Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 01 Sep 2014 22:10:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Africans’ Land Rights at Risk as New Agricultural Trend Sweeps Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:55:28 +0000 Janah Ncube http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136444 An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Janah Ncube
NAIROBI, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Agriculture in Africa is in urgent need of investment. Nearly 550 million people there are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, while half of the total population on the continent live in rural areas.

The adoption of a framework called the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) by Africa’s leaders in 2003 confirmed that agriculture is crucial to the continent’s development prospects. African governments recently reiterated this commitment at the Malabo Summit in Guinea during June of this year.The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa.

After decades of underinvestment, African governments are now looking for new ways to mobilise funding for the sector and to deliver new technology and skills to farmers. Private sector actors are also looking for opportunities within emerging markets in Africa.

Large-scale public-private partnerships (PPPs) are an emerging trend across the continent. These so called ‘mega’ PPPs are agreements between national governments, aid donors, investors and multinational companies to develop large fertile tracts of land found near to strategic infrastructure such as roads and ports.

Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana and Burkina Faso all host this type of scheme. Several African countries have signed up to global initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, supported by the rich, industrialised economies of the G8; and GROW Africa, a PPP initiative supported by the World Economic Forum.

For governments, these arrangements offer the illusion of increased capital and technology, production and productivity gains, and foreign exchange earnings.

But as Oxfam reveals, mega-PPPs present a moral hazard with serious downsides, especially for those living in areas pegged for investment.

In particular, the land rights of local communities are at risk. Within just five countries hosting mega-PPPs, the combined amount of land in target area for investment is larger than France or Ukraine.

While not all of this land will go to investors, governments have earmarked over 1.25 million hectares for transfer. This is equal to the entire amount of land in agricultural production in Zambia or Senegal.

Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, this land transfer places local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation.

These arrangements also threaten to worsen inequality, which is already severe in African countries, according to international measurements. Mega-PPP investments are likely be delivered by – and focus on – richer, well connected companies or wealthier farmers, bypassing those who need support the most. More land will also be placed into the hands of larger players further reducing the amount available for small-scale producers.

The ability of small and medium sized enterprises to benefit from these arrangements is also in doubt. The size of just four multinational seed and agro-chemical companies partnering with a mega-PPP in Tanzania have an annual turnover of 100 billion dollars – that’s triple the size of Tanzania’s economy.

These asymmetries of power could lead to anti-competitive behaviour and squeeze out smaller local and national companies from emerging domestic markets. Larger companies may also gain influence over government policies that perpetuate their control.

These types of partnership also carry serious environmental risks. An example of this is the development of large irrigation schemes for new plantations. They can reduce water availability for other users, such as local communities, smaller farmers and important other rural groups like pastoralists.

The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa. The current mega-PPP model is unproven and risky, especially for smallholder farmers and the poor.

At the very heart of the agenda to enhance rural livelihoods and eradicate deep-seated poverty in rural areas should be a clear commitment towards approaches that are pro-smallholder, pro-women and can develop local and regional markets. The protection of land rights for local communities is also – and equally – paramount.

Oxfam’s experience of working with smallholder farmers shows that private sector investment in staple food crops, and the development of rural infrastructure such as storage facilities, combined with public sector investment in support services such as agricultural research and development, extension services and subsidies for seeds and credit, can kick-start the rural economy.

Robust regulation is also vital, to ensure that private sector investment can ‘do no harm’ and also ‘do more good’ by targeting the areas of the rural economy that can have the most impact on poverty reduction. African governments should put themselves at the forefront of this vision for agriculture.

These represent tried and tested policies towards rural development in other contexts. This approach, rather than one that subsidises the entrance of large players into African agriculture, would truly represent a new alliance to benefit all.

Janah Ncube is Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director based in Nairobi, Kenya. @JanahNcube

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa-U.S. Summit – Catching Up With China?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:07:35 +0000 Demba Moussa Dembele http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136304

In this column, Demba Moussa Dembele, director of the African Forum on Alternatives in Dakar, analyses the geopolitical reasons behind the recent summit in Washington between African leaders and the U.S. President and concludes that Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism.

By Demba Moussa Dembele
DAKAR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

A few years ago, nobody could have imagined that some 50 Heads of States and Prime Ministers from Africa would meet the President of the United States for a summit. Yet, the first Africa/United States Summit took place in Washington from August 4 to 6, making headlines around the world.

It is obvious that geopolitical considerations were behind this summit, with the shadow of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) hanging over the meeting.

Demba Moussa Dembele, chairperson of LDC Watch, speaks to IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Demba Moussa Dembele

The United States would have never organised such a summit if the global balance of power had not been gradually shifting towards emerging powers, notably towards China and the BRICS.

Western economic domination is being eroded, as illustrated by the deepening crisis of the Eurozone and the worsening deficits of the United States. Meanwhile, the BRICS are increasing their economic and financial weight in the world economy, and represent about 20 percent of the world’s GDP and 17 percent of world trade, with China now the second economy behind the United States.

For most observers, the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza and Brasilia (Brazil) in mid-July heralds a new world monetary and financial order in the next decades or so. Observers from the South and the West are predicting the gradual shift to a new balance of monetary and financial order, with the BRICS at the centre.“Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional” neo-colonial relationships with Africa”

Indeed, the decision to set up the BRICS bank and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) is seen as a serious challenge to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have been the tools of Western countries for more than half a century. They will gradually become more and more irrelevant to developing countries, as these increasingly turn to BRICS’ financial institutions.

On the other hand, China and the other members of the BRICS group are challenging the hegemony of the U.S. dollar through several swap arrangements, aimed at boosting their trade by using their own currencies. One of the most significant arrangements is the swap between China and Russia, when one takes into account the 400 billion dollars gas deal signed between Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).

The French online newspaper, Mediapart (July 5, 2014), reported that in the oil and gas sector, the top three investors in 2013 were all from the BRICS – PetroChina (50.2 billion dollars), Gazprom (44.5 billion dollars) and Petrobras (41.5 billion dollars). The first Western company was Total, which ranked seventh with 30.8 billion dollars.

It is obvious that these developments are of great concern to the United States, especially in light of the BRICS’ drive to strengthen their economic and financial relations with Africa and South America.

In a 2013 report, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) indicated that Africa’s trade with the BRICS had doubled since 2007 to 340 billion dollars in 2012. It projected that the trade would reach 500 billion dollars by 2015.

Trade between China and Africa is estimated at about 200 billion dollars in 2013. It has become Africa’s main trading partner. And most African countries are now turning to China for loans while Chinese companies are involved in building roads, bridges, and other infrastructures across Africa.

Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional”, neo-colonial relationships with Africa.

While the European Union has tried to lock African countries into Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – as part of a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries – since 2007, the United States seems to be “wakening up” only now to the reality of the fast-changing economic landscape in Africa.

