Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In India, an Indoor Health Crisis Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:44:39 +0000 Athar Parvaiz Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged Indian woman, bends over her wood-burning stove in her home in northern India. Credit: Athar Parzaiv/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For years, Kehmli Devi, a middle-aged woman from the village of Chachadeth in India’s northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, has prepared her family’s meals on a wood-burning stove.

She is one of millions of Indian women who cannot afford cooking gas and so relies heavily on firewood as a source of free fuel.

Gathering wood is a cumbersome exercise, but Devi has no choice. “It takes us five to six hours to gather what we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it,” she tells IPS. “But we don’t mind, since we don’t have to pay for it.”

“It takes us five to six hours to gather [the firewood] we need each day – we have to travel far into the woods to collect it." -- Kehmli Devi, a housewife in the northern India state of Uttarakhand, who has cooked for years on a wood-burning stove
Buying a cylinder of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), even at subsidized rates, is not an option for her – her entire family makes a collective monthly income of 57 dollars, which works out to less than two dollars a day. They cannot afford to spend a cent of their precious earnings on cleaner fuel.

Further north, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a similar story unfolds in thousands of households every single day.

“If my husband had enough money, we would use LPG for cooking,” says Zeba Begam, who resides in Rakh, a village in southern Kashmir. But since the family lives well below the poverty line, their only option is to use to firewood.

At first, they struggled to live with the smoke caused by burning large quantities of wood in their small, cramped home. Now, Begam says, they are used to it – but this does not make them immune to the range of health problems linked to indoor air pollution.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and mud stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste), as well as coal.

Improper burning of such fuels in confined spaces releases a range of dangerous chemical substances including hazardous air pollutants (known as HAPs), fine particle pollution (more commonly called ash) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The WHO estimates that around 4.3 million people die each year from diseases attributable to indoor air pollution, including from chronic respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, lung cancer and even strokes.

Other studies show that indoor air pollution – particularly in poorly ventilated dwellings – is linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes in women and negatively impacts children, who are more susceptible to respiratory diseases than adults.

In general, women and children are at far greater risk of suffering the impacts of indoor pollution since they spend longer hours at home.

Millions of Indians at risk

Indoor air pollution is recognised as a pressing issue around the world, particularly in Asia, but India seems to be carrying the lion’s share of the burden.

Speaking at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) held here last month, Rajendra K Pachauri, director-general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), pointed out that far too many Indian households continue to rely on traditional fuels for cooking, lighting and heating.

Data from the Government of India’s 2011 Census shows an estimated 75 million rural households (45 percent of total rural households) living without electricity, while 142 million rural households (85 percent of the total) depend entirely on biomass fuel, such as cow-dung and firewood, for cooking.

Despite heavy subsidisation by successive federal governments in New Delhi since 1985 to make cleaner fuels like LPG available to the poor, millions of households still struggle to make the necessary payments for cleaner energy, opting for more traditional, more harmful, substances.

Some estimates put Indian households’ use of traditional fuels at 135 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE), larger than Australia’s total energy consumption in 2013.

Cleaner energy to meet the MDGs

Experts say that there is an urgent need to drastically reduce these numbers, both to improve the lives of millions who will benefit from cleaner energy, and also to meet international poverty-reduction and sustainability targets.

For instance, indoor air pollution is linked in numerous ways to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s largest development initiative set to expire at the end of the year.

According to the WHO, tackling the issue of dirty household fuels will automatically feed into MDG4, which pledges to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by the end of the year; since children bear a disproportionate rate of the disease burden of indoor pollution, helping families switch to cleaner energies could result in longer life spans for their children.

Similarly, women and children spend countless hours collecting firewood, a task that consumes much of their day and a great deal of energy. Reducing this burden on women and children would bring India closer to achieving the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Less time spent on fuel collection also leaves more hours in the day for education or employment, both of which could contribute to MDG1, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

In 2005, the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) put the economic and health cost of collecting and using firewood at some six billion dollars in India alone, representing massive waste in a country nursing a stubborn poverty rate of 21.9 percent of a population of 1.2 billion people.

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

For Zeba Begam, a resident of the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, cooking with clean fuel is a distant dream. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Moving towards a sustainable future

As the United Nations moves towards a new era of sustainable development, scientists and policy-makers are pushing governments hard to tackle the issue of indoor air pollution in a bid to severely slash overall global carbon emissions.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, told IPS that the provision of clean energy, particularly for the poor, should be on the agenda at the upcoming climate talks in Paris, where world leaders are expected to agree on much-awaited binding carbon emissions targets for the coming decade.

Ramanathan argued that it was the responsibility of the rich – what he called the ‘top four billion’ or T4B – to help the ‘bottom three billion’ (B3B) climb the renewable energy ladder instead of the fossil fuel ladder.

“In order to avoid unsustainable climate changes in the coming decades, the decarbonisation of the T4B economy as well as the provision of modern energy access to B3B must begin now,” he said at last month’s sustainability summit.

His words reflect countless international initiatives to cut emissions from dirty household fuels, including the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which estimates that a transition to clean cook-stoves could reduce emissions from wood fuels by up to 17 percent.

Quoting findings from a recent study conducted by experts at Yale University and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Radha Mutthiah, executive director of the Global Alliance, said last month that her organisation planned to “target areas where clean cooking technology can have the greatest impact, not only improving the effects on climate, but also the health of millions of people living in hotspots.”

These ‘hotspots’ have been defined as regions where firewood is being harvested on an unsustainable scale, with over 50 percent non-renewability. In total some 275 million people live in hotspots, of which 60 percent reside in South Asia.

Overall, India and China were found to have the world’s highest wood-fuel emissions, which experts say should serve as a wake-up call to policymakers and legislators that the time for taking action is now

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Misses Its Potential by Excluding 50 Per Cent of Its People Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:08:07 +0000 Thalif Deen A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen

The meeting is billed as one of the biggest single gatherings of women activists under one roof.

According to the United Nations, over 1,100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and more than 8,600 representatives have registered to participate in this year’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).“This is a reality check on the part of the member states." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Described as the primary intergovernmental body mandated to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, the 45-member CSW will hold its 59th sessions Mar. 9-20.

About 200 side events, hosted by governments and U.N. agencies, are planned alongside official meetings of the CSW, plus an additional 450 parallel events by civil society organisations (CSOs), both in and outside the United Nations.

Their primary mission: to take stock of the successes and failures of the 20-year Platform for Action adopted at the historic 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing. The achievements are limited, say CSOs and U.N. officials, but the unfulfilled promises are countless.

The reason is simple, warns Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “We cannot fulfill 100 percent of the world’s potential by excluding 50 percent (read: women) of the world’s people.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says the U.N.’s 193 member states have to go beyond “paying lip service” towards gender equality.

They should “genuinely challenge and dismantle the power structures and dynamics which perpetuate discrimination against women.”

But will they?

Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now, told IPS in the Beijing Platform for Action, 189 governments pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex”.

