Inter Press Service » Economy & Trade http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 May 2016 10:13:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 Water: An Entry Point for SDG Implementation in Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-an-entry-point-for-sdg-implementation-in-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-an-entry-point-for-sdg-implementation-in-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-an-entry-point-for-sdg-implementation-in-myanmar/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 10:13:59 +0000 Alice Bouman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145275 Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener, is Chair, interim, Global Water Partnership ]]>

Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener, is Chair, interim, Global Water Partnership

By Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener
YANGON, Myanmar, May 24 2016 (IPS)

All people, economies, and ecosystems depend on water. Yet water is often taken for granted, overused, abused, and poorly managed. The way we use and manage water leaves a considerable part of the global population without access, and threatens the integrity of ecosystems that are vital for a healthy planet and people.

Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener

Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener

Water insecurity keeps millions of people in poverty; it hampers human development and is a drag on economic growth. Water insecurity is worsened by population growth, economic growth, urbanisation, conflicts, and climate change. Such trends increase competition over water and put water resources at risk, just as water presents risks to growth and society if not managed sustainably.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed by countries at the UN General Assembly in September 2015 recognises these trends and calls for an “all-of-society engagement and partnership” to address development challenges in a transformative and inclusive way, with the intention of “leaving no one behind.” At the core of the 2030 Agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are ambitious, aspirational, and interconnected: to have any chance of success they demand tailor-made approaches and collaborative action.

Poverty reduction and growth are not possible without good water governance and management. Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 – “to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” – is inextricably linked to and mutually dependent on most other goals, including poverty reduction, gender equality, climate, food, energy, health, cities, and ecosystems. SDG 6 provides a high level political commitment to an integrated approach to water security.

That high level political commitment will be on display in Yangon, Myanmar, on May 24, 2016. Convened by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) together with a range of partners, the “High Level Round Table on Water Security and the SDGs” in Myanmar will attract Ministers, parliamentarians, national and regional leaders and organisations, civil society, among many other actors.

Myanmar is undergoing an important water sector reform, making it an ideal country in transition to link water reform to the SDGs. The main objective of the High Level Round Table is to contribute to the well-being of the people of Myanmar and South East Asia through setting the scene for improved governance and management of water resources and therefore sustainable and equitable development in the region. The outcomes of the meeting will be presented to the High Level Panel on Water to be held in June 2016.

Myanmar has frequently suffered from destructive earthquakes, water-related extreme weather events such as cyclones, flooding, as well as droughts, which resulted in losses and damages from landslides, with major challenges in terms water quality control and wastewater management – quite similar to challenges that other countries in South East Asia face.

With the decline of rainfall across the country and climate change impacts, underground aquifers are also declining, whereas water use continues to rise. Underground water supply will drop dramatically in the coming 30 years, according to the Myanmar Water Think Tank. Water is the basis of all economic development activities so the water-energy-food nexus must be understood. Integrated water resources management principles should be applied in order to alleviate poverty, which can happen if the Myanmar National Water Policy is implemented, according to the Water Think Tank.

Water, of course, is not the only issue facing a country in which about a third of the population still live in extreme poverty. Almost three quarters of children in rural Myanmar grow up in homes without electricity. Only 29 percent of children graduate from secondary school. Agriculture employs 65 percent of the country’s labour force, but suffers from low productivity. This is why the round table will address the links among five of the SDGs: SDG 5 (Gender), SDG 6 (Water and Sanitation), SDG 11 (Cities), SDG 13 (Climate Change), and SDG 17 (Partnerships).

Inclusive growth means greater investment in Myanmar’s greatest resource – its people – by ensuring education for all, health care for all, and energy for all. This will require policies to ensure public financing through tax collection, sound public spending, and investments that favour infrastructure and human development. Infrastructure investments can spur private sector job growth and support more productive and labour-intensive economic activities, such as manufacturing and textile production.

Myanmar has shown strides towards integrated and sustainable water resources management. The event in Yangon could become a milestone in Myanmar’s new democracy, accelerating the consolidated Integrated Water Resources Management, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene activities that are ongoing under the guidance of the Government.

Each country needs to decide on its own national processes of integrating the SDGs into national plans and strategies, and its own entry points. Maybe Myanmar is a model for other countries on how to start.

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Natural Capital Investment Key to Africa’s Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 17:49:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145267 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/feed/ 0 Prickly Pears Drive Local Development in Northern Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:51:45 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145260 Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina , May 23 2016 (IPS)

Family farmers in the northern Argentine province of Chaco are gaining a new appreciation of the common prickly pear cactus, which is now driving a new kind of local development.

Hundreds of jars of homemade jam are stacked in the civil society association “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” (smallholders of Corzuela united), ready to be sold.

Until recently, the small farmers taking part in this new local development initiative did not know that the prickly pear, also known as cactus pear, tuna or nopal, originated in Mexico, or that its scientific name was Opuntia ficus-indica.

But now this cactus that has always just been a normal part of their semi-arid landscape is bringing local subsistence farmers a new source of income.

“The women who took the course are now making a living from this,” Marta Maldonado, the secretary of the association, which was formally registered in 2011, told IPS. “They also have their vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs and goats.”

“The prickly pear is the most common plant around here. In the project we set up 20 prickly pear plantations,” she said.

Local farmers work one to four hectares in this settlement in the rural municipality of Corzuela in west-central Chaco, whose 10,000 inhabitants are spread around small settlements and villages.

The initiative, which has benefited 20 families, made up of 39 women, 35 men and four children, has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The SGP, which is active in 125 countries, is based on the sustainable development concept of “thinking globally, acting locally”, and seeks to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems.

The aim of these small grants, which in the case of the local association here amounted to 20,000 dollars, is to bolster food sovereignty while at the same time strengthening biodiversity.

The SGP has carried out 13 projects so far in Chaco, the poorest province in this South American country of 43 million people.

In the region where Corzuela is located, “there are periods of severe drought and fruit orchards require a lot of water. The prickly pear is a cactus that does not need water,” said Gabriela Faggi with the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).

The large-scale deforestation and clear-cutting of land began in 1990, when soy began to expand in this area, and many local crops were driven out.

“The prickly pear, which is actually originally from Mexico but was naturalised here throughout northern Argentina centuries ago, had started to disappear. So this project is also important in terms of rescuing this local fruit,” said Faggi.

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

This area depends on agriculture – cotton, soy, sunflowers, sorghum and maize – and timber, as well as livestock – cattle, hogs, and poultry.

However, it is now impossible for local smallholders to grow crops like cotton.

“In the past, a lot of cotton was grown, but not anymore,” the association’s treasurer, Mirtha Mores, told IPS. “It’s not planted now because of an outbreak of boll weevils (Anthonomus grandis), an insect that stunts growth of the plant, and we can’t afford to fight it, poor people like us who have just a little piece of land to farm.”

Before launching the project, the local branch of INTA trained the small farmers in agroecological techniques for growing cotton, and helped them put up fences to protect their crops from the animals.

They also taught them how to build and use a machine known as a “desjanadora” to remove the spines, or “janas”, from the prickly pear fruits, to make them easier to handle.

“It’s going well for us. Last year we even sold 1,500 jars of prickly pear fruit jam to the Education Ministry,” for use in school lunchrooms, Maldonado said proudly.

The association, whose work is mainly done by women, also sells its products at local and provincial markets. And although prickly pear fruit is their star product, when it is not in season, they also make jam and other preserves using papaya or pumpkin.

“It has improved our incomes and now we have the possibility to sell our merchandise and to be able to buy the things that are really needed to help our kids who are studying,” Mores said.

The project, which began in 2013, also trained them to use the leaves as a supplementary feed for livestock, especially in the winter when there is less fodder and many animals actually die of hunger.

“We make use of everything. We use the leaves to feed the animals – cows, horses, goats, pigs. The fruit is used to make jam, removing the seeds,” said Mores.

The nutrition and health of the families have improved because of the properties of the fruit and of the plant, said Maldonado and Mores. And now they need less fodder for their animals, fewer of which die in the winter due to a lack of forage.

At the same time, the families belonging to the association were also trained to make sustainable use of firewood from native trees, and learned to make special stoves that enable them to cook and heat their modest homes.

In addition, because women assumed an active, leading role in the activities of the association, the project got them out of their homes and away from their routine grind of household tasks and gave them new protagonism in the community.

“Living in the countryside, women used to be more isolated, they didn’t get out, but now they have a place to come here. They get together from Monday through Friday, chat and are more involved in decision-making. In the association they can express their opinions,” said Maldonado.

“When women get together, what don’t we talk about?” Mores joked.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why Mainstreaming Biodiversity Is the Call for the Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/why-mainstreaming-biodiversity-is-the-call-for-the-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-mainstreaming-biodiversity-is-the-call-for-the-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/why-mainstreaming-biodiversity-is-the-call-for-the-day/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:42:01 +0000 Reza Khan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145259 Photo: bludedotpost

Photo: bludedotpost

By Reza Khan
May 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

We have become familiar with the term biodiversity today due to the Convention of Biological Diversity [CBD] that was accepted by the UN Council on December 29, 1993, after which many nations, including Bangladesh, started becoming its signatories. As biodiversity is the foundation of life and is essential for the services provided by ecosystems, this year’s theme of the International Biodiversity Day is “Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods.”

