Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 From Subsistence to Profit, Swazi Farmers Get a Helping Handhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/from-subsistence-to-profit-swazi-farmers-get-a-helping-hand/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 Mantoe Phakathi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136938 Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Mantoe Phakathi
MBABANE, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Men in blue overalls are offloading vegetables from trucks while their female counterparts dress and pack the fresh produce before storing it in a cold room.

When another truck drives in, the packed items are loaded and the consignment is driven away again."Production is not a problem but getting access to the market is a challenge. That’s why you’d find farmers giving away their produce for free because that is the only way they can prevent it from being spoilt.” -- Betina Edziwa

Such are the daily activities at Sidemane Farm, situated a few kilometres outside the Swazi capital of Mbabane.

“The farmers have a contract to supply me with baby vegetables throughout the year,” Themba Dlamini told IPS.

In turn, he supplies Woolworths stores in South Africa with the vegetables, a business he said was very “sensitive”. Not only does his client demand high quality vegetables, but he has to be on time when it comes to meeting deadlines.

He bought the E1.6 million business from its previous owner in 2005 and he says demand has been growing each year.

“I’m competing with other suppliers from South Africa and Kenya,” he said.

The contracted farmers are critical to the survival of his business because the 90-hectare land that is cultivated by the existing farmers is no longer enough. He needs more farmers to supply him.

With a staff of 95, Sidemane currently exports 25 tonnes of vegetables monthly, although there is a potential to expand to 40 tonnes. But for the company to meet its growing demand, it needs to train more farmers. Lack of adequate funding was a limiting factor.

“When buying the farm, I took a loan and I was not in a position to get another loan until I finish this one,” he said. “It would have been difficult to expand without additional financial support.”

Last year, Dlamini applied and got an E380,000 grant from the European Union-funded Marketing Investment Fund (MIF), an initiative under the Swaziland Agriculture Development Programme (SADP). The Ministry of Agriculture implemented the SADP while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations provided technical assistance.

From the MIF grant, Dlamini got a mini-truck, a generator and crates in which he packs the vegetables. The truck is very useful for transporting the vegetables and reaching out to farmers for trainings.

“We experience a lot of power cuts yet we deal with perishables. The generator helps to keep the stock whenever we don’t have power,” explained Dlamini.

He is one of 47 famers and agro-processors to benefit since 2012, said MIF coordinator Betina Edziwa. The project is the boost that many farmers needed to grow their businesses and improve their livelihoods.

“It has been realised that production for farmers is not a problem but getting access to the market is a challenge,” said Edziwa. “That’s why you’d find farmers giving away their produce for free because that is the only way they can prevent it from being spoilt.”

This necessitated the need to create a funding mechanism to enable beneficiaries to buy equipment and get training to help farmers sell their products. The grants were not handed out in cash, but the farmers were given the equipment and trained in business management and marketing.

“Successful applicants were those working with smallholders or were involved in value-addition,” said Edziwa.

This is one government and development partners’ initiative to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the country, where 63 percent of the one million population lives below the poverty line, according to the 2010 Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey (SHIES).

Given the high incidence of HIV/AIDS – with Swaziland leading the world at 26 percent of the productive age group – a lot of farmers took a knock.

This is the injection that many Swazi farmers needed to ensure that they are able to grow from just being subsistence to commercial agriculture, said Minister of Agriculture Moses Vilakati.

“The fund is in line with ministry’s approved strategy on diversification and commercialisation,” he said.

Although the disbursement of funds under the MIF came to an end in June, Vilakati said the ministry will establish an agribusiness section to ensure sustainability and expansion of the initiative through follow-up training, monitoring and evaluation of the enterprises and the farmers.

In a recent interview on the FAO’s website, SADP’s chief technical advisor, Nehru Essomba, said MIF is part of the broader SADP that has benefited 20,000 farmers in many other activities. One of the activities includes the rehabilitation of six dams for irrigation to support production, not only of crops but also livestock.

“We’re already helping more than 20,000 famers move from subsistence agriculture to a more sustainable high income-generating and market-led agriculture,” said Essomba.

It is a comprehensive approach in addressing the value chain, said EU Ambassador to Swaziland Nicola Bellomo on the same website. He said this programme links production, processing and marketing of the product, which is new in the country, a net importer.

“We are trying to develop a capacity and ability to export food,” said Bellomo.

And this is what Sidemane and many other famers are already doing.

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U.S. to Create National Plan on Responsible Business Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:14:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136936 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

The United States will begin developing a national action plan on responsible business practices, following on several years of related advocacy from civil society.

The plan will detail how the United States will implement landmark U.N. guidelines outlining the responsibility of multinational businesses to respect human rights. While the United Nations has urged participating governments to draft concrete plans for putting into practice the guidelines, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, thus far only three countries have done so – Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding.” -- Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan

Yet on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama for the first time announced that his administration would begin formulating such a plan.

“[W]e intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas,” the president stated. “We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries. But we think we can do better.”

Obama suggested that clarity around responsible business practices is good for all involved, including industry and local communities.

“Because when [companies] know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalise a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody,” the president said.

A White House fact sheet noted that the plan would aim to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption.” It also stated that the plan would be “consistent” with the U.N. Guiding Principles and similar guidelines from the OECD grouping of rich countries.

Additional details on the formulation process are not yet available, though observers expect a draft next year. For now, however, advocacy groups are applauding the president’s announcement as preliminary but significant.

“This could end up being a very important step, but now we’ll be looking to see how the U.S. articulates how it expects companies to respect rights at home and abroad,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“More importantly, we’ll be looking to see whether this process results in any teeth – mechanisms to ensure that companies act responsibly everywhere.”

Task of implementation

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously backed the Guiding Principles, which are meant to apply to all countries and companies operating both domestically and internationally.

Yet thus far, formal adherence to the Guiding Principles has been only stuttering. In late June, the council called on governments to step up the process of drafting national action plans.

The United States – which endorsed the June resolution – has been a key focus for many in this process, given the overwhelming size of its economy and the number of multinational companies that it hosts.

Further, U.S. companies have stood accused of a broad spectrum of rights abuse, from extractives companies poisoning local water supplies to private security companies killing unarmed civilians. Often, of course, such problems impact most directly on poor and marginalised communities in developing countries.

The Guiding Principles mandate that governments take on the responsibility to prevent rights abuses by corporations and other third parties. States are also required to provide judicial “remedy” for any such abuse.

This is powerful language, but it remains up to governments to decide how exactly to implement the guidelines. Here, watchdog groups are less optimistic.

While Ganesan welcomes the actions by the three European countries that have developed implementation plans, he has reservations as to how substantive they are.

“Few of them have any real strength,” he says. “While they ask their companies to adopt the Guiding Principles, none of them have put together any kind of mechanism aimed at ensuring that happens.”

In the context of the U.S. announcement, then, there is a sense of caution around whether the United States will be able to put in place rules that require action from corporations.

“We are thrilled to see the United States take on this important initiative,” Sara Blackwell, a legal and policy associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), said in a statement.

Yet Blackwell notes that her office will continue to advocate for a U.S. action plan that goes beyond concerns merely around transparency and corruption.

Rather, she says, any plan needs to include “clear action on important issues such as access to effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights harms and the incorporation of human rights considerations into the U.S. federal government’s enormous influence on the marketplace through its public procurement activities.”

Voluntary initiatives

ICAR has been at the forefront of civil society engagement around the call for the development of national action plans on responsible business practice, including by the United States.

In June, the group, along with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, published a toolkit to guide government officials intent on formulating such plans. Among other points, the toolkit urges the participation of all stakeholders, including those who have been “disempowered”.

In his announcement, President Obama appeared to suggest that the drafting of a U.S. plan would rest on participation from business entities, though it is not yet clear how companies will react. (Three major industry lobby groups contacted for comment by IPS failed to respond.)

At the outset, though, rights advocates are worried by the examples coming out Europe, where governments appear to be relying on voluntary rather than rule-based initiatives.

“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding,” Human Rights Watch’s Ganesan says.

“They’ll be happy to agree to accepting human rights in rhetorical or aspirational terms, but they will not want any rules that say they must take certain actions or, for instance, risk losing government contracts. Nonetheless, there is now a real opportunity for the U.S. government to mandate certain actions – though how the administration articulates that will be a critical test.”

Meanwhile, concerns around the potential laxity of the Guiding Principles have already led to a division among rights advocates as to whether a new international mechanism is needed. In a landmark decision at the end of June, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to begin negotiations towards a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

Yet this move remains highly controversial, even among supporters. Some are worried that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad, while others warn that the new push will divert attention from the Guiding Principles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Outgunned by Rich Polluters, Africa to Bring United Front to Climate Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/outgunned-by-rich-polluters-africa-to-bring-united-front-to-climate-talks/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 17:43:34 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136933 Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

Mercy Hlordz (l), Akos Matsiador (centre) and Mary Azametsi (r) are all victims of climate change. Credit: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

As climate change interest groups raise their voices across Africa to call for action at the COP20 climate meeting in December and the crucial COP21 in Paris in 2015, many worry that the continent may never have fair representation at the talks.

The African Group noted during a May meeting in Ethiopia that while negotiations remain difficult, they still hope to break some barriers through close collaboration and partnerships with different African groups involved in negotiations."Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon." -- lead negotiator Tomothé Kagombet

Within the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) group, a preparatory meeting is planned for next month with experts and delegates from the 10 member countries, according to Martin Tadoum, deputy secretary general of COMIFAC, “but the group can only end up sending one or two representatives to COP meetings.”

Meanwhile, the Pan-African Parliamentarians’ Network on Climate Change (PAPNCC) is hoping to educate lawmakers and African citizens on the problem to better take decisions about how to manage it.

“The African parliamentarians have a great role to influence government decisions on climate change and defend the calls of various groups on the continent,” Honorable Awudu Mbaya, Cameroonian Parliamentarian and president of PAPNCC, told IPS.

PAPNCC operates in 38 African countries, with its headquarters in Cameroon. Besides working with governments and decision-makers, it is also networking with youth groups and civil society groups in Africa to advance climate goals.

Innovative partnership models involving government, civil society groups, think tanks and academia could also enforce governments’ positions and build the capacity of negotiators.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has noted that bargaining by all parties is increasingly taking place outside the formal negotiating space, and Africa must thus be prepared to engage on these various platforms in order to remain in the loop.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa are designing various campaign strategies for COP 20 and COP 21. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a diverse coalition of more than 500 CSOs and networks, is using national platforms and focal persons to plan a PACJA week of activities in November.

