Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 29 Aug 2015 14:42:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 OECD Urges Further Reforms for an Inclusive South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/oecd-urges-further-reforms-for-an-inclusive-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oecd-urges-further-reforms-for-an-inclusive-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/oecd-urges-further-reforms-for-an-inclusive-south-africa/#comments Sat, 29 Aug 2015 14:42:44 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142187 By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Aug 29 2015 (IPS)

While lauding South Africa for impressive social progress over the past two decades, a new study has asked the country to build on the successes achieved and reduce inequality further.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of South Africa by the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says: “South Africa has made impressive social progress over the past two decades, lifting millions of people out of poverty and broadening access to essential services like water, electricity and sanitation. Now is the time to build on these successes to reduce inequality further, create badly needed jobs and ensure stronger, sustainable and more inclusive growth for all.”

The survey, released in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría and South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, notes that prudent macroeconomic policies have secured the confidence of financial markets.

However, economic growth has been too slow and further measures are needed to overcome infrastructure bottlenecks, strengthen the business environment, improve labour markets and ensure future spending needs can be financed.

“The National Development Plan sets the direction for reforms needed for a strong and inclusive country. Our survey provides targeted recommendations to reach these objectives,” said Gurría.

“Millions of young South Africans are eager to work, and their potential must not be wasted. Their future is precious enough to justify tough reforms and hard spending choices,” he added.

According to the survey, improving infrastructure will be essential for boosting future growth and living standards while, given the large needs, prioritisation and cost effectiveness will be crucial.

The OECD noted out that the most immediate priority is to secure additional electricity generation capacity by opening the market to independent producers. Opening electricity and transport will require strong and independent regulators to protect households and firms.

The organisation pointed out that improving the regulatory environment would promote entrepreneurship and growth opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which offer the greatest potential for creating jobs and future growth. Reducing barriers to entry, cutting red tape and promoting competition, will be essential.

According to the survey, labour market reforms can raise employment and incomes. Establishing a public employment service as a one-stop shop for job seekers would make it easier for people to find jobs, and for employers to find the right workers.

Costly industrial actions have held back the economy without delivering major gains to workers. The OECD suggests an increased role for mediation and arbitration in order to reduce conflict and provide better outcomes for workers and employers.

The survey pleads for “a high degree of public sector efficiency, prioritisation of spending and a strong revenue base” with a view to meeting public spending needs for infrastructure and the social safety net.

It argues that the South African tax system “is well designed and well administered, but there is scope to broaden key tax bases by reducing deductions, credits and exemptions.  Such tax reform would solidify public finances and make the tax system fairer.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: A Farewell to Arms that Fuel Atrocities is Within Our Grasphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 19:09:41 +0000 Marek Marczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142170 The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Marek Marczynski
CANCUN, Mexico, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The recent explosions that apparently destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria were yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda.

But what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? The answer lies in recent history – arms flows to the Middle East dating back as far as the 1970s have played a role.

Marek Marczynski

Marek Marczynski

After taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, IS fighters paraded a windfall of mainly U.S.-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which had been sold or given to the Iraqi armed forces.

At the end of last year, Conflict Armament Research published an analysis of ammunition used by IS in northern Iraq and Syria. The 1,730 cartridges surveyed had been manufactured in 21 different countries, with more than 80 percent from China, the former Soviet Union, the United States, Russia and Serbia.

More recent research commissioned by Amnesty International also found that while IS has some ammunition produced as recently as 2014, a large percentage of the arms they are using are Soviet/Warsaw Pact-era small arms and light weapons, armoured vehicles and artillery dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

Scenarios like these give military strategists and foreign policy buffs sleepless nights. But for many civilians in war-ravaged Iraq and Syria, they are part of a real-life nightmare. These arms, now captured by or illicitly traded to IS and other armed groups, have facilitated summary killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture, and other serious human rights abuses amid a conflict that has forced millions to become internally displaced or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.“It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers … But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson”

It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers.

What is even worse is that this is a case of history repeating itself. But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson.

For many, the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq drove home the dangers of an international arms trade lacking in adequate checks and balances.

When the dust settled after the conflict that ensued when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s powerful armed forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait, it was revealed that his country was awash with arms supplied by all five Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council.

Perversely, several of them had also armed Iran in the previous decade, fuelling an eight-year war with Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

Now, the same states are once more pouring weapons into the region, often with wholly inadequate protections against diversion and illicit traffic.

This week, those states are among more than 100 countries represented in Cancún, Mexico, for the first Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force last December. This Aug. 24-27 meeting is crucial because it is due to lay down firm rules and procedures for the treaty’s implementation.

The participation of civil society in this and future ATT conferences is important to prevent potentially life-threatening decisions to take place out of the public sight. Transparency of the ATT reporting process, among other measures, will need to be front and centre, as it will certainly mean the difference between having meaningful checks and balances that can end up saving lives or a weakened treaty that gathers dust as states carry on business as usual in the massive conventional arms trade.

A trade shrouded in secrecy and worth tens of billions of dollars, it claims upwards of half a million lives and countless injuries every year, while putting millions more at risk of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.

The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the flow of arms to countries when it is known they would be used for further atrocities. 

The treaty has swiftly won widespread support from the international community, including five of the top 10 arms exporters – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The United States, by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 additional countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. However, other major arms producers like China, Canada and Russia have so far resisted signing or ratifying.

One of the ATT’s objectives is “to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion”, so governments have a responsibility to take measures to prevent situations where their arms deals lead to human rights abuses.

Having rigorous controls in place will help ensure that states can no longer simply open the floodgates of arms into a country in conflict or whose government routinely uses arms to repress peoples’ human rights.

The more states get on board the treaty, and the more robust and transparent the checks and balances are, the more it will bring about change in the murky waters of the international arms trade. It will force governments to be more discerning about who they do business with.

The international community has so far failed the people of Syria and Iraq, but the ATT provides governments with a historic opportunity to take a critical step towards protecting civilians from such horrors in the future. They should grab this opportunity with both hands.

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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OPEC Fund Supports UNIDO in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opec-fund-supports-unido-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:18:26 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142160 By Jaya Ramachandran
VIENNA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) has agreed to give the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) a grant in support of a project aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of the shrimp value chain in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.

OFID is the development finance institution established by the member states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1976 as a collective channel of aid to the developing countries.

The grant, which amounts to 300,000 dollars, aims at co-financing a project worth close to 900,000 dollars. OFID Director-General, Suleiman J. Al-Herbish and UNIDO Director General Li Yong, signed the agreement in Austria’s capital, where the two organisations are based.

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

UNIDO Director General Li Yong (left) and OFID Director-General Suleiman J. Al-Herbish (right). Credit: Courtesy of OFID

Al-Herbish said that the project “will support the sustainable development of the fisheries sector in the LAC region through the promotion of more resource efficient, environment friendly and socially equitable fish farming and processing practices.”

It will also contribute to poverty reduction efforts through the creation of direct and indirect employment and income generation opportunities, as well as improved food and nutrition security, he added.

UNIDO Director General Li pointed out that the shrimp farming sector represented an important source of income in countries such as Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua.

“However, in most of these countries there is a need to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the sector and its compliance with international quality and environmental standards.”

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, has been a vital source of economic growth in developing countries. Shrimp farming represents 15 percent of the total value of the fishery products internationally traded in 2011. Ecuador and Mexico are currently among the largest producers in the sector at regional level.

The agreement was signed on Aug. 25, within four weeks of OFID and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) signing a co-financing agreement to jointly promote development and economic growth in the LAC region through the expansion of trade financing to banks in the region.

According to the agreement, OFID and IDB will build on the existing Trade Finance Facilitation Programme (TFFP) to provide lines of credit to commercial banks in the LAC region to broaden the sources of trade finance available for LAC importing and exporting companies and support their internationalisation.

In support of global and intraregional integration through trade, this agreement will further strengthen OFID’s long-standing partnership with the IDB and widen OFID’s presence in the trade finance market in the LAC region, OFID said in a press release.

OFID works in cooperation with developing country partners and the international donor community to stimulate economic growth and alleviate poverty in all disadvantaged regions of the world.

It does this by providing financing to build essential infrastructure, strengthen social services delivery and promote productivity, competitiveness and trade.

According to OFID, its work is “people-centred, focusing on projects that meet basic needs – such as food, energy, clean water and sanitation, healthcare and education – with the aim of encouraging self-reliance and inspiring hope for the future.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Emerging Industrial Power Rises From Aid Beneficiary to Donor Nationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:12:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142165 In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Back in 1996, when South Korea voluntarily quit the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) – described as the largest single coalition of developing nations — it joined the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long known as the “rich man’s club” based in Paris.

As one of only three countries to leave the G77 for the OECD – the other two being Mexico and Chile – Korea elevated itself from the ranks of developing nations to the privileged industrial world.

Perhaps more significantly, Korea also swapped places at the negotiation table: from an aid recipient to a donor nation.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA [official development assistance]." -- Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Since then, the Korean government has made a significant contribution to development aid, providing assistance to some 26 developing nations.

Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS Korea has selected 26 priority partner countries – out of 130 partner countries – for development assistance.

The countries have been singled out based on their income level, political situation, diplomatic relations with Korea, and economic cooperation potential.

To enhance aid effectiveness, he pointed out, the Korean government provides 70 percent of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 26 countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, East Timor, Laos, Rwanda, Mozambique, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Cameroon, Cambodia, Colombia, DRC, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.

In 2014, Korea’s net ODA amounted to 1.85 billion dollars, ranking 16th in volume among OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members.

Korea’s ODA-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio reached 0.13 percent, ranking 23rd among the OECD DAC members.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA,” the Korean envoy said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, points out that the international community must make progress on the three pillars of United Nations engagement.

