Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 09:35:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Opinion: Internet Should be Common Heritage of Humankind – Part IIhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-internet-should-be-common-heritage-of-humankind-part-ii/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-internet-should-be-common-heritage-of-humankind-part-ii http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-internet-should-be-common-heritage-of-humankind-part-ii/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:55:06 +0000 Branislav Gosovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140841 Srun Srorn, a trainer for the E-learning project, walks teachers at Koh Kong High School in Cambodia through a new online sexual education curriculum. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Srun Srorn, a trainer for the E-learning project, walks teachers at Koh Kong High School in Cambodia through a new online sexual education curriculum. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Branislav Gosovic
VILLAGE TUDOROVICI, Montenegro, May 28 2015 (IPS)

The Internet – and the applications that it has spawned – is the single most important technological innovation that has brought together and interlinked humankind in a real, tangible and interactive way.

Among other benefits, it has:While having a universal presence in each country and in the life of the majority of humankind that enjoys its amenities, the Internet is untouchable, controlled by someone somewhere who is invisible and unknown.

  • Made possible instantaneous worldwide communication and interaction
  • Simplified and facilitated many previously time consuming, onerous and costly tasks
  • Enabled a networking that can serve as a means for building a global community, and developing understanding and cooperation
  • Created the “Internet dependence” for the well-being and functioning of society, economy, and daily life and existence of individuals, which has generated a common and shared interest in keeping the Internet functioning, in good order, and continuously improving it.

The Internet has meant a “great leap” forward for humankind and made it possible for it to “leap-frog” and “short-circuit” many of the obstacles and challenges that it had faced earlier on its road to a shared but uncertain future.

However, this great technological communication advance has not been accompanied by a corresponding socio-political leap of systemic change, and the Internet has been weighed down by the legacies of the past and the nature of the existing world order.

Rather than aiming to place the promise and capabilities of the Internet at the disposal of enlightened, common global objectives of humankind and to subject it to democratic multilateral governance, some of the key actors seem to view it primarily as their own property.

They want to be in charge of it and use it for their own strategic ends and objectives, for global expansion and dominance, and the exploitation of new technological possibilities to harvest the planet for what amounts to unlimited creation of wealth, including via virtual means, and massive “invisible” transfer of resources to the core countries of the North.

The resulting situation has been depicted aptly in the recent draft, “Tunis Call for a People’s Internet”, circulated at the Workshop “Organizing an Internet Social Forum – A Call to Occupy the Internet”, held at the April 2015 World Social Forum. It merits to be quoted:

“The Internet today has become an integral and essential part of our daily lives, more and more of our activities are organized through and around the virtual spaces, the networks, online services and the technology it comprises.  It has restructured the very way in which we live, work, play and organise our societies. In many aspects, this is so even for people who at present have no direct Internet access.

At the same time, we are alarmed to see how both our private and public spaces are being co-opted and controlled for private gain; how private corporations are carving the public internet into walled spaces; how our personal data is being manipulated and proprietised; how a global surveillance society is emerging, with little or no privacy; how information on the Internet is being arbitrarily censored, and people’s right to communicate curtailed; and how the Internet is being militarized. Meanwhile, decision-making on public policy matters relating to the Internet remains dangerously removed from the mechanisms of democratic governance.”

The Internet has become controversial not only because of the hegemonic attitude of the key country and because of the free hand given to its monopolistic global Internet-based corporations, but also because it is rooted in and fueled by larger controversies, including decades-old, unresolved development issues.

This includes the questions of transfer of science and technology, intellectual property regimes, and international regulation of transnational corporations, all of which have been on the international agenda for five decades without any visible progress having been made.

There is also the question of “ownership” and “participation”. There is a complete dependence on the Internet worldwide, an addiction that cannot be shaken off. While having a universal presence in each country and in the life of the majority of humankind that enjoys its amenities, the Internet is untouchable, controlled by someone somewhere who is invisible and unknown.

This dependencia when it comes to the Internet governance and control exercised by the interlinked centres in the North, which include military and security apparatus as well as cyber-corporations, produces a palpable feeling of discomfort, frustration, helplessness, exposure and loss of sovereignty, especially but not only in the developing countries.

Drawing on past experiences, principles of the U.N. Charter, and the developing countries’ initiatives for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and New International Information Order (NIIO), one can arrive at some conclusions and recommendations regarding a reform of the Internet and the bolstering of its usefulness to the international community and its common goals, including improved functioning of human society.

The aim should be to defuse the mounting conflict and discontent through political and conceptual liberation of the Internet by making it into a global public good and service within the U.N. framework, with specific objectives and functions directed at satisfying the needs of humankind and helping to overcome problems and challenges, including those stemming from past history and uneven progress and development of the international community.

The Internet should be declared as the common heritage of humankind, a global public good and service embedded within the framework of the United Nations.  This implies and requires, among other things:

  • That the Internet becomes part of the U.N. family by creating a UNINTERNET organization in the framework of the U.N. General Assembly, one inspired by democratic governance and solidarity of humankind
  • That the Internet management and innovation be shared and participatory, and that they involve both public and private entities in cooperative endeavours
  • That current international intellectual property regime undergoes a major review and fundamental modifications
  • That income generated by the Internet, including by global taxation of profits made by services that it enables, be used for global causes of public good within the framework of the United Nations and that in this manner the Internet becomes a major source of international funding for public purposes, including those related to overcoming poverty, sustainable development and climate change, food security, education and health, which now get a few drops from these massive global flows via philanthropic gestures of some who have become enormously wealthy thanks to the Internet
  • That the Internet global infrastructure be public property of the international community and that international non-profit enterprises be established under the U.N. auspices to provide Internet services, software and applications that would be in the public domain
  • That new modes of international accounting and regulation be evolved, as a means to obtain a global overview and control of the financial flows and services via the Internet
  • That a set of goals and objectives of the Internet be elaborated and adopted as the U.N. Declaration or Charter on the Internet, which would serve as the basic reference and guide for the Internet’s future development, management and operation.

Given the recent developments on the world scene, the overall context seems to be ripening for advocating the above approach, which implies a major departure from the present practices and would be a serious competitor to the existing North- and private corporations-dominated Internet.

It would also represent a return to the basic values embodied in the U.N. Charter and the decades-long U.N.-based efforts to evolve democratic and equitable world economic and political order.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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ACP Aims to Make Voice of the Moral Majority Count in the Global Arenahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/acp-aims-to-make-voice-of-the-moral-majority-count-in-the-global-arena/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 23:20:04 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140829 Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Opening Ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015, with Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (third from left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu (third from right). Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, May 27 2015 (IPS)

“Four decades of existence is a milestone for the ACP as an international alliance of developing countries,” Dr Patrick I. Gomes of Guyana, newly appointed Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries, said at the opening of the 101st Session of the group’s Council of Ministers.

“With the organisation currently repositioning itself for more strategic engagements with regards to its future, this is an opportunity not only to review the past, but also to project to the decades ahead, especially in terms of how to be effective and better respond to the development needs of our member countries in the 21st century,” he added.“From the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player” – Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers

The meeting, which opened May 26, brought together more than 300 officials from the ACP group who are determined to put an emphasis on re-positioning the ACP group as an effective player in a challenging global landscape.

At the group’s 7th Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Equatorial Guinea in December 2012, the group issued the Sipopo Declaration which noted that “at this historic juncture in the existence of our unique intergovernmental and tri-continental organisation, the demands for fundamental renewal and transformation are no longer mere options but unavoidable imperatives for strategic change”.

Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers, told the opening session of this week’s Council meeting that “from the viewpoint of the poor and vulnerable, we are the moral majority. Not only do we count, but we must continue to make our voice count in the global arena if we are to transform the ACP Group of States into a truly effective global player.”

A key focus of the 40th anniversary is how to enhance regional and intra-ACP relations in order to better position the ACP group to deliver on development goals in the post-2015 era, starting with playing a decisive role at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development to be held in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as well as at the U.N. Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to be held in New York in September.

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes (left) and President of the Council of Ministers Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu at the opening ceremony of the 101st Session of the ACP Council of Ministers, May 2015. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

For ACP Secretary-General Gomes, the most critical meeting for the group will be the 8th ACP Summit, which had originally been scheduled to be held in November in Suriname before that country had to withdraw due to multiple commitments.

Inviting member countries to step forward and offer to host the event, Gomes said that the 8th Summit “must be a beacon that refines our strategic policy domains for the next decade and project a powerful political vision to serve the ACP in our engagement with the European Union.”

More importantly, that summit would provide the strategic direction and financial commitment necessary to build the capacity of the ACP group to address the development needs of its populations.

Viwanou Gnassounou of Togo, ACP Assistant Secretary-General for Sustainable Economic Development and Trade, told IPS that the group “will be fully engaged in 2015 in high-level negotiations not only calling for a strategic approach but also trying to raise our common voice in a more holistic manner.”

He said that the ACP is finalising a position paper to be presented in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, as well as at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Nairobi in December.

Participants at the Council of Ministers meeting agreed that the plethora of priorities facing the ACP today calls for widening its partnership with the European Union and beyond, embracing the global South as well as emerging economies with greater determination, and promoting South-South and triangular cooperation.

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement which currently governs relations between the ACP and the European Union expires in 2020 and the ACP Secretariat has commissioned a consultancy exercise to formulate the ACP Group’s position future relations with the European Union.

The ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers, which meets May 28, is expected to place a special focus on migration and discuss recommendations from an ACP-EU experts’ meeting on trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants following the unacceptable loss of thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea as people try to reach Europe.

The two sides are also expected to exchange views on the broad range of issues affecting the ACP-EU trade relations at multilateral and bilateral levels, as well as financing for development as a follow up to the ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-Development Agenda approved in June 2014, which called for “an ambitious financing framework to adequately tackle sustainable development issues and challenges.”

In this context, the declaration said that a “coherent response based on a global comprehensive and integrated approach, fuelled by traditional and innovative financing solutions and governed by principles for efficient resource use seems the most appropriate way to finance sustainable development.”

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Opinion: Finance Like a Cancer Growshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-finance-like-a-cancer-grows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-finance-like-a-cancer-grows http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-finance-like-a-cancer-grows/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 07:18:16 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140797 By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 26 2015 (IPS)

It is astonishing that every week we see action being taken in various part of the world against the financial sector, without any noticeable reaction of public opinion.

It is astonishing because at the same time we are experiencing a very serious crisis, with high unemployment, precarious jobs and an unprecedented growth of inequality, which can all be attributed, largely, to speculative finance.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This all began in 2008 with the mortgage crisis and the bursting of the derivatives bubble in the United States, followed by the bursting of the sovereign bonds bubble in Europe.

It is calculated that we will need to wait until at least 2020 to be able to go back to the levels of 2008 – so we are talking of a lost decade.

To bail out the banks, the world has collectively spent around 4 trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money. Just to make the point, Spain has dedicated more than its annual budget on education and health to bail out the banking sector … and the saga continues.

Last week, five major banks agreed to pay 5.6 billion to the U.S. authorities because of their manipulations in the currency market. The banks are household names: the American JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, the British Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Swiss UBS.“To bail out the banks, the world has collectively spent around 4 trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money”

In the case of UBS, the U.S. Department of Justice took the unusual step of tearing up a non-prosecution agreement it had reached earlier, saying that it had taken that step because of the bank’s repeated offences. “UBS has a ‘rap sheet’ that cannot be ignored,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.

This is a significant departure from the Justice Department’s guidelines issued in 2008, according to which collateral consequences have to be taken into account when indicting financial institutions.

“The collateral consequences consideration is designed to address the risk that a particular criminal charge might inflict disproportionate harm to shareholders, pension holders and employees who are not even alleged to be culpable or to have profited potentially from wrongdoing,” said Mark Filip, the Justice Department official who wrote the 2008 memo.

Referring to the case of accounting giant Arthur Andersen, which certified as valid the accounts of the Enron energy company that went into bankruptcy for faking its budget, Filip said that “Arthur Andersen was ultimately never convicted of anything, but the mere act of indicting it destroyed one of the cornerstones of the Midwest’s economy.”

This was in fact a declaration of impunity, which did not escape the managers of the financial system, under the telling title of “Too Big to Fail”.

Two weeks ago, a judge from the Federal District Court of Manhattan, Denise L. Cote, condemned two major banks – the Japanese Nomura Holdings and the British Royal Bank of Scotland – for misleading two mortgage public institutions, Fannie Mae [Federal National Mortgage Association] and Freddie Mac [Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation], by selling them mortgage bonds which contained countless errors and misrepresentations.

“The magnitude of falsity, conservatively measured, is enormous,” she wrote in her scathing decision.

Nomura Holdings and the Royal Bank of Scotland were just two of 18 banks that had been accused of manipulating the housing market. The other 16 settled out of court to pay nearly 18 billion dollars in penalties and avoid having their misdeeds aired in public.

Nomura Holdings and Royal Bank of Scotland refused any settlement and instead went to court against the U.S. government, arguing that it was the housing crash which caused their mortgage bonds to collapse. Judge Cote, however, wrote that it was precisely the banks’ criminal behaviour which had exacerbated the collapse in the mortgage market.

It is worth noting that, until now, the cumulative fines inflicted by the U.S. government on just five major banks since 2008 amount to a quarter of a trillion dollars. No one has yet gone to jail – fines have been paid and the question closed.