Twenty years later, just over half of the sex discriminatory laws highlighted in three successive Equality Now reports have been revised, appealed or amended, she said.

“Although we applaud the governments that took positive action, we are concerned that so many sex discriminatory laws remain on the books around the world,” Hassan noted.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil Society Action Network, told IPS she was happy to see the latest draft of the Beijing + 20 Political Declaration, presented by the Bureau of the CSW, expressing “concern that progress has been slow and uneven and that major gaps and obstacles remain in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action.”

“And it [has] recognized that 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women [in Beijing], no country has achieved equality for women and girls; and that significant levels of inequality between women and men persist, and that some women and girls experience increased vulnerability and marginalization due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

“This is a reality check on the part of the member states, which is welcomed by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and the rest of civil society,” she added.

Speaking specifically on reproductive health, Joseph Chamie, a former director of the U.N. Population Division, told IPS the work of the CSW is important and it has contributed to improving women’s lives.

Pointing out the important areas of health and mortality, he said, when the CSW was established seven decades ago, the average life expectancy at birth for a baby girl was about 45 years; today it is 72 years, which, by any standards, is a remarkable achievement.

With respect to reproductive health, he said, great strides have been achieved.

In addition to improved overall health and lower maternal mortality rates, most women today can decide on the number, timing and spacing of their children.

“Simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women and girls encounter, while largely ignoring those facing men and boys, will obstruct and delay efforts to attain true gender equality and the needed socio-economic development for everyone,” Chamie warned.

According to U.N. Women, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman.

Approximately 50 per cent of women worldwide are in paid employment, an increase from 40 per cent more than 20 years ago, with wage inequality persistent.

At the present rate of progress, said U.N. Women, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment.

In 2000, the groundbreaking Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognised the need to increase women’s role in peacebuilding in post-conflict countries. Yet, from 1992 to 2011 only 4 per cent of signatories to peace agreements and nine per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

Hassan told IPS there are still laws that restrict women’s rights in marriage (women not allowed to enter and exist marriages on the same basis as men; appointing men as the head of a household; requiring wife obedience; allowing polygamy; setting different ages of marriage for girls and boys).

There are also laws that give women a lower personal status and less rights as citizens (women not being able to transmit their nationality to husbands and children; women’s evidence not equal to that of a man; restriction on women traveling).

And women being treated as economically unequal to men (less rights to inheritance or property ownership; restrictions on employment); and laws that promote violence against women (giving men the right to rape their wives; exempting rapists from punishment for marrying their victims; allowing men to chastise their wives).

“The fact that these laws continue to exist shows that many governments do not consider women to be full citizens and as such it is not possible to make progress on the goals set 20 years ago,” Hassan said.

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the CSW political declaration also states that member states reaffirm their “political will and firmly commit to tackle critical remaining gaps and challenges and pledge to take concrete further actions to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes,” among other very good promises.

This is where the crux of the matter lies, she said.

“We’ve heard these promises many times before from past CSW sessions and yet recent data, such as those from the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicate the following:

– 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime;

– on average, 30 percent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.”

Globally, she said, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

She predicted that issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights will remain contentious in this CSW, as in previous years.

“It also worries me that while thousands of women have died and many more continue to suffer because of ongoing conflicts as well as violent extremism around the world, none of this is addressed in the political declaration.”

Sadly, the U.N. continues to operate in silos, she said. The Security Council remains disconnected with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) under which the CSW functions.

“Having said all of this, I want us, in civil society, to push the envelope as far as possible in this 59th CSW session,” she added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Eco-efficient Crop and Livestock Production for Nicaraguan Farmers Thu, 05 Mar 2015 21:25:47 +0000 Kwesi Atta-Krah and Reynaldo Bismarck Mendoza A field day conducted to share information with farmers. Credit: Lucía Gaitán

A field day conducted to share information with farmers. Credit: Lucía Gaitán

By Kwesi Atta-Krah and Reynaldo Bismarck Mendoza
MANAGUA, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

For Roberto Pineda, a smallholder farmer in the Somotillo municipality of Nicaragua, his traditional practice after each harvest was to cut down and burn all crop residues on his land, a practice known as “slash-and-burn” agriculture.

A widespread practice on these sub-humid hillsides of Central America, it was nonetheless causing many negative environmental implications, including poor soil quality, erosion, nutrient leaching, and the loss of ecosystem diversity. Slash-and-burn allows farmers to use land for only one to three years before the plots become too degraded and must be abandoned.The programme offers farmers like Pineda an easily established yet biologically complex option, combining traditional knowledge with new insights into sustainable land management to maintain crop productivity for many years.

“We used to work in our traditional way, pruning everything down to the ground, and if there was anything left we would burn it,” he said. “The land would be destroyed and things weren’t getting better.”

But about three years ago, Pineda and a group of farmers became involved in an agroforestry programme overseen by a group of partners including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) as well as Nicaraguan, American, Austrian and Colombian institutions.

The programme works with farmers to enhance the eco-efficiency of their rural landscapes, helping them to introduce stress-adapted crop and forage options and improve crop and livestock productivity and profitability. This helps smallholders not only to improve local ecosystems but also to adapt to extreme climate conditions and safeguard soil fertility and food production over the long term.

“Now we have seen a change,” Pineda said. “We used to yield 10 quintals per manzana, and now we produce between 30 and 40 quintals per manzana. We have improved our natural resources, and trees have grown. Before, we had no trees and there was no rain.”

How it works

The programme offers farmers like Pineda an easily established yet biologically complex option, combining traditional knowledge with new insights into sustainable land management to maintain crop productivity for many years.

Farmers are encouraged to plant a scattering of trees in their croplands, thereby stabilising the hillsides and minimising soil erosion. The trees also capture carbon dioxide, help fix nitrogen in the soil and draw up essential crop nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium from deeper soil layers.

The trees are pruned regularly, and the cuttings are laid around the crops as nutritious mulch, providing them nutrients and retaining moisture to protect them against periods of drought while reducing nutrient leaching. The remaining required nutrients are supplied by eco-efficient use of chemical fertilizers.

The overall result is a more productive, resilient farming system that can withstand the increasingly variable climate conditions of Central America, ranging from extended periods of drought to intense rain, and thus improve income and food security for the rural families.

This is especially important as climate conditions are becoming more unpredictable as a result of climate change. For instance, over a three-year period, the yields of key staple crops such as maize, beans and sorghum increased; farmers obtained secondary incomes from selling surplus wood; and in most plots soil loss was converted into net soil accumulation of 40 tonnes per hectare, as a result of the new methods introduced.

What next?

The project started implementing its activities with a sample size of 16 farm households in north Nicaragua. As these trials proved successful, the system was disseminated to around 300 farmers in the area through Farmer Field Schools and guided visits.

Programs like this are good examples of a new holistic approach to agricultural research put forth by Humidtropics, which looks at the system as a whole – from farm, landscape, province, agro-ecological zone, region – in order to understand how these components interact with each other, and better manage the synergies, trade-offs and overall integrity of the ecosystem within which the farming takes place.

