionary heritage). For indigenous knowledge systems, nature includes different concepts such as “Mother Earth” and other holistic concepts of land and water as well as traditions, for example.

Nature’s benefits to people (the framework underlines that nature has values beyond providing benefits to people — “intrinsic value, independent of human experience.”)

Anthropogenic assets (knowledge, technology, financial assets, built infrastructure. Most benefits depend on the joint contribution of nature and anthropogenic assets, e.g., fish need to be caught to act as food)

Indirect drivers of change (such as institutions deciding access to land, international agreements for protection of endangered species, economic policies)

Direct drivers of change (which are both natural, e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tropical cyclones; and human, e.g. habitat conversion, chemical pollution); and

“Good quality of life” (interpreted as “human well-being” by parts of humanity; to others it may mean “living well in harmony and balance with Mother Nature,” The framework recognises that fulfilled life is a highly values-based and context-dependent idea, one that influences institutions and governance systems.

To quote the paper’s authors: “There had been a struggle to find a single word or phrase to capture the essence of each element in a way that respected the range of utilitarian, scientific, and spiritual values that makes up the diversity of human views of nature.

“The conceptual framework is now a kind of ‘Rosetta Stone’ for biodiversity concepts that highlights the commonalities between very diverse value sets and seeks to facilitate cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural understanding.”

IPBES is now fully embarked on its work programme to produce coordinated assessments, policy tools, and capacity building actions.

Its first assessment will focus on the issue of pollination and the threats to insect pollinators essential to much of the world’s food production. Its second will explore biodiversity and ecosystem services models and scenarios analysis. Many others will follow in years to come.

The conceptual framework was created to change the way such assessments are approached from those before, and to inspire the community, though the changes are “likely to push all engaged parties well beyond their comfort zones,” say the authors.

For example, direct drivers of pollination change (such as habitat or climate change, pesticide overuse, pathogens) will be examined alongside their underlying causes, including institutional ones.

State-of-the-art environmental, engineering, social and economic science knowledge will be augmented by and benefit from insights into the impacts of pollinator declines on subsistence agricultural systems, which provide much of the food in some world regions of the world — considerations typically under-represented in case studies.

Guided by the IPBES Task Force on Indigenous and Local Knowledge, assessments will consider trends observed by practitioners and their interpretations, and draw on local and indigenous knowledge that could contribute to solutions.

What IPBES is pioneering foreshadows the future of research — the convergence of different disciplines and knowledge systems to solve problems.

Integrative, cross-paradigm, co-produced knowledge is on the agenda of a growing number of national research agencies, international funding bodies, and some of the largest scientific networks in the world.

It is an essential step forward. To IPBES, in the words of the authors, “the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge is not only a matter of equity but also a source of knowledge that we can no longer afford to ignore.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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Africa Needs to Move Forward on Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:02:30 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138773 Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Diversification of Africa’s electricity sources by embarking on renewable energy solutions – such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power – is being heralded as a solution to the continent’s energy poverty.

But although a number of countries are already reaping benefits from investment in renewables, there is concern that many of the countries are yet to exploit those resources.

African ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi International Renewable Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi from January 15-17 noted that a mere handful of countries in the continent are tapping into renewable energy resource.“People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid” – Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy

Some of the bottlenecks identified included lack of finance, lack of interest from investors and the desire by some to take on mega projects that could easily fail to attract private investors.

Davis Chirchir, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Energy, told IPS that for many sub-Saharan Africa countries, accessing financing for fossil fuel projects was much easier compared with renewable energy options. “It is a big problem even when the prices for renewable energy solutions like solar and wind are going down” said Chirchir, whose country is now seeing costs reducing as a result of investing in geothermal energy.

Kenya plans to generate up to three gigawatts (3GW) of power from geothermal energy alone from its Rift Valley area.

Chirchir said that despite the long-term benefits, many of the countries in the region lacked their own initial resources for investment in projects.

“While renewable projects are often cheaper, they tend to require up-front capital costs. So for many, we shall require more targeted financing if we are to kick off many from the ground,” said Chirchir.

“In Kenya, our investment in geothermal energy displaced some 65 percent of fossil fuels, and brought down the cost to the customer by about 30 percent,” he added.

Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy and CEO of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, decried the fact that despite the declining costs of generating energy from renewable energy sources, Africa was consuming only one-quarter of global average energy per capita.

“How do we help the majority of people in Africa that rely on charcoal and cow dung for their primary needs? How do we do that? This is where the context of off-grid really comes in,” he suggested.

According to Yumkella, Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects.

“Sometimes the project preparation costs before the investments come are about three to ten percent of project costs. For many African countries that is a lot of money. It takes a big time to get the big projects under way,” he noted.