First:  sustainable development. Second: conflict prevention and resolution. And third:  advancing human rights and democracy.

“Korea has unique lessons to share on all three pillars and can be an active catalyst in bringing the world together on these issues,” the U.N. chief said.

He said Korea evolved from a developing to a developed country within the span of a single generation, and successfully hosted the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in 2010.

“The international community is looking to Korea with high expectations,” said Ban praising his home country “for rising from a beneficiary to a donor.”

As it continues to enhance its international profile, Korea is now home to the Global Green Growth Institute and also host to the new secretariat of the Green Climate Fund.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Korea has made such vibrant economic progress that it is now one of the world’s, if not Asia’s, leading economies, with global brand names such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo.

Asked about the secret of his country’s economic success, Ambassador Hahn told IPS Korea went through an unprecedented transformation from one of the least developed countries to a member of the OECD within a generation. Such economic success can be explained by several key factors.

First, Korea set ambitious yet realistic goals based on sustainable economic development plans.

He said this was achieved through the implementation of five-year economic development plans in the initial stage, even as Korea has made steady progress from the light industry to heavy industry, then to the service industry.

Second, human capital secured through quality education has been another major factor.

In sync with economic development, he pointed out, mandatory primary and secondary education was phased in.

“The strong will of the Korean people to educate also led to the establishment of high quality higher education infrastructure.”

Third, traits such as diligence, self-help, and cooperation contributed to the improvement in the ownership of the country’s development.

Especially, the concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’, which decisively contributed to poverty eradication and development of rural areas in the 1970s, created systematic cooperation between the central and local governments and motivated local governments and communities to foster leadership and ownership of poverty eradication.

These elements, he said, can be seen as the key characteristics of the Korean rural development model, which continues to be a good role model for developing countries today.

Lastly, securing efficiency and accountability through the establishment of democratic and efficient governance led to successful poverty eradication and democratization.

“I believe inclusive institutions, rule of law, and a healthy civil society played a significant role in progressing towards a democratic and open society that is respectful of justice and human rights, considerate of the vulnerable, and that emphasizes human dignity.”

Asked if North and South Korea will one day join into a single union – as East and West Germany did decades ago – Ambassador Hahn said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea.

Just as South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly called for bringing down the barriers dividing the Korean peninsula, “it is our sincere hope that conditions for a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula are created in the near future, and that the Korean peninsula becomes a foothold to realize a ‘world free from nuclear weapons’,” he stated.

“Based on the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, we currently make efforts to lay the ground for unification by further developing inter-Korea relations, building confidence and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: How Will Wall Street Greet the Pope?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-how-will-wall-street-greet-the-pope/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:14:17 +0000 Hazel Henderson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142152

Hazel Henderson, author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, is President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), Certified B Corporation

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Millions in the New York City area are excited about Pope Francis’ visit on Sep. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly as worldwide consensus grows on the need to shift global investments from fossil fuels to clean, efficient, renewable energy in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) scheduled to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Private investments worldwide in the clean energy transition now total 6.22 trillion dollars while successful U.S. students’ divestment networks have forced over 30 college endowments to divest.  Over 200 institutions have divested worldwide, including the U.S. cities of Minneapolis and Seattle, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Dunedin in New Zealand.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, in a faith-based consortium, are calling on Pope Francis to urge divestment for all religious and civic groups.  Islamic Climate Change Symposium leaders cited the Quran earlier this month in calling 1.6 billion Muslims to act in phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

Backlash from traditional Wall Streeters has joined some U.S. Catholic organisations with millions still invested in fossil energy, fracking and oil sands.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks.

Reuters reports that Catholic dioceses in Boston, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota in the United States have millions of dollars in oil and gas stocks, making up between 5-10 percent of their holdings.  It has been reported that Chicago’s Archbishop Blasé Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, will re-examine over 100 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.

Wall Street is also re-examining its positions on fossil fuels.  A survey of asset managers in Institutional Investor, July 2015, found that 77 percent expected the carbon-divestiture movement to continue and gain momentum.  Yet, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed that the models on climate change “aren’t that good” and has no plans to invest in renewable energy.

Recently, many large companies have been calling for and budgeting for carbon pricing – favoured by most economists.  Britain’s BG Group, BP, Italy’s ENI, Shell, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total sent an open letter to world governments and the United Nations in June asking them to accelerate carbon pricing schemes.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks

The ethical investing movement now accounts for one-sixth of all holdings on Wall Street and the U.N. Principles of Responsible Investing counts signatory institutions with 59 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Hybrid approaches include venture philanthropy and “impact” investing, while a recent CFA Institute survey found almost three quarters of investment professionals use environmental, social and governance information in their investment decisions.

Against this backdrop, Timothy Smith, pioneer founder of the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and now Senior Vice-President of Walden Asset Management, says that the “visit of the Pope in the wake of his prophetic Encyclical on climate is a clarion call – to ramp up our efforts to combat climate change with concrete actions,” adding that “it’s not the Pope’s job to present a specific game plan for Americans.  That is our job.”

Through ICCR, religious investors have worked for two decades on these issues.  Firms like Walden, Ceres and others have joined up to combat climate change, promoting efficiency and renewable resources.  All this new activity within the climate debate provides the greatest challenge yet to business-as-usual capitalism.

Many financiers in the global casino still see themselves as “masters of the universe” because they control capital flows, most investments, pension funds, influence monetary policies, capture politicians and regulators, while funding friendly academics and think tanks.

The recent jitters of stock markets have again revealed their fragility and the increasing turbulence and volatility caused by computerized algorithms accounting for over half of all activity.  High-frequency trading (HFT), “flash crashes”, are continuing with little regulation.  Foundations are crumbling from these many new challenges as small investors flee. 

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, local and cryptocurrencies, credit unions and cooperative enterprises are flowering along with hybrid start-ups in the “shareconomy” – AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit and the growth of farmers markets, swap sites for tools, clothes and second-hand exchanges.

Many reformers of capitalism try to change its culture, of short term gain and speculative trading.  The U.N. Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System will release its report to the General Assembly on Sep. 25, with global research on current practices and potential reforms.

A promising new effort to mobilise U.S. public opinion is JUSTCapital, founded by luminaries Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and hedge fund philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones.  CEO Martin Whittaker says: “We are addressing some of the core questions affecting capitalism and corporations in the 21st century.  We are applying policy, research and surveys to define ‘just business behaviour’ in the eye of the public, using this definition to evaluate and rank the performance of the largest publicly traded American companies.”

While such caring financiers are quietly exploring reforms, the biggest threat is the fragility of global market structures from automation, algorithms, HFT and artificial intelligence which financiers still believe they can control.

Yet these same computers can now run markets more efficiently than humans.  Matching and trading buy and sell orders in transparent computerised black boxes makes human traders redundant, as well as reducing insider trading, speculating, front-running, naked short-selling, fixing interest rates and today’s widespread greed and corruption.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its reliance on rollercoaster national money systems and currencies.  Central bankers and governments’ tools fail along with economic theories as social movements are now aware of money-printing and the politics of money creation and credit-allocation, revealed in all its favouritism and inequalities.

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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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Alternative Destinations Emerge as Cuba Gets Ready for Tourism Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 16:28:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142127 Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
El ABRA, Cuba, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Along the road to the Viñales valley, travelled by thousands of tourists to Cuba, lies the home of self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios, which he has turned into a sort of museum to show visitors a wooden home typical of this mountainous area in the west of the country.

“It would be a big help if (state tour operators) included this project on the tourist routes,” the 47-year-old painter told IPS in his home, which doubles as a gallery, where he has his studio and has launched the initiative “Remedios del Abra”.

His project and similar initiatives are overcoming hurdles to tap into the tourism boom in this socialist island nation, which has become fashionable since the thaw with the United States.

The U.S. government put new rules in place in January making it easier for people from that country to visit Cuba, expanding the list of categories of authorised travel to 12, including visits for educational, religious, cultural, journalistic, humanitarian or family purposes.

After that, in the first half of the year, 88,900 visitors came from the United States – 54 percent more than in the first half of 2014.

In that period, the number of foreign tourists totaled 1,136,948, which would indicate an increase from last year’s total by year-end, when the number of visitors climbs.

Viñales valley and El Abra, a mountain village in the municipality of La Palma, are places of spectacular scenery in the hills of Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Río.

Offering bird-watching, hiking, and striking landscapes of mogotes or tall, dome-like limestone hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley, the province draws part of the three million foreign tourists who visit Cuba every year.

Remedios’ home is a traditional western Cuban wooden house with a palm-frond thatched roof. Above the wide gate hangs an ox yoke. In the main room inside is a long, rustic table lined with benches, a clay pitcher with fresh water, and a woodstove. The bedrooms are furnished with beds with wire mesh.

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Paintings by the artist, who is registered with the government’s Cultural Goods Fund – a requirement to be able to sell his art – hang on the walls, waiting for buyers.

With the sales of his art works, which are painted in a naive style, Remedios fixed up his museum-home, where he was born and grew up, and bought the materials needed to give free painting classes to local children. He began his project in 2013. He accepts small voluntary donations from visitors.

He says that “to revive peasant traditions and promote local painters” he would like to have more support from the local authorities, in order to build a classroom, an exhibition room and a ranchón or open-walled thatch-roofed structure to hold traditional rural fiestas or festive gatherings on weekends.

Alternatives

“The development of tourist attractions other than sun and beach will depend above all on the efforts made by the provinces, and how they use their own resources and capacities,” Professor Ricardo Jorge Machado, who was an adviser on tourism to the Council of Ministers between 1980 and 1993, told IPS.

Challenges posed by Cuba’s unique character

Among Cuba’s limitations as a tourism destination, experts identify the limited nightlife, a lack of culinary variety, stores with limited supplies and a lack of personalised services.