The farmer and her community are central in this research approach, including exploring the specific roles and opportunities for women, men and youth and focusing improving their resilience.

Ultimately, this programme has the potential to reach 10,000 smallholder farmers to help them boost their productivity through the sustainable intensification of their limited resources. Furthermore, its methods can be disseminated through community radio stations and local television networks to reach over 200,000 farm households in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Can Indigenous and Wildlife Conservationists Work Together? Thu, 05 Mar 2015 11:28:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon.  Credit: © Survival International

“The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid,” say the Baka of Cameroon. Credit: © Survival International

By Lyndal Rowlands

Indigenous and wildlife conservationists have common goals and common adversaries, but seem to be struggling to find common ground in the fight for sustainable forests.

The forest lifestyle of the Baka people of Cameroon helps provide improved habitats for wild animals.“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive.” -- James Deutsch

When the Baka clear a patch for a camp, the clearing later turns into secondary forest that gorillas prefer, Mike Hurran, Survival International Africa campaigner, told IPS.

“When they harvest wild yams that grow in the forest, they always leave part of the root intact and that spreads the pockets of wild yams through the forest that elephants and wild bush pigs like,” he said.

They have “sophisticated codes of conservation” and have lived sustainably for generations following the ‘ancestor’s path’.

But pressures on the Baka’s forest home are coming from many angles; logging, mining, and illegal poaching.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), worldwide wildlife trafficking is now worth an estimated 23 billion dollars annually, threatening endangered species and ruining opportunities for sustainable development.

On the ground, tackling wildlife crime is becoming increasingly difficult. Poachers, backed by the same international crime syndicates that traffic in drugs and people, are employing increasingly sophisticated techniques.

At the same time, forests are under increased pressure from resource exploitation. Mining and logging destroy habitats and brings thousands of workers to the forest who themselves hunt, eat and trade wild animals.

“When wildlife trafficking and bush meat trade results in the decline in wildlife populations, the very first people to suffer are indigenous people who need those wildlife populations to survive,” James Deutsch, vice president, conservation strategy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told IPS.

Deutsch said conservationists and indigenous people have common adversaries, in organised crime syndicates and the extractives industry.

However, Survival International is concerned that although conservationists have in recent years expressed a greater commitment to working with indigenous communities, this is not always reflected on the ground.

“What these anti-poaching squads are doing, and by extension the conservation agencies that fund them, is really just focusing on the least powerful people, who are really just hunting to feed their families as they have for generations,” Hurran said.

“Often the poaching squads [that] enforce wildlife law are maybe corrupt or they don’t have much respect for the human rights of tribal people, such as the Baka,” he said.

“The Baka have told us that even when they are hunting in their special zones, using techniques which are recognised as traditional and legal and hunting just for food and not for sale, sometimes their meat is confiscated, and they are being harassed or beaten by anti-poaching squads,” Hurran added.

Survival International has named specific international conservation organisations that they say provide funding to these anti-poaching squads, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cameroon.

In a statement provided to IPS, WWF said, “On the ground, advancing the status and rights of tribal communities while also protecting the resources vital to them and the global community is extraordinarily difficult… WWF agrees that parks need people, and models such as Community Based Natural Resource Management being pursued by WWF globally over many years have ensured that many parks have people.

“WWF is open to a collaborative approach to these issues.  WWF is standing by commitments to assist a Cameroon National Human Rights and Freedom Commission investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Ecoguards and military and is reviewing field experience and our activities in support of the Baka and forest protection in Cameroon.”

Deutsch also echoed WWF’s call for a collaborative approach, saying that a deeper partnership between the human rights community and the conservation community is needed to address complex conservation challenges. Survival International also says WCS funds similar anti-poaching squads in the Republic of Congo.

“The conservation community has to be committed to partnering with indigenous people, because that’s the only way that we’re both going to find a future for wildlife, but also do it in such a way that human rights are respected and traditional societies are respected,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch, who previously led WCS’s programmes in Africa for 11 years, said that solutions were not simple and required perseverance, working with local communities on the ground.

One area both sides agree on is shortfalls in national and international laws protecting indigenous people.

WWF’s statement said that complications included “lack of official recognition in law or in practice of customary rights (and) shortfalls in knowledge, commitment and infrastructure necessary to support international human rights agendas.”

Survival International also acknowledges that national and international laws need to provide more protection to tribal people, both on paper and in practice.

“The criteria that the Baka people need to meet in order to hunt legally is very strict and unrealistic, so often they are considered poachers, when they aren’t,” Hurran said.

Speaking at a United Nations event on World Wildlife Day on Tuesday, Nik Sekhran, director of the UNDP’s Sustainable Development Cluster, said, “For many communities and for indigenous people around the world, sustainable use of wildlife and sustainable use of flora for medicines for food … is really critical to their survival.”

The financial benefits of wildlife tourism are often cited as an important reason to support wildlife conservation in developing countries. However, tourism income does not always trickle down to the poorest communities in developing countries.

“It’s particularly a challenge with hunter-gatherer people,” Deutch said. “There are many cases where wildlife tourism has been created and the intention has been to benefit hunter-gatherer societies and yet in some cases it’s been difficult to make sure that the benefits go to those people because they are less able to deal with the scrum for resources that results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Bridging the Gap – How the SDG Fund is Paving the Way for a Post-2015 Agenda Thu, 05 Mar 2015 10:56:55 +0000 Paloma Duran

Paloma Duran is Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund).

By Paloma Duran

The countdown has begun to September’s Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with world leaders discussing the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group.

The post-2015 development agenda will focus primarily on strengthening opportunities to reduce poverty and marginalisation in ways that are sustainable from an economic, social and environmental standpoint.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran/UNDP

Courtesy of Paloma Duran/UNDP

How shall the world set the measure for all subsequent work?

The SDG Fund, created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with an initial contribution from the government of Spain, has been designed to smoothen the transition from the Millennium Development Goals phase into the future Sustainable Development Goals.

The rationale of the joint programme initiative is to enhance the development impact of technical assistance by combining inputs from various U.N. entities, each contributing according to its specific expertise and bringing their respective national partners on board.

To illustrate, we are currently implementing joint programmes in 18 countries addressing challenges of inclusive economic growth for poverty eradication, food security and nutrition as well as water and sanitation.

The majority of our budget is invested in sustainable development on the ground and is directly improving the lives of more than one million people in various regions of Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Arab States and Africa.The main objective of the SDG fund is to bring together U.N. agencies, national governments, academia, civil society and businesses to find ways in which we can reduce poverty, improve nutrition and provide access to affordable water and sanitation.

National and international partners provide approximately 56 percent of these resources in the form of matching funds.

Each programme was originally chosen through a selection process including the review by thematic and development independent experts.

