Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:20:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Rousseff Re-elected President – What Lies Ahead for Brazil?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-rousseff-re-elected-president-what-lies-ahead-for-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-rousseff-re-elected-president-what-lies-ahead-for-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-rousseff-re-elected-president-what-lies-ahead-for-brazil/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:31:06 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137473

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the challenges facing re-elected Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and argues that in the economic sphere she must find a way out of the trap that Brazil has faced since control of inflation was achieved twenty years ago.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

The tight race between incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil’s Workers’ Party and her opponent, Aecio Neves from the centre-right Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) party, ended on Sunday, Oct. 26 with the re-election of Rousseff.

As happens in cases of re-election, the new government is, for all purposes, inaugurated immediately, because there is no need to wait until the legal date of January 1 to begin forming the new government and making necessary decisions.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Neither is there a honeymoon in a re-election: voters expect work to begin and some results to show right away.

There is no doubt that Rousseff faces a difficult period ahead. The economy has ground to a halt during 2014 and the perspectives for 2015 are not much better. During practically the whole of the first semester, inflation remained near or above the ceiling of 6.5 percent that was set by the government itself, and the perspectives for next year are not good either.

Balance of payments positions are not comfortable, marked by very high deficits in current transactions and dependence on capital inflows. Social inclusion programmes that were very successful in the recent past may be near exhaustion and will need an upgrade.

Finally, a huge deal was made during the electoral campaign of corruption cases in the administration and in state enterprises, notably Petrobrás, the Brazilian oil company, raising issues that will have to be dealt with by the incoming administration.“There is no doubt that Rousseff faces a difficult period ahead. The economy has ground to a halt during 2014 and the perspectives for 2015 are not much better”

This does not address, of course, another set of difficulties related to the formation of governments in the Brazilian political system, requiring coalitions to be formed with political parties that look like being for rent rather than available for political debates around principles or programmes.

Let us be clear: the situation is uncomfortable on many fronts but is far from catastrophic, no matter how dramatic opposition speeches have tried to suggest.

Things are far better than in Western Europe, for example, where a second recession is very likely to happen in the near future in economies already devastated by the irrational adherence to austerity policies imposed by some governments led by Germany. But the problems the new government will have to face cannot be underestimated either.

Focusing only on the economic challenges, Rousseff’s first task is to try to escape the curse the Brazilian economy has been facing since it achieved control of inflation twenty years ago.

The Real Plan, named after the new currency that was introduced in 1994, was based on the access to cheap imports obtained by liberalising foreign trade and an overvalued currency. To maintain overvaluation it was necessary to attract foreign capital inflows, which required high interest rates (higher than that paid in other countries). High interest rates were also necessary to control domestic demand so that no significant pressure would be applied on domestic prices.

However, exchange rate overvaluation and high interest rates reduced the competitiveness of local producers, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which are very sensitive to exchange rate behaviour.

As a result, the Brazilian economy has lived on a see-saw in these twenty years, alternating periods where devalued exchange rates have allowed some industrial expansion at the cost of accelerating inflation with periods of controlled inflation at the cost of industrial stagnation.

Fernando H. Cardoso was imprisoned by this dilemma, as was Lula da Silva. So was Rousseff in her first term, when she, to her credit, realised that the country had to escape the trap but was unsuccessful in finding the way to do so.

With the international economy in a weak condition, and which is forecast to last, Rousseff has to find a way to promote growth without fuelling higher inflation and increasing external vulnerability, that is, without raising the volume of imports when exports are stagnating.

Bringing the inflation rate down is also needed. Societies tend to have long memories (see how the Germans still react to the hyperinflation they experienced a century ago). A large number of Brazilians still remember how unbearable life was when inflation was in the two-digit figures a month.

We are not anywhere close to repeating that experience, but it has made Brazilians alert and sensitive to any signs that government may be lax in fighting inflation. Besides, 6.5 percent a year for more than three years in a row does add to significant loss of purchasing power for fixed incomes and for those wages and salaries that are not compensated by more generous increases.

Even the greatest triumph of the Workers’ Party administration – social programmes – may be near exhaustion.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has announced that hunger is no longer an issue for Brazil. Of course, this is great news but it also means that social policies will now have to be designed with higher aims, to improve the quality of life for the populations that were upgraded by past programmes.

Jobs, education and health are much more difficult to address than extreme poverty, the reduction of which could be dealt with cash transfers. Even if no other important problem was on the agenda, this is a tall order for any political leader, but it is even more so for a re-elected president.

Brazilian citizens are impatient to see how Rousseff will meet the challenge. (END/IPS 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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Fossil Fuels Won’t Benefit Africa in Absence of Sound Environmental Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fossil-fuels-wont-benefit-africa-in-absence-of-sound-environmental-policies/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:10:54 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137466 Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Uganda is estimated to have two billion barrels of oil reserves. Environmental experts are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Recent discoveries of sizeable natural gas reserves and barrels of oil in a number of African countries — including Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya — have economists hopeful that the continent can boost and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. 

But environmentalists and climate change experts in favour of renewable energy say that the exploration of oil and gas must stop, as they are concerned that many African countries lack the capacity to exploit oil and gas at minimal risk to the environment.

Economic policies are not driven by environmental concerns, Hadley Becha, director of local nongovernmental organisation Community Action for Nature Conservation, told IPS.

Becha said that despite the global shift away from fossil fuels, “exploration and production of oil and gas will continue” while Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil and gas, are controlled by multinationals.

Like many experts in the oil and gas industry, Becha believes that multinationals will still be awarded permits by local governments as the extractive industry has shown a great potential for revenue generation.

According to KPMG Africa, a network of professional firms, as of 2012 there were 124 billion barrels of oil reserves discovered in Africa, with an additional 100 billion barrels still offshore waiting to be discovered.

And while only 16 African countries are exporters of oil as of 2010, at least five more countries, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, are expected to join the long list of oil-producing countries.

But Kenyan environmentalist and policy expert, Wilbur Otichillo, believes that in light of the global shift away from fossil fuels, “newly-found oil will remain underground. Most of the companies which have been given concessions for exploration in East Africa are from the West.”

He told IPS that these companies were likely to heed calls for clean energy, “especially since they are likely to be compensated for investments made to explore.”

But unlike Egypt, which has specific Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines for oil and gas exploration, many African countries, including Kenya, have only one classification of EIAs, Becha said.

For example, in Kenya, oil and gas exploration and production is controlled by the archaic Petroleum Act of 1984, which was briefly updated in 2012.

“The Petroleum Act of 1984 is a weak law, especially with regards to benefits sharing and is also silent on the management of gas,” Becha said, adding that the oil and gas sector was very specialised and required detailed and specific environmental impact guidelines.

Experts say fossil fuels will have a significant impact on weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was released last month, revealed that temperatures on the African continent are likely to rise significantly.

“There ought to be specific guidelines for upstream [exploration and production], midstream [transportation, storage and marketing of various oil and gas products] and downstream exploration [refining and processing of hydrocarbons into usable products such as gasoline],” Becha said.

Policy experts are pushing Kenya’s government to develop sound policies and comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure that Kenya benefits from upstream activities and can also explore technology with fewer emissions.

Executive director of Green Africa Foundation John Kioli told IPS that Kenya was committed to adopting technology with fewer emissions “for example, coal [one of Kenya’s natural resources] will be mined underground as opposed to open mining.”

Kioli, the brains behind Kenya’s Climate Change Authority Bill 2012, emphasised the need to address the issue of governance and legislation in Africa.

He added that while Africa was committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, “the continent lacks the necessary resources. Africa cannot continue looking to the East or West indefinitely for these resources.”

Kenya’s government estimates that the 2013-2017 National Climate Change Action Plan for climate adaptation and mitigation would require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars. This is equivalent to the current 2013-2014 national budget.

Danson Mwangangi, an economist and market researcher in East Africa, told IPS that to achieve growth and development, and hence reduce poverty, “Africa will need to exploit fossil fuels.”

He says that industrialised countries are responsible for a giant share of greenhouse gas emissions and Africa too “should be allowed their fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, but within a certain period. Not indefinitely.”

Mwangangi said it is now common to find assistance to Africa simultaneously counted towards meeting climate change obligations and development commitments. “This means that measured against more pressing problems like combating various diseases, climate change projects will not be given a priority,” he added.

But even as Africa is adamant that oil and gas exploration will continue, Becha says the gains will be short term and unlikely to revive the economy.

“With oil and gas, it is not just about licensing, there are also issues of taxation…” Becha said.

He explained that in the absence of capital gains tax, as is the case in Kenya and many other African countries, “the government will lose a lot of revenue to briefcase exploration companies who act as middlemen, robbing national governments of significant revenue.”

He added that African countries will have to establish a solvent fund where revenue from oil and gas will be stored to stabilise the economy “oil can inflate the prices of certain commodities hence the need to control surges in inflation.”

Ghana is also among the few countries with a capital gains tax and a solvent fund.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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OPINION: Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Future for Industrial Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-towards-an-inclusive-and-sustainable-future-for-industrial-development/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:07:26 +0000 Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137457 Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Smelter at the El Teniente mine, which produces 37 percent of Chile’s copper. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Li Yong and A.L. Abdul Azeez
VIENNA, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

As representatives of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), we are sometimes asked whether industrial development is still relevant to a world which many observers have claimed over the past decades to have entered the “post-industrial age”. Our answer is always an emphatic “yes”, shaped both by the evidence of history and current events.

In the wake of recession and sluggish growth, policymakers globally are increasingly recognising the merits of industrialisation, both in developing and in richer countries.

The European Union, Japan, the United States and a few other countries have given greater prominence to reindustrialisation in their respective economic policies in recent years, while both middle-income countries and least developed countries have cited industrialisation as vital for their future prosperity.An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental.

UNIDO promotes industrial development as the primary vector through which poverty can be eradicated, by enhancing productivity, stimulating economic growth and generating associated increases in incomes and employment. We cooperate with governments and private sector actors to harness the investments necessary to strengthen the productive and trade capacities of our member states.

History has shown that industrialisation has an immense potential to propel upward social mobility; as a result of the Industrial Revolutions in England and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, millions of people were lifted out of poverty. Latterly, industrialisation has been central to the booming growth enjoyed by East Asian economies, and especially China, where GDP per capita has risen over 30-fold since 1978.

However, UNIDO recognises that while industrialisation has often been the motor for positive economic change, this has sometimes been achieved at the expense of social inequality and environmental degradation. Industrialisation must therefore be embedded in a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable policy framework if it is to achieve the desired developmental impact.

An integrated approach to society’s most urgent challenges must address all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental. At UNIDO’s 15th General Conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2013, the organisation’s 172 member states unanimously adopted the Lima Declaration, giving UNIDO a mandate to promote Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) as the principal means of realising their industrial development policy objectives.

The achievement of ISID represents UNIDO’s vision for an approach that balances the imperatives of economic growth, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

The world is united in regarding poverty eradication as the overarching objective of development, and UNIDO’s member states have placed it at the core of ISID. Industrial development has been shown to be a key driver of processes which make a difference to the world’s poorest citizens.

Research from UNIDO demonstrates that countries with a larger share of industry in their economies perform better with regard to a wide range of indicators corresponding to social well-being, such as income inequality, educational opportunities, gender equality, health and nutrition. The contribution that ISID could make to youth empowerment through skills development and youth entrepreneurship is now widely recognised.

