Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:57:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Rarer than one thinks’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A grassroots solution to a global problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laws and loopholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

“Pray for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elida is not alone.

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

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

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

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

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

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

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

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

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

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

By Pavlos Georgiadis
ATHENS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of a New Solidarity Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Pavlos Georgiadis on  Twitter: @geopavlos

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Label Defends Family Farming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:58:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141980 A stand in the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood. Producers and consumers will now benefit from the label “produced by family farmers”. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers.

Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late getting to the market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood because the heavy rains made it difficult to navigate the dirt roads to their farm, in the municipality of Florencio Varela, 38 km from the capital.

They quickly set up their fruit and vegetable stand as the first customers reach the old warehouse, which was closed down as a market during the severe economic crisis that broke out in late 2001. Today, 25 stands offer products sold by social, indigenous and peasant organisations, which are produced without slave labour and under the rules of fair trade.

“Our vegetables are completely natural. They are grown without toxic agrochemicals,” Araujo told IPS. She is a member of the Florencio Varela Family Farmers Cooperative, which also sells chicken, eggs, suckling pig and rabbit.

Across from Araujo’s stand, Analía Alvarado sells honey, homemade jams, cheese, seeds with nutritional properties, natural juices, olive oil, whole grain bread, organic yerba mate – a traditional caffeinated herbal brew – and dairy products.

Mercosur labels

Argentina’s new label forms part of a collective effort by the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which began to work with such labels four years ago, as part of the Specialised Meeting on Family Agriculture (REAF), Raimundo Laugero explained.

Brazil – a member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – was a pioneer in the bloc, creating a family farming label in 2009, according to the REAF.

Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador also take part in the REAF, which brings together governments and family farming organisations. The REAF announced that in June Chile created its own label, “Manos Campesinas” (peasant hands) for “healthy products of peasant origin, made on a small scale, which foment local development.”

Ecuador and Bolivia have also taken decisive steps towards creating a label that would “defend food sovereignty, rural incomes and access to local foods.” Uruguay, meanwhile, is holding a series of meetings “on the creation of a family agriculture label.”

“The idea is to give small farmers a chance, and here we have people from all around the country, who wouldn’t otherwise have the possibility of selling their goods,” Alvarado said.

The ministry of agriculture, livestock and fishing took another step in that direction with the creation in July of the “Produced by Family Farms” label, “to enhance the visibility of, inform and raise awareness about the significant contribution that family farms make to food security and sovereignty.”

According to the ministry, there are 120,000 family farms in this country of 43 million people, and the sector is “the main supplier of food for the Argentine population, providing approximately 70 percent of the daily diet.”

“A label identifying products grown on family farms not only makes the sector more visible but foments a dialogue between consumers and farmers who have a presence in the countryside across the entire nation, generating territorial sovereignty,” said Raimundo Laugero, director of programmes and projects in the ministry’s family agriculture secretariat.

In the category of family farmers the government includes peasants, small farmers, smallholders, indigenous communities, small-scale fisher families, landless rural workers, sharecroppers, craftspeople, and urban and periurban producers.

In his interview with IPS, Laugero said the label will not only identify products as coming from the family agriculture sector, but will “guarantee health controls, chemical-free and non-industrial production, and production characterised by diversity, unlike monoculture farming.

“When we’re talking about a product from family agriculture, the symbolic value is that they are produced through artisanal processes and with work by the family, and one fundamental aspect is that behind the product are the faces of people who live in the countryside,” he said.

Agriculture is one of the pillars of the economy of this South American nation, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 percent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

María José Otero, a pharmacist, has come a long way to the market on her bicycle, but she doesn’t mind. For her family she wants “the healthiest and most natural diet possible, free of chemicals.”

She also shops here because of “a social question” – she wants to benefit those “who produce natural food without so much industrialisation, while avoiding the middlemen who drive up food prices.

“Besides, I’m really interested in the impact caused by the act of consuming something with awareness,” she added. “That means taking care of the environment where you work, respecting animals. It’s not the same thing to consume eggs from animals that walk about and eat naturally as from animals that are cruelly treated and packed into warehouses, fed in horrible ways.”

Otero said the new label was “great.” “There’s a lot of deception in this also, from people who say they’re selling organic products or products made with a social conscience, and it’s a lie. This label gives you a guarantee,” she said.

“This will especially help the public become aware of what it means to help small farmers. So they can realise that what they pay and what they consume really goes to them, and for the people who do the work to really get paid what they are due,” Alvarado said.

Laugero also stressed that a significant aspect of the new label is that it is linked to “participatory guarantee systems for agroecological products.”

He pointed out that normally when farmers apply for a label recognising their products, they need to turn to a company that carries out the certification process, while the concept “agroecological” has other components.

He mentioned six pilot projects in Argentina, of participatory guarantee systems – basically locally focused quality assurance systems – for agroecological products, which involve organised farmers and consumers, and which the state will now support as well.

“With the label, they’re going to do much better, because they’ll have a more massive reach, and more people will be included,” he said.

At the Bonpland market, Claudia Giorgi, a member of the La Asamblearia cooperative, which works as part of a network with other social organisations, is preparing shipments to another province which will use the same transportation to send products back, to cut costs.

Giorgi makes papaya preserves. But she also sells products from other cooperatives like natural cosmetics, lavender soap, medicinal herbs, pesticide-free tea, mustard and different kinds of flour.

“What is produced in each social organisation is traded for products from other groups, at each organisation’s cost, which is the producers’ costs plus what is spent on logistics,” she explained to IPS.

She said she didn’t have any information yet about the new label, but believes that it will be a good thing if it proves to be “functional” and if it differs from labels that “are profit-making schemes” and “have a cost.”

The resolution creating the new label states that one of the aims is to “promote new channels of marketing and sales points.”

Laugero noted that besides accounting for 20 percent of agricultural GDP, family farming represents 95 percent of goat production, 22 percent of cattle production, 30 percent of sheep production, 33 percent of honey production, 25 percent of fruit production, 60 percent of fresh vegetables, and 15 percent of grains.

“But that doesn’t always translate into profits,” he said. “We need to work hard on those aspects so that income also ends up in the hands of family farmers.”

In her case, Araujo puts the emphasis on solving even more simple problems, such as finding transportation for her vegetables to the market, even when it rains.

“They should fix our dirt roads,” she said, clarifying that small farmers themselves have offered to participate in the task.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Time for the World to Protect and Value its Young Human Rights Defendershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-time-for-the-world-to-protect-and-value-its-young-human-rights-defenders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-time-for-the-world-to-protect-and-value-its-young-human-rights-defenders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-time-for-the-world-to-protect-and-value-its-young-human-rights-defenders/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 16:50:42 +0000 Clara Fok and Vida Coumans http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141947 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Clara Fok and Sara Vida Coumans
NEW YORK, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

There’s a deep irony that as people around the world mark International Youth Day on Aug. 12, hardly any attention will be paid to the shrinking space for young human rights defenders who increasingly find themselves on the receiving end of government repression. 
In recent years, helped by the connective power of social media, the world has witnessed the growing force of young people fighting for and defending their rights and shaping their communities. Young people are mobilising the masses to hold governments accountable by calling on them to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Young people are not just taking a back seat and swiping away on their gadgets, but are organising sit-ins, protests, occupying public space, and directly holding talks with governments.

Of course, young people have always played a key role in social movements where they have a huge stake. But now they are increasingly taking on leadership roles in peaceful protest movements and driving change.

Young people are not just taking a back seat and swiping away on their gadgets, but are organising sit-ins, protests, occupying public space, and directly holding talks with governments. They are not waiting to be told what to do.

This has come at a price. Unfortunately – and too frequently – states respond to young people’s peaceful civic engagement by beating and locking up youth activists.

Take Myanmar, for example. More than 100 student leaders, including human rights defenders and activists, are facing jail time for protesting against the new National Education Law. Among them is Phyoe Phyoe Aung, the 26-year-old leader of one of Myanmar’s largest student movements.

On Aug. 25, she’ll turn 27, but it looks likely she will spend her birthday behind bars as part of an unjust and lengthy prison sentence after she was arrested in March following a violent police crackdown on largely peaceful protests.

Many more across the country continue to be harassed and intimidated in what appears to be a systematic clampdown on the student movement.

This should come as no surprise – the Myanmar authorities have a long history of repressing student-led movements, which they fear will trigger wider calls for political change and threaten their grip on power.

On the other side of the world, things are no different. In June, the security forces in Angola arbitrarily arrested 15 youth activists for participating in a meeting where they peacefully discussed politics and some of the concerns they have regarding the government of President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for the past 36 years.

They have been accused of planning to disrupt public order and posing a threat to national security. Even young activists who were not in the meeting were accused of being part of it. They are all being held in solitary confinement far away from their homes, making it very hard for their loved ones to visit. 

Efforts to secure the release of the activists were severely punished. On July 22, five people who tried to visit them were detained for nine hours and a few days later a peaceful protest calling for the release of the 15 was violently repressed.

Such heavy-handed responses are not unique to Myanmar and Angola. Everywhere – from Turkey to Venezuela, the United States to Egypt – young human rights defenders have been thrown behind bars for fighting for their rights.

Society does not always welcome the acts of resistance by young human rights defenders. As noted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “general perception of youth in society, also conveyed by established media outlets, often point to their young age and lack of maturity as grounds for not giving them a say in public affairs. Youth and student movements are seen as troublemakers rather than serious actors that can fruitfully contribute to public debate”.