In addition, we ensure that local counterparts engage in the decision-making processes from programme design to implementation and evaluation. More than 1,500 people were directly involved in designing the various programmes.

The main objective of the SDG fund is to bring together U.N. agencies, national governments, academia, civil society and businesses to find ways in which we can reduce poverty, improve nutrition and provide access to affordable water and sanitation.

Drawing from extensive experience of development practice as well as the former Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, we are continually seeking better ways in which to deal with challenges that present themselves.

Gender equality, women’s empowerment, public-private partnerships and sustainability are cross-cutting priorities in all areas of our work.

It is noteworthy to point out that we are focusing our efforts on forging partnerships with the private sector as we recognise the importance of actively engaging with businesses and ensuring their full participation in the development process.

It is in this vein that a Private Sector Advisory Group will be established this spring, consisting of representatives from various industries worldwide with the aim to collaborate and discuss practical solutions pertaining to the common challenges of contemporary sustainable development.

Together we will work diligently to identify areas of common interest and promote sustainability of global public goods.

As an example of how we work on the ground, we are setting into motion programme activities that relate to alleviating child hunger and under-nutrition as well as projects that promote sustainable and resilient livelihoods for vulnerable households, especially in the context of adapting to climate change.

To illustrate, in Peru we are contributing towards establishing an inclusive value chain in the production of quinoa and other Andean grains, so that the increase of demand in the international market can convert into economic and social improvements on the ground.

In addition, we are supporting programme activities that promote the integration of women in the labour market as it is key to equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. We are conscious of the fact that gender equality and the full realisation of human rights for women and girls have a transformative effect on development and is a driver of economic growth.

To illustrate, the SDG Fund is currently financing five joint programmes in Africa that address some of the most pressing issues in the region, and seek to achieve sustainable development through inclusive economic growth.

In Ethiopia, rural women lag behind in access to land property, economic opportunities, justice system and financial assets. Female farmers perform up to 75 per cent of farm labour and yet hold only 18.7 per cent of agricultural land in the country.

We are taking a multifaceted approach to generate gender-sensitive agricultural extension services, support the creation of cooperatives, promote the expansion of women-owned agribusiness and increase rural women’s participation in rural producer associations, financial cooperatives and unions.

To conclude, we are looking forward to making a significant impact in the coming years with the hope to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Brazil Called upon to Block Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:35:37 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

Forest protection, increased biodiversity and wildlife conservation are just a few of the promises made by proponents of genetically engineered (GE) plants. But campaigners are not buying these promises.

On Tuesday, environmental activists gathered in Brazilian consulates and embassies demanding that the government reject the proposal of FuturaGene, a biotechnological company, to legalise GE eucalyptus trees.

The action was taken as part of the Emergency Global Day of Action on Four Continents to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, organised by an international group of NGOs which have formed the The Campaign to STOP GE Trees. The campaign aims to protect forests, biodiversity, and support communities which may be threatened by the effects of GE plants in the environment.

Campaigners fear that the Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), which regulates genetically modified organisms in Brazil, will accept FuturaGene’s request for the legalisation of industrial GE plantation, at a conference which will be held on 5th March in Brasilia.

International Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement, Winnie Overbeek, said in a statement: “CTNBio does not have sufficient research on the serious impacts that approval of GE eucalyptus trees could cause to render a decision,” adding that CTNBio held only one public meeting, back in September 2014 in Brasilia, which showed the insufficiency of the existing studies on the issue.

“Existing non-GE eucalyptus plantations are already causing serious conflicts over access to land, and living conditions of communities surrounded by them have been destroyed. Approval of GE eucalyptus trees will worsen these problems,” Overbeek concluded.

As opposed to the negative picture painted by environmentalists, FuturaGene claims that, “Technology developed by FuturaGene could position Brazil as a new model for the plantation forestry industry. This innovation provides benefits in the social, economic and environmental spheres.” However, activists insist on saying that introducing GE eucalyptus trees plantation would simply worsen the impact on the environment, biodiversity, and indigenous and local communities worldwide.

Anne Petermann, International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, said, “Industry requests to legalise GE Trees are not just being decided in Brazil, but in the U.S. also. And companies in other countries would like to develop GE trees.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has had the same proposal put to them by a different GE tree company, ArborGen.

“Today’s day of action shows once more that people around the world reject genetically engineered trees and Brazil must also,” Petermann added.

In November 2014, a group of experts, scientists, agronomists, indigenous peoples and foresters met in Paraguay to discuss the rejection of all GE trees, even those in field trials. Recently, this committee has finalised a declaration, the Asuncion Declaration, which has been submitted to the CTNBio.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Reforming Mental Health in India Wed, 04 Mar 2015 21:31:08 +0000 Minto Felix About 10 percent of the Indian population of 1.2 billion people experiences a form of mental illness - that is about 200 million people. Credit: IPS

About 10 percent of the Indian population of 1.2 billion people experiences a form of mental illness - that is about 200 million people. Credit: IPS

By Minto Felix
NEW DELHI, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

India is not only poised for greatness, some say it is already on its way. The events that have shaped the nation’s dialogue over the past month showcase an India with a bold vision – to transform industry, to close the gap on inequality and ultimately, to redefine its place as a leader among the world.

Yet, it is a baffling reality that political leaders from across the spectrum have failed to adequately respond to one of the most pressing human challenges facing India today. A challenge that not only comes attached with significant consequences to the most important asset of the country – it’s people – but also, if not taken seriously, is likely to impede upon the continued progress achieved by the nation.

India has only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people, and one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
The challenge of mental illness is an urgent priority for the country, one that requires collective action and constructive reforms.

Imagine this: by the year 2020, depression and anxiety is set to be the biggest illness facing humanity, costing the world about 13 trillion dollars to treat.

In India, conservative measures from the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) estimate that about 10 percent of the population experiences a form of mental illness – that is about 200 million people.

Whether they’re Bollywood celebrities like Deepika Padukone, who recently and poignantly blogged about her struggle with anxiety, or the painful stories of suicide that have emerged in recent years from farmers grappling with the pressures of prolonged drought, mental illness impacts individuals from every walk of life and throughout the lifespan.

It is also well established that mental illness particularly impacts those most vulnerable in our communities, especially those that experience poverty and discrimination.

With the exception of India’s first Mental Health Policy, which was launched to positive public reception in October last year, we have seen little to no action follow suit in driving through core reforms identified.

Further, with mental health expenditure occupying only 0.83 percent of the total health budget, which, in turn, also continues to be a tiny fraction of overall government expenditure, the plausibility of important change occurring in this arena remains grim. So what’s needed to shift the status quo?

1. Start an informed conversation

The essential first step in driving positive change on mental ill-health is to learn about it. Whilst there certainly have been improvements over the past decade, the mental health literacy amongst Indians remains low.

This is problematic for several reasons, as it allows for misinformation to propagate at the community level, and as a natural consequence, stigmatising attitudes that prevent individuals from seeking the appropriate help they require.