Similarly, environmental sustainability is also central to ISID. UNIDO promotes Green Industry and the use of clean technologies in industrial production; greater resource and energy efficiency; and improved water and waste management. Not only do these measures reduce harmful emissions and waste, but they also offer a significant potential for increased competitiveness and employment opportunities.

ISID also prioritises creating shared prosperity. This means that the benefits of growth must be inclusive if they are to improve the living standards of all women and men, young and old alike. Employment opportunities, particularly in the industrial and agro-industrial sectors, must be available to all members of the workforce, thus building greater prosperity and social cohesion.

As we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework in 2015, the international community has been reflecting on how best to address outstanding challenges. Although the MDGs achieved some remarkable successes, for example in terms of halving extreme poverty and increasing access to education and sanitation, much still remains to be done in order to achieve “the world we want”.

The post-2015 development agenda currently being discussed by the international community aims to address the many development issues that still need to be resolved. The Open Working Group, which was tasked with formulating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda, has recognised the importance of inclusive and sustainable industrialisation by including it as one of the 17 Goals it has proposed, clustering it in Goal 9 with resilient infrastructure and innovation.

Given the ambitious scope of the post-2015 development agenda and experience gained over MDGs, the focus of international deliberations has now shifted from the determination of the SDGs to addressing the means of implementation.

Recognising the budgetary constraints imposed by the prolonged period of stagnant growth and recession experienced in many countries, the recent report of the International Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing acknowledged the necessity of mobilising alternative resources for the implementation of the SDGs, including those of the private sector.

UNIDO has already worked extensively on securing greater engagement from private industry in international development, and over the past year was honoured to have been selected to co-lead the United Nations System’s consultations on engaging with the private sector. As the organisation mandated to promote industrial development, which is quintessentially a private-sector activity, we are well-placed to partner with and promote private enterprise, and look forward to achieving increased progress in this field in the future.

Industrialisation has consistently transformed living standards throughout modern history. ISID is the next phase in its evolution. The overarching goal of the post-2015 development agenda is to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest citizens.

This is a challenge which UNIDO is well-placed to meet in partnership with governments, the global development community, business and civil society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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They Say the Land is ‘Uninhabited’ but Indigenous Communities Disagreehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 05:10:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137464 Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO/BALI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Disregarding the rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands is costing companies millions of dollars each year, and costing communities themselves their lives.

A new paper by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released on Oct. 30 found that a significant portion of forests and reserves in emerging markets is being allocated to commercial operations through concessions, ignoring indigenous communities who have lived on them for generations.

“The granting of concessions without the knowledge or approval of people directly affected by them is obviously a human rights issue of grave concern. But it may also have a real financial impact, and this impact concerns more than just those companies with ground-level operations,” the paper said.

“Most of the time [indigenous communities] are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support." -- Aleta Baun, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize
It noted that indigenous communities inhabit over 99 percent of lands used by commercial entities through concessions. In some instances, large portions of national land are being divested through concessions.

The figure was 40 percent of all land extent in Peru and 30 percent in Indonesia. With Indonesia’s total land extent covering some 1.8 million square km, the portion of land under concession works out to around 500,000 sq km.

“In most cases governments feel that it is easier and simpler to work when they don’t get the indigenous communities involved,” Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at RRI, told IPS.

But while companies and governments enter into agreements on lands as if they were not inhabited, when work begins on commercial projects it invariably collides head-on with communities who call the same land their traditional home.

The financial damage resulting from such confrontations can run into millions. A recent paper by the U.S. National Academy of Science noted that one company reported a loss of 100 million dollars during a single year, due to stoppages forced by company-community conflict. The company was not named in the report.

“An economy wide valuation of ‘environmental, social and governance risks’ across the Australian Stock Market in 2012 by Credit Suisse identified 21.4 billion Australian dollars in negative share-price valuation impact,” the paper, entitled ‘Conflict Translates Environmental and Social Risk into Business Costs’, claimed.

RRI’s Ogden said that despite such losses, the global trend still was to sideline indigenous communities when entering into concession agreements. “They remain invisible in most of these contracts.”

Such invisibility on paper can be deadly on the ground. In South Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, serious violence erupted between police and activists during a protest that took place a fortnight ago, Mina Setra, deputy secretary general of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told IPS.

Such violent altercations are not rare. Earlier this year research by Global Witness, an organisation working on environmental rights, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed.

During the period under review, according to the report, 41 people were killed in the Philippines because of opposition to mining interests. And in 2012 alone, 68 percent of all land-related murders in Brazil were connected to disputes over deforestation in the Amazon.

The report said that activists facing prosecution lacked local as well as international networks that were tailor-made to assist them.

“The problem we are facing is that there is still no recognition for indigenous peoples’ rights,” AMAN’s Setra said.

For almost four years AMAN and other environmental organisations lobbied the Indonesian parliament to adapt a law that would recognise the rights of indigenous communities. It was to be passed this month, when the government changed, bringing fresh officials into power.

“Now we are back to zero,” Setra said.

RRI’s Ogden said there were signs that some global companies were taking note of the rights of indigenous communities to their land, but AMAN’s Setra said that till there was legal recognition of such rights, commercial agreements were unlikely to include them.

“The companies keep asking us under what terms such communities can be recognized and we have no effective answer until there is a law,” Setra said.

For activists, working in that gray area could turn deadly.

Take the case of Aleta Baun, the Indonesian activist from West Timor, the Indonesia portion of the island of Timor, who in 2000 launched a campaign to stop mining operations that were affecting the lives of her Molo tribe members. She has been waylaid, stabbed and threatened with death and rape.

“Most of the time you are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support,” said the 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

In the Paracatu municipality of Brazil, the country’s largest gold mining operation run by a company called Kinross with a total investment of over 570 million dollars has been repeatedly interrupted since 2008 due to conflicts with traditional communities.

The parties signed a new agreement in 2010 that allowed operations to resume in 2011.

In Peru, two dam projects on the Ene-Tambo River have been abandoned after prolonged protests and legal action by the indigenous Ashaninka community, who claim that the projects could displace between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

In 2008 the Tata group pulled out a 350-million-dollar investment from the Indian state of West Bengal, where it intended to produce its signature Nano car, after protests by local communities.

The RRI report said that community rights to forests and other natural reserves were increasingly becoming a factor for commercial operations.

“As we have examined this problem, we have come to think of local populations as a kind of ‘unrecognized counterparty’ to concession agreements. We found that communities often used legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances with concessionaires. This suggests that local communities’ rights over an area have appreciable legal weight, even if government bodies and concessionaires haven’t attributed them much import in the terms of their agreements.”

Ogden said that more data was needed to clearly establish community rights over natural reserves.

Until then, indigenous peoples are left facing gigantic commercial entities in a David-and-Goliath scenario that shows no sign of improving in their favour.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Bougainville Voices Say ‘No’ to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:41:41 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137411 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

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

The viability of reopening the controversial Panguna copper mine in the remote mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the east of Papua New Guinea, has been the focus of discussions led by local political leaders and foreign mining interests over the past four years.

But a report by an Australian non-government organisation warns that the wounds left on local communities by the corporate mining project, “the environmental destruction associated with it” and the civil war that stretched from 1988 to 1997 are far from healed.

Its findings include widespread opposition in directly impacted villages to the mine’s revival in the near future.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there." -- Lynette Ona, a member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association
“I believe the report was honest and sincere in that it gave people from the mine-affected areas an opportunity they are not always accorded, to come out and really make known to the world their problems, hopes and fears,” Jimmy Miringtoro, member of parliament for Central Bougainville, where the mine is located, told IPS.

The mine was formerly operated by the Australian company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which is 53 percent owned by Rio Tinto, from 1969, but forced to shut down 20 years later following an uprising by indigenous landowners angered by economic exploitation, loss and degradation of land, and political marginalisation.

The ‘Voices of Bougainville’ study was conducted at the end of last year with 65 individuals and a focus group of 17 living in 10 villages in and around the mine site by Jubilee Australia, which investigates Australian state and corporate responsibility for environmental and human rights issues, in association with a university research consortium called the International State Crime Initiative, and Papua New Guinean civil society organisation Bismarck Ramu Group.

“The study was not an opinion poll … our primary aim was to better understand local views on mining and development … it was felt that there was an absence of publicly available qualitative data offering a window into the past and its interspersion with the present in the mine affected region,” Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative told IPS.

The former mine lease area covers 13,047 hectares of forested land and the main villages in the vicinity of the mine are home to an estimated 4,000-5,000 people, according to data obtained by IPS in 2011 through interviews with locals.

“BCL destroyed our lives, took our land, took our money and never properly compensated our parents who were the rightful titleholders of the land which they took … now they want to come and reopen Panguna mine, this is a no, I personally say no to the reopening of the Panguna mine,” said a villager from Dapera, near to the mine pit, quoted in the report.

His claims find echo among grassroots communities. Panguna landowner and member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association, Lynette Ona, agreed that most people in the area didn’t want mining. Ona recently led a women’s delegation to the PNG Prime Minister’s office to raise their opposition to mining before the region achieved complete self-government.

Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Morris has publicly rejected the report and its findings, claiming that there is majority support for the industry if negative impacts are avoided.

He is supported by landowner associations, which are members, along with Bougainville Copper Ltd and the PNG Government, of the multi-stakeholder Joint Panguna Negotiations Co-ordinating Committee.

A troubled history

The Panguna copper mine opened when Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration and delivered around two billion dollars in revenues, of which 94 percent went to shareholders and the PNG Government and 1.4 percent to local landowners.

Hostility and opposition to the mine by local communities, apparent from the exploration phase, intensified when environmental devastation, air pollution and tailings from the mine, which contaminated agricultural land and the nearby Jaba River, decimated their health, food and water security.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there,” Ona described.

When BCL refused to pay landowners compensation of 10 billion kina (about 3.9 billion dollars) in 1989, a 10-year civil war broke out between Bougainville revolutionary forces and the PNG military leading to widespread destruction on the island and an estimated death toll of up to 20,000.

Peace-building initiatives supported by the United Nations and international aid donors have been ongoing since the 2001 peace agreement, but post-conflict trauma remains mostly untreated and disarmament and reconciliation is unfinished.

A majority of the study’s respondents were concerned about problems related to the mine and conflict, which had not been addressed, and lack of justice in the peace process.

“No-one has been brought to court; the issue has been ignored despite its seriousness,” said a woman from Darenai village.

“Imperative” to generating state revenue

Reviving the mothballed mine is imperative to generating sufficient state revenue to “make greater progress towards autonomy and our choice about independence,” ABG President Morris said during a speech to the Bougainville House of Representatives in August.

A referendum on the region’s independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) is planned within the next six years.

BCL estimates Panguna contains more than three million tonnes of copper reserves and could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year. Restarting the mine would require an investment of five billion dollars with potential revenues estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 300,000 and potential direct employment of only 2,500 has been suggested with the ratio of local workers not identified.

Since 2010 the Bougainville government has established a framework for landowner consultations and conducted stakeholder forums across the island to assess public opinion, claiming these indicate a green light for mining.