Although Bangladesh is considered to be very rich in biodiversity, this scene seemed to have changed a lot since the 1950s. Nevertheless, if we reflect on the recorded biodiversity elements of the country, the list is still quite huge. For instance, the world total of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans and butterflies is 131,859 species, where India has 8,376 or 6.35 percent of the world species and Bangladesh is blessed with 2,242 species or 1.7 percent of the world.

In addition, we have quite a large tally of plant species. The world total of plants is around 465,668 species; India has 47,513 of that number or 10.20 percent, while we have 6,759 plant species or 14.23 percent of Indian flora, as recognised by our Department of Environment’s (DoE) report to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2015. However, at present these species seem to subsist only on paper; in fact, some of these species – which used to exist in the hundreds or even thousands in the country – only have a handful of their members still existing in Bangladesh. Moreover, some major species have already become extinct.

Bangladesh is one of the first countries to have signed almost all the protocols, treaties, conventions, etc., related to the biodiversity of the country. The country has been a pioneer in banning polybag use, promulgation of the Wildlife Act, Fisheries Act, Forest Act, Environment Act and several others that apparently help conserve the environment, thereby helping to prevent wide scale abuse against our existing biodiveristy.

While we can be thankful for these laws, I believe that these Acts mostly exist only on paper. In fact, some corrupt government officials and political touts often exploit these laws to harass people at the grassroots in the name of implementing these rules and regulations, while the real culprits who force labourers and downtrodden workers of fields to break the law, continue to operate with impunity. Only formulating Acts therefore does little to empower people at the grassroots, as nothing much is done to support them in their daily quest for livelihood.

Let’s take the ban of polybags for example. While this is a laudable initiative, instead of fining grocers or small store owners for using them, factories that produce polybags should be penalised. Moreover, we need to find cheaper alternatives for polybags which would encourage producers, vendors and users to stop using them, before enforcing a complete ban that is often disregarded by the concerned parties.

The jhatka ilish ban again looks great on paper. In practice, however, this appears to be a somewhat misguided initiative, as it will not work in its entirety unless all middlemen are removed, and fishermen get 100 percent subsidies given to them that will ensure that they do not breach the ban during jhatka season.

A recent example of a law that needs to be adjusted for better enforcement is the use of jute bags instead of polybags for commercial purposes. The government, unfortunately, failed to ensure the supply of jute bags to establishments responsible for packing rice, paddy, wheat or other grains. Thus, it makes little sense for law enforcers to punish grocers or wholesalers who do not use jute packaging, while companies, mills and factories that refuse to use jute bags mostly go unchecked and unpunished.

It goes without saying that tanneries which continue to operate within the city, hawkers and vendors selling their wares on footpaths and overpasses, illegal occupiers of temporary structures and land grabbers hinder environment conservation efforts. However, it will be difficult to stop their illegal activities until they are hit hard at the root. The best way to ensure that they stop polluting and encroaching our environment would be to apprehend them before they even have the chance to carry out their nefarious activities.

If we look at climate change, Bangladesh has promulgated all Acts, and placed the suggested rules and regulations to oblige the international authorities’ protocols on this issue. Funds have been given and supposedly used to conserve biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change. However, the actual scenario seems to be a little different from what appears on paper. While committees are formed, and officers, teachers and project directors are employed to make people aware of climate change, there is little development in areas which are most vulnerable to climate change risks.

At the grassroots and in remote villages, people are still unaware of the benefits – both economic and environmental – of biodiversity conservation or climate change mitigation. Fishermen at the Sundarbans, for example, continue their harmful pursuit of catching shrimp larvae just as they used to about a decade ago, killing millions of other fish eggs and larvae on a daily basis in the process. These discarded and unused fish are extremely important for commercial fishery and aquatic biodiversity. It’s unfortunate that due to these activities, the Sunderbans is gradually turning into a fish desert.

This continues to occur despite the fact that millions have been reportedly spent from biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation funds to provide alternative livelihood options to these impoverished, vulnerable people. In fact, people of the Sunderbans have even lost their fear of wild animals like tigers or snakes while fishing for fish eggs and larvae, thanks to the pressures of earning a livelihood for their family and dependents.

In conclusion, I would like to stress on the importance of a bottom-up approach in the discussions of conserving biodiversity, instead of continuing the top-down approach that is currently followed by the government, NGOs and donor agencies while formulating and implementing projects. It is only then that we can ensure that our environment is protected but not at the cost of people’s livelihoods.

The writer is an eminent ornithologist and Specialist in Wildlife and Zoo Management of Dubai Zoo.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Year of Judicial Accountabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/year-of-judicial-accountability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=year-of-judicial-accountability http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/year-of-judicial-accountability/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:40:01 +0000 Reema Omer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145264 By Reema Omer
May 23 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali has declared the year 2015-2016 as the year of judicial accountability. Judicial independence has long been a flashpoint in Pakistan, as illustrated by the movement nearly a decade ago to reinstate the unlawfully deposed former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

However, accountability has largely been absent from this discourse. Without accountability, independencehasthe potentialtoactasashield behind which judges have the opportunity to conceal possible unethical behaviour. Indeed, judicial accountability is part and parcel of judicial independence, since a judge whose conduct and decisions are influenced by extra-legal elements cannot be independent. Under international standards, including UN basic principles on the independence of the judiciary, therefore, the independence and accountability of the judiciary are inextricably linked.

Chief Justice Jamali`s focus on accountability within the judiciary is welcome, as corruption in the judiciary is a long-standing and chronic issue in Pakistan. Transparency International`s corruption perception surveys, for example, frequently place the judiciary as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country (along with the police).

Chief Justice Jamali`s focus on accountability in all tiers of the judiciary, including the high courts and the Supreme Court, is an important aspect of the accountability drive.

In the past, where judges have acknowledged corruption in the judicial institution, the focus has been limited only to judges in the subordinate judiciary. The National Judicial Policy adopted by the SC in 2009, for example, recommended that strict action be taken against district and sessions judges who carry a `persistent reputation of being corrupt`. However, while judges of the superior courts were encouraged to decide cases expeditiously, there was no recognition of corruption or other misuse of authority by judges of the supreme and high courts in the policy.

The chief justice`s vision on accountability rests on `activating` the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), which under Article 209 of the Constitution is tasked with carrying out inquiries into the capacity and conduct of SC and high court judges.The SJC comprises the chief justice of Pakistan, the two most senior judges of the SC, and the two most senior chief justices of the high courts.

Disciplinary proceedings are initiated before the Council if there is information from `any source`, or it is the opinion of the president of Pakistan, that a judge from the superior judiciary is either incapable of performing his or her duties due to mental or physical incapacity, or that he or she may have engaged in misconduct. A finding of guilt by the SJC is the only method by which a judge of the SC or of a high court can be removed.

The chief justice has acknowledged that the SJC has been rendered ineffective because of prolonged delays in deciding complaints: according to the chief justice, 90pc of cases before the SJC have become moot, as the accused judges retired while their cases were still pending.

In addition, especially in the recent past, military governments and judges of the SC have also undermined the authority and the constitutional role of the SJC.

The most glaring (and damaging) recent example occurred after Gen Musharraf`s proclamation of emergency in 2007, when the unlawful sacking of then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges of the SC and high courts and was justified in the name of `judicial accountability`. These judges were dismissed without the involvement of the SJC.

Ironically, under the leadership of chief justice Chaudhry, the process of circumventing the SJC continued. Following restoration in 2009, the SC gave at least 72 judges who were accused of taking oath under Musharraf`s provisional constitution the option of resigning or facing contempt of court charges. Their plea to appear before the SJC for hearing was dismissed by the SC.

In this context, therefore, Chief Justice Jamali`s focus on rejuvenating the SJC to perform its constitutional role is a welcome move.

The process of judicial accountability, however, will require much more: First, measures must be taken to ensure that disciplinary proceedings are not used as a means of intimidation, harassment, or retaliation againstjudges for exercising their judicial functions independently and diligently. At the minimum, this would mean that disciplinary proceedings against judgesare strictly accordingtothe provisions ofthe Constitution and international standards, and must meet all fair trial and due process guarantees.

Second, transparency should be a key aspect of disciplinary proceedings against judges. The number of cases referred to the SJC; the legal and evidentiary bases for the complaints; the time taken for adjudication; and the outcomes of the proceedings must be made public both to maintain the public`s confidence in the administration of justice and also to protect the interests of the parties involved.

Third, what amounts to judicial misconduct must be clearly defined and must be appropriate under the rule of law. While the current understanding of misconduct seems limited to financial corruption, nepotism and misuse of authority, perhaps what is also needed is the recognition of the role of judges in undermining human rights protections or facilitating violations or impunity for such violations.

One of the ways this can be done is to revise the judicial code of conduct to bring it in line with international standards, including reflecting the duty of judges to guarantee and protect human rights.

And finally, judicial immunity under Article 77 of the Penal Code and other provisions of the law which protect judges from liability resulting from their `good faith` judicial actions, should never insulate judges from prosecution for serious crimes and crimes under international law.