The biggest attractions, on the other hand, are how safe the country is, and the fact that Cuba is an oasis in today’s globalised world, free of the same old stores, chain restaurants and products. There are no Coca Cola or McDonald’s billboards, or fast food restaurants, they note.

The country has begun to improve infrastructure, with new hotels, ports that can serve cruise ships, terminals for the ferries that will begin to arrive from the U.S. state of Florida in September, and the expansion of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The expert advises local governments not to wait for financing from the tourism ministry but to undertake their own initiatives in conjunction with the private sector and with cooperatives, using their own funds made available by the current economic decentralisation process.

In its plan for the period up to 2030, the Tourism Ministry has prioritised 100 sun-and-beach projects and only two ecological tourism initiatives.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-biggest source of revenue, after the export of professional services. In 2014 tourism brought in more than 2.7 billion dollars.

The government’s strategy appears to focus on beach resorts and high-end tourism, with the construction of controversial golf courses and the boom in cruise ship traffic, which has risen nearly two-fold from last year, according to the Transport Ministry.

For the first time, the tourism authorities recognise the country’s growing private businesses and cooperatives as indispensable partners, while they attempt to capture foreign investment.

Up to now, the best-promoted tourism areas are the capital, the beach resort of Varadero, 140 km east of Havana, and the keys to the north of the main island.

The Cuban archipelago consists of the main island and 4,195 small islands and keys, where nature is exuberant.

Even in the capital, Machado estimates that there are 90 strong tourist attractions but says that only 12 are exploited, like the El Floridita bar, where U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a habitué, the La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant, and the Tropicana cabaret.

“Cuba should do more to vary its tourism products, putting an emphasis on elements of its public image that strengthen credibility: its health system and the safety of the country,” said the analyst. In his view, “more specialised forms of tourism, such as long-stay and health tourism, associated with older adults, should be a priority.”

He pointed out that competitors in the region, like Mexico and Colombia, are getting involved in medical tourism – including doctors trained in Cuba – but this country could offer even lower costs.

One million people from the United States travel abroad for health tourism every year.

Alternatives of this kind could generate opportunities in different parts of Cuba, because there are skilled healthcare professionals throughout the country, he said.

“It’s obvious that more and more visitors are arriving,” said Reina Ramos, a schoolteacher, walking down an avenue in central Havana, who pointed to the large numbers of tourists riding about the city in classic cars or convertibles now painted in bright colours – pink, purple or yellow – and serving as taxis.

If the U.S. Congress removes the restrictions on travelling to Cuba in the near future, as lawmakers are currently debating in Washington, the influx of visitors would set new records for the local tourism industry, posing the risk of collapse for the country’s hotels and other services.

In the meantime, villages and towns off the beaten track, with stunning landscapes or colonial-era architecture, have set their sights on tourism, but are facing difficulties creating lodgings, networks of services and even roads that would make it possible for them to share the benefits of the tourism boom.

With its cobblestone streets, spacious plazas and colonial-era houses, the historic centre of the city of Camagüey in central Cuba is drawing up its own plans for increasing the number of visitors.

“The idea is for tourists to come here as part of a circuit of colonial-era cities, similar to the one already offered by the Havana City Historian’s Office,” Camagüey city historian José Rodríguez told IPS.

He said the offices aimed at preserving the country’s heritage are designing a tour that would take visitors to Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Bayamo and Camagüey, whose historic centre was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Site in 2008.

The Camagüey office is developing a list of high-quality tourist offerings, ranging from small charming hotels to a thriving nightlife, with a variety of cultural options for tourists and the 300,000 inhabitants of the country’s third-largest city.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Brazil Poised on Verge of Unstable Equilibriumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-brazil-poised-on-verge-of-unstable-equilibrium/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-poised-on-verge-of-unstable-equilibrium http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-brazil-poised-on-verge-of-unstable-equilibrium/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:29:33 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142103

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the current political situation in Brazil and argues that the country finds itself in an impasse, with no political force apparently strong enough, or even interested in finding a better and more promising alternative policy strategy.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

As the political situation in Brazil appears to be reaching a state of unstable equilibrium, or more bluntly, as it is transformed from instability to impasse, the economy continues to deteriorate.

The sharpening of political conflicts that could lead to an outright collapse of the economy seems to have been attenuated by the shift on Apr. 7 of effective political power from President Dilma Rousseff to Vice-President Michel Temer.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Temer was successful in bringing Renan Calheiros, the chairman of the Federal Senate, back to the government camp, in a power-sharing agreement meant to isolate the chairman of the House, Eduardo Cunha, who has assumed a much more radical stance. The arrangement has worked so far.

The pressure on the President to resign or on the appropriate bodies to give cause to initiate impeachment processes seems to have reached its limit. Popular opposition to the federal administration, which has its stronghold in Sao Paulo – as shown in mass demonstrations in March and April and most recently on Aug. 16 – has not seen the snowball growth its leaders expected.

In sum, positions seem to have been hardened as a measure of political accommodation has been reached, with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) taking the lead on the side of government, and the formal opposition to government, including the nominally leading opposition party, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), rallying to the side of Eduardo Cunha, still their best hope on the way to an impeachment procedure.

Street demonstrations at this point seem to be unable to change this picture. Still, it should be noted that only the opposition has been able to organise large demonstrations. Attempts by pro-government groups to do the same in favour of the government have been few and largely unsuccessful.

In this context, as expected, the Brazilian economy continues to deteriorate. The contractionary impact of fiscal retrenchment has been greater than anticipated because not many people can foresee what will come next. In fact, no one can, even if announced measures will in fact be implemented while current difficulties, including fiscal difficulties, grow further.

The federal government was not able to pass the contractionary measures it argued to be essential, thus creating a ‘Catch 22’ situation in which one expects the success of the government to be very bad for the country but its failure to be even worse. Many economists are predicting a fall in 2015 GDP close to two percent, postponing chances of recovery until at least 2017.

“[Brazil] finds itself at an impasse. No political force seems to be strong enough, or even interested in finding a better and more promising alternative policy strategy”
If this contraction actually happens, it will be one the most serious recessions in recent history, much worse than what happened in 2008 and 2009.

The reasons for this are complex and the government is partly correct to point to the worsening of the external scenario. China can no longer carry Brazil forward. The recovery of the U.S. economy is weak and volatile. Europe is unable to overcome its own fossilised views on the virtues of austerity, causing the whole area to limp around.

Of course, this excuse only goes so far. Many analysts had called the attention of government authorities to the fact that growth during President Lula da Silva’s two terms in office (2003-2011) would vanish in the event that China lost its breath, as has actually happened.

The country lost the opportunity to make the investments, particularly in infrastructure, which could have increased its productive capacity. Efficient industrial policies should have been consistently implemented to that end, public investment should have been expanded, and consistent exchange rate policies should have been sought to change the picture of overvaluation that has been killing local manufacturing, on and off, since the Real Plan was implemented in 1994.

Practically nothing of this was effectively done. Investment plans were announced that had no consequence, local manufacturers became importers on an increasing scale, and roads, ports and energy production fell behind needs, while the government presented policies to increase household indebtedness to expand consumption as a successful combination of economic and social policies.

In the last two years of Rousseff’s first term (2011-2014), these policies were not even successful in increasing growth rates and GDP stalled as the government appealed more and more to tricks, particularly accounting tricks, and the distribution of favours to politically-connected sectors to try to revive the economy.

To a large extent, the turn to austerity was motivated by the failure to revive the economy, which doubled the bet on mistaken policies. Austerity measures in a shrinking economy can only accelerate the fall. But the dissolution of the political power of the president tripled the bet.

No one can believe that the president has the power to effectively pursue an alternative policy path. In fact, if the alternative to austerity is going back to what she did in her first term, the president will not find any supporters, except, perhaps, in her fast-shrinking number of hard-core believers.

So the country finds itself at an impasse. No political force seems to be strong enough, or even interested in finding a better and more promising alternative policy strategy. The more radical opponents – the Workers’ Party (PT) and the PSDB – got lost in a ‘blame game’, trying to pin down which of two presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso or Lula, had been worse.

None of them seems to have anything to offer. PMDB does not deal in wholesale strategies, it is more interested in retailing. Given the steep loss of trust in the PT or its leaders, including Lula, the party seems to be excluded from any power arrangement to be designed in the near future (its perspectives for the long-term future are at a minimum very uncertain).

The situation of the PSDB is not much better, because all it has in its favour is the receding memory of the Cardoso period, in which much the same problems were as serious as they are now and the party was as incompetent in pointing to solutions as the PT is now.

In this situation, the PMDB stepped in. It reached some measure of political stability but it has no vision of where to take the economy. Given its structure as a federation of state leaderships, the PMDB deals better with favours than with strategies.

As happened under President José Sarney in the late 1980s, this may be enough – in the best of circumstances – to put the brakes on economic deterioration but not to guide its revival.

The country will survive, of course, as it has done in the past.  The problem is that Brazil has experience of unfortunately all too frequent low-quality political leadership, so even the optimistic analysts can only see hardship ahead. (END/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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Climate Change Shrinking Uganda’s Lakes and Fishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:04:31 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142100 Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is reducing the size of several species of fish on lakes in Uganda and its neighbouring East African countries, with a negative impact on the livelihoods of millions people who depend on fishing for food and income.

Studies conducted on inland lakes in Uganda, including Lake Victoria which is shared by three East African countries, indicate that indigenous fish species have shrunk in size due to an increase in temperatures in the water bodies.

“What we are seeing in Lake Victoria and other lakes is a shift in the composition of fish. In the past, we had a dominance of bigger fish but now we are seeing the fish stocks dominated by small fish. This means they are the ones which are adapting well to the changed conditions,” said Dr Jackson Efitre, a lecturer in fisheries management and aquatic sciences at Uganda’s Makerere University.