A Paris-based magazine, Jeune Afrique, wrote that with this Summit, Barack Obama was organising a “catch-up meeting”. The reason, said the magazine, was that the United States has lost too much ground to China and to a lesser degree to Europe. It is estimated that trade between Africa and the United States doubled between 2000 and 2010, while trade between Africa and China increased twenty-fold over the same period!

Most observers believe that without China building strong and growing economic and financial ties with Africa, the United States would not have thought about organising such a Summit. Clearly, China’s role in Africa has given a greater “respectability” to the continent and elevated its standing with Western countries, which are now looking at Africa through a new light.

Catching up for will not be an easy exercise for the United States. For one thing, its imports from Africa are essentially composed of crude oil, which accounts for 91 percent of total trade. Second, in its relations with Africa, security concerns have always topped the U.S. agenda.

This is why during the George W. Bush Administration, the United States set up “Africa Command” (AFRICOM) with the view to “helping” African countries fight “terrorism”. And the aim is to move AFRICOM headquarters – now in Germany – to Africa, preferably in the Gulf of Guinea, which is home to the bulk of African oil reserves. U.S. companies, like Chevron and ExxonMobil, have already invested billions of dollars in the area in order to control huge chunks of those reserves.

At the end of the Africa-U.S. Summit, Obama announced that 33 billion dollars will be invested in Africa between 2014 and 2017. But only seven billion dollars will come from public funds in order to boost trade between the United States and Africa, 14 billion dollars will come from the private banking and construction sectors, while 12 billion dollars are part of the “Power Africa” project aimed at bringing electricity to households and the industrial sector. This programme is financed by the World Bank and U.S. private companies such as General Electric.

So, the 33 billion dollars announcement is not really a “gift” made by president Barack Obama to African leaders, as some newspapers erroneously presented it. It will essentially serve the interests of U.S. private companies in their drive to compete against BRICS and European companies in Africa.

But, beyond “catching up” with China and the European Union, the Africa-U.S. Summit should be viewed in the context of the discourse on “Africa Rising”. Indeed, for neoliberal ideologues, Africa seems to hold the solution to the crisis of global capitalism.

In January 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured Africa. In a speech at the headquarters of the African Union, in Addis Ababa, he was quoting as saying that “with its immense resources, Africa is holding the hopes of the world.” This was an echo to a report by the French Senate, released in December 2013, with the incredible title ‘Africa is our Future’.

This may explain French military adventures in Africa over the last several years, from Cote d’Ivoire to Libya, from Mali to the Central African Republic, among others.

Several forums are being organised to advise Western corporations to invest in Africa and tap into its resources. Apparently, Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism, at the expense of its own people. As the renowned Egyptian economist Samir Amin used to say: “the West cares about Africa’s resources, not about its people.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Large Dams “Highly Correlated” with Poor Water Qualityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:34:45 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136401 Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Large-scale dams are likely having a detrimental impact on water quality and biodiversity around the world, according to a new study that tracks and correlates data from thousands of projects.

Focusing on the 50 most substantial river basins, researchers with International Rivers, a watchdog group, compiled and compared available data from some 6,000 of the world’s estimated 50,000 large dams. Eighty percent of the time, they found, the presence of large dams, typically those over 15 metres high, came along with findings of poor water quality, including high levels of mercury and trapped sedimentation.“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins." -- Jason Rainey

While the investigators are careful to note that the correlations do not necessarily indicate causal relationships, the say the data suggest a clear, global pattern. They are now calling for an intergovernmental panel of experts tasked with coming up with a systemic method by which to assess and monitor the health of the world’s river basins.

“[R]iver fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity,” International Rivers said Tuesday in unveiling the State of the World’s Rivers, an online database detailing the findings. “Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline.”

The group points to the Tigris-Euphrates basin, today home to 39 dams and one of the systems that has been most “fragmented” as a result. The effect appears to have been a vast decrease in the region’s traditional marshes, including the salt-tolerant flora that helped sustain the coastal areas, as well as a drop in soil fertility.

The State of the World project tracks the spread of dam-building alongside data on biodiversity and water-quality metrics in the river basins affected. While the project is using only previously published data, organisers say the effort is the first time that these disparate data sets have been overlaid in order to find broader trends.

“By and large most governments, particularly in the developing world, do not have the capacity to track this type of data, so in that sense they’re flying blind in setting policy around dam construction,” Zachary Hurwitz, the project’s coordinator, told IPS.

“We can do a much better job at observing [dam-affected] resettled populations, but most governments don’t have the capacity to do continuous biodiversity monitoring. Yet from our perspective, those data are what you really need in order to have a conversation around energy planning.”

Dam-building boom

Today, four of the five most fragmented river systems are in South and East Asia, according to the new data. But four others in the top 10 are in Europe and North America, home to some of the most extensive dam systems, especially the United States.

For all the debate in development circles in recent years about dam-building in developing countries, the new data suggests that two of the world’s poorest continents, Africa and South America, remain relatively less affected by large-scale damming than other parts of the world.

Of course, both Africa and South America have enormous hydropower potential and increasingly problematic power crunches, and many of the countries in these continents are moving quickly to capitalise on their river energy.

According to estimates from International Rivers, Brazil alone is currently planning to build more than 650 dams of all sizes. The country is also home to some of the highest numbers of species that would be threatened by such moves.

Not only are Brazil, China and India busy building dams at home, but companies from these countries are also increasingly selling such services to other developing countries.

“Precisely those basins that are least fragmented are currently being targeted for a great expansion of dam-building,” Hurwitz says. “But if we look at the experience and data from areas of high historical dam-building – the Mississippi basin the United States, the Danube basin in Europe – those worrying trends are likely to be repeated in the least-fragmented basins if this proliferation of dam-building continues.”

Advocates are expressing particularly concern over the confluence of the new strengthened focus on dam-building and the potential impact of climate change on freshwater biodiversity. International Rivers is calling for an intergovernmental panel to assess the state of the world’s river basins, aimed at developing metrics for systemic assessment and best practices for river preservation.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” Jason Rainey, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Economic burden

Particularly for increasingly energy-starved developing countries, concerns around large-scale dam-building go beyond environmental or even social considerations.

Energy access remains a central consideration in any set of development metrics, and lack of energy is an inherent drag on issues as disparate as education and industry. Further, concerns around climate change have re-energised what had been flagging interest in large dam projects, epitomised by last year’s decision by the World Bank to refocus on such projects.

Yet there remains fervent debate around whether this is the best way to go, particularly for developing countries. Large dams typically cost several billion dollars and require extensive planning to complete, and in the past these plans have been blamed for overwhelming fragile economies.

A new touchstone in this debate came out earlier this year, in a widely cited study from researchers at Oxford University. Looking at nearly 250 large dams dating back as far as the 1920s, they found pervasive cost and time overruns.