Thirteen of 65 participants in the Jubilee study said they would support the extractive industry under certain conditions: after Bougainville has achieved independence in order to minimize foreign interference; after compensation and reparation are delivered; and after other forms of economic development, such as agriculture, have been explored.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that mining consultation forums have so far been geared too heavily towards advocacy. A significant number of participants felt the landowner associations were not relaying a popular consensus from their respective communities,” State Crime Initiative’s Lasslett claimed.

Miringtoro, the parliamentarian from Central Bougainville, told IPS that he was “satisfied that the 65 people interviewed were a fair and representative sample of the people who are totally against mining. [They] are from village communities situated all throughout mine and tailings area … which has been changed into a moonscape with arable land buried under tonnes of silt and rock.”

The state and corporate sectors promote mining revenues as necessary for growth and poverty reduction on Bougainville where many people live without basic services, such as a clean water supply, electricity and medical services. The province has 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 59 years.

However, the record so far in Papua New Guinea is that economic dependence on the extraction of minerals, such as copper, gold and nickel, over the last 30-40 years, with GDP growth reaching 11 percent in 2011, has not resulted in development for the majority of citizens.

Forty percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, only 12 percent have access to electricity, adult literacy is 50 percent and malnutrition is high with stunting prevalent in half of all children, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“In PNG, despite a booming economy, driven by extractive industry, income and human poverty persist and a majority of the population live in rural, isolated areas with little or no access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation and safe drinking water,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported this year.

The organisation added, “Foreign investors and contractors absorbed a large proportion of the benefits of the strong growth the country enjoyed over the last decade.”

The people of Bougainville desire development and better lives. But for many of those who have lived with the mine at their doorstep, the accelerating pace of discussions about its reopening are in stark contrast to lack of progress on resolving the problems, injustices and legacy of suffering that it has already caused.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Jungle Shrine Awaits its Blessed Momenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-jungle-shrine-awaits-its-blessed-moment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-jungle-shrine-awaits-its-blessed-moment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-jungle-shrine-awaits-its-blessed-moment/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:13:36 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137399 Devotees pray to the 500-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary as it is paraded around the Madhu Church during the annual festival. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Devotees pray to the 500-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary as it is paraded around the Madhu Church during the annual festival. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MADHU, Sri Lanka, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Rising out of a thick forest about 17 km from the nearest main road, the Madhu Church is a symbol of spiritual harmony and tranquility. When the wind blows you hear the leaves rustle. Other times a solemn silence hangs in the air. Old-timers say that once, almost an entire generation ago, the grass grew six feet high in the church compound, and elephants wandered through it.

Located some 300 km by road from Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, this place is the most venerated Catholic shrine in the country, home to a 500-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary that millions of faithful people believe to be miraculous.

But the peaceful hush that surrounds this holy place is likely to be broken in the months to come.

“[Our Lady of Madhu] has survived so much for so long and is still with us, protecting us, keeping us safe." -- Benedict Fernando, a pilgrim from the coastal town of Negombo
Heavy construction work takes place round-the-clock here, as efforts to rebuild the side chapel of the Sacred Heart slowly bear fruit. It was severely damaged during a shelling incident in 2008 that, according to some priests, killed over three-dozen people who were seeking shelter, and left 60 injured.

New residential quarters are also underway and about four km from the church a new helipad is being planned. All this for the scheduled visit by Pope Francis set to take place during the second week of January 2015.

“It is a blessing from God, people not only here but all over the island are waiting to see him and hear him at this Church,” said Rev. S. Emilianuspillai, the administrator of the shrine.

The papal visit will be the crowning moment for the church and the relic enshrined within that survived some of the most turbulent and violent years of Sri Lanka’s modern history.

The administrator told IPS that despite some reports that the visit could be cancelled due to impending presidential elections, preparations were going ahead.

Located in the northwestern Mannar District, the church was within the war zone for much of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long conflict. When heavy fighting engulfed the church compound in April 2008, it had been under the control of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for over a decade. The war ended a year later with the defeat of the Tigers by government forces.

Emilianuspillai still recalls those harrowing days six-and-a-half years ago when he and 16 others were trapped within the church as shells exploded all around. By 6.30 pm on Apr. 3, 2008, a decision was made to move the statue to a safer place. It was a journey fraught with danger, Emilianuspillai, said. Just a mile into the trip a shell fell right in front of the vehicle containing the relic, which the priest had cradled to his own body for safekeeping. “Absolutely nothing happened to it, or us,” he said.

Worshippers gather near the damaged chapel of the Sacred Heart in August 2009, just three months after the war's end. Credit: Courtesy Amantha Perera

Worshippers gather near the damaged chapel of the Sacred Heart in August 2009, just three months after the war’s end. Credit: Courtesy Amantha Perera

Little less than a year-and-a-half later, in August 2009, the same church compound was filled with over half a million worshippers for the first annual post-conflict feast, all seeking the blessings of their beloved Mother of Madhu.

Devotees revere the statue as a symbol of unity and peace, bringing together Tamils and Sinhalese, as well as Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, all of whom would mingle during the massive annual feasts.

In the early days of Sri Lanka’s conflict, Madhu was also one of the largest refuges for those fleeing the fighting.

“[Our Lady of Madhu] has survived so much for so long and is still with us, protecting us, keeping us safe,” Benedict Fernando, a pilgrim from the coastal town of Negombo, about 250 km south of Madhu, told IPS.

Praying for reconciliation

Tamils living in the Northern Province also hope that the papal visit will shed light on burning post-war issues that have remained unresolved. The region is one of the poorest in the country with poverty levels sometimes thrice the national average of 6.7 percent. It has also been hit hard by an 11-month drought and losses to the vital agriculture sector. This despite the injection of over six billion dollars worth of government funds since 2009.

“There is a lot more work to be done,” Sellamuththu Sirinivasan, the additional government agent for the northern Kilinochchi District, told IPS.

Other lingering issues include the over 40,000 female-headed families in the Northern Province, struggling to make ends meet in a traditionally male-dominated society.

With assistance from the U.N. and other agencies slowing to a trickle, such vulnerable groups have been left to fend for themselves.

“The economic situation has stagnated despite the large investments in infrastructure. In such an environment, even able-bodied and qualified men and women find it hard to gain employment. These single women with families are really vulnerable [to] exploitation,” Saroja Sivachandran, who heads the Centre for Women and Development in northern Jaffna, told IPS.

Then there are those who went missing during the war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has just begun the first countrywide survey of the families of the war missing. The survey and its recommendations are to be handed over to the government sometime in mid-2015. But there is still confusion over the number of missing, which some have put as high as 40,000. The ICRC says that it has recorded over 16,000 cases of missing persons since the 1990s.

“The war has ended, but the battles continue for us,” said Dominic Stanislaus, a young man from the town of Mankulam, about 60 km north.

On first glance, the Vanni, the popular name for the northern provinces, seems generations removed from the war years. Glistening new highways have replaced barely navigable roads marked by crater-sized potholes left by shells. A new rail line linking northern Jaffna to the rest of the country after a lapse of a quarter of a century was inaugurated earlier this month.

But burning questions about when the missing will return home, or where the next meal will come from, remain unanswered.

Many, like Stanislaus and Fernando, pray that the papal visit will hasten the healing process. In the meantime, the Madhu Church will continue to bring hope to thousands who still live with the wounds of war.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Yeil” – The New Energy Buzzword in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:53:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137400 Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
NEUQUÉN, Argentina, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

In Argentina they call it “yeil”, the hispanicised version of “shale”. But while these unconventional gas and oil reserves are seen by many as offering a means to development and a route towards energy self-sufficiency, others believe the term should fall into disuse because the global trend is towards clean, renewable sources of energy.

Wearing an oil-soaked uniform, the drilling supervisor in the state oil company YPF, Claudio Rueda, feels like he is playing a part in an important story that is unfolding in southern Argentina.

“Availability of energy is key in our country,” he told IPS. “It’s an essential element in Argentina’s development and future, and we are part of that process.”

The first chapter of the story is being written in the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in Loma Campana in the province of Neuquén, which forms part of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, where rich unconventional reserves of gas and oil are hidden in rocky structures 2,500 to 3,000 metres below the surface.

According to YPF, reserves of 802 trillion cubic feet of reserves put Argentina second in the world in shale gas deposits, after China, with 1,115 trillion cubic feet.

And in shale oil reserves, Argentina is now in fourth place, with 27 billion barrels, after Russia, the United States and China.“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources.” -- Maristella Svampa

According to projections, Argentina’s conventional oil and gas reserves will run out in eight or 10 years and production is declining, so the government considers the development of Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq-km geological formation, strategic.

“Nearly 30 percent of the country’s energy is imported, in different ways – a huge drain on the country’s hard currency reserves,” Rubén Etcheverry, coauthor of the book “Yeil, las nuevas reservas” (Yeil, the new reserves) and former Neuquén provincial energy secretary, said in an interview with IPS.

“We have been in intensive therapy for the last five years, with respect to the trade balance and the energy balance,” he said in Neuquén, the provincial capital.

“We went from exporting nearly five billion dollars a year in fuel, 10 years ago, to spending 15 billion dollars on imports; in other words, the balance has shifted by 20 billion dollars a year – an enormous change for any economy of this size,” Etcheverry said.

Imports include electricity and liquefied gas, natural gas and other fuels.

Diego Pérez Santiesteban, president of Argentina’s Chamber of Importers, said that at the start of the year, energy purchases represented 15 percent of all imports, compared to just five percent a year earlier.

Since 2009, accumulated imported energy has surpassed the Central Bank’s foreign reserves of 28.4 billion dollars.

Etcheverry sees Vaca Muerta as key to turning that tendency around, because the reserves found deep under the surface would be “enough to make us self-sufficient, and would even allow us to export.”

According to the expert, Argentina could follow in the footsteps of the United States, which thanks to its shale deposits “could become the world’s leading producer of gas and oil in less than 10 years.”

Shale gas and oil are extracted by means of a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, and opening and extending fractures deep under the surface in the shale rock to release the fossil fuels.

But there is a growing outcry around the world against the pollution caused by fracking in the water table and other environmental impacts in wide areas around the deposits.

And in Argentina many voices have also been raised against the energy mix that has been chosen.

“This is an environmental point of view that goes beyond Vaca Muerta. The option that they are trying to impose in Argentina, as a solution to the energy crisis…has no future prospects,” said ecologist Silvia Leanza of the Ecosur Foundation.

“We’re basing all of our economic expansion on one asset here – but how many years will it last?” she asked.

Fossil fuels make up nearly 90 percent of Argentina’s energy mix. The rest is based on nuclear and hydroelectric sources, and just one percent renewable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is the main cause of climate change.

“This situation, along with the greater availability of renewable sources, indicates the end of the era of dirty energy sources,” Mauro Fernández, head of Greenpeace Argentina’s energy campaign, said in a report.

This country’s dependence on fossil fuels has made carbon dioxide emissions per capita among the highest in the region: 4.4 tons in 2009, according to the World Bank.

Fernández said unconventional fossil fuels are not only risky because of fracking, but are also “a bad alternative from a climate and energy point of view.”

“Unconventional deposits look like a new frontier for doing more of the same, fueling the motor of climate change,” he complained.

Argentina has set a target for at least eight percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2016.