Now the question: is all this due to the misconduct of a few greedy managers or is it due to the new “ethics” of the financial sector?

By the way, let us not forget that it was revealed recently that 25 hedge fund managers took close to 14 billion dollars only last year and that the highest paid manager took for himself the unthinkable amount of 1.3 billion dollars, equal to the combined average salaries of 200,000 U.S. professionals.

Well, just a week ago, the respected University of Notre Dame was reported as having published a startling report, based on a survey of more than 1,200 hedge fund professionals, investment bankers, traders, portfolio managers from the United States and the United Kingdom, in which about one-third of those earning more than 500,000 dollars a year said that they “have witnessed or have first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing in their workplace.”

The report went on to say that “nearly one in five respondents feel financial services professionals must sometimes engage in unethical or illegal activity to be successful in the current financial environment” and in any case,  nearly half of the high income professionals consider authorities to be ”ineffective in detecting, investigating and prosecuting securities violations.”

A quarter of respondents stated that if they saw that there was no chance of being arrested for insider trading to earn a guaranteed 10 million dollars, they would do so.

And nearly one-third “believe compensation structures or bonus plans in place at their companies could incentivise employees to compromise ethics or violate the law.”  It should also be noted that the majority were worried their employer “would likely to retaliate if they reported wrongdoing in the workplace.” So, the bonus that goes to those in the financial sector every year practically amounts to a bribe for silence on misconduct.

At the same time, we have learned that in Guatemala the Governor of the Central Bank has been arrested for embezzling 10 million dollars. Of course, everything is a question of scale…but in sociology there is a mechanism called “demonstration effect”.

The example of Wall Street and the City will increasingly seep down once a new “ethic” is in place. It will propagate if it is not stopped … and this is not happening.

A final note. In the same week (how many things have happened in such a short space of time), the Federal Trade Commission of Columbia accused four respected cancer charities of misusing donations worth millions of dollars.

One of them, the Cancer Fund of America, declared that it spent 100 percent of proceeds on hospice care, transporting patients to chemotherapy sessions and buying medication for children. The Federal Trade Commission found in fact that less than three percent of donations was spent on cancer patients.

The “new ethic” is in reality a cancer, and it is metastasising rapidly. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Q&A: Papua New Guinea Reckons With Unmet Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-papua-new-guinea-reckons-with-unmet-development-goals/#comments Mon, 25 May 2015 20:35:44 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140799 An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25 2015 (IPS)

As Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence, 2015 marks a defining year for the largest Pacific Island nation, set to record 15 percent GDP growth this year.

However, unless the government tightens up its policies, the country will likely fail to achieve any of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite making significant progress in the past few years.

"We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve [the] results that the international community has laid down for everybody." -- Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
“Even with 14 years of successive double digit growth, the challenge for PNG is to translate high levels of resource revenue into well-being for all citizens. The latest estimate of the population is now over eight million and approximately 36 percent of the people are living on less than 1.25 dollars a day,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Roy Trivedy told IPS.

Mineral resources, including copper, gold, oil, nickel, cobalt and liquid natural gas, constitute 70 percent of all PNG exports; and mine and oil production revenues since independence have amounted to 60 billion dollars, according to the Human Development Report 2013.

Still, PNG currently ranks 156th out of 187 countries in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support PNG in the development of education and health, poverty reduction, and assistance with disaster risk reduction and social protection. Many of the reforms implemented by the current government over the past three years are beginning to take root.

For example, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy, benefitting students at the elementary and secondary level, is gaining acceptance throughout the country, with two million children currently enrolled in schools.

The government is also investing in higher education and vocational and tertiary education. But the country faces the challenges of tackling high student-to-teacher ratios, building and refurbishing educational infrastructure, improving quality of primary education services and scaling up the provision of secondary and tertiary education.

The government has also committed to free primary health care for all citizens, but U.N. agencies working in PNG say more needs to be done to reduce the infant mortality rate from the current 75 deaths per 1,000 live births; reduce the number of under-five children dying of preventable diseases; and reduce the maternal mortality rate, which has remained at 733 deaths per 100,000 live births over the past decade.

In addition, early childhood health is a major issue, with 48 percent of children aged five or younger suffering from malnutrition.

Infrastructure development will also be crucial to realising the benefits of the country’s mineral, energy, agricultural and tourism assets. The government is spending considerable resources to modernise and better equip the police, judiciary and corrective services critical for tackling inequality and discrimination, especially against women.

PNG will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to uplifting the lives of its people as the international community moves into a new phase of its development agenda: the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Papua New Guinea is the co-facilitator with Denmark of the Global Summit on SDGs scheduled to take place later this year.

Following a decade-and-a-half of development guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global blueprint for poverty eradication is expected to be centred on sustainability, including combating climate change, protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and conserving oceans, seas and marine resources: issues that are highly relevant for Pacific Island countries threatened by rising sea levels.

While the 22 Pacific island countries and territories contribute just 0.03 percent to global emissions, their collective population of 10 million people will likely suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to loss of human life as a result of natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that climate change could cost the region over 12 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

Against this backdrop, IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari sat down with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to discuss the U.N.’s role in PNG’s development agenda. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Has the United Nations contributed to Papua New Guinea’s economic development?

A: We have many United Nations organisations in Papua New Guinea and I would like to thank them for their contribution to the country’s development agenda. We are very happy with the work that they are doing, especially UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme], which is engaged with our department of planning [Department of National Planning and Monitoring] in setting up various programmes all around the country, including Bougainville.

Q: It seems PNG is not ‘on track’ to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, scoring either ‘off track’ or ‘mixed’ in the latest results surveys. What is being done to fix the problem?

A: In fact, we have made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Two or three years ago, we would have completely missed the MDG targets. But right now on issues related to infant mortality and literacy, the progress is much better because of the education and health programmes that we are rolling out. These programmes are contributing significantly to meeting the MDG targets.

Q: What are your aspirations for the Sustainable Development Goals? What strategies would you adopt to achieve the SDGs?

A: We think that our policies today are starting to yield the positive outcomes that we want: to make sure our literacy rates are beyond 80 to 90 percent; our infant mortality rates drop down to levels that are comparable to our neighbouring countries; and our life expectancy increases. We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve those results that the international community has laid down for everybody.

Q: The island nation has been the focus of Chinese investment and Australian aid. The Australia-PNG bilateral aid programme is worth approximately 577 million dollars in the current financial year. Which has been more beneficial for the country’s development?

A: Both are beneficial. The Chinese investment is not dissimilar to many of the other investments they make around the region. They make similar investments in Australia, similar investments in Indonesia and all throughout the world. But I think in terms of support in social programmes, the more beneficial investment is through the aid programme that the Australian Government continues to provide.

Now they are aligning their programmes to our priorities, which has never happened before. The aid programme is now looking towards the education problems that we have, the health, good governance and the law and order problems that we have. Those are the programmes that our government is regularly focusing on and the aid programme is partnering in achieving the outcomes that we want.

Q: In Papua New Guinea, there have been positive steps toward integrating West Papuan refugees and also lifting reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. What measures are being taken to rehabilitate ‘climate refugees’, for example, people residing on Carteret Islands, who are in danger of being submerged due to the rise in sea levels?

A: Climate change is global and it is not something that is unique to PNG, but we are trying to resettle many of those refugees on the mainland. Most of them have families and we are trying to get them integrated into communities that they are comfortable with. As in the case of West Papuan refugees down at Western Province, many of them are already in PNG for many, many years and we are taking steps so they can become citizens and have access to all the services that the government provides for its citizens.

Q: Will climate change be a major problem for PNG and other countries in the Pacific?

A: Yes, we are facing similar problems like some of the smaller Pacific Island countries. We have thousands of low-lying islands and as the sea level rises, these people will have to continue to move. The first step for developed countries like Australia and the United States should be to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and then go with the rest of the international community. Climate change is a global issue where we all need to work together in reducing emissions and lowering the global warming challenge that we face.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

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 other articles in the series here.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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A Chimera in Growing Cooperation Between China and Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 22:31:02 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140757 Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 21 2015 (IPS)

A total of 35 agreements and contracts were signed during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Brazil, as part of the growing ties between the two countries. But there is one project that drew all the attention: the Transcontinental Railway.

The railroad will stretch over 5,000 km from the port of Açú, 300 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, to a port in Peru. The Peruvian port will be selected after feasibility studies are carried out to determine the viability of specific sites, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by Brazil, China and Peru.

“It’s crazy,” said Newton Rabello, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who specialises in transportation systems. “The 4,000-metre barrier of the Andes mountains and the high costs make the project unviable from the start,” he told IPS.

“Railroads don’t like rugged terrain; all of the ones laid in the Andes mountains were closed down and the so-called bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo didn’t work because of the absurd costs,” explained Rabello, an engineer with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He argued that other railways proposed for creating a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans won’t work, for the same reasons – including the ones that cross the areas of greatest economic density such as South America’s Southern Cone region, where the only thing needed is to build stretches to complement already existing railways.

Other accords signed by President Dilma Rousseff and Li, or by some of the 120 businesspersons who accompanied the Chinese leader, are more concrete and opportune for the Brazilian government, which is facing a fiscal adjustment and does not have the resources to carry out necessary infrastructure projects and revive the stagnant economy.

The accords involve a total investment by China of 53 billion dollars – a figure mentioned by the Brazilian government without confirmation from China or a detailed breakdown because it covers initiatives in different stages – some still on paper, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, and others which will go out to bid.

But the participation of Chinese companies and capital will make it possible to jumpstart many infrastructure projects that have been delayed or stalled, such as railroads for the exportation of the soy grown in Brazil’s Midwest and Northeast regions.

A 50 billion dollar fund will be established toward that end by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Brazil’s Caixa Econômica Federal.

Industry, meanwhile, will be the prime focus of the government’s Bilateral Productive Cooperation fund. China will provide 20 to 30 billion dollars and Brazil will later decide what its quota will be.

The industrialisation of Latin America is one aim of China’s development finance, Li said in Brasilia, in response to complaints about the asymmetry of trade relations, with Latin America’s exports practically limited to commodities.

Li’s visit to Brazil represented the first part of his first Latin America tour, which is taking him to Colombia, Peru and Chile until his return home on May 26.

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The agreements signed in Brasilia for financial cooperation accentuate the much-criticised asymmetry. Chinese banks granted seven billion dollars in new loans to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras, which come on top of earlier credits that guarantee oil supplies to China.

Another beneficiary of the agreements is Brazil’s mining giant Vale, included in a four billion dollar credit line for the purchase of ships to transport 400,000 tons of iron ore.

Oil and iron ore make up nearly 80 percent of Brazil’s exports to China. Hence China’s interest in improving this country’s transport infrastructure, to reduce the cost of Brazil’s exports, besides providing work for China’s construction companies now that domestic demand is waning.

Another agreement opens up the Chinese market to exports of cattle on the hoof from Brazil.

Brazil has exported some industrial products to China, mainly from the aeronautics industry. The sale of 22 planes from the Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) to a Chinese company was finalised during Li’s visit. A prior accord had established the sale of a total of 60.

Bilateral trade amounted to 77.9 billion dollars in 2014, with a trade surplus for Brazil, although it is shrinking due to the fall in commodity prices. The goal is to reach 100 billion dollars in trade in the near future, according to the Chinese prime minister.

The stronger relations, especially the increase in Chinese investment, “could be positive for Brazil, but we have to control our enthusiasm over the closer ties,” said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Brazilian Society of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation.

“China may have more to gain than us in this process: they are seeking suppliers (of raw materials) throughout Latin America, but without any urgency because their economy has slowed down; they can think things through strategically, with a view to the long term,” the economist told IPS.

“With more experience built up in their ancient culture, they know what they want – they are seeking more global power, and alliances with emerging countries from other regions, like Brazil, expand their influence,” he said.

With nearly four trillion dollars in foreign reserves, they can finance the development of any country, he said.

Meanwhile, Brazil, “which is in an emergency situation and in need of short-term financing, is merely reacting, without any strategy,” he said. “That is why the enthusiasm over Chinese investment worries me; we could end up frustrated, and worse, it could expose us to manipulation, like what happened with Argentina.”

Lima said Brazil had already been frustrated once: when Brazil officially recognised China as a market economy in 2004, offering it better trade conditions, China failed to live up to its commitment of 10 billion dollars in investment in industry in this country.

Another disappointment was the promise to install in Brazil a 12 billion dollar plant by the Chinese company Foxconn, to produce electronic devices. In the end the investment amounted to less than one-tenth of what was promised when the deal was announced in 2011.

But today’s circumstances favour greater economic complementation between the two countries and more balanced bilateral trade.

“China stopped putting a priority on exports and is stimulating domestic consumption, while Brazil is in the opposite situation, with a reduction in internal demand and a greater export effort, which opens up a possibility of synergy between the two countries,” Lima said.

But clear goals are needed to take advantage of this opportunity, he said, “along with long-term planning with clearly defined priorities, the necessary reforms, and productive investment in manufacturing….but the Brazilian government seems to be lost.”

The Transcontinental Railway is designed “to prioritise exports of soy and minerals” to Asia, mainly China, he said.