For Yumkella, African governments urgently need to put in place policies that would support renewable energy power generation using private investments to construct off-grid power stations, especially in areas where it is hard to reconnect to the main grids.

We can have millions of energy entrepreneurs spreading the off-grid solutions while we wait for the big projects to take off,” he explained. “People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid.”

Furthermore, said Yumkella, off-grid solutions would support Africa’s social development agenda at the community level and “that can be done now because off-grids can be in the hands of the poor communities to increase their productivity and help their social development.  But we will need millions of entrepreneurs in Africa in order to make energy poverty history.”

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), even with available renewable energy potential, Africa still has the lowest rate of rural electrification compared with other continents.

Globally, over the last two decades, rural electrification has increased from 61 to 70 percent but there are large disparities in rural access rates – in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, that rate is just 18 percent compared with over 70 percent in developing Asia.

IRENA says that Africa needs to double its rate of expansion of rural electrification and change the way it approaches rural electrification for it to achieve the universal electricity access for all target by 2030.

“And in this expansion, it is estimated that about 60 percent of additional generation will come from stand-alone and mini-grid solutions, with most of it being renewables because they can tap into locally available energy resources,” said Rabia Ferroukhi, IRENA Deputy Director in charge of Knowledge, Technology and Financing.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Meanwhile, African energy ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi renewable energy conference called on IRENA and countries with greater knowledge in renewable energy to help them in supporting the Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative.

This initiative encourages the deployment of hydro, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar options from Cairo to Cape Town to increase capacity, stabilise the grid, and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Ethiopia, one of the countries already investing in renewable energy, especially in wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power, is one of the proponents of financing for the Clean Energy Corridor.

The country plans to generate 800 megawatts of wind power, 1 gigawatt of geothermal power and is constructing a 6,000 MW hydroelectric plant, which will be the largest such facility in Africa costing about 4.8 billion dollars.

Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, told IPS that, if implemented, the Africa Clean Energy Corridor would help to advance renewable energy solutions to the corridor.

Adnan Amin, the Director-General of IRENA, told IPS that the Africa Clean Energy Corridor has gathered strong political support and engagement from within Africa and at the level of the United Nations.

“We have to make sure that we have regional programmes that can support countries to move in the clean direction and this is the concept behind our African Clean Energy Corridor,” said Amin.

“We want to interconnect African markets, create a larger regulated market, because when you have big markets, you can have big projects that pass the technology forward.”

With smart planning and prudent investment, Amin believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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The Bahamas’ New Motto: “Sand, Surf and Solar”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:42:41 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138764 The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
ABU DHABI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to tourism in the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), The Bahamas — 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off Florida — is a heavyweight.

With a gross domestic product of eight billion dollars, the Bahamian economy is almost twice the size of Barbados, another of CARICOM’s leading tourism destinations."Reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us." -- Environment Minister Kenred M.A. Dorsett

Visitors are invited to “imagine a world where you can’t tell where dreams begin and reality ends.”

However, in the country’s Ministry of the Environment, officials have woken up to a reality that could seriously undermine the gains made in tourism and elsewhere: renewable energy development.

In 2014, in a clear indication of its intention to address its poor renewable energy situation, The Bahamas joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental organisation supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. IRENA also serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

The Bahamas has also advanced its first energy policy, launched in 2013, and has committed to ramping up to a minimum of 30 per cent by 2033 the amount of energy it generates from renewable sources.

“Currently, we are debating in Parliament an amendment to the Electricity Act to make provision for grid tie connection, therefore making net metering a reality using solar and wind technology,” Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred M.A. Dorsett told IPS on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

ADSW is a global forum that unites thought leaders, policy makers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development. The week includes IRENA’s Fifth Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit, and the International Water Summit.

But Dorsett was especially interested in the IRENA assembly, which took place on Jan. 17 and 18.

At the assembly, ministers and senior officials from more than 150 countries met to discuss what IRENA has described as the urgent need and increased business case for rapid renewable energy expansion.

Dorsett came to Abu Dhabi with a rather short shopping list for both his country and the CARICOM region, and says he did not leave empty-handed.

“Our involvement in IRENA is important because the world over is concerned with standardisation of technology to ensure that our citizens are not taken advantage of in terms of the technology we import as we advance the renewable energy sector,” he told IPS.

“We certainly were able to engage IRENA in discussions with respect to what the Bahamas is doing, and our next steps and they have indicated to us that they will be able to assist us on the issue of standardisation,” Dorsett tells IPS.

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says IRENA has developed a programme that looks at practical consideration for the implementation or ramping up of renewable energy, including assistance in developing regulations for ensuring that standards are maintained.