“So if that condition goes on, he added, “the question is would we want to see our fish population dominated by small fish with little value?”

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive … If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death” – Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO)
In Uganda, the fisheries sector accounts for 2.5 percent of the national budget and 12.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It employs 1.2 million people, generates over 100 million dollars in exports and provides about 50 percent of the dietary proteins of Ugandans.

Efitre was one of the researchers for a study on ‘Application of policies to address the influence of climate change on inland aquatic and riparian ecosystems, fisheries and livelihoods”, which examined the influence of climate variability and change on fisheries resources and livelihoods using lakes Wamala and Kawi in the Victoria and Kyoga lake basins as case studies.

It also looked at the extent to which existing policies can be applied to address the impacts of and any challenges associated with climate change.

The study’s findings showed that temperatures around the two lakes had always varied but had increased consistently by 0.02-0.03oC annually since the 1980s, and that rainfall had deviated from historical averages and on Lake Wamala – although not Lake Kawi – had generally been above average since the 1980s.

According to the study, these findings are consistent with those reported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and 2014 for the East African region.

Mark Olokotum, one of the study’s researchers, climate changes have affected the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

“These are fishers who depend on the environment. You either increase on the number of times you fish to get more fish or get more fishing gear to catch more fish. And once that happens, you spend more time fishing, earn much less although the price is high, and there are no fish so people have resorted to eating what is available,” he said.

Olokotum told IPS that the water balance of most aquatic systems in Uganda is determined by rainfall and temperature through evaporation.

He said that about 80 percent of the water gain in Lake Wamala was through rainfall while 86 percent of the loss was through evaporation, resulting in a negative water balance and the failure of the lake to retain its historical water levels.

“Therefore, although rainfall in the East African region is expected to increase as a result of climate change, this gain may be offset by increased evaporation associated with increases in temperature unless the increases in rainfall outweigh the loss through evaporation,” Olokotum explained.

These changes have made life more difficult for people like Clement Opedum and his eight sons who have traditionally depended on lakes as a source of food and income.

Opedum’s living has always come from the waters of Lake Wamala. In the past, sales of tilapia fish from the lake to neighbouring districts were brisk; and some would be bought by traders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, sustaining his family and other fishermen.

Those days are now gone. Over the years, the lake has steadily retreated from its former shores, leaving Opedum and his neighbours high and dry, and faced with the prospect that the lake could vanish entirely.

Charles Lugambwa, another fisherman in the same area, has been obliged to turn to farming, and he now grows yams, sweet potatoes and beans on land that was previously under the waters of the lake.

Lugambwa told IPS that apart from tilapia fish, other species have started disappearing from the lake in 30 or so years he has lived there.  “In 1994, the lake dried up completely but came back in 1998 following heavy rains,” he told IPS. “We used to catch very big tilapia but now they are quite tiny even though they are adult fish.”

Scientists and researchers argue that the causes of lake shrinking include water evaporation, increased cultivation on banks, cutting down of trees and destruction of wetlands, while the reduction in the size of tilapia has been linked to increased lake water temperature as a result of global warming.

Dr Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, senior research officer at the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFFIRI) told IPS that the response to the impacts of climate change in Uganda had been concentrated on crops, livestock and forestry with almost no concern for the fisheries sector.

“It is high time government took the bold step to bring aquatic ecosystems and fisheries fully on board in its climate change responses,” he said.

According to Ogutu-Ohwayo, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the East African Community Policy on Climate Change commit states to building capacity, generating knowledge, and identifying adaptation and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change, however these have barely been implemented.

Ogutu-Ohwayo who was part of the lake study research team, told IPS that Uganda has a water policy which provides for protection and management of water resources, and “we must apply these policies to manage the water resources of lakes Wamala, Kawi and other lakes through integrated approaches such as protecting wetlands, lake shores and river banks and controlling water extraction.”

Like other East African nations, Uganda has relied heavily on capture fisheries, or wild fisheries, with a tendency to marginalise aquaculture as far as resource allocation and manpower development is concerned.

With climate change leading to a decline in the size and stocks of wild fish and capture fisheries, fisheries experts are saying wild fish and capture fisheries from lakes alone can no longer meet the demand for fish, both for local consumption and export.

Fish processing plants around Lake Victoria, for example, are now operating at less than 50 percent capacity, while some have closed down.

Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), told IPS that aquaculture could be used as one of the adaptation measures to help communities that have depended on fish to supplement capture fisheries.

He noted, however, that the development of aquaculture in most Eastern African countries is constrained by low adoption of appropriate technologies, inadequate investment in research and inadequate aquaculture extension services.

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive and that is why we are asking government to invest in aquaculture,” said Rutaisire. ”If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death,” he warned.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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China’s Economy Has Sounded the Alert; Will Latin America Listen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 23:00:08 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142093 Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

For years, Latin America has exported its raw materials to China’s voracious factories, fuelling economic growth. But now that the Asian giant is putting a priority on domestic consumption over industrial production, how will this region react?

China’s dizzying growth gave a boost to the economies of Latin America, and in exchange, this region received manufactured products, credits, and heavy investment in infrastructure.

Given the slowdown in China’s growth, the countries of Latin America have two options: move toward a more value-added economy or lose relevance with an obsolete economic model inherited from the 20th century, said several experts consulted by IPS.

“Over the last five years, the relationship between Latin America and China has been dominated by Latin America sending China a few raw materials and China sending Latin America manufactured goods,” U.S. academic Rebecca Ray told IPS.“In simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.” -- Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros

“But this may be about to change,” added the research fellow at the Boston University Global Economic Governance Initiative, where she coordinates the Working Group on Development and the Environment in the Americas’ China in Latin America project and coauthors the China-Latin America Economic Bulletin.

According to Ray, China’s leaders are shifting toward a development strategy with an emphasis on slower but steady growth, which prioritises internal consumption over factory production, thus opening up opportunities for importing manufactured goods from other countries.

The path toward that future was one of the central focuses of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) meeting in the Costa Rican capital from Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Friday, Aug. 21, which brought together foreign ministers and other senior officials from 36 countries under the theme “Two Regions, One Vision”.

The experts who spoke to IPS all agreed that given China’s slowdown, decision-makers in Latin America must take the initiative and propose economic alternatives based on more value added.

But the region has been slow to make the leap. Just five commodities – soy, iron, oil and unrefined and refined copper – account for 75 percent of exports to China, only a tiny share of which are manufactured goods.

But the other major economic flow between China and Latin America, investment in infrastructure, could paradoxically benefit from the slowdown and the shift in direction of the Chinese economy, the experts said.

The deceleration in the engine of the global economy since 2014, when China’s growth stood at 7.4 percent, the lowest level in 24 years, “May hurt Latin American economies that have become dependent on exporting those few commodities. In contrast, China’s infrastructure investments can help all industries do well,” Ray said.

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Well-administered, she said, Chinese-financed projects could close the region’s historic gap in infrastructure and serve as a platform for the development of other industries that would benefit from investment in transport and energy, two main areas of interest for China.

“Hopefully, policy makers will make use of this opportunity to spur development in non-traditional industries,” Ray said.

Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros, with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) International Trade and Integration Division, concurred.

“To the extent that these projects are aligned with the priorities of countries in the region, a greater Chinese presence could help gradually close Latin America’s infrastructure gap, thus strengthening regional integration and improving the region’s international competitiveness,” they stated in a joint analysis for IPS.

One of the aims of China’s investments in infrastructure in Latin America, they noted, is for that country’s to invest people’s savings.

But the direction taken by the growing links between Latin America and China do not leave much room for optimism.

Up to now, the region’s exports to China “Support fewer jobs, generate more net greenhouse gas emissions, and use more water than other LAC (Latin American and Caribbean) exports,” according to a study by GEGI.

China, meanwhile, has been promoting and financing controversial megaprojects in the region, like the “great inter-oceanic canal” in Nicaragua, to be built by the Chinese consortium Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN-Group) at an estimated cost of 50 billion dollars, and the projected 5,000-km Transcontinental Railway, which would connect Brazil and Peru.

Chinese investment has also fuelled trade ties based on raw materials. According to ECLAC, between 2010 and 2013 nearly 90 percent of China’s investment in the region went into the extractive industry, mainly mining and fossil fuels.

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big sign on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big banner on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

“From that perspective, China’s high level of demand for raw materials at a global level has effectively consolidated and reinforced the specialisation of these processes, also known as ‘re-primarisation’ of the economy,” Enrique Dussel, director of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

But Dussel said emphatically that the countries of Latin America will have to respond, given the signals. “It is Latin America and the Caribbean that have the responsibility – and need – to make a decision, not China,” he stated.

This refocusing of the economies of the region on the production of primary commodities for export happened when Latin America was seduced by last decade’s high commodities prices and prioritised exports of raw materials over exports of greater added value.

Raw materials represent more than 60 percent of the region’s exports – the highest proportion seen since the early 1990s, according to ECLAC studies – up from 44 percent at the start of the century.

Manufactured goods like machinery and electronic devices, meanwhile, make up 64 percent of China’s exports to this region, and are less sensitive to price swings.

Between 2000 and 2014, imports from China rose from two to 14 percent of the regional total.

Dussel said China’s growth highlighted the serious problems faced by the region’s exports. In his view, the problems do not necessarily lie in the predominance of raw materials, but in the fact that these industries have “very little value added and technology.”

ECLAC’s Inoue and Herreros say the shift in focus of China’s development presents an opportunity.

They said that “in simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.”

“To the extent that this process has an effect, it should favour the diversification of Latin America’s exports to China,” they said.

They expect sectors like agribusiness and processed food to become more important in the region, although they warn that it could take years for the effects to be felt, and say that in order for that to happen, decision-makers would have to take ambitious steps toward consolidating the region as a trade bloc.

