Inter Press Service » Labour Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Child Labour: A Hidden Atrocity of the Syrian Crisis Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

Aboudi, 12, spends his evenings selling flowers outside Beirut's bars. His parents are stuck in his war-torn hometown Aleppo in Syria. Credit: Sam Tarling/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

In a conflict that has claimed over 220,000 lives and injured a further 840,000 people as of January 2015, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the death toll.

What started as a confrontation between pro-democracy activists and the entrenched dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Syria’s civil war is today one of the world’s most bitter conflicts, involving over four separate armed groups and touching numerous other countries in the region.

“I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family." -- Ahmed, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan
With millions on the brink of starvation and displaced Syrians now representing the largest refugee population in the world, after Palestinians, scores of lesser-known war-related atrocities are jostling for space in the headlines.

On Jul. 2, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children released a joint report highlighting one of the hidden impacts of the Syrian crisis – a rise in child labour throughout the region.

In a press release issued in Jordan’s capital, Amman, Thursday, the agencies warned, “Syria’s children are paying a heavy price for the world’s failure to put an end to the conflict.

“The report shows that inside Syria, children are now contributing to the family income in more than three quarters of surveyed households, In Jordan, close to half of all Syrian refugee children are now the joint or sole family breadwinners in surveyed households, while in some parts of Lebanon, children as young as six years old are reportedly working.”

“The most vulnerable of all working children are those involved in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and illicit activities including organised begging and child trafficking,” the release stated.

Before the outbreak of war four years ago, Syria was considered a middle-income country, providing its people a decent standard of living and boasting a literacy rate of 90 percent, according to UNICEF data.

By the middle of 2015, however, four in five Syrians were living below the poverty line and 7.6 million were classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

With whole cities and towns emptied of residents, businesses and industries have collapsed, sending unemployment rates soaring from 14.9 percent in 2011 to 57.7 percent today.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that about 3.3 million people have fled the country altogether and now live in camps or makeshift shelters in neighbouring states. Women and children comprise over half the refugee population.

The vast majority of those who remain inside Syria – over 64.7 percent – are classified as living in “extreme poverty”, unable to meet the most basic food or sanitary needs.

Thus, experts say, it comes as no surprise that children are becoming breadwinners, taking to the streets and selling their labour in a range of industries to help keep their families alive.

As 12-year-old Ahmed, a Syrian refugee in Jordan, pointed out in interviews with UNICEF, “I feel responsible for my family. I feel like I’m still a child and would love to go back to school, but my only option is to work hard to put food on the table for my family.”

Entitled ‘Small Hands, Heavy Burden: How the Syrian Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce’, the report notes that an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children are currently out of school.

With few education opportunities and dwindling humanitarian rations, these children now either comprise, or are at risk of joining the ranks of, a veritable army of child workers.

“In Jordan, for example a majority of working children in host communities work six or seven days a week; one-third work more than eight hours a day,” the report noted. “Their daily income is between four and seven dollars.”

Quite aside from representing an irreversible interruption to their education, cognitive development, and – almost certainly – limiting their chances of securing better jobs later in life – the child labour epidemic is harming young people’s bodies.

Save the Children estimates that “Around 75 percent of working children in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan reported health problems; almost 40 percent reported an injury, illness or poor health; and 35.8 percent of children working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley are unable to read or write.”

In this climate of conflict, with the specter of hunger haunting countless families, every industry is considered fair game.

In the Bekaa Valley, for instance, landowners who used to pay a daily wage of 10 dollars to migrant agricultural workers now pay kids four dollars a day, often for performing the same tasks alongside their adult counterparts.

In urban centers, garages, workshops and construction sites are “popular” employers, with 10-year-old Syrian boys hired on a full-time basis to do carpentry, metal work or motor repairs in cities across Lebanon.

Street work represents one of the most dangerous occupations for children, with a recent survey of two major Lebanese cities identifying over 1,500 child street-workers, of whom 73 percent were Syrian refugees.

These kids earn an average of 11 dollars a day, either begging or hawking, while illicit activities like prostitution could earn a small child up to 36 dollars in a single working day.

UNICEF says child labour “represents one of the key challenges to the fulfillment of the ‘No Lost Generation’ initiative”, launched in 2013 with the aim of putting child rights and children’s education at the centre of the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Sustainable Use of Biodiversity Could Fill Gap When Belo Monte Dam Is Finished Fri, 03 Jul 2015 15:20:00 +0000 Mario Osava 0 Bangladeshi Migrants Risk High Seas and Smugglers to Escape Poverty Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:21:55 +0000 Naimul Haq These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh  (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
TEKNAF, Bangladesh, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Though he is only 16 years old, Mohammad Yasin has been through hell and back. He recently survived a hazardous journey by sea, crammed into the cargo-hold of a rudimentary boat along with 115 others.

For 45 days they bobbed about on the Indian Ocean somewhere between their native Bangladesh and their destination, Malaysia, with scarcely any food, no water and little hope of making it to shore alive.

Midway through the ordeal, Yasin watched one of his fellow travelers die of starvation, a fate that very nearly claimed him as well.

The young man, who hails from a poor cobbler’s family in Teknaf, located on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazaar, broke down in tears as he narrated the tale, putting a human face to the story of a major exodus of migrants and political refugees in Southeast Asia that has rights groups as well as the United Nations up in arms.

45 days of torture

“Horror unfolded as we sailed. Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves." -- ” Mohammad Ripon, a Bangladeshi migrant who survived a torturous maritime journey
Yasin tells IPS it all began when a group of men from the neighbouring Bandarban district promised to take him, and five others from Teknaf village, to Malaysia in search of work.

With an 80-dollar monthly salary and a family of four to look after, including a sick father, Yasin believed Malaysia to be a ‘dream destination’ where he would earn enough to provide for his loved ones.

“The men told us we would not have to pay anything now, but that they would later ‘deduct’ 2,600 dollars from each of us once we got jobs in Malaysia,” recounted the frail youth.

“On a sunny morning around the last week of April we were taken along with a larger group of men and women to the deserted island of Shah Porir Dwip, where we boarded a large wooden boat later that same evening.”

A little while into the journey on the Bay of Bengal, at the Chaungthar port located in the city of Pathein in southern Myanmar, a group of Rohingya Muslims joined the party.

This ethnic minority has long faced religious persecution in Myanmar and now contributes hugely to the movement of human beings around this region.

Together with the 10 organisers of the voyage, who turned out to be traffickers, the group numbered close to 130 people. Just how they would reach their destination, or when, none of the passengers knew. Their lives were entirely in the hands of the boat’s crew.

“Horror unfolded as we sailed,” recalled Mohammad Ripon, who also joined the journey at the behest of traffickers from the central Bangladeshi district of Narayanganj.

“Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves,” he told IPS.

During the day the crew opened the hatch of the cargo vessel to let in the blistering sun. At night it was kept shut, leaving the passengers to freeze. No one could sleep; the shrieks and cries of sick and frightened passengers kept the entire company awake all night long.

From time to time, the boat stalled on the choppy waters, “probably to change crews”, the passengers told IPS.

But no one knew for sure, and none dared ask for risk of being physically abused or thrown overboard. By this time, their captors had already beaten a number of the passengers for asking too many questions.

After nearly a month and a half of this torture, the Bangladesh Coast Guard steered the boat in to Saint Martin’s island, off the coast of Cox’s Bazar – very close to where the hopeful immigrants had begun their journey.

It was not until the malnourished passengers emerged, with sunken eyes and protruding ribs, that they realised the crew had long since abandoned the ship.

Traffickers exploiting poverty

Though their dreams were dashed, this group is one of the lucky ones; they escaped with their lives, their possessions and their money.

For too many others, these illicit journeys result in being robbed, pitched overboard or even buried in mass graves by networks of smugglers and traffickers who are making a killing by exploiting economically desperate and politically marginalised communities in Southeast Asia.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an estimated 88,000 people –mostly poor Bangladeshis and internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar – attempted to cross the borders into Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia in a 15-month period.

This includes 63,000 people between January and December of 2014 and an additional 25,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Of these, an estimated 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015. Since October 2014, 620 people have lost their lives during hazardous, unplanned maritime journeys on the Bay of Bengal.

To make matters worse, the discovery of trafficking rings has prompted governments in the region – particularly Thai and Malaysian authorities – to crack down on irregular arrivals, refusing to allow ships to dock and sometimes going so far as to tow boatloads of people back out to sea despite the presence of desperate and starving people on-board.

From humble aspirations to hazardous journeys

Aspiring migrants from Bangladesh are fleeing poverty and unemployment in this country of close to 157 million people, 31 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) suggests that the unemployment rate is 4.53 percent, putting the number of out-of-work people here at close to 6.7 million.

Mohammad Hasan, 34, is one of many who dreamed of a more prosperous life in a different country.

A tall, dark welder from Boliadangi, a village in the northwestern Thakurgaon district, he told IPS, “I sold my ancestral land to travel to Malaysia where I hoped to get a welding job in a construction company, because my earnings were not enough to support my six-member family.”

At the time, he was earning less than 100 dollars a month. Feeding seven people on 1,200 Bangladeshi taka (about 15 dollars) a day is no easy task. Desperate, he put his life in the hands of traffickers and set out for the Malaysian coast.

Earlier this year, abandoned by those who had promised them safe passage, he and close to 100 other men were discovered drifting off the coast of Thailand. Fortunately, all of them survived, but the money they paid for the journey was lost.

Forty-one-year-old Kawser Ali from Gangachara, a village in the northern Rangpur District, had a similar tale. He says he made a break for foreign shores because his earnings as a farmer simply weren’t enough to put enough food on the table to keep his eight-member family, including his in-laws, alive.

Millions of people here share his woes: between 60 and 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population relies on agriculture for a livelihood, and the vast majority of them struggle to make ends meet.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Kawser was recently found deep within a forest in Thailand where he and some 50 others had been led by traffickers and abandoned to their own fate.

He told IPS that most of his companions along the journey were marginal farmers, like himself. “We have no fixed income, and can never earn enough to improve our economic condition. I would like to see my son go to a better school, or take my wife to market on a motorbike.”

It is these humble aspirations – together with tales from friends and neighbours who have made the transition successfully – that have led scores of people Kawser to the coast, to board unsafe vessels and put themselves at the mercy of the sea and smugglers in exchange for a chance to make a better life.

Aninda Dutta, a programme associate for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, told IPS, “In Bangladesh, there is a strong link between migration and smuggling, in which a journey that starts through economic motivations may end up as a trafficking case because of the circumstances.”

These ‘circumstances’ include extortionate fees paid to so-called agents, essentially rings of smugglers and human traffickers; beatings and other forms of intimidation and abuse – including sexual abuse – during the journey; theft of all their possessions while at sea; or abandonment, penniless, in various locations – primarily Thailand or Malaysia – where they are subject to the ire of immigration authorities.

In a bid to nip the epidemic in the bud, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) recently set up more checkpoints to increase vigilance, and proposed that the government tighten regulations regarding the registering of boats.

But until the government tackles the underlying problem of abject poverty, it is unlikely that they will see an end to the exodus any time soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Paris Climate Change Pact Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Helping People with Disabilities Become Agents of Change Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:14:04 +0000 Nora Happel Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel

Participation, political and economic empowerment, inclusion, accessible technology and infrastructure as well as indicators for meaningful implementation are among the key issues persons with disabilities want to see reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In light of the ongoing negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, people with disabilities are calling upon governments to put an end to exclusion and discrimination by making persons with disabilities and their rights more visible in the SDGs.“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion." -- Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Rachel Kachaje, Deputy Chairperson for Development and Under-Represented Groups at Disabled People’s International (DPI) in Lilongwe, Malawi and former Malawian Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs, told IPS: “I would want to see the SDGs turning persons with disabilities into productive citizens in their respective countries.

“It pains me most of the time seeing persons with disabilities struggling to be recognised in society,” she said.

Rachel Kachaje knows what she is talking about. Struck by polio at the age of three, she lost the use of her legs. As her family could not afford a wheelchair, mobility challenges significantly complicated her primary and secondary school education. When she had finished school and was unable to attend university, finding a job proved very difficult at a time when companies refused to hire persons with physical impairments.

Yet, in the end, due to her hard-working spirit and encouraging family environment, Kachaje managed to overcome these challenges and steadily moved up the career ladder, culminating in her appointment as Malawian minister of disability.

The personal story of Rachel Kachaje illustrates how existing physical, societal, educational and professional barriers often prevent persons with disabilities from attaining their real potential and fully participating in society, while positive empowerment and encouragement can have important enabling effects.