“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources,” said sociologist Maristella Svampa, an independent researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

“In the last decade, fracking has certainly transformed the energy outlook in the United States, making it less dependent on imports. But it has also made it the place where the real impacts can be seen: pollution of groundwater, damage to the health of people and animals, earthquakes, greater emissions of methane gas, among others,” she said.

Carolina García with the Multisectoral Group against Hydraulic Fracturing said that because of its rich natural resources, Argentina has other alternatives that should be tapped before exploiting fossil fuels “to the last drop.”

“We finish extracting everything in the Neuquén basin and what do we have left?” she commented to IPS.

Etcheverry mentioned the possibility of using solar energy in the north, wind energy in Patagonia and along the Atlantic shoreline, geothermic energy in the Andes, and tidal and wave energy along the coast.

But the author said that for now the costs were “much higher” than those of fossil fuels, because of technological reasons, transportation aspects and energy intensity.

He also said oil and gas are still necessary as energy sources and raw materials for everyday products.

For that reason, Etcheverry said, the transition from the fossil fuels era “is not simple.” First it is necessary to improve energy savings and efficiency, in order to later shift to less polluting fossil fuels, he added.

“In the first stage it would be a question of moving from the most polluting fossil fuels like coal and oil towards others that are less polluting, like natural gas. And from there, creating incentives for everything that has to do with clean or renewable energies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe’s Rich Fuel Inequality Through Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-rich-fuel-inequality-through-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-rich-fuel-inequality-through-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-rich-fuel-inequality-through-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:29:24 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137393 A woman poses at the front of a shack settlement in Epworth, outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Sixteen percent of the country’s 12.5 million people are deemed extremely poor. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

A woman poses at the front of a shack settlement in Epworth, outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. Sixteen percent of the country’s 12.5 million people are deemed extremely poor. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Zimbabwe has lost 12 billion dollars in illicit financial flows over the last three decades and experts say this illegal practice is perpetuating social inequalities and poverty in this southern African nation.

A September report by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) estimates that 63 percent of Zimbabweans are poor, with 16 percent of the country’s 12.5 million people deemed extremely poor.

While the number of extremely poor households in the country has reduced from 42.3 percent in 2001, Sydney Mhishi, a principal director in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, told IPS that there is an overwhelming demand for cash transfers because of rising poverty and inequalities, mostly in rural areas.

  • Inequalities are more widespread in rural areas — occurring in 76 percent of rural households compared to 38 percent of households in the urban areas.
  • A majority of Zimbabwe’s people, some 7.7 million, live in rural areas.
  • Nearly 200,000 to 250,000 households in Zimbabwe are classified as ultra poor.

In 2013, about 55,000 households received up to 25 dollars in cash handouts every month from the government under the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Programme.

The government is supporting 20 percent of vulnerable and labour constrained households through the programme.

“The demand for the cash transfers is more in depth in urban areas. In urban areas we have also started a mix of cash [transfers] as well as electronic transfers in poor suburbs like Epworth,” Mhishi said.

A study conducted by the Institute of Development of Studies in 2013 and released last month, shows that poverty was increasingly taking on an urban face with levels higher than expected. Zimbabwe’s economy is in a fragile state subjugated by a liquidity crunch, funding constraints, and corruption, which has made the government struggle to raise revenue.

And even though Zimbabwe has vast natural resources, the blessings of its natural wealth has not benefitted its people.

The nation has of some of the largest diamond and platinum reserves in Africa and the world, and has over 40 exploitable minerals. All of this could potentially transform the lives of Zimbabwe’s citizens.

But the valuation of the country’s mineral deposits, experts say, remains unknown because of the shadowy arrangements under which most Zimbabwean mines are being exploited.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) points to a dearth of transparency and accountability in the management of the Marange diamond mines.

Minister of Finance Patrick Chinamasa said in December 2013, during his presentation of the 2014 national budget, that the government did not receive any diamond dividends in that year.

According to ZELA, of the seven companies operating in the Marange diamond fields, only one has shown some modicum of transparency and accountability by publicly disclosing its diamond revenue.

Janet Zhou, a programmes director with the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, told IPS that her organisation has been campaigning for a tax justice system, which exhorts big companies in the extractive sector to pay their dues to the government to enhance revenue collection.

“Illicit financial inflows cause inequalities because the government loses revenue that should in turn be redistributed to the poor through the trickle-down effect. The rich should pay taxes and subsidise the underprivileged so that they get access to social services,” Zhou said.

Zimbabwe has been affected by illicit financial flows, as money is illegally transferred or utilised elsewhere usually through criminal activities, corruption, tax evasion, bribes and cross-border smuggling.

Research conducted in August by the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (Afrodad) and the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit approximates that between 2009 and 2013, cash-strapped Zimbabwe lost 2,85 billion dollars through illicit financial flows in mining, fisheries, forestry and illegal safari activities.

The illicit financial flows occurred mostly through under-invoicing by multinational companies and weak legal and institutional frameworks. Afrodad policy advisor Momodou Touray says illicit financial flows deprive governments of revenue that should be ploughed into public sector investment and poverty-reduction programmes.

Zhou added that when the government failed to tap revenue from the rich, usually ordinary people become soft targets. Tafadzwa Chikumbu, an economic governance policy officer with Afrodad, agreed.

“Illicit financial flows perpetuate inequality because they are fuelled by rich multinational corporations and rich individuals who have the capacity to do tax planning resulting in transfer mis-pricing and trade mis-invoicing.

“So if the government fails to harness resources from them, it transfers the burden to weaker economic agents, who are the ordinary citizens,” he told IPS.

Chikumbu said this was demonstrated in the country’s August mid-term fiscal statement, which introduced a raft of tax measures targeted at raising revenue principally from ordinary tax payers.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Put People Not ‘Empire of Capital’ at Heart of Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/put-people-not-empire-of-capital-at-heart-of-development/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:23:11 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137387 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador does not mince words when it comes to development. ”Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour,” he told a crowded auditorium at the 15th Raul Prebitsch Lecture.

The Raul Prebitsch Lectures, which are named after the first Secretary-General of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) when it was set up in 1964, allow prominent personalities to speak to a wide audience on burning trade and development topics.

This year, President Correa took the floor on Oct. 24 with a lecture on ‘Ecuador: Development as a Political Process’, which covered efforts by his country to build a model of equitable and sustainable development, “Neoliberal policies based on so-called competitiveness, efficiency and the labour flexibility framework have helped the empire of capital to prosper at the cost of human labour” – President Rafael Correa Delgado of Ecuador

Development, he told his audience, “is a political process and not a technical equation that can be solved with capital” and he offered a developmental paradigm that seeks to build on “people-oriented” socio-economic and cultural policies to improve the welfare of millions of poor people instead of catering to the “elites of the empire of capital”.

Proposing a “new regional financial architecture”, he said that “the time has come to pool our resources for establishing a bank and a reserve fund for South American countries to pursue people-oriented developmental policies in our region” and reverse the “elite-based”, “capital-dominated”, “neoliberal” economic order that has wrought havoc over the past three decades.

“We need to reverse the dollarisation of our economies and stop the transfer of our wealth to finance Treasury bills in the United States,” Correa said. “South American economies have transferred over 800 billion dollars to the United States for sustaining U.S. Treasury bills and this is unacceptable.”

According to Correa, people-centric policies in the fields of education, health and employment in Ecuador have improved the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) since 2007. The HDI is published annually by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education and income indices used to rank countries into tiers of human development.

Ecuador’s HDI value for 2012 is 0.724 – in the high human development tier – positioning the country at 89 out of 187 countries and territories, according to UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) for 2013.

Explaining his country’s achievement, Correa said that public investments involving the creation of roads, bridges, power grids, telecommunications, water works, educational institutions, hospitals and judiciary have all helped the private sector to reap benefits from overall development.

“At a time when Hooverian depression policies based on austerity measures are continuing to impoverish people while the banks which created the world’s worst economic crisis in 2008 are reaping benefits because of the rule of capital,  Ecuador has successfully overcome many hurdles because of its people-oriented policies,”  he said.

Correa argued that by investing public funds in education, which is the “cornerstone of democracy”, particularly in higher education or the “Socrates of education”, including special education projects for indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian people, it has been shown that society can put an end to capital-dominated policies.

“We need to change international power relations to overcome neocolonial dependency,” Correa told the diplomats present at the lecture.  “Globalisation is the quest for global consumers and it does not serve global citizens.”

The Ecuadorian president argued that developing countries have secured a raw deal from the current international trading system which has helped the industrialised nations to pursue imbalanced policies while selectively maintaining barriers.

He urged developing countries to implement autonomous industrialisation strategies, just as the United States had done over two centuries ago.

Developing countries, he said, must pursue ”protectionist policies as the United States had implemented under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton [U.S Secretary of the Treasury under first president George Washington] when it closed its economy to imports from the United Kingdom.”

Citing the research findings of Cambridge-based economist Ha-Joon Chang in his book ‘Bad Samaritans:  The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism’, Correa said that protectionist policies are essential for the development of developing countries.

He stressed that developing countries, which are at a comparable of stage of economic development as the United States was in Hamilton’s time, must devise policies that would push their economies into the global economic order.

The strategy of “import-substitution-industrialisation [ISI]” and nascent industry development is needed for developing countries, he said. “However, the developing countries must ensure proper implementation of ISI strategies because governments had committed mistakes in the past while implementing these policies.”

“Free trade and unfettered trade,” continued Correa, is a “fallacy” based on the Washington Consensus and neoliberal economic policies. In fact, while the United States and other countries preach free trade, they have continued to impose barriers on exports from developing countries.

Turning to the global intellectual property rights regime, which he said is not helpful for the development of all countries, Correa said that these rights must serve the greater public good, suggesting that the current rules do not allow equitable development in the sharing of genetic resources, for example.

In this context, he said that governments must not allow faceless international arbitrators to issue rulings that would severely undermine their “sovereignty” in disputes launched by transnational corporations.

President Correa also called for the free movement of labour on a par with capital. “While capital can move without any controls and cause huge volatility and damage to the international economy, movement of labour is criminalised. This is unacceptable and it is absurd that the movement of labour is met with punitive measures while governments have to welcome capital without any barriers.”

He was also severe in his criticism of the financialisation of the global economy which cannot be subjected to the Tobin tax. “Nobel Laureate James Tobin had proposed a tax on financial transactions in 1981 to curb the volatile movement of currencies but it was never implemented because of the power of the financial industry,” he argued.

Concluding with a hint that his government’s social and economic policies are paving the way for the creation of a healthy society, Correa quipped: “The Pope is an Argentinian, God may be a Brazilian, but ‘Paradise’ is in Ecuador.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:04 +0000 David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137344 By David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev
BISHKEK, Oct 23 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.

Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.

Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow eight percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over 50 billion dollars this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February.

On Oct. 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling.

“They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarised compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On Oct. 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about 650 million dollars,” Halyk said in a note to investors.

On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Añelo, from Forgotten Town to Capital of Argentina’s Shale Fuel Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/anelo-from-forgotten-town-to-capital-of-argentinas-shale-fuel-boom/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:01:56 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137341 The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The main street of Añelo, a remote town in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region which is set to become the country’s shale oil capital. In 15 years the population will have climbed to 25,000, 10 times what it was just two years ago. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

This small town in southern Argentina is nearly a century old, but the unconventional fossil fuel boom is forcing it to basically start over, from scratch. The wave of outsiders drawn by the shale fuel fever has pushed the town to its limits, while the plan to turn it into a “sustainable city of the future” is still only on paper.