“We must also make more decisive progress towards a truly integrated regional market,” Inoue and Herreros wrote. “That would make Latin America more attractive and increase its bargaining power vis-à-vis China, the rest of Asia and other big global economic actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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UAE Wins Hearts and Minds at World Exhibition in Milanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uae-wins-hearts-and-minds-at-world-exhibition-in-milan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uae-wins-hearts-and-minds-at-world-exhibition-in-milan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uae-wins-hearts-and-minds-at-world-exhibition-in-milan/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:44:36 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142091 Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

By Jaya Ramachandran
MILAN, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

She only turned nine last June. But Mahra Mustafa has become a celebrity at the Expo Milan. She stars as Sara in ‘The Family Tree’, a short film on the UAE’s heritage being screened at the United Arab Emirates pavilion. Sara is in fact the face of young, dynamic and innovative Emirates.

Thousands of Italians and foreign visitors, who throng the UAE pavilion day in and day out, are enchanted by the 12-metre tall sinuous rippled walls that provide an unforgettable experience and give an idea of what the Emirates would offer during the Dubai Expo in 2020.“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities.” -- Nawal Al Hosany

The Dubai Expo from Oct 20, 2020 through Apr 10, 2021, will launch the UAE’s Golden Jubilee celebration and “serve as a springboard from which to inaugurate a progressive and sustainable vision for the coming decades”, according to information posted on its website.

The organisers proudly announce: “This will be the first time that a World Expo is staged in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region.”

While Expo Milan from May 1 to Oct 31 is focussing on ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, Dubai’s World Expo will have ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ as its theme, echoing the powerful spirit of partnership and co-operation that has driven the UAE’s success in pioneering new paths of development and innovation, the organisers say.

“Through this theme, Expo 2020 Dubai will serve as a catalyst, connecting minds from around the world and inspiring participants to mobilise around shared challenges during a World Expo of unprecedented global scope,” the organisers add.

As compared to Expo Milan, which expects to welcome 20 million visitors during six months, Expo 2020 Dubai awaits 25 million visits, 70 per cent from abroad – if only to feel and experience Sara’s ‘The Family Tree’.

“People got so excited seeing movies on Dubai, the feedback we got was that people want to visit before Expo 2020,” ‘The National’, UAE’s English-language publication, quoted Amal Al Kuwaiti, a contract engineer with the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company who worked as a volunteer at the UAE pavilion in Milan.

The architects worked closely with the UAE’s National Media Council to create the pavilion and connect it to the Milan theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, notes The National.

“Many were surprised to see the country with not much water, how people searched for food. Then suddenly they see videos of the Burj Khalifa (a skyscraper in Dubai) and they are thrilled. Even people who have been to Dubai long ago want to see the changes,” he added.

“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities,” Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, told The National newspaper. He was involved in building the UAE pavilion.

Describing the highlights of the ‘The Family Tree’, the Gulf News writes: Sara is transported back in time, during the generation of her grandparents. Sara gets to live and witness what life was like before modernisation and development in the area, living in the harsh desert conditions, facing many challenges such as finding food and water, and dealing with sandstorms and wild animals.

“The movie’s special effects, story, and professional direction is on par with any Hollywood major production,” claims the Gulf News with some justification.

It is not only the film but also Sara’s rap song that ties in to the Milan Expo theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life: “We have land and food and energy/The sun, the sand and the big blue sea/The people, the animals/I’m beginning to see/Are all interconnected like a tapestry . . .”

The song is for sale on iTunes and the proceeds are going to victims of Nepal’s earthquakes.

When the film The Family Tree ends, visitors are invited to switch to an interactive  ‘Future Talk’, with the presentation being delivered by Sara. The main message of the talk is to encourage people to live their lives in a more sustainable and energy-friendly manner, so that we can have a better future in feeding the planet.

The UAE pavilion also highlights the importance of date palms, a major component of Emirati culture and tradition. The exhibition, ‘The Secret Life of Date Palms’, informs about the date palm features, its form, fruit, hydration, metamorphosis, shade and shadow. As part of the exhibition visitors also get to experience and see the date palms for themselves, with an oasis garden and date palm trees present at the pavilion.

Walking along the sinuous rippled walls, visitors pass by 12 media cubes. These refer to 12 challenges the UAE faces in respect of land, energy, water and food. Then follow the 12 media cubes with 12 solutions. One of the challenges the Emirates face is that it barely gets any rain, and so the solution in providing clean drinking water to its population is through new methods of desalinated seawater using renewable energy.

The media cubes also offer visitors an insight into the UAE and its culture, with five short Discovery films about the UAE. ‘Flavors of the Emirates’ is a short film about the traditional and cultural foods of the UAE.

Another short film, “Helping Feed the Planet”, touches on the UAE’s generous contribution in giving aid to 140 countries around the world, with the short movie going to Ethiopia where schoolchildren are provided with healthy food thanks to a programme funded and organised by Dubai Cares.

Emiratis acting as volunteers and ambassadors at the pavilion are also present to help guide and further explain the culture and history of the UAE, making the tour as interactive as possible for visitors.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Mexico’s Gruesome War Against Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:24:14 +0000 Carolina Jimenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142083 Families demand official investigations into the fate of missing migrants, and the creation of a database. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Carolina Jiménez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

“Pray for me.”

Those are the last words Eva Nohemi Hernández Murillo told her mother, Elida Yolanda, through a patchy phone line on the evening of Aug. 22, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Honduras was about to get into a van that would, she hoped, take her and 72 other men and women across the Mexican border to the U.S.Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

Eva Nohemi wanted to arrive in what for her was the “promised land” to find a job that would give her enough money to support her parents and three young children back in El Progreso, in Honduras. But she, and all of her travel companions, but one, never made it.

Two days later when Elida sat in her living room to watch the evening news, her worst nightmare was realised.

The image of the lifeless bodies of 72 men and women filled the screen – the victims of what has come to be known as the first massacre of San Fernando. She recognised the clothes on one of them as belonging to her daughter.

“The next day we bought the newspapers to see if we could confirm it was her from the pictures. I felt it was her but was not sure, no one wants to see her daughter dead like that,” Elida said.

The only information about how the massacre unfolded came from the testimony of its sole survivor – who since then has felt terrified for his life after receiving numerous death threats.

Elida didn’t have enough money to travel to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to demand more information or action from the Mexican embassy there. No one contacted her either.

It was only when a human rights organisation reached out to the family that the investigations started gathering pace.

Another agonising two years passed by before Elida received a call from the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa with the confirmation that Eva Nohemi was dead.

“I went into shock. I suspected it was her but you never want to accept that your daughter is dead. Like Eva Nohemi, people are dying on that route all the time. All I want is justice so that this does not happen again,” she said, shaken.

Elida is not alone.

The massacre of San Fernando, which took place five years ago today, provides a glimpse into a shocking crisis that had been lurking for years.

Men, women and children desperate for better opportunities or under death threats by criminal gangs in violent-ridden Central America embark on this dangerous journey with little left to lose but their lives.

Criminal gangs, some of them believed to be working in collusion with local Mexican authorities, attack the migrants along the way. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into sex work. Men are tortured and many of them are kidnapped for ransom.

Few make it to the border without having suffered any human rights abuse; many go missing on the way, never to be found again.

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

Six months after the San Fernando massacre, another 193 bodies were found in 47 mass graves in the same town. A year after that, 49 dismembered torsos, believed to be from undocumented migrants, were found in the city of Cadereyta, in the neighbouring state of Nuevo León.

In 2013, a forensic commission made up by the relatives of the migrants, human rights organisations, forensic anthropologists and government officials took on the task of starting to identify the remains from these massacres.

According to official figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.

Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

Or at least the authorities look the other way. Meanwhile the stories of death and suffering continue to pile up.

A few days after the San Fernando massacre, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised to implement a coordinated plan to end kidnappings and killings of migrants.

Five years on, there’s little to show for this.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, chose a security strategy over a human rights solution to his country’s migrant crisis.

In a recent visit to Washington, he was quick to congratulate President Barack Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented migrants living in the U.S. from deportation, describing it as an “act of justice”. At the same time, he has done remarkably little to tackle the abuses against migrants occurring in his own country.

There are no magic formulas to resolve this complex tangle of crime, drugs, violence and collusion, but there’s certainly much more than the Mexican authorities can and must do to end it.

Committing more and better resources to undertake effective investigations into these massacres and providing protection to the thousands of migrants crossing the country are two measures that cannot be delayed any longer.

Doing so will send a strong message that Mexican authorities truly do want justice for migrants. We already know the macabre consequences of not doing enough.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: MDG Victories Take Spotlight at South-South Awardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/qa-mdg-victories-take-spotlight-at-south-south-awards/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 14:53:55 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142079

Nora Happel interviews H.E. Alexandru Cujba, Secretary-General of the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD) and Director-General of the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC).

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

Next month, the South-South Awards will be taking place for the fifth time, honouring the achievements and contributions of heads of state and government, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society in promoting sustainable development in the Global South.

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

Alexandru Cujba. Credit: South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD)

2015 is a special year in many respects, with the U.N. celebrating its 70th anniversary and U.N. member states concluding their work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and preparing for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The South-South Awards, on Sep. 26, are going to be held in support of these major events that will shape the new development agenda for the next 15 years.

The South-South Awards are perhaps the most prominent example of the many development programmes designed and implemented by the International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC) to support U.N. development efforts, exchange knowledge and best practices in the area of South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation and build partnerships between governments from developing countries and private sector companies.

Launched in 2010 during the 16th session of the United Nations High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation against the backdrop of chronic under-coverage of the Global South, IOSSC has started with the news programme “South-South News” and since moved into project development to expand its practice areas into the fields of business development and social development.

Last year, the organisation launched the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development (SS-SCSD), an umbrella structure supporting its different activities and also, in particular, the South-South Awards.