“We find overwhelming evidence that budgets are systematically biased below actual costs of large hydropower dams,” the authors wrote in the paper’s abstract.

“The outside view suggests that in most countries large hydropower dams will be too costly … and take too long to build to deliver a positive risk-adjusted return unless suitable risk management measures … can be affordably provided.”

Instead, the researchers encouraged policymakers in developing countries to focus on “agile energy alternatives” that can be built more quickly.

On the other side of this debate, the findings were attacked by the International Commission on Large Dams, a Paris-based NGO, for focusing on an unrepresentative set of extremely large dams. The group’s president, Adama Nombre, also questioned the climate impact of the researchers’ preferred alternative options.

“What would be those alternatives?” Nombre asked. “Fossil fuel plants consuming coal or gas. Without explicitly saying it, the authors use a purely financial reasoning to bring us toward a carbon-emitting electric system.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Wind Parks May Violate OECD Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:38:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136392 Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Four wind farm projects in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, operated or financed by European investors, could violate Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules, say activists.

Three of the parks are being developed by Electricité de France (EDF) and the fourth is financed by public funds from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Benjamin Cokelet, founder and executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), said the wind farms have committed several violations of human rights, which should be examined by the OECD – made up of the nations of the industrialised North and two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico.

“EDF’s three wind farm projects claim that the community consultations took place, but we have not seen any evidence that these permits were obtained,” the head of PODER, which is based in New York and Mexico City, told IPS.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises contain recommendations for responsible business conduct in areas such as human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, combating bribery and extortion, consumer interests, and taxation.

With respect to the environment, it says businesses should “provide the public and workers with adequate, measurable and verifiable…and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise”.

Windy isthmus

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has the strongest potential for wind power in Mexico. Currently more than 1,900 MW are generated by 26 wind parks in the country, where Spanish companies have taken the lead.

In this oil-producing country, renewable energies account for nearly seven percent of total supply, without including large hydroelectric dams. But the government has set a target for renewable energy sources to represent 23 percent of consumption in 2018, 25 percent in 2024 and 26 percent in 2027.

Wind energy is projected to produce 15,000 MW by the start of the next decade.

It also says companies should “engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.”

EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), owns the Mata-La Ventosa wind farms. Another subsidiary is co-owner of the Bii Stinu park, while a third operates the Santo Domingo wind farm.

The three projects are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The Mata-La Ventosa farm generates 67.5 MW, Bii Stinu 164 and Santo Domingo 160.

The other project that has been questioned is Mareña Renovables, with a generating capacity of 396 MW, in the Oaxaca coastal community of San Dionisio del Mar, on the Pacific Ocean.

This project is currently at a standstill because of legal action brought by members of the community whose land it is being built on.

According to PODER statistics, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is 200 km wide and has a surface area of 30,000 square kilometers, there are at least 20 wind park projects, controlled by 16 different companies.

The isthmus is also home to 1,230 agrarian communities, mainly indigenous “ejidos” or communal lands. Of the five indigenous people on the isthmus, the largest groups are the Zapotecs and Ikoots.

Reports from PODER indicate that conditions are favourable to business and negative for the local communities.

“The irregularities show collusion between public and private actors,” the organisation says.

The result is asymmetrical relationships and abusive leasing arrangements, characterised by the concealment of the permanent damage that the wind parks cause to farmland, the lack of fair compensation for damage, and extremely low rental payments for the land.

One problem was the lack of translators and interpreters for the local indigenous languages in the negotiations between the companies and the communities.

The right of local and indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But this right has not been respected by the companies building the wind farms in the isthmus, PODER says.

Cokelet said the companies have thus failed to comply with international social and environmental standards.

In December 2013 the EDF EN joined the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 voluntary, non-binding principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption for public or private signatories. In December this year, the EDF EN must present its report on compliance with these principles.

Construction of the Mareña Renovables wind farm complex was brought to a halt in 2013 by court rulings favourable to the affected communities.

The project consists of two wind parks that would produce a total of 396 MW, with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. The project is partly owned by PGGM, the Netherlands’ largest pension management company.

The project also has nearly 75 million dollars in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and a 20 million dollar loan for the electricity purchaser from Denmark’s official Export Credit Agency (EKF).

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM).

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. The panel is now preparing the investigation of the case, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

EDF’s Mata-La Ventosa also received a 189 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. In addition, the IFC channeled another 15 million dollars from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).

Roberto Albisetti, IFC manager for Mexico and Central America, acknowledged to IPS the risk of complaints against the wind farms in Oaxaca, although he said the IFC’s independent grievance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), had not received any up to now.

“The handling of the communities has been very serious,” he said. “We invested a lot of money in the consultation processes, because it is better to prevent than to face complaints later.”

In 2010, the IFC disbursed 375 million dollars for the construction of Eurus, another wind park in Oaxaca, which generates 250 MW.

Mareña Renovables, PGGM’s project, is also exposed to international legal action, on another flank.

Fomento Económico Mexicano (Femsa), Coca Cola’s bottler in Mexico, would be the biggest consumer of the electricity generated by the wind park. Femsa is the second-largest shareholder in the Dutch brewing company Heineken International.

Femsa also signed the U.N. Global Compact, in May 2005, and is to present its compliance report in March 2015. Heineken, meanwhile, joined in January 2006 and handed in its report in July.

Cokelet said Denmark’s EKF export credit agency, which also signed the Global Compact, could face legal action before the OECD for violating its principles to promote sustainable lending in the provision of official export credits to low-income countries.

Heineken and PGGM, which could also face complaints of violating OECD guidelines and principles, are in the same position, he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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India: A Race to the Bottom with Antibiotic Overusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 06:35:27 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136322 With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, India, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned: “Combat Drug Resistance – No Action Today, No Cure Tomorrow.” The slogan was coined in honour of World Health Day, urging governments to ensure responsible use of antibiotics in order to prevent drug-resistant viruses and bacteria, or ‘super bugs’.

The warning is even more salient in 2014, particularly in India, a country of 1.2 billion people that recently earned the dubious distinction of being the worst country in terms of antibiotic overuse in the world.

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010, up from eight billion units in 2001.

"It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use." -- Ashok J. Tamhankar, national coordinator for the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR)
An analysis of national pharmaceutical sales data published in ‘The Lancet Infectious Diseases’ last month found that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa accounted for 76 percent of the increase in antibiotic use around the world.

Western countries are now waking up to the alarming impact of over-consumption of antibiotics, which results in drug resistance. In Europe alone, drug-resistant strains of bacteria are responsible for 25,000 deaths a year.

In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the world could be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” due to deadly bacteria eventually developing resistance to drugs through mutation, and as a result of “market failure” to develop new classes of antibiotics over the last 25 years.