“PACJA Week of Action is an Africa-wide annual initiative aimed at stimulating actions and reinforcing efforts to exercise the power of collective action ahead of COPs. The weeks will involve several activities like staging pickets, rallies, marches, and other forms of action in schools, communities, workplaces, and public spaces,” Robert Muthami Kithuku, a programme support officer at PACJA headquarters in Kenya, told IPS.

Others, like the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) and the African Youth Alliance, are coming up with similar strategies to provide a platform for coordinated youth engagement and participation in climate discussions and the post-2015 development agenda at the national, regional and international levels.

“We plan to send letters to negotiators, circulating statements, using the social media, using both electronic and print media and also holding public forums. Slogans to enhance the campaign are also being adopted,” Kithuku said.

Africa’s vulnerability to climate change seems to have ushered in a new wave of south-south collaboration in the continent. The PAPNCC Cameroon chapter has teamed up with PACJA to advocate for greater commitments on climate change through tree-planting events in four Cameroonian communities. It is also holding discussions with regional parliamentarians on how climate change can better be incorporated in local legislation.

In June, mayors of the Central African sub-region gathered in Cameroon to plan their first participation in major climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris. Under the banner The International Association of Francophone Mayors of Central Africa on Towns and Climate Change (AIMF), the mayors are seeking ways to adapt their cities to the effects of climate change and to win development opportunities through mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.

During a workshop of African Group of Negotiators in May 2014, it was recognised that climate change negotiations offer opportunities for Africa to strengthen its adaptive capacity and to move towards low-carbon economic development. Despite a lack of financial resources, Africa has a comparative advantage in terms of natural resources like forests, hydro and solar power potential.

At the May meeting, Ethiopia’s minister of Environment and Forests, Belete Tafere, urged the lead negotiators in attendance to be ambitious and focused in order to press the top emitters to make binding commitments to reduce emissions. He also advised the negotiators to prioritise mitigation as a strategy to demonstrate the continent’s contribution to a global solution.

But negotiations are still difficult. Africa has fewer resources to send delegates to COPs, coupled with a relatively low level of expertise to understand technical issues in the negotiations.

“Africa is just a representative in negotiations and has very little capacity to influence decisions,” Tomothé Kagombet, one of Cameroon’s lead negotiators, told IPS.

“Most of our problems are financial. For example, in negotiations Cameroon is seated next to Canada, which comes with a delegation of close to a hundred people, while two of us represent Cameroon, and this is the case with all other African countries.”

He said that while developed countries swap delegates and experts in and out of the talks, the Africans are also obliged remain at the negotiating table for long periods without taking a break.

“At the country levels, there are no preparatory meetings that can help in capacity building and in enforcing countries’ positions,” he said.

As a strategy to improve the capacity of delegates, COMIFAC recruits consultants during negotiations to brief representatives from the 10 member countries on various technical issues in various forums.

“To reduce the problem of numbers, the new strategy is that each country is designated to represent the group in one aspect under negotiation. For example, Chad could follow discussions on adaptation, Cameroon on mitigation, DRC on finance,” COMIFAC’s Tadoum told IPS.

With a complex international climate framework that has evolved over many years, with new mitigation concepts and intricacies in REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and more than 60 different international funds, the challenges for African experts to grasp these technicalities are enormous, Samuel Nguiffo of the Center for Environment and Development told IPS (CED). CED is a subregional NGO based in Cameroon.

“There is no country budget set aside for climate change that can help in capacity building and send more delegates to COPs. The UNFCCC sponsors one or two representatives from developing countries but the whole of Africa might not measure up with the delegates from one developed nation,” said Cameroon’s negotiator, Tomothé Kagombet.

The lead African negotiators are now crafting partnerships with with young African lawyers in the negotiations process and compiling a historical narrative of Africa’s participation and decisions relevant to the continent as made by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC process, from Kyoto in 1997 to Paris in 2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Tackling the Proliferation of Patents to Avoid Limitations to Competitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-the-proliferation-of-patents-to-avoid-limitations-to-competition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-the-proliferation-of-patents-to-avoid-limitations-to-competition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/tackling-the-proliferation-of-patents-to-avoid-limitations-to-competition/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 15:30:33 +0000 carlos-m-correa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136929

In this column, Carlos Correa, the South Centre's special adviser on trade and intellectual property issues, argues that the global increase in number of patents does not indicate the strength of innovation but a weakening in the standards of what can be considered patentable. He calls for an intrinsically balanced system of protection of innovation that remains neutral in its effects on competition.

By Carlos M. Correa
GENEVA, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The steady increase in patent applications and grants that is taking place in developed and some developing countries (notably in China) is sometimes hailed as evidence of the strength of global innovation and of the role of the patent system in encouraging it. 

Carlos M. Correa

Carlos M. Correa

However, such an increase does not correspond to a genuine rise in innovation. It points instead to a major deviation of the patent system away from its intended objective: to reward those who contribute to technological progress by creating new and inventive products and processes.

The increase in the number of patents reflects, to a large extent, the low requirements of patentability applied by patent offices and courts. Patents granted despite the absence of a genuine invention detract knowledge from the public domain and can unduly restrain legitimate competition.

Low standards of patentability encourage a large number of applications that would not otherwise be made, leading to a world backlog estimated at over 10 million unexaminedpatents.

This problem affects various sectors. For instance, Nokia is reported to hold around 30,000 patents relating to mobile phones, a large part of which are likely to be invalid, while Samsung holds more than 31,000 patent families. A study covering various fields of clean energy technologies, including solar photovoltaic, geothermal, wind and carbon capture, found nearly 400,000 patent documents.“The steady increase in patent applications and grants … does not correspond to a genuine rise in innovation. It points instead to a major deviation of the patent system away from its intended objective: to reward those who contribute to technological progress by creating new and inventive products and processes”

The proliferation of patents is particularly high and problematic in the pharmaceutical sector, where large companies actively seek to acquire broad portfolios of patents in order to extend patent protection beyond the expiry of the original patents on new compounds. These ever-greening strategies allow them to keep generic producers out of the market and charge prices higher than those that would otherwise exist in a competitive scenario.

For example, the basic patent for paroxetine, an antidepressant, expired in the late 1990s, whereas ‘secondary’ patents will extend up to 2018.

Ever-greening strategies by one company often force others to follow the same pattern as a defensive approach.  The proliferation of ‘secondary’ or ‘spurious’ patents can impose significant costs on patients and public health systems.

Several measures can be applied at the national level to avoid the proliferation of patents on trivial developments in full consistency with the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), because they fall within the policy space that World Trade Organisation (WTO) members have retained to design and apply their patent laws.

The most important policy that governments may implement is the rigorous application of the requirements of patentability, based on a thorough examination of patent applications. The TRIPS agreement neither defines the concept of ‘invention’ nor how such requirements need to be interpreted.

Thus, national laws may differentiate inventions and discoveries, and require that the former result from an inventive activity, thereby excluding pre-existing subject matter that is merely found, such as natural substances.

While some patent offices grant patents on the basis of legal fictions on novelty, there is no reason to follow such practices in other jurisdictions.

An example of this practice by some patent offices is to admit what are known as ‘selection patents’, whereby one of more items that were previously disclosed are independently claimed. This type of patents provide an effective means of ever-greening, because protection can be extended for the full length of a new patent, i.e. normally twenty additional years, despite the fact that novelty was actually lost when such items were first disclosed.

While some large patent offices, such as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the European Patent Office and the Chinese Patent Office, seem to apply a lax inventive step standard thereby allowing for the granting of a large number of ‘low quality’ patents, there are strong public interest arguments to follow a different approach, particularly in developing countries.

A strict application of the industrial applicability/usefulness requirement, when provided for by the national law, may also contribute to prevent the grant of unwarranted patent rights.

This is the case, in particular, for claims on new medical uses, which are equivalent to claims over methods of treatment that have no industrial application or technical effect. The lack of industrial applicability may be a sufficient ground to reject such claims.

Given the policy space left by the TRIPS agreement to adopt their own definitions of the patentability standards, and to do so consistently with their legal systems and practices, governments can follow different methods to ensure that patents are granted only when there are sufficient merits under the applicable law.

Governments may introduce specific standards in the patent laws themselves. A notable case is the Indian Patent Act, as amended in 2005, which incorporated in section 3(d) specific standards to assess patent applications in the field of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

In a case brought by Novartis (a Swiss pharmaceutical company) against the rejection of its patent application relating to a beta crystalline form of imatinib mesylate, the Indian Supreme Court held that the claimed invention failed in both the tests of invention and patentability.

The definition of the standards of patentability can also be made through regulations, including patent offices’ guidelines. A good example is provided by the guidelines on the patentability of pharmaceutical products and processes adopted by the Argentine government in 2012 to limit the ever-greening of pharmaceutical patents.

Finally, it is worth noting that in applying patentability standards, patent offices can differentiate, in line with the TRIPS agreement, among fields of technology in order to take into account particular features of specific sectors and public policies objectives, for instance in relation to the promotion of generic drugs.

Measures to accommodate these differences constitute a necessary response to the diversity of technologies and, consequently, a condition sine qua non for an intrinsically balanced system of protection that remains neutral in its effects on competition. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

This column is taken from the author’s research paper on ‘Tackling the Proliferation of Patents: How to Avoid Undue Limitations to Competition and the Public Domain’, published by the South Centre (http://www.southcentre.int/research-paper-52-august-2014/).

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Blistering Drought Leaves the Poorest High and Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blistering-drought-leaves-the-poorest-high-and-dry/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:50:15 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136917 A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A villager prepare to dig a deep well by hand in the drought-stricken village of Tunukkai in Sri Lanka's northern Mullaithivu District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The last time there was mud on his village roads was about a year ago, says Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, situated about 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

“Since last October we have had nothing but sun, all day,” the 40-year-old father of two school-aged children told IPS. If his layman’s assessment of the rain patterns is off, it is by a mere matter of weeks.

At the disaster management unit of the Kilinochchi District Secretariat under which Mohanabavan’s village falls, reports show inadequate rainfall since November 2013 – less than 30 percent of expected precipitation for this time of year.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school. The nightmare continues." -- Murugesu Mohanabavan, a farmer from the village of Karachchi, 300 km north of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo
Sri Lanka is currently facing a severe drought that has impacted over 1.6 million people and cut its crop yields by 42 percent, according to government analyses. But a closer look at the areas where the drought is at its worst shows that the poorest have been hit hardest.