If carried out fairly, expeditiously and transparently, the judicial accountability drive initiated by the chief justice can be a step towards restoring public confidence and trust in the judiciary, which has long suffered because of neglect of the problems plaguing the institution. It will also bring Pakistan closer to an independent judiciary, in a truer sense of the term.•

The writer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists. reema.omer@icj.org Twitter: reema omer

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Is it in Europe’s Interest to Push Russia into China’s Arms?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-it-in-europes-interest-to-push-russia-into-chinas-arms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-it-in-europes-interest-to-push-russia-into-chinas-arms http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-it-in-europes-interest-to-push-russia-into-chinas-arms/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 13:59:31 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145256 Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.]]>

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 23 2016 (IPS)

No mention in the media of the dangerous increase in tension between Europe and Russia. But Nato has just made operational in Romania a missile system, the ABM, which the US has declared will protect from “rogue” states, like Iran.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Russia, especially after the agreement reached with Iran on the control of its atomic industry, is convinced that the system is intended for use against its military forces. The US has announced it will build another second site in Poland in 2018.The intention is to move from “reassurance” of eastern Nato allies to “deterrence” of the Kremlin. That means more troops and equipment, longer deployments, bigger exercises, and a “persistent” presence of Nato and American troops in countries like Poland and the Baltic countries.

In June, as many as 12 000 American troops will join servicemen and women from a number of European allies in Poland for an exercise called Anakonda, which will be the largest military exercise in Europe for years. Altogether, 25 000 troops from 24 Nato and partner countries will be involved. The US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Robert Work, has announced that 4 000 Nato troops, involving two US battalions, will be moved to the Russian border, permanently:” The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises at the border, with lots of troops – extraordinarily provocative behaviour”. Germany is to provide one battalion.

For a long time, the official UD line in military circles was to see in Russia a regime intent on aggression, after the annexation of Crimea, and the intervention in Ukraine. When General Ray Odierno retired as Chief of Staff, he declared, “Russia is the greatest threat to the United States of America”. His predecessor, General Joseph Dunford, was more specific. He thought the then USSR was a bigger threat than ISIS. Odierno said that as a result, he saw threats to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

It is useful to remember that Putin began his tenure by continuing Boris Yeltsin’s line of total cooperation with the United States. As George W. Bush famously said: “I have seen inside Vladimir Putin eyes, and finally we have a strong ally for US interests”. But then Bush took a number of actions without consultation that convinced the Russian that he was considered a marginal player.

While it is obvious that Putin suffers from paranoia, and uses confrontation to get popular support, it would be wise to see matters also from the Russian viewpoint. To begin with, it has been established behind doubt that Mikhail Gorbachev agreed not to intervene militarily in the European countries that were under USSR dominance, provided that NATO kept existing borders.

The fact that this agreement was not maintained has always been present in the Russian psyche. When Reagan met Gorbachev in Reykavik in 1986, Putin was in his mid-30s, and the Soviet Union stretched from the river Elba to the Bering Strait, and from the Artic to Afghanistan. The USSR was a superpower, present in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, with important allies in Asia.

When Putin turned 40, his country had splintered into 15 separate. And when he came to power in 1999, the USSR had lost one-third of his territory, and half of its population. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan were gone. Nato continued its endless habit of encircling Russia. After he persuaded Kiev to join a Moscow –led economic union, Putin saw the Ukraine-pro Russian government overthrown in a US backed coup. The encirclement continues today, comprising even militarily insignificant countries like Montenegro (some 3 000 soldiers), to join Nato.

“Russia has not accepted the hand of partnership “says Nato Commander, General Philip Bredlove, “ but has chosen a path of belligerence”.

Well, it is significant that an impressive 80% of the Russian population shares Putin’s paranoia, and does not see the “hand of partnership”. When Putin annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, his popularity increased at home dramatically. Also because Crimea was always part of Russia, until Nikita Khrushchev donated it to Ukraine, in a symbolic move in 1954. The 65% of Crimeans were Russian speakers, as those living in the Eastern part of Ukraine, a country that was created by joining western Crimea, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with eastern Ukraine, which was part of the Russian empire. Putin very adroitly said that his task was to protect “Russian citizens, wherever they live”, and this struck a chord with Russian people.

It should be made clear that there are no excuses in legal terms for Putin’s actions. But in real life it is always useful to look into events by taking into account both sides of the story. And the fact is that Putin reached the conclusion that Russia was considered, in US jargon, “just a regional power”, and that to be admitted into the G7 and other similar Western fora was not giving him an opportunity to have Russia and himself considered an important player, he thus decided to take the path of confrontatio, in order to be taken seriously. He put a knife in a side of the West, by dividing once again the two halves of Ukraine, obliging the West to sink hundreds of billions of dollars to sustain a deeply corrupt government in Kiev, and its ability to turn the knife when he wanted.

This move led to the establishment of sanctions by the West in 2014, with the declared goal of having Putin capitulate and abandon his intervention in Ukraine. But then, Putin again intervened outside its borders, by intervening in Syria, where since Stalin’s time, Russia has a naval base. The arrival of Russia has completely changed the situation in Syria, and now everybody agrees that there cannot be any military solution without Russia’s agreement.

Is Russia still “ a regional power”, or has it become again a global player?

Of course, one key principle behind US foreign policy is that nobody should challenge its power. Yet it is a principle, which is becoming increasingly unrealistic, as the emergence of China shows. But in the American psyche the USSR is gone, and any attempt to recreate it, under any guise, is just a provocation. And while China has not yet had a direct clash with the United States, Crimea and Ukraine where a slap on the hand…

Now, seen from outside the western world, as many analysts have pointed out from Latin America and Asia, this situation does not make much sense. Let us take the sanctions. They have cost over US$100 billion in lost exports to Russia. But this figure hides a difference: the US exports to Russia dropped by 3.5%, while for Europe 13%, especially from the fragile European agricultural sector (which fell by 43%). Imports from Russia in Europe fell by 13.5%. According to the European Commission, the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) is going to drop by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015 due to the sanctions. But that is a quite a considerable draw, considering that European growth is expected to be just 1.5 as an average, with countries, like Italy, barely over 1%.

Meanwhile a new trend is developing, seemingly ignored by the media. Since 2014, Russia has been deepening its partnership with China, with which it traditionally had difficult relations. The Chinese economic slowdown, due to its change of economic model based on export now to one based on internal market expansion, does not make this the best moment for economic cooperation. Yet, Russia and China have just signed a US$25 billion deal to boost Chinese lending to Russian firms, and a host of other accords. Russia has agreed a US$400 billion deal to supply China with 38 billion cubicmeters of gas annually, from 2018 for the next 30 years.

Russia’s Sberbank has received a US$966 million credit line from the China Development Bank. China is launching a US$2 billion-investment fund, targeting agricultural projects. And US$19.7 billion will go to open a rail link between Moscow and the Russian city of Kazan. At the same time, Russia agreed to cancel it ban on weapon’s sale to China, and a deal was done for the sale of an S-400 air defence system to China (to the great annoyance of the United States and Japan), for US$3 billion with another US$2 billion for the sale of 24 Su-35 fighter planes. The two countries declared that they would increase their bilateral trade to US$200 billion by 2020.

But what is totally new and important is that both countries also decided to strengthen military cooperation. This year they will join in a Joint Sea-2016 naval drill, hosted by China. Deputy minister of Defence, Anatoly Antonov has declared: “Military cooperation between the two countries is highly diverse, and has improved significantly over the last three years .A more tight interaction between the military departments corresponds to national interests, and we expect this interaction to increase”.

This should really lead Europeans to pause and reflect. Is it in the interest of Europe to keep pushing Russia into the hands of China? Or suggest a European initiative – over US priorities, is it not time to search for a settlement with Russia, that would include the Ukraine, Syria, and an engagement to end “deterrence”, for an agreed status quo, which would reopen trade and cooperation, and satisfy the frustrated ego of Russian citizens? It should be recognized that even between allies like the EU and US sometimes there are different priorities, without being traitors…Maybe the American elections will change all the rules of this game. The cold war is hopefully over…

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Bangladesh’s Urban Slums Swell with Climate Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 11:34:55 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145249 Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Abdul Aziz, 35, arrived in the capital Dhaka in 2006 after losing all his belongings to the mighty Meghna River. Once, he and his family had lived happily in the village of Dokkhin Rajapur in Bhola, a coastal district of Bangladesh. Aziz had a beautiful house and large amount of arable land.

But riverbank erosion snatched away his household and all his belongings. Now he lives with his four-member family, including his 70-year-old mother, in the capital’s Malibagh slum.

“Once we had huge arable land as my father and grandfather were landlords. I had grown up with wealth, but now I am destitute,” Aziz told IPS.

Fallen on sudden poverty, he roamed door-to-door seeking work, but failed to find a decent job. “I sold nuts on the city streets for five years, and then I started rickshaw pulling. But our lives remain the same. We are still in a bad plight,” he said.

Aziz is too poor to rent a decent home, so he and his family have been forced to take shelter in a slum, where the housing is precarious and residents have very little access to amenities like sanitation and clean water.