The motto of this small town in the province of Neuquén is upbeat and premonitory: “The future found its place.”

But for now the town’s roads, most of which are unpaved and throw up clouds of dust from the heavy traffic of trucks and luxury cars driven by oil company executives, contradict that slogan.

“Many eyes around the world are on Añelo, but unfortunately we don’t have a good showcase, to put us on display,” the director of the town’s health centre, Rubén Bautista, told IPS.

“We are living on top of black gold, they take riches out of our soil, but they leave practically nothing to the local population,” added the doctor who, along with three other colleagues, covers the health needs of a population that doubled, from 2,500 to 5,000, in just two years.According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

Añelo, a bleak town on the banks of the Neuquén river surrounded by fruit trees, goats and vineyards, is the town closest to the Loma Campana shale oil field, which is being worked by Argentina’s state oil company YPF and the U.S.-based Chevron.

It is only eight km from the oil field, which is part of new riches that hold out the biggest promise for revenue to fuel the country’s development: Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq km geological reserve that is rich in shale oil and gas and has made this country the second in the world after the United States in production of unconventional fossil fuels.

But the black gold is not shining yet in Añelo – which means forgotten place in the Mapuche indigenous language – located some 100 km north of Neuquén, the provincial capital.

The health centre, which refers serious cases to hospitals in the provincial capital, has just two ambulances, while 117 companies from across the planet are setting up shop in and around the town.

According to conservative projections, Añelo will have a population of 25,000 in 15 years, including people directly employed by the oil industry, indirect workers, and their families, who have begun to pour into the new mecca for Argentina’s energy self-sufficiency plans.

“They are people who come to Añelo with the idea of finding a better future…thinking about what unconventional fossil fuels could mean in their lives,” YPF Neuquén’s communications manager, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

YPF alone has 720 employees in the area. The workers come from nearby towns as well as other provinces, and from abroad, brought in by international companies in the construction, chemistry, hotel, transportation and services industries.

The town’s only hotel is full, and camps spring up on any flat area, with containers turned into comfortable temporary lodgings for the workers. Rent for a small apartment is five times what people pay in the most expensive neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.

“We are building a city from scratch,” Añelo Mayor Darío Díaz told IPS, although he pointed out that even before the shale boom the town was “a strategic waypoint.”

YPF has been exploiting unconventional fossil fuels in the region since the 1980s, but “when their work was done they would leave,” Díaz explained. “This is much more intensive; there will be a lot of work over the next 30 years.”

“The town has infrastructure for around 2,500 inhabitants. It is too small now given the new demand for basic services like water, electricity, roads, and dust emission,” the province’s environment secretary, Ricardo Esquivel, told IPS.

The sound of hammering and pounding is constant. Two workers, who make the 120-km commute back and forth every day from Cipolletti, in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, are working on a new sidewalk. “It’s spectacular.There’s a lot of work here for everyone. More people are needed. The problem is housing,” construction worker Esteban Aries told IPS.

The YPF Foundation carried out an “urban footprint” study which gave rise to the Añelo Local Development Plan. The plan has the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its Emerging Sustainable Cities Initiative.

Carried out together with the local and provincial governments, the plan outlines different growth scenarios with the aim of assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the area.

It addresses, among other aspects, “what surface area the city should have, how the urban planning process should start, what the diagram should look like, what services are needed – what Añelo is going to need today and in two, three, or five years,” Calífano said.

YPF reported that the work had already begun, including an expansion of the sanitation system, construction of homes for doctors, and a vocational training centre, linked to the needs of the oil industry. Primary healthcare clinics were set up in two trailer trucks – although Dr. Bautista said that’s not enough.

The economic growth has brought heavy traffic. The government is planning a two-lane highway to Vaca Muerta, on the so-called “oil route”, to keep the trucks out of the town.

“The steadily growing number of accidents is overwhelming,” Bautista said. The average has increased from 10 traffic and work-related accidents a month two years ago to 17 today.

“You have to keep in mind that most of the activity has been going on for a year,” said Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional fuels in Loma Campana, where some 20 wells are drilled every month, which has driven production up from 3,000 to 21,000 barrels per day of oil.

“There are things that we will obviously work out together with the authorities, as we go. This is all very new,” he said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Tomada left everything behind in Buenos Aires and invested his savings to open up a restaurant in Añelo, which is now packed with workers.

His cook, local resident Norma Olate, said she was happy because she’s earning more. But she nostalgically remembers when her town was “practically a sand dune.”

Development has brought work, “but also bad things,” the 60-year-old Olate told IPS. “There have been armed robberies, which we didn’t see here before.”

Olate, who has young, single daughters, said she is also worried about “the invasion of men.”

“So many men!” she said, laughing. “I’m not interested anymore, but the girls…there are guys who come and deceive them, a lot of them end up pregnant….that’s bad for the town too.”

Provincial lawmaker Raúl Dobrusín of the opposition Popular Unity party denounced the rise in prostitution, drug trafficking and use, alcoholism and corruption.

“We say the only things modernised in Añelo were the casino and the brothel,” he said ironically.

Dobrusín complained about the government’s lack of “planning” and “control” over these and other problems, such as real estate speculation and prices that are now unaffordable for many people in the town.

Nevertheless, for Mayor Díaz the balance is positive. “We have to take advantage of this opportunity for Añelo to develop as a town and improve the living standards of our people. What worries me is whether we will make the necessary investments quickly enough,” he said.

The province is preparing a “strategic development plan” for Añelo, along with nearby “oil micro-cities”, which will include the construction of an industrial park, schools, hospitals, roads and housing, and increased security.

“We’re not going to build an oil camp in Añelo without a city,” the mayor summed up.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Nagoya Protocol: A Treaty Waiting to Happenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:13:10 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137324 Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For over 20 years, Mote Bahadur Pun of Nepal’s western Myagdi district has been growing ‘Paris polyphylla’ – a Himalayan herb used to cure pain, burns and fevers.

Once every six months, a group of traders from China arrive at Pun’s house and buys several kilos of the herb. In return, Pun gets “a lump sum of 5,000 to 6,000 Nepalese rupees [about 50 dollars],” he tells IPS.

But ask Pun who these traders are and what they plan to do with bulk quantities of Paris polyphylla, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and he stares blankly.

“This is a medicinal herb, so I assume they use it to make medicines,” is his only explanation.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help [states] bring down the cost of biological conservation." -- CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza
In fact, trade in Paris polyphylla has been banned since it falls under the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal covering over 7,600 square kilometres in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

From ancient times local communities have utilised the herb to cure a range of ills, but traders like those who come knocking at Pun’s door are either unaware or unconcerned that Paris polyphylla represents centuries of indigenous knowledge, and is thus protected under a little-known international treaty called the Nagoya Protocol.

Adopted in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Japan, the agreement “provides a transparent legal framework for […] the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

Designed to prevent exploitation of people like Pun by traders who buy traditional medicinal resources for a paltry sum before turning huge profits from the sale of cosmetics or medicines derived from these species, the treaty covers all genetic resources including plants, herbs, animals and microorganisms.

Impressive in its scope, the protocol has hitherto largely been confined to paper. This year, however, at the recently concluded COP 12, which ran from Oct. 6-17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, scores of experts agreed to put the provisions of the treaty front and center in efforts to preserve biological diversity worldwide.

With support from 54 countries – four more than the mandatory 50 ratifications required to bring the treaty into effect – the Nagoya Protocol will now form a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, as the world charts a more sustainable path forward for humanity and the planet.

‘Biopiracy’

According to environmentalists and scientists, the Nagoya Protocol could help curb ‘biopiracy’, broadly defined as the misappropriation of traditional or indigenous knowledge through the system of international patents that primarily benefit large multinationals in developed countries.

For instance, a pharmaceutical company that develops and sells herbal-based medicines will now – under the terms of the protocol – be required to share a portion of its profits with the country from which the resources, or the traditional knowledge governing the resources, originate.

In turn, these earnings are expected to help low-income countries finance conservation efforts.

A clause on access also provides mechanisms for local communities or countries to limit or restrict the use or extraction of a particular resource.

These clauses guard against biopiracy of the kind that was witnessed in the 1870s when the British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds from Brazil, which were subsequently dispatched as seedlings to plantations across South and Southeast Asia, thus breaking the Brazilian monopoly over the rubber trade.

Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Brazil again fell victim to biopiracy when the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Squibb used venom from the fangs of the jararaca, a pit viper endemic to Brazil, in the creation of captopril, a medication used to treat hypertension.

The New York Times reported that the drug earned the company revenues of 1.6 billion dollars in 1991, but Brazil itself did not see a cent of these profits.

The potential success of the treaty hangs on the support it receives in the international arena. So far, two-thirds of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have failed to ratify the protocol, representing what some have referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help the parties bring down the cost of biological conservation,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza told IPS, adding, however, that nothing will be possible until nations make the agreement legally binding.

Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest that is considered a mine of genetic resources, is yet to throw its weight behind the Nagoya agreement, a move experts say would benefit over three million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

Roberto Cavalcanti, secretary for biodiversity in the Brazilian environment ministry, informed IPS that President Dilma Rousseff has submitted the legislation under an urgency provision, so it’s now in the top three pieces of legislation pending approval by Congress.

“We anticipate that with the approval of Brazil’s new domestic Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) legislation, there will be a good environment for the ratification of the Protocol,” he added.

The government has already begun the task of informing local communities about the merits of the Nagoya Protocol and its economic benefits for generations to come.

The work is being done in collaboration with the environmental conservation organisation Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico, which is helping to educate communities around the country.

Since January this year, the organisation has helped over 10,000 locals put together a set of rules called Protocolo Communitaro (Community Protocols), which promotes preservation and sustainable use of forests and water sources, including medicinal plants and fish.

Missing skills

Unlike Brazil, several other countries are struggling to pave the way for ratification of the Protocol, largely due to a lack of technical and economic capacity.

This past June, the CBD organised a workshop in Uganda where several African states could learn more about the treaty and its ABS mechanism.

Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to a huge reserve of genetic resources and biological diversity including the world’s second largest rainforest, attended the workshop and admitted to being constrained by financial and technical limitations in implementing international agreements.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Nayoko Ishii told IPS her office stands ready to increase financial support to developing countries that lack capacity.

The GEF’s 15-million-dollar Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) has already begun to support global initiatives, including a 4.4-million-dollar project to help Panama operationalise the ABS mechanism.

However, Ishii added, demand for the support has to come from within.

“Every country has a different degree of capacity. People come to us with a plan to build a particular skill in a particular area and there are of course specific programs for that.

“But I would encourage them to look at the entire strategy as one big capacity building investment [and] use that money wisely, to better manage their protected area systems [and] their administrative structures,” she concluded. 

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Europe is Positioning Itself Outside the International Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-europe-is-positioning-itself-outside-the-international-race/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 08:23:35 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137313

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the crisis of internal governance, fomented by a latter-day Protestant ethic of fiscal sacrifice, is pushing Europe to the side lines of world affairs.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The new European Commission looks more like an experiment in balancing opposite forces than an institution that is run by some kind of governance. It will probably end up being paralysed by internal conflicts, which is the last thing it needs.