Of the drought-affected population, over half or roughly 900,000 people, are from the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country, regions that have been traditionally poor, dependent on agriculture and lacking strong coping mechanisms or infrastructure to withstand the impact of natural disasters.

Take the northern Kilinochchi district, where out of a population of some 120,000, over 74,000 are affected by the drought; or the adjoining district of Mullaithivu where over 56,000 from a population of just above 100,000 are suffering the impacts of inadequate rainfall.

The vast majority of residents in these districts are war returnees, who bore the brunt of Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war that ended in May 2009. Displaced and dodging the crossfire of fierce fighting between government forces and the now-defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last stages of the conflict, these civilians began trickling back into devastated villages in late 2010.

Despite a massive three-billion-dollar mega infrastructure development plan for the Northern Province, poverty remains rampant in the region. According to poverty data that was released by the government in April, four of the five districts in the north fared poorly.

While the national poverty headcount was 6.7 percent, major districts in the north and east recorded much higher figures: 28.8 percent in Mullaithivu, 12.7 percent in Kilinochchi, 8.3 percent in Jaffnna and 20.1 percent in Mannar.

The figures are worlds apart from the mere 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent recorded in the Colombo and Gampaha Districts in the Western Province.

“The districts in the North were already reeling under very high levels of poverty, which would have certainly accentuated since then due to the prolonged drought to date,” said Muttukrishna Saravananthan, who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development based in northern Jaffna.

Mohanabavan told IPS that even though he has about two acres of agriculture land that had hitherto provided some 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) in income annually, the dry weather has pushed him into debt.

“We don’t have any savings left; I still need to complete a half-built house and send two children to school,” he explained, adding that there is no sign of respite. “The nightmare continues,” he said simply.

Agriculture accounts for 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s national annual gross domestic product (GDP) of some 60 billion rupees (about 460 million dollars). In primarily rural provinces in the north and east, at least 30 percent of the population depends on an agriculture-based income.

Kugadasan Sumanadas, the additional secretary for disaster management at the Kilinochchi District Secretariat, said that limited programmes to assist the drought-impacted population have been launched since the middle of the year.

Around 37,000 persons get daily water transported by tankers and there are a set number of cash-for-work programmes in the district that pay around 800 rupees (about six dollars) per person per day, for projects aimed at renovating water and irrigtation networks.

But to carry out even the limited work underway now, a weekly allocation of over nine million rupees is needed, money that is slow in coming.

“But the bigger problem is if it does not rain soon, then we will have to travel out of the province to get water, more people will need assistance for a longer period, that means more money [will be required],” Sumanadas said.

In April this year, a joint assessment by the World Food Programme and the government warned that half the population in the Mullaithivu district and one in three people in the Kilinochchi district were food insecure.

Sumanadas is certain that in the ensuing four months, the figure has gone up.

Overall, crop production has decreased by 42 percent compared to 2013 levels, while rice yields fell to 17 percent below last year’s output of four million metric tons.

In fact, the government decided to lift import bans on the staple rice stocks in April and is expected to make up for at least five percent of harvest losses through imports.

The main water source in the district, the sprawling Iranamadu Reservoir – 50 square km in size, with the capacity to irrigate 106,000 acres – is a gigantic dust bowl these days, the official said. That scenario, however, is not limited to the north and east.

“All reservoir levels are down to around 30 percent in the island,” Ivan de Silva, the secretary to the minister of irrigation and water management, told IPS.

He attributes the debilitating impact of the drought to two factors working in tandem: the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and the lack of proper water management.

“In the past we excepted a severe drought every 10 to 15 years, now it is happening almost every other year,” de Silva said.

A similar drought in late 2012 also impacted close to two million people on this island of just over 20 million people, and forced agricultural output down to 20 percent of previous yields.

That drought however was broken by the onset of floods brought on by hurricane Nilam in late 2012.

“We should have policies that allow us to manage our water resources better, so that we can better meet these changing weather patterns,” he said.

The country is slowly waking up to the grim reality that a changing climate requires better management. This week the government launched a 100-million-dollar climate resilience programme that will spend the bulk of its funds, around 90 million dollars, on infrastructure upgrades.

Of this, 47 million dollars will go towards improving drainage networks and water systems, while 36 million will go towards fortifying roads and seven million will be poured into projects to improve school safety in disaster-prone areas.

Part of the money will also be allocated to studying the nine main river basins around the country for better flood and drought management policies.

S M Mohammed, the secretary to the ministry of disaster management, admitted that national coping levels were not up to par when she said at the launch of the programme on Sep. 26, “Our country must change from a tradition of responding [to natural disasters] to a culture of resilience.”

Such a policy, if implemented, could bring a world of change to the lives of millions who are slowly cooking in the blistering sun.

Edited by Kanya D’Almieda

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‘Youth Exodus’ Reveals Lack of Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/youth-exodus-reveals-lack-of-opportunities/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 05:20:18 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136914 Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Samoan mother Siera Tifa Palemene receives financial support from her sons who emigrated to Australia and New Zealand for employment opportunities. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
APIA, Sep 29 2014 (IPS)

The small South Pacific island state of Samoa, located northeast of Fiji, attracts tourists with its beaches, natural beauty and relaxed pace of life, but similar to other small nations with constrained economies, it is experiencing an exodus of young people, who are unable to find jobs.

Samoa has a net migration rate of -13.4, while in neighbouring Tonga it is -15.4 and in the western Pacific island state of Micronesia it is -15.7, in contrast to the average in small island developing states (SIDS) of -1.4.

In Apia, Samoa’s capital, Siera Tifa Palemene, a fit, active woman in her late sixties, is one of many mothers to have watched her children migrate to larger economies in the region.

Palemene presides over an extensive family, with five sons and five daughters. Four of her married sons, now in their thirties, live in Australia and New Zealand, where they work in construction and building trades, such as welding.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them." -- Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society
“The salaries are too low here in Samoa and my children have large families,” Palemene told IPS, emphasising that one of her sons has seven children. “My sons want their children to get a better life because over here there are not that many opportunities.”

Contraceptive prevalence in Samoa is an estimated 29 percent and the total fertility rate is 4.2, one of the highest in the region. However, while the country has a high natural population increase rate of two percent, emigration reduces population growth to 0.8 percent. Emigrants residing predominantly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States number an estimated 120,400, which nearly matches Samoa’s population of 190,372.

Twenty years after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, many small island states are still striving for sustainable economic development, equality and employment growth to match bulging youth populations.

Despite stable governance, Samoa’s economy, dependent on agriculture, tourism and international development assistance, suffers from geographic isolation from main markets. It was also impacted by the 2008 global financial crisis, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009 and Cyclone Evan in 2012, which damaged infrastructure and crops.

Livelihoods for most people centre on fishing, subsistence and smallholder agriculture, as well as small commercial and informal trading, with an estimated 27 percent of households striving to meet basic needs.

International migration, therefore, is an important avenue to economic fulfilment for young educated people with increased lifestyle aspirations and there are benefits for family members living in Samoa, such as remittances.

“My sons send money to help out the family; this helps pay all the household bills, such as electricity, and to send the grandchildren here to school,” Palemene said. According to the World Bank, remittances to Samoa in 2012 were an estimated 142 million dollars, or about 23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

As Palemene’s offspring face more expenses with their own families, remittances are becoming infrequent.

“I know they have their families to support and that life overseas is very expensive with so much to pay for, but when I need it, I call them and they give me money,” she said.

Still, Palemene, who receives a state pension of 135 tala (about 57 dollars) per month, works as a housekeeper at a guesthouse in Apia for extra income.

She supports the decision of her sons to emigrate and is keen for them to “have their own good future,” but added, “The only thing is that I worry that something might happen to them when they are so far away.”

Elderly relatives who remain in Samoa also face vulnerabilities when the social safety net traditionally provided by the younger generation in extended families is diminished.

“A lot of our people are migrating overseas to earn a living, leaving behind their parents, so there are elderly people now who have no-one living with them,” Tala Mauala, secretary-general of the Samoa Red Cross Society, observed. So, in times of natural disaster, for example, they need extra forms of community or state assistance.

There are other losses for high emigration countries such as the outward flow of educated professionals, known as the ‘brain drain’, due to the lure of higher salaries in the developed world, making it more difficult to progress much needed infrastructure and public service development. In Samoa the emigration rate of those with a tertiary education is 76.4 percent.

According to UNESCO, remittances are also primarily spent on consumption, rather than contributing to productivity, and the state’s trade deficit has grown as families in Samoa with additional disposable cash demand more imported goods.

Palemene sees her children when they pay her airfare to visit them or when they attend family events, such as weddings, in Samoa, but she doubts they will return to live permanently in the beautiful Polynesian country.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Militarising the Ebola Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarising-the-ebola-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:05:02 +0000 Joeva Rock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136912 First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

By Joeva Rock
WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

Six months into West Africa’s Ebola crisis, the international community is finally heeding calls for substantial intervention in the region.

On Sep. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. The crisis, which began in March 2014, has killed over 2,600 people, an alarming figure that experts say will rise quickly if the disease is not contained.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government’s “infuriatingly” slow response to the outbreak.

Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? [...] Will the treatment centers double as research labs? [...] And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country’s fight against the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well. The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a 22-million-dollar, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.

One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders.

According to the prominent political blog ‘Think Progress’, this number represents “nearly two-thirds of AFRICOM’s 4,800 assigned personnel” who will coordinate with civilian organisations to distribute supplies and construct up to 17 treatment centres.

It’s unclear whether any U.S. healthcare personnel will actually treat patients, but according to the White House, “the U.S. Government will help recruit and organise medical personnel to staff” the centres and “establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers per week.”

The latter begs the question of practicality: where would these would-be health workers be recruited from?

According to the Obama administration, the package was requested directly by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Notably, Liberia was the only African nation to offer to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in 2008, an offer AFRICOM declined and decided to set up in Germany instead).

But in a country still recovering from decades of civil war, this move was not welcomed by all. “Every Liberian I speak with is having acute anxiety attacks,” said Liberian writer Stephanie C. Horton. “We knew this was coming but the sense of mounting doom is emotional devastation.”

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarised nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarisation of the region.

The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

This is what’s known as the “new normal”: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarised humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, one of the foremost reporters on the militarisation of Africa, noted that a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense “found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects,” leaving big questions about their efficacy.