“Historically railroads led to a major reduction in costs for land transport, replacing draft animals and carts,” said Rabello. “Costs fell from six to one, and even lower in some cases, and that stuck in the minds of people who still see trains as a solution, because they have no idea of today’s costs.”

As a result, several parallel railroads are being built in Brazil, running towards the centre of the country, where agricultural production, especially of soy, is on the rise. Where there was only one precarious railway for carrying exports they now want to offer three or four alternatives, or even more, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, which is “excessive,” the professor said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Megaprojects” Can Destroy Reputations in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:04:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140652 Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

Megaprojects are high-risk bets. They can shore up the government that brought them to fruition, but they can also ruin its image and undermine its power – and in the case of Brazil the balance is leaning dangerously towards the latter.

As the scandal over kickbacks in the state oil company Petrobras, which broke out in 2014, grows, it is hurting the image of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom belong to the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

In its 2014 balance sheet, the company wrote off 6.2 billion reais (2.1 billion dollars) due to alleged graft and another 44.6 billion reais for overvalued assets, including refineries.

But the real magnitude of the losses will never be known. The company lost credibility on an international level, its image has been badly stained, and as a result many of its business plans will be stalled or cancelled.

The numbers involved in the corruption scandal are based on testimony from those accused in the operation codenamed “Lava-jato” (Car Wash) and in investigations by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, which indicated that the bribes represented an estimated three percent of Petrobras’ contracts with 27 companies between 2004 and 2012.

The biggest losses can be blamed on poor decision-making, bad planning and mismanagement. But the corruption had stronger repercussions among the population and the consequences are still incalculable.

It will also be difficult to gauge the influence that corruption had on administrative blunders, which are also political, and vice versa.

Two-thirds of the devaluation of the assets was concentrated in Petrobras’ two biggest projects, the Abreu e Lima Refinery in the Northeast, which is almost finished, and the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), both of which began to be built when Lula was president.

Petrobras informed investors that COMPERJ, a 21.6-billion-dollar megaproject, abandoned the petrochemical portion of its activities in 2014 as they were considered unprofitable, after three years of waffling, and was downsized to a refinery to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil.

It will be difficult for Petrobras, now under-capitalised, to invest millions of dollars more to finish the refinery, where the company estimates that the work is 82 percent complete. But failing to finish the project would bring much bigger losses.

Thousands of workers laid off, economic and social depression in Itaboraí, where the complex is located, 60 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro, purchased equipment that is no longer needed, which costs millions of dollars a year to store, and suppliers that have gone broke are some of the effects of the modification and delays in the project.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Petrobras crisis is also a result of the crash in international oil prices and of years of government fuel subsidies that kept prices artificially low to help control inflation.

It also endangers the naval industry, which expanded to address demand from the oil company.

Shipyards may dismiss as many as 40,000 people if the crisis drags on, according to industry statistics.

The industry was revived in Brazil as a result of orders for drills, rigs and other equipment to enable Petrobras to extract the so-called presalt oil reserves that lie below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock and sand, in deep water in the Atlantic ocean.

The Abreu e Lima Refinery, which can process 230,000 barrels a day, has had better luck because the first stage is already complete and it began to operate in late 2014. But the cost was eight times the original estimate.

One of the reasons for that was the projected partnership with Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which Lula had agreed with that country’s late president, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

PDVSA never made good on its commitment to provide 40 percent of the capital needed to build the plant. But the agreement influenced the design and purchase of equipment suited to processing Venezuela’s heavy crude. The project had to be modified along the way.

Plans to build two other big refineries, in the Northeast states of Ceará and Maranhão, were ruled out by Petrobras as non-cost-effective. But that was after nearly 900,000 dollars had already been invested in purchasing and preparing the terrain.

The disaster in the oil industry has stayed in the headlines because of the scandal and the amounts and sectors involved, which include four refineries, dozens of shipyards and major construction companies that provided services to Petrobras and have been accused of paying bribes.

But many other large energy and logistical infrastructure projects have suffered major delays. These megaprojects mushroomed around the country, impelled by the high economic growth during Lula’s eight years in office and incentives from the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme.

Railways, ports, the expansion and paving of roads and highways, power plants of all kinds, and biofuels – all large-scale projects – put to the test the productive capacity of Brazilians, and especially of the country’s construction firms, which also expanded their activities abroad.

The majority of the projects are several years behind schedule. The diversion of the São Francisco river through the construction of over 700 km of canals, aqueducts, tunnels and pipes, and a number of dams, to increase the supply of water in the semi-arid Northeast, was initially to be completed in 2010, at the end of Lula’s second term.

But while the cost has nearly doubled, it is not even clear that the smaller of the two large canals will be operating by the end of this year, as President Rousseff promised.

Private projects, like the Transnordestina and Oeste-Leste railways, also in the Northeast, have dragged on as well.

Resistance from indigenous communities and some environmental authorities, along with labour strikes and protests – which sometimes involved the destruction of equipment, workers’ housing and installations – aggravated the delays caused by mismanagement and other problems.

The wave of megaprojects that began in the past decade was explained by the lack of investment in infrastructure suffered by Brazil, and Latin America in general, during the two “lost decades” – the 1980s and 1990s.

After 1980, oil refineries were not built in Brazil. The success of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline postponed the need. The country became an exporter of gasoline and importer of diesel fuel, until the skyrocketing number of cars and industrial consumption of fuel made an expansion of refinery capacity urgently necessary.

Nor were major hydropower dams built after 1984, when the country’s two largest plants were inaugurated: Itaipú on the border with Paraguay and Tucuruí in the northern Amazon rainforest.

The energy crisis broke out in 2001, when power rationing measures were put in place for eight months, which hurt the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

The return of economic growth during the Lula administration accentuated the deficiencies and the need to make up for lost time. The wishful thinking that sometimes drives developmentalists led to a mushrooming of megaprojects, with the now known consequences, including, probably, the new escalation of corruption.

Not to mention the political impact on the Rousseff administration and the PT and the risk of instability for Latin America’s giant.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Clean Energy Access, a Major Sustainable Development Goalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-clean-energy-access-a-major-sustainable-development-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-clean-energy-access-a-major-sustainable-development-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-clean-energy-access-a-major-sustainable-development-goal/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 18:44:16 +0000 Magdy Martinez-Soliman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140659

Magdy Martinez-Soliman is Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UN Development Programme.

By Magdy Martinez-Soliman
UNITED NATIONS, May 15 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Forum will take place May 18-21 in New York. Success in achieving sustainable development and tackling climate change challenges requires investment in clean energy solutions.

Magdy Martinez-Soliman

Magdy Martinez-Soliman

The Millennium Development Goals were all contingent on having access to energy services. If you want to get more children into school, you need energy. To guarantee food security and manage water, you need energy. To combat HIV/AIDS and reduce maternal mortality, you need energy. The list goes on.

Poverty can be lived and measured, also, as energy poverty. The poor don’t have access, or very bad supply. In fact, about 1.3 billion people globally do not have access to electricity, and nearly three billion use harmful, polluting and unsustainable methods, such as burning wood and charcoal at home for cooking.

Not only are these methods bad for health and the environment, but they eat into time that could be spent in school or at work, limiting people’s potential – especially women’s. Expanding access to energy services therefore goes hand-in-hand with poverty eradication, gender equality and sustainable development.Many countries and cities are already moving towards low carbon, clean energy transformations. Germany, for instance, is undertaking the ‘Energiewende’, an economic watershed that aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050.

Recognising this fact, sustainable energy is already included in the current draft of the Sustainable Development Goals through Goal 7: “Ensure(s) access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.

Harnessing clean, renewable, and more efficient energy solutions will contribute not only to tackling a country’s or community’s energy challenges but also to the target of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. As it is, a significant amount of GHG emissions are generated from energy production, thus tying sustainable energy directly to the climate change negotiations.

Many countries and cities are already moving towards low carbon, clean energy transformations. Germany, for instance, is undertaking the ‘Energiewende’, an economic watershed that aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050; and Vancouver, in Canada, recently announced that it would shift to 100 percent renewable energy.

In both cases these are ambitious but forward-looking plans that weave together sustainable development, economic prosperity, and climate change mitigation.

What this means for the developing world

Are such transformations viable in poorer countries and cities? Energy access, efficiency and sustainability includes actions ranging from technology transfer and skills enhancements, to legal and policy changes that remove barriers and attract investments.

Over the last 20 years UNDP has developed a portfolio of more than 120 sustainable energy projects, amounting to more than 400 million dollars invested and almost one billion in co-financing. We have learned that sustainable energy is a key component in sustainable human development.

In Uruguay, UNDP, together with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), worked with the Government from 2008-2012 to remove regulatory, financial, and technical barriers to the energy market. This addressed issues that had impeded private sector investment and set off a boom in clean energy development.

Working with the National Administration of Power Plants and Energy Transmission (UTE), which manages electricity in the country, UNDP helped to refocus development on wind and renewable energy, and helped to open up a ‘space’ for private sector investors to get involved.

This included a series of ‘energy auctions’ that brought private sector partners into the energy sector, as well as technology transfers, skills training and support to identify areas with high wind-generating capacity. The end result was a strong series of public-private partnerships on renewable energy, with the Government and UTE taking the lead.

The economic case for such shifts is also clear: the 30 million dollars initially invested by the Government and partners has since triggered over two billion dollars in private sector investment. This has resulted in the establishment of 32 wind farms, of which 17 are currently in operation, and an installed capacity of 530 MW.

Once the remaining 15 farms that are under construction become operational, capacity will reach over 1500 MW, supplying over 30 percent of the country’s total electricity demand. Beyond the green-energy shift, this has also created jobs, diversified energy sources (critical when reliant on fossil fuel imports), and helped Uruguay mitigate its carbon emissions.

Supporting innovation and de-risking clean energy investments are critical to success. The SE4ALL Forum next week is a chance for the global community to not only reaffirm the need for sustainable energy (and cement its inclusion in the SDGs) but also a chance to bring together partners around the idea of “leaving no one behind” without energy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Hosts Arms Bazaar at White House Arab Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-s-hosts-arms-bazaar-at-white-house-arab-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-hosts-arms-bazaar-at-white-house-arab-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-s-hosts-arms-bazaar-at-white-house-arab-summit/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 18:24:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140656 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats with Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia on Mar. 5, 2015, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before the two and their counterparts attended a meeting of the regional Gulf Cooperation Council. Credit: U.S. State Department/public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 15 2015 (IPS)

When the United States sells billions of dollars in sophisticated arms to Arab nations, they are conditioned on two key factors: no weapons with a qualitative military edge over Israel will ever be sold to the Arabs, nor will they receive any weapons that are not an integral part of the U.S. arsenal.

But against the backdrop of a White House summit meeting of Arab leaders at Camp David this week, the administration of President Barack Obama confessed it has dispensed with rule number two.“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states." -- Pieter Wezeman

According to Colin Kahl, national security advisor to Vice-President Joe Biden, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flies the most advanced U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes in the world.

“They’re more advanced than the ones our Air Force flies,” he told reporters at a U.S. State Department briefing early this week, without going into specifics.

The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia – which participated in the summit were, not surprisingly, promised more weapons, increased military training and a pledge to defend them against missile strikes, maritime threats and cyberattacks from Iran.

An equally important reason for beefing up security in the region is to thwart any attacks on GCC countries by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners,” President Obama told reporters at a news conference, following the summit Thursday.

But he left the GCC leaders disappointed primarily because the United States was not willing to sign any mutual defence treaties with the six Arab nations – modeled on the lines of similar treaties U.S. has signed with Japan and South Korea.

Still, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Kuwait (along with Pakistan) are designated “major non-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) allies.”

Kahl told reporters: “This administration has worked extraordinarily closely with the Gulf states to make sure they had access to state-of-the-art armaments.”

He said that although the U.S. has not entertained requests for F-35s, described as the most advanced fighter plane with the U.S. Air Force, “but keep in mind under this administration we moved forward on a package for the Saudis that will provide them the most advanced F-15 aircraft in the region.”

Taken as a whole, Kahl said, the GCC last year spent nearly 135 billion dollars on their defence, and the Saudis alone spent more than 80 billion dollars.

In comparison, the Iranians spent something like 15 billion dollars on their defence, said Kahl, trying to allay the fears of GCC countries, which have expressed strong reservations about an impending nuclear deal the U.S. and other big powers are negotiating with Iran.

Still, arms suppliers such as France and Britain have been feverishly competing with the United States for a share of the rising arms market in the Middle East, with continued turmoil in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that GCC countries have long procured weapons from both the U.S. and several European countries.

Qatar is probably the one country in the GCC where U.S. military equipment makes up a low share of its military equipment and instead it has been more dependent on French, British and other European arms, he pointed out.

Last year, Qatar ordered a large amount of new arms from suppliers in Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, in which U.S. equipment was significantly more important than it had been in the decades before in Qatari arms procurement.

“None of the GCC countries has been mainly dependent on a single arms supplier in the past four to five decades. The U.S., UK and France have long been the main suppliers to the GCC, competing against each other,” he added.

In an article last week on the GCC summit, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior advisor to the Security Assistance Monitor, described it as “an arms fair, not diplomacy.”

He said the Obama administration, in its first five years in office, entered into formal agreements to transfer over 64 billion dollars in arms and defence services to GCC member states, with about three-quarters of that total going to Saudi Arabia.