In developing countries like India, changing lifestyles are contributing to the casual and careless use of drugs.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University, told IPS the reason behind the proliferation of antibiotics in this country is “a combination of increasing income and affordability, easy access without a prescription, willingness of physicians to prescribe antibiotics freely, and a high background of infections that should ideally be contained by better sanitation and vaccination.”

People forget, he said, that “antibiotics do have side effects and […] they are less likely to work for you when you really need them.”

According to the Lancet’s report, the largest absolute increases in consumption between 2000 and 2010 were observed for cephalosporins, broad-spectrum penicillins and fluoroquinolones.

The authors cautioned, “Many broad-spectrum antibiotic drugs (cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, and carbapenems) are sold over the counter without [the] presence of a documented clinical need.”

Moreover, added Kolkata-based physician Surajit Ghosh of the Indian Public Health Association, some patients choose to refill their own prescriptions without consulting a proper physician, in a bid to reduce the burden of doctor’s fees.

For a country like India with limited healthcare facilities and a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to every 1,700 people, as well as 29 percent of the population languishing below the poverty line, the emergence of super bugs could be disastrous, experts say.

“With our high background rate of infections, we rely on antibiotics more than developed countries do,” stated Laxminarayan.

“Therefore, the impact of super bugs is likely to be much greater for many in our country who cannot afford the newer, more powerful antibiotics. Think of it as the price of fuel or kerosene going up. The rich will manage wherever they are, but the poor will be hit hard.”

He predicts that the most common diseases to be affected by antibiotic overuse will likely be “hospital infections, particularly those causing sepsis, pneumonia and urinary tract infection.”

Wary of this possible development, many are shifting to alternative medicines, via the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (ISM&H), which includes Ayurveda, siddha, unani, homoeopathy and therapies such as yoga and naturopathy.

Currently, there are over 680,000 registered ISM&H practitioners in the country, most of who work in the private sector.

Swati Biswas* tells IPS, “My husband was ailing for sometime and an operation was advised. But he contracted an infection in the nursing home and his operation was postponed.

“He never recovered after coming home and expired after two months. I spent thousands of rupees on medication for him to no avail. Now I go to a doctor of homeopathy for my problems. I’ve had enough of Western doctors and hospitals,” she added.

Meanwhile, a network known as the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR) has been formed to promote awareness on this issue.

Asked about the need for such an organisation, Ashok J. Tamhankar, IIMAR’s national coordinator, told IPS, “In a scientific meeting in Bangalore in 2008 many of the participants realised that antibiotic resistance is increasing in India. This is happening because there’s no awareness about it among the stakeholders.

“The ignorance and callousness are at every level of the society – from care providers like doctors, to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers and [even] the consumers. So a platform was created to spread awareness through a blog.”

The initial group had only a handful of people, but now, he claims, it has more than 1,000 active members and many more passive ones from different walks of life.

“Only passing laws is not a solution,” Tamhankar stated.

“It’s the people who have to solve their problems with the help of the law. This is particularly important in the case of antibiotics. It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use,” he added.

People also hint at an unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and doctors that results in over-prescription of antibiotics for ailments that could easily be treated without them.

Back in 2012, IIMAR reported that the Medical Council of India (MCI) had received 702 complaints of such over-prescription in 2011-12, of which 343 were referred to state medical councils.

“In 2010-11, MCI received 824 such complaints, following which it cancelled the registration of 10 doctors and warned four others,” IIMAR reported.

“Chemist and [drug] associations are not interested in curbing their volume of business and the [pharmaceutical] industry is also silent for the sake of their profit,” says Ghosh.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte, pharmaceutical sales in India stood at 22.6 billion dollars in 2012, with a predicted rise to 23.6 billion in 2013. Sales are expected to touch 27 billion by 2016.

Ghosh feels there should be “antibiotic protocols for all hospital, clinics and dispensaries and this should be displayed in each healthcare-providing agency [and] institution. There should be statutory warnings on each pack of antibiotics, highlighting the hazards of misuse.”

“Time has come to raise [our] voices against the irrational use of antibiotics,” he concluded.

*Not her real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Building a Sustainable Future – The Compact Between Business and Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-building-a-sustainable-future-the-compact-between-business-and-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-building-a-sustainable-future-the-compact-between-business-and-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-building-a-sustainable-future-the-compact-between-business-and-society/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:29:21 +0000 Georg Kell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136366 By Georg Kell
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Can we envision a day when a critical mass of companies is investing in a better world? Where business is delivering value for the long-term – not just financially, but also socially, environmentally and ethically? Over a decade ago, it was hard to imagine, but we can now say with confidence that a global movement is underway.

By the late 1990s, the need for action was unmistakable. In many ways, it appeared the rest of the world did not figure into the growth and opportunity associated with massive increases in international investment and trade. It was this fragile state of the union between business and society that led the U.N. secretary-general to propose that business and the United Nations jointly initiate a “global compact of shared values and principles, to give a human face to the global market.”This year, business will have an enormous opportunity to “make good” on its commitment to society as governments and the United Nations work to define a set of global sustainable development goals by 2015.

From 40 companies that came together at our launch in 2000, the UN Global Compact has grown to 8,000 business signatories from 140 countries – representing approximately 50 million employees, nearly every industry sector and size, and hailing equally from developed and developing countries.

Each participant has committed to respect and support human rights, ensure decent workplace conditions, safeguard and restore the environment, and enact good corporate governance – and then is reporting publicly on progress. An additional 4,000 civil society signatories play important roles, including holding companies accountable for their commitments and partnering with business on common causes.

We now have 100 country networks that are convening like-minded companies and facilitating action on the ground, embedding universal principles and responsible business practices. Networks serve an essential role in rooting global norms, issue platforms and campaigns within a national context, and provide an important base to jump-start local action and awareness.

It is clear that companies around the world are increasingly putting sustainability on their agendas. The reality is that environmental, social and governance challenges affect the bottom-line. Market disturbances, social unrest and ecological devastation have real impacts on business vis-à-vis supply chains, capital flows and employee productivity.

We also live in a world of hyper-transparency, with people now more empowered than ever to hold governments and the private sector accountable for their actions. There has been a fundamental shift as companies come to realise that it is no longer enough to mitigate risk, but that they are expected to contribute positively to the communities in which they operate.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

More persuasive than the risks are the opportunities that come with going global. As economic growth has migrated East and South, more companies are moving from being resource takers, to market builders.

Now, when faced with complex issues – extreme poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, environmental degradation – responsible companies see themselves as equal stakeholders for the long run, knowing that they cannot thrive in societies that fail. This has encouraged business to collaborate and co-invest in solutions that produce shared value for business and society.

There is also a growing interdependency between business and society. Business is expected to do more in areas that used to be the exclusive domain of the public sector – from health and education, to community investment and environmental stewardship. In fact, five out of six CEOs believe that business should play a leading role in addressing global priority issues. This is extremely encouraging.