Empowerment of persons with disabilities is indeed one of the core demands the activist enunciates. Speaking to IPS, Kachaje emphasised the importance of facilitating access to education as a “master key that unlocks all doors to life” and providing livelihood to allow for agricultural activity and food security. Apart from that, she said, health care services, social activities and greater involvement in politics are steps that will help persons with disabilities who are struggling to become fully productive citizens.

“I would want persons with disabilities in general and more in particular women with disabilities and their representative organisations to participate and be fully involved and consulted in government processes. […] This should not be just on paper only. I would want governments to walk the talk.”

As pointed out by the activist, considerable progress has taken place in Malawi in terms of inclusive education and economic as well as political empowerment.

“Schools are being made accessible, special needs teachers are being trained. There are still a lot of challenges but still something is being done and political will is there to make education inclusive,” she said.

“People with disabilities also get social cash transfer as part of economically empowering persons with disabilities. Some persons with disabilities have been appointed into decision making bodies.”

Two weeks ago, measures to overcome exclusion and mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities across the sustainable development agenda were discussed at the Eighth Session of the Conference of the States Parties (COSP8) to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The focus of this year’s conference was on poverty reduction, equality and development. As underscored by many speakers, disability and poverty are interrelated, which is due mainly to discrimination and lower education and employment levels.

A few days ahead of the conference, the zero draft of the outcome document for the U.N. Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda was released. In this context, many participants deplored that persons with disabilities were not specifically referred to in the first SDG, aimed at ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

According to Venkatesh Balakrishna, honorary president of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Global Network, “being invisible from the goal means being invisible from the benefits”. He called upon governments to explicitly mention persons with disabilities in the first SDG and add specific targets and indicators.

“Give hope to millions of people. Please use your pen for justice,” he urged.

Yet, compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), persons with disabilities have gained visibility in the zero draft document.

Priscille Geiser, Head of Technical Unit ‘Support to Civil Society’ at Handicap International, told IPS: “We do welcome the Zero Draft in which the inclusion and recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the entire document is groundbreaking compared to the Millennium Development Goals, and we welcome the fact that references to persons with disabilities have been strengthened throughout the declaration.”

On the other hand, she said, there were still shortcomings in terms of accessible technology and concrete indicators to measure implementation. Also, more emphasis need to be put on active participation and involvement of persons with disabilities.

“It is critical that commitments are made so that the SDGs are implemented and reviewed through meaningful participation. Overall, the active role of people to be agents of change, rather than simply as beneficiaries, is highly underestimated in this new agenda.”

Throughout the conference, participants stressed the fact that inclusion should not be seen as charity, but as an investment in society that will generate economic benefits and improve life for everybody.

“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion,” said Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, with an eye on the lost economic potential due to the exclusion of children with disabilities from school and ongoing labour market discrimination.

Speaking about future challenges, she emphasised the need to translate the provisions under the convention into legal action on the ground, provide persons with disabilities with accessible services, including accessible infrastructure and better social protection, collect data, set concrete targets and indicators and support the creation of institutions. According to her, the ultimate goal is the full participation of persons with disabilities in community life.

These points were repeatedly raised by almost all participants, demonstrating remarkable consent on the steps that need to be taken. This gives cause for hope that further concerted procedures will increase the visibility of people with disabilities in the post-2015 development framework and steadily make the implementation of the CRPD a reality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Studying and Working Poses New Challenges for Argentina’s Youth Tue, 23 Jun 2015 17:52:43 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet A boy helps his mother, Graciela Ardiles, do chores on their small farm in Arraga in the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero. Thanks to a rural development programme that has boosted the family’s income, she says her children will be able to continue studying, and even go on to university, unlike her parents. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy helps his mother, Graciela Ardiles, do chores on their small farm in Arraga in the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero. Thanks to a rural development programme that has boosted the family’s income, she says her children will be able to continue studying, and even go on to university, unlike her parents. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

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

Until not too long ago, youngsters in Argentina faced a choice: whether to study or drop out and go to work. But now most children and adolescents in Argentina who work also continue to study – a change that poses new challenges for combating school dropout, repetition and truancy, as well as the circle of poverty.

The change is revealing, according to Néstor López at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s International Institute for Education Planning (IIEP UNESCO), which together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) produced the report “Trabajo infantil y trayectorias escolares protegidas en Argentina” on child labour and education, launched this month, which discusses the new situation.

“When you analysed what was happening with teenagers 20 years ago, you saw two different situations,” López said in an interview with IPS. “There were adolescents in school and adolescents who worked.”

“But what you see now is that school enrollment rates have gone up significantly, which has meant to some extent a reduction in their rates of participation in the labour market, but has also meant an increase in the proportion of adolescents who both study and work,” he said.

In 2013, practically all children in Argentina between the ages of five and 14 and 84 percent of adolescents between 15 and 17 were in school, the study says.

Gustavo Ponce, an ILO expert in prevention and eradication of child labour, said measures like the 2006 National Education Law, which made education obligatory until the last year of secondary school (17 or 18 years of age), contributed to the new trend of adolescents working and studying at the same time.

“Progress has also been made in terms of legislation and regulations, with a law that raised the minimum working age to 16, which included the question of protection of adolescent workers aged 16 and 17,” Ponce told IPS.

He was referring to a law that protects young people from heavy or dangerous work, or work that makes it impossible for them to attend school or endangers their health.

He was also referring to the 2013 reform of the penal code, which made child labour a crime.

In their report, the ILO and UNESCO mentioned these measures as well as others, such as the Universal Child Allowance cash transfer programme, which have helped discourage child labour by boosting the incomes of poor families.

“Yes, you could say there has been a policy to eradicate child labour,” said Ponce.

López said that what is needed now is to continue improving school enrollment and attendance among adolescents. According to the new study, of the children between the ages of five and 13 who both work and attend school, approximately one-third repeat the year, compared to 13 percent of children who do not work.

With regard to truancy, the report cites statistics from a Labour Ministry survey of activities among children and adolescents, pointing out that 20 percent of those who both work and study frequently miss school, compared to 10 percent of those who only attend school.

And in the case of adolescents who work, 26 percent do not go to school, and 43 percent of those who do attend school are held back. Among those who only study, 27 percent repeat the year.

“It’s better than if they were just working,” said López. “It’s good for kids who are working to also be studying, preparing for their future. You could say it’s a positive thing if the kids who have to work can also go to school.”

Overall, though, “it’s negative because what the statistics, studies and common sense show is that these kids have a lower quality educational experience, because they don’t have time to do their homework, they don’t have time to study, they go to school tired, they miss school more, and they get less out of the educational experience for different reasons,” he added.

According to the Labour Ministry, child labour was reduced 66 percent from 2004 to 2012 – from 450,000 children working in 2004 to 180,000 in 2012.

But another concern are less visible forms of child labour, such as unpaid housework and caregiving, which especially affect girls and young women, including caring for younger siblings, cleaning the house, fixing meals, and taking care of small barnyard animals.

“Educational level is one of the main mechanisms used by the labour market to select workers. Access or lack of access to formal education is one of the aspects most heavily associated with the process of intergenerational accumulation of social disadvantage,” says the report.

Among the measures to encourage school attendance, the ILO proposes improving the network of free public services that support caregivers, including childcare centres, preschools, and double shifts in schools. In Argentina, schoolchildren attend either the morning or the afternoon shift. But full-day schools are becoming more common in low-income areas, enabling mothers to work.

The ILO also proposes campaigns to combat certain beliefs or customs, especially in rural areas.

“When we interview parents, for example, it’s clear that they think it’s normal to feed and milk the livestock before going to school, as if it were a way to help out at home and a positive learning experience rather than work that children do at home,” the report says.

The trade unions, meanwhile, say the concept of eradicating child labour should also be included in the educational curriculum.

Hernán Rugirello, with the Confederación General del Trabajo central trade union’s social research centre, told IPS about an initiative carried out by the union in Mar del Plata, a city 400 km south of Buenos Aires. With the help of the teachers’ union, the issues surrounding child labour have begun to be taught in schools there.

“It’s important to put this problem on the agenda, so that young people will also start understanding it and will become agents of transmission of knowledge, bringing the issues home with them,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 1
Opinion: Sub-Saharan Africa, Addis and Paris Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:53:19 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudi von Arnim Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Rudi von Arnim
ROME, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

After the turn of the century, growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) picked up again after a quarter century of near stagnation for most, mainly due to increased world demand for minerals and other natural resources.

The region became second only to East Asia in recovering from the global slowdown following the 2008-2009 financial crisis.Thanks to the failure of development over the preceding quarter century, SSA was the only region not to make any progress in reducing the population share in poverty, with the number of poor people actually rising significantly.

During the decade 2003-2013, growth was faster, averaging 2.6 percent per capita annually. The SSA growth acceleration of the past decade fueled hopes that growth on the continent had finally begun to accelerate and catch up.

Annual SSA per capita real GDP growth had averaged a respectable two percent in the 1960s, but had slowed down from the late 1970s. Over the next two decades, real per capita income for sub-Saharan countries shrank by about three quarters of a percentage point annually on average.

While SSA growth resumed in the last decade, reliance on natural resource extraction has compromised its developmental impact. Such economic activity, especially in mining, has few linkages to the rest of the national economy, thus limiting its growth and employment creation impacts as well.

As its economic performance has closely followed the vagaries of the global commodity price cycle, SSA growth in the last decade was largely driven by the minerals boom on the continent.

But the high commodity prices of the past decade have been reversed by the spreading global economic slowdown and the Saudi decision to drastically reduce oil prices.

However, natural resource extraction does not have the same potential to accelerate development as manufacturing. No country has successfully developed without substantially increasing manufacturing or high-end services. Sub-Saharan Africa has not done well on this score in recent decades.

While the manufacturing share of GDP for all developing countries has risen over 23 percent, it has fallen in SSA to 8 percent from 12 percent in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the primary commodities’ share of total SSA exports reached almost 90 percent in the past decade.

Premature and inappropriate trade liberalisation has damaged SSA’s limited export capacities. The region’s share of world merchandise exports fell from 5 percent in the 1950s to 1.8 percent during 2000-2010. Meanwhile, its share of world manufactured exports stands at a paltry one-fifth of one percentage point.

Trade liberalisation has also undermined the fiscal capacities of many governments in poor countries, with dire consequences for development and social progress.

Since many transactions in developing countries are informal, and hence untaxed, poor developing country governments have traditionally relied on trade tariffs to raise revenue.

Thus, trade liberalisation has reduced their ability to raise revenue, without providing alternate sources. As a consequence, the share of government spending in GDP has fallen from an average of around 16 percent during 1980-1999 to 13 percent during recent years.

Thus, neither trade nor financial liberalisation has helped accelerate economic growth in SSA. Growth requires investments, but investment as a share of SSA GDP has fallen in recent decades, to only 17 percent before the crisis.

External financial liberalisation from the 1980s was supposed to draw in foreign resources, but portfolio investments in SSA are negligible, and more crucially, ill-suited to facilitate sustainable growth.

Instead, there have been net outflows of capital from the world’s poorest region to international financial centres, including tax havens.

Appropriately targeted ‘greenfield’ foreign direct investment (FDI) has more potential to make a positive impact. However, Africa’s share of FDI to all developing economies has fallen from 21 percent in the 1970s to only 11 percent in recent years, or from 5 percent to 3 percent of global FDI.

To make matters worse, FDI in SSA overwhelmingly involves natural resource extraction, with few developmental spillovers from such investments.

According to World Bank estimates, the share of the SSA population living in extreme poverty rose from 50 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 1998 before falling back to 50 percent in 2005.

Thanks to the failure of development over the preceding quarter century, SSA was the only region not to make any progress in reducing the population share in poverty, with the number of poor people actually rising significantly.

A decade ago, in 2005, the G8 summit at Gleneagles committed to increasing Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 50 billion dollars by 2010. The Gleneagles summit also promised to increase ODA to Africa by 25 billion dollars to 64 billion. Actual delivery fell short by 18 billion dollars, or by 72 percent!

In 2012 dollars, annual ODA to SSA hovered around 50 billion during 2006-2013, up from about 42 billion in 2005, but well short of what was promised. G8 aid to Africa falls well short of promised levels, even below the contributions from the small Nordic countries.

Not surprisingly, the recent G7 summit made no reference to the Gleneagles promises. Instead, it focused on addressing climate change, and it seems likely that climate finance conditionalities will undermine the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities.