“My daughter is growing up, but there is no money to enroll her school,” Aziz added.

About the harsh erosion of the Meghna River, he said the family of his father-in-law is still living in Bhola, but he fears that they too will be displaced this monsoon season as the erosion worsens.

Like Aziz, people arrive each day in the major cities, including Dhaka and Chittagong, seeking refuge in slums and low-cost housing areas, creating various environmental and social problems.

Bachho Miah, 50, is another victim of riverbank erosion. He and his family also live in Malibagh slum.

“We were displaced many times to riverbank erosion. We had a house in Noakhali. But the house went under river water five years ago. Then we built another house at Dokkhin Rajapur of Bhola. The Meghna also claimed that house,” he said.

According to scientists and officials, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and rising sea levels. Its impacts are already visible in the recurrent extreme climate events that have contributed to the displacement of millions of people.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck on Nov. 15, 2007, triggering a five-metre tidal surge in the coastal belt of Bangladesh, killed about 3,500 people and displaced two million. In May 2007, another devastating cyclone – Aila – hit the coast, killing 193 people and leaving a million homeless.

Migration and displacement is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. But climate change-induced extreme events like erosion, and cyclone and storm surges have forced a huge number of people to migrate from their homesteads to other places in recent years. The affected people generally migrate to nearby towns and cities, and many never return.

According to a 2013 joint study conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Dhaka University and the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR), University of Sussex, riverbank erosion displaces 50,000 to 200,000 people in Bangladesh each year.

Eminent climate change expert Dr Atiq Rahman predicted that about 20 million people will be displaced in the country, inundating a huge amount of coastal land, if the global sea level rises by one metre.

The fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a similar prediction, saying that sea levels could rise from 26cm – 98cm by 2100, depending on global emissions levels. If this occurs, Bangladesh will lose 17.5 percent of its total landmass of 147,570 square kilometers, and about 31.5 million people will be displaced.

“The climate-induced migrants will rush to major cities like Dhaka in the coming days, increasing the rate of urban poverty since they will not get work in small townships,” urban planner Dr. Md. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

Dr. Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, said the influx of internal climate migrants will present a major challenge to the government’s plan to build climate-resilient cities.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country. Floods also hits the country each year. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river basin is one of the most flood-prone areas in the world. Official data shows that the devastating 1998 flood alone caused 1,100 deaths and rendered 30 million people homeless.

Disaster Management Secretary Md Shah Kamal said Bangladesh will see even greater numbers of climate change-induced migrants in the future.

“About 3.5 lakh [350,000] people migrated internally after Aila hit. Many climate victims are going to abroad. So the government is considering the issue seriously. It has planned to rehabilitate them within the areas where they wish to live,” he said.

Noting that the Bangladeshi displaced are innocent victims of global climate change, Kamal stressed the need to raise the issue at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24 and to seek compensation.

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Humanitarian Summit Must Address Weapons Shipments Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-must-address-weapons-shipments-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-summit-must-address-weapons-shipments-too http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-must-address-weapons-shipments-too/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 17:04:43 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145235 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-must-address-weapons-shipments-too/feed/ 2 Myanmar Seeks to Break Vicious Circle of Flood and Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/myanmar-seeks-to-break-vicious-circle-of-flood-and-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-seeks-to-break-vicious-circle-of-flood-and-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/myanmar-seeks-to-break-vicious-circle-of-flood-and-drought/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 15:56:49 +0000 Sara Perria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145228 People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Sara Perria
HTITA, May 22 2016 (IPS)

It has been two weeks now since the village of Htita, with its few bamboo houses hemmed in by parched, cracked earth and dried-out ponds, has enjoyed the novelty of its first ever water well.

Young housewife Lei Lei Win walks to the noise of breaking soil to fill two yellow containers previously used for cooking oil. With the weight of the 20-litre ‘buckets’ balanced on a pole on her shoulder, it now takes her only one minute to provide her family with the water that she will need to get washed, cook, and also drink. She usually makes two trips a day.

“I save a lot of time,” says Lei Lei, dressed in a traditional longyi skirt. “Before I had to walk much more to fetch water.”

The nearly 200-metre-deep well is not the result of government planning, but the combined 3,000-dollar donation by a Yangon businessman who hails from the village and a travel agency named Khiri, run by a Dutchman, which donates part of its income to build wells in the driest parts of the country.

Situated in the internal region of Bago, Htita is only a two-hour drive from Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon. Even closer is the village of Kawa. But even if residents are enjoying better living conditions, only a few here can afford to pay some 30 dollars a month – a considerable amount of money in Myanmar – to pump water from a nearby underground water source directly to the house tank.

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

According to a 2014 census, a third of households in the country of 51.5 million people uses water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet. Only an average 32.4 percent of households use electricity for lighting.

The same census found that life expectancy in Myanmar is among the lowest in the ASEAN region. Much of this is due to lack of water and food security, with water scarcity and excess of rainfall playing an equal role.

The central plains of Myanmar, bordered by mountains on the west and east, include the only semi-arid region in South East Asia – the Dry Zone, home to some 10 million people. This 13 percent of Myanmar’s territory sums up the challenges that the country faces with respect to water security: an uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of this natural resource, the increasing unpredictability of rain patterns due to climate change, and a lack of water management strategies to cope with extreme weather conditions.

“Water is abundant and plentiful in Myanmar, but there is little infrastructure and electricity, so the economics of accessing water are problematic. This is why the shortages continue year after year,” says Andrew Kirkwood, fund manager of the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), a multi-donor fund that focuses on the rural poor in Myanmar.

About 90 percent of rain in Myanmar falls during the rainy season, from June to October. But geographical differences are enormous: rainfall ranges from 750 mm per year in the most arid region of the country to 1,500 mm in the eastern and western mountains and 4,000 to 5,000 mm in the coastal regions.

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Shortages in the dry zone have been more acute this year because the scant rains of the year before resulted in limited water-storage, according to LIFT. On top of this, El Nino’s higher temperatures during the following 2016 hot season triggered higher evaporation rates.

However, in other areas of the country, failure in ensuring water security has historically been caused by the opposite: extreme rain and disastrous floods.

With the deadly 2008 cyclone Nargis still engraved in the country’s memory, during the rainy season of 2015 the country had to face another emergency. Vast areas, from states in the North-West to the Delta region, were hit by severe and prolonged rains. With no proper water control measures in place, the outcome of an otherwise-manageable natural phenomenon was disastrous: dozens of deaths and almost two million acres of rice fields either destroyed or damaged, according to UN’s humanitarian disaster agency OCHA.

In both cases – drought and floods – failures in managing water security bring precarious hygiene conditions and illnesses, while the effects on agriculture reflect in high malnutrition rates. In the Dry Zone, 18 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition, according to a 2013 LIFT survey, while a staggering quarter of children under the age of five are underweight.

What to do

The correct administration of water resources is the root of the problem in Myanmar, according to NGOs and institutional actors. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is therefore faced with the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the ongoing economic growth.

“Sixty percent of irrigation in South East Asia comes from groundwater,” says LIFT’s fund manager Kirkwood. “But it’s only six percent in Myanmar. Our knowledge of how much groundwater there is and where this groundwater is, is not good at all.”

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Even against the odds of scant resources, farmers in the Dry Zone produce most of Myanmar’s sesame and pulses, making it one of the largest exporters in the world. The economic impact of better exploitation of resources is evident. However, says Kirkwood, investments have been so far misplaced – forcing farmers, for example, into rice cultivation – and policies inefficient, such as not collecting sufficient fees for water.

Terre des Hommes, an NGO, has successfully introduced into the Dry Zone a hydroponic farming system developed by the University of Bologna. The system requires 80-90 percent less water than soil-based farming, while recycling fluids enriched with fertilizers. It allows landless farmers in particular access to fresher and cheaper food.

“The project has involved 45 villages in townships across Mandalay and Magway,” says project manager Enrico Marulli. The latter region has the highest under-five mortality rate in the entire country, more than twice the rate of its biggest city, Yangon, reflecting the urgent need for life-improvement solutions.

But the long-term sustainability of these project finds its limits in the overall restructuring that the country has to endure. With a new greenhouse costing between 70 and 80 dollars, without external donors’ contribution only access to credit can support vital technological improvements.

However, farmers’ financial inclusion is virtually inexistent. In contrast to other developing countries, microfinance in Myanmar goes mainly to the agricultural sector, says LIFT, but only bigger financial institutions have the capacity to sustain longer-term, higher investments.

Al of these issues will come to the fore on May 24, when the Global Water Partnership High Level Roundtable on Water Security and the SDGs will be held in Yangon. The meeting aims to accelerate gains made by ongoing projects related to water and sanitation, under the guidance of the government of Myanmar and the World Bank.

Meanwhile, in the village of Htita, villagers continue to enjoy the revolution of the new well and fill their yellow containers.

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The Heavens Poured and Atlas Shruggedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-heavens-poured-and-atlas-shrugged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-heavens-poured-and-atlas-shrugged http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-heavens-poured-and-atlas-shrugged/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 13:51:48 +0000 Editor sunday http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145224 By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
May 22 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Sri Lankan parliamentarians appear to have been moved to unseemly mirth regarding the floodwaters which devastated the country this week, causing more than sixty three officially reported deaths and thousands more missing, with even greater numbers rendered homeless and destitute.