During the Commission presided over by José Manuel Barroso (2004-2014), Europe has become more and more marginal in the international arena, bogged down by the internal division between the North and the South of Europe.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.

The Germans, for example, have transformed debt into a financial “sin”.  The large majority of Germans support the stern position of their government that fiscal sacrifice is the only way to salvation, and the looming economic slowdown will only strengthen that feeling. As a result, the handling of Europe’s internal governance crisis has largely pushed Europe to the side lines of the world.

It is a mystery why it is in the interests of Europe to push Russia into a structural alliance with China and, in such a fragile moment, inflict on itself losses of trade and investment with Russia which could reach 40 billion euro next year.“We are going back to a new Thirty Years’ War – which took place nearly five centuries ago – between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics are considered profligate spenders, and there is a moral approach to economics from the Protestant side.”

The latest issue of the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine – the bible of the U.S. elite – carries a long and detailed article on “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” by Chicago academic John J. Mearsheimer, who documents how the offer to Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the last of a number of hostile steps that pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop a clear process of encroachment.

Mearsheimer wonders how all this was in the long term interests of the United States, beyond some small circles, and why Europe followed. But politics now has only a short-term horizon, and priorities are becoming conditioned by that approach.

A good example is how European states (with the exception of the Nordic states), have been slashing their international cooperation budgets. Not only have Spain, Italy and Portugal – and of course Greece – practically eliminated their official development assistance (ODA) budgets, but France, Belgium and Austria have also been following suit. Meanwhile China has been investing heavily in Africa, Latin America and, of course, Asia where the term ‘cooperation’ would not be the most appropriate.

But the best example of Europe’s inability to be in sync with reality is the last cut in the Erasmus programme, which sends tens of thousands of students every year to another European country. Has it been overlooked that one million babies have been born to couples who met during their Erasmus scholarships, and that this programme is being cut at a moment when anti-Europe parties are sprouting everywhere?

In fact, education – and especially culture (and medical assistance) – are under a continuous reduction in spending. As Giulio Tremonti, Finance Minister under Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famously said, “you don’t eat with culture”.

The per capita budget for culture in southern Europe is now one-seventh that of northern Europe. Italy, which according to UNESCO holds 50 percent of Europe’s cultural heritage, has just decided in its latest budget to open up 100 jobs in the archaeological field with a gross monthly salary of 430 euro. In today’s market, this is half what a maid receives for 20 hours of work a week.

Italian politicians do not say so explicitly, but they believe that there is already such rich heritage that there is no need for further investment and, anyhow, the tourists continue to arrive. The budget for all Italian museums is close to the budget of the New York Metropolitan Museum … in the real world, this is like somebody who wants to live by showing the mummified body of his great grandmother for the price of a ticket!

It can be said that, in a moment of crisis, the budget for culture can be frozen because there are more urgent needs. But no need is more urgent than to keep Europe running in the international competition in order to ensure a future for its citizens. And yet, the budget for research and development, which is essential for staying in the race, is also being cut year by year.

Let us look at the situation since 2009. Spain has reduced investment in R&D by 40 percent, which has led to a 40 percent cut in financing for projects and a 30 percent cut in human resources. Italian universities have witnessed a total cut of 20 percent in spending which has meant a reduction of 80 percent in hiring and 100% in projects, while 40 percent of PhD courses have disappeared.

France has cut hiring in centres of research by 25 percent and in universities by 20 percent. Less than 10 percent of demand for projects receives financing because funds are no longer available.

Greece has cut budget for centres of research and universities by 50 percent since 2011, and has frozen the hiring of any new researchers.

In the same period in Portugal, universities and research centres have suffered a cut of 50 percent, the number of scholarships for PhDs has been cut by 40 percent and post-doctoral courses by 65 percent.

It is important to recall that the Lisbon Strategy, the action programme for jobs and growth adopted in 2000,  aimed to  make the European Union “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion” by 2010. Not only were most of its objectives not achieved in 2010, but Europe continues to slide backwards. The Lisbon Strategy had set 3 percent of GNP for R&D, but southern Europe is now below 1.5 percent.

A notable exception is the United Kingdom. The current government, which works in strong synchronicity with the City and its industrial constituency, has funded a 6 billion euro “Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth” plan to the applause of the private sector.

China is steadily increasing steadily its R&D budget, which is now 3 percent (what the Lisbon Strategy had set for Europe), but it aims to reach 6 percent of GNP by 2020 and, in just seven years, China has become the largest producer of solar energy, bankrupting several U.S. and European companies.

Is cutting Europe’s future in international competition really in the interests of Germany? Or it is that politics are losing the view of the forest while they discuss how many trees to cut, to reach a compromise between the Catholics and the Protestants?

We are now making of economics a moral science, which makes of Europe an unusual world. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pacific Islanders Take on Australian Coalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 07:27:09 +0000 Suganthi Singarayar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137289 Of 10 million Pacific Islanders, nearly 50 percent live within 1.5 km of the coastline. These communities are at grave risk of numerous climate-related catastrophes from floods and tropical storms to destruction of agricultural lands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Of 10 million Pacific Islanders, nearly 50 percent live within 1.5 km of the coastline. These communities are at grave risk of numerous climate-related catastrophes from floods and tropical storms to destruction of agricultural lands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Suganthi Singarayar
SYDNEY, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

The recent blockade of ships entering the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, has brought much-needed attention to the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry on global climate patterns. But it will take more than a single action to bring the change required to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

This past Friday, 30 ‘climate warriors’ from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled traditional canoes into the sea, joined by scores of supporters in kayaks and on surfboards, to prevent the passage of eight of some 12 ships scheduled to move through the Newcastle port that day.

The blockade lasted nine hours, with photos and videos of the bold action going viral online.

The warriors hailed from a range of small island states including Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands and Samoa – countries where the results of a hotter climate are painfully evident on a daily basis.

“We are divided by the oceans, by the air, but we are standing on the same land and the same mother earth.” -- Mikaele Maiava, a climate warrior from the South Pacific island nation of Tokelau
Coastline erosion, sea level rise, floods, storms, relocation of coastal communities, contamination of freshwater sources and destruction of crops and agricultural lands are only the tip of the iceberg of the hardships facing some 10 million Pacific Islanders, over 50 percent of whom reside within 1.5 km of the coastline.

For these populations, the fossil fuel industry poses one of the gravest threats to their very existence.

Coal production alone is responsible for 44 percent of global CO2 emissions worldwide, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. However, none of the small island nations are responsible for this dirty industry. That responsibility lies with Australia, the fifth-largest coal producing country in the world after China, the United States, India and Indonesia.

The World Coal Association estimates that Australia produced 459 million tonnes of coal in 2013, of which it exported some 383 million tonnes that same year.

So when the warriors chose Australia as the site of the protest, it was to urge the Australian people to support Pacific Islanders in their stance against the fossil fuel industry.

Arianne Kassman, a climate warrior from PNG, told IPS, “The expansion of the fossil fuel industry means the destruction of the whole of the Pacific.”

“The impact of climate change is something that we see every day back home. While people read about it and hear about it and watch videos we see how much the sea level has risen,” Kassman added.

Logoitala Monise from Tuvalu, a low-lying Polynesian island state halfway between Australia and Hawaii, told IPS that her home is plagued by such climate-related impacts as King tides, coastal erosion and drought, the latter being an alien concept to most Tuvaluans.

In 2011, a state of emergency was called because the islands had not received rain for six months. Monise said rainwater was their only source of relief: it was used to drink, wash and raise animals.

The increasing frequency of drought has caused the loss of livestock and plants, and major disease outbreaks in Tuvalu.

All these things, she pointed out, were the direct result of climate change.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, changing weather patterns are wreaking havoc on an ancient way of life, splitting families apart as many are forced to migrate overseas. In fact, the world’s first “climate change refugee” claimant was a national of Kiribati, who claimed his home was “sinking”, but was denied asylum in New Zealand.

Monise said her main reason for coming to Australia was to speak out against climate change so that “we Pacific Islanders can live peacefully in our homelands rather than be called climate change refugees.”

But Pacific Islanders are up against a massive industry that will not be easily dismantled.

Coal ‘essential’ for Australian economy

The warriors witnessed this first-hand when they travelled to Maules Creek, near Boggabri in the Gunnedah basin in New South Wales (NSW), where Whitehaven Coal has a 767-million-dollar open cut coal project. There have been ongoing protests against the mine due to concerns ranging from biodiversity issues to concerns that the mine will cause a decrease in water table levels.

The Maules Creek community states that the Leard Forest in which the Maules Creek mine is located is an 8,000-hectare ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and has been identified as Tier 1, meaning that it cannot sustain any further loss and is also critical for the continuation of biodiversity in that area.

But these concerns may fall on deaf ears.

Coal is Australia’s second largest export earner after iron ore and according to Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, it is essential for Australia’s prosperity.

Speaking on Monday at the opening of the Caval Ridge mine in central Queensland, a joint venture between BHP and Mitsubishi, Abbott said the mine, which will produce five-and-a-half million tonnes of coking coal a year, will add 30 million dollars to the Moranbah local economy and tens of millions of dollars to the wider regional, state and national economy.

He said the mine’s opening was a sign of hope and confidence in the coal industry.

He said, “It’s a great industry and we’ve had a great partnership with Japan in the coal industry. Coal is essential for the prosperity of Australia. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains prosperity and coal is the world’s principle energy source and it will be for decades to come.”

Another project that was approved in July is the Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee basin. According to Greenpeace Australia it will have six open cut mines and five underground mines and would involve the clearing of 20,000 hectares of native bushland.

In an opinion piece on ABC Online, Ben Pearson, Greenpeace campaigns director, wrote that the burning of coal from the mine will emit 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year for the 90-year life of the mine, which will directly cancel the 131 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that is predicted to be reduced through the government’s Direct Action plan.

According to Julie Macken from Greenpeace Australia, “What will ultimately have an effect is when there’s a chorus of voices from the low-lying Pacific nations, when there is a chorus of voices from the global financial community stating that coal is in structural decline and when the international community [and] the parties at the Paris Conference on Climate Change commit to take strong action against climate change.

“When these three things come together against the prospect of catastrophic climate change, then politicians will see that they need to do something,” Macken told IPS.

This, she said needs to happen in the next decade, otherwise the future for young people like her 20-year-old daughter is “cooked”.

Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that current levels of carbon in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in three million years, and are projected to keep growing unless drastic changes are made to production and consumption patterns worldwide.

Education will be a crucial part of efforts to bring about massive international action on climate change, and the Pacific climate warriors are doing their part in their home countries.

Kassman said that 90 percent of the people who live in PNG’s rural areas do not have access to education and while they are aware that the sea level is rising, that there’s erosion along the shoreline and that food crops are changing, they don’t yet understand why.

She said 350 PNG, associated with 350.org, the U.S.-based organisation that supported the recent blockade, believes that the best way to raise awareness in a country with over 800 language groups is to train young people and send them out to the communities.

While PNG has one of the world’s lowest carbon footprints, the opening of the Exxon Mobile PNG LNG gas plant has raised the level of that footprint.

But local efforts will not be adequate without major pressure on the big polluters.