Perhaps more importantly, experts have warned that the provision of humanitarian assistance by uniformed soldiers could have dangerous, destabilising effects, especially in countries with long histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the outset of the crisis, for example, efforts by Liberian troops to forcefully quarantine the residents of West Point, a community in the capital of Monrovia, led to deadly clashes. Some public health advocates worry that the presence of armed troops could provoke similar incidents.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?

The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programmes at home as well as abroad.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus. You can read the original version here.

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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Arms Trade Treaty Gains Momentum with 50th Ratificationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 10:17:50 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136910 State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

With state support moving at an unprecedented pace, the Arms Trade Treaty will enter into force on Dec. 24, 2014, only 18 months after it was opened for signature.

Eight states – Argentina, the Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Saint Lucia, Portugal, Senegal and Uruguay – ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at a special event at the United Nations this past Thursday, Sep. 25, pushing the number of states parties up to 53.

As per article 22 of the treaty, the ATT comes into force as a part of international law 90 days after the 50th instrument of ratification is deposited.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy." -- Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
According to a statement by the Control Arms coalition, “The ATT is one of the fastest arms agreements to move toward entry into force.”

The speed at which the treaty received 50 ratifications “shows tremendous momentum for the ATT and a lot of significant political commitment and will,” said Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

“The challenge now is to translate the political will into action, both in terms of ensuring that States Parties are able to fulfil – and are fulfilling – their obligations under the Treaty,” Holtom told IPS in an email.

So what are the requirements under the ATT?

ATT states parties are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict.

Article 6(3) of the treaty forbids states from authorising transfers if they have the knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Article 7 prohibits transfers if there is an overriding risk of the weapons being used to undermine peace and security or commit a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.

In addition, states parties are required to take a number of measures to prevent diversion of weapons to the illicit market and produce annual reports of their imports and exports of conventional arms.

The treaty applies to eight categories of conventional arms, ranging from battle tanks to small arms and light weapons.

The successful entry into force of the ATT will be a big win for arms control campaigners and NGOs, who have been fighting for the regulation of the arms trade for more than a decade.

When Control Arms launched a global campaign in 2003, “Mali, Costa Rica and Cambodia were the only three governments who would publically say that they supported talk of the idea of an arms trade treaty,” Anna MacDonald, director of the Control Arms secretariat, told IPS.

NGO supporters of the treaty often brought up the fact that the global trade in bananas was more regulated than the trade in weapons.

The organisations in the Control Arms coalition supported the ATT process through “a mix of campaigning, advocacy, pressure on governments” and “proving technical expertise on what actually could be done, how a treaty could look, [and] what provisions needed to be in it,” MacDonald said.

All of the legwork has paid off, as the treaty will become operational far earlier than many expected.

Today’s 53rd ratification is just the start. So far, 121 countries have signed the treaty, and 154 voted in favour of its adoption in April 2013 in the General Assembly.

“There’s no reason why we would not expect all of those who voted in favour to sign and ultimately to ratify the treaty,” said MacDonald.

Sceptics contend that the worst human rights abusers will not agree to the treaty. For example, Syria was one of three states that voted against the ATT’s adoption in the General Assembly.

However, MacDonald believes that once enough countries join the ATT, the holdouts will face an enormous amount of political pressure to comply as well.

With a sufficient number of states parties, the ATT will “establish a new global standard for arms transfers, which makes it politically very difficult for even countries that have not signed it to ignore its provisions,” she told IPS.

MacDonald cited the Ottawa Convention, which banned anti-personnel landmines, as an example.

Many of the world’s biggest landmine users and exporters have not joined the Ottawa convention, but the use of landmines has fallen anyway because of the political stigma that developed.

Much work remains to be done in the months before Dec. 24 and in the upcoming years as the ATT system evolves.

States will need to create or update transfer control systems and enforcement mechanisms for regulating exports, imports and brokering as well as minimising diversion, according to Holtom.

“There are a lot of issues to be discussed before the Conference of States Parties and it will take several years before we can really see an impact,” he told IPS. “But we need to now make sure that the ATT can be put into effect and States and other key stakeholders work together towards achieving its object and purpose.”

The first conference of states parties will take place in Mexico in 2015.

Participating countries must provide their first report on arms exports and imports by May 31, 2015 and a report on measures that they have taken to implement the treaty by late 2015, Holtom said.

No matter the challenges to come, the simple fact that arms trade control is on the agenda is quite historic.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy,” said Holtom.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon claimed, “Today we can look ahead with satisfaction to the date of this historic new Treaty’s entry into force.”

“Now we must work for its efficient implementation and seek its universalisation so that the regulation of armaments – as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations – can become a reality once and for all,” he said in a statement delivered by U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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Championing Ocean Conservation Or Paying Lip Service to the Seas?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 06:32:18 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136905 President Obama's closure of waters around three remote Pacific islands will allow Honolulu's s long-line fishing vessels like this one to continue to fish the fast-dwindling bigeye tuna. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

President Obama's closure of waters around three remote Pacific islands will allow Honolulu's s long-line fishing vessels like this one to continue to fish the fast-dwindling bigeye tuna. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama this week extended the no-fishing areas around three remote pacific islands, eliciting praise from some, and disappointment from those who fear the move did not go far enough towards helping depleted species of fish recover.

Last June, Obama had proposed to end all fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of five islands, effectively doubling the surface of the world’s protected waters. But on Thursday, he only closed the three where little or no fishing goes on, making the measure, according to some experts, largely symbolic: the Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnson Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; and Jarvis, just south of the Kiribati Line Islands.

Fishing of fast-diminishing species like the Pacific bigeye tuna was allowed to continue around Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 square km Phoenix Islands Protected Area, and Palmyra in the U.S. Line Islands.

“If we don’t have the fortitude to protect marine biodiversity in these easy-win situations, that says a lot about our commitment to oceans." -- Doug McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara
Many press reports said Obama had created the largest marine reserve in the world. In fact, he would have done that only if he had closed the waters around Howland and Baker. Since these waters adjoin Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area, itself due to be closed to commercial fishing soon, the two together would have created a refuge of 850,000 square km, twice the size of California.

The biggest marine reserve in the world remains around the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Islands, which Britain closed in 2010, at 640,000 square km. Scientists say that to allow far-traveling species like tuna, shark and billfish, protected areas need to be in that range.

But after fishing fleets in Hawaii and American Samoa protested, Obama backtracked and allowed fishing to continue unabated in the two areas that have the most fish, Palmyra and Howland and Baker.

“We missed a unique opportunity to do something important for the oceans,” said Doug McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “I can’t think of anywhere in the world that could be protected and inconvenience fewer people than Palmyra and Howland and Baker.” According to official statistics, only 1.7 percent of the Samoa fleet’s catch and four percent of Honolulu’s comes from those areas.

“If we don’t have the fortitude to protect marine biodiversity in these easy-win situations, that says a lot about our commitment to oceans,” added McCauley.

On Thursday, Obama extended by about 90 percent the no-fishing zones in the waters around Jarvis, south of Palmyra and outside the range of the Hawaii fleet: Wake, which is not fished at all and lies west of Hawaii, and Johnston, south of Hawaii but far from the so-called equatorial tuna belt where the biggest numbers of fish live.

The three are more than 1,000 kilometers apart from each other and their newly protected waters add up to about one million square km.

“That’s a lot of water,” said Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation institute in Seattle, who had campaigned for the closures. “Obama has protected more of the ocean than anyone else.”

Morgan pointed out that it was in his sixth year (as is Obama now) that President George W. Bush created the first large U.S. marine national monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and it was in the closing days of Bush’s second term that he created several others in U.S. overseas possessions, including the five in the Central Pacific.

“Podesta said Obama’s signing pen still has some ink left in it, and I hope he’ll use it,” Morgan added, referring to a remark White House Counselor John Podesta made to journalists last week.

Bush, like Obama, had also initially proposed to protect the whole EEZ of the Central Pacific islands, but after fishing companies and the U.S. Navy objected, he ended up limiting the marine national monument designation to only the areas within 90 km of the islands.

The move protected the largely pristine and unfished reefs but left the rest of the EEZ open to U.S. fishermen. This time, a source familiar with the process told IPS, the Navy had made no objections to Obama’s original proposal to close the whole EEZ of the five zones.

But Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Honolulu Western Pacific Fishery Management Advisory Board, a leading voice in Hawaii’s fishing industry, had vigorously opposed the proposed closures, telling IPS, “U.S fishermen should be able to fish in U.S. zones.”

Obama’s declaration that turns the whole EEZ (out from 90 km to 340 km) around Wake, Jarvis and Johnston into marine national monuments notes they “contain significant objects of scientific interest that are part of this highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity.”

But the declaration does not mention that overfishing in the last decades has reduced the tropical Pacific population of bigeye tuna, highly prized as sushi, to 16 percent of its original population, while the yellowfin is down to 26 percent. About 80 percent of the tuna caught by Hawaii’s long-line fleet is bigeye. The stocks of tuna are even more depleted outside the Western and Central Pacific.

“In a well-managed fishery, you would stop fishing and rebuild the stock,” said Glenn Hurry, who recently stepped down as head of the international tuna commission that manages the five-billion-dollar Pacific fishery.

The fishery’s own scientists have called for reducing the bigeye catch by 30 percent, but the catch has only grown. Honolulu’s catch of bigeye was a record last year.

“It’s too bad these areas (Palmyra and Howland and Baker) weren’t closed,” said Patrick Lehodey, a French fisheries scientist who studies Pacific tuna. Absent a reduction in catch, he said, “Our simulations showed that to help the bigeye recover, you need to close a really big area near the tuna belt.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Cuba’s Sugar Industry to Use Bagasse for Bioenergyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cubas-sugar-industry-to-use-bagasse-for-bienergy/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:08:45 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136902 The 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the Cuban province of Cienfuegos. A subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is taking part in upgrading the plant, which will include construction of a bioenergy plant run on sugarcane bagasse. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the Cuban province of Cienfuegos. A subsidiary of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht is taking part in upgrading the plant, which will include construction of a bioenergy plant run on sugarcane bagasse. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Cuba’s sugar industry hopes to become the main source of clean energy in the country as part of a programme to develop renewable sources aimed at reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and protecting the environment.

The project forms part of the plans for upgrading and modernising sugar mills that have been opened up to foreign investment by Azcuba, the government business group that replaced the Sugar Ministry in 2011. Traditionally, sugar mills have generated electricity for their own consumption, using bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice.

In a conversation with Tierramérica, Azcuba spokesman Liobel Pérez defended the production of energy using bagasse as a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative. “The CO2 [carbon dioxide] produced in the generation of electricity is the same amount that the sugar cane absorbs when it grows, which means there is an environmental balance.”