Improved understanding of mental illness not only removes stigma, it also builds compassion – of how to adequately care for oneself, as well as for others, when experiencing mental health difficulties.

A population that is mental health literate is also armed with the tool kit to be powerful agents of change, and can confidently hold medical professionals, governments and policy makers to account in improving the status of mental health in India. To have individuals experiencing mental illness labeled as inadequate and deprived of their humanity is simply not acceptable in 2015.

2. Build world-class infrastructure

It is altogether unacceptable that India has only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people, and it is worrying that India has among the highest suicide rates in the world, particularly within its youth population.

This reflects poorly resourced infrastructure, and also inadequate services to match the deep needs experienced by the population.

In some senses, the answer is simple – increase the amount of funds directed towards tackling mental illness, and in other senses, the solutions are more complex – of determining quality care coordination across states, of making investments in priority areas such as youth mental health, and working to increasing the number of trained mental health professionals.

As is the case with technology and infrastructure, India should aspire to have a word-class mental health system that is efficient, effective, and accessible by its entire population.

3. Age of innovation

One of the genuine achievements of the past year with regards to mental health is the decriminalisation of attempted suicide. The repeal of this legislation is an important step in working towards reducing the number of suicides, but also reflects the broader societal factors that need to be addressed in strengthening the mental health of Indians.

Economic, social and political factors all play a vital role in strengthening or damaging a person’s level of health, and this is no different with mental illness.

Countless NGOs and government agencies around the country are implementing exciting projects that seek to alleviate mental illness, as well as surrounding factors of gender based violence, homelessness, and drug abuse. However, in order for these projects to make a lasting difference, they need be implemented on a larger scale.

The Banyan, a Chennai based mental health NGO, is leading the way in this space, with both its innovative service delivery in working with vulnerable women experiencing mental illness but equally, in its commitment to scale through establishing partnerships with universities in other parts of India and government agencies to increase the organisation’s reach.

By the very same token, it is indeed the role of the government to evaluate, to encourage, and extend the full potential of these initiatives. There is a pressing need to build a bank of evidence-based solutions for tackling this health issue.

There is no health without mental health, and the call for reform is crystal clear. If we are able to promote the full mental health of each and every person living in this country, India can only be stronger, richer, and indeed a more fulfilled nation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambique Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:53:50 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Expensive European-style bars and restaurants line the streets of central Maputo. The latest Toyota Pradas, Range Rovers and Jaguars drive down streets named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung, former socialist leaders who might have heart failure at the wealth gap found here today.

The World Bank called Mozambique’s transition from a post-conflict country to one of Africa’s “frontier economies” nothing short of impressive. “The country has become a world-class destination for mining and natural gas development,” the Bank wrote.

Yet, according to the Bank, this rapid expansion over the past 20 years barely moved the needle for the poor. “The geographical distribution of poverty remains largely unchanged,” the Bank wrote in October last year. Per capita income is 593 dollars, less than one-third of the sub-Saharan average.

In 2014, Mozambique ranked near the bottom – 178 out of 187 countries – in the U.N.’s Human Development index.

Malnutrition has worsened significantly; life expectancy at birth is just 50 years. Malaria remains the most common cause of death, especially among children.

With signs of great wealth amidst nationwide poverty, resentment has been growing in backwater regions that have not shared in the bounty.

This week, a prominent lawyer exploring the case to decentralise power and create autonomy for those peripheral regions was cut down in cold blood on the streets of the capital, Maputo. Gilles Cistac, 54, was shot by four men in a car while riding a cab to work, police said.

A spokesman for the former rebel group Renamo said Cistac had been killed because of his views on decentralisation.

“He was killed for having expressed his opinions regarding the most contentious political issues in the country,” Renamo spokesman António Muchanga told Reuters Tuesday.

Cistac, a professor of law at the national Eduardo Mondlane University, recently told local media that the creation of autonomous regions would be allowed under the constitution. Renamo, similarly, has proposed that Mozambique be divided into two countries.

But Frelimo, the ruling party, has repeatedly rejected calls for regional autonomy, although President Filipe Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation in parliament after Renamo parliamentarians refused to take up their seats following elections in October 2014.

Regarding the murder of Cistec, Presidential Spokesman Antonio Gaspar said, “We condemn the attack and demand that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. The government has instructed the interior ministry to hunt and arrest those who assassinated Cistac so that they can be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, U.S. oil major Anadarko and Italy’s Eni are developing some of the world’s biggest untapped natural gas reserves in the north of the country – a Renamo stronghold, which the group has proposed to rename the Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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By Girls, For Girls – Nepal’s Teenagers Say No to Child Marriage Wed, 04 Mar 2015 18:58:49 +0000 Naresh Newar Rashmi Hamal is a local heroine who helped to save her friend from an early marriage. She campaigns actively against child marriages in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Rashmi Hamal is a local heroine who helped to save her friend from an early marriage. She campaigns actively against child marriages in the Far Western Region of Nepal. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
BAJURA, Nepal, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

If not for a group of her school friends coming to her rescue, Shradha Nepali would have become a bride at the tender age of 14.

Hailing from the remote village of Pinalekh in the Bajura District of Nepal’s Far-Western Region, 900 km from the capital, Kathmandu, the teenager was a likely candidate for child marriage.

“We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages." -- 16-year-old Rashmi Hamal, president of the all-girls Jyalpa Child Club in Far-West Nepal
Her family of six survive on an income of less than a dollar a day – subsisting largely off the produce grown on their tiny farm and scraping together a few extra coins working as underpaid daily labourers.

Mahesh Joshi, coordinator of the local non-governmental organisation PeaceWin, tells IPS that such abject poverty is one of the primary drivers of early marriage in Nepal, a choice taken by many adolescent girls with few prospects beyond a lifetime of hard work, and hunger.

Nepali herself tells IPS she was “unaware of the consequences” of her decision at the time.

Had her friends not intervened, she would have joined the already swollen ranks of Nepal’s child brides – according to a 2013 study by Plan Asia and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), 41 percent of Nepali women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the legal age of 18.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has classified Nepal as one of the world’s top 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage. But now, thanks to an all-girls-led initiative around the country, the tide may be about to turn.

Poverty turning kids into brides

South Asia is home to an estimated 42 percent of the world’s child brides, with Nepal ranked third – behind Bangladesh and India – according to a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

A myriad of causes fuels child marriage in Nepal, home to an estimated 27.8 million people, of whom 24 percent live below the poverty line, says the World Bank.

Nepal’s National Women’s Commission believes economic, social and religious factors all play a role. In the country’s southern Tarai belt, for instance, continuation of the dowry system keeps the practice of child marriage alive. The younger the girl, the less her parents are expected to pay the groom, forcing many to part with their daughters at an ever-younger age.

Others simply choose to marry off their daughters so they have one less mouth to feed.

And while girls’ education is gaining more importance, it is still not considered a priority among rural, impoverished communities – UNICEF says the basic literacy rate among women aged 15-24 is 77.5 percent, a number that falls to 66 percent for secondary school enrolment.