But denying young people a seat at the table limits opportunities to engage in debates about the progressive realisation of human rights. Even when young people are allowed to participate, it is often meaningless or tokenistic, because it is widely assumed that they are there to learn and develop, rather than to equally contribute to solutions.

This age-centric approach becomes a vicious cycle – very little room is given for young people to actively participate and shape the agenda, while policy makers fail to effectively address the barriers young people face to accessing basic human rights.

We need to take a step back and reflect on what this means for how states react to young people when they are peacefully engaging with society in a bid to create a space for them to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

If governments are serious about the lives of young people, they must ensure that young human rights defenders can claim and exercise their rights freely and without fear.

It is true that meaningful youth civic engagement will not happen overnight and it takes time to create productive inter-generational partnerships that are based on trust. But governments can take the first step by immediately and unconditionally releasing all the human rights defenders detained for peacefully exercising their rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Unique Alliance Between Gauchos and Environmentalists Protects Argentina’s Pampashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/unique-alliance-between-gauchos-and-environmentalists-protects-argentinas-pampas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unique-alliance-between-gauchos-and-environmentalists-protects-argentinas-pampas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/unique-alliance-between-gauchos-and-environmentalists-protects-argentinas-pampas/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 16:37:17 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141909 Gauchos have lived in harmony with nature for centuries in Argentina’s pampas, where a project to preserve the grasslands is seeking to protect the ecosystem with the participation of traditional stockbreeders and gauchos. Credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Marino/Aves Argentinas

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

The traditions of Argentina’s gauchos or cowboys have joined together with modern agricultural technology in a unique alliance between stockbreeders and environmentalists aimed at preserving biodiversity in the pampas, boosting productivity, and enhancing the flavour of this South America’s country’s famous beef.

“National parks leave people out of the equation,” said Gustavo Marino, with the local environmental organisation Aves Argentinas (Argentine Birds). “We tried to come up with a way to integrate people, as well as human activity, as just another component of the ecosystem.”

Aves Argentinas and the Argentine Wildife Foundation (FVSA) are carrying out the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”.

“We also saw that the grasslands of the pampas are almost all privately owned, there is very little public land, and we necessarily had to work with producers,” Marino told IPS.

The project receives financing from the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) and support from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology and National Parks Administration.

The initiative in Argentina forms part of the Southern Cone Grasslands Alliance. (The Southern Cone sub-region is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.)

The grasslands “gave rise to a culture represented by the gaucho, but which permeates our entire society, with traditional meals like ‘asado’ (beef roasted over a wood fire) and the need we Argentines feel of open spaces, of being able to see the horizon and the sky,” said Marino.

The pampas are also at the heart of this country’s economy.

A typical snapshot of Argentina’s pampas: A small herd of cattle milling around a lone tree in natural grasslands in the rural municipality of Marcos Paz in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A typical snapshot of Argentina’s pampas: A small herd of cattle milling around a lone tree in natural grasslands in the rural municipality of Marcos Paz in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Grasslands provide a wide range of environmental goods and services, as well as the beef, milk, wool and leather produced by the pasture systems,” environmentalist Fernando Miñarro, the head of FVSA’s Pampas and Gran Chaco Programme, told IPS.

The pampas ecosystem, which is home to more than 370 species of gramineous plant species (mainly types of grass), 400 species of birds, and roughly 100 species of mammals – several of which are threatened, such as the pampas deer – is essential in maintaining the ecological balance.

Threatened grasslands

The pampas eco-region covers 750,000 sq km in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, including 460,000 sq km in several provinces of Argentina.

Between 2002 and 2004 alone, these provinces lost 9,000 sq km of grasslands, at an annual rate of over 0.5 percent. The rate of replacement of grasslands by crops was over five percent in some areas.

Only one-third of Argentina’s pampas ecosystem was covered with natural or semi-natural grasslands, and a significant proportion of the remaining grasslands was used for stockbreeding.

In Uruguay and the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, only 71 and 48 percent, respectively, were still grasslands.

In Paraguay, 44 percent of the ecosystem is in a semi-natural or natural state.

Source: FVSA

“The pampas contribute to the maintenance of the composition of the atmospheric gases through the sequestration of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and soil erosion control, and they are a source of genetic material for a large number of plant and animal species which currently constitute the basis of the global diet,” he said.

They also play a fundamental role as a supplier of pollinating insects and natural enemies of crop pests, he added.

According to Marino, Argentina has lost 60 percent of its grasslands, due to the expansion of intensive agriculture (such as soy and rice production) and commercial forestry, and the urbanisation of the most valuable portions – the areas not prone to flooding.

The initiative, which involves 70 producers on 200,000 hectares of land, seeks to salvage traditional livestock-raising techniques of the pampas, perfected by means of new agricultural methods and ecological practices.

Marino mentioned rotational grazing and spelling of pastures for part of the peak growing season, and prescribed burning – practices that boost the growth of high-quality forage, he explained.

Another technique being used is the creation of small dikes, to retain water during the rainy season.

Using these methods they have curbed the growth of exotic plants and stimulated high-quality grass species for the cattle which, at the same time, attract birds like golden plovers (Pluvialis dominica).

“This is our most illustrative example. On one hand we are focusing on beef production and on the other we are thinking about the plovers’ quality of habitat,” said Marino, referring to precision livestock farming, adapted to each kind of pasture.

Marino, an agronomist and bird-watcher, said that when the project began eight years ago, stockbreeders looked at them as if they were oddballs.

But he said stockbreeders have increasingly turned to them for advice because “we offer a middle way where they earn money while maintaining biodiversity at the same time.”

Miñarro said that “When biodiversity is lost, the stockbreeder has to buy forage or nutrients. These inputs are expensive, and are tied to market prices. Preserving natural grasslands benefits breeders because it’s nothing short of the natural capital that their economic activity is based on.”

And thanks to the changes introduced, their products also fetch higher prices since they now have the grass-fed beef stamp, which open up export markets as well.

A local supermarket in Argentina promotes “grass-fed beef”, a label earned by the 70 stockbreeders participating in the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”, thanks to the changes they introduced. Credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Marino/Aves Argentinas

A local supermarket in Argentina promotes “grass-fed beef”, a label earned by the 70 stockbreeders participating in the project “Grasslands and Savannas of the Southern Cone of South America: Initiatives for Their Conservation in Argentina Project”, thanks to the changes they introduced. Credit: Courtesy of Gustavo Marino/Aves Argentinas

“Consumers increasingly want to know what the production system is like, and this stamp tells them that the beef is pasture-raised in an ecological fashion that respects biodiversity, and that it has the flavour of traditional Argentine beef, which made us famous around the world,” Marino said.

The participating stockbreeders also earn income from bird-watchers, as the programme advertises, provides advice, and trains guides for this ecotourism activity.

Tiziana Prada owns the San Antonio hacienda – a 4,918-hectare estate with some 2,000 head of cattle in the Esteros del Iberá wetlands in the northeast province of Corrientes, where she is practicing sustainable stockbreeding.

“We started out by converting old rice paddies to pasture land for cattle,” she told IPS. “We began seeing more wildlife; there are many more deer, and black howler monkeys, yacaré caiman, and many species of birds have come back.”

This was thanks to the new techniques introduced.

“If you know about the growth cycles of the good-quality grass species, you can manage them according to the seasons….always keeping in mind the nesting and breeding seasons of the birds and other animals that inhabit the grasslands,” she said.

She believes caring for the environment and keeping productivity up “go hand in hand.”

“Stockbreeders, especially now that they are moving into marginal areas, where the ecosystem is much more fragile, have to practice conservation because otherwise our resources are destroyed, our activity won’t be sustainable in time, and we also fervently believe that it is possible to produce sustainably without compromising our efficiency.”

Prada believes stockbreeders are increasingly interested because they can see “there is a growing urban market that is demanding that we preserve the environment so their kids will have a better world tomorrow.”

Moreover, it’s not just about business, she said. “Love of nature is something that rural people carry inside them,” she said.

Marino sums up that spirit with a stanza from a song, “El payador perseguido”, by legendary Argentine folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui: “Estoy con los de mi lao cinchando tuitos parejos, pa hacer nuevo lo que es viejo y verlo al mundo cambiao” (I’m with those on my side all of us pulling together, to make the old new and see the world change).

“It’s about returning to traditional stockbreeding, but using today’s technologies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Workplace Diversity Still a Pipe Dream in Most U.S. Newsroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/workplace-diversity-still-a-pipe-dream-in-most-u-s-newsrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=workplace-diversity-still-a-pipe-dream-in-most-u-s-newsrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/workplace-diversity-still-a-pipe-dream-in-most-u-s-newsrooms/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:32:50 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141787 Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

Another new census, by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), found just 12.76 percent minority journalists at U.S. daily newspapers in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low – between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and ASNE.

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

“Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society,” Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors’ Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, “The consequence [of ethnic minority groups’ under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are.”

ASNE President Chris Peck added: “If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced.”

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

“Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It’s a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections – schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It’s something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve,” Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College’s Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 – a number that is “not high” but “still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.”.

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers’ financial constraints. Peck told IPS: “There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic.”

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in 2013 article in The Atlantic.

“One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they’re the least senior employees.”

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of “home-grown talent”: “Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It’s a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off.”

“Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it,” he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: “AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation.”