The struggle leading to the Conference of Parties in Paris will be to ensure that climate finance will be additional to the longstanding ODA promises, and will promote climate justice and development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Critics of World Bank-Funded Projects in the Line of Fire Mon, 22 Jun 2015 23:16:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The World Bank has increased financial support for the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour. Credit: David Stanley/CC-BY-2.0

The World Bank has increased financial support for the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour. Credit: David Stanley/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

For an entire month beginning in February 2015, a group of between 40 and 50 residents of the Durgapur Village in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand would gather at the site of a hydroelectric power project being carried out by the state-owned Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC).

All day long the protestors, mostly women and their children, would sit in defiance of the initiative that they believed was an environmental and social danger to their community, singing folk songs that spoke of their fears and hopes.

“I had expected a very constructive conversation with the World Bank. Instead all I am hearing are non-responses." -- Jessica Evans, senior advocate on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch
Their actions were well within the bounds of the law, but the reactions of THDC employees to their peaceful demonstration were troubling in the extreme.

According to one of the women involved, THDC contractors and labourers routinely harassed them by hurling abusive slurs – going so far as to call the women ‘prostitutes’ and make derogatory comments about their caste – and attempted to intimidate them by threatening “severe” consequences if they didn’t call off their picket.

In a country where activists and communities demanding their rights are routinely subjected to identical or worse treatment at the hands of both state and private actors, this tale may not seem at all out of the ordinary.

What sets it apart, however, is that this hydroelectric project was not simply a government-led scheme; it is financed by a 648-million-dollar loan from the World Bank.

Governed by a set of “do no harm” policies, both the Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have – on paper at least – pledged to consult with and protect local communities impacted by its funding.

But according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, the Bank has not only systematically turned a blind eye to reports of human rights abuses associated with its projects, it also lacks necessary safeguards required to avoid further violations in the future.

When silence and negligence equals complicity

Based on research carried out over a two-year period between May 2013 and May 2015, in Cambodia, India, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan – the latter following allegations of rights abuses in Uzbekistan – the report entitled ‘At Your Own Risk: Reprisals Against Critics of World Bank Group Projects’ found that Bank officials consistently fail to respond in any meaningful way to allegations of severe reprisals against those who speak out against Bank-funded projects.

In some cases, the World Bank Group has even turned its back on local community members working with its own officials.

Addressing the press on a conference call on Jun. 22, the report’s author, Jessica Evans, highlighted an incident in which an interpreter for the Bank’s Inspection Panel was flung into prison just weeks after the oversight body concluded its review process.

Withholding all identifying details of the case for the security of the victim, Evans stated that, besides questioning government officials “behind closed doors”, the Bank has so far remained completely silent on the fate of an independent activist working to strengthen the Bank’s own process.

Such actions, or lack thereof, “make a mockery out of [the Bank’s] own stated commitments to participation and accountability,” the report concluded.

HRW has identified dozens of cases in which activists claim to have been targeted – harassed, abused, threatened or intimidated – for voicing their objections to aspects of Bank or IFC-funded initiatives for a range of social, environmental or economic reasons.

Because the bulk of communities in close proximity to major development schemes tend to be among the poorest or most vulnerable, and therefore lack the access or ability to formally lodge their complaints, the true number of people who have experienced such reprisals is “sure” to be much higher than the figures stated in the report, researchers revealed.

Evans told IPS, “On this issue of reprisals the World Bank’s silence and inaction has already crossed the line” into the realm of compliance.

She added that the Inspection Panel raised the issue of retaliation back in 2009, giving the Bank ample time to take necessary steps to address a chronic and pervasive problem.

Instead, it continues to engage with governments that have a poor human rights track record, while remaining apparently deaf to pressures and demands from civil society to strengthen mechanisms that will protect powerless and marginalized communities from violent backlash.

Take the case of Elena Urlaeva, who heads the Tashkent-based Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, and who was arrested in a cotton field on May 31, 2015, while documenting evidence of the Uzbek government’s massive system of forced labour in cotton production.

According to HRW, Urlaeva was detained, abused and sexually violated during an extremely violent cavity probe. On the grounds that they were searching for a data card from her camera, male doctors and policemen conducted such a rough and invasive search that the ordeal left her bleeding.

She was forbidden from using the bathroom and eventually forced to go outside the station in the presence of male officers who called her a “bitch”, filmed her in the act of relieving herself and threatened to post the video online if she complained about her treatment.

Evans told IPS all of this occurred against a backdrop of the World Bank’s increased financial support of the cotton sector – already it has pledged over 450 million dollars to three major agricultural projects of the Uzbek government – despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour.

In the absence of any robust mechanism within the World Bank to make continued funding conditional on compliance with international human rights standards, there is a “real risk” that independent monitors and rights activists will continue to face situations as horrific as the one Urlaeva recently endured, Evans stressed.

A ‘disappointing’ reaction

Both the World Bank and the United Nations have tossed the issue of development-related rights abuses from one forum to another.

In his May 2015 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston stressed the urgency of “putting questions of resources and redistribution back into the human rights equation.”

He decried several member states’ attempts to keep international economics, finance and trade “quarantined” from the human rights framework, and blasted international financial institutions (IFIs) for contributing to this culture of impunity.

“The World Bank can simply refuse to engage with human rights in the context of its policies and programmes, IMF does the same, and the World Trade Organisation is little different,” Alston remarked, adding that these bodies throw the issue at the HRC, while the latter simply knocks the ball back into the financiers’ court.

It is becoming akin to a game of political ping-pong, with the ball representing the human rights of some of the most impoverished people in the world – at whom multi-million-dollar development projects are ostensibly targeted.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global coalition of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold IFIs accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “You can’t have successful development without robust civil society participation in setting development priorities, designing projects, and monitoring implementation.”

If development banks and their member states neglect to take leadership and implement the necessary protocols and policies, she said, “they will continue to see increasing development failures, human rights abuses, and conflict.”

If the World Bank Group’s initial reaction to HRW’s comprehensive research is anything to go by, however, Bank on Human Rights and other watchdogs of its ilk have their work cut out for them.

Though HRW’s researchers invited the Bank and the IFC’s input with an in-depth list of questions back in April, they have received nothing but a rather “bland response” that failed to address the issue of reprisals at all and simply stated that the Bank “is not a human rights tribunal.”

“I had expected a very constructive conversation with the World Bank,” Evans said. “Instead all I am hearing are non-responses. We have proposed really pragmatic recommendations for how the Bank can work effectively in challenging environments, but we are a long way from that at the moment.”

Both the Bank’s Inspection Panel and the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) have greeted the report with enthusiasm, but they are independent bodies and remain largely powerless to effect change at the management level of the World Bank Group.

This power lies with the Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, who will have to “take the lead and send a clear message to his staff that the question of reprisals is a priority issue,” Evans concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Opinion: 2015 and Beyond, Young Voices, Loud Demands Fri, 19 Jun 2015 12:44:27 +0000 Daniele Brunetto

Daniele Brunetto is Youth Amabassador for The ONE Campaign in Belgium.

By Daniele Brunetto
BRUSSELS, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

As a young person interested in development, my heart beats a little faster when I look at the potential of 2015. There has never been so much at stake as this year for the future of our planet.

Courtesy of Daniele Brunetto.

Courtesy of Daniele Brunetto.

2015 is full to bursting with game-changing moments for development. The recent G7 summit got the ball rolling on the post-2015 agenda, while other key moments of the year include the United Nations General Assembly in September, when the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be agreed on, and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, which will close this pivotal year.

However, the number one moment for me this year is the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, from July 13 to 16. Here, world leaders, civil society and relevant actors from the private sector will gather in Addis Ababa and set out a path for financing the next 15 years of international development.

Why is Addis such a momentous opportunity? Firstly, it is about learning from the past and looking to the future – working out where the Millennium Development Goals succeeded, and where they fell short – and most importantly, how this can be rectified in the future.We want to see ambitious, concrete and measurable commitments to end extreme poverty by 2030, making sure the poorest are put first and that no-one is left behind.

Secondly, Addis provides a crucial opportunity to move the discussion beyond aid, and to engage with private sector investment and increase domestic resource mobilisation, through fighting corruption and curbing illicit financial flows.

Thirdly, it allows for a reassessment of what exactly aid is for, and whom it should be directed to over the next 15 years and beyond. Embracing alternative sources of financing for development is vital, but this must be coupled with the mapping out of aid flows to where it is most needed.

Seeing as the Least Developed Countries have limited means to generate domestic revenue and attract foreign investment, and that these countries have far greater proportions of people living in extreme poverty, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is those countries which should be prioritised when it comes to aid flows.

So, how are things looking? Are world leaders ready to come to Addis and to ensure that the new Goals are well financed, well tracked, and that they meet the basic needs of all?

Let’s look at the European Union. It’s the world’s largest provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA), and its overall levels of spending are increasing year after year. However, its own target of spending 0.7 percent of its collective GNI on ODA remains decidedly unmet.

Although EU leaders have recently reaffirmed their commitment to reaching this target as part of the post-2015 agenda, they have not set out a clear roadmap on how and when this will be implemented, which brings their commitment into question.

Among the European countries who could take the lead on this, I would like to see my own country, Italy, stepping up. Although Italy’s investment in ODA leaves a lot to be desired (Italy gave just 0.16 percent of its GNI in ODA in 2014), it has demonstrated a clear ambition to reach the goal soon and to ensure an increasing amount of transparency in investment in developing countries.

It was indeed under the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union that new anti-money laundering rules were approved, something which can help combat illicit financial flows from developing countries. While the rules leave it up to member states to render this information public, this is undeniably a step forward, and I can only be happy about this achievement of my country!

So, what can I do, as a young ‘development geek’, a ‘factivist’, in order to make sure this year doesn’t pass in vain? Lots, as my time campaigning with ONE has proven!

As a young anti-poverty activist, I have learned that world leaders are not as distant to young voices as I expected, and that our demands do not fall on deaf ears. With my fellow Youth Ambassadors, for example, I was able to convince over half of the Members of the European Parliament to publicly commit to do everything in their capacity to end extreme poverty by 2030.

We, as young people, must show leaders how important it is to us to bring about the end of extreme poverty within a generation. Supported by powerful data and irrefutable facts, we must push our representatives to stand up for the world’s poorest and seize the opportunities this year offers with both hands.

We want to see ambitious, concrete and measurable commitments to end extreme poverty by 2030, making sure the poorest are put first and that no-one is left behind. This year we can shape a better future, and we, as young people, must play our part and make our voices heard.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 1
Opinion: Building Civil Service Excellence in the Post-2015 Development Agenda Fri, 19 Jun 2015 10:35:55 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

By Kairat Abdrakhmanov

This September, we usher in the post-2015 development agenda with a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by Member States, with civil society participation, based on national, regional and global consultations.

These goals are transformative and their impact goes far beyond the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in vision, complexity, outreach and implications.


Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Permanent of Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Amongst them is Goal 16, according to which countries will “promote peaceful and inclusive societies with justice for all and build effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels”.

Building civil service excellence will therefore certainly be critical to achieving this goal. Likewise, the proposed Goal 17 on means of implementation calls for institutional capacity building in developing countries to support national plans to operationalise all the SDGs, including through North-South, South-South and Triangular cooperation.

Both of these gave birth to the idea of creating the Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana, at the initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan with a view to seek innovative mechanisms to ensure equitable, effective and efficient delivery of public service to its people.

But the intent was also for the wider region of Central Asia and CIS countries to gain from it through advancing “the knowledge base, evidence-informed solutions, practical tools and guidance, and pursuit of emerging and innovative public administration and management models and thinking”.

The idea of setting up this Hub arose from the struggles of a country in transition. Kazakhstan, since its Independence, just like other newly independent nations in the region witnessed profound political, socio-economic and administrative transformations.This scholarship scheme has been serving to level the playing field by providing access to quality education and developing capable and well qualified human capital.

In the early nineties, the economic linkages of Kazakhstan with other 14 republics were abruptly discontinued which led to increased unemployment, devaluation of savings and galloping inflation of up to 2500 per cent.

Against this backdrop, the President of Kazakhstan, H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, first of all, initiated socio-economic reforms, followed by innovations and reforms in the administrative sphere, which the evolving times demanded.

Having no experience of market economy, the Government had to implement reforms with the available personnel. However, the President’s long term vision of subsequent reforms required a new generation of public sector leaders and technocrats which resulted in a generous scholarship programme offered by the Government.