Warranting a serious response
As sorrowful scenes were recorded across the island, the gravity of the deluge had yet to be taken seriously on the floor of the House. Indeed, as much as Atlas shrugged in the disturbing portrayal by Ayn Rand of capitalist and greedy businessmen projected as the real heroes of society, here too we may aptly say that parliamentarians laughed on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya even as the muddy waters came right up to the door of the Parliament.

These rude bursts of laughter were in response to Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s wisecrack on Friday that if the self styled Joint Opposition members had not engaged in coconut smashing rituals, this calamity would not have occurred. But the issue here surely warrants a far more serious response than such hilarity?

The sheer ineptitude of the Government in bringing relief and redress to the affected people is one facet of the problem. This was the recurring theme throughout the country as the displaced wailed before television cameras that they had not been helped by government agencies. No doubt, there were determined and selfless government servants who devoted themselves to the arduous task of flood relief but the stern commitment shown by the Government itself as an entity was certainly lacking.

Result of disastrous development
At an even more distressing level, there appears to be no acknowledgement of government policies and practices which have directly contributed to this flood devastation. Public officials are fond of advising people not to occupy lands that are susceptible to landslides and floods. Yet they conveniently forget the fact that much of this damage is done by politicians themselves. We are familiar with the ruthless acquisition of land by politicians for commercial purposes such as building hotels and the like. These are lands which should have been preserved for water retention purposes, both in major cities and elsewhere.

All these ‘projects’ were without environmental approval as obliging public officers rubber stamped acquisitions of land even (unbelievingly) in the mangrove marshes of Negombo. So as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers profess sympathy with affected victims, it must be clearly understood that disastrous ‘Rajapaksa’ development was a major contributory factor to the present crisis.

Neither is the Government in power free from responsibility. Despite all the sanctimonious outrage regarding the Port City project when its politicians were campaigning for the popular vote last year, they have tamely acquiesced to continuing with the project minus some minor changes. This makes nonsense of the Prime Minister’s claim during electioneering that this project would devastate the coastal line from Colombo to Beruwala and that he would forthwith cancel the project if his party assumed power. We are not assured by the Government’s claim that environmental conditions have now been complied with. Quite apart from this, this Government appears unable to clean even a culvert properly. This is a breakdown of the provincial and local government machinery in a most essential sense.

Past warnings of such calamities
The dangers attendant on proper environmental safeguards not being followed prior to ambitious development projects being undertaken are now alarmingly evident. This week’s treacherous flooding of parts of the Southern Expressway, once praised as Sri Lanka’s flagship expressway project is a good illustration. More than a decade ago, this columnist was part of the legal team which challenged the shifting of the trace of the Southern Expressway from one route to a completely new direction. This shift was despite the fact that the relevant environmental assessment had not been properly carried out in respect of this new direction of the expressway named as the ‘final trace.’ This was in contradiction to the Central Environmental Authority (CEA)’s injunction that any changed route should avoid traversing through wetlands of the area.

The legal challenge was based on a number of factors including the risk of environmental damage if the changed route was adopted. At the time, though the Supreme Court before which the matter finally went on appeal, responded by awarding compensation to the petitioners whose lands had been acquired without following proper procedures, (SCM 20.01.2004), the judges balked at ordering a complete change in the routing of the expressway, probably due to the massive expense that this would involve.

However both in the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court, the crucial importance of conducting a proper environmental assessment was stressed. As found by a committee of judges appointed to undertake an empirical study of the affected area, the changes adversely affected property rights of poor villagers. Decision makers were put under a duty to consider all relevant environmental consequences and afford affected persons an opportunity to voice their opinion. As the Court of Appeal affirmed, ‘this fosters dialogue between decision-makers and involved parties, which is an essential pre-requisite of any development project for such project to have sustainability over a long period.”

Discrimination between the poor and the affluent
But in the years following this decision, even that bare judicial and environmental review of development projects went by the board. The impact of the Mundy decision on Sri Lanka’s political leadership, in so far as preventing ill planned development projects, has been negligible. This has ramifications for proposed expressways as well, including the Kandy-Colombo Expressway. A continuing failure to satisfy environmental safeguards presents a nightmare scenario of environmental devastation far worse than what was experienced in May.

This accentuates the profound discrimination that we saw a few days ago between the poor left stranded on the top of their houses, clutching pitifully meager belongings and the affluent. While the more privileged enjoy expressways should the less privileged be left to suffer such fates due to corporate and political greed ?

These are questions that should reflectively occupy our minds, quite apart from reaching out to the affected through relief provisions. And parliamentarians may perhaps refrain from hilarity when addressing this calamity which afflicted the country in these generally serene Vesak weeks. Surely this is the minimum that Sri Lankans should forcefully demand.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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County Governments in Kenya Must Take Lead in Fight for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/county-governments-in-kenya-must-take-lead-in-fight-for-gender-equality/#comments Sun, 22 May 2016 13:32:26 +0000 Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145222 Ms Tarja Fernandez, @fernandeztarja, is the Ambassador of Finland to Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1, is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

By Ambassador Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 22 2016 (IPS)

The 3rd Devolution Conference that took place in Meru, Kenya between 19 and 21st April was an opportunity to discuss how the post-2015 development agenda will be localized and how county governments will deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said that devolution is vital in helping the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And this is beautifully aligned to Kenya’s own Vision 2030, which is to create a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya with a high quality of life by 2030.

Devolution is all about inclusion and participation. Devolution is therefore also an opportunity to champion gender equality.

So the SDG goal number 5, is about, “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” is one of the key drivers of sustainable development. Half of the population should not be left behind. Inclusion of women and girls must be at the core of the development plans will accelerate potential for economic growth and well-being of the societies at large.

In order to address gender and other inequalities county governments need to know about them.

As was evident with the Millennium Development Goals, data derived from national surveys tend to miss the marginal numbers and thus downplay serious regional disparities, as the averages used in reporting progress mask the suffering of many.

For instance, while national data indicates that Kenya’s total fertility rate is 3.9, parts of the country have a total fertility rate of up to 7.8. This represents women who have limited decision making power about when or if they should have children, for reasons ranging from lack of family planning information and services to religious and cultural practices.

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS, 2014) indicates that the national prevalence of female genital mutilation is 21%. However, among the communities where the practice is still intractable, the rates go up to 98%.

Clearly, there are populations whose concerns are going unheeded.

It is the voices of such populations that county governments have an opportunity to amplify as they seek to find relevance for the SDGs.

How can this be done? By providing opportunities for women of all ages to participate in county planning and budgeting processes. Being aware of their rights and listening to their needs. Building county governments’ capacities to analyze gender issues and address them in the County Integrated Development Plans. Sensitizing men on the benefits of providing more space for women to participate decision making, both at home and in public spheres of life. Moreover, including men consistently in discussions related to gender equality.

For gender responsiveness to be met, the equity principle must underlie the identification of priorities, planning, budgeting and service delivery. Collecting county disaggregated data will be a key to identification of development needs, and culturally acceptable solutions. In addition, community participation will be crucial to ensuring that the voices of women and girls, the youth and the marginalized, will no-longer be left unheard.

Counties now have the opportunity to identify their own priorities and to design service delivery mechanisms suitable for local needs. Each county in Kenya has its own unique challenges and circumstances, but also the resources to solve its problems. Respecting and utilizing valuable local traditions that do not violate human rights can be a rich resource from which development plans can draw knowledge, legitimacy and participation.

Though recent surveys such as the DHS 2014 have quality data from the regions, the counties themselves need a lot of support to generate, access and utilize disaggregated data with measurable indicators. As observed recently by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, tackling inequalities and measuring progress towards sustainable development is constrained by a lack of core population data and under-developed capacity to use such data for development.

Changing entrenched gender inequalities is, however, not an easy task. There are deep social, economic and cultural forces that drive stereotyping and discrimination and these will not disappear without deliberate actions.

These actions by all counties are a key approach to nationalizing the SDGs, reducing inequalities, especially gender inequality, while unlocking the potential that women have for delivering sustainable change.

At the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14th-24th March 2016, President Kenyatta was among the 80 leaders that made commitments to advance gender equality and ensure equal opportunity. He said, “I’m convinced that our nations and the world stand to gain tremendously if we continue to embrace that progress for women is progress for us all. Investing in women is more than a matter of rights; it is the right thing to do.”

As development partners in Kenya we are committed to work with Government of Kenya and the county authorities to advance gender equality and empowerment.

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Indigenous Peoples Inclusion at United Nations Incompletehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 17:44:57 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145213 Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations Indigenous Forum is one of the UN’s most culturally diverse bodies yet its inclusion within the overall UN system remains limited.

“Thousands of people who come to the forum throughout the years do not have the opportunity to express their concerns,” said Alvaro Esteban Pop Ac, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, here Thursday.

Over 1,000 Indigenous people from all over the world came here for the 15th session of the  Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held from May 9-20.