“So, I think from our perspective, it is clear to us that IRENA would be prepared to assist us on that particular issue, and I think that generally speaking, what I certainly found was that the meeting was very innovative, particularly in light of the fact that there was a lot of technical support for countries looking to implement or deploy renewable energy technologies,” he said of Bahamas-IRENA talks on the sidelines of the assembly.

Dorsett also wanted IRENA to devote some special attention to CARICOM, a group of 15 nations, mostly Caribbean islands, in addition to Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

At a side event — “Renewables in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” — ahead of the Assembly, there was no distinction between Caribbean and Latin American nations.

“… I think that’s very, very important for us as region, as we move to ensure that CARICOM itself is a region of focus for IRENA, that we are not consumed in the entire Latin America region and there is sufficient focus on us,” he told IPS ahead of the assembly.

Dorsett is now convinced that CARICOM positions will be represented as Trinidad and Tobago, another CARICOM member, and the Bahamas, have been elected to serve on IRENA Council in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

“We do know that deployment of renewable energy in our region is important, we are small island development states, we live in [low-lying areas] and sea level rise is a major issue for us in the Caribbean region.

“Therefore, reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, Director-General of IRENA, Adnan Amin, said that his agency is “trying to develop a new type of institution for a new time”.

“We know that the islands’ challenges are very particular. We have developed a lot of expertise in doing that, and we know in a general sense the challenge they face is quite different from mainland Latin America,” Amin told IPS. “So we see them as logically separate entities in what kinds of strategies we will have.”

He says IRENA has been working in the Pacific islands — early members of the agency — and is moving into the Caribbean.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

IRENA is already working in the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica, and this year agreed to lend St. Vincent and the Grenadines 15 million dollars to help fund its 10-15 megawatt geothermal power plant, expected to come on stream by 2018.

Dorsett is also pleased that at the assembly the Bahamian delegation was able to get a briefing on the advances of technology that stores electricity generated from renewable sources.

“That also can prove to be very important for us as many Caribbean counties are faced with addressing the issue of grid stability,” he told IPS, adding that the ability to have storage that is “appropriately priced and that works efficiently” can help the Bahamas to exceed the average of 20 to 40 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by many countries.

The Bahamas woke up to the realities of its poor renewable energy situation in 2013 when Guilden Gilbert, head the country’s Renewable Energy Association, decried the nation for not doing enough to advance renewable energy generation.

The call came after the release of a report by Castalia-CREF Renewable Energy Islands Index for the Caribbean, which ranked the Bahamas 26 out of 27 countries in the region for its progress and prospects in relation to renewable energy investments.

The 2012 edition of the same report had ranked The Bahamas 21 out of the 22 countries on the list.

In the two years leading up to the announcement of the “National Energy Policy & Grid Tie In Framework”, The Bahamas established an Energy Task Force responsible for advising on solutions to reducing the high cost of electricity in the country.

The government also eliminated tariffs on inverters for solar panels and LED appliances to ensure that more citizens would be able to afford these energy saving devices.

The government also advanced two pilot projects to collect data on renewable energy technologies. The first project provided for the installation of solar water heaters and the second project for the installation of photovoltaic systems in Bahamian homes.

Dorsett tells IPS that he thinks that it is “incredibly important” that CARICOM focuses on renewable energy generation.

“I think CARICOM, as a region, has to look at renewable energy sources to build a sustainable energy future for our region as well as to ensure that we build resilience as we address the issues of climate change,” he tells IPS.

However, in some CARICOM nations, there is a major hurdle that policy makers, such as Dorsett, will have to overcome before the bloc realises its full renewable energy potential.

“There are very special challenges in the Caribbean. For example, many of the utilities are foreign-owned and they negotiated 75-year-long, cast-iron guarantees on their existence,” Amin tells IPS.

“They were making money off diesel. They have no incentive to move to renewables, but we are moving ahead,” the IRENA chief says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

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OPINION-CUBA/US: Catching a Glimpse of the Possible Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:14:18 +0000 Leonardo Padura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138755 Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

By Leonardo Padura
HAVANA, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

All Cubans, on either side of the Florida Straits, but in places like Spain, France or Greenland – where there must be a couple of Cubans – as well felt it was a historic moment that included each and every one of us, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 the normalisation of relations after half a century of hostility.

Those of us who are in Cuba felt that way precisely because we live here; and those who live abroad felt it because of the various motives that prompted them, at different times and for a range of reasons, to move away and rewrite their lives.

The great majority met the news with joy and hope; a smaller percentage felt a sensation of defeat and even betrayal; and another small group perhaps felt little about what the decision might mean for their futures.