The objective was to provide talented youth with free access to education in leading universities globally. Since 1993, about 10,000 Kazakh students gained degrees in the best universities and joined the job market at home, including the civil service.

This scholarship scheme has been serving to level the playing field by providing access to quality education and developing capable and well qualified human capital.

Having stabilised economic growth in the 1990s, Kazakhstan went further and was first among the CIS countries to significantly modernise its civil service with meritocracy as the key principle.

We acknowledged that the sustainability of reforms was heavily dependent on the quality of institutions, and of the civil service, in particular.

Importantly, the key characteristics of reforms in Kazakhstan have always been logical consistency and continuity. A clear indication of this is the set of five institutional reforms recently announced by our President, the first of which is improved civil service modernisation.

The aim here is to form a professional, accountable and transparent state apparatus in order to ensure sustainable development of the country. The responsible body for this is the National Commission on Modernisation headed by the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan.

Under this process of transformation, criteria will be established to monitor activities and evaluate the efficiency of each Government agency, concerned minister or local governor.

The role of communities in state bodies and local administration will also be strengthened by allowing them to participate and monitor results of strategic plans and development programmes. Civil society will also be engaged in the process of identifying budgets, relevant laws and regulations.

In this endeavour, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) as a trusted partner has been continuously supporting the reform efforts in Kazakhstan since our Independence. Now, we count on the longer term strategic partnership with UNDP all the more, particularly with regards to all the five institutional reforms.

Clearly, Kazakhstan believes in sharing accumulated experience and knowledge, as well as promoting cooperation among the countries and institutions in its region and beyond. Therefore, Kazakhstan’s initiative of the Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana was founded by 25 countries and five international organisations, at a founding conference in 2013, with UNDP as the key partner.

The aim of the Astana Hub is to facilitate regional, as well as inter-regional professional dialogue in order to promote civil service excellence. This idea has resonated with the Hub today comprising more than 30 countries in 2014, including OECD and EU member countries, as well as China, India, Turkey, and CIS countries. The Hub is thus fostering dialogue between countries of Europe and Asia.

Last year also saw the Hub taking concrete shape with an agreement between the Government of Kazakhstan and UNDP, by which Kazakhstan agreed to make considerable resources available to support the Hub and thus expand its scope and gains to enhance the field of civil service in the region and beyond.

As Helen Clark, the Administrator of UNDP, noted, “establishment of the Hub and its success has been made possible because countries like Kazakhstan are ready to share their experiences with reforms…such as the introduction of meritocracy into professional civil service”.

According to UNDP, “the Hub also offers the potential for continuing Kazakhstan’s emerging global role in providing official development assistance (ODA) to other countries”.

Kazakhstan, with guidance from UNDP, has established its national agency for international aid, called KazAID, which marks an important evolution and achievement in the country’s significance regionally and globally. The support and partnership will focus on Africa, the landlocked countries and small island developing states.

Kazakhstan will continually aspire to serve as an active contributor to the global development agenda. Our efforts will add practical solutions for implementing the post-2015 phase most effectively, with particular relevance to Sustainable Development Goal 16, which calls for inter alia promoting accountable institutions and ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

To conclude, Kazakhstan, stands ready and is fully committed to help facilitate regional and interregional initiatives in civil service excellence, and contribute concretely to the achievement of the SDGs in the coming years.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of India Fri, 19 Jun 2015 05:57:18 +0000 Stella Paul Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TIKAMGARH, India, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Eighty-year-old Chenabai Kushwaha sits on a charpoy under a neem tree in the village of Chitawar, located in the Tikamgarh district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, staring intently at a dictaphone.

“Please sing a song for us,” urges the woman holding the voice recorder. Kushwaha obliges with a melancholy tune about an eight-year-old girl begging her father not to give her away in marriage.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region." -- Naheda Yusuf, head of Radio Bundelkhand
The melody melts into the summer air, and the motley crowd that has gathered around the tree falls silent.

“Thanks for so much for singing to ‘Radio Bundelkhand’,” says Ekta Kari, a reporter-producer at the community radio station based in this predominantly farming district, before switching off the device.

With a listenership of some 250,000 people spread across over a dozen villages in Bundelkhand, an agricultural region split between the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the station is lifting up some of India’s most beaten down communities by getting their voices out on the airwaves and bearing good tidings in a place long accustomed to nothing but bad news.

Endless hardships

Some 18.3 million people occupy this vast region. The majority of them are farmers, and the list of hardships they face on a daily basis is endless.

According to the Planning Commission of India, a loss of soil fertility caused by erratic weather, coupled with severe depletion of the groundwater table, has made life extremely hard for those who work the land.

Crop losses due to unseasonal rains and recurring heat waves have also become common over the last decade. Last year, a majority of farmers lost over half of their winter crop due to unexpected heavy rains.

Two out of every three farmers interviewed by IPS concurred that extreme weather has made farming, already a backbreaking occupation, something of a nightmare in these parts.

Recurring droughts between 2003 and 2010 forced many people to abandon traditional mixed cropping of millets and pulses and switch to mono-cultures like wheat, which require heavy inputs.

NGOs have also pointed to unequal land distribution policies in the region as a major cause of farmers’ strife, with millions of families unable to practice anything beyond very small-scale, subsistence agriculture given the paltry size of their plots.

Earlier this year, plagued by poor weather, miserable harvests and alleged apathy to their plight by both state and federal government bodies, scores of starving and debt-ridden farmers threw in the towel.

In the first two weeks of March, roughly a dozen farmers in Bundelkhand had committed suicide.

This follows a pattern in the region that speaks to the desperation these rural communities face – according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3,000 farmers in Bundelkhand committed suicide between 1995 and 2012.

While this represents only a fraction of all suicides across the country’s agricultural belt, which is now approaching 300,000, Bundelkhand’s death toll is no trifling number.

Given this harsh reality, an outsider might find it hard to fathom how an intervention as simple as a community radio station could make a difference. But for the listeners who toil here daily, the radio has become something of a lifeline.

“Our station, our issues”

Naheda Yusuf, a senior programme manager at the Delhi-based media non-profit Development Alternatives, which helped launch Radio Bundelkhand back in 2008, tells IPS that 99 percent of the listeners are farmers.

Although the villages that make up the bulk of the audience lie in different states, they all fall into the larger Bundelkhand region and so share a distinct culture, traditions and dialect.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region,” Yusuf explains. “It connects with them in their Bundeli dialect, and provides information on issues that concern them.”

Over 75 percent of the shows are dedicated to agricultural issues including farming techniques, pest control practices, market prices, weather forecasts, and climate change updates.

While some of the information is sourced daily from government agencies like the departments of agriculture and meteorology, most of it comes from six reporter-producers who interact directly with the community to gather news and views most relevant to their listeners.

Every day, each of them produces at least one live show, during which the audience is asked to call in with their questions and comments.

“It’s your show,” one commentator announces on the air, “so if you don’t share your opinions, we can’t get it right.”

One of the most popular shows on Radio Bundelkhand is ‘Shuv Kal’ meaning good tomorrow. Its central theme is climate change and its effect on the farming community.

One of the show’s two producers, Gauri Sharma, says they discuss water access, deforestation and solar energy. They also pay homage to the river Betwa, a tributary of the Yamuna that waters these lands, and encourages farmers not to waste the precious resource.

“We discuss planting trees around the farms, so excess water from irrigation pumps can be utilised,” Sharma tells IPS. “We also spread awareness about renewable energy.”

The response from the audience has been encouraging, she adds, especially among the youth who call and write in to share how the station has shaped their practices.

In one such letter, an 18-year-old farmer from the village of Tafarian shared that he had “planted 22 fruit trees around his farm, stopped using polythene and begun vermicomposting” as a result of listening to the show.

Portable, affordable, accessible

Another listener, Jayanti Bai of Vaswan village, says the radio station literally saved her entire crop. “The leaves of my okra plants were turning yellow,” she tells IPS. “Then I heard of a medicine on the radio, which I sprayed on the leaves – it saved me.”

She now wants to buy a radio for the entire community and tie it to a tree so the women in her neighbourhood can listen to it together. It will take some saving – the most popular device used here costs about 1,000 rupees (about 15 dollars) and that is more than she can afford in one go.

But in a region that experiences eight to 10 hours of power cuts a day, and where only 48 percent of the female population and just over 70 percent of the male population is literate, a radio is a far more viable option than a television, or newspapers.

Farmers also tell IPS a radio’s portability makes it a more attractive choice since it can be taken to “work” – meaning carried into the fields and played loud enough for workers to hear as they go about their tasks.

Because the station caters to a largely female audience, it tackles issues that are particularly relevant to women listeners. One of these is the question of suicide, which many women see as a male phenomenon.

“Have you ever heard of a woman farmer committing suicide?” asks 46-year-old Ramkumari Napet, of Baswan village. “It is because she thinks, ‘What will happen to my children when I am gone?’”

Women contend that men require more help in understanding their relationships both to themselves and their families. And indeed, the radio station is helping them determine these blurry lines.

“Last week an anonymous caller said his brother was thinking of committing suicide,” Sharma tells IPS. “He [the caller] said he was going to try to talk his brother out of it.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 1
Opinion: No Place to Hide in Addis Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:16:38 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign.

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

My colleagues just got back from Munich, where we held a summit bringing together over 250 young volunteers from across Europe. These youngsters campaigned in the run-up to and at the doorstep of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, as one of the key moments in a year brimming with opportunities to tackle extreme poverty.

It’s inspiring to work with these young activists – their enthusiasm and creativity are humbling. But the other thing about young people is that they don’t let anyone pull the wool over their eyes. Euphemisms don’t stick; skirting the point doesn’t get you very far. They keep us on our toes and that is not a bad thing at all.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

But some phenomena I am simply at a loss to explain. One such paradox is the fact that only a third of aid goes to the very poorest countries, and that aid to those countries has been declining. Yet in the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’, 43 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty, compared to 13 percent in other countries.

This begs so many questions it is dizzying. How are we going to eradicate extreme poverty if we don’t prioritise the countries that need aid the most? What is aid for if not helping the poorest?

Why are we cutting aid to the poorest countries when it is the middle income countries that are becoming more able to mobilise their own sources of financing for development? And why aren’t leaders doing anything to reverse this perverse trend?

Instead, EU development ministers in May recommitted to the existing promise of providing 0.7 percent of national income in aid, and up to 0.2 percent of national income in aid to the least developed countries – this time “within the timeframe” of the post-2015 agenda to be adopted in September.

But even if they achieved both targets by say, 2025, that would still mean a share of only 28.6 percent of total aid going to the poorest countries. In other words: business as usual. This is where any young person would detect the glaring no-brainer, and unapologetically probe “… but isn’t that too little, too late?”Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone.

Whereas the Millennium Development Goals – global anti-poverty goals agreed in the year 2000 – allowed us to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of bringing down average levels of extreme poverty and child mortality, this year’s new set of ‘Global Goals’ is all about finishing the job.

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone. We need to frontload our efforts and put the poorest and most vulnerable at the centre of our approach from the get-go.

That is why donors must commit to spending at least half of their aid on the poorest countries, and to doing this by 2020, so that those countries have time to tackle the Global Goals in time for the 2030 deadline.

This is but one of the debates that are heating up in the final weeks before the Summit in Addis Ababa in July, where world leaders will come together to decide on how to finance development. Negotiations touch upon topics that go well beyond aid, and rightly so, in an attempt to unlock new sources of financing such as domestic resource mobilisation and private sector investment.

Sadly though, many of the discussions are still being held hostage by the impasse on aid commitments. Indeed, donor countries’ laborious reaffirmation of decade-old broken promises does not inspire confidence that they are committed to doing things differently this time.

What, then, can change the game at this point? For one, let’s kick things up a level and bring in the big bosses. We fully expect heads of state to be in attendance in Addis – but even before then, the leaders of all 28 EU Member States are getting together for their own summit at the end of June.

Here they have the authority to agree on a more ambitious commitment than the development ministers managed to broker last month. Announcing an EU-wide intent to direct at least half of collective aid to the least developed countries would send a strong political message that could spark a much-needed race to the top in the final sprint towards Addis.

Another sure way to guarantee the success of this Summit is to inject more political will into the discussions that go beyond aid. For example, several countries are coming together to harness the “Data Revolution” to ensure that we collect the statistics needed to track progress and achieve the new Global Goals.

Right now, the world’s governments do not have more than 70 percent of the data they need to measure progress. Clearly, we need to aim for more with the new Global Goals.