While we have seen a great deal of progress, there is much work to be done. Companies everywhere are called on to do more of what is sustainable and put an end to what is not. We need corporate sustainability to be in the DNA of business culture and operations. The priority is to reach those who have yet to act, and especially those actively opposing change.

To reach full scale, economic incentive structures must be realigned so that sustainability is valued. Governments must create enabling environments for business and incentivise responsible practices. Financial markets must move beyond the short-term, where long-term returns become the overarching criteria for investment decisions. We need clear signals that good environmental, social and governance performance by business is supported and profitable.

This year, business will have an enormous opportunity to “make good” on its commitment to society as governments and the United Nations work to define a set of global sustainable development goals by 2015. This post-2015 agenda has the power to spur action by all key actors, with the private sector having a huge role.

These goals and targets could result in a framework for businesses to measure their own sustainability progress and help them establish corporate goals aligned with global priorities. This opportunity is significant to create value for business as well as the public good.

What will the future look like? The pieces are in place to achieve a new era of sustainability. The good news is that enlightened companies – which comprise major portions of the global marketplace – have shown that they are willing to be part of the solution and are moving ahead. Decisions by business leaders to pursue sustainability can make all of the difference. We can move from incremental to transformative impact, showing that responsible business is a force for good.

Georg Kell is executive director of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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When Land Restoration Works Hand in Hand with Poverty Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 02:53:42 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136297 Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
SANGAREDDY, India, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Tugging at the root of a thorny shrub known as ‘juliflora’, which now dots the village of Chirmiyala in the Medak District of southern India’s Telangana state, a 28-year-old farmer named Ailamma Arutta tells IPS, “This is a curse that destroyed my land.”

The deciduous shrub, whose scientific name is prosopis juliflora and belongs to the mesquite family, is not native to southern India. The local government introduced it in the 1950s and 1960s to prevent desertification in this region where the average annual rainfall is about 680 mm.

Decades later, the invasive plant has become a menace to farmers in the area, making it impossible to cultivate the land. This is partly due to juliflora’s ability to put out roots deep inside the earth – up to 175 feet in some places – in search of water.

Desperate farmers, who number some 5.5 million in the region, are now uprooting the shrubs as part of a government-sponsored scheme to make the land fertile once more.

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research
“The last time we grew anything on the land was about seven years ago, before this [shrub] started spreading all over it,” says Arutta, who is paid about three dollars a day for his work and looks forward eagerly to begin cultivating rice once more.

The operation provides employment while simultaneously laying the groundwork for future food security, and revitalising a degraded area.

Villagers employed by the scheme also perform duties such as removing stones and pebbles from the land, tilling the soil, de-silting ponds and lakes, and collecting fresh mud from waterholes and tanks to apply to the tilled land.

With funds provided through the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a nationwide programme that provides 100-day jobs to poor villagers during the non-farming season, locals are also building check dams on streams and rivulets, and digging percolation tanks to recharge the groundwater table.

Though small in scope, the scheme is highlighting the threat posed by desertification and its impact on the poorest communities in a country where 25 percent of the rural population (roughly 216.5 million people) lives below the poverty line, earning some 27 rupees (0.44 dollars) a day.

In Telangana there are 1.1 million small and marginal farmers who own less than five acres of land. With 54 percent of the state’s land degraded, these farmers fear for their future.

A global problem from an Indian perspective

According to Venkat Ravinder, an assistant director for the MGNREGA programme in Medak district, land degradation is the main environmental problem for farmers in the region.

Recurring drought and erratic rainfall have played havoc on groundwater tables (in some areas water levels have fallen five to 20 metres below ground level), making the surface of the soil unhealthy and dry.

Also, abundant growth of juliflora has increased the level of acidity in the topsoil, making it difficult for farmers to ensure plentiful yields of crops like rice, cotton and chili.

“Due to the high level of land degradation, over 2,000 acres of land have been lying fallow here,” Ravinder, who is overlooking the land restoration process in 125 villages of the district, told IPS.

“Our aim is to make this fallow land cultivable. So, we are clearing it of the harmful vegetation, and through silt application we are increasing the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil,” he explained.

Globally, 1.2 billion people are directly affected by land degradation, which causes an annual loss of 42 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded, according to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance.

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Having set 2013 as a global deadline to end land degradation, the UNCCD says governments around the world should prioritise land restoration, given that such a massive population depends on unyielding and unhealthy soil.

“Landscape approaches to degraded land restoration are key in drylands to enhance livelihoods and address environmentally forced migrations,” Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the UNCCD, told IPS.

According to the Indian minister for the environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, this is an achievable goal. He says his own government is determined to be “land degradation neutral” by 2030.

Speaking on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) earlier this year in New Delhi, the minister said that the problem of degradation, desertification and the creation of wastelands were major challenges impacting livelihoods.

Reiterating the government’s stated goal of scaling up efforts to eradicate poverty, under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar stressed that various government agencies should work together on a common implementation strategy regarding desertification, including the departments of water resources, land resources, forests, and climate change and agriculture.

With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of India’s economy, such moves are urgently required, experts say.

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

Thirty-year-old Arutta Somaya, a farmer from a small village in Telangana state, says his four-acre plot of farmland has become infested with juliflora, and is now virtually uncultivable.

With few options open to him, and a family of four to feed, Somaya left home in 2010 in search of work and for three years travelled to states like Maharasthra in the north, and Odisha in the east, working as a daily migrant labourer.

Today, he is back home and cultivating his land, which was cleared and restored under the land development programme.

Somaya tells IPS that several of his neighbours and friends are also considering returning home as they can earn a livelihood again.

“Before returning home, I was digging bore holes. We had to work for over 15 hours a day. It was very difficult. Now I don’t have to do that again,” adds the farmer, who is planting rice and napier grass, a fast-growing, commercially viable crop that is used as cattle fodder.

Hundreds of other seasonal migrants will be able to return home if the land development programme continues, says Subash Reddy, director of Smaran, a Hyderabad-based non-profit that promotes soil and water conservation.

He also believes the scheme could be more successful if the government roped in community organisations, especially those that work for the welfare of migrants.

“In India, at least 15 million people migrate each year from villages to the cities,” he told IPS. “How many of them are aware of what schemes the government is introducing at home?

“There are several NGOs that work closely with migrant workers,” Reddy added. “These organisations could be instrumental in informing the workers about land restoration [programmes] and also help them return home in time to avail themselves [of the benefits].”

According to the UNCCD, rampant land degradation could cause a collapse of food production, which would see global food prices “skyrocket”. Also, continued desertification, land degradation and drought could cause rampant migration and displacement of millions.

India is poised to set an example to a global problem – it just needs to find the political will to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Innovation Offers Hope in Sri Lanka’s Poverty-Stricken Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 03:33:00 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136293 In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
ODDUSUDDAN, Sri Lanka, Aug 24 2014 (IPS)

In this dust bowl of a village deep inside Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone, locals will sometimes ask visitors to rub their palms on the ground and watch their skin immediately take on a dark bronze hue, proof of the fertility of the soil.