For now, the production of ethanol as a by-product of sugarcane is not being considered in Cuba, although some experts argue that the biofuel could reduce consumption of gasoline by farm machinery and transportation and thus limit atmospheric emissions.

“That is one of the issues being discussed and analysed by the government commission created to study the development of renewable energies,” said Manuel Díaz, director of the Cuban Institute of Research on Sugar Cane Derivatives. The official did not, however, rule out the possibility in the future.

“Even if it is not the definitive long-term solution to the consumption of automotive fuel, ethanol is an important factor and contributes to reducing fossil fuel use, and if it does not run counter to the use of land for food, it could be, it seems to me, an alternative that each country should analyse depending on its specific characteristics,” Díaz said.

A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The sugar industry currently accounts for 3.5 percent of electricity generation in this Caribbean island nation. A target of the plan to boost energy efficiency is for around 20 sugar mills to generate a surplus of 755 MW by 2030, to go into the national power grid.

That would raise the proportion of electricity produced by sugarcane biomass to 14 percent by 2030. The overall aim is for 24 percent of energy to come from renewable sources, including wind power (six percent), solar (three percent), and hydropower (one percent).

Currently, renewable energy sources only represent 4.6 percent of electricity generation; the rest comes from fossil fuels.

The gradual installation in the sugar mills of modern bioelectric plants needed to achieve that goal requires an estimated investment of 1.29 billion dollars, which Azcuba hopes to obtain from government loans or foreign investment.

“If we don’t find a loan we will get foreign investment,” said Jorge Lodos, business director for Zerus SA, a subsidiary of Azcuba. The executive told Tierramérica that the first two companies to enter into partnership with Cuba in the sector included the bioelectric plants in their plans, to boost energy efficiency.

The first of the plants that run on sugarcane biomass will begin to produce energy in 2016, Lodos said. It is to be built near the Ciro Redondo sugar mill in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 423 km from Havana, by Biopower, a joint venture established in 2012 by Cuba’s state-run Zerus and the British firm Havana Energy Ltd.

During the December to May harvest season, the plant will use sugarcane bagasse from the nearby sugar mill. The rest of the year it will use stored sugarcane waste and marabú (Dichrostachys cinérea), a woody shrub that has invaded vast areas of farmland in Cuba. The projected investment ranges between 45 and 55 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura (COI), a subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reached an agreement with the Empresa Azucarera Cienfuegos, another Azcuba subsidiary, to jointly administer the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos, 256 km from the capital, for 13 years.

In this case, the commitment is to bring the productive capacity of the sugar mill back up to 90,000 tons of sugar per harvest, or even higher.
Lodos said investment in the project would surpass 100 million dollars, and would also include the construction of a bioenergy plant.

These two sugar mills and the Jesús Rabí mill in the province of Matanzas, 98 km from Havana, will generate the first 140 MW of electricity in the medium term.

Havana Energy and COI opened the door to foreign capital in Cuba’s sugar industry, just as investment has already been welcomed in other sectors of this country’s centralised economy. “Foreign investment requires mutual trust,” Lodos said.

The socialist government of Raúl Castro estimates that the country needs between two and 2.5 billion dollars a year in foreign capital in order to grow and develop.

Of Cuba’s 56 sugar mills, six of which are now inactive, Azcuba has opened up 20 to foreign investment. The initial priorities are the eight built after the 1959 revolution.

Although ethanol production is not among the plans to be offered to foreign investors, many experts believe prospects for selling the fuel are good.

“It is not expected to be included in the programme,” Lodos said. “None of the minimum conditions required to introduce foreign investment are in place. It would not involve large amounts of capital or technology contribution, and it would not be for export or to replace imports. Today it isn’t on the business menu. But it might be tomorrow.”

Cuba produces alcohol in 11 distilleries, which are also to be upgraded, for pharmaceutical use and the industry that produces rum and other alcohol.

Cuba’s once-powerful sugar industry, which produced harvests of up to eight million tons, hit bottom in the 2009-2010 season when output plunged to 1.1 million tones – the lowest level in 105 years.

The industry currently represents around five percent of the country’s inflow of foreign exchange.

The hope is that the modernisation of factories, machinery, transport equipment and other resources will boost yields and bolster production, along with the increase in the planting of sugarcane. Last year 400,000 hectares were planted and production in the 2013-2014 harvest amounted to over 1.6 million tons.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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Living on a Ballpoint Pen in Kabulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:14:28 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136897 ‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif still earns a living in the streets of Kabul. He prepares all kind of documents for those who cannot read or write – in other words, the majority of people in this country of 30.5 million people.

“I was a Colonel of the Afghan Air Force but I can barely survive with my pension. I had no other choice but to keep working so I took this up 10 years ago,” Arif tells IPS during a short break between two clients.

"People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts." -- Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif, a transcriber in Kabul
Arif says he has two sons in college, and that he only leaves his post on Fridays – the Muslim holy day. He spends the rest of the week sitting in front of the provincial government building, in downtown Kabul. That’s where he has his umbrella and his working desk, also essential tools for the rest of the transcribers lining up opposite the concrete wall that protects the government compound.

“People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts,” explains the most veteran pen-worker in this street, just after his last service, which earned him 50 afghanis (0.80 dollars) for a claim over a family inheritance not yet received.

In its National Literacy Action Plan, statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education speak volumes: some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women.

At 32, Karim Gul is also illiterate so he’s forced to come here whenever he needs to tackle an administrative process. The problem this time is that he sold a car but he has not yet been paid.

“My parents came to Kabul from Badakhshan [a north-eastern Afghan province] when I was a child but they prevented me from going to school. They said the other children would laugh at me,” recalls this young Tajik, who thinks he is “already too old” to learn how to read and write.

Customers like him need only wait a few minutes before they’re attended to. The copyists – fifteen in total here – are experts in their trade, but probably none more so than Gulam Haydar, a 65-year-old man who has worked for decades behind the high wall.

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“I was a civil servant until I retired eight years ago but I had to keep working to survive,” this Kabuli tells IPS. His age, he adds, does not allow him to conduct any physical work, so this alternative came as “holy salvation.”

“Prices for all of us range from 20 to 100 afghanis [0.30-1.7 dollars] depending on the request,” explains Haydar, adding that his monthly income varies accordingly. In any case, he says, the amount he receives helping his illiterate countrymen and women is “far better” than the average 203 dollars an Afghan civil servant gets monthly.

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

“I just get enough to survive and to send my two children to school,” says this 42-year-old man, who has spent the last 13 years in his post.

“In Afghanistan there is no work for anybody. Besides, corruption is rife,” adds the copyist. “You constantly need to pay under the table for everything: to get your passport or any other official certificate; to enrol your children in school; in hospitals, in every single government building,” laments this man with a degree in engineering from the University of Kabul. It was never of any use to him.

Starting from scratch

According to a joint survey conducted by the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), half of all Afghan citizens paid a bribe in 2012 while requesting a public service.

The 2012 study said most Afghans considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be “one of the principal challenges facing their country, ahead even of poverty, external influence and the performance of the Government.”

Interestingly enough, such surveys also reveal that corruption is increasingly being considered an admissible part of day-to-day life. About 68 percent of citizens interviewed in 2012 said it was acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009).

Similarly, 67 percent of the Afghan citizenry considered it “sometimes acceptable” for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 percent in 2009).

Leyla Mohamad had no chance whatsoever of ever becoming a civil servant. While it is no longer strange to come across female workers in the administration, illiteracy still poses an insurmountable hurdle. From under her burka, Mohamad explains she wants to denounce an assault she suffered in broad daylight, while she was accompanied by her three children, the oldest being just 10 years old.

“Every day we hear several cases like this one,” Abdurrahman Sherzai tells IPS after filling Mohamad’s form. “Too much time was lost in the failed election process and the economy has stalled because many companies and businesses depended on government subsidies. Eventually, sheer desperation leads to attacks against the most vulnerable [members] of society,” notes Sherzai, moments after being paid for the service.

After a presidential election that took place on Apr. 5, followed by a second runoff on Jun. 14, a fraud allegation forced a full ballot recount.

However, contenders agreed to share power on Sept. 21 so Ashraf Ghani was announced as the new Afghan president with his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, joining him in a unity government. Despite the two runoffs and the painful audit process, no results of any kind will finally be published.

It was the Afghan Education Minister himself, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, who assured IPS that “none of this would have happened” were Afghanistan a fully literate country.

“But also bear in mind that we literally started from scratch, with a 95-percent illiteracy rate only 12 years ago,” the senior official underlined from his ministerial office.

But current statistics, he claims, lead to optimism. “We’ve gone from just a million children in school 12 years ago to nearly 13 million today; from 20,000 teachers to over 200,000,” asserted Wardak, adding that 2015 “will be the year for full school [enrolment], and full literacy in Afghanistan will be a reality in 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Washington Snubs Bolivia on Drug Policy Reform, Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:31:36 +0000 Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136893 In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

By Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Once again, Washington claims Bolivia has not met its obligations under international narcotics agreements. For the seventh year in a row, the U.S. president has notified Congress that the Andean country “failed demonstrably” in its counter-narcotics efforts over the last 12 months. Blacklisting Bolivia means the withholding of U.S. aid from one of South America’s poorest countries.

The story has hardly made the news in the United States, and that is worrisome. While many countries in the hemisphere call for drug policy reform and are willing to entertain new strategies in that vein, it remains business-as-usual in the United States.

In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.
The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), meanwhile, seems to think that Bolivia is doing a great job, lauding the government’s efforts to tackle coca production (coca is used to make cocaine) and cocaine processing for the past three years.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) is also heaping praise on Bolivia, calling Bolivia’s innovative new approach to coca control an example of a “best practice” in drug policy.

According to the UNODC, Bolivia has decreased the amount of land dedicated to coca plants by about 26 percent from 2010-2013. Approximately 56,800 acres are currently under production

U.S. opposition

Bolivia has achieved demonstrable successes without—and perhaps because of—a complete lack of support from the United States: the Drug Enforcement Administration left in 2009 and all U.S. aid for drug control efforts ended in 2013.

Bearing in mind that U.S. drug policy in the Andes has always emphasised “supply-side” reduction like coca crop eradication, the decision is of course a political one. It reflects U.S. frustration that Bolivia isn’t bending to Washington’s will. Interestingly, most Bolivian-made cocaine ends up in Europe and Brazil—not the United States.