“The demand by indigenous peoples is to have a new category as observer,” said Joan Carling, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Carling said that while indigenous people are not states or NGOs, according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they “have the right to self-determination.”

“The main aim of the resolution is to really ensure that effective participation of indigenous peoples is afforded in the UN system.”

“We need to be able to participate in decision-making processes in the UN  to be able to express our specific conditions and our aspirations as peoples. That deserves the space at the highest level,” she said.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected," -- Joan Carling

The contributions that Indigenous peoples are making, to areas such as peace and environmental protection, are not reflected in their level of participation at the UN.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected,” said Carling.

“The issue of conflicts and the issue of injustice will continue because decisions are being undertaken at global level where we don’t have any participation, that is the thing that we want to rectify,” she added.

Indigenous peoples still cannot make recommendations directly to Security Council, only through the Economic and Social Council.

Carling, an indigenous activist from Cordillera in the Philippines, said that the situation of Indigenous women in particular should be addressed by the 15-member UN Security Council, arguably the most powerful organ within the UN system.

Violence against Indigenous women was a major theme of the 2016 forum.

Throughout history, Pop Ac said, “Indigenous women have lead indigenous dialogue. Women play a key role in keeping the community together. We promote our issues through women,” said Pop Ac.

He pointed to Northeast India, where there is a heavy presence of more than 70 armed groups and 500, 000 military troops, which have been related to the rampant sexual abuse and trafficking of indigenous women.

Jacob Bryan Aki from Peace Child International-Hawaii and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was one of the young Indigenous people who participated in the forum.

“We come here, we learn, and the work doesn’t stop,” said Aki.  “The two weeks we have here sets us up for the rest of the year, to go back home, to work with our family and our communities, to take the opportunities we have had here to those who do not. These messages need to be heard from youth.”

“We are the next generation of leaders and scholars,” said Aki. “It is very important for us to engage in this international level because in 10-20 years we are going to be thrust into these leadership roles and this is preparation to lead and learn how to make this world a better place for our people.”

With over 5000 different cultures and an estimated 7000 different languages, Indigenous peoples represent much of the world’s cultural diversity.

Yet despite their cultural differences Indigenous peoples – who make up five percent of the world’s overall population – have many shared experiences.

“The first criteria which defines an indigenous peoples, is a peoples that have survived colonization,” said Pop Ac.

“Humanity needs a different logic and ethic in defining wealth” Pop Ac added.

“It is human greed which is destroying the environment.”

Indigenous peoples are the “guardians of life” and are working to protect their environments, he said.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

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Refugees Bring Economic Benefits to Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/refugees-brings-economic-benefits-to-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-brings-economic-benefits-to-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/refugees-brings-economic-benefits-to-cities/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 16:41:33 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145210 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/refugees-brings-economic-benefits-to-cities/feed/ 0 Will Canada Recognise Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Developing Countries Too?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 15:09:32 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145192 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/will-canada-recognise-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-in-developing-countries-too/feed/ 1 Dollars and Sensehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/dollars-and-sense/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dollars-and-sense http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/dollars-and-sense/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 14:21:06 +0000 F.S. Aijazuddin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145190 By F. S. Aijazuddin
May 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

There is only one way of dealing with corruption. Make it legal. Better still, make it mandatory. Why should the poor be denied opportunities the corrupt enjoy with such insouciant impunity? Corruption is the pestilence that leaves pockmarks of a Clive, a Capone, a Noriega, a Suharto, a Marcos, a Duvalier, an Abramovich.

Our society is no less disfigured. In its brief history, there has never been a time when corruption has not been `unearthed`, when disapproving tongues did not click, fingers wag in censure, and then, our public made to watch helplessly as incriminating evidence was swept under an increasingly threadbare carpet, and pursuable cases pickled.

Socialists once regarded corruption as the inseparable twin of capitalism. They held their credo to be the antidote to both. They thought they could create a society free of personal avarice. Tombstones to socialism testify otherwise. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, within a generation, Russia has reverted to a tainted tsardom, oily oligarchs replacing greedy grand dukes.

Its Marxist-Leninist neighbour the People`s Republic of China (PRC) through strenuously enforced discipline achieved a level of social equality for its citizens. It copied the best in the West, and then imitated its worst. Espousing entrepreneurship, it has also wedded corruption.

A generation ago, no one in the PRC men and women alike would have worn anything other than a uniform Mao suit.

Today, an agreement between the PRC and Pakistan on Lahore`s Orange Line is cloaked in secrecy, too sensitive, the Lahore High Court has been told, to be disclosed except in camera. Yet soon Ling Jihua (aide to retired president Hu Jintao) will stand trial for corruption in China`s courts.

Corruption was not unheard of before Panama sprang a leak. Like global warming, though, it has begun to be discussed at a global level because it has assumed gargantuan proportions with international ramifications Corruption sans Frontières. Ironically, the recent Anti-Corruption Conference 2016 (the latest of too many of its kind) was hosted in a country that produced Clive and the East India Company, and encouraged wealthy Arabs and Croesus Russians to hyper-inflate the UK property market.

What should be expected from such a conference? Teary admissions of guilt by offenders? Lachrymose remonstrances of innocence by suspects? Conscience-stricken repatriation of stolen assets? The Conference`s outcome a lengthy 34-paragraph communiqué emphasised the need to `minimise` (not eliminate) corruption, and of course expressed the iron, inflexible determination to hold more such conferences. Bribery is in effect a social contract, in that it requires both parties to give their consent, voluntarily. When bribes are demanded or given, each party becomes equally responsible, equally guilty. Both become accomplices.

The person giving the bribe knows why, to whom, and for what reason the payment is being made. So does the recipient. The go between pockets his fee for his silence. One does not need an international conference to understand the mechanics of corruption.

Is there a way of eliminating such pecuniary inducements? A solution was applied once in a public-sector corporation during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto`s time in the 1970s. The corporation was responsible for awarding contracts worth millions of dollars for the procurement of equipment for three large fertiliser plants. The corporation alerted its vendors that no invoices would be processed without an accompanying undertaking, executed by the supplier, that no commission, kick-back, or gratification in cash or in kindhad been given in connection with the transaction. It worked. That particular corporation was the only one out of 11 under the ministry of production not to be subjected to an official inquiry by Zia`s subsequent government.

Can such an undertaking be demanded nowadays? Why not? Even though such an undertaking is no more than a slip of paper, yet it underscores a serious commitment by all parties to observe standards of integrity and probity. One could ask: Why do people then succumb so easily to temptation? Their answer, of course, would be the same as that proffered by tired harlots who swear they would quit their profession, if only young bucks would stop importuning them.

Daily, the list provided by Panama leaks is lengthening. Daily, innocent intent is being misconstrued as evil evasion. Daily, many more people are wishing that they had not taken the advice of inventive lawyers to park their undisclosed wealth in offshore havens.

These embarrassed souls have a soul-mate in the scientist who made Pakistan a nuclear power. He denies owning a Bahamian company, accusing his late brother (a banker) of fiscal wizardry. He claims: `You know, bankers are always up to their tricks and hankypanky.` Too true! Only a devious banker would have advised his naïve brother to invest in a hotel in Timbuktu, rather than Park Lane.

The writer is an art historian www.fsaijazuddin.pk

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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What`s Next for Nawaz Sharif?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/whats-next-for-nawaz-sharif/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-next-for-nawaz-sharif http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/whats-next-for-nawaz-sharif/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 09:51:46 +0000 Zahid Hussain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145178 By Zahid Hussain
May 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Nawaz Sharif`s much-awaited speech in the National Assembly was as unconvincing as his two previous addresses to the nation. It was the same detail of family business and tale of persecution.

There was a hint of defiance but overall it lacked in confidence. The prime minister looked under tremendous pressure as he tried to respond to some of the questions that have been posed by the opposition about the source of his family`s enormous offshore wealth.

There was still no plausible account of the money trail leading to the upmarket Mayfair properties in London that his family owns. In fact, the speech has raised more questions than it has answered. Sharif`s tax returns over the last two decades and the story of the hard work and business acumen that went into the making of the family business empire failed to impress the opposition that is going for the jugular.

What, perhaps, salvaged the day for the beleaguered prime minister was the opposition`s irresponsible decision to walk out instead of responding to his speech in the house. They chose to take the battle outside parliament and to TV talk shows, making a public spectacle of a serious political issue.

It is difficult to comprehend the logic behind this step given that it was the demand of the opposition itself that had forced Sharif to take his case to parliament. While the government looked nervous fighting a desperate battle, the opposition too did not come out looking good. It was a miserable show of political gamesmanship that has further deepened the political crisis unleashed by the Panama leaks.

There seems to be no end to the deadlock after the opposition has rejected the prime minister`s proposal to form a joint parliamentary committee to devise a mutually agreed accountability mechanism. Many contend the offer came too late and has become irrelevant after the chief justice declined the government`s request to form a judicial commission to probe the allegations of corruption against those named in the Panama leaks. What is next for Sharif? No one seems to have a clear answer to the question.

It did not come as a surprise when Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali turned down the government`s request to head what he described as a `toothless` judicial commission with no clear parameters of investigation. He wants parliament to pass new legislation to make such a commission more effective.