Village lore in Oddusuddan, located in the Mullaitivu district, some 338 km north of the capital Colombo, has it that the land is so fertile, anything will grow here. But Mashewari Vellupillai, a 53-year-old single mother, knows that rich farmland alone is not enough to ensure a viable future.

Thirty years of civil war in the Northern Province, where the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were defeated by government forces in May 2009, are not easily forgotten, and five years of peace have not yet resulted in prosperity for many residents in this former battleground.

“You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money." -- Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu
Schemes to provide relief and employment opportunities for civilians and rehabilitated combatants are few and far between, and several villagers tell IPS that survival here is dependent on creative thinking to make the most of the few income generation options available.

At least 30 percent of the population in the province derives their income from agriculture or related areas, and a 10-month-old drought is wrecking havoc on farmers who tend to focus on a single crop at a time.

After taking a 50,000-rupee (384-dollar) financial hit following a failed harvest last year, Vellupillai has diversified the two-acre plot that surrounds her half-built house and planted everything from onions and bananas to cassava, aubergines and tobacco.

In addition, she has leased out her two acres of paddy land, and hires workers intermittently to see to its harvest.

Vellupilla’s most profitable crop is tobacco; a single, good-quality leaf fetches about 10 rupees (0.77 dollars), giving her an income of about 10,000 rupees (about 76 dollars) monthly.

“I can’t take a chance by depending on one source of income, I have to be sure that I have alternatives,” she tells IPS, citing cases of villagers here falling victim to a buyers’ market, as was the case in 2011 when most Oddusuddan residents grew aubergines and were forced to part with their yields for dirt cheap prices as buyers from Vavuniya Town, 60 km south, manipulated the market.

Over 400,000 people like Vellupillai have returned to the north after fleeing the last days of fighting between armed forces and the LTTE.

Since then, the government has poured over three billion dollars into massive infrastructure projects in the region, including rail-links, new roads and electrification schemes.

But despite such impressive figures, life in general remains hard. Poverty is rampant according to the latest government figures released for the first quarter of this year.

Four of the five districts that make up the province recorded rates higher than the national figure of 6.7 percent.

Three of them – Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullaittivu – recorded poverty rates of 12.7 percent, 20.1 percent and 28.8 percent respectively, according to the latest government poverty head count released in April. Experts say this comes as no surprise, since these districts were hit hardest by the war, and are suffering the worst of its long-term impacts.

Unemployment also remains above national levels. There are no official figures for full unemployment rates in the Northern Province, but in the two districts where figures are available – Kilinochchi at 9.3 percent and Mannar at 8.1 percent – they were over twice the national rate of four percent.

Economists working in the region feel that unemployment could be as high 30 percent in some parts of the province.

A dearth of proper housing adds to the troubles of the north, with only 41,000 out of a required 143,000 houses being handed over to returning residents, while some 10,500 homes are still under construction.

According to UN Habitat, initial funding was for 83,000 units, including those already built, but no funds are available for the remaining 60,000 homes.

“Those who can make the situation work for them, or use what they have in them […] will fare better,” Sellamuththu Srinivasan, the additional district secretary for the Kilinochchi District, told IPS.

That is precisely what Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu, has done.

Since the war’s end, he rents a small vehicle and commutes between Colombo and his hometown, covering a distance of over 300 km each week to bring ready-made garments from the capital to his small shop close to the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

“I can make a 25,000-rupee profit [about 192 dollars] every month,” he told IPS.

That is good money, especially if it is constant in a district that is one of the poorest five in the country and where the average monthly income is less than 4,000 rupees (about 30 dollars).

Selvarathnam, who has a deep scar on the side of his chest running down to his abdomen caused by a shell injury, tells IPS, “You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money.” His next aim is to travel to India to purchase garments in bulk, so that he can cut down on costs even more.

Like him, Velvarasa Sithadevi, another resident of Oddusudan has her hands full. She has to take care of a 25-year-old son who suffers from shellshock and a husband who is yet to recover from his wartime injuries.

When the family received a 25,000-rupee (192-dollar) grant from the U.N. Refugee Agency upon returning to their home village in 2011, Sithadevi invested the money in setting up a small shop. “We live in the back room, that is enough for us,” she told IPS.

Sithadevi is a good cook, and sells food products in her roadside shop. “It is a good business, especially when there are people working on roads and other construction [sites],” she stated, adding that she makes about 4,000 rupees (30 dollars) a day.

But for every single individual success story, there are thousands of others unable to break out of the suffocating cycle of poverty in the region.

Public official Srinivasan said that if assistance were to increase, the overall situation would improve. That, however, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“The next option is to attract private sector investment […]. We are talking with companies in the south, there is some progress, but we need more companies to come in,” he stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cuba Sees Its Future in Mariel Port, Hand in Hand with Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/cuba-sees-its-future-in-mariel-port-hand-in-hand-with-brazil/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 13:16:51 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136278 The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The container terminal administrative building in the port of the Mariel special economic development zone in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

The Mariel special economic development zone, the biggest construction project undertaken in decades in Cuba, emerged thanks to financial support from Brazil, which was based on political goodwill, a strategy of integration, and business vision.

“Cuba would not have been able to undertake this project from a technical or economic point of view,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS. He added that the geographic setting makes the development zone strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Brazil financed the construction of the container terminal and the remodeling of the port of Mariel, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from Post-Panamax container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015.

Post-Panamax refers to vessels that do not fit in the current Panama Canal, such as the supertankers and the largest modern container and passenger ships.

The port, 45 km west of Havana, is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the Western hemisphere, and experts say it will be the largest industrial port in the Caribbean in terms of both size and volume of activity.

Construction of the terminal, in the heart of the 465 sq km special economic development zone, has included highways connecting the Mariel port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure, and the port will offer a variety of services.

In the special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities, in installations that include merchandise distribution centres and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate – two sectors which will be given priority in Mariel, along with renewable energies, agriculture and food, among others.

The Cuban government is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas for Mariel, in the chemical, construction materials, logistics and equipment rental industries.

The terminal was inaugurated on Jan. 27, and during its first six months of operation it received 57 ships and some 15,000 containers – small numbers compared to the terminal’s warehouse capacity of 822,000 containers. Post-Panamax vessels can carry up to 12,600 containers, three times more than Panamax ships.

Another economist, Pedro Monreal, estimates that the cost per container will be cut in half.

The lower costs, he said, will improve the competitiveness of Brazil’s manufactured goods, to cite one example. Mariel, where a free trade zone will also operate, could become a platform for production and export by the companies, even for supplying Brazil’s domestic market.