At the same time, Peru and Colombia, both U.S. favorites given their willingness to fall in line with U.S. drug policy mandates, were not included in the list of failures. To be sure, those countries have recently decreased coca crop acreage as well; in some years by a lot more than Bolivia has. Still, they had respectively about 66,200 and 61,700 acres more coca under cultivation than Bolivia in 2013, according to the UNODC’s June 2014 findings. Peru currently produces the most cocaine of any country in the world.

Bolivians have been consuming the coca plant for over 4,000 years as a tea, food, and medicine, and for religious and cultural practices. Coca, the cheapest input in the cocaine commodity chain, cannot be considered equivalent to cocaine, since over 20 chemicals are needed to convert the harmless leaf into the powdery party drug and its less glamorous cousin, crack.

Still, coca is listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (the defining piece of international drug control legislation).

When Evo Morales became president of Bolivia he worked to modify the Convention, and in 2013 eventually wrested from the U.N. the right to allow limited coca production and traditional consumption within Bolivia’s borders. In the process, all Latin American countries except Mexico (which supported the U.S.-led objection) supported Morales’ mission.

The Bolivian model

The basics of Bolivia’s approach to reining in coca cultivation are fairly simple. Licensed coca growers can legally cultivate a limited amount of coca (1,600 square metres) to ensure some basic income, and they police their neighbours to ensure that fellow growers stay within the legal limits. Government forces step in to eradicate coca only when a grower or coca grower’s union refuses to cooperate.

This grassroots control is possible because of the strength of agricultural unions in Bolivia’s coca growing regions and because of growers’ solidarity with President Morales, himself a coca grower.

Another incentive is that reducing supply drives up coca leaf prices, which means that producers can earn more money for their families. As one longtime grower and coca union leader from the Chapare growing region put it: “It’s less work and I make more money.” This income stability, combined with targeted aid from the Bolivian government, means that many coca growers are able to make a living wage and diversify their livelihood strategies—investing in shops, other legal crops, and education.

It also helps that the violence and intimidation at the hands of the previously U.S.-backed Bolivian military has come to an end. People remember what is was like, and many still suffer injuries sustained during different eradication campaigns. One coca grower, for example, had her jaw broken so badly by a soldier as she marched for the right to grow coca that she cannot be fitted for dentures to replace her missing teeth. She emphasized that life is so much better now because it’s less stressful. People do not want to see a return to forced eradication campaigns.

No one is pretending that Bolivia’s coca control approach means the end of cocaine production.  Some portion of coca leaf production—by some estimates, about 22,200-plus acres worth—is still ending up in clandestine, rudimentary labs where it is processed into cocaine paste.

Furthermore, because it is squeezed between Peru, a major cocaine exporter, and Brazil, a growing importer, Bolivia has found it increasingly difficult to control cocaine flows. As a result, despite increased narcotics seizures by Bolivian security forces under Morales’ government, drug trade activities within Bolivia’s borders by some accounts have actually increased over the last few years.

Nevertheless, and for better or worse, the country’s new method of coca control yields results and undeniably satisfies the U.S. supply-side approach, yet Washington maintains its hardline stance against the county. In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Côte d’Ivoire Chokes on its Plastic Shopping Bagshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cote-divoire-chokes-on-its-plastic-shopping-bags/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoire-chokes-on-its-plastic-shopping-bags http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/cote-divoire-chokes-on-its-plastic-shopping-bags/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 06:25:54 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136886 Treichville is a thriving market in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where plastic bags remain the sole way of packaging food. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Treichville is a thriving market in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, where plastic bags remain the sole way of packaging food. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABDIJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

In the middle of downtown Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, the aisles of a thriving supermarket are full of customers. But as they line up to pay for their items, there is one line to a cashier’s till that remains empty. It’s the “green cash register”, where the cashier does not provide plastic bags as this supermarket tries to implement a green policy. 

“People do not find it convenient to bring their own bags. But they are often angry that they have to line up while nobody comes here [to the green cash register],” the cashier tells IPS.

Increasing environmental consciousness is not the sole reason for Ivorian shops adopting green policies: the government has adopted new laws that will affect consumers.

Each year, Côte d’Ivoire produces 200,000 tonnes of plastic bags of which 40,000 go directly into the trash. Less than 20 percent of this plastic is recycled.

In this West African nation, the pressure is growing to find alternatives to plastic shopping bags — which have become an environmental curse. In several of the city’s neighbourhoods, used plastic bags clog gutters and float on the lagoon, causing floods, sanitation problems and health hazards.

Côte d’Ivoire has been choking on its plastic bags. But as the government tries to find solutions, consumers still need to adapt their habits to the changing regulations.

Solving the environmental disaster

In May 2013, the Ivorian government announced a ban on several types of plastic bags. It was meant to prohibit the production, importation, commercialisation, possession and the use of any non-biodegradable plastic bags made of lightweight polyethylene, or similar plastic derivates with a thickness of less than 50 microns.

Already, eight African countries are doing the same. It is an initiative that started in Rwanda and South Africa in 2004, with the two nations deciding to levy extra taxes on plastic bags. Other countries that have banned plastic bags are Botswana, Eritrea, Kenya, Mauritania, Tanzania and Uganda.

But pressure from the plastic industry forced Côte d’Ivoire to back down and to postpone the ban until this August, while trying to find solutions to the industry’s concerns. The government could not simply ignore 7,500 jobs and an industry worth about 50 billion CFA (97 million dollars).

The ban was only applied in August, which allowed the industry enough time to produce biodegradable bags and develop alternatives.

The government also tried to ensure that the market was ready for the transition.

The industry has also had more time to invest in producing bio-degradable bags and more effective recycling infrastructure.

“Our objective is to, on a long-term basis, reduce and replace all bags with reusable bags, and to orient consumers about other ways of carrying merchandise, like [using] cloth bags and baskets.

“If the industry picks up, it will generate long term-profits of annually 17.1 billions CFA [33 million dollars] and will create 1,900 jobs,” explained Ivorian Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan at the beginning of September.

Changing habits

In Treichville Market, one of the busiest commercial areas of the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, the sellers have other concerns.

“People do not have the money to buy an entire bottle of oil. So we divide small portions into plastic bags [to sell],” Mohammed Cissé, a small shop owner in one of Abidjan’s biggest markets, tells IPS.

“It is an economical problem, I think. People do not have the money to buy containers. Those plastic bags are cheap. Reusable boxes are expensive.”

For Cissé, having consumers reuse their plastic bags will mean he will save money since he currently covers the cost of the plastic bags he packages his oil in.

“But people will not understand this! I cover most of the cost of the plastic bags, which is about 10 CFA per bag [3 cents]. Since I give away hundreds of bags per day, I see the total cost,” he says.

In a country where almost half the population lives on less than two dollars per day, buying reusable bags is a challenge, says Cissé.

His neighbour, Jean-Marie Kouadio, is wary about the new bags.

“I have seen biodegradable bags. They are very weak. Where is the benefit if you have to use three bags instead of one?”

He tells IPS that ecological solutions are not available for the smaller bags that he uses to package oil and salt.

Further away, Awa Diabaté faces a different concern. Diabaté, 54, sells donuts on a street corner, right beside a heap of abandoned dirty plastic bags. She sees the point of the ban, but believes that the health concerns behind the ban will be a challenge if proper solutions are not found.

“The individual wrappings allows me to keep the donuts clean from dirt. Often, small kids come to buy food. If they do not carry the food in [the plastic], they will drop it on the ground.

“Reusing bags, means cleaning them. Many people will not take good care. I am pretty sure some will get sick from that,” she tells IPS.

Diabaté’s concerns are down to earth. But they reveal a reality difficult to ignore: plastic bags are essential to Ivorian daily life. And solutions need to fit that.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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OPINION: Delivering on the Promises of the Global Partnership for Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-delivering-on-the-promises-of-the-global-partnership-for-development/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 16:15:45 +0000 Wu Hongbo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136877

Wu Hongbo is the under-secretary-general for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA)

By Wu Hongbo
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Persistent gaps between the promises made, and actually delivered, by developed countries to developing countries, hold back efforts to improve people’s lives and end poverty.

The poorest countries need more access to aid, trade, debt relief, medicines and technologies, if we are going to make greater progress on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In 2000, the world’s developed countries committed to help developing countries meet the MDGS by 2015 through what became known as the Global Partnership for Development. The targets for the partnership were combined into the eighth Goal (MDG 8).

The promises under goal 8 included providing developing countries with greater access to aid, trade, debt relief, medicines and technologies. This was meant to help the world’s poorest countries make progress on the first seven MDGs.

The idea was that if the targets of Goal 8 were achieved, then developing countries would have strengthened their earnings from trade and eased their sovereign debt difficulties so that—coupled with enhanced aid and appropriate access to essential medicines and new technologies—countries would be in a better position to improve the lives of their citizens.

Over 30 U.N. organisations co-led by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have been tracking the fulfillment of these promises in the annual MDG Gap Task Force Report.

Today, the global partnership for development is strong and last year recorded the largest level of official development assistance. But much unfinished business remains as we approach the deadline for the MDGs.

Assistance to the poorest countries remains far below what is needed and what was promised

After two consecutive years of falling volumes, official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 135 billion dollars in 2013. Seventeen of 28 donor countries increased their development assistance, and five have met the target of disbursing 0.7 percent of their national income to developing countries. Despite this progress, we are still far behind our target.

A 180-billion-dollar gap remains between the aid delivered and the amounts promised by developed countries. In addition, aid continues to be heavily concentrated with the top 20 recipients receiving more than half of all aid.

Despite a 12.3 percent increase in aid to the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) in 2013, bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa fell four percent between 2012 and 2013 to 26.2 billion dollars.

Close the trade gaps

Developed countries must do more to address the negative impacts of non-tariff measures on the ability of developing countries to participate in the global economy. While developed countries continue to lower tariffs and allow the proportion of duty free imports from developing countries to rise, new trade restrictions have been introduced.

We need a final push towards improving market access for developing countries, and continuing efforts to eliminate all agricultural export subsidies, trade-distorting domestic support and protectionist policies that inhibit access to the global economy.

Debt relief promises kept, but new risks arise

Debt relief programmes for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) are coming to a conclusion. Under the HIPC initiative, 35 of 39 eligible countries have reached the completion point as of March 2014 and as a result, debt service burdens have been reduced substantially.

It is encouraging that government spending on poverty reduction in these countries has increased considerably. Nonetheless, some of these countries are again at risk of debt distress and the group known as “small States” is particularly at risk because they often do not qualify for debt relief.