“2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA’s history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES.”

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

“When it comes to women’s portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse,” Pamela Mornière told IPS.

“Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world’s population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public’s perception of women’s place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Tackles Informal Labour among the Younghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:35:10 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141710 A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The 56 million young people who form part of Latin America’s labour force suffer from high unemployment, and many of those who work do so in the informal sector. Governments in the region have begun to adopt more innovative policies to address a problem that undermines the future of the new generations.

According to an International Labour (ILO) report, unemployment among young people between the ages of 14 and 25 is three times higher than among adults.

That is just one aspect of the problem, however according to the coordinator of the study, Guillermo Dema from Peru. “These statistics are compelling, but the main problem faced by young people in Latin America is the precariousness and poor quality of the work they have access to,” he told IPS.

The region’s seven million unemployed young people represent 40 percent of total unemployment. But another 27 million have precarious work, which aggravates the phenomenon.The total population of young people in Latin America is around 108 million, of the region’s 600 million people.

“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector,” said Dema. “In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.”

Gala Díaz Langou with Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth said “An informal sector worker has no job security, health coverage, trade union representation, or payments towards a future pension. That means unregistered workers do not have decent work.”

In summary, “their basic labour rights are violated, and they can’t demand respect for their rights by means of representation or social dialogue,” she told IPS.“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector. In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.” -- Guillermo Dema

The poor are overrepresented in the informal economy. Only 22 percent of young people in the poorest quintile have formal work contracts, and just 12 percent are registered in the social security system, according to the ILO.

But precarious employment also affects middle-class young people, including those who have higher education.

“The big problem in landing a serious job today is what I call the ‘vicious cycle’. To get a job you need work experience, but to get experience you need a job,” Hernán F, a 23-year-old from Argentina who juggles work and university studies and speaks several languages, told IPS.

“Obviously if you’ve studied at university you go farther,” said Hernán, who asked that his last name not be used.” But that’s where you see the big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities. The good ones, which are recognised and have good names, open many more doors for internships – even if they’re poorly paid – in better places.”

Most precarious jobs are in small and micro enterprises that do not formally exist. But 32 percent of young people who work in formal companies also suffer from precarious employment, the ILO reports.

The rate of informal labour among young wage-earners is 45.4 percent, while among those who are self-employed, the proportion climbs to 86 percent.

“When you’re young you don’t think about the future, about your retirement. You think about the present, paying rent, vacation. You don’t care about working in the black economy. You care about having a job, probably earning a little more than if you were formally employed,” said Hernán F.

But for Hernán, who worked as an unregistered employee in a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, “it’s not the young people’s fault.”

“Capitalism, which created this system, and the people who hire you without registering you are to blame. They want more, easier money. They make you hide in the bathrooms when the inspectors come to check the hotel. And it’s also the state’s fault, because it doesn’t oversee things as it should, and allows labour inspectors to be bribed,” he said.

Dema said informal labour fuels “discouragement and frustration among those who feel that they don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

“This has social, economic and political repercussions, because it can translate into situations where people question the system, or situations of instability or marginalisation, which can affect governance,” he warned.

It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders the fight against inequality.

“Low wages, job instability, precarious working conditions, a lack of social security coverage, and a lack of representation and social dialogue make informal workers a vulnerable group,” said Dema.

But in spite of the continued problems, the region is “slowly” improving, he added.

From 2009 to 2013, the proportion of young people in informal employment in the region fell from 60 to 47 percent. But there are some exceptions like Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, where no significant progress was made.

Innovative policies to the rescue

Dema attibutes the improvement to government measures, which are cited by the ILO report, launched in April by the organisation’s regional office in Lima with the promising title: “Promoting formal employment among youth: innovative experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

He said initiatives have emerged that focus on combining attempts to formalise employment while adapting “to the heterogeneity of the economy and informal employment,” together with strategies to help young people land their first formal sector job.

He mentioned Brazil’s Apprenticeship Act, which introduced a special work contract for young apprentices, that can be used for a maximum of two years.

The law requires all medium and large companies to hire apprentices between the ages of 14 and 24, who must make up five to 15 percent of the payroll.

He also cited Chile’s Youth Employment Subsidy, Mexico’s Ley de Fomento al Primer Empleo, which foments the hiring of young workers without prior experience, and Uruguay’s Youth Employment Law.

These laws, he said, “provide for monetary subsidies, subsidies for wages or social security contributions, or tax breaks. “

For her part, Díaz Langou, with the Centre of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth, mentioned Argentina’s “More and better work for young people” programme, which targets people between the ages of 18 and 24.

“It was a very interesting and successful initiative aimed at combining education with active employment policies, to achieve better insertion of this age group in the labour market,” she said.

Dema also cited Mexican programmes aimed at promoting the regularisation of informal sector employment, such as the Let’s Growth Together programme, which “incorporates the concepts of gradualism, advice and support in the transition from informal to formal employment.”

Another model, the expert said, is offered by Colombia with its “formalisation brigades,” which incorporate benefits and services for companies that regularise their activities and employees.

These initiatives are complemented by social protection policies.

“In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance is compatible with the workers registered in the ‘monotributo social’ (simplified tax regime for small taxpayers) and those who are registered in the domestic service regime. And in Colombia, the law on the formalisation and generation of employment establishes the coordination of contracts with the ‘Families in Action’ programme and Subsidised Health Insurance,” he said.

Díaz Langou said that international experiences have shown that one of the policies that works best is the introduction of incentives to hire young workers, such as offering subsidies or tax breaks to companies that hire them.

“But this has provided much better results for men than for women,” she said. “Policies tailored towards improving the skills of young people by means of training and education have more modest effects on wages for young people, and also present gender disparities.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Papua New Guinea’s Unemployed Youth Say the Future They Want Begins With Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:04:30 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141662 Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
MADANG, Papua New Guinea, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group in the town of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, has seen the hopes of many young people for a decent future quashed by the impacts of corruption and unfulfilled promises of development.

"The way to fight back [...] is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.” -- Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group
Once known as ‘the prettiest town in the South Pacific’, the most arresting sight today in this coastal urban centre of about 29,339 people is large numbers of youths idling away hours in the town’s centre, congregating under trees and sitting along pavements.

“You must have a dream, I tell them every day. Those who roam around the streets, they have no dreams in life, they have no vision. And those who do not have a vision in life are not going to make it,” Wari declared. “So, as a team, how can we help each other?”

The bottom-up Tropical Gems movement, which is now more than 3,000 members strong, develops young people as agents of change by fostering attitudes of responsibility, resilience, initiative and ultimately self-reliance.

The philosophy of the group is that, no matter how immense the challenges in people’s lives, there is a solution. But the solutions, the ideas and their implementation must start with themselves.

There is a large youth presence here with an estimated 44 percent of Madang’s provincial population of 493,906 aged below 15 years. However, the net education enrolment rate is a low 45 percent, hindered by poor rural access with only a small number subsequently finishing secondary school.

The youth bulge is also a national phenomenon and young people desperate for employment and opportunities are flooding urban centres across the country. But up to 68 percent of urban youth are unemployed and 86 percent of those in work are sustaining themselves in the informal economy, according to the National Youth Commission.

While PNG has an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, only 10,000 will likely secure formal jobs.

The plight of this generation is in contrast to the Melanesian island state’s booming GDP growth of between six and 10 percent over the past decade driven by an economic focus on resource extraction, including logging, mining and natural gas extraction.

Yet these industries have failed to create mass or long-term employment or significantly reduce the socioeconomic struggle of many Papua New Guineans with 40 percent of the population of seven million living below the poverty line.

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Export-driven development leaving millions behind

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but the boons of this progress are largely concentrated in the hands of government officials and private investors with little left for the masses of the country, which is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

As the country surrenders its natural bounty to international investors – PNG has attracted the highest levels of direct foreign investment in the region, averaging more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year since 1970 – its people seem to get poorer and sicker.

According to the National Research Institute, PNG has less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people. The availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Millions of dollars that could be used to develop crucial health infrastructure is lost to corruption. Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100 – where 100 indicates clean governance – in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The generation representing the country’s future has also been hit hard by the impacts of endemic corruption, particularly the deeply rooted patronage system in politics, which has undermined equality. Large-scale misappropriation of public funds, with the loss of half the government’s development budget of 7.6 billion kina (2.8 billion dollars) from 2009-11 due to mismanagement, has impeded services and development.

“The [political] leaders are very busy [engaging] in corruption, while the future leaders of this country are left to fend for themselves. Many of these young people have been pushed out by the system. At the end of the day, there is a reason why homebrew alcohol is being brewed and why violence is going on,” Wari told IPS.

“But the way to fight back corruption is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.”

This is no easy task in a country where 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, where maternal mortality is 711 deaths per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

But the Tropical Gems are empowering themselves with knowledge about the political and economic forces, such as globalisation and competition for resources, which are impacting their lives. And they are returning to core social and cultural values for a sense of leadership and direction.

“We have gone astray because of the rapid changes that have happened in our country and because we were not prepared for them. When these influences come in, they divert us from what we are supposed to do. So, now in Tropical Gems, we do the talking,” Wari said.

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Away from dependency, towards self-reliance

Their first step has been to reject the dependency syndrome and temptation to wait for others, whether in the state or private sector, to deliver the world they desire.