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Heavy machinery prepares the terrain for a railway that will form part of the new infrastructure linked to the special development zone in the port of Mariel – the biggest project undertaken in Cuba in decades: Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Although Decree Law 313, which created the special economic development zone, was passed in September 2013, the remodeling of Mariel began three years ago, led by a joint venture formed in February 2010 by the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura, a subsidiary of the private Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, and Quality Cuba SA.

The container terminal is run by Global Ports Management Limited of Singapore, one of the world’s biggest container terminal operators, which has been working with the Cuban firm Almacenes Universales S.A, which is the owner and user of the terminal, and responsible for oversight of its efficient use.

The relationship between Cuba and Brazil is a longstanding one. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) did not hide his sympathies for the Cuban revolution, and has visited this country a number of times, first as a trade unionist and political party leader, and then as a president and former president.

Two packages of agreements signed in 2008 and 2010 between Lula and Cuban President Raúl Castro marked their interest in strengthening bilateral ties, an effort continued by current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

When she attended the inauguration of the terminal, Rousseff said the project would take 802 million dollars in the first stage, plus 290 million for the second stage. The first of Brazil’s loans was initially to go towards construction of the road, but the local government decided to start with the port.

The credit was granted by Brazil’s National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES). Havana provided 15 percent of the investment needed for the work.

“Cuba is a priority for our government, and Brazil is important to Havana,” the director general of the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (APEX-Brazil), Hipólito Rocha, told IPS.

APEX-Brazil was created by Lula and Castro to promote joint business ventures with Cuba, the rest of the Caribbean and Central America.

Odebrecht is the most important company involved in Mariel, but diplomatic sources told IPS that a total of around 400 Brazilian companies are taking part in the project. “Between our countries there is affinity, political will, an interest in integration, but business matters are also important,” Rocha said.

He added that Cuba strictly lives up to its financial commitments with Brazil, and said bilateral relations “are solid, sustainable and bring benefits to our country as well.”

Analyst Arturo López-Levy said Brazil’s involvement in the Mariel project was decisive not only because of the investment. The political scientist, who lives in the United States, says the Brazilian government is sending a message to Washington and the European Union and other emerging powers that it backs the transformations underway in Cuba.

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Russia, Vladimir Putin, also sent out signals when they visited Cuba in July, indicating their interest in expanding cooperation with Havana.

The two presidents stopped over in Cuba when they travelled to the sixth summit of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), held Jul. 14-16 in Brazil.

The strengthening of ties promises greater access to the Chinese and Russian markets, attraction of investment in areas of common interest like the pharmaceutical and energy industries, and cooperation for the modernisation of strategic areas in defence, ports and telecommunications, López-Levy told IPS.

With respect to the possible interest of U.S. businesses in getting a foothold in the special economic development zone, and to an increase in pressure for the lifting of the five-decade U.S. embargo, the analyst said “the Cuban market awakens very limited interest in the United States.”

However, he said it was “clear” that U.S. investors are becoming more interested, especially Cuban-Americans.

“In order for this motivation to turn into political pressure against the embargo, the Cuban economy has to give out clear signs of recovery and of the government’s willingness, in key areas, to adopt a mixed economy with transparent guarantees for investors and export capacity,” he said.

Rocha has a somewhat different opinion.

“The embargo is going to collapse under its own weight,” he said. “Business will knock it down.”

It was seen as symbolic that the first ship that docked in the Mariel port after it began to operate brought food for Cuba from the United States – cash-only imports, which were authorised by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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In Saving a Forest, Kenyans Find a Better Quality of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:23:24 +0000 Peter Kahare http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136217 People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

By Peter Kahare
KASIGAU, Kenya, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Mercy Ngaruiya first settled in Kasigau in south eastern Kenya a decade ago, she found a depleted forest that was the result of years of tree felling and bush clearing.

“This region was literally burning. There were no trees on my farm when I moved here, the area was so dry and people were cutting down trees and burning bushes for their livelihood,” Ngaruiya, a community leader in Kasigau, told IPS.

Back then, she says, poverty and unemployment levels were high, there was limited supply of fresh water, and education and health services were poor.

Mike Korchinsky, the president of Wildlife Works, a Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project development and management company, remembers it all too well.

“When I came here, you could hear the sounds of axes as people constantly cut trees. Cutting down trees is doubly alarming because you have an immediate emission when the carbon that has been stored in the forest for centuries is released into the atmosphere, and then there is nothing to sequester the carbon that is being produced by human activities,” Korchinsky told IPS.

Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

“Things are changing now since my fellow villagers agreed to embrace environmental conservation. The environment is continuing to improve,” Ngaruiya said.

The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities.

A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

“We no longer need to cut trees now for charcoal, we use biogas and eco-friendly charcoal made from pruned leaves. We cook while conserving trees,” resident Nicoleta Mwende told IPS.

Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation.

“Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources.

Trading in carbon credits is still in a nascent stage in Kenya.

But according to Alfred Gichu, the forestry climate change specialist at Kenya Forest Service, a state corporation that conserves and manages forests, the future of carbon credits trade in Kenya is bright.

There are 16 active, registered carbon credits projects and 26 others are in the process of being registered.

“Of the 26, 19 are energy-based, like the Geothermal Development Company, and seven involve reforestation projects,” Gichu told IPS. The expansive Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a key target by the government for the carbon credits trade, he added.

When it comes to forests conservation, Kenya is one of the countries where policies have led to success according to “Deforestation Success Stories 2013” a report by the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report cites the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project as a major success story, noting that by late 2012, revenues generated from the sale of voluntary carbon credits from the project had reached 1.2 million dollars.

According to a UNEP’s 2013 “Emissions Gap” report, promotion of tree planting on farms, schools and other public institutions; prohibiting harvesting of trees in public forests; and awareness creation by both the government and private conservationists are some of the policy measures in Kenya that have boosted forest cover.

But there are also challenges that hinder development of REDD+ projects here.

Moses Kimani, the director of the African Carbon Exchange, cites lack of expertise and finances as some of the major challenges hindering development of carbon credits trade.

“Besides poor policies and weak legislative framework, many carbon credits projects in Kenya and Africa lack the much-needed expertise and finance,” Kimani told IPS.

During last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Poland, participants agreed on a framework for REDD+ and pledged 280 million dollars in financing.

But environmentalists lament a lack of clear mechanisms to enable these adaptation funds to trickle down and reach local communities.

John Maina, an environmental conservationist, says that Kenyans running these projects were losing out to traders after selling carbon at throwaway prices due to low level of understanding.

“The government, civil society sector and NGOs should work together to strengthen regulations and sensitise Kenyans on carbon projects and how they can access financing,” Maina told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

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Mining Firms in Peru Mount Legal Offensive Against Inspection Taxhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mining-firms-in-peru-mount-legal-offensive-against-inspection-tax/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mining-firms-in-peru-mount-legal-offensive-against-inspection-tax http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mining-firms-in-peru-mount-legal-offensive-against-inspection-tax/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 01:10:35 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136119 Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Children playing next to mine tailings in Morococha, a mining town in the central Peruvian department or region of Junín. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

The leading mining companies in Peru have brought a rash of lawsuits to fight an increase in the tax they pay to cover the costs of inspections and oversight of their potentially environmentally damaging activities.