Early marriages have been recognised, internationally and domestically in Nepal, as a violation of girls’ basic human rights, and a practice that has hugely negative repercussions across the board.

“Young girls who are underage when they marry are likely to suffer from a series of health and psychological problems,” explains UNFPA Nepal Deputy Representative Kristine Blokhus.

“There is a real risk of death during delivery, and even if a young girl survives, she may face life-long health problems,” the official tells IPS.

Child marriage severely limits a girl’s future prospects, often sealing her access to labour markets and condemning her to a lifetime of dependence on her husband or his family.

Experts say this is the beginning of a cycle of disempowerment, wherein a girl with few choices becomes trapped in a situation where limited options dwindle ever further.

By girls, for girls: A grassroots approach

When initiatives to fight against the practice gain ground, it is cause for celebration among activists, policy-makers, and families who opt for child marriage as a last resort in the face of extreme hardship.

Shradha Nepali nearly became a bride at the age of 14. She was saved by an intervention from a local all-girls club that fights against child marriages. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Shradha Nepali nearly became a bride at the age of 14. She was saved by an intervention from a local all-girls club that fights against child marriages. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

The district of Bajura, where Shradha Nepali and her friends live, is leading the way on these efforts, with communities across the district competing to declare their respective villages ‘child marriage-free zones’: a bold statement against an age-old practice.

Bajura is located in the Far-Western Region of Nepal, home to some of the country’s most remote and developmentally challenged villages; incomes here are low and child marriages are correspondingly high.

Changing attitudes here is not easy, but that hasn’t stopped girls like 16-year-old Rashmi Hamal, president of the Jyalpa Child Club in the remote Badi Mallika Municipality, from trying.

“We are not afraid anymore because a majority of our community members now want to fight against child marriages,” Hamal tells IPS.

She is one of 10 girls who came together in 2014 with the help of PeaceWin and a youth-led agency called Restless Development, with support from UNICEF, to strategise on how best to stem the practice once and for all.

“These girls are local heroes; they have really proven themselves [in their] persistent educational campaigns, and by inspiring their parents to join their cause,” says Hira Karki, a local social mobiliser from PeaceWin.

It was this club that rescued Nepali from her marriage, shortly after she ran away from home. Although the girl’s mother doesn’t fault her for wanting to flee, she is visibly relieved to have her daughter back, and determined to make her stay.

“I cannot blame her [for running away] because she wanted to escape hardship at home. I [now] hope to support her in every way possible,” the 35-year-old mother tells IPS.

Today, Nepali is one of the club’s most active campaigners against child brides. Their success is tangible: over 84 schools in Bajura and the neighbouring districts of Kalikot, Accham and Mugu have launched similar initiatives in the last year.

“The best part of anti-child marriage activism here is that we have campaigners from our own community who live here and get the chance to educate their own adult members without antagonising them,” a local school principal, Jahar Sing Thapa, tells IPS.

Though small, each club is contributing to the country’s overall efforts to stem the practice. In the past five years, UNFPA says the rate of child marriage has declined by 20 percent.

Beyond activism: towards a policy of ‘zero prevalence’

While independent, local efforts are praiseworthy, they alone will not be adequate to tackle the problem at a national scale.

“We have learnt from our own experience that simply raising awareness against underage marriages is not enough,” UNICEF Nepal’s Deputy Representative Rownak Khan tells IPS in Kathmandu, adding that a multi-sector approach involving financial literacy, life-skills training and income-generation support for adolescent girls will all need to become part of the country’s arsenal against early marriages.

All these services are now core components of the government’s national level ‘Adolescent Development Program’, initiated in 1998.

Kiran Rupakhetee, chief of the government’s Child Protection Section, tells IPS that a variety of government ministries are now working together, resulting in the drafting of the government’s first national strategy document against child marriage.

Combined with some 20,000 child-run clubs across the country, this multi-pronged approach promises to bring real changes across the country, and move Nepal closer to the day when it can call child marriage a thing of the past.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Future Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

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

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

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

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

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Greece and the Germanisation of Europe Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:02:38 +0000 guillermo-medina

In this column, Guillermo Medina, a Spanish journalist and former Member of Parliament, analyses the negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup and concludes that Germany, currently Europe’s dominant power, has achieved its basic goal: the consolidation of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order. This, says the author, is a milestone in the political tussle in the European Union since the reunification of Germany between moving towards a Europeanised Germany or a Germanised Europe.

By Guillermo Medina
MADRID, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

At last, on Tuesday Feb. 24, the Eurogroup (of eurozone finance ministers) approved the Greek government’s commitment to a programme of reforms in return for extending the country’s bailout deal.

The agreement marks the end of tense and protracted negotiations. It consists of a four-month extension for the second bailout programme worth 130 billion euros (over 145 billion dollars), in force since 2012 and which was due to expire on Feb. 28. The first bailout was for 110 billion euros, equivalent to 123 billion dollars.

Guillermo Medina

Guillermo Medina

During this period, the European Central Bank (ECB) will provide Greece with liquidity and the terms of a new bailout will be hammered out.

The eleventh-hour agreement was no doubt motivated partly by fears that a “Grexit” – Greek withdrawal from the eurozone monetary union – would have triggered a financial earthquake with unforeseeable consequences. The result is a very European-style compromise that averts catastrophe and gains time while avoiding facing the underlying problems.

In exchange for an extension of financial support from Greece’s partners and creditors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will have to submit all his government’s measures during this period to Eurogroup inspection.

But the deal promises Greece more than just restrictions. The country will have to pay its debts to the last euro, but if, as seems probable, deadlines for primary surplus targets are extended, the country will have greater ability to pay (France has just secured this for itself).

In the final document, Greece promised to adopt a tax reform that would make the system fairer and more progressive, as well as reinforce the fight against corruption and tax evasion and reduce administrative spending.“Germany has undeniably secured its basic goal: the enshrining of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order, although political prudence and even self-interest have softened the application of the dogma, and may continue to do so in future”

If the government pursues these goals, together with the fight against contraband, efficiently and with determination (as indeed it should, because they are part of its programme and target its domestic enemies), the income will be helpful for the application of its social and economic programmes.

In view of the successive positions that Greece has had to relinquish in the course of the negotiations, it appears that the country has achieved the little that could be achieved.

The negotiations between Greece and its European partners mark a milestone in the political tussle in the European Union since the reunification of Germany in 1990, between moving towards a Europeanised Germany or a Germanised Europe.

Germany has undeniably secured its basic goal: the enshrining of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order, although political prudence and even self-interest have softened the application of the dogma, and may continue to do so in future.

Germany has openly tried to impose its convictions and its hegemony on Europe. Greece was only the immediate battlefield. Brussels and Berlin have been divided from the outset about how to solve the Greek crisis, but Germany prevailed.