Every day, dozens of ‘leaders’, as the group’s members are known, spend half a day out on the streets of Madang working, without payment, to clear the streets and coastline areas of litter and tidy up public gardens and spaces. Their visibility to the town’s population, including youth who remain in limbo, is that the future they want starts with them.

And there is no shortage of people who want to be a part of this grassroots movement. While the group was formed by Wari in Madang in 2013 with less than 300 members, it has since grown to more than 3,000, ranging from teenagers to people in their forties, from provinces around the country, including the northern Sepik, mountainous highlands and far flung Manus Island.

Many of those who have joined Tropical Gems have endured personal hardships and social exclusion, whether due to poverty, loss of their parents or missing out on the opportunity to finish their education.

“My life was really hard before I joined Tropical Gems, but now it has changed,” 30-year-old Sepi Luke told IPS. He now feels in control of his life and has hope for the future.

Lisa Lagei of the Madang Country Women’s Association supports the group’s endeavours and recognises the positive impact they can have on the wider community.

“What they are doing, taking a lead is good. It is important to take the initiative. We can’t wait for the government, we have to do things for ourselves,” she said.

Lagei has observed many issues facing youth in Madang, ranging from high unemployment and crime to an increase in young girls turning to prostitution for money and a high secondary education dropout rate primarily due to families being unable to afford school fees. While these problems are mainly visible in urban areas, they are increasingly prevalent in rural communities as well, she added.

Wari believes there is a gap between the formal education system and the real world, and many young people in Papua New Guinea are seeking ways to cope with the complex forces that are shaping their lives.

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tackling the toughest issues

In March the group was visited by members of the civil society activist organisation, Act Now PNG, which conducted awareness sessions about land issues, such as how land grabbing occurs and corruption associated with the country’s Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Land grabbing has led to the loss of 5.5 million hectares – or 12 percent of the country’s land area – to foreign investors, many of which are engaged in logging, rather than agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but the rapid growth of its export-driven economy has made it the second largest exporter of tropical timber after Malaysia.

The California-based Oakland Institute estimates that PNG exports approximately three million cubic metres of logs every year, primarily to China.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for Act Now PNG told IPS last December.

This could spell disaster for the roughly 85 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population who live in rural areas, and are reliant on forests for their survival.

Consider the impacts of environmental devastation and logging-related violence in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain – an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland – where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation.

Life expectancy here is a miserable 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

How to address these issues are huge questions, but the Tropical Gems do not shy away from asking them.

“We discourage, in our awareness [campaigns], the selling of land. Our objectives are to conserve the environment, to value our traditional way of living,” Wari said.

Knowledge sharing also extends to livelihood skills and the group’s leaders who know how to weave, bake or grow crops hold training sessions for the benefit of others. Some have started their own enterprises.

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barbara grows and sells tomatoes at the town’s market, for example, and Lynette, from the nearby village of Maiwara, has a small business raising and selling chickens.

One of the next steps for Tropical Gems is to extend the reach of its activities into rural areas to help people see the sustainable development potential in their local setting, rather than migrating to urban centres.

Indeed, rapid urbanisation has resulted in grim living conditions for many city-dwellers, with 45 percent of those who reside in the capital, Port Moresby, living in informal settlements that lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

In Eight Mile Settlement, located on the outskirts of Port Moresby, 15,000 residents drink contaminated water from broken taps. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of hospital deaths in Papua New Guinea.

But tackling the particular issue or urbanisation may require more resources than the group currently has, even though they have sustained their projects to date without any external funding.

“The fees that individuals pay to join are used to sustain Tropical Gems and we help ourselves,” Wari explained.

In the meantime, word about the unique initiative has spread to the capital. This year, Wari and the Gems have been invited to give a presentation about their work to the Waigani Seminar, a national forum to discuss progress toward the country’s ‘Vision 2050’ aspirations, to be co-hosted by the government and University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby from 19-21 August.

Papua New Guinea will face many hurdles in the coming decade, particularly environmental challenges as the country faces up to rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. Initiatives like the Tropic Gems are laying the groundwork for a far more resilient society than its political leaders have thus far created.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Strengthen Tax Cooperation to End Hunger and Poverty Quicklyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-strengthen-tax-cooperation-to-end-hunger-and-poverty-quickly/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 16:57:47 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141653 Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

By the end of this year, the 15-year time frame for the Millennium Development Goals will end, with good progress on several indicators, but limited achievements on others.

But public interest has already moved on to the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030.

Despite uneven success with the MDGs, the level of ambition has risen, with SDG1 seeking to eradicate poverty and SDG2 to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, all by 2030. Last week, the Addis Ababa Action Accord began with: “Our goal is to end poverty and hunger.”

Almost four-fifths of the world’s poor live in rural areas, which have less than half the world’s population. Hence, raising rural incomes sustainably is necessary to achieve the first two SDGs.

Ending poverty and hunger sustainably will need a combination of social protection and ‘pro-poor’ investments.

As food costs 50 to 70 percent of the World Bank’s poverty line income, poverty and hunger are intimately inter-related, although poverty and hunger measurement generates different numbers.

Agricultural investments generally have the biggest impact on reducing poverty, all the more so, if pro-poor, as well as designed and implemented well. Yet, while farmers themselves are the major source of agricultural investments, most formal financial institutions discriminate against them, especially smallholder family farmers, landless tenants and labourers, with little bankable collateral to offer.

Recent experience has amply demonstrated that investment and growth alone cannot eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030. Most developing countries have long suffered high unemployment and underemployment, with youth unemployment growing rapidly. With current economic prospects uncertain, especially after the recent slowing of the world economy, and widespread insistence on fiscal austerity and economic liberalisation, things are likely to get worse.

With sufficient political will and fiscal resources, poverty and hunger can be ended very quickly with adequate, well-designed and sufficient social protection, in fact, well before 2030. (This is why the G77 group of developing countries insisted last week on strengthening the U.N. committee on international tax cooperation — surely of interest to most developed countries as well.)

The world can currently produce enough food to feed everyone, but most of the hungry simply do not have the means to access enough food.

Social protection can not only ensure adequate food consumption, but also enable investments by those assisted to enhance their nutrition, health and other productive capacities, thus raising their incomes and, in turn, further increasing investments to expedite the transition from the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, in which they have been trapped, to a more virtuous cycle free of want.

According to a recent World Bank report, a billion people in 146 low (LICs) and middle income countries (MICs) currently get some form of social protection. Yet, 870 million of the world’s extreme poor – most recently estimated at 836 million for 2015 – remained uncovered, mainly in the countryside. Not surprisingly, the greatest shortfalls are in the LICs.

In the LICs, 47 percent of the population are the extreme poor, with social protection covering less than a tenth of the population. In the lower MICs, social protection reaches about a quarter of the extreme poor, but half a billion remain uncovered. In the upper MICs, about 45 percent of the extreme poor is covered by social protection.

Last week, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and his counterparts from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), presented their new estimates on investments for sustainable hunger and poverty eradication by 2030.

While some may quibble over details, they made the compelling case that ending hunger and poverty in a sustainable way is eminently viable, feasible and affordable, costing about 0.3 per cent of world economic output in 2014. Most MICs can afford the needed financing, but most LICs face serious fiscal constraints and will need budgetary support and technical assistance.

Enough social protection could end hunger and poverty very quickly, but it is not sustainable without higher earned incomes for those of the extreme poor able to work. An early big investment push will reduce longer term financing costs besides providing a much needed boost to aggregate demand in the face of the world economy’s ongoing economic doldrums.

The joint proposal by the Rome-based U.N. agencies not only shows that with the requisite political commitment, we can end hunger and poverty very quickly while creating the conditions for keeping both permanently in the catacombs of history.

Despite the poor compromise in Addis Ababa, quick real progress to enhance countries’ fiscal capacities through more effective international tax cooperation under U.N. auspices can be the third Financing for Development conference’s biggest contribution to this effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Unrestrained ‘Privatisation of Poverty-Reduction’ Puts Human Rights at Riskhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 13:54:44 +0000 Savio Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141612

Savio Carvalho is Senior Advisor, Campaigning on International Development and Human Rights, Amnesty International, International Secretariat, London, and has worked for two decades in the Development and Human Rights sector in South and Central Asia, East Africa and Europe.

By Savio Carvalho
LONDON, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Corporate lobbyists are unusual guests at development meetings, but when the United Nations held its Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa this week to decide who pays for its new “Sustainable Development Goals”, some governments laid out the red carpet for the private sector.

Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International

Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International

Unfortunately, the conference failed to agree on any mechanism for making sure the role of companies in development is kept transparent and accountable.

Some see giving companies a bigger role in development as a simple win-win. Governments get access to financing to take the pressure off aid budgets and come up with the 2.5 trillion dollars needed to respond to poverty and climate change, while meeting the housing, health, education and infrastructure targets in the post-2015 agenda.

On the other hand, companies get a potential say in policy making and access to juicy public contracts.

But before governments allow companies to shoulder significant responsibility for fighting poverty, climate change and other global challenges, they will have to convince critics who warn that they are putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

While getting companies involved in development has the potential to provide important sources of funding to improve lives, experience equally shows that when companies are not held to account, people and communities can be seriously harmed. If private sector involvement in development is going to pay off for the people who need it and not just corporate shareholders, states have to leave impunity at the door.

Increasing the role of the private sector in the delivery of crucial public services such as water, education and health is fraught with risk. On July 2, the U.N. Human Rights Council warned that without proper regulation the privatisation of education could put the right to education at risk for countless children, especially if it means those children who cannot afford to pay lose out on quality education.