“We are taught by our parents to do the right thing,” Mikaele Maiava, a climate warrior from the South Pacific island nation of Tokelau, said at a press conference on Oct. 11. “We are divided by the oceans, by the air, but we are standing on the same land and the same mother earth.”

He said that his fellow warriors did not just represent today’s generation but the generation of the “blood that’s to come” and urged the global community to “stand together with us now and forever” in the fight against catastrophic climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Pressure Building on Obama to Impose Ebola Travel Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pressure-building-on-obama-to-impose-ebola-travel-ban/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 01:27:23 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137228 Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

Children in the town of Gueckedou, the epicentre of the ebola outbreak in Guinea. Credit: ©afreecom/Idrissa Soumaré

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama is under significant pressure to impose a range of restrictions on travellers coming to the United States from West African countries affected by the current Ebola outbreak.

Yet public health experts and development advocates warn that such restrictions would harm the already reeling economies of Ebola-hit countries in the region, and squeeze the international community’s ability to get health workers and goods into these countries.“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States.” -- Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development

“An accelerated mobilisation of personnel and resources is necessary to control the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and care for patients, through the establishment of new Ebola management centres,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the humanitarian group that has been at the core of the international response to the epidemic, told IPS.

“For this reason, it is crucial that airlines continue flying to the affected region.”

Calls for halting flights and imposing visa restrictions have been floating around Washington since the virus’s spread caught the world’s attention over the summer. Yet these have strengthened substantially in recent days, following the confirmation of three cases of Ebola in the United States.

The first of those was unknowingly carried by a man from Liberia. He died last week after infecting two of the health workers attending to him, and the case has prompted an intense and at times vitriolic response.

“A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider,” John Boehner, the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the most powerful figures in Washington, said Wednesday.

In fact there are no direct air connections between the United States and any of the three countries most affected by the current outbreak. Further, it would be extremely complex to impose such a ban in tertiary transit countries.

On the other hand, it would be possible to create additional hurdles for those applying for U.S. visas in West Africa. But this would do nothing to deal with, for instance, the many U.S. passport holders living in these countries, and would likewise be logistically complex.

Nonetheless, Boehner was echoing a clear tide of U.S. support for the imposition of travel restrictions. According to a poll released Tuesday, two-thirds of people in the United States would support “restricting entry” of incoming travellers from Ebola-afflicted countries.

The federal government’s response to Ebola has suddenly become a defining issue in the U.S. midterm elections, slated for next month.

Dangerous isolation

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed more than 4,000 people, almost all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to make available a billion dollars to allow those combating the disease to meet a target of reducing the virus’s transmission rates by the beginning of December.

In the United States, meanwhile, the public support for travel restrictions has risen by six percentage points since just last week. And lawmakers, many of whom are currently in the last stages of political campaigns, are responding.

Though Congress is currently on recess, lawmakers held a rare hearing on Ebola Thursday. By Thursday evening, members of Congress who supported some sort of travel restrictions outnumbered those who didn’t by 56 to 13, according to a list compiled by a Washington newspaper.

While those who do not support a travel ban were all Democratic, the support for such restrictions stretches across both parties.

“I’ve been struck by just how intense this political pressure has become, and the pressure is bipartisan,” J. Stephen Morrison, the director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“While the arguments made against travel bans have been solid, they don’t win the day with the public. Further, if the base population carrying the virus continues to grow, the threat won’t ease and neither will this pressure.”

Even as lawmakers increasingly funnel – and perhaps fuel – concern over Ebola in this country, the Obama administration remains adamant that it is not considering any travel restrictions beyond health scans and interviews at international airports.

“Shutting down travel to that area of the world would prevent the expeditious flow of personnel and equipment into the region,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told journalists Wednesday. “And the only way for us to stop this outbreak and to eliminate any risk from Ebola to the American public is to stop this outbreak at the source.”

Earnest did not reject the possibility completely, however, noting that a travel ban is “not on the table at this point.”

Yet many of those closest to the Ebola response warn that travel restrictions would be not only unfeasible but outright dangerous, exacerbating the outbreak.

“You don’t want to do something that inadvertently accelerates the economic collapse of these countries or impedes the flow of health workers and critically needed commodities,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “Our ability to get ahead of this crisis necessitates the flow, back and forth, of thousands of health-care workers and commodities.”

Indeed, such concerns have already been borne out. African Union aid workers, for instance, were recently delayed for a week getting into Liberia due to travel restrictions imposed in a number of African countries.

“It has been quite challenging over the last several months, because there have been a reduction in commercial flights … a reduction in shipping that comes into the country,” Debra Malac, the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, told journalists Thursday. “[That’s made it] very difficult to get things like food as well as supplies in that are critically needed in order to help address this epidemic.”

Devastating economies

U.S. travel restrictions could also pose significant economic risks, both to Ebola-hit countries and Africa as a whole.

“There’s a lot of air traffic between Africa and the U.S. that’s very important for trade and investment, the tourism industry, for the diaspora,” CSIS’s Morrison says. “All of that is reliant on air links, so how do you make sure you’re not kicking the pins out of those economic processes?”

Already there are widespread fears over the financial impacts of Ebola on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation warned that the virus now threatens “potential state failure” in these countries. Last week, the World Bank estimated that the epidemic could cost West African countries some 33 billion dollars in gross domestic product.

“If we get this wrong and just hunker down and hide, we will make this problem worse both in West Africa and in the United States,” Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

“Imposing any kind of travel ban would tank the economy of these three countries, and that will have knock-on effects on dealing with the disease – increasing the suffering and the number of people with the disease.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Africa Can Be its Own ‘Switzerland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/africa-can-be-its-own-switzerland/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:58:30 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137171 A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

A water kiosk in Blantyre, Malawi. A combination of including private equity investment and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

By Busani Bafana
MARRAKECH, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Africa has the capacity to access at least 200 billion dollars for sustainable development investment but it will remain a slave to foreign aid unless it improves the climate for investment and trade and plugs illicit financial flows, development experts say.

“Africa is not poor financially but it needs to get its house in order,” Stephen Karingi, director of regional integration, infrastructure and trade at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IPS during the commission’s Ninth African Development Forum, which is being held in Morocco from Oct. 13 to 16.

“For too long we have allowed the narrative of Africa to be one about raw materials and natural resources coming out of Africa, yet Africa can take advantage of its own comparative advantages, including these natural resources, and become the leader in the value chains that require these raw materials.”

Research by the ECA shows that the total illicit financial outflows in Africa over the last 10 years, about 50 billion dollars a year, is equivalent to nearly all the official development assistance received by the continent.

“Africa is ready for transformation and we have the continental frameworks [for it],” said Karingi.

A combination of luring private equity investment, remittances and domestic resource mobilisation will help Africa unlock is financial resources to drive its development.

Sub-saharan Africa has one of the highest number of hungry people and has a growing youth population in need of jobs.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by, among other factors, improved governance and macroeconomic management, rapid urbanisation and expanding regional markets.

Currently Africa is estimated to have a 100-billion-dollar annual funding gap for infrastructure development with about 45 billion dollars of this set to come from domestic resources.

Carlos Lopes, ECA executive secretary, said developing countries must strive to mobilise additional financial resources, including through accessing financial markets. He added that at the same time developed countries must honour the financial commitments they have made in international forums.

“The continent must embark on reforms to capture currently unexplored or poorly-managed resources,” Lopez said.

This is the first time that the Africa Development Forum has focused on the continent’s development.

Discussions focused on enhancing Africa’s capacity to explore innovative financing mechanisms as real alternatives for financing transformative development in Africa.

It aims to forge linkages between the importance of mainstreaming resource mobilisation and the reduction of trade barriers into economic, institutional and policy frameworks, and advancing the post-2015 development goals.

Macroeconomic policy division head at ECA, Adama Elhiraika, told IPS that the new sustainable development goals present an opportunity for Africa to excel by prioritising its development issues.

Elhiraika said Africa has all the ingredients to be a financial hub and investment magnet along the lines of “Switzerland” if only it can improve its investment and trade climate, tackle corruption and raise money internally.

“We need to get our policies right and allow for the kind of investments that people [can make] in Switzerland,” Elhiraika said.

“Given the size of Africa, there is need to promote free movement of capital, which is as important as the free movement of goods and services in boosting trade and investment.”

According to the World Bank, of the 50 economies that recorded improved in their regulatory business environment in 2013, 17 are from Africa, with eight of those economies being ranked ahead of mainland China, 11 ahead of Russia and 16 ahead of Brazil.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Regional Trade Agreements Cannot Substitute the Multilateral Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/regional-trade-agreements-cannot-substitute-the-multilateral-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=regional-trade-agreements-cannot-substitute-the-multilateral-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/regional-trade-agreements-cannot-substitute-the-multilateral-system/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 07:55:55 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137173

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), notes that regional trade agreements have proliferated in recent years and become more complex. However, he argues that while economies become more interconnected across borders and regions, such agreements do not – and probably cannot ¬– fully address the gains from trade that can be obtained through global value chains.

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Regional trade agreements have grown very rapidly in recent years, and today the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been notified that 253 are in force.

Clearly RTAs are not a new phenomenon.

In fact they pre-date the multilateral system because, in a sense, they were the seeds which grew into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Created in 1947, GATT was replaced in 1994 by the WTO.

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

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

GATT was effectively a multilateralisation of the network of reciprocal trade agreements that countries had been pursuing for some years previously, so the system as we know it today has its roots in these agreements.

But of course things have changed in recent years. These agreements are not only more numerous, they are becoming increasingly complex.

While over 80 percent of RTAs notified are bilateral agreements, we are seeing more and more large regional agreements.

And we are seeing more agreements between countries in different regions, rather than between neighbours. This is very different from the pattern we saw during the GATT years.

In addition we see many more developing countries negotiating RTAs today.

This proliferation of agreements, each with their own sets of rules, has been dubbed a “spaghetti bowl” ­and I would certainly agree that we are seeing a significant increase in the level of complexity inside the agreements and in their relations with each other.

Most RTAs today make deeper and more extensive commitments, and have moved beyond commitments only in the sphere of market access for goods.“Although these initiatives [regional trade agreements] show that WTO members continue to liberalise trade, fragmentation of the trading system cannot be a substitute for the benefits of negotiating one set of rules for all”

A question which requires further consideration is how RTA provisions can be complementary to the multilateral trading system.

For some issues such as market access for goods and services, most RTAs grant their partners a higher level of market access than that available through the WTO.

For other issues, the picture is less straightforward.

Take, for example, RTA provisions on anti-dumping rules. In general, RTAs do not appear to have gone much further beyond where we are in the WTO today. Meanwhile, for issues such as investment, which is touched on by some RTAs, there are no WTO rules.

Another trend that has been noted in the past few years is negotiations that could potentially bring together a number of existing RTAs in so-called “mega-regional” negotiations.

While the trend to negotiate new RTAs continues, liberalising trade bilaterally or regionally is only a part of the picture.

As I have said many times,­ these initiatives are important for the multilateral trading system ­ but they cannot substitute it.

To start with, there are many big issues which can only be tackled in an efficient manner in the multilateral context through the WTO.

Trade facilitation was negotiated successfully in the WTO because it makes no economic sense to cut red tape or simplify trade procedures at the border for one or two countries. If you do it for
one country, in practical terms you do it for everyone.