Further, it will be crucial to agree on minimum per capita spending levels on essential services to deliver, by 2020, a basic package for all. In order to fund these efforts, governments should increase domestic revenues towards ambitious revenue-to-GDP targets and halve the gap to those targets by 2020 by implementing fair tax policies, curbing corruption and stemming illicit flows.

The list is long and time is running out, but as our youth activists would unwaveringly note, there is still ample opportunity for leaders in both North and South to rise to the occasion and throw their weight behind ending extreme poverty. Pesky questions aside, leaders really should take note of these young voices, because it is quite literally their future world that leaders are shaping this year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Industrial Fisheries Crowd out Artisanal Fisherpersons in South America Wed, 17 Jun 2015 20:00:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Small-scale fishermen who belong to the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP) protest in Santiago against the fisheries law, which they say has left 90 percent of artisanal fishers without fish. The white-haired man in the middle is the organisation’s leader, Gino Bavestrello. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Small-scale fishermen who belong to the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP) protest in Santiago against the fisheries law, which they say has left 90 percent of artisanal fishers without fish. The white-haired man in the middle is the organisation’s leader, Gino Bavestrello. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Millions of families on South America’s Pacific coast have long depended on artisanal fishing for a living. But they have been increasingly being pushed aside by the industrial fisheries that have made this region a major player in the global seafood industry.

“Fishing is part of the most ancient history of the Americas,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “Both on land and along the coasts and rivers it provided sustenance for many (indigenous) peoples, including those whose nomadic lives revolved around the sea.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are over two million small-scale fisherpersons who generate some three billion dollars a year in revenues, according to the Latin American Organisation for Fisheries Development (OLDEPESCA).

Three of the world’s large marine ecosystems are found along South America’s coasts.

The main one is the Humboldt Current. It flows north along the west coast of South America, from the southern tip of Chile, past Ecuador, to northern Peru, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems with approximately 20 percent of the world’s fish catch, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Other important ecosystems in the region – but in the Atlantic Ocean – are the Patagonian Shelf along the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and the South Brazil Shelf.

Despite the enormous diversity of species and ecosystems, production and trade flows in the region are dominated by a handful of countries: Peru, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, which together and in that order account for 90 percent of the region’s catch, with a total combined production of 18 million tons a year.

Fishing and aquaculture have made a major contribution to the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in South America’s coastal areas, who for centuries depended on them for a living and for highly nutritional food.

“In the pre-Hispanic world fishing was an essential tool for the existence of humankind and it also provided a link with nature,” Skewes said.

But the voracious large-scale fishing industry poses a threat to this way of life.

This is exemplified by 57-year-old Gino Bavestrello, a small-scale Chilean fisherman from the coastal town of Corral, near Valdivia, some 800 km south of Santiago. He has worked out at sea since as far back as he can remember, and he is both the son and the father of fishermen.

“I’ve been an artisanal fisherman all my life,” he told IPS with emotion in his voice. “My father was also a scuba diver; 30 years ago he found the mast of the (Chilean corvette) Esmeralda,” which sank during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).

But for the last two months Bavestrello, the head of the National Council for the Defence of Artisanal Fishing (CONDEPP), has not gone out to sea. His energy is focused on a greater good: the repeal of the controversial fisheries law.

Artisanal fishing, which is facing a number of threats, has long provided food and a livelihood to millions of fisherpersons in South America like these small-scale fishers in the town of Duao on the southern coast of Chile, who make a living selling their daily catch at informal markets on the beach itself. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Artisanal fishing, which is facing a number of threats, has long provided food and a livelihood to millions of fisherpersons in South America like these small-scale fishers in the town of Duao on the southern coast of Chile, who make a living selling their daily catch at informal markets on the beach itself. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The law, in force since 2013, was promoted by the government of right-wing former president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014) and grants fishing concessions for 20 years, renewable for another 20.

Small-scale fishermen complain that the law further concentrates the activity in the hands of large-scale commercial fishing interests, because large companies can receive fishing rights in perpetuity, which can be passed from one generation to the next.

The legislation also directly threatens marine life, and thus the livelihoods of small-scale fisherpersons.

In addition, there have been irregularities, as a recent judicial investigation showed. It found that the fishing corporation Corpesca, which controls 51.5 percent of the Chilean market, had paid bribes to members of the Senate fishing commission before it approved the fisheries act.

“What is happening is an extremely serious problem for us,” Bavestrello said. “For two months we haven’t brought in any income. We have organised soup kitchens and thanks to people who have constantly helped us, we have been able to feed our families.

“What we’re doing now is selling firewood, and we’ve fallen to the level of illegal practices, such as cutting down native trees,” he admitted.

“This law needs to be modified soon. We fishermen can’t continue to face these conditions. The aim of the law is to kill us,” he asserted.

CONDEPP spokesman Juan Carlos Quezada told IPS that the fishing law not only privatised marine resources, but also undermined the rights of small-scale fishermen.

“Ninety percent of artisanal fisherpersons have been left without fish catch quotas,” because concessions and quotas were only assigned to industrial fisheries and shipowners, he said.

“Artisanal fisherworkers who used to have quotas and used to fish were left without rights and a lot of them as a result had no work,” he complained.

“Because of that they have had to find other work, and the great majority are taking jobs as paid crew hired by medium-scale owners of several boats.”

The unfair competition between artisanal and industrial fishers is part of a complex crisis where ecological sustainability is also at risk in South America.

One example of this is Peru, where the Argentine oil company Pluspetrol has polluted rivers and lake Shanshacocha in the Amazon rainforest. Consequently, the fish catch has been reduced by nearly 50 percent in the lake.

The scarcity of the Peruvian anchoveta is now endangering exports of fish meal and oil, two of Peru’s main exports.

In Colombia, meanwhile, a study by the National University’s Biology Group found up to three times less fish today in the country’s waters than in the 1970s.

“Industrial scale fishing in the region has increasingly put pressure on artisanal fishers,” said Skewes.

“Currently we’re seeing a scenario where big industrial producers have taken over a major part of not only the ocean but the fish stocks,” he said.

This situation “has pushed small-scale artisanal fishers to find ways to get by, which are starting to complicate the survival of the ecosystem.”

The damage has been suffered by low-income people who have begun to work in other areas of production – which has made the problem invisible from a social point of view, he added.

But many small-scale fishers continue to fight for their rights and their livelihoods.

“Today we are fighting against the poverty facing artisanal fishers, who made a living from natural resources and brought these resources to the rest of the population, boosting food sovereignty,” said Bavestrello.

“We fish for a living while industrial-scale fishing interests fish to make profits,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
From Residents to Rangers: Local Communities Take Lead on Mangrove Conservation in Sri Lanka Wed, 17 Jun 2015 17:24:57 +0000 Amantha Perera Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Young mangrove plants tended by women beneficiaries from the Small Fishers Federation of Lanka have helped the Puttalam Lagoon regain some of its lost natural glory. The success of the programme has prompted the government to support an island-wide project worth 3.4 million dollars. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KALPITIYA, Sri Lanka, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

Weekends and public holidays are deadly for one of Sri Lanka’s most delicate ecosystems – that is when the island’s 8,815 hectares of mangroves come under threat.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture. We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.” -- Douglas Thisera, also known as Sri Lanka's Mangrove Master
With public officials, forest rangers and NGO workers on holiday, no one is around to enforce conservation laws designed to protect these endangered zones. Except the locals, that is.

Residents of the Kalpitiya Peninsula in the northwest Puttalam District are no strangers to the wanton destruction of the area’s natural bounty. Kalpitiya is home to the largest mangrove block in Sri Lanka, the Puttalam Lagoon, as well as smaller mangrove systems on the shores of the Chilaw Lagoon, 150 km north of the capital, Colombo.

For centuries these complex wetlands have protected fisher communities against storms and sea-surges, while the forests’ underwater root system has nurtured nurseries and feeding grounds for scores of aquatic species.

Perhaps more important, in a country still living with the ghosts of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, mangroves have been found to be a coastline’s best defense against tidal waves and tsunamis.

Many poor fisher families in western Sri Lanka also rely heavily on mangroves for sustenance, with generation after generation deriving protein sources from the rich waters or sustainably harvesting the forests’ many by-products.

But in Sri Lanka today, as elsewhere in the world, mangroves face a range of risks. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that the unique ecosystems, capable of storing up to 1,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare in their biomass, are being felled at three to five times the rate of other forests.

Over a quarter of the world’s mangrove cover has already been irrevocably destroyed, driven by aquaculture, agriculture, unplanned and unsustainable coastal development and over-use of resources.

On the west coast of Sri Lanka, despite government’s pledges to protect the country’s remaining forests, the covert clearing of mangroves continues – albeit at a slower rate than in the past.

But a small army of land defenders, newly formed and highly dedicated, is promising to turn this tide.

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Douglas Thisera, better known as the Mangrove Master, has spent the last two-and-a-half decades protecting the mangroves of Sri Lanka’s northwest Puttalam District. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When residents become rangers

They call him the ‘Mangrove Master’, but his real name is Douglas Thisera. A fisherman turned vigilante, he is the director for conservation at the Small Fisheries Foundation of Lanka (Sudeesa) and spends his days patrolling every nook of the Chilaw Lagoon for signs of illegal destruction.

Massive Boost for Mangroves

Last month, the Sudeesa programme received a massive boost from the U.S.-based NGO Seacology to expand its operations island-wide. The Sri Lankan government also signed on as a major partner for the five-year, 3.4-million-dollar mangrove protection scheme.

The project will use Sudeesa’s original initiative as a blueprint to pair conservation with livelihood prospects on a much larger scale.

The plan is to provide assistance to over 15,000 persons, half of them widows and the rest school dropouts, living close to Sri Lanka’s 48 lagoons where mangroves thrive.

There will be 1,500 community groups who will look after the mangroves and also plant 3,000 hectares’ worth of saplings.

In a further boost to conservationists, on May 11 the Sri Lankan government declared mangroves as protected areas, bringing them under the Forest Ordinance.

The move now makes commercial use of mangroves illegal, and the government has pledged to provide forest officials for patrols and other members of the armed forces for replanting programmes.

This is a huge step away from previous governments' policies and reflects a commitment from the newly-elected administration to conservation and sustainability - both priorities at the international level as the United Nations moves towards a pot-2015 development agenda.

“We can dream big now,” says the Mangrove Master, scanning the horizon.
He has been replanting and conserving mangroves since 1992, so he knows these forests – and its enemies – like the back of his hand.

“Suddenly we will see earth movers and other machinery clearing large tracts of mangroves – by the time pubic officials are alerted, the destruction is already done,” he tells IPS.

This pattern follows decades of state-sanctioned deforestation that began in the early 90s, when an aggressive government-backed prawn-farming scheme was taking root around the lagoon and private corporations as well as politically-linked business enterprises were eyeing and clearing the mangroves indiscriminately.

For years Thisera tried to draft the local community into conservation efforts, but they were up against a Goliath.

He recalls one instance, back in 1994, when a powerful politician cleared a 150-metre stretch of forest almost overnight. “We were helpless then, we did not have the organisational capacity to take on such figures.”

By 2012, prawn farming, salt panning, solid waste disposal and hotel construction for the country’s thriving tourist sector had conspired to cut Sri Lanka’s mangrove cover by 80 percent, according to some estimates.

Today, under the aegis of a major mangrove conservation programme in the region, Thisera not only has financial backing for his efforts – he has a network of residents just as dedicated to the task as he is.

The project is led by Sudeesa, whose chairman, Anuradha Wickramasinghe, believed that only “community-based” action could hope to save the disappearing forests.

But this was easier said than done.

Poverty stalks the population of Sri Lanka’s northwest coast, and the most recent government statistics indicate that the average income among fisher families is just 16 dollars a month, with 53 percent of the population here living below the national poverty line.

Unemployment is roughly 20 percent higher than the island-wide average of 4.1 percent, and most families spend every waking moment struggling to put food on the table.

So Sudeesa created a micro-credit scheme to incentivize conservation efforts, and tailored the programme towards women. Women are offered a range of loans at extremely low interest rates to start home-based sustainable ventures. In exchange, they care for young saplings, help replant stretches of mangrove forest and take it upon themselves to prevent illegal clearing for commercial purposes.

Together they have planted 170,000 saplings covering an area of 860 hectares in the district – and they are working to multiply this number.

Futures tied to the land

The entire scheme relies on community action.

Women are put in charge of designated locations, mostly close to their homes. When encroachment or illegal harvesting takes place, they use local networks and cell phones to get the word out.