He said items on offer to GCC states have included fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, radar planes, refueling aircraft, air-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, artillery, small arms and ammunition, cluster bombs, and missile defence systems.

On any given day, Kahl said, the United States has about 35,000 U.S. forces in the Gulf region.

“As I speak, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is there. The USS Normandy Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS Milius Aegis ballistic missile defense destroyer, and a number of other naval assets are in the region,” he said.

“And we have 10 Patriot batteries deployed to the Gulf region and Jordan, as well as AN/TPY-2 radar, which is an extraordinarily powerful radar to be able to track missiles fired basically from anywhere in the region.”

The mission of all of these forces, he said, ”is to defend our partners, to deter aggression, to maintain freedom of navigation, and to combat terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

Still, in the spreading Middle East arms market, it is business as usual both to the French and the British.

Wezeman told IPS Qatar has acquired the Rafale to replace its Mirage-2000 aircraft which France supplied about 20 years ago.

The UAE has been considering the purchase of Rafale to replace Mirage-2000 aircraft procured about 10 years ago from France.

Similarly Saudi Arabia has in the past decade ordered British Typhoon combat aircraft and U.S. F-15SAs, just like it ordered British Tornado combat aircraft and U.S. F-15Cs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Oman has recently ordered U.S. F-16s and British Typhoon aircraft to replace older U.S. F-16s and replace UK supplied Jaguar aircraft.

“The same arms acquisition patterns can be seen for land and naval military equipment. It would be a real change if the GCC countries would start large-scale procurement of arms from Russia and China. This has, however, not yet happened,” said Wezeman, who scrupulously tracks weapons sales to the Middle East.

He said access to certain technology has occasionally been one of several reasons for the GCC countries turning to Europe, as the United States tried to maintain a so-called ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ for Israel, in which it refused to supply certain military technology to Arab states which was considered particularly threatening to Israel.

He said for a while the U.S. was not willing to supply air launched cruise missiles with ranges of about 300 km to Arab states. Instead Saudi Arabia and the UAE turned to the UK and France for such weapons and the aircraft to integrate them on.

However, the U.S. has now become less restrictive in this regard and has agreed to supply certain types of cruise missiles to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Finally, what is particularly interesting is that U.S. officials once again emphasise the military imbalance in the Gulf region when mentioning that GCC states’ military spending is an estimated nine times higher than that of Iran (figures which are roughly confirmed by SIPRI data).

“This raises some major questions about the seeming lack of arms control in the region and the potential risks of further one-sided procurement of advanced weapons by GCC states,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The Asia-Pacific Region Is ‘Growing’, but Millions Are Living in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-asia-pacific-region-is-growing-but-millions-are-living-in-poverty/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 21:11:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140635 If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

If current urbanisation trends continue, an additional 500 million people could be living in cities in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Credit: Padmanaba01/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Home to an estimated 3.74 billion people, the Asia-Pacific region holds over half the global population, determining to a great extent the level of economic stability, or chaos, in the world.

This year’s edition of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, the flagship publication of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), has mostly good news for the region – lauding growth achievement “albeit in a somewhat uneven manner.”

Average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the Asia-Pacific region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990. -- United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Growth has remained steady – with developing nations in the region showing a slight increase to 5.9 percent growth, up from 5.8 percent last year.

The survey also states that average real incomes per capita in developing economies of the region have doubled since the early 1990s, with China witnessing a seven-fold increase in income per capita since 1990, and Bhutan, Cambodia and Vietnam seeing their own real incomes triple in the same time period.

Although China’s growth is expected to fall to seven percent in 2015, India’s growth of 8.1 percent – an increase from 7.4 percent last year – could offset any impacts of its neighbor’s “planned moderation”, while Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation is projected to see growth rise from five to 5.6 percent this year.

But the spoils of growth have not been evenly shared.

According to the report, “income inequality has increased […] especially in the major developing countries, particularly in urban areas.” Overall, since the 1990s, the Gini index – a measure of income inequality on a scale of 0-100 – has risen from 33.5 to 37.5 percent for the region as a whole.

And while experts praised the region for halving the number of people living on 1.25 dollars a day, ahead of the 2015 deadline laid out at the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, a closer look at poverty in the region suggests that there is less to celebrate and far more to tackle.

Poverty: How much has changed since 1990?

Estimates prepared by ESCAP in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific reveal that the number of people in the region living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 52 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2011 – a reduction from 1.7 billion to 772 million people.

While this is a tremendous improvement, it does not change the fact that too many millions are still eking out an existent on practically nothing, while a further 40 percent of the region’s population, some 933 million people – although not classified as the “poorest of the poor” – are in similarly dire straits, earning less than two dollars a day.

The 2014 annual statistical publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) takes an even deeper look at poverty statistics in the region, suggesting that the gains made in the past two decades may not be as bright as they seem.

According to the Bank’s sub-regional overview of declining extreme poverty, East Asia drove the drop in numbers with a 48.6-percent decline, followed by a 39-percent drop in Central and West Asia, 31 percent in Southeast Asia and 19 percent in South Asia.

However, the Bank highlighted three reasons for why the conventional 1.25-dollar poverty line is an inadequate measure of the costs required to maintain a minimum living standard by the poor: “Updated consumption data specific to Asia’s poor; the impact of volatile and rising costs associated with food insecurity; and the region’s increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises, and other shocks.”

By increasing the base poverty line to 1.51 dollars per person per day, as well as factoring in the impacts of food insecurity and vulnerability to natural disasters and other shocks, Asia’s extreme poverty rate shoots up to 49.5 percent of the population, or roughly 1.7 billion people.

Inclusive growth

In addition to poverty, the ESCAP survey broke down major challenges facing each particular sub-region, including “excessive dependence on natural resources and worker remittances for economic growth in North and Central Asia […]; employment and climate-related challenges in Pacific island developing countries […]; macroeconomic imbalances and severe power shortages in South and South-West Asia […]; and weaknesses in infrastructure and skilled labour shortages in South-East Asia.”

Since the financial crisis of 1997, for instance, infrastructure investment in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam fell from 38 billion during the year of the crash to 25 billion in 2010.

Infrastructure is desperately needed to improve basic services for the poor, including better transport networks and energy grids.

According to some estimates the sub-regions of South and South-West Asia need an estimated 400 billion dollars annually for power generation. Only 71 percent of South Asians have access to electricity, compared to 92 percent of those living in East and North-East Asia.

Financing for infrastructure is also desperately needed to improve access to water and sanitation, a huge problem in the region where 41 percent of the population does not have access to toilets and 75 percent do not have access to piped water, according to ESCAP.

Further demands for infrastructure are driven by the rapid rate of urbanisation, with ESCAP suggesting that the region will need upwards of 11 trillion dollars over the next 15 years to deal with the stresses of urbanisation and prepare for huge population shifts.

The year 2012 saw 46 percent of the Asia-Pacific population dwelling in urban areas, but current growth rates indicate that by 2020, that number could rise to 50 percent, meaning an additional 500 million people will reside in the region’s cities by the end of the decade.

The title of this year’s survey, ‘Making Growth More Inclusive for Sustainable Development’, begs a review of the region’s level of inclusivity, particularly of women and young people in the labour force and political ranks.

Sadly the results are disappointing: in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, women constitute just 18 percent of national parliamentarians, while one-third of countries in the ESCAP region have less than 10 percent female representation in parliament.

For youth, too, the situation is bleak, with seven out of 13 countries surveyed showing youth unemployment rates higher than 10 percent – including a 19.5-percent youth unemployment rate in Sri Lanka.

“To enhance well-being, countries need to go beyond just focusing on ‘inequality of income’ and instead promote ‘equality of opportunities’,” ESCAP Executive Secretary Shamshad Akhtar said Thursday.

She also said the survey underscores the need for countries to adopt policies that will foster inclusive growth, both to ensure outstanding MDG commitments are met and pave the way for an ambitious post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesia Still a Long Way from Closing the Wealth Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:30:43 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140617 Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Every afternoon, Wahyu sets up his wooden food cart by the side of a busy road in Central Jakarta to sell sweet buns, known as ‘bakpao’, to people passing by. In a good month, the street vendor can make around 800,000 rupiah, which amounts to roughly 62 dollars.

Across the road from where Wahyu hawks his wares stands one of the many malls that dot Indonesia’s capital city, home to 9.6 million people, filled with high-end designer labels like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

"We [...] need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected." -- Said Iqbal, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI)
Despite Wahyu’s position literally opposite the entrance to the plaza, it’s unlikely he will ever step foot inside it, let alone shop there.

Indonesia’s wealth gap has widened over the years, with the nation’s Central Statistics Agency (BPS) revealing that the country’s Gini index – a ratio measuring wealth distribution on a scale of 0-1 – increased from approximately 0.36 in 2012 to 0.41 in 2014.

While some are making their fortunes in this Southeast Asian nation of 250 million people, scores are languishing in destitution.

An estimated 28 million people live below the poverty line, and half of all households are grouped at or below the poverty line, set at 292,951 rupiah (24.4 dollars) per month, according to the World Bank.

When Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo came into office last October, he pledged to work towards minimising the country’s income inequality.

At the same time, the president, who is fondly known as Jokowi, emphasised that he was keen to boost the investment appeal of the world’s fourth most populous country, a plan that has some trade unions on edge, fearing the impact of unchecked foreign investment on a vulnerable workforce.

“We agree with the government’s plan to invite investors as we need investment for economic growth in the country. We support him,” explains Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI).

“But we also need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected,” he tells IPS.

The nation’s average minimum wage is around 1.5 million rupiah, the equivalent of 115 dollars, according to data from BPS.

Each province or district sets their own minimum wage in line with the amount needed for workers to achieve a decent standard of living. The current rate for the capital city is 2.7 million rupiah per month, about 206 dollars, a figure that labour unions argue is not in line with the rising costs of basic needs.

“Thailand has a minimum wage equivalent to 3.2 million rupiah (244 dollars), Philippines at an equivalent of 3.6 million rupiah (274 dollars) and in Malaysia it’s more than three million rupiah (228 dollars),” explains Iqbal, who joined thousands of workers in Jakarta this past May Day to demand higher wages.

“We [labour unions] have met with Jokowi and we welcome his vision. But we haven’t seen any action; we need him to implement policies. We need to see wages increased to reflect the increase in oil prices and consumer goods.”

As pointed out in a January 2015 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one in three regular employees – or 33.6 percent of the total workforce engaged in full-time work – receives a low wage.

While low wages in some emerging economies can symbolise a workforce about to move into a higher income bracket, “for many Indonesian workers low-wage employment tends to be the norm, rather than a springboard,” the ILO found.

The report also found that 45.9 percent of regular wage employees were “receiving wages below the lowest wage that is permissible by law in August 2014.”

Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), tells IPS that Indonesia is not doing enough to tackle the country’s rising inequality or its growing informal economy – two things she says pose economic and social risks.

“The unions here have fought the low-wage culture for many years […]; it is still not a wage on which people can live with dignity against rising costs for basic needs,” Burrow, who was in Jakarta for the May Day celebrations, explains.

“Likewise, social protection is still not deep enough and is not universal.”

According to the World Bank, employment growth has been slower than population growth, while “public services remain inadequate by middle-income standards.”

Health and infrastructure indicators are also poor, and the country is a ways off from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nation’s poverty-reduction blueprint that is set to expire at the end of the year.

For instance, the country continues to be plagued by high infant and maternal mortality ratios, with 228 infant deaths and 190 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Meanwhile, only 68 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, far short of the MDG target of 86 percent.

With 153.2 million people – or 62 percent of the total population – living in rural areas without easy access to medical, educational and financial institutions, experts say there is an urgent need for the country to devise schemes that will allow a more equitable sharing of wealth among its people.

While some analysts say Indonesia’s low wages act as a magnet for investment, business insiders disagree.

“The business community is aware that low wages are no longer the attraction they used to be,” says Keith Loveard, a senior risk analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta, adding that increased inequity over the past decade has seen the bottom 50 percent of the population make very few gains.

The government could reverse this tide by tackling bureaucratic bottlenecks in various sectors.

According to Loveard, “Indonesia’s logistics costs make up more than a quarter of production costs and the only way companies can deal with that is to squeeze workers. So realistically, until you lower logistics costs with better infrastructure and cut the red tape, it’s very difficult to do business in areas such as manufacturing that create lots of jobs.”

Indonesia’s manufacturing sector is the second largest contributor, after the service sector, to regular wage employment and a strong factor for economic and employment growth in the country, according to the ILO.

Organisations like the World Bank, which estimate that Indonesia has one of the fastest rising rates of income inequality in the Southeast Asian region, say that unless the country adopts social protection programmes for the poorest people, and invests in infrastructure that will enhance their productive capacity, Indonesia will find itself losing social, political and political cohesion in the years to come.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Farmers Fight Real Estate Developers for Kenya’s Most Prized Asset: Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/farmers-fight-real-estate-developers-for-kenyas-most-prized-asset-land/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 18:56:24 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140554 David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Njeru, a farmer from central Kenya, attends to his cabbages. This community is at risk of being displaced from their land by powerful real estate developers. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NGANGARITHI, Kenya, May 11 2015 (IPS)

Vegetables grown in the lush soil of this quiet agricultural community in central Kenya’s fertile wetlands not only feed the farmers who tend the crops, but also make their way into the marketplaces of Nairobi, the country’s capital, some 150 km south.