In an interview with IPS, SS-SCSD Secretary-General and IOSSC Director-General H.E. Alexander Cujba, former Permanent Representative of Moldova to the United Nations and former Vice-President of the U.N. General Assembly, shared some insights on the 2015 South-South Awards."We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements... but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development."

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: This year, the MDGs will be replaced by the SDGs. This process has been reflected in the theme for the 2015 South-South Awards, which is “From MDGs to SDGs: Supporting poverty reduction, education, and humanitarian efforts.”

Will the 2015 South-South Awards be different from previous ones due to the important events happening this year such as the adoption of the SDGs, first of all, but also for instance the 70th anniversary of the U.N.?

A: This is the fifth year that we organise the South-South Awards and I would say that this year will be both a continuation of our previous ceremonies as well as a different event because, as you rightly mention, we conclude the MDGs and we are moving to a new agenda, the post-2015 development agenda.

So while previously we were recognising achievements of the member states in specific areas that were linked to specific MDGs, this year we want to emphasise the achievements of member states in implementing all eight MDGs.

Of course, results differ and not only results of the different countries and regions, but also results in different MDGs. I think that undoubtedly, MDG no. 1, combating poverty and hunger, was a major MDG. So therefore, this year, we partner with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and our traditional supporter, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in order to emphasise the achievements of U.N. member states and developing countries specifically with regard to MDG no. 1.

Apart from that, we also use this opportunity – because it is the 70th anniversary of the U.N. – to highlight the role that the U.N. had over the last 70 years not only in the area of preserving peace and security but also in promoting development. At a time when many scholars, politicians, experts discuss the creation and the need for the United Nations in 1945, we see that now the U.N. has to bring a new impulse to the development of member states, not only preserving security and peace, but also supporting the sustainable development of its member states.

Q: What are the main objectives of the South-South Awards? Can you tell me about some of the results of previous South-South Awards?

A: Working with different missions here at the U.N., we learn that small countries, particularly least developed countries, have their own positive results and achievements that frequently are not known except by the diplomatic world, except by the U.N.

Therefore, in previous years, we wanted to highlight specifically these small but extremely important results for those developing countries. That’s why every year we were working with our co-organisers in order to identify the best practices and achievements of those developing states in different specific areas.

This year, however, we want to emphasise the overall implementation of the MDGs. It is a good opportunity for us to highlight the congregation of efforts in order to achieve those noble goals that were adopted in 2000.

Q: How are the winners of the South-South Awards selected and which criteria have been most relevant this year in choosing the winners?

A: We have learned from other awards that were presented by different U.N. agencies. They have some specific criteria that are linked to the work, mission and goals of the U.N. agencies and structures that co-organise the respective events.

In our case we want to emphasise the results of the implementation of the MDGs but also the positive examples of South-South and Triangular Cooperation. As countries from different continents differ by size, resources and achievements, it is hard to compare the results achieved by these different countries.

On the other hand, we put emphasis on both the difference and unity of these countries. As I said, sometimes we don’t know what was achieved in for example Lesotho or Costa Rica or Tajikistan, Sri Lanka and many other countries around the world. So therefore we use the database and the statistics of major U.N. organisations.

This year we used in particular the MDG report that was prepared by the U.N. Secretariat and especially the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). We used the Food Insecurity Report of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other related agencies and of course we referred to the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organisation.

We tried to highlight both major achievements and also some particular, not necessarily big achievements by number of population raised from hunger or by number of children going to school, but that are considerable for those small and least developed countries that are struggling with their development.

Q: Which guests do you expect this year?

A: The South-South Awards ceremony is traditionally organised prior to the General Debate of the U.N. General Assembly. We invite heads of delegations that attend the General Debate and also the heads of the diplomatic missions, permanent missions to the U.N. and consulates in New York.

Amongst our participants are also high-level officials from the U.N. and from inter-governmental organisations that are part of the U.N. system. We also have CEOs of major corporations that are collaborating and working in the developing world. We have celebrities and civil society leaders. Our mission is to bring together all stakeholders that are part of development.

Right now, we have received confirmation from numerous heads of state and government that are coming to New York to attend the Summit on the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the General Debate. This year, we will therefore have a very diverse high-level participation with a total of around 800 guests expected.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations for the 2015 South-South Awards?

A: We hope that we will be able to emphasise the achievements, big and small, but important for the developing countries in implementing the MDGs and moving towards a new post-2015 development agenda. We want these lessons to be shared as widely as possible and be transferred to other countries.

We have all these good examples. We now have to learn from those positive experiences of developing and least developed states. I sincerely hope that our participants will have a good experience, enjoy the awards and that we will be able to continue our cooperation and our mission which is to bring together different stakeholders with the goal of supporting developing states and development initiatives.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Misinformation Hides Real Dimension of Greek “Bailout”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-misinformation-hides-real-dimension-of-greek-bailout/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-misinformation-hides-real-dimension-of-greek-bailout http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-misinformation-hides-real-dimension-of-greek-bailout/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 11:14:47 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142057

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that the purpose of Greece’s third bailout is clear – all but seven percent of the 86 billion euros will go to pay debt with the other European governments, recapitalize Greek banks, pay interest on Greece’s debt and pay the debt of the state with Greek enterprises, while the country’s citizens will see none of it.

By Roberto Savio
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

The long saga on Greece is apparently over – European institutions have given Athens a third bailout of 86 billion euros which, combined with the previous two, makes a grand total of 240 billion euros.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

There is no doubt that the large majority of European citizens are convinced that this is a great example of solidarity, and that if Greece is not now able to walk on its own feet, the responsibility will lie solely with Greek citizens and their government.

But this is only due to the fact that the media system has, by and large, ceased to provide alternative views … and some people even ignore that the bailout is a loan, and therefore increases the country’s debt.

In fact, the productive economy of Greece saw very little of that money because the bailouts were merely financial operations and Greek citizens, not only did not see anything, they have even had to pay a brutal price.

The truth behind the operation has been aptly described by Mujtaba Rahman, the respected chief Eurozone analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group, who said: “The bailout is not really about a growth plan for Greece, but a plan to make sure the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) get paid, and the euro area does not break up.”

And the purpose of this third bailout is clear. Of the famous 86 billion, 36 billion will go to pay the debt with the other European governments (and first of all Germany). Another 25 billion will go to recapitalize the Greek banks, because much capital left the country, heading for safer European banks. Another 18 billion will go to pay interest on the debt which Greece has been piling up. And, finally, seven billion will go to pay the debt of the state with Greek enterprises.“How could any economist, even in the first year of studies, fail to understand that, by cutting consumption and raising taxes you are bound to depress an already depressed economy?”

So, seven will go to the real economy and nothing to the citizens, who will have now to go through several new drastic measures of austerity, which will further depress their standards of living and their ability to spend.

Financially, the bailouts have been a success. All the losses and bad exposure of European institutions have been passed on to Greece. Before the first bailout, French banks were exposed with bad bonds for 63 billion euros, now only for 1.6 billion with no losses. German banks have gone from 45 to five billion.

What is intriguing is that a number of studies show that until the very last moment, when it was widely known that Greece was in deep crisis, European banks and investors continued to buy Greek bonds.

Were they certain that Greece would pay? No, but they were confident that the Greek government would be rescued, and that they would therefore recover their investments, which is exactly what happened.

The financial system has now a life of its own and has nothing to do with real economy, which it dwarfs by being 40 times larger (if we judge by the volumes of daily financial transactions against the production of goods and services). Capital is untouchable and circulates freely in Europe, unlike its citizens. And now there is a great wave of legislation to introduce lower taxation for the richest one percent!

During the negotiations, one frequent accusation levelled against the Greeks was that they were unable to have their rich ship-owners pay their share of taxes. Of course, ship-owners place their money where it cannot be reached.

But is this not hypocritical when we know that there are at least two trillion euros stashed in fiscal paradises, and that, just to give one example, nobody has got Ryanair to really pay taxes? Not to mention the fact that when he was prime minister of Luxembourg, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker granted secret tax rebates to over a hundred international companies?

Now Agence France Press has circulated a new astonishing study from the German Leibnitz Institute of Economic Research, which says that Germany has profited from the Greek crisis to the tune of 100 billion euros, saving money through lower interest payments on funds the government borrowed amid investor “flights to safety” and “these savings exceed the cost of the crisis – even if Greece were to default on its entire debt.”

Meanwhile, a large number of studies point out how, by having a positive balance of trade with its European partners, Germany is in fact sucking capital from Europe.

Interpreting the third bailout and its conditions of austerity as a mere economic operation would be to commit a great error.

No economist can believe that Greece will be able to pay back and not only because it has always had a fragile economy, with little industry and with tourism as its main source of income (aggravated by decades of mismanagement and the corruption of its traditional parties, the very parties that European leaders would like to see come back).

Greece is already in recession and now the doubling of VAT is going to compress consumption further, also because there will now be further reductions in pensions and public salaries (which have been already cut by 20 percent).  It is widely believed that the Greek debt will now reach 200 percent of its GDP, up from 170 percent prior to the bailout.

How could any economist, even in the first year of studies, fail to understand that, by cutting consumption and raising taxes you are bound to depress an already depressed economy?

Well, it is no coincidence that the IMF, which is the Rotary Club of conservative economists, has refused to join this bailout. The IMF has said it will not put in any money unless European creditors (which is a diplomatic way of saying Germany) accept a restructuring of the Greek debt.

It is clear that the bailout has not been a technical but a political operation. Many European leaders, starting with Juncker himself, intervened in last month’s internal Greek referendum, asking Greeks to vote against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. They indicated clearly and openly, in a campaign that the Wall Street Journal repeated in the United States, that the revolt against austerity and the neoliberal economy should be stopped dead in its tracks to avoid political contagion.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared on German television that she has come to the conclusion that °Tsipras has changed°. This has an air of dejà vu … was it not then British Prime Margaret Thatcher who, intent on destroying the trade unions, launched her famous TINA slogan – There Is No Alternative?