However, the masters of Europe do not have any interest in “destroying” Greece, and so cutting off their nose to spite their face. They are satisfied with a demonstration of the asymmetry of power between the two sides, and the public contemplation of assured failure for whoever defies the status quo and supports any policy that deviates from the one true official line.

The problem with a Germanised Europe is not the preponderant role that Germany would play, but that it would impose a “Made in Germany” model of Europe that conforms to its own interests. That is how it would differ from a Europeanised Germany.

The Greek crisis has highlighted the ever-widening contrast between the values and ideals that we consider to be central to the European project, such as solidarity, mutual aid and social justice, and the new values that set aside basic aims like full employment, social welfare and equal opportunities.

It is paradoxical that Europe, which is apparently absent from or baffled by threats from the opposite shore of the Mediterranean, should take a harsh, tough attitude with a small partner overwhelmed by debt. It is also paradoxical that structural reforms are demanded of Greece, without admitting Europe’s own urgent need to redesign the eurozone and reframe the policies that have led to the poor performance of its monetary union.

The Greek crisis and the difficulties in overcoming it have a great deal to do with a design of the euro that benefits financial interests, particularly Germany’s.

The project neglected the harmonisation of tax policies and created a European Central Bank that lacked the powers that permit the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to issue money and buy state debt.

As is well known, the ECB has made loans to European banks at very low interest rates, and they in turn have made loans to states, including Greece, at much higher interest. Government debts thus mounted up, and in order to pay they were forced to cut public spending.

Why does Europe persist in following failed policies while refusing to follow those that have lifted the United States out of recession? The only explanation is stubborn attachment to an ideological vision of economic policy that is devoid of pragmatism.

How can insistence on the path of error be explained at such a time? There may well be a quota of incompetence, but the basic reason is, as Nobel prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman affirm, that the goal of the policies imposed by the “Troika” (European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund) is to protect the interests of financial capital. And this is because the powers of political institutions, the media and academia, are dominated by financial capital, with German financial capital at the core.

Financial interests are essentially capable of shaping the decisions of European governance institutions. In the United States this subservience is less clear-cut, allowing hefty penalties to be imposed on certain banks, as well as the development of other economic strategies.

This is because independent mechanisms of control and oversight exist, the Federal Reserve has well-defined goals (whereas the ECB has spent years fighting the insistent threat of inflation), and there is democratic administration with the political will to resist.

In conclusion: the issue is to clarify what sort of Europe the citizens of Europe want, and what institutional changes are needed to achieve it.

And even more importantly, having seen the consecration of German hegemony over the Old World, what sort of German leadership would be compatible with a united Europe based on solidarity? Is this even possible? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/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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Tech-Savvy Women Farmers Find Success with SIM Cards Wed, 04 Mar 2015 04:46:06 +0000 Stella Paul Members of a women-farmers’ collective demonstrate use of a devices that sends daily bulletins on weather patterns, crops and other matters of importance to farming communities in rural India. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fight against suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

The district has seen about 150 suicides since 2013 alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Illegal Wildlife Trade Booms on Chinese Social Media Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:40:55 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Despite a major online crackdown on the sale of illegal wildlife products in China, merchants are still peddling their wares in a thriving social media market.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring group, says “considerable quantities” of ivory, rhino horns, tiger and leopard bones, scales and more numbering in the thousands are being bought and sold each month on social media in China.

A new report ‘Moving targets: Tracking online sales of illegal wildlife products in China’ – released Tuesday, to coincide with World Wildlife Day – outlines monitoring of e-commerce websites and social media undertaken by TRAFFIC since 2006.

The report states that while trade on standard e-commerce and antiques sites has dropped off significantly, due to efforts by groups like TRAFFIC to alert website managers and enforcement agencies to the sale, trade through social media has grown and remains high.

“Despite the inherent difficulties in monitoring such trade, TRAFFIC’s research has revealed that considerable quantities of illegal wildlife products are bought through social media channels,” the report states.

Between January 2012 and early 2013, the number of advertisements for illegal wildlife products on surveyed websites fell from 30 000 to 10 000, and figures have remained steady since. At least 15 of China’s most-used e-commerce sites have publicly stated a zero-tolerance policy to illegal wildlife trade.

“Major online retailers in China have been important allies in efforts to stamp out illegal wildlife trade… yet the high number of such advertisements remains of concern and we are also seeing a shift in the way such transactions now take place,” said Zhou Fei, head of TRAFFIC’s China Office.

Through social media advertisements however, which TRAFFIC began tracking in March 2014, the trade has not been as effectively addressed.

The report stated that in one month monitoring on one social network, there were over 100 ivory tusks, 270 ivory segments, 80 rhino horns, 46 helmeted horn bill casques, and thousands of ivory items listed for sale.

“That is why it is imperative that researchers and enforcement agencies – as well as social media platform administrators – concentrate their efforts on monitoring and deterring illegal wildlife trade on social media,” the report recommended.

TRAFFIC conceded targeting social media trade was more difficult than trade on regular e-commerce sites. For one, audiences on social media can be limited greatly, to only those buyers that the dealer or merchant trusts; for another, code words for products are often used, and can be regularly altered, making it difficult for enforcement agencies to keep up.

“Progress in eliminating illegal online trade is hampered by the practicalities of blocking certain code words, while limited capacity means it is simply not possible to find and delete all offending advertisements in time,” the report warned.

“The speed with which online transactions can take place is also a major impediment, both to monitoring and to effective enforcement action.”

TRAFFIC’s recommendations include training courier companies to check cargo and recognise illegal wildlife products, and for social media companies to “share information about their client base” with “relevant law enforcement agencies.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equality Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

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

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gaza Reconstruction, Hampered by Israeli Blockade, May Take 100 Years, Say Aid Agencies Tue, 03 Mar 2015 18:07:51 +0000 Thalif Deen Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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For Women in Asia, ‘Home’ Is a Battleground Tue, 03 Mar 2015 02:01:56 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

Nearly half of the four billion people who reside in the Asia-Pacific region are women. They comprise two-thirds of the region’s poor, with millions either confined to their homes or pushed into the informal labour market where they work without any safeguards for paltry daily wages. Millions more become victims of trafficking and are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery.

Others find themselves battling an enemy much closer to home; in fact, for many women the greatest threat is inside the home itself, where domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is a daily occurrence.

Half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence. -- Asia Pacific Forum (APF)
UN Women says that women in Asia and the Pacific retain one of the world’s highest rates of gender-based violence, much of it concentrated within a single home or perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner.

In the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea, for instance, 58 percent of women claim to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in relationships, while 55 percent say they were forced into sexual encounters against their will.

In Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, 66 percent of women report the use of violence by intimate partners; 44 percent suffered the abuse while pregnant.

In East Timor, one in four women experience physical violence at the hands of a partner every year and 16 percent of married women report being coerced by their husbands into having sex.

Any number of reasons could explain this grim reality. According to the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), “Women in the region experience some of the lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership in the world.”