Around the world, Amnesty International has documented too many cases of marginalised communities waiting to see justice done, sometimes for decades, for human rights abuses perpetrated after a multinational company rolled into town. States who seek the involvement of the private sector in advancing development goals without putting effective safeguards in place, forget these cases at their peril.

The more than 570,000 victims of the 1984 Bhopal toxic gas leak, India’s worst industrial disaster, are still waiting for justice more than 30 years later. The firm responsible, Union Carbide, is now owned by U.S.-based Dow Chemical. A Bhopal court is pursuing criminal charges against Dow but the company has failed to even show up to multiple hearings over the last year. Meanwhile, survivors have tried and failed to seek justice in both India and the U.S.

While Union Carbide paid some compensation to those affected under a 1989 settlement agreement with the Indian government, it was wholly inadequate to cover the harm caused and there were serious issues with the way it was paid out to victims. At the time, the Indian government lacked the leverage to effectively hold a powerful global company to account.

Foreign companies operating in countries that are rich in natural resources and poor in regulation can reap huge profits at the expense of vulnerable people.

Earlier this year Amnesty International warned that Canadian and Chinese mining giants have profited from, and in some cases colluded, with  human rights abuses by the Myanmar authorities to exploit one of the country’s most important copper mines, with thousands of people being illegally driven off their lands, serious environmental risks going unchecked, and peaceful protest brutally suppressed.

Far from investigating the abuses, one multinational company involved used an opaque trust fund in the British Virgin Islands to divest its investment, in a manner which possibly breached economic sanctions applicable at the time. Reducing their exposure to the problem, rather than fixing it, has often been the mantra of companies faced by scandalous abuses.

For residents of Niger Delta, the legacy of half a century of oil production in Nigeria is the devastation of their farming and fishing lands. Today the oil spills continue unabated. In Shell’s operations alone, there were 204 spills in 2014. Shell blames sabotage and theft, but old pipelines and badly maintained infrastructure are a major cause of pollution.

This year one local community in Bodo has finally won 80 million dollars in compensation from Shell for the impacts of a massive spill, but only after a lengthy court battle in the UK and years of false claims by the company.

These are cautionary tales world leaders should consider as they plan to entrust the private sector with responsibility for funding and carrying out development projects. In all these cases, corporate political and financial clout created barriers to local communities accessing justice and accountability.

Governments have watched corporate political power grow for decades, often doing their best to get out of its way instead of properly regulating it to ensure that human rights are not violated.

Corporate lobbyists, meanwhile, have done everything possible to ensure that the important international standards addressing these risks remain entirely voluntary.  Voluntary codes of conduct and standards that have no enforcement mechanism ultimately lack the teeth to really change corporate behaviour, and when abuses occur, they can leave victims with little or no hope of remedy.

If private sector involvement in development is going to pay off for the people who need it and not just corporate shareholders, states have to leave impunity at the door. Companies that want to make a profit through work on sustainable development must be required to show they have a clean track record when it comes to human rights.

They must demonstrate that they have internal systems that ensure they do not cause human rights abuses. They must disclose information to communities about any local operations that impact them, as well as any payments they make to the authorities.

Crucially, governments must be ready to hold companies to account when abuses happen. The failure of all but five countries to meet the U.N.’s official aid targets is a crying shame, but if filling the gap by giving the private sector free rein leads to human rights abuses in already vulnerable communities, it will only rub salt in the wounds that sustainable development is supposed to heal.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In Search of Jobs, Cameroonian Women May End Up as Slaves in Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/in-search-of-jobs-cameroonian-women-may-end-up-as-slaves-in-middle-east/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:14:15 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141594 The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

The lack of jobs after graduation frequently pushes Cameroonian girls into searching for work opportunities, sometimes overseas and sometimes with horrific consequences. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

Her lips are quavering her hands trembling. Susan (not her real name) struggles to suppress stubborn tears, but the outburst comes, spontaneously, and the tears stream down her cheeks as she sobs profusely.

The story of this 28-year-old’s servitude in Kuwait is mind-boggling. Between her sobs, she tells IPS how she left Cameroon two years ago in search of a job in Kuwait.

“I saw job opportunities advertised on billboards in town. The posters announced jobs such as nurses and housemaids in Kuwait. As a nurse and without a job in Cameroon, I decided to take the chance.”"We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians … [then] bidders came and we were sold off like property" – Susan, a young Cameroonian women who escaped from slavery in Kuwait

With the help of an agent whose contact details she found on the billboard, Susan found herself on a plane, bound for Kuwait.

She was excited at the prospect of earning up to 250,000 CFA francs (420 dollars) a month. That is what the agent had told her, and it was a mouth-watering sum compared with the roughly 75 dollars she would have been earning in Cameroon, if she had a job.

“We work in liaison with companies in the Middle East, so that when these ladies go, they don’t start looking for jobs,” Ernest Kongnyuy, an agent in Yaounde told IPS.

But the story changed dramatically when Susan, along with 46 other Cameroonian girls, arrived in Kuwait on Nov. 8, 2013.

“We were herded off to a small room. There were many other girls there: Ghanaians, Nigerians and Tunisians,” then “bidders came and we were sold off like property.”

Susan was taken away by an Egyptian man. “I think I got a taste of hell in his house,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She would begin work at five in the morning and go to bed after midnight, very often sleeping without having eaten.

Very frequently, she tells IPS, the man tried to rape her but when she threatened to report the case to the police, she met with a wry response from her tormentor. “He told me he would pay the police to rape me and then kill me, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Cut off from all communication with the outside world, Susan says that she found solace only in God. “I prayed … I cried out to God for help,” she recalls.

Susan’s is not an isolated case. Brenda, another Cameroonian lucky enough to escape, has a similar story. She had to wash the pets of her master, which included cats and snakes.

“I was sharing the same toilet with cats … I called them my brothers, because they were the only “persons” with whom I conversed.”

Pushed to the limits, both girls told their employers that they were not ready to work any longer. Brenda says that when she insisted, she was thrown out of the house.

“At that time I was frail, I was actually dying and I didn’t know where to go.” After trekking for two days, she found the Central African Republic’s embassy and slept for two days in front of it before she was rescued.

Susan was locked in the boot of a car and taken to the agent who had brought her from the airport.

“Events moved so fast and I found myself spending one week in immigration prison and an additional three days in deportation prison,” she says.

When both girls were finally put on a flight bound for Cameroon, all their property had been seized, except for their passports and the clothes they were wearing.

The scale of the problem is troubling. According to the 2013 Walk Free Global Index of Slavery, about three-quarters of a million people are enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report indicates that for the past seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been ranked as Tier 3 countries for human trafficking and labour abuses. Tier 3 countries are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards in human trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so.

Apart from Africa, people from India, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, etc. … “migrate voluntarily for domestic work, convinced of the employment agencies’ promises of lucrative jobs,” said the report.

“Upon entering the country, they find themselves deceived and enslaved – within the bounds of a legal sponsorship system.”

Susan and Brenda are now back home, but they are suffering from the trauma of their horrible experience in Kuwait.

The Trauma Centre for Victims of Human Trafficking in Cameroon has been working to bring relief to the women. “We try to make them feel at home,” says Beatrice Titanji, National Vice-President of the Centre.

“They have been exposed to bad treatment. They have been called animals. They have been told they stink, and when they enter the car or a room, a spray is used to take away the supposed odour … I just can’t fathom seeing my child treated like that,” she told IPS.

She called on the government to investigate and prosecute the agents, create jobs and mount guard at airports to discourage Cameroonians from going to look for jobs in the Middle East.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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New Census Paints Grim Picture of Inequality in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 19:55:45 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141579 An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite being Asia’s third-largest economy, positioning itself as a major geopolitical player under a new nationalist government, India’s first ever Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) paints a grim picture of poverty and deprivation despite billions of dollars being funneled into state-sponsored welfare schemes.

The survey, carried out in 640 districts under the aegis of the Rural Development Ministry, provides comprehensive data on a raft of socio-economic indicators like occupation, education, religion, caste/tribe status, employment, income, assets, housing and land owned in individual as well as household categories.

"This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long." -- Dalit activist Paul Divakar
Of the 179 million households covered, nearly half are rural.

Of these rural households, over 21.53 percent belong to a Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST), the traditionally oppressed classes for whom the Indian constitution provides special provisions to promote and protect their social, educational and economic interests.

More than 60 percent of the surveyed rural households qualified as “deprived” on 14 parameters. In over 51.8 percent of rural families, the main income earners barely manage to keep their kitchen fires burning by working as manual or casual labourers making less than 80 dollars per month (four dollars a day).

Further, just 20 percent of rural households own a vehicle, and only 11 percent own something as basic as a refrigerator.

The census also gives a glimpse of rural India weighed down by landlessness and a lack of non-farm jobs.

Across the country, 56 percent of households don’t own any land. Few households have a regular job and an insignificant number are taxpayers. Only 7.3 percent of households who fall into the scheduled castes category, and only 9.7 percent of all rural households in total, have a family member with a salaried job.

About 30 percent of those surveyed list themselves as cultivators, and manual casual labour is the primary source of income for 51.14 percent of households. Just about 14 percent have non-farm jobs, with the government, public or private sector.

The statistics are even bleaker for scheduled castes and tribal households: despite decades of affirmative action, only 3.96 percent of rural SC households and 4.38 percent of ST households are employed in the government sector.