Spinach, carrots, kale, cabbages, tomatoes, maize, legumes and tubers are plentiful here in the village of Ngangarithi, a landscape awash in green, intersected by clean, clear streams that local children play in.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children. I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.” -- Paul Njogu, a resident of the farming village of Ngangarithi in central Kenya
Ngangarithi, home to just over 25,000 people, is part of Nyeri County located in the Central Highlands, nestled between the eastern foothills of the Abadare mountain range and the western hillsides of Mount Kenya.

In the early 20th century, this region was the site of territorial clashes between the British imperial army and native Kikuyu warriors. Today, the colonial threat has been replaced by a different challenge: real estate developers.

Ramadhan Njoroge, a resident of Ngangarithi village, told IPS that his community’s worst fears came to life this past January, when several smallholder families “awoke to find markers demarcating land that we had neither sold nor had intentions to sell.”

The markers, in the form of concrete blocks, had been erected at intervals around communal farmland.

They were so sturdy that able-bodied young men in the village had to use machetes and hoes to dig them out, Njoroge explained.

It later transpired that a powerful real estate developer in Nyeri County had placed these markers on the perimeters of the land it intended to convert into commercial buildings.

The bold move suggested that the issue was not up for debate – but the villagers refused to budge. Instead, they took to the streets to demonstrate against what they perceived to be a grab of their ancestral land.

“We cannot have people coming here and driving us off our land,” another resident named Paul Njogu told IPS. “We will show others that they too can refuse to be shoved aside by powerful forces.”

“I was given this land by my grandmother some 20 years ago,” he added. “This is my ancestral home and it is also my source of livelihood – by growing crops, we are protecting our heritage, ensuring food security, and creating jobs.”

But Kenya’s real estate market, which has witnessed a massive boom in the last seven years, has proven that it is above such sentiments.

Those in the business are currently on a spree of identifying and acquiring whatever lands possible, by whatever means possible. It is a lucrative industry, with many winners.

The biggest losers, however, are people like Njoroge and Njogu, humble farmers who comprise the bulk of this country of 44 million people – according to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Land: the most lucrative asset class

Last September, Kenya climbed the development ladder to join the ranks of lower-middle income countries, after a rebasing of its National Accounts, including its gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI).

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

This woman, a resident of Ngangarithi village in central Kenya, uses fresh water from the surrounding wetlands to irrigate her crops. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The World Bank praised the country for conducting the exercise, adding in a press release last year, “The size of the economy is 25 percent larger than previously thought, and Kenya is now the fifth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria, South Africa, Angola and Sudan.”

According to the Bank, “Economic growth during 2013 was revised upwards from 4.7 percent to 5.7 percent [and] gross domestic product (GDP) per capita changed overnight, literally, from 994 dollars to 1,256 dollars.”

The reassessment, conducted by the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that the real estate sector accounted for a considerable portion of increased national earnings, following closely on the heels of the agricultural sector (contributing 25.4 percent to the national economy) and the manufacturing sector (contributing 11.3 percent).

David Owiro, programme officer at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a local think tank, told IPS, “Kenya’s land and property market is growing exponentially.”

His analysis finds echo in a report by HassConsult and Stanlib Investments released in January this year, which found that the scramble for land in this East African nation is due to the fact that land has delivered the highest return of all asset classes in the last seven years, up 98 percent since 2007.

Land prices in the last four years have risen at twice the rate of cattle and four times the rate of property, while oil and gold prices have fallen over the same period, researches added.

Advertised land prices have risen 535 percent, from an average of 330,000 dollars per acre in 2007 to about 1.8 million dollars per acre today. Thus, equating land to gold in this country of 582,650 sq km is no exaggeration.

According to Owiro of the IEA, a growing demand for commercial enterprises and high-density housing in the capital and its surrounding suburban and rural areas is largely responsible for the price rise.

Government statistics indicate that though the resident population of Nairobi is two million, it swells during the workday to three million, as workers from neighbouring areas flood the capital.

This commuter workforce is a major driver of demand for additional housing, according to Njogu.

As a result, two distinct groups who see their fortunes and futures tied to the land seem destined to butt heads in ugly ways: real estate developers and small-scale farmers.

What is sustainable?

While the land rush and real estate boom fit Kenya’s newfound image as an economic success story, they run directly counter to the United Nations’ new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised in September.

The attempt to seize farmers’ land in Ngangarithi village reveals, in microcosm, the pitfalls of a development model that is based on valuing the profits of a few over the wellbeing of many.

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

A farmer shows off his aloe plants, popular among farming families in central Kenya for their medicinal value. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Farmers who have lived here for generations not only grow enough food to sustain their families, they also feed the entire community, and comprise a vital link in the nation’s food supply chain.

Taking away their land, they say, will have far-reaching consequences: central Kenya is considered one of the country’s two breadbaskets – the other being the Rift Valley – largely for its ability to produce plentiful maize harvests.

In a country where 1.5 million people experience food insecurity every year, according to government statistics cited by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), pushing farmers further to the margins by separating them from their land makes little economic sense.

Furthermore, encroachment by real estate developers into Kenya’s wetlands flies in the face of sustainable development, given that the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) has identified Kenya’s wetlands as ‘vital’ to its agriculture and tourism sectors, and has urged the country to protect these areas, rich in biodiversity, as part of its international conservation obligations.

For Njogu, the land rush also represents a threat to an ancient way of life.

He recounted how his grandmother would go out to work on these very farmlands, decades ago: “Even with her back bent, her head almost touching her knees, she did all this for us,” he explained.

“When she became too old to farm, she divided her land and gave it to us. What if she had sold it to outsiders? What would be the source of our livelihood? We would have nowhere to call home,” he added.

Already the impacts of real estate development are becoming plain: the difference between Ngangarithi village and the village directly opposite, separated only a by a road, has the villagers on edge.

“On our side you will see it is all green: spinach, kale, carrots, everything grows here,” Njogu said. “But the land overlooking ours is now a town.”

Various other villagers echoed these sentiments, articulating a vision of sustainability that the government does not seem to share. Some told IPS that the developers had attempted to cordon off a stream that the village relied on for fresh water, and that children played in every single day, “interacting with nature in its purest form,” as one farmer described.

“I am not fighting for myself but for my children,” Njogu clarified. “I am 85 years old, I have lived my life, but my great-grandchildren need a place to call home.”

Villagers’ determination to resist developers has caught the attention of experts closer to the policy-making nucleus in Nairobi, many of whom are adding their voices to a growing debate on the meaning of sustainability.

Wilfred Subbo, an expert on sustainable development and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told IPS that a strong GDP is not synonymous with sustainability.

“But a community being able to meet its needs of today, without compromising the ability of its children to meet their own needs tomorrow, [that] is sustainable development,” he asserted.

According to Subbo, when a community understands that they can “resist and set the development agenda, they are already in the ‘future’ – because they have shown us that there is an alternative way of doing business.”

“Land is a finite resource,” Subbo concluded. “We cannot turn all of it into skyscrapers.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: A Development Fairytale or a Global Land Rush?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-a-development-fairytale-or-a-global-land-rush/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-development-fairytale-or-a-global-land-rush http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-a-development-fairytale-or-a-global-land-rush/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 07:08:51 +0000 Karine Jacquemart and Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140527

In this column, Karine Jacquemart, Forest Project Leader for Africa at Greenpeace International, and Anuradha Mittal Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, argue that the land rush unleashed around the world to own and exploit Earth’s natural bounty is not only fierce and unfair, but increasingly fatal, with lands, homes and forests bulldozed and cleared for foreign investors and livelihoods shattered.

By Karine Jacquemart and Anuradha Mittal
PARIS/OAKLAND, California, May 11 2015 (IPS)

In our work at Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute around access and control over natural resources, we face constant accusations of being anti-development or “Northern NGOs who care more for the trees”, despite working with communities around the world, from Cameroon, to China, to the Czech Republic.

Karine Jacquemart

This name calling, aimed at discrediting struggles for land, water, and other natural resources in the Third World countries, hides an ugly truth.  The land rush unleashed around the world to own and exploit Earth’s natural bounty is not only fierce and unfair, but increasingly fatal.

Recent reports, including a Global Witness report titled ‘How many more?’ released in April 2015, document the increase in the assassinations of land and environmental activists globally – a shocking average of over two a week in 2014.

As individuals and groups in the frontline of struggles face intimidation, arrests, disappearances, and even death, it is an ethical imperative to support the struggles of the grassroots land defenders against corporations and governments. This is what unites organisations like Greenpeace and the Oakland Institute.

Over the last decade, an estimated 200 million hectares – an area five times bigger than California – has been leased or purchased throughout the world, through completely opaque deals in most cases.

Natural resources in Africa are some of the most sought after, hence the fact that Africa experiences more than 70 percent of the reported land deals.

Anuradha Mittal

Anuradha Mittal

Multinational companies with assistance from powerful partners – the World Bank Group and G8 “donor” countries – are moving in, chanting their “development” formula: facilitate foreign investment through large-scale land acquisitions and mega-projects to ensure economic growth which will trickle down to translate into development for all.

Our work reveals a very different and worrying reality on the ground. Local communities and indigenous peoples report lack of consultation; their lands, homes and forests bulldozed and cleared for foreign investors; their livelihoods shattered.

As one villager in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said, “I want to remain a farmer on my land, not a daily worker depending on a foreign company”, or in the words of a Bodi chief in Ethiopia, “I don’t want to leave my land. If they try and force us, there will be war. So I will be here in my village either alive on the land or dead below it.”

They, and countless more, are victims of the theft of natural resources, made invisible and voiceless by those who define what development looks like.“As individuals and groups in the frontline of struggles face intimidation, arrests, disappearances, and even death, it is an ethical imperative to support the struggles of the grassroots land defenders against corporations and governments”

As if destruction of lives and livelihoods were not enough, those who resist are harassed, even face violence, by governments and private companies.

A planned palm oil plantation by the U.S.-based Herakles Farms in Cameroon threatens to evict thousands of people off their land and destroy part of the world’s second largest rain forest.

The company’s former CEO, responding to criticism of the project, said in an open letter: “My goal is to present HF for what it is – a modestly-sized commercial  oil  palm  project  designed  to  provide employment and  social  development and improve  the  level  of  food  security, while incorporating industry best practices.”

What he failed to mention is how a Cameroonian activist, Nasako Besingi, who heads a local NGO, The Struggle to Economize the Future Environment (SEFE), learnt first-hand the consequences of opposing the project. Arrested in 2012 for planning a peaceful demonstration in Mundemba, Nasako and two of his colleagues languished in a jail for several days.

Soon after his release, while touring the area with a French television crew, he was ambushed and assaulted by men he recognised as employees of Herakles Farms. Instead of protection from this violence, Nasako and SEFE face legal battles, including one of the favorite corporate tactics – a defamation lawsuit, intended to intimidate him and the others who oppose.

Privatisation of land and theft of natural resources will be irreversible and will put people, forest, ecosystems and the climate at risk, if it goes unchecked. The time is now to choose a development path that prioritises people and the planet over profits for the rich. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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The Biggest Lessons Nepal Will Take Away From This Tragedyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-biggest-lessons-nepal-will-take-away-from-this-tragedy/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 15:56:24 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140496 Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Experts have said for years that Kathmandu is an extremely high-risk city in the event of seismic activity, yet Nepal was caught off guard when a massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

There has never been any doubt that Nepal is sitting on one of the most seismically active areas in South Asia. The fact that, when the big one struck, damages and deaths would be catastrophic has been known for years.

Indeed, when this correspondent visited Nepal several years ago, and found himself climbing up the narrow, winding stairwell of the Nepal Red Cross Society office in Kathmandu, a poster on one of the doors demanded a close read: “Kathmandu Valley is most vulnerable during an earthquake,” the sign said.

"[This] is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking." -- Orla Fagan, regional media officer at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Bangkok
“One study has shown than in case of an earthquake, 40,000 people may die, 95,000 persons may be seriously injured and 60 percent of houses will be totally destroyed.”

Looking out of the window at the densely populated hillsides, dotted with three-storey concrete structures hugging each other in the jam-packed metropolis, it was clear the warnings were not hyperbolic.

Little over a month before the massive earthquake struck on Apr. 25, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Nepal’s minister for foreign affairs, warned the world yet again of what was to come.

“It is […] estimated that the human losses in the Kathmandu Valley alone, should there be a major seismic event, will be catastrophic,” he told the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March.

Horrifyingly, his words were prophetic of the tragedy that unfolded not long after.

Caught off guard

Less than two weeks after the 7.8-magnitude quake rippled through Nepal, close to 8,000 people have been pronounced dead, while hundreds are still missing. Families wait for news, while officials wait for their worst fears to be confirmed: that the death toll will likely climb higher in the coming days.

Over 17,500 people are injured, and ten hospitals have been completely destroyed, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

An estimated eight million people, largely in the country’s Western and Central Regions, have been affected by the disaster – representing over a quarter of Nepal’s population of over 27 million people.