Even those who have jobs earn less than their male counterparts, with a pay gap for women in the region ranging from 54-90 percent, despite the existence of laws supposedly guaranteeing ‘equal pay for equal work’.

A complete absence of legal provisions against sexual harassment in the workplace means that between 30 and 40 percent of working women in Asia and the Pacific report experiencing verbal, physical or sexual abuse, APF says.

The organisation also found that half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence.

In this legal vacuum, men face almost no consequences for their actions and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle.

It also means that government data on abuse are, at best, extremely conservative estimates, since most women do not report violent incidents – either from fear of reprisals or because of a lack of faith in the legal system to deliver any solutions.

In India, for example, the most recent government household survey found that 40 percent of women had been abused in their homes; but an independent survey backed by the Planning Commission of India puts the number closer to 84 percent.

In Indonesia, where the police recorded over 150,000 cases of violence against women in 2009 – 96 percent of which were incidents involving a husband and wife – activists estimate that just one out of 10 cases actually gets reported; meaning the real number of survivors of domestic violence is at least nine times higher than official figures indicate.

Last year the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) reported that 2013 was one of the worst years for women, with the highest number of reported incidents of violence.

Citing statistics from the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), the Commission stated that 14.4 percent of married women, and 37 percent of separated or widowed women, experienced spousal abuse.

Four percent of all women who have ever been pregnant have suffered violence at the hands of a partner, while three in five abused women report long-lasting physical and psychological impacts of the violence or battery.

Policy-makers say tougher implementation of laws partially accounts for the increased number of reported incidents, which saw a 49.5 percent rise from 2012.

The same could soon be true in China, where the recently released draft of the country’s first anti-domestic violence law was hailed by civil society as a step towards stemming rampant abuse – physical, sexual and psychological – in millions of households.

Data from the government-run All-China Women’s Federation show that some 40 percent of women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their relationships, while just seven percent of battered women report the violence to the authorities.

U.N. agencies say a dearth of laws against marital rape in the region has fostered a sense of impunity among husbands. In 2012, UN Women found that only eight countries across Asia and the Pacific had laws that specifically criminalised marital rape, leading millions – including women – to feel that men were justified in sexually or physically abusing their wives.

Too often, the legal system operates in ways that leaves women out in the cold and allows perpetrators of violence to walk free.

Courts are largely inaccessible to women in rural areas; legal fees and the price of forensic examinations are cost-prohibitive to women who are not in control of their own finances; and male biases within the police force means that law enforcement officials are largely unsympathetic to the few who dare come forward to report abuse.

Furthermore, women in Asia are woefully underrepresented in the legal system. While UN Women reports that a “quarter of judges and around a fifth of prosecution staff in East Asia and the Pacific are women […] South Asia lags behind, with women making up just nine percent of judges and four percent of prosecution staff.”

These numbers are even more dismal in the police, with women in South Asia comprising a mere three percent of the police force, a figure that rises to just nine percent for East Asia and the Pacific.

Home to four of the five fastest-growing economies in the world, Asia’s shining visage is darkened by the shadow of misery its women face in their own homes.

Absent the implementation of robust laws, sustained efforts to improve women’s representation at all levels of government and genuine measures to ensure women gain a sturdy economic foothold in all countries in the region, experts say it is unlikely that domestic violence will decline.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prize Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

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

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

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

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Syrian Conflict Has Underlying Links to Climate Change, Says Study Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:59:45 +0000 Thalif Deen On a drought-hit farm in Syria, December 2010. Credit: Caterina Donattini/IPS

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

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

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

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Farm Projects Boost Bangladeshi Women, Children Sun, 01 Mar 2015 16:39:05 +0000 Josh Butler Women organise themselves into small collectives, to better bargain and trade their produce. Credit: Helen Keller International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Helen Keller International

Credit: Helen Keller International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: War on Wildlife Crime – Time to Enlist the Ordinary Citizen Sun, 01 Mar 2015 14:46:38 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing a “wildlife crisis”, and it is a crisis exacerbated by human activities, not least criminal ones.

Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year, helping to finance criminal gangs and rebel organisations waging civil wars.“Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there with narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year”

With seven billion people on the planet, it is tempting to shrug one’s shoulders and ask “What difference can any one individual make?”  Such an attitude means that we are in danger of repeating the “tragedy of the commons” – everyone making seemingly rational decisions in their own immediate interests – but this is a short-sighted approach that undermines the common good and ultimately sows the seeds of its own downfall.

With seven billion people on the planet, it is also tempting to say that people’s need for food, shelter and well-being should take precedence over nature conservation, but the two are not necessarily irreconcilable.  In fact far from it – the two often go hand in hand and are totally compatible – non-consumptive use of wildlife, such as whale-watching and safaris, provide sustainable livelihoods for thousands of people.

Extinction has been an ever-present phenomenon, with a few species losing their specialised niche or being edged out to a more aggressive competitor or, in the case of dinosaurs, being wiped out by a meteorite strike.

The number of species going extinct is increasing fast, at a rate that cannot be attributed to natural causes and it is clear that there is a human foot pressing down heavily on the accelerator pedal.

South Africa reports record numbers of rhinos killed for their horn; demand for ivory is pushing the elephant to the brink; tiger numbers might have risen in India of late but the wild population and the range occupied by the cats are a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And we are not just losing vital pieces in the elaborate jigsaw puzzle of ecosystems; we are losing elements of our natural heritage that contribute to human culture and society, and the lifeblood of sustainable activities that create employment in the tourism sector, generating foreign exchange and significant tax revenues.

Wildlife crime is not an abstract. It affects us all and there is more that individuals can do to make a difference than they perhaps imagine.  Understanding the consequences of killing the animals and highlighting the connection between the increased poaching and organised criminal gangs and terrorists have been extremely helpful in strengthening  political messages and in persuading  the public to demand that more be done.

The gangs care little about the fate of the animals – either the individuals they kill or the survival of the species.  They think nothing of shooting the rangers who stand in their way.  They do care about their profits and high demand for ivory in East Asian markets has sent the price through the roof – not that the poacher in the field or the craftsman in the backstreet workshop receive much of a share.

If demand evaporates, the price will fall and killing elephants for their ivory will no longer be a viable business. The gangs will have to find some other source of income, but they would have to do this soon anyway, as current levels of poaching mean that there will not be any elephants left in 30 years.

The maxim “get them while they are young” applies to many things, not least the environment and junior members of the household often influence the family’s behaviour with regard to recycling, saving energy and water, food purchases and a range of other “green issues”. So raising awareness among the younger generation of the need to tackle wildlife crime is crucial.

The fight against wildlife crime has to be conducted on several fronts.  It does register on governments’ radar and pressure from civil society can help keep it high on the agenda.  The public has a vital role to play in keeping pressure on governments, either individually or through local pressure groups and NGOs. People can also modify their own behaviour by minimising their footprint on the planet.

We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime, but nor should we dismiss the potential impact of the actions of individuals as consumers, customers or voters.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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