And is there no alternative to this kind of Europe? (END/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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Islamic Declaration Turns Up Heat Ahead of Paris Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/islamic-declaration-turns-up-heat-ahead-of-paris-climate-talks/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 18:39:07 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142051 Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit: kateeb.org

Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, was one of the signers of the Islamic Declaration on Climate. Credit: kateeb.org

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who has taken a vocal stance on climate change, Muslim leaders and scholars from 20 countries issued a joint declaration Tuesday underlining the severity of the problem and urging governments to commit to 100 percent renewable energy or a zero emissions strategy.

Notably, it calls on oil-rich, wealthy Muslim countries to lead the charge in phasing out fossil fuels “no later than the middle of the century.”

The call to action, which draws on Islamic teachings, was adopted at an International Islamic Climate Change Symposium in Istanbul.

“Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet,” the Islamic Declaration on Climate statement says.

“This current rate of climate change cannot be sustained, and the earth’s fine equilibrium (mīzān) may soon be lost…We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavor and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race.”

The symposium’s goal was to reach “broad unity and ownership from the Islamic community around the Declaration.”

Welcoming the declaration, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said, “A clean energy, sustainable future for everyone ultimately rests on a fundamental shift in the understanding of how we value the environment and each other.

“Islam’s teachings, which emphasize the duty of humans as stewards of the Earth and the teacher’s role as an appointed guide to correct behavior, provide guidance to take the right action on climate change.”

Supporters of the Islamic Declaration included the grand muftis of Uganda and Lebanon and government representatives from Turkey and Morocco.

The UNFCCC notes that religious leaders of all faiths have been stepping up the pressure on governments to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions and help poorer countries adapt to the challenges of climate change, with a key international climate treaty set to be negotiated in Paris this December.

In June, Pope Francis released a papal encyclical letter, in which he called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join the fight against climate change.

The Church of England’s General Synod recently urged world leaders to agree on a roadmap to a low carbon future, and is among a number of Christian groups promising to redirect their resources into clean energy.

Hindu leaders will release their own statement later this year, and the Buddhist community plans to step up engagement this year building on a Buddhist Declaration on climate change. Hundreds of rabbis released a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis.

The Dalai Lama has also frequently spoken of the need for action on climate change, linking it to the need for reforms to the global economic system.

Interfaith groups have been cooperating throughout the year. The Vatican convened a Religions for Peace conference in the Vatican in April, and initiatives such as our Our Voices network are building coalitions in the run-up to Paris.

Reacting to the Islamic Declaration, the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative Head of Low Carbon Frameworks, Tasneem Essop, said, “The message from the Islamic leaders and scholars boosts the moral aspects of the global climate debate and marks another significant display of climate leadership by faith-based groups.

“Climate change is no longer just a scientific issue; it is increasingly a moral and ethical one. It affects the lives, livelihoods and rights of everyone, especially the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities.”

Edited by Kanya D’ Almeida

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Kudos for Bolivia’s Success in Reducing Coca Cultivationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:58:36 +0000 Ronald Joshua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142038 Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

By Ronald Joshua
VIENNA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has praised Bolivia for reducing coca bush cultivation for the fourth year in a row. According to the latest Coca Crop Monitoring Survey, released Tuesday in La Paz, coca cultivation declined by 11 per cent in 2014, compared to the previous year.

The surface under cultivation declined from 23,000 hectares (ha) in 2013 to 20,400 ha last year, hitting the bottom since UNODC began its monitoring survey in 2003.

At the Survey’s launch, UNODC’s Representative in Bolivia, Antonino De Leo, praised the Bolivian Government’s efforts for the continued reduction of the coca crop area during the last four years. De Leo highlighted that, between 2010 and 2014, “the surface under coca cultivation declined by 10,600 ha, which represents a reduction of more than a third.”

Through the use of satellite imaging and field monitoring, reductions in the two main areas of cultivation were detected. The regions of Los Yungas de La Paz and Trópico de Cochabamba together constitute 99 per cent of the areas under coca cultivation in the country.

Between 2013 and 2014, these two areas reduced their surface under coca cultivation by 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively, from 15,700 to 14,200 ha and from 7,100 to 6,100 ha. In the Norte de La Paz provinces the cultivation area decreased from 230 to 130 ha, reports the survey.

There are 22 protected areas in Bolivia – accounting for 16 per cent of the country’s surface – where coca crops are forbidden by Bolivian law. In 2014, there were 214 ha of coca crops detected within six protected areas, of which 59 per cent were in Carrasco National Park.

In February 2013, Bolivia re-acceded to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation on coca leaf. This reservation allows the chewing, consumption and use of the coca leaf in its natural state for cultural and medicinal purposes, as well as its growth, trade and possession to the extent necessary for these licit purposes.

The United Nations Information Service (UNIS) from Vienna said: “The current national legislation, which dates back to 1988, states that the area under coca cultivation must not exceed 12,000 ha. In the last years, the Bolivian government delineated the zones where coca crops are allowed within the three coca cultivation areas of the country: the Yungas de La Paz, Trópico de Cochabamba and Norte de La Paz provinces.”

The reduction of the surface under coca cultivation in 2014 is mainly explained by the Government’s efforts to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas – known as ´rationalization´ – and to eradicate coca crops in prohibited areas, UNIS added.

A dialogue-based process led by the Government saw the participation of coca growing unions in the implementation of the national strategy to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas. Another important factor has been the abandonment of old coca fields in the Yungas de La Paz province, due to the drastic reduction of their coca crop yields.

Between 2013 and 2014, the area eradicated declined by two per cent at the national level, from 11,407 to 11,144 ha. Meanwhile at the provincial level, some 7,400 ha were eradicated in the region of Trópico de Cochabamba, around 3,200 ha in the Yungas de La Paz and Norte de La Paz provinces, and 526 ha in the Santa Cruz and Beni regions.

The potential coca leaf production in the country was estimated to be 33,100 tonnes in 2014. Between 2013 and 2014, the total value of the coca leaf production declined from 294 million dollars to 282 million. The total value of coca leaf production in 2014 represented 0.9 per cent of Bolivia’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.8 per cent of its agricultural sector Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The amount of coca leaf traded in the two authorised markets – Villa Fátima and Sacaba – was around 19,800 tonnes in 2014, equivalent to 60 per cent of the total production of coca leaf. Ninety-three per cent of the legally traded coca leaf was marketed in Villa Fátima, and the other seven per cent in Sacaba. The average weighted price of coca leaf in these authorised markets increased six per cent, from 7.8 dollars per kg in 2013 to 8.3 dollars per kg in 2014.

Download the full 2014 Coca Survey in the Plurinational State of Bolivia (in Spanish)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Time to Work Out a Plan C for Greecehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 16:14:04 +0000 Pavlos Georgiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142029 Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

By Pavlos Georgiadis
ATHENS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Just over a month ago, Greek citizens were asked to go to the polls for a referendum that posed the country with an unprecedented existential dilemma and challenged the EU with the possibility of its collapse.

The question that shook the world was a choice between a Plan A – more of the same, evidently failed austerity policies that made the country lose 25 percent of its GDP in five years – and a Plan B – a poorly designed Grexit, with unpredictable consequences that could mean the country’s sudden death.Instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

It is an indisputable fact that Greece requires major reforms and Greeks know this better than anyone else. These are related, among others, to major existing legislative gaps, the country’s geography which generates huge transaction costs, a cultural gap between cities and rural areas, and the decision making processes in the country.

Such reforms are of systemic nature, something that no politician in Greece seems able to grasp or advocate. The old guard that still rules the country’s affairs, despite being fully aware of its own failure, is still opting for quick and flaky solutions that hardly address the causes of this crisis.

The same goes for Europe’s leaders, who seem to be more cloistered than ever, limited to their national egos and political clientele. They seem to lack the capacity, both morally and intellectually, but above all the vision to steward Europe’s human face, while addressing this crisis.

A project of “unity in diversity” is threatened by its outdated, largely opaque decision making structures that govern its economics. This explains why European leaders, in the past years, instead of solutions have been offering no more than a narrative based on the worst possible stereotypes.

A top-down approach that plundered Greece into depression and made Greeks, especially the youth, feel like little hamsters in some sort of sick socio-economic experiment.

The Birth of a New Solidarity Economy

Some impressive civil society projects are already being implemented at the local grassroots level, piloting a parallel solidarity and needs-based economy and participa-tory governance.

Every day, a community kitchen called “The Οther Ηuman” is supplying free meals to hundreds of Greeks in need, and lately to immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan, camping in the parks of Athens.

The Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko near the old Athens airport, a 1.2 hectare plot of prime land on the beachfront of Athens, set to be privatised in a scan-dalous low price, is delivering free medicine, health check ups and preventive treat-ments to citizens with no insurance.

Both initiatives have no legal structure nor bank accounts, basing their operations in a currency that survives the capital controls: solidarity and humanity. Speaking of new ways of transaction, a bartering system is making a comeback in response to the closed banks, especially in rural areas.

Open access technologies are driving this transition, as they always do with initiatives promoting public dialogue, knowledge exchange, political participation and account-ability between citizens and politicians.

Politeia 2.0, a grassroots initiative for citizens’ engagement which is pioneering methods for participatory design of a new constitution and Vouliwatch, an independ-ent parliament watchdog, are just two of them.

With such prototypes launched, tested and operating at different levels, the challenge now is to scale and communicate them in every neighbourhood, village and city of the country.