Greater access to essential medicines and technologies needed now

Global action and awareness has enhanced access to affordable essential medicines. However, the stock of medicines in many developing countries remains insufficient and unaffordable.

Developing countries also have more access to some new technologies, especially information and communication technologies. Yet, large gaps remain in access to many new technologies, such as broadband Internet because of the high cost.

The work ahead for the international community has been laid out. Now is the time for the world to seize this opportunity to stand by our promises and deliver on our commitments to eradicate poverty, raise people’s living standards and sustain the environment.

As the deadline for achieving the MDGs approaches and Member States of the United Nations prepare to launch a new sustainable development agenda, we must do our utmost to close the remaining gaps. With little more than one year remaining, now is the time to take action.

Let us all work together—governments, international institutions, all citizens of the globe—to commit to concrete accelerated actions in achieving all MDGs, as well as to a renewed global development cooperation, to underpin our development efforts, so that we can usher in a more sustainable future.

 

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The Changing Face of Caribbean Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:21:35 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136874 Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Osman is attractive and well-groomed in tailored slacks and a patterned blouse, topped by a soft jacket worn open. Her demeanour and polished accent belie the stereotypical view that most Caribbean nationals have of Guyanese migrants.

As a Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad, the 35-year-old is one of thousands of Guyanese to have taken the plunge over the past decade, since the free movement clause of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) regime granted skilled persons the right to move and work freely throughout the region.

According to a recent report, Trinidad and Tobago hosts 35.4 percent of migrants in the region. The United Nations’ ‘Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision’ states that Latin America and the Caribbean host a total migrant stock of 8.5 million people.

“Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.” -- CARICOM Secretariat Report, 2010
Women make up 51.6 percent of migrants in the Caribbean, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s 2013 figures.

For many Guyanese, the decision to move on the strength of promises made by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to facilitate free movement of skilled labour within the region has met with mixed degrees of success and, in some cases, outright harassment and even threats of deportation from the Caribbean countries to which they have migrated.

A 2013 report by the ACP Observatory on Migration states, “Guyanese migrants in Trinidad and Tobago faced unfavourable opinions in the social psyche and this could translate into tacit and other forms of discrimination.”

The report, prepared by the regional consulting firm Kairi Consultants, goes on to state that migrants from Guyana were “assumed to be menial labourers or undocumented workers.”

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the CARICOM region, with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 6,053 dollars in 2011. This stands in contrast to Trinidad and Tobago’s per-capita GDP of 29,000 dollars, according to the 2010-2011 U.N. Human Development Report (HDR).

But Osman’s background is not one of destitution. She applied for a CARICOM skills certificate in 2005, having completed a postgraduate diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management (ACEM) at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.

“I considered myself an artist, which is why I came to study here [for the ACEM] and I thought it a great stepping stone in my realising that dream of being a singer, songwriter, performer […]. Trinidad seems to be, in relation to where I came from, a more fertile ground for [what] I wanted to do,” she said.

Osman has her own band and performs as a jazz singer at nightspots in Trinidad and Tobago. During the day, she works as a speechwriter for Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Public Utilities.

Still, she misses the support network that her parents’ substantial contacts would have provided her in Guyana, and she acknowledges that her standard of living is also probably lower than it would have been if she were back home. But, she said, the move was necessary.

Osman’s story is in line with the findings of a 2010 CARICOM Secretariat report to “assess the impact of free movement of persons and other forms of migration on member states”, which found: “Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.”

Limited educational opportunities also explain the wave of migration out of Guyana, a finding borne out by the experience of Miranda La Rose, a senior reporter with one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading newspapers, ‘Newsday’, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science.

“I came here with the intention of working to help fund [my daughter’s] studies,” La Rose told IPS. “I was working for a fairly good salary in Guyana. My objective [in moving to Trinidad] was to improve my children’s education.”

She said the move to Trinidad was painless, since she was granted her CARICOM skills certificate within three weeks of applying, and she has amassed a circle of friends in Trinidad that compensates for the family she left behind in Guyana.

But not all stories of migration are happy ones. Some, like Alisa Collymore, represent the pains experienced by those with limited skills and qualifications.

Collymore, who now works as a nursing assistant with a family in Trinidad, applied for a CARICOM skills certificate under the entertainer category, because she had experience in songwriting and performing in Guyana.

However, she holds no tertiary qualifications in the field and only completed her secondary school education after she became an adult.

The Trinidadian authorities declined to grant her the CARICOM skills certificate and she has to apply for a renewal of her work permit every six months.

She said, “The treatment you get [is not what you] expected […] and the hand of brotherhood is not really extended. You feel like you are an outsider.”

Nevertheless, she said, the move has brought economic benefits. As a single, divorced, mother of three, she had struggled financially in Guyana. Since moving to Trinidad, her financial situation has improved, she said.

Though some studies have found negative impacts of the free skills movement on source countries, many are finding in the CARICOM scheme a chance to start a new – and often better – life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Where Women Don’t Workhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-women-dont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:07:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136871 Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Saleema Bibi graduated from medical school 15 years ago – but to this day, the 40-year-old resident of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has never been able to practice as a professional.

“I wanted to get a government job, but my family wanted me to get married instead,” Bibi tells IPS. Now she is a housewife, with “strict in-laws” who are opposed to the idea of women working.

“I know the province is short of female doctors,” she adds. “And the salaries and other benefits for people in the medical profession are lucrative, but social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.”

"Social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.” -- Saleema Bibi, a medical school graduate.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), gender disparities in labour force participation rates are severe in Pakistan, with male employment approaching 80 percent compared to a female employment rate of less than 20 percent between 2009 and 2012.

In the country’s northern, tribal belt, the situation is even worse, with religious mores keeping women confined to the home, and unable to stray beyond the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper.

What Saleema Bibi discovered in her late-20s was something most women who dream of a career will eventually encounter: endless hurdles to equal participation in the economy.

For instance, the health sector in KP, which has a population of 22 million people, employs just 40,000 women, while maintaining a male labour force of some 700,000, according to Abdul Basit, a public health specialist based in Peshawar.

He says the “shortage of women employees in the health sector is [detrimental] to the female population” and is the “result of male dominance and an environment shaped by the belief that women should stay at home instead of venturing out in public.”

Even though one-fifth of the country’s doctors are female, few of them are engaged in paid work. Hundreds of female students are enrolled in the public sector’s medical colleges, but KP only has 600 female doctors, compared to 6,000 male doctors, Noorul Iman, a professor of medicine at the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, tells IPS.

Experts also say the proportion of women workers occupying white-collar jobs is very limited, since even educated women are discouraged from entering the public service.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey for 2012-2013, women have traditionally populated the informal sector, taking up jobs as domestic workers and other low-paid, daily-wage professions as cooks or cleaners, where affluent families typically pay them paltry sums of money.

In contrast, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts has been less than two percent.

Research indicates that only 19 percent of working women had jobs in the government sector, while the economic survey reports that some 200,000 women in KP were actively seeking jobs in the 2010-2011 period.

The most popular jobs were found to be in medicine, banking, law, engineering and especially education.

“Because women can work in all-girls’ schools, without interacting with male students or colleagues, their families allow them to take up these posts,” Pervez Khan, KP’s deputy director of education, tells IPS, adding that the female-only environment provided by gender-segregated schools explains why women are attracted to the profession of teaching.

The provision of three months’ paid leave, as well as 40 days of maternity leave is yet another incentive to enter the education sector, he states.

Still, the disparity between men and women is high. Although KP has a total of 119,274 teachers, only 41,102 are female.

The manufacturing sector does not fair any better. Muhammad Mushtaq, a leading industrialist in the province, says only three percent of the workforce in 200 industrial units around KP is comprised of women.

“Many people do not want women to mix with men in offices, and prefer for them to stay away from public places,” he tells IPS. This is a particularly disheartening reality in light of the fact that the number of girls in Pakistani universities, including in the northern regions, is almost equal to that of boys; despite their competitive qualifications, however, women are marginalised.

Mushtaq also believes that sexual harassment of women in their workplaces conspires with other forces to keep women from the payroll. About 11 percent of working women reported incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a 2006 study by the Peshawar-based Women’s Development Organisation.

“The research, conducted on women working in multinational companies, banks, government-owned departments, schools and private agencies, found a prevailing sense of insecurity,” says Shakira Ali, a social worker with the organisation.

Faced with mounting poverty in a country where 55 percent of the population of about 182 million earn below two dollars a day, while a full 43 percent earn between two and six dollars daily, many women are growing desperate for work, taking up positions in garment and food processing units, or entering the manufacturing sector where their embroidery skills are in high demand.

But this too, experts say, is predominantly temporary, contractual employment.

There is a kind of vicious cycle in which a lack of experience results in inadequate skills, which in turn fuels unemployment among women.

The situation is made worse by a nationwide female literacy rate of just 33 percent. While the female primary school enrollment rate is 70 percent, that number falls to just 33 percent for secondary-level education.

Muhammad Darwaish at the KP Employment Exchange Department says that only those women who head their households – either due to the death or debilitation of their husbands – are free to actively seek employment.

They too, however, fall victim to low wages and informal working conditions.

KP Information Minister Shah Farman tells IPS the government is committed to creating a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity.

“We are bringing in a law on the principles of equal opportunity for men and women and their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination,” he asserts.

Farman claims the KP government has launched a 10-million-dollar interest-free microcredit programme for women to enable them to start their own businesses.

“The programme, started in December 2013, seeks to reduce poverty through creation of self-employment and job opportunities for women,” he says.

Under the scheme, small loans worth anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 dollars are being given to women who want to start embroidery, sewing and other home-based businesses.

It will continue for the next five years to bring women into the economic mainstream.

Pakistan is also bound to work towards gender equality by the targets set out in the internationally agreed-upon Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire next year.

The government has taken steps towards the goal of empowering women through a series of national-level initiatives including the establishment of crisis centres for women, the National Plan of Action, gender reform programmes and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Still, women on average continue to earn less than men, while women only hold 60 seats compared to 241 seats occupied by men in the National Assembly.

Until women are allowed to fully contribute to the national economy, experts fear that Pakistan will not reach the goal of achieving gender equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Africa Pays the Price of Low Harvests Thanks to Costly Fertilisershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/africa-pays-the-price-of-low-harvests-thanks-to-costly-fertilisers/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:54:12 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136865 Eherculano Thomas Rice (left) from Chimoio, Mozambique shows the pigeon pea he uses to improve soil fertility in his field. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
CHIMOIO, Mozambique, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Eherculano Thomas Rice, is pleased to have harvested 40 bags of white maize from his eight-hectare field in Chimoio, in Mozambique’s Manica Province. But he knows that his productivity and yield would be higher if he had been able to afford to buy fertiliser to add to his crop.