Financial or telecommunication regulations cannot be efficiently liberalised for just one trade partner ­ so it is best to negotiate services trade-offs globally in the WTO. Nor can farming or fisheries subsides be tackled in bilateral deals.

Disciplines on trade remedies, such as the application of anti-dumping or countervailing duties, cannot significantly go beyond WTO rules.

The simple fact is that very few of the big challenges facing world trade today can be solved outside the global system. They are global problems demanding global solutions.

Another important aspect, leaving aside the content of the agreements, is their geographical scope. RTAs tend to exclude the smallest and most vulnerable countries. That is a major source of concern.

And, as our economies become more interconnected across borders and regions, RTAs do not – and probably cannot ­– fully address the gains from trade that can be obtained through global value chains.

Indeed, the strict, product-specific rules of origin that often accompany RTAs may actually be detrimental to value chains and therefore exclusionary for some. The smaller the country, the smaller the company, the smaller the trader, the bigger the likelihood that it will be excluded.

There is also concern that by creating different sets of rules and regulations, RTAs may be burdensome for traders and business. This is the point of complexity that is a concern for many.

Finally, although these initiatives show that WTO members continue to liberalise trade, fragmentation of the trading system cannot be a substitute for the benefits of negotiating one set of rules for all.

Ideally, this is where we should be putting our focus.

But in order to ensure this, one thing we clearly need to do is to deliver on what we agreed during the WTO word trade negotiations in Bali in December last year.

We are now halfway through an intensive consultation period to resolve the current impasse on this ­but, as things stand today, at this point in time we do not have a solution.

While this situation persists, I think the risk of disengagement increases exponentially. And this point is underlined by the proliferation of these other approaches.

For the sake of the multilateral system, and all those who stand to benefit from it, I think we have to find a solution to our current problems and put our work here at the WTO back on track. And we have to do it quickly. Time is not on our side. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Ahead of Myanmar Trip, Obama Urged to Demand Extractives Transparencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 00:33:47 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137175 Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Lawmakers here are urging President Barack Obama to put transparency in the extractives sector at the centre of an upcoming trip to Myanmar.

While the government of Myanmar has recently engaged in a series of bilateral and multilateral pledges to make its lucrative but highly opaque mining and oil and gas industries more transparent, advocates increasingly warn that officials are failing to keep these promises."The real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.” -- Jennifer Quigley

The U.S. government has been a key sponsor in facilitating these pledges, and many now see President Obama’s visit, slated for next month, as an important opportunity to prompt legal change in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Myanmar officials are currently revising related legislation, although little is known about these secretive talks.

Supporters say reforms, particularly around public information on extractives deals and revenues, could help to ensure that Myanmar’s significant natural resources wealth is used for development rather than simply enriching businesses close to the regime.

“Despite commitments to transparency and good governance, decision-making over the management of Burma’s national resources remains largely hidden from public scrutiny … the gap between the Burmese government’s promises and its delivery is widening,” 16 members of the U.S. Congress warned President Obama in a letter sent Tuesday.

“We therefore urge you, during your visit to Burma, to call on the Burmese government to ensure provisions on transparency and accountability are incorporated into revised laws, regulations and policies governing the extractives sector, and negotiated into new contracts and licenses.”

The letter, a copy of which was seen by IPS, includes backing from both Republicans and Democrats. Last year, the United States initiated a partnership between the Myanmar extractives industry and the Group of 8 (G8) rich countries, which could offer Obama additional leverage in demanding new transparency measures.

The lawmakers’ call comes not only a month ahead of President Obama’s planned trip to Myanmar (his second), but also as a global summit on extractives transparency begins in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw. The two-day meeting of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes guidelines that are currently followed by 46 countries, comes just three months after Myanmar became one of the EITI’s newest candidate countries.

Under these guidelines, Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues.

Just a month after its EITI candidature was accepted, Myanmar signed several dozen contracts with domestic and international oil and gas companies. Yet according to Tuesday’s letter, the terms of those contracts remain secret, as are ongoing revisions to policies overseeing the extractives sector.

“The laws and regulations governing the extractive industries are currently being revised behind closed doors, with no public consultation,” the lawmakers state.

“Drafts of the first of these new pieces of legislation contain no provisions on public disclosure of data and do not reflect any of the promises of greater transparency made by the government through the EITI process.”

Beneficial owners

The contracts signed in August were for 36 oil and gas blocks, both on land and offshore, auctioned off to 46 local and global companies over the past year. While the details of those contracts remain under wraps, until recently almost nothing was known even of these companies’ owners.

Around the country’s EITI application, an international watchdog group called Global Witness began focusing on what’s known as ultimate beneficial ownership – information on who, ultimately, controls and benefits from a company’s activities. In June, the group had such information on the companies involved in just three of the blocks.

Yet after requesting information directly from the companies, Global Witness last week reported that many more companies had come forward with these details. The companies were also asked whether any of their beneficial owners were politically powerful individuals in Myanmar.

“In total, 28 companies have now participated in Global Witness’ ownership review, and we have been provided with full beneficial ownership details of all partners in 17 oil and gas blocks,” the group says in a new report, published Friday. “This shows that businesses can and will provide such information if they have an incentive, such as protection of their reputation, to do so.”

Global Witness says the information remains unverified and that a “hard core” of 18 companies continue to refuse to provide any information. Still, the group says this corporate response has already set a surprising international example.

“Not only is this significant locally, but it puts Myanmar in the unlikely position of setting a global precedent on transparency, as it’s the first time anywhere in the world that companies have systematically declared their ultimate ownership,” Juman Kubba, an analyst at Global Witness, told IPS.

“Our findings show that companies can reveal their owners if they’re pushed to do so. It’s now up to the Myanmar government with the support of the U.S. and other backers to make that push so that all oil, gas and mining company ownership in the country is public.”

Outside the framework

Still, some worry that the recent corporate disclosure wasn’t actually carried out through the EITI framework, thus suggesting that the government’s transparency pledges remain weak. They also dispute whether beneficial ownership is of foremost importance in the Myanmar context.

“This disclosure is incredibly important on the global scale, but when it comes to Burma the real concern has never been about ownership but rather about conflict related to resources,” Jennifer Quigley, the president of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“This wasn’t done through the EITI in this instance, and the real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.”

Quigley says that Myanmar’s government has long been comfortable making pledges it has no intention of keeping, and she see little prospect of that changing in the near term. Still, she says the United States has linked itself so closely to extractives transparency in Myanmar that President Obama will need to broach the subject during his trip next month.

“This is really an area in which the U.S. has married itself to the Burmese government,” she says. “So they need to be paying more attention to the fact that the Burmese government isn’t living up to its EITI promises.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Vanuatu Puts Indigenous Rights First in Land Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:10 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137160 Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Stemming widespread corruption in the leasing of customary land to investors is the aim of bold land reform, introduced this year in the Southwest Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, which puts the rights of traditional landowners above the discretionary powers of politicians.

Less than one hour from the capital, Port Vila, is the village of Mangaliliu, one of many across this sprawling nation of 82 islands and more than 247,000 people where livelihoods centre on agriculture and fishing.

Here, villagers are battling the loss of their traditional land due to a lease negotiated without their consent.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake." -- Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor
“Somebody from another village leased one piece of our land to an investor. I tried to stop him. When he started bulldozing the land, I went with my people and took palm leaves, which we use as a sign of [something that is] taboo [forbidden]. We hung them all along the road and the case is now in court,” Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor recounted.

Pristine coastlines and sea views on the country’s main island of Efate have attracted foreign investors interested in property and tourism development and now an estimated 56.5 percent of coastal land on the island has been leased for periods up to 75 years.

More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is customary, with ownership held by extended families, who are custodians for the next generation. Rights of use for farming or commercial enterprises are decided by group consensus, as are proposals on leasing to other parties. The importance of land to the culture, identity, food security and social wellbeing of Pacific Islanders is reflected in most national laws, which only allow the lease – not sale – of customary land.

Yet today with the penetration of the cash economy land has also become a source of windfalls to villagers and politicians alike.

“People have learned that if they sell [lease] one piece of land they can buy a car, satellite dish or speedboat,” Mormor said. “It can take many years to save this sort of money, so it is just like a miracle if you sell land.”

However under group custodianship conflict can quickly arise if, for example, “I have a brother who sells a piece of land and doesn’t ask permission of me or my sister, or my children, or my sister’s children,” he added.

In the past, the lands minister could personally decide on disputed leases. The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor programme reports that 21.4 percent of all new leases since the country’s independence in 1980 have been signed under this provision. Last year alleged improper land dealings accounted for almost two-thirds of lawsuits against the government.

Now, the ambitions of land reform by indigenous leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was appointed lands minister in 2013, have become a reality.

In December last year new laws were passed making it mandatory that all members of customary landowner groups give their prior informed consent to any leases over their land. Potential investors must apply to a land management planning committee for approval to conduct negotiations with custom owners. Two customary institutions, Nakamals and Custom Area Land Tribunals, will decide the outcome of disputes, rather than the courts.

According to Regenvanu, investor confidence will increase because now when “you get a lease you can be assured that it was gained lawfully.” But he also believes that the economic and social security which land provides to his people will be strengthened.

Steve Namali of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs in Port Vila commented that, while consultation on the reforms had not been conducted nationwide, he believed they would help address the fraudulence of land deals in the past.

With adult literacy in the province estimated at 27.6 percent, the greater thoroughness of the approval process should also improve local awareness of the ramifications of entering into land agreements. For example, reclaiming land on a lease expiry often requires compensation to the lessee for developments, even though many villagers do not have the financial means to reimburse an investor the value of a tourist resort or luxury home.

Local communities often “don’t understand what is going to happen in the long term” and that most likely “at the end of a lease, it [land] will never come back to traditional tenure,” Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), a regional civil society landowner solidarity network, said in Port Vila.

“There is now a process in place that has to be followed and it will stop individuals going and doing their own thing,” he said. “It has been a good change for Vanuatu, especially because of this land boom and people selling land left, right and centre.”

International investors from Australia, Europe and Asia have largely driven growth in the real estate market, along with the nation’s tax haven status. In 2012, foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to 37.7 million dollars or 4.8 percent of GDP, but Mormor claims local people have seen few benefits.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake,” he said.

Despite average GDP growth of four percent over the past decade, with a high of 8.5 percent in 2006, an estimated 40 percent of people have incomes below the poverty line.

“I think people want development, but what type of development and in whose interests?” Simo queried. He believes protecting indigenous landownership makes sense when the traditional economy, which includes subsistence and smallholder agriculture, is the biggest employer in Melanesia.

In comparison, “many [formal sector] jobs available involve cheap labour and that only gets people into more poverty,” he said. Formal employment in Vanuatu is only 20 percent and the average local wage is 316 dollars per month. So, he continued, “If you don’t have a job, you fall back to the land,” which is the only safety net.

Mormor now wants to retain his land for community-driven projects, such as fish farming and coconut oil production. He is happy that the new laws will help protect the land for his children, but also admits the more thorough land registration and approval process, if he engages with development partners, will take much longer than in the past.

“I could be dead when these projects start,” he laughs.

While Vanuatu’s new laws are popular, it remains to be seen how well they work, and if they eliminate political cronyism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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