But what is indisputable is that each one of us was shocked by the announcement, which some media outlets even dubbed “the news of the year” – extraordinary, really (even if you consider it an exaggeration), given that we’re just talking about the normalisation of ties between the United States and a small Caribbean island nation that is not even decisive in the economy of the region and supposedly does not influence the world’s big political developments.

But for years Cuba’s small size, in terms of both its geography and economy, has been far out of proportion to its international stature and influence, and the “news of the year” really was (or may have been) such due to several reasons, besides the emotional ones that affected us Cubans.We Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

This was because of its symbolic nature as a major step towards détente and as a final stop to the long-drawn-out epilogue to the Cold War, as acknowledgement of a political error sustained by the United States for far too long, because of its weight in inter-American relations, and because of its humanistic character thanks to the fact that the first concrete measure was a prisoners swap, which is always a moving, humanitarian move.

And it also was so because in a world where bad news abounds, the fact that two countries that were at a political standoff for over half a century decided to overcome their differences and opt for dialogue is somewhat comforting.

Three weeks later, the machinery that will put that new relationship in motion has begun to move. On the eve of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana to start high-level “face-to-face” talks with the Cuban government, President Obama announced the introduction of his government’s first measures towards change.

The policies will make it easier for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba, expand the remittances people can send to Cuba, open up banking relations, increase bilateral trade in different areas, and help strengthen civil society by different means, including improved information and communications and economic support for entrepreneurs.

Cuba, meanwhile, released prisoners with regard to whom Washington had expressed concern.

The measures recently implemented by Obama could be extremely significant for Cuba. Above all because they have punched holes in the straitjacket of the half-century embargo and have practically made its removal a question of time, and since they eliminate many of the fears that investors from other countries had with regard to possibly investing here.

Cuba, in the meantime, is waiting to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on for years.

And on both sides of the Straits, Cubans have an understandable sense of uncertainty about the future of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guaranteed U.S. residency to any Cuban who set foot on U.S. soil – an issue that will surely be discussed during Jacobson’s visit.

But while the political agreements are moving along at a surprising pace, we Cubans insist on asking ourselves how this new situation created since Dec. 17 will play out on the island.

Because while Obama’s intention is to bring about a change in policy that will lead to a transformation of the system in Cuba, at the same time there are decisions that the Cuban government will be adopting internally to take advantage of the useful aspects of the new relationship and eliminate potential dangers.

The possible massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuba could be the first visible effect.

Today the island receives three million visitors a year. That number could double with the new regulations announced by Obama. Everyone is asking themselves whether the country is prepared for this – and the answers are not overly encouraging in general.

After a lengthy crisis triggered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies, and the stiffening of the U.S. embargo with the Torricelli Act [of 1992] and the Helms-Burton Act [of 1996, which included extra-territorial effects], Cuba today is a country with serious problems of infrastructure in communications, roads, transportation, buildings and other areas.

The lack of resources to make the necessary investments also affects the purchase of products that the presumed visitors would demand and will create difficulties for domestic consumption, where there are already problems of high prices and occasional shortages.

Perhaps the first to benefit from the massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuban shores will be the small businesses that offer accommodation (and the thousands of other people connected to them).

Currently in a city like Havana there aren’t enough rooms in the hotels (which belong to the state or are joint ventures with foreign companies), let alone quality service in the state-owned restaurants that would make them competitive.

That means a significant part of the money that will circulate will pass through the hands of those involved in private enterprise (the so-called “cuentapropistas” or self-employed) – a sector that even though they must pay high taxes to the state and extremely high prices for inputs purchased in the retail market (because the wholesale market that they are demanding does not yet exist), will make major profits in the scenario that will take shape in the near future.

And this phenomenon will contribute to further stretching the less and less homogeneous social fabric of this Caribbean island nation.

Another of the major expectations in Cuba is for the chance to travel to the United States because, even though this has become much more of a possibility in recent years, obtaining a visa is still a major hurdle.

And there are new questions among those who hoped to settle down in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and who now have the added possibility of not losing their citizenship rights on the island under the protection of the migration laws approved two years ago by the government of Raúl Castro, which eliminated the rule that if a Cuban stayed overseas for a certain amount of time, their departure was automatically seen as permanent, and they lost their rights and assets on the island.

And then there is the less tangible but no less real aspect of discourse and rhetoric. Half a century of hostility on many planes, including verbal, should begin to wane in the light of the new circumstances.

The “imperialist enemy” and “communist menace” are sitting down at the same table to seek negotiated solutions, and the language will have to adapt to that new reality to achieve the necessary comprehension and the hoped-for political accords.

In the meantime, we Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

For that reason many of us – I include myself – have felt since Dec. 17 something similar to waking up from a nightmare from which almost none of us believed we could escape. And with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.

Edited and translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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