It was obvious that the government had deliberately kept the Terms of Reference (ToR) wide and complex so as to take away the focus from the Sharif family`s offshore wealth. The main objective was to prolong the investigation without any conclusion in order to defuse the crisis. But it was not to happen.

The chief justice rightly pointed out that such investigation would only muddy the image of the apex court.

Such a blunt and candid response from the chief justice who is due to retire later this year has further limited Sharif`s options. That perhaps had compelled him to seek the opposition`s support to amend the ToR. But there is still no indication of the government being interested in new legislation to make the proposed judicial commission more effective as suggested by the chief justice.

It is not just the government that has been badly bruised in the Panama leaks saga: many top opposition leaders have also been muddled by the scandal, their high moral ground severely compromised. The latest disclosure about his offshore company has also landed Imran Khan in a political maelstrom and provided the government with an effective whip with which to beat its main tormentor.

There may not be any wrongdoing involved but the very fact that the PTI leader failed to declare it while bashing others for owning offshore companies exposed him to the allegation of being a hypocrite.

He is surely finding it hard to rationalise his decision not to disclose his own offshore investment.

With all the faces blackened in the fracas, it is difficult for the public to decide who is more dishonest.

It is quite interesting that the PPP has so far remained unblemished in the current offshore saga. It is not that its leaders are clean or have not been mentioned in the Panama Papers, but neither the government nor the PTI for different reasons want to target it. While being in the alliance has saved the party from any attack from the PTI, the government does not want to take on its former `friendly opposition` as Sharif battles it out with his main challenger.

It is, however, not clear how long the PPP would stick to the anti-government alliance with no clear political strategy. For many old stalwarts, the current hard-line stance is necessary to keep the party alive and stop defections to the PTI in Punjab. But this policy is also not without risk, specifically the risk of playing second fiddle to the PTI that wants to take the battle to the bitter end.

With the stand-off against the opposition becoming more serious, Nawaz Sharif is also feeling increasing heat from the military that is fast assuming the role of arbiter. The tension has been mounting since the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif made a rare public statement calling for across-the-board accountability. The government saw it as a warning.

Rumours about the growing civil and military divide gained further currency with a month-long gap in what had become almost a daily interaction between the two Sharifs.

The two finally met last week but it did not bring an end to the rumours. A deliberate leak of part of what is supposed to be a highly confidential one-on one meeting, and information conveyed later by sources that the general had urged the prime minister during the meeting to urgently resolve the crisis, has further vitiated the atmosphere.

With no resolution of the crisis in sight, there are fewer options now left for the prime minister. His defence in parliament seems to have further compounded his predicament. One is not sure how he can break the siege.•

The writer is an author and joumalist. zhussain100@yahoo.com Twitter:@hidhussain

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Kenya’s Young Inventors Shake Up Old Technologyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 18:55:49 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145167 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/kenyas-young-inventors-shake-up-old-technology/feed/ 1 Making Bangladesh Ready for Renewableshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/making-bangladesh-ready-for-renewables/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-bangladesh-ready-for-renewables http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/making-bangladesh-ready-for-renewables/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 16:41:46 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145159 By Sohara Mehroze Shachi
May 17 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

All his life, farmer Nasiruddin saw his poverty ridden village in complete darkness after dusk, with electricity being a distant dream. That changed last year when he installed a solar lantern system.

Photo: BGR

Photo: BGR

“Life used to stop here after sundown,” he says, “Kerosene lamps were expensive. My children studied in candle light with a lot of difficulty, and we couldn’t do any work properly at night. But now solar power has changed all that.”

Nasiruddin’s case is emblematic of that of millions of Bangladeshis living in underdeveloped areas of the country, such as the enclave in which he lives, most of which don’t have electric grids. The energy starved nation faces significant challenges to achieve its vision of universal electricity access by 2021 by relying only on grid power development. The dispersed nature of rural settlements and the numerous rivers that crisscross Bangladesh make grid electrification difficult and expensive. It is also environmentally unsustainable, as it is primarily dependent on fossil fuels, which exacerbate global warming.

In recognition of these challenges, the government promoted the development of off-grid renewable energy schemes as one of the viable near-to-medium-term options to provide electricity for millions of households in the remote areas of the country. And development organisations have got onboard. Some organisations, including the UNDP through their Sustainable Renewable Energy for Power Generation (SREPGEN) project of which Nasiruddin is a beneficiary, provide solar lanterns to those who do not have grid connection in rural areas and cannot afford solar home system, with a portion of grant via partner organisations. The aim here is to reduce the annual growth rate of GHG emissions from fossil fuel-fired power generation by exploiting Bangladesh’s renewable energy resources for electricity generation.

Measures to promote renewable energy investment can be expected to improve energy security, generate employment and serve as a cost-effective GHG emission reduction option. In recognition of this fact, the government has set up the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) to develop policies for renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes, and to mobilise resources for such programmes in Bangladesh. But the renewables landscape is still riddled with challenges. Organisations assert that solar energy is costly, and the components being imported have high duties. Currently the high tariffs are driving up the cost of equipment such as solar lanterns, rendering them unaffordable for many without external financial assistance. To counter this challenge, however, some organisations, like the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), are developing their capacity to lobby for renewable energy investment incentives such as duty free import of renewables’ equipment and tax holidays for investors.

While solar data is considered to be adequate for current purposes, datasets for wind and biomass resources do not have sufficient geographic coverage or volume to induce investment decisions. The available data sets are also not compiled in user-friendly formats, and there is no central repository of renewable energy information. Moreover, access to these data is difficult, as it requires contacts with various government departments, discouraging potential renewable energy developers and investors.

Moreover, as one of the most densely populated nations of the world, land is a scarce commodity in Bangladesh. Disputes exist regarding land ownership in different parts of the country, which makes installation and scaling up of solar photovoltaic difficult, according to Saiful Alam, Director of Dhaka University’s Energy Institute. However, he thinks an easy solution exists for this problem – rooftops. “We may have land scarcity but we have plenty of rooftops, enough to produce 3000 megawatts, and we are trying to convince the government to do so,” he says.

After the historic Paris climate agreement last year, the world received a clear signal – the fossil fuel era is over. An energy transition is needed for all nations, which leaves coal, gas and oil in the ground and leads to a 100 percent renewable energy powered world. Developing nations such as Bangladesh that have escalating energy needs should lay the framework now for sustainable development.

With that aim, civil society organisations and climate conscious people are mobilising around the world as part of the Break Free campaign, urging governments and corporations to phase out fossil fuels and phase in renewable energy. In line with the campaign, SUPRO – a national network of grassroots NGOs in Bangladesh – formed a human chain on May 14 around the National Press Club to bring to the attention of media and people on the ground the need to protect climate policying from big polluters.

Pressure is mounting on all governments, including those of developing nations such as Bangladesh, to develop a credible plan to end their dependence on fossil fuels and decarbonise their economies in favour of renewable energy, in line with their COP 21 pledges. And this necessitates effective government action and international assistance to overcome the obstacles in the path to proliferation of renewable energy.

The writer is a development professional working at UNDP Bangladesh on Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Management issues.

his story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Rousseff Is (kind of) Gone. What Now?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/rousseff-is-kind-of-gone-what-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseff-is-kind-of-gone-what-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/rousseff-is-kind-of-gone-what-now/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 15:38:32 +0000 Fernando Cardim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145155 Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, ]]>

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro,

By Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 17 2016 (IPS)

As expected and widely predicted- Brazil’s Federal Senate has begun the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff. According to Brazilian Law, the president is likely to be suspended for up to six months while arguments are put forth in the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice. At the end of the proceedings, the president may be acquitted of all charges and returned to power or if convicted and found guilty, be deposed and banned from political activity for eight years.

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando J. Cardim de Carvalho

Even though the process has just begun, very few expect Rousseff to survive the political upheaval. The overwhelming result of the impeachment vote make her conviction almost certain. Thus, the transfer of power to Vice-President Michel Temer is widely seen as definitive, and who will serve as president until 2018.

What can one expect of Temer’s presidency? The answer seems to be, very little. The best bet is that the political crisis will continue and, if anything, deepen in the following months and years up to the 2018 elections. The deepening economic crisis will likely continue, possibly mitigated by a “natural” cyclical recovery, which is expected to be minimal due to the probable inability of the newly appointed government to reach some degree of political stability.

Much of the political instability may be due to the peculiar nature of the political support behind the new government. Temer is only the nominal leader of the largest political party in the country, Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB). He is the nominal leader because PMDB is a federation consisting of regional interest groups not consistently loyal to a central leadership. A party traditionally adept at deal making, it never gives its full support to a government unless it is done with all the regional interests in mind. Temer as president of PMDB has yielded very little effective power over the party as a whole. The first order of business for a government he leads will be to acquire (and to acquire is the exact term) the support of a number of PMDB groups large enough to provide him with sufficient support in Congress.

The difficulties in such political negotiations have been illustrated by the failures of former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Lula da Silva, besides Rousseff herself. Every president tries to buy the support of the party by involving its national leadership only to discover that the party must negotiate the support of each group regardless of the national leadership.