Rice grows cowpea to boost soil fertility in his field and improve his productivity, only buying fertiliser when he can afford it.

According to local NGO Farm Inputs Promotions Africa (FIPS), which works with about 38,000 farmers in five districts in Manica Province, a 50kg bag of fertiliser costs about 33 dollars. And a farmer will need three bags per hectare of land.

Africa is paying the price of low productivity because of limited use of commercial fertilisers by smallholder farmers who produce the bulk of the continent’s food.

“For now I intercrop my maize with pigeon pea, to increase soil fertility and it works. But fertiliser could boost my productivity,” Rice tells IPS, during a walk around his farm as he points to the mature pigeon pea plants.

“Farmers need awareness on how fertiliser can improve their production for them so that they can save and buy it easily. Farmers are discouraged by having to travel long distances to buy inputs, often a high cost.”

Low fertiliser use by smallholder farmers like Rice is a common narrative in sub-Saharan Africa — a continent which currently uses about eight kg/ha of fertiliser. It is a figure that pales against the global average of 93kg/ha and 100-200kg/ha in Asia, according to the Montpelier Panel’s 2013 report, Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture.

Rice, who was trained by FIPS as a village inputs promotion agent, runs demonstration plots teaching farmers how to use improved inputs. Farmers are given input kits of improved seed and fertilisers as an incentive for them to buy them themselves.

Agriculture currently contributes about 25 percent of Mozambique’s GDP and a 2004 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development evaluation report indicates that improved seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are capable of raising productivity by up to 576 percent.

Charles Ogang, the president of the Uganda National Farmers Federation, tells IPS via email that food security in Africa is compromised because farmers are not using enough agricultural inputs, in particular fertilisers.

“There are many reasons why farmers in Africa are still hardly making a living of agriculture. One of them is the lack of access to key tools and knowledge,” Ogang says.

“Fertilisers are often not even available for purchase for farmers who live remotely. I believe that the lack of rural infrastructure, storage and blending facilities, the lack of credit and limited knowledge of farmers of how to use fertilisers are the key constraints for an increased use.”

According to the First Resolution of the Abuja Declaration on fertiliser, African governments have to increase fertiliser use from the average of eight kg of nutrients per hectare to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015.

“Although no country in sub-Saharan Africa has achieved this target, there are some signs of improvement in the implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Fertiliser by the countries and Regional Economic Communities since June 2006,” says Richard Mkandawire, vice president of the African Fertiliser and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP). He says that Malawi has increased its fertiliser use from an average of 10kg/ha in the 90s, to a current 33kg/ha, and shows the commitment of countries to reach the target of 50kg/ha.

Mkandawire tells IPS that the partnership is undertaking technical research to advance appropriate soil management practices, including the facilitation of soil mapping. It is also testing soil to ensure that smallholder farmers are able to access fertiliser blends that are suitable for their land.

Mkandawire acknowledges that there is no silver bullet to lowering the cost of fertiliser for smallholder farmers. But he says AFAP has employed several types of financial mechanisms to help lower the cost. The mechanisms include facilitating guarantees to fertiliser distributors for retailer credit, financing assistance to importers or blenders to improve facilities, training, financial and technical assistance to warehouses at ports.

In August, AFAP in collaboration with the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA) launched a multi-media campaign in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to push African governments to invest in agriculture productivity.

According to the campaign, African governments should ensure farmers have access to adequate and improved inputs especially fertiliser for agriculture transformation and economic development.

In June, African heads of state committed themselves to use agriculture growth to double food productivity, halve poverty and eliminate child under nutrition by 2025 when they came up with the Malabo Declaration following a meeting in Equatorial Guinea.

Charlotte Hebebrand, IFA director general, says Africa’s fertiliser demand is less than three percent of the global market. The continent’s production continues to be low and a significant share of the local production is exported as raw materials.

“Our estimates are that demand will increase over the course of the next three to five years in countries that are stable politically, committed to allocate at least 10 percent of their budget to agriculture, and those that have established sound fertiliser subsidy schemes,” Hebebrand tells IPS.

“Equipped with the right inputs and the knowledge to use these inputs, yields can increase tremendously. For every one kilogram of nutrient applied, farmers obtain five to 30 kg of additional product.”

Poor supply chains for fertilisers where farmers often have to travel long distances to buy a bag of fertiliser, are a primary cause of low fertiliser use in Africa. Poor farming practises are also worsening soil health in Africa.

An analysis of soil health in Africa by the Nairobi-based Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) shows that croplands across sub-Saharan Africa lose 30 to 80 kgs per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen annually as a result of unsustainable farming practices, which the report warns will “kill Africa’s hopes for a food-secure future.”

AGRA’s Soil Health Programme is working on solving the problem by supporting an extensive network of partnerships in 13 countries in which three million farmers have been trained in using organic matter, applying small amounts of mineral fertilisers, and planting legume crops like cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Climate Summit: Much Talk, A Bit of Walkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/climate-summit-much-talk-a-bit-of-walk/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:43:28 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136855 Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a member of civil society from the Marshall Islands, received a standing ovation at the opening of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 for her poem addressed to her daughter. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a member of civil society from the Marshall Islands, received a standing ovation at the opening of the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 for her poem addressed to her daughter. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Speaking to more than 120 heads of state at the U.N. Climate Summit, actor and newly appointed U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio made clear the long-ranging impact of the attendees’ decisions.

“You will make history,” he said, “or you will be vilified by it.”All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.

Tuesday’s climate summit was not a part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation framework. Instead, it was a special event convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to catalyse public opinion and increase political will for a binding climate agreement to be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015.

“This mixture of governmental, business, cities, states [and] civil society engagement is certainly unprecedented and it offers a chance to open the climate change discussion at a heads of state level as never before,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI), in a statement before the summit.

The secretary-general opened the summit by exhorting leaders to make substantial commitments to mitigate climate change.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our age,” he said. “We must work together to mobilise markets” and “commit to a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015.”

In three simultaneous sessions, world leaders announced national action and ambition plans to combat climate change. These announcements included pledges to cut emissions, donate money to the Green Climate Fund, halt deforestation and undertake efforts to put a price on carbon.

Representatives from small island states lamented that their countries would be underwater in only a few decades, while African leaders pointed out the growing number of climate refugees.

All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that all future U.S. investments in international development would consider climate resiliency as an important factor. He also said that the U.S. would meet its target of reducing carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.

“We recognise our role in creating this problem. We embrace our responsibility to combat it,” Obama said. “We will do our part and we will help developing nations to do theirs.”

“But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and developing alike. Nobody gets a pass.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the climate summit, but instead sent Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

While some were disappointed at Xi’s absence, the fact that such a high-ranking Chinese official would speak of the necessity of climate change mitigation was cause for optimism.

In a reaction statement, WRI’s Jennifer Morgan said that “China’s remarks at the Climate Summit go further than ever before. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli’s announcement to strive to peak emissions ‘as early as possible’ is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement.”

China alone accounts for one quarter of worldwide carbon emissions annually.

Narendra Modi, newly elected prime minister of India, also declined to attend the climate summit. India is the world’s third largest emitter of carbon.

Midway through the day, the secretary-general was insistent that real progress was being made.

“This summit is not about talk,” he said. “The climate summit is producing actions that make a difference.”

One of the most concrete things that nations can do to combat climate change is to make pledges to the Green Climate Fund.

The Green Climate Fund is a UNFCCC mechanism designed to transfer money from developed countries to developing countries, to build climate resilience.

During the summit French President François Hollande pledged one billion dollars to the Climate Fund over the next few years. Several other countries, including Norway and Switzerland, also promised to contribute smaller amounts. Germany pledged one billion dollars to the fund several months ago.

Still, these efforts do not nearly close the climate resilience gap between rich and poor states.

Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced a common frustration in his statement on behalf of the G77 and China, a group of developing countries.

“Developing countries continue to suffer the most from the adverse impacts of climate change… even though they are historically the least responsible for climate change,” he said.

Morales criticised developed countries for failing to uphold their commitments, and said that developing countries would only be able to fulfil their commitments to reducing carbon without substantial financial assistance from developed countries.

It’s easy “to get caught in the zero-sum game” when talking about steps to mitigate climate change, David Waskow, head of WRI’s International Climate Initiative, told IPS. However, “one of the things that was heard frequently today from the podium was the recognition that climate action and economic growth and development can go hand in hand.”

Historical responsibility is a concern, he said, but it should not stop poor countries from recognising that “there are paths forward on climate action that can in fact be beneficial for development.”

Waskow pointed out that renewable energy will soon be just as cheap as fossil fuels in many countries, and could provide significant development benefits in rural areas far from the main electricity grid.

In addition to the climate summit’s main speeches, numerous side events took place, including thematic debates on the economic case for action and on climate science. A special session entitled “Voices from the Climate Front Lines” highlighted the experiences of children, youth, women and indigenous peoples in building resilience to climate change.

Meanwhile, popular support for action against climate change is gaining energy.

Around 100 climate-related events are taking place in New York between Sep. 22 and 28 as part of the Climate Week NYC campaign.

Two days before the summit, around 400,000 climate supporters joined the People’s Climate March in New York, several times the expected number.

Buses carried in marchers from across the United States. Solidarity marches and events occurred in 166 countries.

Ban, Leonardo DiCaprio, climate change activist and ex-U.S. President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio all participated in New York’s march.

Despite the strong turnout, many climate supporters fear that the hype surrounding the summit and the 2015 Paris conference will amount to nothing more than it did in 2009, when hopes of a climate agreement in Copenhagen fizzled.

When asked whether enough had changed since 2009 to result in a successful climate treaty, Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA, told IPS “I think there’s been enough [change] to get something through. I don’t think there’s been enough to get through something as ambitious as we need.”

For the 2015 Paris agreement to succeed, negotiators will need a “clear, focused and strong draft agreement” by the end of the U.N.’s climate change conference (COP20) in Lima this December, said COP20 president and Peruvian environmental minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal in a press call.

Major economies will need to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed contributions to the Paris framework.

In his remarks at the climate summit, Al Gore put forward his take on what was necessary for a successful climate treaty.

“All we need is political will, but political will is a renewable resource.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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