The largest cities, such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, have been badly hit; within 72 hours of the quake, over half a million fled Kathmandu to outlying areas.

Despite ample evidence of the damage a disaster of this scale could wreak on the country, Nepal was in many ways caught unawares, and is now struggling to meet the challenges of providing for a beleaguered and petrified population, who weathered numerous aftershocks in the week following the major quake.

Scores of families are still living in tents, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an urgent funding appeal for the estimated 3.5 million people in need of emergency food aid.

With so many hospitals destroyed, doctors have resorted to treating patients in the street. The U.N. health agency has allocated 1.1 million dollars for medical staff and supplies and has so far treated 50,000 patients in the 14 most severely affected districts.

‘Resources woefully lacking’

But there is a limit to what aid agencies and donor countries can do, and eventually the government will have to shoulder the lion’s share of the recovery effort: something experts feel Nepal is unprepared for.

“It is a massive relief operation, probably the largest in this region that we have launched,” Orla Fagan, regional media officer at OCHA’s office in Bangkok, Thailand, told IPS.

The long-term reconstruction bill could be as high as five billion dollars, while U.N. agencies said last week that they need at least 415 million dollars for more immediate efforts over the next three months.

Fagan said that because the threat levels were known, some degree of coordination and disaster preparedness work was being carried out in the Himalayan country prior to the disaster, mostly relating to training and building awareness.

“There was coordination between the government and U.N. agencies, but it was on a very small scale,” she said, adding, “You need to understand that this is one of the poorest countries in the world and resources were woefully lacking.”

Nepal is considered a Least Developed Country (LDC) and currently ranks 145 out of 187 on the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). It is also saddled with massive debt – over 3.8 billion dollars owed to donors like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – and funneled over 217 million dollars into debt repayments last year, money that might have been better spent shoring up its disaster preparation and management systems.

Fagan explained that the main gaps in disaster preparedness levels were in information management, with the government failing to collect data gathered by various actors into a cohesive national data bank. The country was also lacking a tried and tested national blueprint on early response and coordination of relief efforts.

A little known fact is that despite the very real threats of earthquakes, heavy rains, landslides and glacial lake outbursts, Nepal’s disaster response policies are governed by the over three-decades-old 1982 Natural Calamities Relief Act.

Though a 2008 draft act envisaged a National Disaster Management Authority, it is yet to be ratified by parliament.

“The hope now is that with all the international resources and goodwill pouring in, Nepal can build a stronger national disaster preparedness policy and mechanism,” Fagan said.

Learning lessons from the region

Regional disaster experts agree with that assessment.

“First the funds need to be used for recovery interventions,” explained N.M.S.I. Arambepola, director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok. “But a part of the funds should be used to develop a road map for a disaster resilient Nepal.

“The document would also identify the roles and responsibilities [of various government agencies] in implementation, ensuring that the government initiates a long-term plan for disaster risk reduction with the support of the development community,” the expert told IPS.

Such a document would specify which branches would issue warnings, which would disseminate them and which would be in charge of evacuations, for instance.

Arambepola also believes Nepal could learn a thing or two from its neighbors, no strangers to natural disasters.

“Nepal should take the example of other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka to develop policy [and] legal frameworks and an institutional set-up for disaster risk reduction,” he stressed.

Sri Lanka in particular presents an excellent case study, since it was just ten years ago that the country was caught in a similar crisis, completely at a loss to deal with the devastating impact of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Whereas Nepal at least has been aware of the earthquake threat in its densely populated cities for many years, Sri Lanka had no idea that its coast – home to 50 percent of the country’s 20 million people – was in such grave danger.

It found out the hard way on Dec. 24 when the killer waves knocked the stuffing out of three percent of its population, leaving 35,000 dead, over a million destitute, and a reconstruction bill of three billion dollars.

The country’s former secretary to the ministry of disaster management, S M Mohamed, described the tsunami as an “eye-opener”, sparking efforts at both government and civil society levels to ensure that the country would never again be caught off guard.

While the road to stronger management and preparedness has by no means been a smooth one, Sri Lanka has nevertheless made great strides since that fateful day, including setting up the country’s first-ever Disaster Management Centre (DMC).

In the last decade the DMC has evolved into the main national hub for disaster preparedness levels as well as becoming the nodal public agency for relief coordination and early warnings in the event of a natural calamity.

It has district offices in all 25 districts with personnel ready at any time for immediate deployment. In April 2012, the DMC was instrumental in efficiently evacuating over a million people from the coast, due to a tsunami threat.

“The Sri Lankan operation grew from scratch, and now it’s at a somewhat effective level, [though] there are still gaps. Disaster resilience is more about lessons learnt by trial and error,” DMC Additional Director Sarath Lal Kumara told IPS.

Although Nepal’s challenges are unique compared to some of the worst disasters in the region’s history – with 600,000 flattened houses after the quake, compared to Sri Lanka’s 100,000 following the tsunami, for instance – it still stands to take away valuable lessons, that will hopefully prevent unnecessary damages and loss of life in the case of future catastrophes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: South-South Cooperation Vital for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-south-south-cooperation-vital-for-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 12:54:12 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140497

Dr. Palitha Kohona is Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, May 8 2015 (IPS)

Sustainable development is central to a range of key discussions at the United Nations and elsewhere at the moment.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The role of South-South cooperation in the context of sustainable development deserves greater recognition as significant numbers of developing countries begin to ascend the development ladder in a sustainable manner, causing fundamental changes to the development infrastructure the world has known up to now.

The steady expansion of South-South cooperation is causing a lasting impression on the existing order of things.

First, the best practices adopted by the more economically advanced developing countries could provide workable and relevant models for the others.

Some developing countries have recorded impressive economic successes and the policies they have successfully implemented could be shared. Contrary to existing practice, models of development will increasingly be borrowed from outside the developed world.

Secondly, some advanced developing countries have accumulated considerable international currency reserves and developed relevant technology which could be effectively deployed in the rest of the developing world. This is happening already.

Thirdly, the flow of funding and technology from other developing countries to the rest of the South will result in dramatic changes to relationships largely based on post-colonial and historical dependencies and the inevitable conditionalities. This would create an uncomfortable challenge for those used to the current relationship patterns.The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena.

Sustainable development was the underlying concept that inspired States as they painstakingly negotiated the Rio+20 outcomes document, The Future We Want.

The Member States are currently working on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, essentially drawing on the report of the Open Working Group (OWG), to produce a master plan for progress, to be realised by 2030, that will ensure just, equitable and inclusive growth. The report of this exercise will be submitted for adoption to the U.N. High Level Summit to be held in September 2015 in New York.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda will seamlessly expand the significant achievements secured under the Millennium Development Goals which targeted eight specific areas. The new enterprise will touch upon many more aspects of our lives, including of women, youth, children, the disadvantaged and the marginalised, in a manner that the Millennium Development Goals did not.

A process culminating in a meeting of States Parties in Addis Ababa in July on Financing for Development will build on the accords of Monterrey and Doha and will adopt recommendations on the funding aspect for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The alleviation of poverty and the elimination of hunger are at the core of this exercise. We live in a world where close to 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. It is estimated that ending poverty in the world will cost 66 billion dollars per year. Over one billion live on less than 1.25 dollars per day. Over 2.5 billion have no access to clean water and proper sanitation resulting in massive health issues, including the stunting of children.

The number of least developed countries has remained the same since the year 2000, the year the MDGs were adopted, although progress has been made towards making the world a better place over the last 15 years.

Along with addressing poverty and hunger, the international community is discussing the related challenges, inter alia, of providing better health care and education for all, creating better cities and communities, ensuring decent work, confronting the daunting challenges facing the oceans, the imminent threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, mainstreaming women and children’s issues, providing energy for all, ensuring sustainable industrialisation, and building global partnerships.

The way humanity will address the threats confronting the oceans, in particular, its riches valued at an estimated 24 trillion dollars, will have a major impact on the environment, climate change, the livelihoods of millions of people and the economies of many countries, especially the Small Island Developing States and the Less Developed Countries.

In the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals adopted in 2000, the international community failed specifically on Goal 8 which focused on partnerships. The commitments made on the delivery of assistance to the developing world by the traditional donor community, including technology transfer, failed to materialise to the extent anticipated despite the solemn accords reached at Monterrey, Doha and elsewhere.

The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow and the elimination of poverty in many developing countries remains an ever distant dream, affecting a huge proportion of the global population.

Against this challenging background, the advances made by some developing countries provide practical examples of useful best practices and provide possible opportunities for a new framework for development cooperation.

China has pulled out over 680 million from extreme poverty in a short period of 30 years. This is an unprecedented achievement in human history. Its economy, which was at the bottom end of the world in the 1950s, is second only to that of the United States today and is expected to grow further.

Despite its headlong rush towards development and the enormity of the attendant challenges, China is also making impressive gains in the harnessing of alternative energy such as hydro, solar, wind, bio mass and gassified coal, bringing in to question the defensive contention of those industrialised countries which have argued that such a comprehensive embrace of alternative energy would result in major job losses and negative effects on their economies.

The initially costly, but essential, shift to renewable energy will facilitate continuing development in a sustainable manner, and the experiences of countries such as China, India and Brazil may provide an attractive model for other developing countries.

Many countries in South East Asia are also making rapid economic progress with Indonesia expected to become the sixth largest economy of the world by 2030. Sri Lanka, despite its developing country status, has attained enviable targets in the delivery of education services, health care and the integration of women to the national economy.

UNICEF highlights Sri Lanka as a success story. State-sponsored agricultural extension services which increasingly emphasise sustainability have been a major factor in the impressive advances made in this sector by Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh has halved the number of people living in poverty. While the experiences of any one developing country, or the technical knowhow deployed, may not necessarily be duplicated in another, useful lessons can still be learnt.

The lessons that can be shared are evident and South-South Cooperation has become a significant trove of experiences that can be accessed as the challenge of development is addressed. Interestingly, China studied the Greater Colombo Export Processing Zone of Sri Lanka before it established its spectacularly successful Shenzhen Zone.

Infrastructure projects could be and have been funded from public private partnerships, government to government arrangements or by the private sector. Africa’s current spurt of growth has been facilitated by a combination of these mechanisms, with much of the crucial funding and technology coming from China and a lesser amount from India, Brazil, etc..

Sri Lanka’s recent surge in economic expansion depended much on Chinese, and to a lesser extent on Indian, funding and technology. China’s initiative to establish an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was initially proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jingping, is attracting even traditional donor states in unexpected numbers (57 as of now), despite initial reservations.

It is clear that South-South cooperation is playing a crucial role, especially in developing countries, in adding zest to their economies. Important lessons are being learnt and fundamental changes to established frameworks in global cooperation are being introduced. It may even be argued that the catalyst that propelled many developing country economies to a different level was the recent expansion of cooperation from other developing countries.

The traditional development cooperation patterns, many dependent on former colonial ties, perpetuating a dependent mindset and loaded with conditionality, may be sputtering to an end as a new framework of South South cooperation consolidates itself in the global arena. The states negotiating the Post-2015 Development Agenda will be conscious of the need to reflect the changing nature of the global development framework in their work.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Living the Indigenous Way, from the Jungles to the Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/living-the-indigenous-way-from-the-jungles-to-the-mountains/#comments Fri, 08 May 2015 01:31:09 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140486 This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

This hunter is a member of the Waorani community, an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador. Credit: Courtesy Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8 2015 (IPS)

In the course of human history many tens of thousands of communities have survived and thrived for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Scores of these largely self-sustaining traditional communities continue to this day in remote jungles, forests, mountains, deserts, and in the icy regions of the North. A few remain completely isolated from modern society.

According to United Nations estimates, upwards of 370 million indigenous people are spread out over 70 countries worldwide. Between them, they speak over 5,000 languages.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction." -- Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
But as the fingers of economic development reach into ever more distant corners of the globe, many of these communities find themselves – and their way of life – under threat.

The march of progress means that efforts are being made both to extract the resources on which these communities rely and to ‘mainstream’ indigenous groups by introducing Western medical, educational and economic systems into traditional ways of life.

“There are two uncontacted communities near my home but there is the threat of oil exploration. They don’t want this. For them, taking the oil out of the ground is like taking blood out of their bodies,” Moi Enomenga, a Waorani who was born into an uncontacted community, told IPS.

The Waorani are an Amazonian indigenous people who live in eastern Ecuador, in an area of oil drilling activity. No one knows how long they existed before the first encounter with Europeans in the late 1600s.

“Indigenous peoples will continue to work in our communities to strengthen our cultures and resist exploitation of our territories,” Enomenga stressed.

Although Ecuador has ratified the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants communities the right to consultation on extractive projects that impact their customary land, organisations say that mining and oil drilling projects have cast doubt on the government’s commitment to uphold these rights, and spurred protests by indigenous peoples.

Ecovillages: a step towards an indigenous lifestyle

Despite their long history all indigenous and local communities are under intense pressure to be part a globalised economic system that offers some benefits but too often destroys their land and culture.

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

The village of Ustupu in the semi-autonomous Kuna Territory located in the San Blas Archipelago of eastern Panama, points to a simple, sustainable way of life. Credit: Nicolas Villaume, Land is Life

Worse, it’s a system that is unsustainable, and has produced global threats including climate change, and biodiversity crises.