This plummets to 2.42 percent for scheduled castes and 1.48 per cent for tribal communities in the private sector. Fewer than five percent of rural households pay income tax. Even among rich states, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this number hovers around the five percent mark.

“The census is an eye-opener. It clearly demonstrates that the benefits of high economic growth have not percolated down to large sections of the population despite billions being funneled into schemes for poverty-alleviation, ‘education for all’ and job-generation,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research

What is most disconcerting, according to Kumari, is that the census figures not only highlight rampant poverty but also generational poverty.

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“Despite over six decades of independence, millions still continue to languish in depressing poverty, deprived of most social benefits like job security, education and a roof over their heads. Policy makers and economists have been keeping their eyes closed. Government after government is guilty of this criminal neglect of the disempowered,” she added.

Activists point out that despite state-mentored flagship schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the education for all movement aimed at achieving universal elementary education, 23.52 percent rural families have no literate adult above 25 years.

Fewer than 10 percent in India advance beyond the higher secondary level in school and just 3.41 percent of rural households have a family member who is at least a graduate.

A state-by-state breakdown of the latest census shows that nearly every second rural resident (47.5 percent of the rural population) in the northwest state of Rajasthan – the largest in the country by land area – is illiterate.

Meanwhile, states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh account for over 180 million of the over 300 million illiterate people in rural India.

Similarly, housing for all remains a chimera despite the existence of Indira Awaas Yojana, one of the biggest and most comprehensive rural housing programmes ever taken up in the country, which has been in operation since 1985.

The scheme aims to provide subsidies and cash-assistance to the poor to construct their own houses. Yet three out of 10 families, according to the SECC, live in one-room houses, while 22 million households (roughly 100 million persons or four times the population of Australia) live in homes constructed from grass, bamboo, plastic or polythene, with nothing but thatched or tin roofs standing between them and the elements.

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The eastern and central States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have the poorest indicators for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but even in more developed southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, family incomes are low and dependence on casual manual labour is high.

The countryside remains unable to find jobs that can pull families out of poverty while agriculture remains at subsistence levels, with low mechanisation, limited irrigation facilities and little access to credit.

The alarming and all-pervasive poverty, say activists, should alert policy makers to framing more inclusive policies effectively implemented on ground zero.

“This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long,” Dalit activist Paul Divakar told IPS.

“The SECC demonstrates that economic development of this demographic is not the government’s priority. These sections continue to lag behind on most human development indices because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development related to their social identity.

“A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Economists opine that for a country like India, which holds the paradoxical distinction of being a rising economy as well as hosting the largest number of the world’s poor, policies need to be especially nuanced for growth to be equitable.

“Of India’s 1.2-billion-strong population, a whopping 60 percent are of working age,” according to Kumari of the Centre for Social Research. “Yet only a small percentage has been absorbed into the formal workforce. Rural poverty is an outcome of low productivity, which leads to low incomes.

“We need to create an ecosystem for faster growth of productive jobs outside the agrarian sector. Social protection schemes need to be universalised,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Women in Sport – Scoring for Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-women-in-sport-scoring-for-equality/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 12:59:12 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141550

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The Women’s World Cup has shown people everywhere what women athletes are all about: skill, strength, unity and determination. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the winners – the team from the United States – and to all others who participated. You are inspiring millions of women and girls around the world to pursue their goals and dreams.

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo: Marco Grob

Women are far more visible in sports today than at any previous point in history. The Women’s World Cup, as just one example, reached tens of millions of viewers, breaking television ratings records. The teams in that event were doing more than adroitly blocking a pass or scoring a goal.

They were challenging stereotypes and demonstrating women’s leadership and other abilities that can readily translate into many other domains. Perseverance and team spirit, among other values, can take women far in business, politics, scientific research, the arts and any other field.

As inspiring as the Women’s World Cup is, however, it also reminds us that gender inequalities still plague professional sports. For example, the women were required to play on artificial turf, which is often regarded as more physically punishing than natural grass – the surface favoured by athletes and provided when male teams play.

And there is the name itself—the World Cup is assumed to be for men, while women require the qualifying “Women’s” to describe their event.The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

Women players also face a huge pay gap. The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less.

The winning women’s team received two million dollars in prize money, whereas the winning men’s team took away 35 million dollars. The losing U.S. men’s team was still awarded 8 million dollars—four times as much as the champion U.S. women’s team.

Similar pay gaps occur across other professional sports – with the exception of tennis, which since 2007 has awarded equal prize money at all four Grand Slam tournaments. That should be the model to which all other sports aspire. All sports federations should close the gap and put women and men, in this and all other respects, on an equal playing field.

Deeply entrenched, discriminatory notions of women’s diminished status, whether the issue is a playing field or a paycheck, harm individual women and girls. They are denied their rights and blocked from achieving their full potential. Such norms also undermine sport itself, tarnishing notions such as fair play and open competition.

It is time to overturn the barriers and stereotypes, because every step to do so is a step towards gender equality and women’s empowerment. Many women athletes, especially in sports not traditionally considered “feminine”, lead the way, with grit and grace.

Sports programmes have been successful in reducing restrictions on mobility and social isolation that many women and girls experience, particularly those who live in poverty, and who might otherwise be mainly confined within their communities and families.

Through sport, women and girls can find safe places to gather, build new interpersonal networks, develop a sense of identity and pursue new opportunities, often in the process becoming more engaged in community life.

Governments, the United Nations, civil society, the sport movement and others have recognized the contribution of sports to the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls. Now is the time to act on this recognition.

Women and girls should be encouraged to explore sports, and anyone who would like to participate should be able to do so. In some cases, this may require increased investments; in others, a rebalancing of resources to ensure equal opportunities for men and women, girls and boys.

Sport and the pursuit of gender equality can be mutually reinforcing — through the creation of role models, the promotion of values and powerful outreach. Both can generate a dream and drive people to strive for change, unleashing tremendous benefits for individuals and for our societies at large.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Earthquakes Don’t Kill, Buildings Do – Or Is It Inequity?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 13:40:48 +0000 Robert Stefanicki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141545 70-year-old Chiute Tamang, his wife, daughter and son-in-law lost their house when the earth shook on Apr 25, 2015 in Nepal. They now lives a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

70-year-old Chiute Tamang, his wife, daughter and son-in-law lost their house when the earth shook on Apr 25, 2015 in Nepal. They now lives a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

By Robert Stefanicki
KATHMANDU, Jul 12 2015 (IPS)

70-year-old Chiute Tamang was working in his field when the earth shook on Apr 25. He grabbed a tree. His wife and daughter were inside the house at the time, but managed to run out. In the blink of an eye, the building turned into a heap of stones. They were the lucky ones.

“Earthquakes don’t kill, buildings do” – this otherwise common knowledge – had just reached Nepal. Almost all the victims were buried in the rubble of their houses made by untrained masons of stones barely stuck together with mud. It is a very popular method, because it is the cheapest – stones and mud are free, bricks and cement cost.

In Ramche, Chiute’s village scattered over the terraced hills of district Dhading, 38 km northwest of Kathmandu, 168 houses out of a total 181 are no longer inhabitable.”Only time will tell if, in the process of planning reconstruction, the government of Nepal will use an opportunity to find out why the Tamangs are so vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities”

According to the latest government report, the disaster damaged 607,212 buildings in 16 districts. Of them, 63 percent in areas dominated by Tamangs – the largest and the most destitute group among the Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples of the Himalayan region – although they constitute less than six percent (1.35 million) of Nepal’s population.

”Earthquakes don’t kill, inequity does” – out of 8,844 people who died in the earthquake, 3,012 were Tamangs. Over 50 percent of the victims belonged to the marginalised communities. More than half the victims were women.

Ramche is a Tamang village. Some of the people own small plots of land on which they grow corn and potatoes of walnut size, but crops can feed the farmers’ family only for two to three months. For the rest of the year they live on contracted labour.

The residents of Ramche admit they are very poor. Why? Because, their answer goes, their fathers were poor, as well as the fathers of their fathers. They accept this as a judgment of fate and do not feel discriminated against, only showing how inequity is grown into the tissue of the society, the result of concerted exploitation for centuries.

This brawny hill tribe has always provided a labour reserve pool for the rulers of Kathmandu. In the past, Tamangs were prevented from joining the administration and the military. Even today they may man the barricades but have little role in the upper hierarchy of the armed forces or police, and are unrepresented in the country´s national affairs.

Being Buddhists did not immunise Tamangs from the caste system evolved by ruling Hindus. Those who wield power belong to Brahmin, Newars and Chhetri people and these “well-born” elites look down on the Tamangs.

In the blink of an eye, houses turned into heaps of stones when the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

In the blink of an eye, houses turned into heaps of stones when the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

Economic deprivation has increased the influx of indigent peasants to the job markets of Kathmandu, where they make up half of the porters and the majority of three-wheeler tempo (”taxi”) drivers. Prison surveys have shown that a disproportionate number of Tamangs are behind bars for criminal offences.

They have never counted on any government’s help, and this time is no different. After the earthquake, the residents of Ramche helped each other, cooked meals together and joined hands to raise themselves up from the rubble. With a little help from NGOs, the situation was brought under control.