There are ofcourse other parties that were part of Rousseff’s coalition until the eve of the Senate vote. They are small parties devoid of any political ideology or consistent program, they tend to adhere to any government that can further their own interests. Their commitment to any given government is highly dependent on the likelihood of an administration remaining in power. When the government’s chances of survival deteriorate, it’s demise is often accelerated by mass defections from the above mentioned parties.

In the end, the only difference between the coalition that has been dislodged and the coalition that takes over is the substitution of PSDB for Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and its satellites. PSDB is as incapable of stabilizing a government coalition as PT was. The “new” political configuration is therefore just as unstable as the one that is being replaced.

Temer’s new cabinet is promising tough liberal economic.The rhetoric is clearly conservative but the only difference with respect to Rousseff’s post-re-election rhetoric is the proposal of new privatizations as means to improve the financial situation of the federal government. The new finance minister (that Lula da Silva wanted Rousseff to nominate for her second term) has announced the need to control the fiscal deficit even though he is likely to be aware that very little can be done in the short or even mid-term. There has been talk of age limits for retirement, about the need to increase tax revenues (albeit without raising the necessary taxes) and cuts to subsidies for businesses which had increased dramatically during Rousseff’s first term in office. The political viability of these proposals is poor and in a conservative coalition is unlikely to yield any positive results.

The government is perhaps likely be helped by the fact that there are many signs that the economy is bottoming out. Once the economy has reached stagnant levels, there are only two results that can follow: the economy may either remain there, and governments will point to the recently acquired “stability”, or it may begin to recover, and governments will celebrate the wisdom of their policies in promoting this “recovery”. There can be no doubt that any such stability or recovery will be celebrated by the political groups in government and its friends, but nothing of substance will really have changed and the chances of resuming growth any time soon remain slim.

At the other end of the spectrum, there may be a heightening of political conflicts led by organized groups like MST and unions, particularly in the public sector, that will test the resolve of the new government. If the government is unsuccessful in its negotiations with them, its tenure may be reduced and a new period of crisis may begin. If the government relies on violent repression, it will only strengthen the charges that it is the product of a right-wing coup-d’état, with local voters and with the international community, which seems to be responding cooly to the new government’s attempts to legitimize the change of guard.

Rousseff was removed from the presidency shortly after her re-election. Despite attempts by her followers to present her as the victim of a right-wing conspiracy, the facts suggest that she was largely, if not exclusively, responsible for her downfall, as has been argued in earlier posts on this site. The new government will struggle with problems that are very similar to the ones that plagued Rousseff’s first year-and-a-half of her second term. Temer’s chances of success are exceedingly slim, the political crisis will almost certainly continue, and perhaps, deepen, despite any political advantages that may be provided by the ailing economy.

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Is Demise of Small Farmers Imminent?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-demise-of-small-farmers-imminent/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 10:05:37 +0000 Raghav Gaiha and Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145148 Raghav Gaiha, Former Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi, India; and Vani S. Kulkarni, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.]]>

Raghav Gaiha, Former Professor of Public Policy, University of Delhi, India; and Vani S. Kulkarni, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

By Raghav Gaiha and Vani S. Kulkarni
NEW DELHI AND PHILADELPHIA, May 17 2016 (IPS)

Imminent demise of small farmers is predicted as they are not competitive in a context of transforming agrifood markets. Most important is the transformation of the “post–farm gate” segments of the supply chains.

Raghav Gaiha

Raghav Gaiha

Agrifood markets have been transforming because of growing affluence, urbanisation and large inflows of FDI induced by liberalised investment policies. A few salient features include replacement of local and fragmented food value chains by geographically much longer chains. Traditional village traders/brokers/processors have declined while small and medium firms have proliferated with eventual domination of large domestic firms and multinationals (Reardon and Timmer, 2014). For example, rice mills have declined rapidly. Instead small but especially medium and large scale mills have emerged located in towns. A comprehensive Asian Development Bank report on Food Security in Asia (2013) draws attention to some contrasts between Bangladesh and India in rice supply chains. The role of the village trader, for example, has shrunk, controlling only 7% of farms and sales in Bangladesh, and 38% of farms and 18% of sales in India.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

A large share of food undergoes processing. Grain milled rice is made into bread or polished rice, for example. The rapid growth of food processing is driven by women’s participation in the labour force and dietary shifts, promoted in part by modern retail. The retail segment has transformed rapidly in the last decade. Many governments had public sector cum cooperative retail ventures (e.g. India, Vietnam, and China). These were dismantled with structural adjustment and liberalisation. The supermarket “revolution” has been a catalyst. Supermarket chains seldom buy fresh produce directly from farmers. Instead, they tend to buy from wholesale markets or from specialised wholesalers who in turn buy from preferred suppliers.

In the downstream, dietary changes have been significant. Domestic consumption of high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables rose by 200 % during 1980-2005, while consumption of cereals stagnated. High value food exports –including fruits and vegetables, meat and milk products, and fish and seafood products-from developing countries increased by more than 300% during 1980-2005, and now constitute more than 40 % of total developing country agrifood exports (World Bank, 2008). The growth in high value agricultural exports has been much faster than the growth in traditional exports such as coffee, cocoa and tea, which decreased in overall importance.

The shift towards high value agriculture and concomitant “restructuring” or modernisation of supply chains are associated with (i) increasing number and stringency of food standards for quality and safety; (ii) consolidation of supply chains; and (iii) a shift from spot market transactions in traditional wholesale markets to increasing levels of vertical coordination of supply chains.

Overall, the supply chain is lengthening geographically and “shortening” inter-mediationally (or, “simply fewer hands in the chain”). The former implies that food markets are integrating across zones/states in a country; it also implies “de-seasonalisation” of the market. A case in point is the potato market in India, China and Bangladesh.

Although there is considerable pessimism about small farmers’ ability to participate in high value food chains because of their small scale of production, failure to comply with stringent quality standards and unreliability of supply, recent evidence is mixed. The main arguments that transaction costs and investment constraints are a serious consideration in these chains and that processing and retailing companies express a strong preference for working with relatively fewer, larger and modern suppliers are not rejected. But the evidence also shows that many more small farmers participate in such chains than predicted by these arguments.

In India, small farmers play an important role as suppliers in growing modern supply chains. In China, production in the rapidly growing vegetable chains (and in several other commodities) is exclusively based on small farmer production. Poland, Romania and CIS do not show any evidence of “exclusion” of small farmers. Studies of high value export vegetable chains in Africa find in some cases that production is fully organised in small farms or fully in large farms or mixed in small and large farms (Swinnen et al. 2010).

Small farmers are indeed excluded in some supply chains and in some countries, but this is far from a general pattern, and, in fact, small and poor farms are included in supply chains to a much greater extent than expected on arguments based on transaction costs and capacity constraints.

Several reasons underlie this view. (i) Buyers often have no choice where small farmers supply a large share of supply and occupy a large fraction of land. In parts of East Asia and China, with a high population pressure on land, sourcing is often from small farms. (ii) It is often not the case that companies contract with large farms simply because of lower transaction costs. In fact, many companies prefer not to depend on large farms because contract enforcement is harder. (iii) In some cases, small farms have substantive cost advantages. This is particularly the case in labour-intensive, high maintenance, production activities with relatively small economies of scale, such as dairy or vegetable production.

Empirical evidence reveals that small farmers engage in high value contract production because of guaranteed sales and prices, and access to inputs, and not so much for direct profit and income benefits.

Vertical coordination is widespread in high value chains, often as an institutional response to problems of local market imperfection. But vertical coordination varies from integrated (large) farms managed by food companies to extensive contracting arrangements with small farmers. Contract farming improves access to credit, technology and quality inputs for poor, small farmers hitherto faced with binding liquidity and information constraints. But reneging of buy back arrangements on specious poor quality standards is frequent due to weak enforcement mechanisms (a case in point is India).

Evidence on impact of these value chains on small farmers is patchy and inconclusive.

Available evidence suggests that where the smallholders are only partially participating as suppliers, the poorest rural households may benefit from inclusion through the labour market than small farmer participation. In other words, whether small farmers are included in these chains or not, is unlikely to be a good indicator of the welfare effects. On the other hand, the shift of suppliers from traditional to modern markets causes price effects. These price effects and their welfare implications depend on scale economies in modern versus traditional production systems, trade, relative demand and production elasticities (or how responsive is production to price changes), and on the factor intensity of high value commodities. In poor countries, where modern supply chains increase demand for labour- intensive commodities, the spill over effects are likely to be positive.

The transaction costs faced by private actors when transacting with a large number of farmers could be reduced by investing in intermediary institutions (e.g. producer groups). Intermediary institutions reduce the number of transactions and the cost of exchange between farmers and processors or input suppliers. Whether small coverage of producer groups undermines this argument is beside the point as what is emphasised is that the potential of such groups is considerable. Besides, as argued by a World Bank report, Enabling the Business of Agriculture 2016, clear and accessible laws foster a business environment that benefits all market players-especially farmers including vulnerable female farmers and smallholders, consumers and large investors.

In conclusion, the imminent demise of small farmers is exaggerated, if not mistaken altogether.

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