Here, the Thisera plays a pivotal role, acting as an intermediary between local watchdogs and networks of public officials, which he can activate when the women raise a red flag.

Last year this rudimentary conservation machine managed to halt encroachment by a private company with a stake in prawn farming by forcing it to dismantle fencing around the mangroves and retreat to demarcations laid down in government maps of the area.

Thisera says powerful business interests present the biggest menace to locals. Although an epidemic in the late 1990s decimated most of the prawn farms, leaving large, empty man-made tanks in place of mangrove ecosystems, companies have been reluctant to retreat and many continue to pay taxes on former areas of operations.

“They want to keep a legal hold on the land for other purposes,” Thisera explains, such as tourism on the northern ridge of the Puttalam Lagoon that has seen a revival since the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.

Already two islands have been leased out to private companies, though no major construction operations have yet begun.

When they do, however, they will be forced to reckon with Thisera and his unofficial rangers.

“The mangroves are a part of our life, our culture,” Thisera explains. “We destroy them, we destroy ourselves.”

Self-confidence and self-reliance

Cut off from the country’s commercial hubs and major markets, women in this district have long had to rely on their wits to survive.

Take Anne Priyanthi, a 52-year-old widow with two children who until three years ago had struggled to feed her family. She tried to lift herself out of poverty by applying for a bank loan – but was refused on the basis that she did not “meet the criteria”.

In 2012 Sudeesa granted her a loan of 10,000 rupees – about 74 dollars – which she used to start a small pig farm. Today, she earns a monthly income of 25,000 rupees, or 182 dollars.

It seems a pittance – but it means her kids can stay in school and in these impoverished parts that is a monumental success.

Another beneficiary of Sudeesa’s conservation-livelihood project is 58-year-old Primrose Fernando, who now works as a coordinator for the NGO. The widow has three daughters, one of whom has a minor disability.

With her loan she was able to set up a small grocery shop for the disabled daughter and also invest in an ornamental fish breeding business.

“Without this assistance I would have been left destitute,” Fernando tells IPS.

Since 1994 Sudeesa had given out loans to the tune of 54 million rupees (over 400,000 dollars) to 3,900 women in the Puttalam District. Officials say that the loans have a repayment rate of over 75 percent.

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By conserving the mangroves, thousands of women have also carved out a better life for themselves and their families and no longer spend every waking moment wondering where their next meal will come from. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now the loans scheme falls under a registered public organisation called Sudeesa Social Enterprises Corporation, of which 683 of the most active women are shareholders.

“It is the shareholders who run the orgainsation now, who decide on loans, repayments and follow-up action in case of defaulters,” explains Malan Appuhami, a Sudeesa accountant.

The operation is not your average micro-credit scheme – interest rates are less than three percent, and since the women are all part of the same community, they are more interested in helping each other succeed than hunting down defaulters.

For instance during the months of June to September, when rough seas limit a fisher family’s catch, the shareholders create more flexible repayment plans.

In a country where the female unemployment rate is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure of 4.2 percent, the conservation-livelihood scheme is a kind of oasis in an otherwise barren desert for women – particularly older women without a formal education, as many in the Puttalam District are – seeking paid work.

Suvineetha de Silva, a Sudeesa credit officer, tells IPS that there has been a visible shift in women’s outlooks and attitudes – no longer ragged and shy, they now ripple with the confidence of those who have taken matters into their own hands.

Some have even been able to send their kids to university, de Silva says, something that was “unheard of” a decade ago, when the simple act of completing primary school was considered a luxury for youth whose parents needed the extra labour to help feed the family.

Other women are spending more time at home, with the result that sustainable cottage industries like home bakeries, dress making ventures and even hairdressing operations are thriving.

Best of all is that Puttalam’s mangroves now have a fighting chance, with determined women keeping watch over them.

Globally, an estimated 100 million people live in the vicinity of mangrove forests. What would it mean for the future of biodiversity if all of them followed Sri Lanka’s example?

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here.


This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
]]> 2
Domestics in Mexico Face Abuse and Scant Protection Tue, 16 Jun 2015 15:59:29 +0000 Emilio Godoy Domestics celebrating the approval of the convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (Convention No. 189) at International Labour Organisation headquarters in Geneva in June 2011. Credit: ILO

Domestics celebrating the approval of the convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (Convention No. 189) at International Labour Organisation headquarters in Geneva in June 2011. Credit: ILO

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

Her last two jobs left a bitter taste in the mouth of Yoloxochitl Solís, a 48-year-old single mother from Mexico. She sums up the experience in two words: abuse and discrimination.

“My employer would throw the food and medicine back in my face,” Solís told IPS. “She started to be rude to me, because she didn’t like me to say hello to people who were visiting her, she wanted me to stay shut up in the kitchen – I couldn’t even go out to the bathroom.”

Solís, who raised her 24-year-old son on her own, and whose first name means “flower heart” in the Náhuatl indigenous tongue, worked from 2000 to 2005 in a home in Villa Olímpica, a middle-class neighbourhood on the south side of Mexico City, where she cleaned, cooked and took care of a woman in her eighties.

“The hostile way she treated me was really strange, because there was no reason for them to discriminate against anyone,” she said, talking about the elderly woman and her son, who was in his sixties.

She earned roughly 20 dollars a day, two of which paid for her one-hour commute to and from work every day. Her workdays were long, from Monday through Saturday, and the only benefit she received was a small annual bonus. Tired of the mistreatment, she finally quit.“Domestic workers are fired without justification, accused of theft, thrown in jail over accusations of all kinds just to avoid paying them, and suffer sexual harassment. They have no protection, and their work is not valued.” -- Marcelina Bautista

But her next job was even worse. She was recommended by a nephew, and began to look after a stroke victim who had two children, also in Villa Olímpica.

Theoretically her workday was from 8:30 to 15:00. “But I would leave as late as eight o’clock at night; there was always something to do, and even if I was ill, I couldn’t miss work.”

In March, Solís ended up sick in bed with a fever in her home in the poor neighbourhood of Magdalena Contreras, to the south of Mexico City. “They shouted at me, insulted me, wouldn’t listen,” she said. As a result, she quit the job she had since 2006.

Stories like hers are routine in Mexico, where domestic workers suffer discrimination, exploitative working conditions, sexual harassment and low wages, with little protection from the law.

Mexico has not yet ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 concerning decent work for domestic workers, which was adopted in 2011 and went into effect two years later.

The binding convention, which Mexico signed in 2011, asserts that domestic workers are entitled to the same basic rights as other workers, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, minimum wage coverage, overtime compensation, clear information on the terms and conditions of employment, freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection from abuse and harassment, formal contracts, social security coverage and maternity leave.

Convention 189 is accompanied by Recommendation 201, a non-binding instrument that provides practical guidance on possible legal measures to help enforce the rights and principles established in the convention.

The recommendation also addresses areas not covered by the convention, such as vocational training policies and programmes, international cooperation, and protection of the rights of domestic workers employed by diplomatic personnel.

“Domestic workers are fired without justification, accused of theft, thrown in jail over accusations of all kinds just to avoid paying them, and suffer sexual harassment,” said Marcelina Bautista, founder and director of the non-governmental Centre for Support and Training for Domestic Workers (CACEH).

“They have no protection, and their work is not valued,” Bautista, originally from the impoverished southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, told IPS.

Bautista, who is also the Latin America regional coordinator of the International Domestic Workers Federation, speaks from experience: she began to work as a domestic in Mexico City at the age of 14.

The abuse she experienced opened her eyes to the difficulties faced by domestics, and she returned to school with the aim of helping to improve conditions for maids.

CACEH receives three to five complaints a day, most of them involving unfair dismissal and discrimination, which are referred to a group of pro bono lawyers if they are not settled through dialogue. The Centre also offers advice to domestics about their rights, and runs a job placement programme.

The numbers tell the story

In the report “Labour Conditions of Domestic Workers”, published in April by the National Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination, stresses the classism, violence, racism and grievances suffered by domestics.

An estimated 2.3 million people, over 90 percent of them women, work as domestics in this Latin American country of 120 million people.

Domestics tend to have little formal schooling, are often paid under the table, have long workdays, and frequently inherit their positions from their mothers or other family members.

Based on surveys among domestics and their employers, the National Commission found that the main conflicts arose from false accusations of theft, searches of their belongings, verbal abuse including putdowns and insults, and even physical mistreatment.

Domestics interviewed complained that they had no social security coverage, were paid low wages and were mistreated, and that they had to do heavy and demanding work with no set working hours.

They also complained that their employers violated the terms of their contracts.

They said they had become domestics because they couldn’t afford to continue their studies and did not have other options.

The average age of the respondents was 35, while 28 percent were between the ages of 18 and 25, and five percent were minors.

Of those interviewed, 36 percent began to work between the legal working age of 15 and 18, and 21 percent started before turning 15.

In addition, 23 percent were indigenous, and of that portion, 33 percent had suffered derogatory treatment and 25 percent were prohibited from speaking their own language.

During the 104th Session of the ILO’s International Labour Conference, held Jun. 1-13 in Geneva, the Mexican government reported that it was studying how to reconcile Convention 189 and Recommendation 201 with the Federal Labour Law that was amended in 2012 without including the commitments assumed in Convention 189.

But the government did not meet the prior invitation by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations to send the text to the legislature as early as possible for ratification, in order for it to enter into effect.

The Latin American countries that have ratified the convention so far are Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay, according to the ILO.

Solís admitted that she had no idea there was an international convention that could protect her and other domestic workers. “It’s very important for us to be oriented about our work and our rights,” she said.

Bautista said it was difficult to raise awareness among decision-makers. The activist said Convention 189 was “fundamental because it is better than any national law. Furthermore, legislation must be brought into line with the convention; the laws do not protect domestic workers.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
When a Kid With Low Self-Esteem Dreams of Becoming the President Mon, 15 Jun 2015 22:08:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

You may have heard of Global Citizenship Education (GCED), but unless you move in international development circles, chances are you’re not entirely sure what the acronym means.

Speaking at a seminar on this very issue at the United Nations headquarters on Jun. 15, Sofia Garcia-Garcia of SOS Children’s Villages, a care organisation striving to meet the needs of over 80,000 children in 133 countries worldwide, provided an excellent summary.

Recounting a recent project undertaken by the Global Movement for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which Garcia’s organisation is a member, she explained what happened when 1,080 kids and adolescents from 10 Latin American countries were consulted about their own priorities for the U.N.’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education. It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity." -- Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria.
“SOS works with children without parental care, and they are usually children with very, very low self esteem,” Garcia told a packed conference room Monday.

“But within 10 minutes of us explaining the initiative and saying, ‘We want to hear your voice, you are the agent of change’, children who didn’t even consider themselves as speakers were suddenly wanting to be the president of the country.”

The exercise concluded with the publication of ‘The World We Want’, an illustrated, child-friendly version of the 17 proposed SDGs.

“This is the real power of global citizenship education,” Garcia-Garcia asserted.

Backed by several missions including the Republic of Korea and the United States, and co-sponsored by civil society groups like CONCORD – an alliance of over 2,600 NGOs across Europe – as well as the 12-million member Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS), the panel served as a knowledge platform to share some of the key components of GCED.

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education,” stressed Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria. “It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity: all other rights should be contingent on the right to education.”

But our current reality does not reflect his convictions. We are living in a world where 58 million children are out of school and a further 100 million children do not complete primary education, according to the latest Education for All global monitoring report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).

Add to this the fact that there are 168 million child labourers, as well as 200 million jobless adults, and the urgency of the situation becomes clear.

All told, some 781 million people globally cannot read or write, a staggering statistic in a world where not only basic literacy but also, increasingly, computer literacy, forms the fine line between a decent life or one of poverty.

However, GCED goes beyond the simple metrics of more bodies in the classroom. In short, the concept of global citizenship refers to a “sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity,” according to UNESCO.

It aims to transform classroom pedagogy, create bonds of cultural understanding and civic consciousness and forge a global citizenry for the 21st century based on human rights, peace and equity. While advocacy is happening on a global scale, implementation of GCED will be local in nature, undertaken in accordance with countries’ education ministries and tailored to meet the specific needs of states, or communities.

GCED recognises that basic literacy alone is not sufficient to level the playing field in a world plagued with inequalities, where the wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries has risen from 35:1 during the colonial era to 80:1 today, and where the richest 85 people own more riches between them than 50 percent of the global population.

Rather, it is the quality of education that will close wealth gaps and ensure such elusive goals as peace, security and the curbing of violent extremism.