In the past four decades alone, the numbers of animals, birds, reptiles and fish on the Earth has declined 52 percent; 95 percent of coral reefs are in danger of dying out due to pollution, coastal development and overfishing; and only 15 percent of the world’s forests remain intact.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activity have increased the global average temperature 0.85 degrees Celsius and will go much higher, threatening human civilization unless emissions are sharply reduced.

Modern western culture has only been in existence some 200 years and it’s clearly unsustainable, according to Lee Davies, a board member of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN).

For 20 years GEN has helped thousands of villages, urban neighbourhoods and intentional communities live better and lighter on the Earth.

“Traditional indigenous communities offer the best example of sustainability we have,” Davies said in an interview with IPS.

GEN communities have high quality, low impact ways of living with some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in the industrialised world.

Findhorn Ecovillage in the United Kingdom is one of the best known and has half the ecological footprint of the UK national average.

It includes 100 ecologically-benign buildings, supplies energy from four wind turbines, and features solar water heating, a biological Living Machine waste water treatment system and a car-sharing club that includes electric vehicles and more.

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Carbon neutral eco-houses at the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland provide an example of communities modeling their lifestyle on indigenous peoples. Credit: Courtesy Findhorn Foundation

Ecovillages aren’t about technology. They are locally owned, socially conscious communities using participatory ways to enhance the spiritual, social, ecological and economic aspects of life.

Senegal has 45 ecovillages and recently launched an ambitious effort to turn more than 14,000 villages into ecovillages with full community participation.

Among its members, GEN counts the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvodaya, a rural network that includes 2,000 active sustainable villages in the island nation of 20 million people.

“This is all about finding ways for humanity to survive. Much of this is a return to the values and practices of indigenous peoples,” Davies said.

Simple communities, not big development projects

Life is hard for mountain-dwelling communities, especially as the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, according to Matthew Tauli, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the mountainous region of the Philippines.

“We need small, simple things, not big economic development projects like big dams or mining projects,” Tauli told IPS.

The Philippines is home to an estimated 14-17 million indigenous people belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups, accounting for nearly 17 percent of the population of 98 million people. A huge number of these peoples face threats to their traditional ways of life, particularly as a result of forcible displacement from, or destruction of, their ancestral lands, according to the United Nations.

As everywhere in the world, communities from the Northern Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines, to Mindanao, a large island in the south, are fighting hard to resist destructive forms of development.

Their struggles find echo in other parts of the region, particular in countries like India, home to 107 million tribal people, referred to locally as Adivasis.

“We resisted the government’s efforts to make us grow plantations and plant the same crops over wide areas,” K. Pandu Dora, an Adivasi from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, told IPS.

Andhra Pradesh is home to over 49 million people. According to the 2011 census, scheduled tribes constituted 5.3 percent of the total population, amounting to just under three million people.

Dora’s people live on hilltops in forests where they practice shifting cultivation, working intimately with the cycles of nature.

Neighbouring tribes that followed government experts’ advice to adopt modern agricultural methods with chemical fertilisers and monocultures are suffering terribly, Dora said through a translator.

With over 70 percent of the state’s tribal and farming communities living below the poverty line, unsustainable agricultural practices represent a potential disaster for millions of people.

Already, climate change is wreaking havoc on planting and harvesting practices, disrupting the natural cycles that rural communities are accustomed to.

Unlike the farmers stuck in government-sponsored programmes, however, Dora’s people have responded by increasing the diversity of their crops, and remain confident in their capacity to innovate.

“We will find our own answers,” he said.

In drought-stricken Kenya, small farmers who relied on a diverse selection of crops continue to do well according to Patrick Mangu, an ethnobotanist at the Nairobi National Museum of Kenya.

“Mrs. Kimonyi is never hungry,” Mangu told IPS as he described a local farmer’s one-hectare plot of land, which has 57 varieties planted in a mix of cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, fruit and herbs.

It is this diversity, mainly from local varieties that produced edible products virtually every day of the year, that have buffered Kimonyi from the impacts of drought, he said.

Nearly half of Kenya’s 44 million people live below the poverty line, the vast majority of them in rural areas of the central and western regions of the country.

Embracing traditional farming methods could play a huge role in improving incomes, health and food security across the country’s vast agricultural belt, but the government has yet to make a move in this direction.

Protecting the people who protect the Earth

Traditional knowledge and a holistic culture is a key part of the longevity of many indigenous peoples. The Quechua communities in the Cuzco region of southern Peru, for instance, have used their customary laws to manage more than 2,000 varieties of potatoes.

“To have potatoes, there must be land, people to work it, a culture to support the people, Mother Earth and the mountain gods,” Alejandro Argumedo, a program director at the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), told IPS.

The communities developed their own agreement for sharing the benefits derived from these crops, based on traditional principles. Potatoes are more than food; they are a cultural symbol and important to all aspects of life for the Quechua, said Argumedo.

But preserving this way of life is no easy undertaking in Peru, where 632 native communities lack the titles to their land.

For Mexican Zapotec indigenous communities located in the Sierra Norte Mountains of central Mexico, there is no private property.

Rather than operating their community-owned forest industry to maximise profits, the Zapotec communities focus on job creation, reducing emigration to cities and enhancing the overall wellbeing of the community.

Protecting and managing their forestlands for many generations into the future is considered part of the community obligation.

Local people run virtually everything in the community as part of their ‘duties’ as community members. This includes being part of administration, neighbourhood, school and church committees, performing all vital roles from community policeman to municipal president.

What makes this all work is communal trust, deeply shared values that arise from long experience and knowledge, said David Barton Bray, a professor at Florida International University in Miami.

“These kinds of communities will be more important in the years to come because they can address vital issues that the state and the market cannot,” Bray told IPS back in 2010.

Around the world the best-protected forests are under the care of indigenous peoples, said Estebancio Castro Diaz of the Kuna Nation in southeastern Panama. More than 90 percent of the forests controlled by the Kuna people, for instance, are still standing.

This does not hold true for the rest of Panama, which lost over 14 percent of its forest cover in just two decades, between 1990 and 2010.

“The forest is a supermarket for us, it is not just about timber. There are also broad benefits to the larger society for local control of forests,” Diaz said.

Since trees absorb climate-heating carbon dioxide, healthy forests represent an important tool in fighting climate change. Forests under control of local peoples absorb 37 billion tonnes of CO2 a year, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, told IPS.

“In Guatemala forests managed by local people have 20 times less deforestation than those managed by the state, in Brazil it is 11 times lower,” said Tauli Corpuz.

However many governments neither recognise indigenous land tenure rights nor their traditional ways of managing forests, she added.

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

Moi Enomenga, a Waorani leader from Ecuador, was born into an uncontacted community. Credit: Courtesy Brian Keane, Land is Life

The overarching issue when it comes to dealing with climate change, biodiversity loss and living sustainably requires changing the current economic system that was created to dominate and extract resources from nature, she asserted.

“Modern education and knowledge is mainly about how to better dominate nature. It is never about how to live harmoniously with nature.

“Living well is all about keeping good relations with Mother Earth and not living by domination or extraction,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Unifying Transmission from North to South Means Cheaper Energy in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unifying-transmission-from-north-to-south-means-cheaper-energy-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unifying-transmission-from-north-to-south-means-cheaper-energy-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unifying-transmission-from-north-to-south-means-cheaper-energy-in-chile/#comments Thu, 07 May 2015 00:39:52 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140480 The interconnection of Chile’s two major power grids will unite the country in terms of energy and bring down costs in one of the countries in the world with the most expensive electricity. Credit: Ministry of Energy

The interconnection of Chile’s two major power grids will unite the country in terms of energy and bring down costs in one of the countries in the world with the most expensive electricity. Credit: Ministry of Energy

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 7 2015 (IPS)

Chile expects to have a more efficient and stable electricity market, with a more steady – and above all, less expensive – supply, when the country’s two major power grids are interconnected over a distance of more than 3,000 km.

“It’s not sufficient simply to increase our electricity generating capacity, if we don’t strengthen our transmission capacity at the same time. If we want to be a developed country, we have to aim for diversity in our energy mix and stability in power transmission,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco told IPS.

This project “opens up enormous opportunities for progress and stability for Chileans, with cleaner and cheaper energy,” he added.

Chile’s long, thin territory has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW to supply its 17.6 million people and its productive sectors.

In this country power generation and distribution are in the hands of private and mainly foreign corporations, and regulated by the government’s National Energy Commission, which is also coordinating the interconnection.

Of the country’s total installed capacity, the central grid, SIC, accounts for 74 percent and the northern grid, SING, accounts for 25 percent, while the smaller grids in the southern regions of Aysén and Magallanes produce less than one percent.

SING stretches from the region of Arica in the extreme north, bordering Peru and Bolivia, to Antofagasta, while SIC runs from the northern city of Taltal to the Big Island of Chiloé, in the south.

Together they total more than 3,000 km in this South American country, which is 4,270 km long.

The interconnection project, already under construction with a total projected investment of one billion dollars, is being carried out by the French company GDF Suez and involves installing an additional 580 km of transmission lines.

The new power lines will carry energy from the Mejillones power plant in Antofagasta, which forms part of the SING grid, to the Cardones substation in Copiapó, in the northern region of Atacama, which is part of the SIC grid.

Chile currently imports 97 percent of the oil, gas and coal it uses, and its energy mix is made up of 63 percent thermal power, 34 percent hydroelectricity and three percent non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) sources.

The Italian-Spanish firm Endesa-Enel wants to build a large dam on Lake Neltume, in the town of the same name in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile – a plan that is staunchly opposed by local residents, especially indigenous communities, which defend it as sacred territory. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Italian-Spanish firm Endesa-Enel wants to build a large dam on Lake Neltume, in the town of the same name in the Los Ríos region in southern Chile – a plan that is staunchly opposed by local residents, especially indigenous communities, which defend it as sacred territory. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This country’s shortage of energy sources has made the cost of electricity per megawatt/hour (MWh) for industry in Chile one of the highest in Latin America: over 150 dollars, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Energy Architecture Performance Index Report 2014.

That is the 13th highest cost in the world, and in the region it is only surpassed by the Dominican Republic’s 210 dollars per MWh, and Brazil and El Salvador, where the cost is 160 dollars per MWh.

“Chile has the highest cost of electricity in Latin America, and the power bill went up 30 percent in the last five years,” said Pacheco. “This has a strong impact on our families and hurts the competitiveness of our companies.”

He said the interconnection project, postponed for decades due to technical and technocratic reasons, “is an historic milestone” because it not only makes supply more efficient, stable and steady but also guarantees lower costs and gives a boost to the economy.

According to the National Energy Commission, the interconnection will bring 1.1 billion dollars in benefits to the country because of the drop in power grid costs and prices, linked to greater competition and a reduction of risks in the market.

“This has an enormous value given that it is equivalent to building approximately 35,000 social housing units. That is the magnitude of the economic benefit of this project for the country,” the minister stressed.

In concrete terms, households supplied by the SING northern grid will notice a 13 dollar drop in the price of MWh, while homes covered by the southern grid, SIC will see a three dollar drop.

In the case of industry, there will be an estimated 17 dollar reduction in the price per MWh in the north and nine dollars in the central and southern parts of the country.

In addition, “investment in the energy sector will increase, which will definitely be good news for our country,” Pacheco said.

But the economic benefits are not the only attractive aspect of the project. The minister said “the aim of the connection between the country’s two major grids is that the clean, abundant energy in the north can reach the centre and south.”

This means environmentalists share the government’s optimism.

Manuel Baquedano, director of the non-governmental Political Ecology Institute, told IPS that this is “one of the most important projects for the country” because it entails greater flexibility in energy management and, as a result, lower costs.

The expert pointed out that “the north has a surplus during the daytime” due to the enormous solar power potential in the Atacama desert, the world’s driest, while in the centre and south of the country, served by the SIC, “there is a surplus at night” because of the great hydropower potential.

As a result, he said, “each system can contribute to the other, producing a more stable supply and bolstering the use of NCRE sources, which require back-up energy sources.”

“It’s a key project, because Chile’s problem today is not generation but transmission of energy,” Baquedano said.

In her second term, which began in March 2014, President Michelle Bachelet promised to increase the share of energy produced by NCRE sources to 20 percent by 2025.

“Several of the measures proposed on the government’s agenda are aimed at meeting that goal, such as expanding the power grid, improving competitiveness in energy generation, and making the operation of the power grids more flexible,” the minister said.

He added that the future development of the power grids “will play a central role in facilitating compliance with that target at lower costs, taking advantage of the coordinated use of the transmission corridors.”

“What we are seeing is a proliferation of wind and solar power projects in the north, more than the construction of hydropower dams in the south. The public no longer tolerates megaprojects,” Baquedano said.

Against that backdrop, “I’m not afraid of the interconnection. On the contrary, I believe it is a very important element for the development of NCRE sources,” he concluded.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Falling Oil Prices Trigger Initial Economic Gains for Pacific Islandershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/falling-oil-prices-trigger-initial-economic-gains-for-pacific-islanders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-trigger-initial-economic-gains-for-pacific-islanders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/falling-oil-prices-trigger-initial-economic-gains-for-pacific-islanders/#comments Wed, 06 May 2015 16:04:50 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140474 In the Pacific Islands, transportation, including cargo boats that ply the waters between islands, is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In the Pacific Islands, transportation, including cargo boats that ply the waters between islands, is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 6 2015 (IPS)

The recent dramatic fall in world oil prices, with Brent crude plummeting from a high of 115 dollars per barrel in June last year to around 47 dollars in January 2015, is beginning to benefit Pacific Islanders who are seeing lower prices for fuel and energy.