One week after the disaster, the residents of Ramche were given blankets, tarpaulins and mosquito nets funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

Today, the whole village is queuing at the barracks where ADRA, the Nepalese NGO, is handing out big plastic water jars with the blue logo of the European Union and “sanitary kits”: a few tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, water purification tablets, sanitary napkins and birth control pills. A young female activist tirelessly explains to one villager after another how to use these items.

Chiute Tamang’s family spent the first three days after they lost their house in a flimsy hut cobbled together with a few pieces of wood. Then made a tent of tarpaulin, where they moved together with goats, their most valuable asset. Livestock, the old man explains, must not be left outside at night because it could fall prey to tigers or leopards.

After one week, Chiute borrowed some money, bought materials and with the help of his neighbours put a house together for himself, his wife, their youngest daughter and her husband.

It has a simple design – a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron, the floor covered with oilcloth, and equipped with simple beds, cupboards and a gas cooker.

”Even if this collapses,” says Chiute ironically, “at the worst, the corrugated sheet would pin us down, not stones.”

Construction took two weeks, because the wood had to be brought from a distance. When the house was already standing, the government finally sent some relief – any Nepalese family who lost a house is entitled to a 15,000 rupee (150 dollars) loan. Chiute could pay off half the loan.

Another Ramche resident, 29-year-old Deepak Bhutel, received 180,000 rupees but he had been less fortunate – his wife and 18-month-old daughter lost their lives under the rubble of their stone house.

The amount would be enough to buy a sturdy house, certain to survive any future earthquake but Deepak, together with his older and now only daughter, says he is also going to end up in a corrugated iron-clad cabin. Having lived from hand to mouth all his life, he says he does not want to spend all his wealth on the house.

Only time will tell if, in the process of planning reconstruction, the government of Nepal will use an opportunity to find out why the Tamangs are so vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities.

Past mistakes should not be repeated, warned Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel, former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission, quoted by ‘Nepali Times’.

Pokhrel recalled the example of the Tamangs displaced when the reservoir in Makwanpur was built in the early 1980s. Around 500 families whose lands were acquired by the authorities did not want cash compensation but resettlement elsewhere.

“But the government gave them money anyway, and very few bought land with that,” said Pokhrel. “Soon, the money was gone and they were destitute.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Fishing Families Left High and Dry by Amazon Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fishing-families-left-high-and-dry-by-amazon-dams/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 19:59:28 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141534 People from a fishing community on the Banks of the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon, at one of the meetings on the local impacts of the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam, held at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

People from a fishing community on the Banks of the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon, at one of the meetings on the local impacts of the construction of the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam, held at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 10 2015 (IPS)

Small-scale fisherpersons were among the first forgotten victims of mega construction projects like the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon.

“I’m a fisherman without a river, who dreams of traveling, who dreams of riding on a boat of hope. Three years ago it looked like my life was over; but I still dream of a new river,” said Elio Alves da Silva, referring to the disappearance of his village, the Comunidade Santo Antônio, the first to be removed to make way for the construction of the dam.

Now, he lives on an isolated farm 75 km from his old village, and works in the construction industry “to keep hunger at bay.” He misses the river and its beaches, community life, the local church that was demolished, and playing football on the Santo Antônio pitch, which is now a parking lot for the staff on the Belo Monte construction site.

His account of the eviction of 245 families from his rural village was heard by representatives of the office of the public prosecutor, the National Human Rights Council, the government, and different national universities, who met in June in Altamira to inspect Belo Monte’s impacts on communities along the Xingú River.

Altamira, a city of 140,000 people, is the biggest of the 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará affected by the mega-project that got underway in 2011.

“Riverbank communities, although they are an expression of a traditional way of life…were invisible in the Belo Monte tendering process and today are finding no solutions in that process that address their particular needs,” says the report containing conclusions from one of the 55 meetings held to assess impacts.

The company building the dam, Norte Energía, offered indemnification and individual or collective resettlement to families living on riverbanks or islands on stretches of the Xingú River affected by the dam, who depended on fishing for their livelihood.

Abandoned fishing boats on the banks of the Xingú River, in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Altamira in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, whose inhabitants were removed because the area is to be flooded when the Belo Monte reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Abandoned fishing boats on the banks of the Xingú River, in a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Altamira in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, whose inhabitants were removed because the area is to be flooded when the Belo Monte reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But in no case has an attempt been made to replicate their previous living conditions, as required by Brazil’s environmental regulations. The company only offered to resettle them far from the river. And the indemnification, in cash or credit, was insufficient to enable them to afford more expensive land along the river.

Norte Energía has failed to recognise that many local fishing families actually have two homes: one on the river, where they live for days at a stretch while fishing, and another in an urban area, where they stay when they sell their catch, and where they have access to public services such as health care.

The report said that when the families are forced to choose indemnification for their rural or their urban home, they have to renounce one part of their life, and they receive reduced compensation as a result. They are only given compensation for their other home as a “support point”, for the building and simple, low-cost equipment.

Of the hundreds of fishing community families who were evicted, most have chosen cash – even though the indemnification was insufficient to ensure their way of life – because there was no satisfactory resettlement option, according to the inspection carried out at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office.

But many are still fighting for more. One of them is Socorro Arara, of the Arara indigenous people. She is from the island of Padeiro, which will be flooded when the main Belo Monte reservoir is filled.

“Norte Energía offered us 28,000 reais (9,000 dollars), but we didn’t accept it – that’s too little for our seven families” – who include her parents, three children, two sisters and their husbands – she told IPS.

José Nelson Kuruaia and Francisca dos Santos Silva, a couple who were displaced from their fishing community by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in their new home in the neighbourhood built by the company constructing the dam, which resettled them far from the banks of the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, separating them from their way of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

José Nelson Kuruaia and Francisca dos Santos Silva, a couple who were displaced from their fishing community by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, in their new home in the neighbourhood built by the company constructing the dam, which resettled them far from the banks of the Xingú River in the Amazon jungle, separating them from their way of life. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We want to be collectively resettled along the Xingú River, all of our families together. And it has to be upstream, because downstream, everything has been changed (by the hydropower dams),” she said.

Arara’s struggle took her to the capital, Brasilia, where she talked to Supreme Court judges, officials in government ministries, and presidential aides, to seek redress.

But it is an uphill battle. The company only allowed her to register her nuclear family for compensation, rather than collectively relocating the seven family units. Furthermore, Arara is demanding that they be allotted plots of land large enough for growing small-scale crops and harvesting native fruits – activities on which they depended on the island.

Another indigenous fisherman, José Nelson Kuruaia, and his wife Francisca dos Santos Silva had better luck. They used to live in an Altamira neighbourhood that will be flooded when the reservoir is filled.

They were assigned one of the 4,100 housing units built by Norte Energía for families displaced in urban areas.

The couple also received 20,700 reais (6,700 dollars) in compensation for a shanty and equipment they had on the island of Barriguda, upstream of Altamira, where they used to fish from Monday through Saturday, hauling in 150 kg a week.

Today Kuruaia, who is 71 years old and retired, says he “sometimes” goes fishing. “I really love the river and if I don’t work, I get sick,” he told IPS, explaining why he goes out despite the opposition of his six children and his wife, “a good fisherwoman” who used to work with him until her knees started bothering her.

Jatobá, the new neighborhood where they were resettled, is on a hill far from the river. It costs the relocated fishermen 30 reais (almost 10 dollars) to transport their motors to the riverbank, where they have to leave their boats, despite the risk that they will be stolen. They all used to live in neighbourhoods prone to flooding on the banks of the Xingú River.

A bridge under construction on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The waters from the Belo Monte dam will run under the bridge before flowing into the Xingú River in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. The explosions, strong lighting at night and modifications of the course of the river have scared off the fish, according to people who depended on fishing for a living. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge under construction on the Trans-Amazonian Highway. The waters from the Belo Monte dam will run under the bridge before flowing into the Xingú River in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. The explosions, strong lighting at night and modifications of the course of the river have scared off the fish, according to people who depended on fishing for a living. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In response to the pressure from the fishing communities, resettled or facing relocation, Norte Energía decided to build another urban neighbourhood near the river, for some 500 families who fish for a living. But only urban fishing families will be settled there, not people from riverbank communities, like Socorro Arara.

The battle being waged by the relocated families is not limited to their homes or work environments. Many want to be paid damages for losses suffered in the last four years, due to the construction of the dam.

“In four days, from Thursday to Sunday, I only caught 30 kg of peacock bass. I used to catch 60 to 100 kg in just one day, and a variety of fish: pacú, peacock bass, hake, toothless characin and filhote (juveniles of the largest fish of the Amazon, the giant piraíba catfish), which could be found year-round,” said Giácomo Dallacqua, president of the 1,600-member Vitória do Xingu fishing association.

“The explosions on the riverbank are a headache for us, because they scare off the fish,” he told IPS, referring to the use of explosives to break rocks and prepare the area for what will be the third-largest hydroelectric plant in the world in terms of generating power (11,233 MW).

To that is added the strong lighting used all night long near the construction site, the cloudy water, the dredging of the beaches to use the sand in the construction project, the damming up of streams and the traffic of heavy barges bringing in the equipment that will be used to generate electricity, biologist Cristiane Costa added.

These impacts are especially strong near Belo Monte, a district of the municipality of Vitória do Xingu, where the main plant, capacity 11,000 MW, is being built, and where the most productive fishing grounds in the region were found.

But it also occurs in Pimental, in the municipality of Altamira, where the other plant – which will generate 233 MW – is being installed, and where the dam that will flood part of the city of Altamira is being built.