Calling attention to the increasing number of people from the developed world heading for “theatres of war in the Middle East”, Nigerian Ambassador Sarki asked, “Can we really say these people are not educated? Many of them are. Indeed, masterminds of terrorist activity are highly educated people – the question is, what kind of education have they had? We can be educated, and remain narrow-minded,” he stated.

The concept of GCED dates back to 2012 when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Global Education First Initiative, and after much advocacy in which the Republic of Korea has played a major role, the initiative has been incorporated into the Zero Draft outcome document for the post-2015 agenda, to be finalized during negotiations at the end of the month.

Already, scores of international and grassroots initiatives centered on GCED are springing to life, or bearing fruit.

For instance, global citizenship education is one of the key strategic areas in UNESCO’s 2014-2017 education programme, while groups like SOS Children’s Villages have put the concept at the front and centre of their work by undertaking unique forms of education in order to include some of the most vulnerable groups.

Garcia-Garcia, SOS’s post-2015 advisor, told IPS that the organisation works very closely with families at risk of separation or with children who have lost parental care so, “for us, non-formal education is as essential as formal education”.

“There are lots of places to learn,” she told IPS on the sidelines of Monday’s event, “and the classroom is just one of them.”

This kind of thinking will be vital to extending the boons of GCED to the world’s indigenous people who number some 370 million and many of whom are locked in a struggle to preserve ancient forms of knowledge sharing, from local languages to oral histories.

With indigenous communities pushing hard for a place in the post-2015 agenda, global citizenship education could offer the out-of-the-box strategies needed to bring hitherto marginalized peoples into a more inclusive and sustainable framework.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Remittances from Europe Top 100 Billion Dollars Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:40:05 +0000 Kitty Stapp Migrants at Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

Migrants at Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

One in five migrant workers – about 50 million people – lives and works in Europe, making the region home to a quarter of global remittance flows, according to a new report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Migrants living in Europe sent 109.4 billion dollars in remittances to lower-income European countries and to the developing world last year.

And the actual figures for many countries could be substantially higher than official estimates due to the frequent use of informal channels to transfer money.

“We need to make sure that this hard-earned money is sent home cheaply but more importantly that it helps families build a better future for themselves, particularly in the poorest rural communities where it counts the most,” said Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, about the report’s findings.

IFAD estimates that globally 80 billion dollars could be available for investment if migrant workers and receiving families in rural areas were given more options to use their funds.

Of the total remittances sent by migrants living in Europe, about one-third (36.5 billion dollars) remained within 19 countries in Europe, while two-thirds (72.9 billion dollars) were received by poor families in over 50 developing countries outside Europe.

The report comes at a time when Europe is taking heavy criticism over its policies towards migrants, especially with respect to the Syrian refugee crisis.

In the last two decades, the Mediterranean – the most lethal of Europe’s barriers against irregular migration – has claimed nearly 20,000 migrant lives.

Figures for 2014 and this year indicate that the phenomenon is on the rise, with more migrant deaths than ever before.

However, people to continue to brave the perilous crossing, or over land borders, and an estimated 150 million people worldwide now benefit from remittances coming from Europe.

The report says that most remittances are spent on staples like food, clothing, shelter, medicine and education. However, studies indicate that up to 20 per cent of remittances could be available for savings, investments or to repay loans for small businesses.

With 40 per cent of remittances going to rural areas, the report also suggests that remittances play a critical role in the transformation of vulnerable communities. In fact, remittances are estimated to equal at least three times official development assistance to developing countries.

“The immense potential of remittances for development is still largely underutilized but it is within our capacity to make every hard-earned euro, ruble, pound, krona, or Swiss franc sent home count even more,” said Nwanze.

Western Europe and the Russian Federation (26 total sending countries) are the main sources of migrant remittances in Europe.

The top six European sending countries account for 75 per cent of the flows: the Russian Federation (20.6 billion dollars), the United Kingdom (17.1 billion), Germany (14 billion), France (10.5 billion), Italy (10.4 billion) and Spain (9.6 billion).

“Remittances offer a unique opportunity to bring millions into the formal financial sector,” said Pedro De Vasconcelos, co-author of the report and Coordinator of the Financing Facility for Remittances at IFAD.

“Given the frequent interaction between remittance senders, receivers and the financial system, remittances could spark a long-term and life-changing relationship.”

While significant progress has been made over the last few years to lower transfer costs, De Vasconcelos added that more could be done through increased competition. By reducing transfer costs to 5 per cent, as per the G20 objective set in 2009, an additional 2.5 billion dollars would be saved for migrant workers and their families back home.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
U.N. Urged to Put Global Citizenship at Centre of Post-2015 Development Agenda Fri, 12 Jun 2015 15:09:10 +0000 Thalif Deen A peace sign formed by people in Croatia. Credit: Teophil/cc by 3.0

A peace sign formed by people in Croatia. Credit: Teophil/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen

When Denmark hosted the World Summit on Social Development (WSSD) in March 1995, one of the conclusions of that international gathering in Copenhagen was to create a new social contract with “people at the centre of development.”

But notwithstanding the shortcomings in its implementation over the last 20 years, the United Nations is now pursuing an identical goal with a new political twist: “global citizenship.”“Our world needs more solar power and wind power. But I believe in an even stronger source of energy: People power.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Reaffirming the opening line of the U.N. Charter, which says “We the Peoples”, the United Nations is adding the finishing touches to its post-2015 development agenda – even as there are increasing demands from civil society organisations (CSOs) to focus on issues relating to people, including poverty, hunger, unemployment, urbanisation, education, nuclear disarmament, gender empowerment, population, human rights and the global environment.

Addressing a star-studded Global Citizen Festival in New York City’s Central Park last September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared: “Our world needs more solar power and wind power. But I believe in an even stronger source of energy: People power.”

Speaking at the 20th anniversary of WSSD, Ambassador Oh Joon of the Republic of Korea and Vice President of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said while one of the three major objectives of the Copenhagen Social Summit – poverty eradication – was incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000, the other two – productive employment and social integration – were not.

“An integrated approach advocated at the Social Summit to simultaneously pursue the three key objectives was left behind,” he told an ECOSOC meeting last week.

“There was a need to re-examine where the new United Nations development agendas would come from,” the Korean envoy said.

Economic growth in itself, while necessary, was not sufficient to reduce poverty and inequality, he said, stressing the need for strong social policies, as well as inclusive and sustainable development.

Similarly, there were many links among social, economic and environmental fields that must be effectively addressed, he added.

Meanwhile, the concept of global citizenship has taken on added importance, particularly on the eve of the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda which is expected to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September.

Asked how relevant the concept was in the post-2015 context, Roberto Bissio, executive director of the Third World Institute, a non-profit research and advocacy organisation based in Uruguay, told IPS: “If by citizenship we mean rights, and in particular the right to bring governments to account, and decide how taxes are used, we are very far from global citizenship.”

In fact, he said, there is little talk of citizenship in the current discussions around the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa in July and the September summit of world leaders on a new development agenda.

Instead, he said, there is a lot of attention being given to “multistakeholderism”.

The notion of “stakeholder”, as opposed to “shareholder,” was originally a way to make corporations more accountable to the people affected by their actions.

Now “multistakeholder governance” in the Internet or in “partnerships” with the United Nations means that corporations will have a role in global governance, without necessarily becoming more accountable in the process, he pointed out.

“This means less rights for citizens, not more,” said Bissio, who also coordinates the secretariat of Social Watch, an international network of citizen organisations worldwide.

On the other hand, he said, if the FfD conference approves a U.N. mechanism for tax collaboration between countries to counter widespread tax evasion by multinational corporations, citizenship (including the elusive ‘global citizenship’ concept) may emerge strengthened.

Pointing out the successes of people-oriented policies, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, former president of Chile, said when he was the leading his country in 1995 he had supported several initiatives to promote democracy and social justice.

Over the last 25 years, he said, Chile had succeeded in drastically reducing poverty to 7.8 per cent from 38.6 per cent, with extreme poverty reduced to 2.5 per cent from 13 per cent.

The WSSD, he said, was the largest meeting of heads of state that resulted in shaping a new model of development that would create progressive social equity that addressed imbalances around the world.

“The human being was placed at the centre of development, as reflected in the World Summit action plan,” he said.

Highlighting achievements resulting from implementing the plan, he said Chile had increased investments in social development and was, under current President Michelle Bachelet, continuing to do so in order to address inequality.

While Latin America had reduced poverty, it remained “more unequal” than other regions and currently, 28 per cent of its population of 167 million lived in poverty, with 71 million living in extreme poverty, he said.

But some of the pressing tasks, he said, included thinking about a new fiscal pact and tax reform that would improve income distribution in order to avoid “false” development. Corruption and institutional reform also needed to be addressed.

“As such, the World Social Summit remained as valid today as in 1995,” he said.

Going forward, combatting poverty and inequalities required an ethical foundation and a sustained effort. At this crossroad, it was time that governments gave more impetus to that “moral movement”, the former Chilean president said.

Juan Somavia, a former director-general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and ex-Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations, told the ECOSOC meeting the yet-to-be-finalised “zero” draft of the new post-2015 agenda recovered the spirit and dynamism of the 1990s and was a good basis for negotiations.

“The document reflected a supremely ambitious vision, with its 17 goals and 69 indicators focused on a people-centred poverty-eradication sustainable development concept,” he noted.

With regard to challenges, he said, policy support from the United Nations would be critical.

Since the world had discussed the three elements of sustainable development but had not yet implemented them, the basic challenge ahead was to ensure integrated thinking and to shape methods for using it to clearly explain the types of interactions between the agenda’s three pillars that were needed to fulfil commitments, he declared.

That difficult task required an initiative from the U.N. secretariats in New York and Geneva, its Funds and Programmes and the multiple networks in regions in which the organisation operated, he said.

Unless that process began immediately after the new agenda was adopted, the “goods” would not be delivered, Somavia warned.

That initiative would also require the recognition of the balance between markets, the State, society and individuals. “In recent years, people’s confidence in the United Nations had dropped.”

The manner in which the United Nations presented the new agenda was essential in addressing that issue.

As the Social Summit’s Programme of Action had recognized the importance of public trust, he emphasized that the new development agenda must acknowledge and address that current lack of confidence, Somavia declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Organic Cacao Farmers Help Reforest Brazil’s Amazon Jungle Thu, 11 Jun 2015 18:22:57 +0000 Mario Osava Darcicio Wronski displays the cacao seeds drying in the sun in his yard. His family is one of 120 grouped in six cooperatives that produce organic cacao near Medicilândia and Altamira in the Amazon rainforest state of Pará, in northern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
MEDICILÂNDIA, Brazil, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

“Now we realise what a paradise we live in,” said Darcirio Wronski, a leader of the organic cacao producers in the region where the Trans-Amazonian highway cuts across the Xingú river basin in northern Brazil.

Besides cacao, on their 100 hectares of land he grows bananas, passion fruit, cupuazú (Theobroma grandiflorum), pineapples and other native or exotic fruit with which his wife, Rosalina Brighanti, makes preserves that she sells as jams or jellies or uses as filling in homemade chocolate bars that she and her assistants make.

All of the products are labeled as certifiably organic.

But the situation they found in the 1970s was more like hell than paradise, they said, when they migrated separately from southern Brazil to Medicilândia, a town known as the “capital of cacao”, where they met, married in 1980 and had four children, who work with them on the farm.

They were drawn to the Amazon rainforest by misleading ads published by the then military dictatorship, which promised land with infrastructure and healthcare and schools in settlements created by the National Institute of Colonisation and Agrarian Reform.

The aim was to populate the Amazon, which the de facto government considered a demographic vacuum vulnerable to invasions from abroad or to international machinations that could undermine Brazil’s sovereignty over the immense jungle with its rivers and possible mineral wealth.

The Trans-Amazonian highway, which was to run 4,965 km horizontally across the country from the northeast all the way to the west, was to link the rainforest to the rest of the nation. And thousands of rural families from other regions settled along the road.

The unfinished highway, unpaved and without proper bridges, became impassable along many stretches, especially in the rainy season. The settlers ended up isolated and abandoned, practically cut off from the rest of the world, and large swathes of land were deforested.