Although the global price per barrel inched up to 68 dollars in early May, regional experts continue to anticipate fiscal gains as the trend eases costs of government operations and service delivery.

“How and to what extent [Pacific Island governments] will be able to derive benefits from the dramatic oil price drop depends on how quickly they [...] channel public spending on infrastructure and other development programmes.” -- Dr. Dibyendu Maiti, associate professor at the School of Economics at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji
“There is evidence to suggest that reduced fuel costs are having some impact in all Pacific Island markets, at least through lower prices charged for fuel, but the impact on secondary markets, like food and transport, may take longer to be realised,” Alan Bartmanovich, Petroleum Adviser to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Fiji, told IPS.

It will take time for the oil price drop to fully impact island governments and all economic sectors due to the length of supply chains and other factors, such as price fuel regulation within countries, he added.

A global oversupply of oil, due to a surge in United States production and decline in consumption driven by reduced growth in Europe and Asia, have been the main causes of the downward price trend.

The decision of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, which produces 40 percent of the world’s crude oil, to maintain its level of output has diminished the likelihood of prices soaring again quickly.

The Pacific Islands region is home to 10 million people living in 22 countries and territories totalling thousands of islands spread across 180 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment relative to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

Capitalising on lower oil prices will be vital to improving the lives and development outcomes of millions of people in this region, where the vast majority live in rural areas with little access to basic facilities and global job markets.

Many countries have embarked on plans to transition to renewable energy, but the region still depends heavily on fossil fuels, especially for power and transportation.

Fossil fuel imports amount to 10 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) and in five countries – the Cook Islands, Guam, Nauru, Niue and Tuvalu – diesel is still used for nearly all power generation.

Transporting oil long distances to small Pacific islands scattered across vast sea distances entails complex and costly supply chains. Further shipment to outer lying island provinces within countries can result in an additional 20-40 percent on the price of fuel for local consumers.

In Fiji, Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalisation, a regional civil society organisation, said, “Only a month ago the people of Fiji started to enjoy the real benefits of the fall in oil prices, particularly at the gas pumps, but also for basic energy needs, such as kerosene.”

Since 2014, the price of diesel in Fiji, commonly used to fuel power generators, has dropped from 1.17 dollars to 0.82 dollars per litre in April this year.

Over the same period, the cost of kerosene has fallen from 1.09 dollars to 0.62 dollars per litre.

“The cost of kerosene coming down is significant as this benefit trickles right down to rural and urban areas where most people are dependent on it as a source of energy for cooking,” Penjueli continued.

The trend is welcomed in the region after soaring oil prices from 2002-2008 and the global financial crisis intensified fiscal pressures, costing many Pacific Island countries about 10 percent of their gross national incomes.

Rising inflation and worsening trade deficits impeded the capacity of governments to reduce poverty and deliver development programmes and public services.

Rural communities in the Solomon Islands use fossil fuels for transportation, such as motorized canoes. Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rural communities in the Solomon Islands use fossil fuels for transportation, such as motorized canoes. Catherine Wilson/IPS

At this time ordinary Pacific Islanders witnessed escalating food, electricity and transport costs. Between 2009 and 2010 some staple food prices increased by 50-100 percent in at least six Pacific Island countries.

In Vanuatu, the price of taro rose from 1.95 to 3.91 dollars and yams from 6.85 to 14.68 dollars. The purchasing power of family incomes shrunk, with the poorest often the worst hit.

But, according to Penjueli, food prices remain largely unaffected so far by fuel price reductions.

“The rationale is that there should be a drop in prices of both imported foods and local produce because transportation costs will come down, however, we really haven’t seen that benefit yet. Retail stores have not brought their prices down,” she said.

The World Bank claims that a decline of 10 percent in world oil prices is likely to boost economic growth in oil importing countries about 0.1-0.5 percentage points.

But while prices declined about 30-40 percent in 2014-15, current growth forecasts for the region remain modest. GDP growth in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu is predicted to remain the same from 2015-2016 at 3.5 percent, 2.5 percent and 3.2 percent respectively.

Global oil prices are forecasted to remain low during the course of this year and increase marginally in 2016.

Dr. Dibyendu Maiti, associate professor at the School of Economics at the University of the South Pacific, Fiji, emphasised it was important for Pacific Island governments to respond to the price shift.

“How and to what extent they [governments] will be able to derive benefits from the dramatic oil price drop depends on how quickly they adjust the inflation target and channel public spending on infrastructure and other development programmes.”

Some priorities include investing more in higher education and skills development and “encouraging the private sector to participate with more investment. This would have a long term spill-over effect […] such as raising employment,” Maiti told IPS.

Beyond the oil market, reducing the vulnerability of the Pacific Islands to economic shocks and alleviating the financial burden of fossil fuel imports demands that countries remain on course with plans to convert to locally generated renewable energy.

Three years ago, Tokelau, a tiny Polynesian territory in the central Pacific, led the way by converting to 100 percent renewable energy with a large off-grid solar system providing power to its population of 1,411.

It was a critical move toward sustainable development given Tokelau’s GDP is about 1.5 million dollars, while its annual fuel importation bill was around 754,000 dollars.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: “People Need to Be at the Centre of Development”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140421 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARATA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

In a populous archipelago nation like Indonesia, where 250 million live spread across some 17,500 islands, speaking over 300 languages, the question of development is a tricky one.

A lower-middle-income country with a poverty rate of 11.4 percent – with a further 65 million people living just below the poverty line – the government is forced to make tough choices between where to invest limited funds: education or health, job creation or infrastructure development?

A demographic dividend arises when a high ratio of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.
These issues are further complicated by the fact that over 62 percent of the population – about 153 million people – lives in rural areas, largely cut off from easy access to hospitals, schools and job markets outside of the agricultural sector. About 27 percent of this population, roughly 66.1 million people, are women of reproductive age.

In addition, Indonesia currently has the highest rate of working-age people that it has ever had, both in absolute numbers – with 157 million potential workers – and as a proportion of the total population – accounting for 66 percent of all Indonesians.

While this puts a huge strain on the government to provide jobs, it also offers the country a chance to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend, defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a period in which the rising number of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.

This, in turn, allows the country to achieve far higher rates of income per capita, thus boosting the national economy.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ran from Apr. 19-21 in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, experts from around the world urged the country to capitalise on its demographic dividend by investing heavily in its own people.

Among the nearly 700 participants in the conference was the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), former Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who stressed throughout his three-day visit that “people need to be at the centre of development.”

While this may seem a simple recipe, it bears repeating in Indonesia, where half of the population falls into the ‘youth’ category (15-24 years), a demographic that also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

With Indonesia’s population set to increase by 19 percent, to about 293 million people by 2030, according to the UNFPA, the country would be well advised to heed the words of population experts.

In the midst of his whirlwind visit to Jakarta, Osotimehin sat down with IPS to discuss how Indonesia can harness the potential of its people, and to share some strategies on how the young democracy can optimise on changing population dynamics.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Where is Indonesia in terms of its demographic dividend?

A: Indonesia needs to take advantage of its demographic window of opportunity, which is expected to peak between 2020 and 2030. I think that there is the consciousness in Indonesia that this [demographic dividend] is an important national planning process, which they must invest in.

I believe that Indonesia has both the analytics and the political commitment, but I believe that going forward, we will have to encourage Indonesia to investment [strategically] for the demographic dividend to succeed.

Q: What kinds of investments need to be made?

A: Investments in health, youth education and employment need to be scaled up considerably. I think that social systems need strengthening – we need to address the issue of early marriage and make sure that girls are allowed to go to school, stay in school and reach maturity. We want to make sure that girls and women can make choices for themselves going forward, that is a key point.

Every young person must be taught about themselves and their bodies, and every woman needs to have access to voluntary family planning and sexual reproductive health services so that they are empowered to make choices. Having comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that we could reduce things like HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.

I think that within the educational framework we also want a situation where the curriculum is diversified so that we can encourage vocational training and entrepreneurship training. We need to be able to inspire small and medium-sized enterprises, which usually form the basis of a thriving economy.

Q: Why is it particularly important for Indonesia to focus on young people?

A: It’s important for Indonesia to invest in young people for many reasons. It gives a sense of belonging [for] a young person and it ensures that they can participate in national development. Young people will be part of the demographic transition and fertility reduction needs to include them. So really, they have to be part of the process.

Once you realise the potential of young people and they enter employment they are then able to save and earn, which in turn will help the economy grow.

Q: Is Indonesia moving in the right direction?

I think Indonesia has always had some of the necessary policies in place; they just need to be revitalised. New investments and political leadership have to come into it.

In the past, Indonesia was the leader in family planning after they implemented a national family planning programme in the 1970s. But it fell off the radar after Indonesia’s democratic transition in the 2000s, when family planning services were decentralised.

I think this new government is committed to bringing it back and I hear from discussions with various government leaders that this is something that they are paying close attention to.

Indonesia should also consider working with the private sector to help create decent jobs. Making sure that everybody, from the youth to the elderly, has social protection that provides basic [services] will be most important.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Lack of Trade Finance a Barrier for Developing Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lack-of-trade-finance-a-barrier-for-developing-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lack-of-trade-finance-a-barrier-for-developing-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lack-of-trade-finance-a-barrier-for-developing-countries/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 08:31:29 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140122

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, sixth Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), argues that lack of capacity in the financial sector has a very significant impact on the trading potential of poor countries and calls for giving prominence to trade finance in the development debate at a time when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being finalised.

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

Up to 80 percent of global trade is supported by some form of financing or credit insurance. Yet in many countries there is a lack of capacity in the financial sector to support trade, and also a lack of access to the international financial system. Therefore the ability of these countries to use simple instruments such as letters of credit is limited.

The impact of these limitations on a country’s trading potential can be very, very significant.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

After the financial crisis, the supply of trade finance has largely returned to normal levels in the major markets, but not everywhere and not for everyone.

The structural difficulties of poor countries in accessing trade finance have not disappeared – indeed the situation may well have declined due to the effects of the crisis.

There are indications that markets are even more selective now. Under increased regulatory scrutiny, many institutions have lowered their risk-appetites and are focusing more on their established customers. Some are deliberately decreasing their number of clients in a so-called “flight to quality”.

In this environment, the lower end of the market has been struggling to obtain affordable finance, with the smaller companies in the smaller, less-developed countries affected the most.

I was particularly struck by the fact that the financing gaps are the highest in the poorest countries, notably in Africa and Asia. And I was struck by the size of those gaps.

A survey by the African Development Bank of 300 banks operating in 45 African countries found that the market for trade finance was somewhere between 330 and 350 billion dollars.

It also found that this could be markedly higher if a significant share of the financing requested by traders had not been rejected.“The lower end of the market has been struggling to obtain affordable finance, with the smaller companies in the smaller, less-developed countries affected the most”

Based on such rejections, the estimate for the value of unmet demand for trade finance in Africa is between 110 and 120 billion dollars.

This gap represents one-third of the existing market.

The main reasons for the rejection of requests for financing were:

  • the lack of creditworthiness or poor credit history
  • the insufficient limits granted by endorsing banks to local African issuing banks
  • the small size of the balance sheets of African banks, and
  • insufficient U.S. dollar liquidity

Some of these constraints are structural, and can only be addressed in the medium to long term. The retreat of global banks from Africa, and from other poor countries, is one such issue.

The Asian Development Bank conducted a similar survey in Asia, looking at countries like Viet Nam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

According to preliminary estimates, the unmet demand there is around 800 billion dollars.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are the most credit-constrained as 50 percent of their requests for trade finance are estimated to be rejected. This is compared with just seven percent for multinational corporations.

Moreover, two-thirds of the companies surveyed reported that they did not seek alternatives for rejected transactions.

Therefore, these gaps may be exacerbated by a lack of awareness and familiarity among companies – particularly smaller ones – about the many options which exist.

A large majority of firms stated that they would benefit from greater financial education.

These findings are particularly striking as Africa and developing Asia are two areas of the world in which trade has grown fastest in the past decade.

But the potential evolution of new production networks is faster than the ability of the local financial sectors to support them.

In this way the lack of development of the financial sector can be a significant barrier to trade.

It can prevent developing countries from integrating into the trading system and accessing further trade opportunities.

And it can therefore prevent them from leveraging trade as a powerful source of development.

So we need to respond to this problem.

The exchanges that we have here can form part of this response. We need to join together in order to advocate action in this area and to devise practical solutions.

Of course, there is no magic bullet. This is a complex issue. However, that should not discourage our efforts.

The trade finance facilitation programmes that I outlined earlier are one example of practical action that we can take.

Of course this only fills part of the gap, so our response needs to be more fundamental.

In July this year, the United Nations’ major ‘Financing for Development’ conference will take place in Addis Ababa. And I think it is essential that we put trade finance on the agenda there.

In this way we can ensure that this issue is given its proper prominence in the development debate, especially at a time when the all-important U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are being finalised.

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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