Norte Energía has not acknowledged that the construction of the dam has reduced the fish catch. It argues that there is no scientific evidence, despite the complaints of local fishermen, some 3,000 of whom have been directly affected.

But the company announced seven million dollars in investment, in a cooperation agreement with the Fisheries Ministry, to create an integrated environmental fishing centre in Altamira – which will have fish farm laboratories, will breed ornamental fish, and will train local fishermen.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Q&A: “If We Don’t Close the Poverty Gap, the 21st Century Will End in Extreme Violence”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:24:03 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141499 Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Implementation of the ambitious post-2015 development agenda which will be adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations depends to a large extent on funding.

Amidst preparations for the upcoming 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) to be held from July 13 to 16, 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, discussions centre on “innovative financing mechanisms” as stable and predictable instruments to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) and fill funding gaps at a time when global growth is flagging and most donor countries are facing increasing budgetary pressure.We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Conceived in the early 21st century in the context of the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), the idea behind the concept is to “invisibly” raise important amounts of income to correct imbalances and provide funding for the most urgent development needs such as eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of education and global health. The mechanisms involved range from government taxes to public-private partnerships.

A prominent innovative finance example is the global health initiative UNITAID. UNITAID is funded primarily through a one-dollar solidarity levy on airplane tickets. The income raised is spent on global measures to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A more recent example is the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). It is currently seen by governments as both a tool to curb financial speculation and a mechanism to raise considerable revenue – which could be used to finance for development. Ongoing plans on an EU FTT to be implemented in 11 willing EU countries might prove as the next step in innovative finance.

In an interview with IPS, Philippe Douste-Blazy, U.N. Under-Secretary-General in charge of Innovative Financing for Development, chair and founder of UNITAID and former French foreign minister, shares his insights on the FTT and innovative finance mechanisms shortly ahead of the upcoming Conference on Financing for Development and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this year.

Q: Which role does innovative finance play in the context of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda?

A: 2015 is a historic year because three great international conferences will take place which are vital for the future of the world:  the Addis Ababa conference on Development Finance, the General Assembly of the United Nations where the international community will launch the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 on climate change in Paris.

In all three cases, the scenario will be the same: a magnificent political agreement but without any financial means to back it up. I want to sound the alarm! If we fail to find innovative financing now, at a time when the world has never had so much money but the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening, the 21st century will end in extreme violence.

Q: Financing for development requires considerable financial resources. Is the FTT a suitable tool to raise the necessary funding compared to other innovative finance tools?

A: Finance is currently one of the least taxed economic sectors. It is absolutely surprising when you know the terrible impact this sector had on international development because of the 2008 economic crisis. Implementing a painless percentage tax on financial transactions could generate hundreds of billions worldwide and as a result, be positively decisive on the fight against extreme poverty, pandemics and climate change.

We are now living in a completely globalised world and those threats are upon every citizen of the world. Globalised activities and exchanges should then contribute to international solidarity. That is what we had in mind with President Chirac and President Lula when we implemented the solidarity tax on plane tickets.

People are travelling more and more, so levying a small portion of the price of their tickets offered the opportunity to improve the access to life-saving treatments all around the globe. FTT follows the same logic. Financial needs are considerable and we need to take the money where it is. Innovative financing tools shouldn’t be positioned as rivals, they should instead be seen as complementary.

Q: UNITAID invests the funds raised by means of global solidarity levies to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. What are your results at UNITAID in combating these diseases?

A: First, UNITAID’s investments helped create the market for some key more effective HIV treatments in 2007, by bringing the prices down from 1,500 dollars/year to under 500.

Second, through support to the Global Fund and UNICEF, UNITAID contributed to the delivery of over 437 million of the best antimalarial treatments, helping the global community to reduce deaths by 47 percent since 2000.

Third, a 40 percent price reduction for the cartridges of an important new test for tuberculosis (GeneXpert) was negotiated for 145 countries, along with USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This has saved over 70 million dollars within two years for the global community and has enabled a significant contribution to the 30 percent annual increase in detection of drug resistant TB cases.

Q: Could you tell me about your planned new project UNITLIFE? What is it about and at what stage are the preparations for this project?

A: We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Faced with this scourge which decimates generations, destabilises societies and severely penalises nations, notably in Africa, we have the duty to imagine a response combining efficacy and solidarity: this is why we want to launch UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE is based on a simple principle: allocating to the fight against malnutrition an infinitesimal part of the immense riches created by the use of extractive resources in Africa in such a way that the globalisation of solidarity matches the globalization of the economy. So far six African Heads of State accepted such a principle. As UNITAID is hosted by the WHO, UNITLIFE will be hosted by UNICEF.

Q: How does a future FTT implemented in the 11 European countries need to look in order to be beneficial and effective? How do you assess for instance the examples of the French or Italian FTT?

A: French and Italian FTT are really disappointing. They are not fulfilling the expectations neither in terms of regulation nor about revenues. It seems that French and Italian governments were just concerned by the defence of their financial sectors.

The exemptions that are organised are preventing the tax from touching the most speculative transactions. Derivatives, market makers, intra-day and high frequency trading are not taxable with the two models whereas they’re the most dangerous.

Furthermore, it’s in taxing these instruments that a FTT would levy the most resources. For the same reasons, a European FTT that wouldn’t be applied on foreign shares will be highly disappointing. Instead of being scared of the reaction of financial sectors, the 11 political leaders must show real ambition and design a strong FFT with a broad scope and preventing loopholes.

Q: How can you make sure that a certain percentage of the money raised by the tax will be spent on development?

A: Seventeen percent of the French FTT is already allocated to climate and pandemics. President Hollande said he will allocate a part of the European FTT to the same causes; let’s hope that the portion will be bigger!

[Spanish] Prime Minister Marianno Rajoy also committed to allocate a part of the revenue to international solidarity but so far these are the only declarations we have. It would be really interesting to see the eleven

Heads of State committing together on a joint allocation to international solidarity. Using the FTT revenue to finance multilateral funds like the Global Fund, the World Health Organization  or the Green Fund would be the best way to be sure the money raised is actually spent on development.

And today when I see those tens of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, which is becoming the world’s biggest cemetery, I want to underline that the only solution to massive immigration from poor to rich countries is to provide what we call Global Public Goods (food, potable water, essential medicines, education and sanitation) to every human being.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Social Safety Net Not Wide Enough to Protect World’s Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/social-safety-net-not-wide-enough-to-protect-worlds-poor/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:50:50 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141473 By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

Fifty-five percent of the world’s poor still have limited protection from hunger and economic, social or political crises despite expansion of social safety programmes in developing countries in recent years.

According to a report released by the World Bank on Jul. 7, most of the poor without a social safety net system are in lower-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the vast majority of the world’s poor reside.

In these countries, safety schemes like cash transfers and school feeding programmes only cover 25 percent of the extreme poor, compared to 64-percent coverage in upper-middle-income countries.

Existing social welfare mechanisms are insufficient to close the poverty gap, leaving approximately 773 million people struggling to survive, experts say.

The report, the second in a series, was released following the World Bank Group and International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) announcement of their goals to provide universal social protection within the next 15 years.

A joint statement released by the two organisations on Jun.30 cited universal coverage and access to social protection as twin goals by 2030.

“The World Bank Group and the ILO share a vision of social protection for all, a world where anyone who needs social protection can access it at any time,” according to the joint statement by Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, and Guy Ryder, executive director of the ILO.

“The new development agenda that is being defined by the world community – the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – provides an unparalleled opportunity for our two institutions to join forces to make universal social protection a reality, for everyone, everywhere.”

The report comes just ahead of the United Nations’ third Financing for Development (FfD) conference scheduled to take place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa next week, where world leaders will discuss plans for funding the post-2015 development agenda, due to be launched in September.

The issue of providing universal social protection is slated to be at the centre of the agenda.

The five largest social safety programmes in the world are in China, India, South Africa and Ethiopia, where regular assistance reaches a combined total of 526 million people.

According to the report, all countries have at least one type of social security scheme, while the average developing country has about 20 such programmes. Globally, approximately 1.9 billion people benefit from these mechanisms.

On average, low-middle-income countries devote 1.6 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to these mechanisms, while richer countries devote 1.9 percent of their earnings to social programmes.

The World Bank reports that poor policy choices lie at the heart of inefficiencies in adequately providing for the poor. Fuel and electricity subsidies, for instance, reduce the portion of government spending allocated to social spending. These regressive subsidies disproportionately benefit the rich.

For example, Yemen spends nine percent of its GDP on energy and electricity subsidies, compared to the three percent it spends on social security net programs. The country, engulfed in political turmoil for the past few years, is already one of the poorest countries in the Arab World with up to 54.5 percent of its population living in poverty.

As developed countries like the United States and the European Union grapple with the balance between providing social security and maintaining economic growth in the slumping economy, developing countries have expanded their safety nets in a bid to reduce poverty.

Cash transfer programmes, recommended by the report as the most effective method, has “positive spillover effects on the local economy.” For each dollar transferred, the total income of the beneficiary increases from 1.08 dollars to 2.52 dollars.

“There is a strong body of evidence that these programmes ensure poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s senior director for social protection and labour.

“Going forward, more can be done to close the coverage gap and reach the world’s poorest by improving the effectiveness of these programmes underpinned by enhanced targeting, improved policy coherence, better administrative integration, and application of technologies.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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