This crisis never had its crisis manager, exposing the EU’s deficiencies and the distance that splits the politicians’ realities with those of citizens. This is not only evident in the way political leaders handle the Greek case, but other challenges too, such as the TTIP, climate change and immigration.

A new political arena is thus emerging within the EU, that has nothing to do with traditional ideological divides of the left or the right. This new political arena struggles to balance top-down versus bottom-up approaches to our ways of making decisions and planning the future.

Based on this recognition, it is clear that besides a “Plan A” (a politically humiliating and financially unsustainable agreement) and a “Plan B” (the risk of a Grexit), Greece is in dire need of working out a “Plan C”.

A roadmap for advancing towards a real transition back to the Commons, based on civil engagement for participatory mapping and collective management of the assets that influence what is currently under attack: the everyday lives of the people.

Greece needs to put in an unprecedented effort in order to overcome an unprecedented challenge, engaging the best actors in key social fields such as health, food, education and social welfare, just to name a few. At this point, this is absolutely necessary in order to maintain social cohesion and explore systemic solutions during the difficult times to come.

The starting point should probably be in the fields, which a recent study by Endeavor Greece identified as the only dynamic sectors that survive the crisis: agriculture, product manufacturing and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

The food sector, especially, can pave the way since it is already an integral part of the country’s cultural fabric. With around 13 percent of the Greek workforce engaged in agriculture (the EU average is just over 5 percent), a carefully structured plan for a transition towards agroecology can become an extremely powerful vector of change and a drive for Greece’s new economy.

Community gardens like Per.Ka., located inside an abandoned army camp in Thessaloniki, and peer to peer networks like Peliti -Europe’s largest seed-swap community- are already carving out new food system paradigms.

This new process can only be led by the youth of Greece. Highly skilled, socially networked and internationally educated, many of them are looking back to the land to seek ways out of unemployment.

All these years, these young Greeks have been deprived access to bank loans, while others were transferring 250 billion euros outside the country. Should they be connected with food business incubators, seed funding opportunities and open source technologies, they could catalyse this transition towards a quality, climate-friendly agrifood system which connects the land with health, education, tourism, energy, transport and other services.

Of course, this would require the types of reforms against existing institutional barriers and an outdated legal framework in Greece. Unfortunately, in the last five years, such reforms have never been put on the table by successive Greek governments nor their creditors.

Agrifood is only one example of the few sectors that can generate considerable social, economic and environmental benefits which are necessary towards a more resilient future for the country.

Moreover, it is possibly one of the very few ways to create jobs for the youth, who are challenged by a staggering 52.4 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the EU. Citizens are in need of new options and new development indicators need to be considered in rebuilding the country’s economy.

This change needs to start at the local level, leveraging the potential of the aforementioned initiatives and many more that are acting at the grassroots.

The conditions are ripe, as the 2014 municipal elections brought staff with fresh ideas into office in Greek local authorities. The cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, home to half of the country’s population, received the Mayors Challenge and 100 Resilient Cities awards respectively.

Each one offers one million euros to their budgets for delegating, implementing and scaling strategies for civic participation and urban regeneration. It remains to be seen whether the tools and opportunities offered by those grants and networks will be used efficiently, and not from obsolete mismanagement attitudes and the nepotism of the past.

The challenge is also huge for the citizens of the rest of Europe, who are largely misinformed by reporters of mainstream media, landing in Athens with a mandate from their editors to mainly report on horror stories and misery icons.

This is the time to change this agenda of shame, and instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

Again, the youth can play a major role in strengthening the vision of a unified Europe, despite the power games that unfold at the political level. After all, we are the first true European generation.

Evidently, Greece was turned into an experiment in suffocating austerity. But what if Greece became the testing ground for visualising, prototyping and scaling a new economic paradigm that is socially inclusive, climate friendly and economically viable?

I am not sure whether the “Plan C” is the right name for this process. It is quite likely that populist politicians in Greece and Europe might abuse the term, like they did with so many others.

But the essence remains: this is a plan of solidarity, collaboration and resilience. And it is time that this dialogue opened all over Europe, if it wants to remain a Union, and maintain its leading role in the world.

Follow Pavlos Georgiadis on  Twitter: @geopavlos

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Presalt Oil Drives Technological Development in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:40:34 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142026 The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The extraction of deepwater oil, the most abundant kind in Brazil, is costly but foments technological and industrial development, requiring increasingly complex production equipment and techniques.

One challenge is the water extracted with the oil, the proportion of which grows with the age of the well, reducing productivity by using up an increasing proportion of the transport and processing capacity of the productive installations.

“Since two years ago we’ve had a separator of oil and water that operates at a depth of 2,000 metres,” said Oscar Chamberlain, head of supplies and biofuels in the Research and Development Centre (CENPES) of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company. “That water, in time, can represent 80 percent of the volume extracted, which is why it has to be separated deep down in order to not overtax the rig.”

Rio de Janeiro has become a centre of know-how and innovation in offshore oil, thanks to CENPES, which has 227 laboratories and a technological park where 52 institutions and companies have set up shop so far, including 12 multinational corporations.“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt - have been overcome.” -- Luiz Felipe Rego

University City Island, widely known as Fundão Island, is the epicentre of that transformation. It is the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), near the international airport of this city that is more famous for its beaches and carnival.

This development has been driven by Petrobras’s 2006 discovery of oil deposits in what is known as the presalt area, under a two-kilometre-thick salt layer more than 5,000 metres below the surface in the Atlantic ocean.

The new reserves brought Brazil new oil wealth as well as new challenges.

The presalt reserves are at least 250 km from the coast of southeast Brazil, which poses logistical difficulties.

“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt – have been overcome,” Luiz Felipe Rego, Petrobras general manager of well engineering, told IPS.

As a result, just eight years after they were discovered, the presalt reserves account for 23 percent of Petrobras production in Brazil, which in October climbed to 2.58 million barrels a day of oil-equivalent, including natural gas.

But the constant battle to reduce costs has fuelled the effort to do as much as possible deep below the surface, with underwater systems that require electrification, robots and remote maintenance services in a corrosive, high-pressure atmosphere with wildly varying temperatures, said Chamberlain, a Nicaraguan who has been with Petrobras for 30 years.

Corrosion is a threat at every stage of the process, all the way up to the refinery where the petroleum can damage the equipment if the excess salt is not previously removed.

CENPES was founded in 1963 when Petrobras, a state company created to explore for oil and reduce the imports that Brazil depended on, was 10 years old. Its 1,930 researchers, 36 percent of whom hold masters’ or doctoral degrees, are now carrying out 862 R&D projects.

“Thanks to their work, Petrobras is the Brazilian company that has applied for the most patents in Brazil and abroad,” the executive manager of CENPES, André Cordeiro, told IPS. “In 2013 alone 56 new applications were made.”

Petrobras’s investment in R&D, administered by CENPES, has increased nearly eight-fold so far this century. The annual average, which stood at 160 million dollars from 2001 to 2003, climbed to 1.2 billion dollars in the last three years.

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We currently work with 122 Brazilian universities and research institutes, organised in 49 thematic networks – a model that has fomented partnerships between Petrobras and academia in strategic questions in the area of oil and gas,” Cordeiro said.

The closest partnership began 46 years ago with the UFRJ’s Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering (COPPE), which is also a technology business incubator.

For example, Ambidados, which emerged there in 2006, provides oil companies with environmental assessments and data. And with just 11 staff members in its office in the UFRJ’s Technological Park, it created its own buoys and devices to monitor wind, tides, ocean currents and rainfall, which affect operations out at sea.

“We also study the ocean bottom relief, the water temperature at different depths, the salinity, and the amount of algae,” oceanographer Leonardo Kuniyoshi told IPS.

There are another 31 small and medium-sized companies in the Technological Park, along with seven laboratories, and R&D centres of global leaders in oil industry services and equipment, such as Schlumberger, FMC Technologies and Halliburton, which recently acquired Baker Hughes, another oilfield services provider with offices on Fundão Island.

The U.S.-based GE opened its new Global Research Centre in the park on Aug. 13, joining other multinationals outside the oil industry, such as France’s L’Oreal cosmetics company and Brazilian beer maker Ambev.

“This coexistence among different industries is fascinating,” said the director of the Technological Park, Mauricio Guedes. “The coming together of knowledge from different areas constitutes the wealth of the Technological Park, which will generate innovations.”

That also requires “bringing companies and the university together in the same place, to generate knowledge that gives rise to products and services, because without business, technology and know-how are lost,” he said.

The park was designed to hold 200 companies in its 350,000-square-metre area at the southeastern tip of the island, which belongs to the UFRJ. The area was flood-prone and had to be filled in before the Technological Park opened in 2003. One hundred thousand truckloads of soil and rubble, dumped over the space of four years, raised the ground level two metres, Guedes said.

After the discovery of the presalt reserves, which meant Brazil could become one of the world’s leading oil producers and exporters, the park began to attract major international firms like the British multinational oil and gas company BG Group or Germany’s Siemens.

The list includes information technology companies that are not limited to oil industry services, such as EMC2, which opened “its first research centre outside of the United States” in the UFRJ park, according to Karin Breitman, the company’s local chief scientist.

The future of the Technological Park and oil industry research is ensured in Brazil. Contracts to exploit the country’s oilfields require that the companies must invest one percent of their revenue in R&D.

That adds up to some 12 billion dollars over the next 10 years. “The combination of technological challenges and resources to tackle them promises success,” said Guedes.

Besides boosting the oil industry’s productivity, the R&D contributes to the development of other sectors, with oceanographic and environmental knowledge and multiple-use technologies.

One example is the hyperbaric chamber, a steel vessel in which atmospheric pressure can be raised or lowered by air compressors, which is being used to generate electric power from waves, in a plant developed by Coppe. New materials, new inputs and energy solutions will emerge from the bottom of the sea, said Guedes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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