Rosalina Brighanti or Doña Rosa in her kitchen, where she makes jams and preserves, holding a sign advertising the organic chocolates made with the family’s special recipes, which are popular with consumers and businesses in Brazil and abroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Rosalina Brighanti or Doña Rosa in her kitchen, where she makes jams and preserves, holding a sign advertising the organic chocolates made with the family’s special recipes, which are popular with consumers and businesses in Brazil and abroad. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Medicilândia is a product of that process. The city’s name pays homage to General Garrastazú Médici, president from 1969 to 1974, who inaugurated the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1972. The town emerged on kilometer 90 of the highway, and was recognised in 1989 as a municipality, home today to some 29,000 people.

“For the pioneers of the colonisation process it was torture, there was nothing to buy or sell here,” said 55-year-old Rosalina Brighanti, who everyone knows as Doña Rosa. “Some foods we could only get in Altamira, 100 km away along an unpaved road.”

Her husband Wronski, originally from the southern state of Santa Catarina, where his father had a small farm, impossible to divide between 10 sons and daughters, followed “the Amazonian dream.”

After running into failure with traditional crops like rice and beans, Wronski ended up buying a farm and planting cacao, a local crop encouraged by the government by means of incentives.

His decision to go organic accelerated the reforestation of his land, where sugarcane used to grow.

Cacao is increasingly looking like an alternative for the generation of jobs and incomes to mitigate local unemployment once construction is completed on the giant Belo Monte hydropower dam on the Xingú river, near Altamira, the capital of the region which encompasses 11 municipalities.

The dam’s turbines will gradually begin operating, from this year to 2019.

A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A cacao tree laden with beans, in the shade of banana trees on the Wronski family farm in Medicilândia, a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest state of Pará, where organic farmers are helping to reforest the jungle. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Belo Monte construction project has drawn labour power away from cacao production. “That has caused the loss of 30 percent of Medicilândia’s cacao harvest this year,” Wronski told IPS during a tour of his farm.

“I know a family that has 70,000 cacao plants, whose son is working on Belo Monte and not in the harvest,” the 64-year-old farmer said.

The hope is that workers will return to the cacao crop once large numbers of people start to be laid off as the construction of the dam comes to a close. For routine maintenance of the plants, only the families who live on the farms are needed, but additional workers are necessary at harvest time.

From settler to reforester

José “Cido” Tinte Zeferino, 57, brought his passion for growing coffee from the southern state of Paraná to the Trans-Amazonian highway. But since coffee production wasn’t feasible in that area, he tried several other crops until hitting on organic cacao in Brasil Novo, a municipality bordering Altamira and the Xingú river.

Today his passion is forestry – the huge trees he has planted or preserved on the 98-hectare farm he bought 15 years ago.

Cacao trees require deep shade, but according to other members of the cooperative Cido went overboard, at the expense of productivity. He says, however, that “I produce 2,800 to 3,000 kgs a year, and thanks to the better prices fetched by organic cacao, it’s enough to live on.”

What he likes most is being surrounded by the giant trees on his land; his house is invisible from the road, hidden behind the dense vegetation. He has completed the journey from settler to reforester.

Wronski and his wife Brighanti don’t have a seasonal labour problem. Six families – some of them relatives and others sharecroppers – live on their farm and take care of the cacao trees in exchange for half of the harvest.

They also hire seasonal workers from a nearby rural village where some 40 families live, most of whom do not grow their own crops.

Cacao farms employ large numbers of people because “the work is 100 percent manual; there are no machines to harvest and smash the beans,” local agricultural technician Alino Zavarise Bis, with the Executive Commission of the Cacao Cultivation Plan (CEPLAC), a state body that provides technical assistance and does research, told IPS.

Besides providing jobs and incomes for people in the countryside, cacao farming drives reforestation. Two-thirds of the population of the municipality of Medicilândia is still rural, and a view from the air shows that it has conserved the native forests.

That is because cacao trees need shade from taller trees. When the bushes are still small, banana trees are used for shade – which has led to a major increase in local production of bananas.

“We have the privilege of working in the shade,” joked Jedielcio Oliveira, sales and marketing coordinator of the Organic Production Programme carried out in the Trans-Amazonian/Xingú region by CEPLAC, other national institutions and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ).

But organic production is still small-scale, accounting for just one percent of total cacao output in the Amazon state of Pará, where Medicilândia is located.

“That’s around 800,000 tons a year of cacao beans grown by a niche of 120 families, grouped in six cooperatives,” said Bis.

Wronski presides over one of them, the Organic Production Cooperative of Amazonia, and he was just elected to head the Central Cooperative, recently created to coordinate the activities of the six organic cacao cooperatives, including marketing and sales.

“Organic cacao farmers are different – they are more aware of the need to preserve the environment, more focused on sustainability,” said CEPLAC’s Bis. “While conventional farmers are looking at productivity and profits, organic growers are interested in taking care of the family’s health and well-being, and preserving nature, although without ignoring profit margins, since they get better prices.”

New members have to be invited by a member of one of the cooperatives and approved in assembly, “and the process of conversion to organic takes three years, which is the time needed to detoxify the soil from the effects of chemical fertilisers and poisons,” he said.

Cacao farmer José Tinte Zeferino, known as “Cido”, in front of his house, which is hidden by dense vegetation and surrounded by his cacao trees, in the municipality of Brasil Novo, near the Xingú river and the Trans-Amazonian highway. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Cacao farmer José Tinte Zeferino, known as “Cido”, in front of his house, which is hidden by dense vegetation and surrounded by his cacao trees, in the municipality of Brasil Novo, near the Xingú river and the Trans-Amazonian highway. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The entire production system has to be organic, and not just the final product,” another cacao producer, Raimundo Silva from Uruará, a municipality to the west of Medicilândia, who is responsible for commercial operations in the new Central Cooperative, told IPS.

Organic cacao from Pará supplies, for example, the Austrian firm Zotter Chocolate, which boasts 365 different flavours and sells only organic, fair trade chocolate. Among its clients in Brazil is Harald, which exports chocolates to more than 30 countries, and Natura Cosméticos.

The industry in general, although it prefers the more abundant and less costly standard cacao butter, also adds the richer organic cacao to produce the best quality chocolates.

Conventional cacao, which uses pesticides and other chemical products, is still predominant in Pará. A small chocolate factory, Cacauway, was founded in 2010 in Medicilândia by the Trans-Amazonian Agroindustrial Cooperative, which groups traditional producers of non-organic cacao.

“The future of cacao is in Pará, which has favourable conditions for production, like abundant rains, fertile soil, and family farmers who live on the land, unlike the large landowners who live in the cities,” said Bis.

Pará is surpassed by another northern state, Bahia, which accounts for two-thirds of national cacao production. But productivity in Pará averages 800 kg per tree – double the productivity of Bahia, the expert noted.

And cacao trees in the Amazon rainforest are more resistant to witch’s broom, a fungus that reduced the harvest in Bahia by 60 percent in the 1990s. At the time, Brazil was the world’s second-biggest producer, but it fell to sixth place, behind countries of West Africa, Indonesia and even neighbouring Ecuador.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 1
Infrastructure Investments in Emerging Economies Hit Record Levels – but at What Cost? Thu, 11 Jun 2015 16:50:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil are notorious for their delays. The majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule. Credit: Darío Montero/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

According to new data released by the World Bank Tuesday, investments in infrastructure in 139 emerging economies shot up to 107.5 billion dollars in 2014, with just five countries – Brazil, Colombia, India, Peru and Turkey – accounting for 73 percent of the total.

The update, published by the Bank’s Private Participation in Infrastructure (PPI) database, reveals that projects with private participation in the water, energy and transport sectors totaled 51.2 billion in the first half of 2014, compared to 41.7 billion in the first half of 2013.

"The concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.” -- Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Based on a review of investments in some 6,000 projects in 139 low- and middle-income countries between 1990 and 2014, the data show that the energy sector accounted for the greatest number of new projects, but the transport sector captured the largest amount of investment, securing 55.3 billion dollars or 51 percent of the total.

Some 33 road construction projects attracted 28.5 billion dollars in investment, with four of the top five road projects in Brazil and one in Turkey. Five airport projects secured 13.2 billion dollars in investment commitments.

Driven largely by massive infrastructure booms in Brazil, Colombia and Peru, Latin and America and the Caribbean accounted for 55 percent of global investments, snagging 69.1 billion dollars last year.

These mega-projects include 11 major ventures, eight of them in the energy sector, in Peru alone, amounting to over eight billion dollars, the largest of which, the Lima Metro Line 2, brought in 5.3 billion dollars in investment.

Not all regions are seeing an increase. Both India and China experienced declines last year, with the latter witnessing its lowest infrastructure investment levels since 2010, at 2.5 billion dollars. India’s commitments dropped down to 6.2 billion dollars.

In sub-Saharan Africa investment plunged from 9.3 billion in 2013 to 2.6 billion in 2014, although increased infrastructure activity in Ghana, Kenya and Senegal suggests that the downward trend might soon be reversed.

Despite uneven investment levels globally, the Bank estimates that spending on infrastructure projects in 2014 represents 91 percent of the five-year average between 2009 and 2013.

In a statement released on Jun. 9, Bank officials claimed, “This is the fourth highest level of investment commitments ever recorded, exceeded only by levels seen from 2010 through 2012.”

What this data reveals is that a global consensus to bolster public-private partnerships in mega-projects is bearing fruit.

Practically every major international organisation from the United Nations to multilateral development banks believe that strengthening road, energy and transport networks are crucial at a time when one billion people lack access to an all-weather road, 783 million people live without clean water supplies and 1.3 billion people are not connected to an electricity grid.

But a closer look at the track records of these gigantic infrastructure projects and new plans for financing them suggests that pouring billions of dollars into highways and dams in the developing world not only enriches some of the wealthiest sectors of the population, they also threaten to further impoverish the poorest, thereby widening global inequality.

‘Appropriate Scale’ – a thing of the past

The world’s most cited scholar on mega-project management and planning, Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University, found that on average only one in 1,000 mega-projects is completed on time, within its stated budget and with the ability to deliver what was promised.

Flyvbjerg’s extensive database on the subject reveals that approximately nine out of every 10 large-scale projects incur cost overruns, often over 50 percent of the stated budget – an expense borne primarily by taxpayers.

According to Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, these massive projects can cost “potentially billions and trillions of dollars, so when they go over budget and over time, they can devastate the national budget of a country.”

Alexander told IPS that, while there is a very real need for improved infrastructure, particularly in developing countries, there is an equally urgent need to tailor such ventures towards those who would most benefit from the services.

“Whether they are in education, healthcare, water or electricity, projects really need to be appropriate in scale to meet their goals. But the concept of ‘appropriate scale’ has been deleted from […] policy discourse because now instead of ‘small is beautiful’, the catchphrase is ‘big is better’.”

Part of the reason for this change, experts say, is the push to use investment in infrastructure to finance development, particularly by strengthening public-private partnerships and by ‘financialising’ investment.

Research by the Heinrich Böll Foundation reveals that the G20 group of major economies aims to finance the so-called infrastructure gap by tapping into the roughly 80 trillion dollars in long-term private institutional finance – from pension funds to insurance schemes – by creating infrastructure as an “asset class”.

Under this model, governments will undertake a range of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and financial institutions will package and sell financial products “that offer long-term investors a stake in a portfolio of PPPs”.

“When speculators take stakes in physical infrastructure,” the organisation says, “such infrastructure is subject to the whims of herds of investors [and] could trigger instability in the provision of basic services.”

Already, a lack of evidence on the success of PPPs suggests that the current pace of investment in infrastructure with private participation is at best a gamble – and at worst a recipe for disaster.

In a sample of 128 World Bank-financed public-private partnerships, 67 percent of those in the energy distribution sector failed, as did 41 percent of those in the water sector. These are the findings of the World Bank’s own independent evaluation group (IEG).

Other research indicates that mega-projects seldom lead to improvement in access to basic services, since many such ventures are undertaken to serve global, rather than local, demand.

“Energy projects, for instance, are often launched to serve a mine, or you’ll see a dam or power plant built for the same purpose – as is the case with the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Alexander explained.

The very countries highlighted in the Bank’s latest update have a poor track record of successfully managing mega-projects.

Large-scale energy and logistical infrastructure initiatives in Brazil, for instance, are notorious for their delays, while the majority of railways, ports, highways and power plants are several years behind schedule.

Meanwhile, back in April, an expose published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that in the course of a single decade, some 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Fifty percent of those displaced by large-scale ventures – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

The investigators further alleged that the Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp, pumped 50 billion dollars into projects that financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations.

Brent Blackwelder, president emeritus of Friends of the Earth International, told IPS that “planning bigger and bigger projects despite the failure rate proves what Einstein said: that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0