The lawsuits have come one after another. As of Aug. 7, 14 mining companies had filed legal injunctions in different courts to fight the “Aporte por Regulación” (APR – Regulation Contribution) that they are charged, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal told IPS.

The legal action targets different institutions in the executive branch, including the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, and OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, which collects the APR.

Javier Velarde, the general manager of the Yanacocha mining company, told IPS that a total of 26 mining corporations, including his firm – the largest gold producer in Latin America – have brought legal action against the APR.

Yanacocha is a joint venture owned by the U.S.-based Newmont Mining Corporation and the Peruvian company Buenaventura.

The National Society of Mining, Oil and Energy, which represents the leading companies in the industry, also brought action against the APR, arguing that it is unconstitutional.

At the same time, four companies opened administrative proceedings with the Commission for the Elimination of Bureaucratic Barriers of the National Institute for Defence of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property (INDECOPI).

The companies argue that the APR amounts to a “confiscation”.

One of the companies that turned to INDECOPI is the Peruvian firm Caudalosa, which in 2010 caused a major spill of toxic waste from a tailings dam, poisoning the rivers that provide water to the people of Huancavelica in central Peru, one of the poorest departments (regions) in the country.

The corporations that have brought court action include foreign firms like Cerro Verde, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, and two subsidiaries of the Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore Xstrata.

The Peruvian companies include Casapalca, which is facing several lawsuits for environmental, labour and safety violations, and Volcan, which has been fined on a number of occasions for causing environmental damage.

“Companies are getting bolder and bolder,” in a political context where efforts are being made to reduce “bureaucratic hurdles” to investment, Deputy Minister of Environmental Management José de Echave told IPS.

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru's environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Delia Morales, left, and Sandra Rossi, officials at OEFA, Peru’s environmental oversight agency, reviewing the legal injunctions presented by mining companies. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

In July, Congress approved a package of measures introduced by the government of President Ollanta Humala to boost private sector investment by simplifying environmental requirements and streamlining bureaucratic procedures, due to the slowdown in the economy triggered by declining demand for raw materials.

Peru is the world’s fifth-largest producer of gold, second of silver, third of copper, zinc and tin, and fourth of lead. Mining accounts for nine percent of the country’s GDP, 60 percent of exports, 21 percent of private investment and 30 percent of income tax. It also provides mining companies with billions of dollars in profits.

“We are defending ourselves and we are sure that we will demonstrate that the measure has sound legal standing,” Minister Pulgar-Vidal told IPS, after confirming that the judiciary had already thrown out one of the lawsuits, filed by Antapaccay, a subsidiary of Glencore Xstrata.

The inspection tax was originally created in 2000 to finance the regulatory agencies. It was established at the time that the contribution would not exceed one percent of a company’s annual earnings after taxes, OEFA officials explained.

But in December, the government decreed that the contribution would be reduced to 0.15 percent of annual sales in 2014 and 2015, and to 0.13 percent in 2016.

The president of the OEFA board of directors, Hugo Gómez, said that if one percent was not a “confiscation” then a smaller contribution was even less so.

But Yanacocha’s Velarde argued that the decree that set the amount of the contribution was tacked onto the original law, which it distorted, because the amount “far exceeds the cost of activities of monitoring and oversight.”

At stake in this legal battle is not only money but also the Independence of environmental oversight activities.

Before OEFA took over the environmental monitoring of the mining industry in 2010, the task was in the hands of the Supervisory Body for Investment in Energy and Mining, which charged a “mining tariff”.

The tariff was calculated according to what the Supervisory Body specifically spent for each company inspected: days of work for the inspector, costs of lab testing of samples, and other expenses for services. The companies were billed directly for the cost of the inspections, OEFA director of supervision, Delia Morales, told IPS.

The tariff system was inherited by OEFA, but in December 2013, a percentage for the APR was set, which brought in more money.

From nearly 400,000 dollars, which the regulatory body took in with the mining tariff in 2013, the total went up to nine million dollars under the APR in the first half of this year alone.
OEFA estimates that it will bring in some 15 million dollars this year for oversight of the mining industry alone. Up to mid-2013, it had collected 17 million dollars for monitoring and inspection of three sectors: fossil fuels, mining and electricity.

IPS learned that in its court injunction against the APR, Xstrata Las Bambas, which also belongs to Glencore Xstrata, argued that with the new APR it ended up paying 36 times more than what it paid with the mining tariff.

OEFA official Sandra Rossi told IPS that technical calculations were made to set the amount of the APR because the way the mining tariff was determined “limited oversight.”

“It was an outdated system” that did not make it possible to carry out technical work and prevention efforts to inform communities of what impacts the extractive industry activities could have, Morales said.

The manager of Yanacocha said he did agree that mining companies should finance oversight activities. But he argued that they should be charged in relation to “the real costs” and should not have to finance other activities that are not directly related to monitoring and inspection.

But Iván Lanegra, a specialist in environmental policy questions and a former deputy minister of intercultural issues, told IPS that “environmental oversight is not limited to specific monitoring of a given company. It is broader than that. What was created was not an OEFA for each company, but an overall oversight and inspection structure.”

In his view, “It’s fair for the companies that receive significant benefits” to pay for the oversight, because they carry out activities that pose serious environmental risks. Lanegra said it would not be right for the expense to be financed with the taxes paid by all Peruvians.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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What’s More Important, the War on AIDS or Just War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/whats-more-important-the-war-on-aids-or-just-war/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 07:20:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Mercedes Sayagues http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136087 The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

The budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic. Credit: Thomas Martinez/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Mercedes Sayagues
JOHANNESBURG/NEW YORK, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

They say there is a war on and its target is the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).   

This war runs worldwide but its main battleground is sub-Saharan Africa, where seven out of 10 HIV positive persons in the world live – 24.7 million in 2013. The region suffered up to 1.3 million AIDS-related deaths in the same year, according to the United Nations.

A ragtag army is fighting the war on AIDS. Sometimes it is comprised of well-dressed aid officials sitting in conference rooms allocating funds. At other times, it deploys shabby foot soldiers – community healthcare workers and AIDS activists – into desolate rural areas with no running water, let alone antiretroviral therapy.

With many competing health problems, funding for AIDS is a growing concern. Yet a look at the defence of budgets of several countries plagued by HIV portrays a startling picture of governments’ priorities, with huge military expenditures belying the argument that the key obstacle to winning the war against AIDS is money.

Nigeria's Military Budget Dwarfs AIDS Budget
 
With an HIV prevalence of three percent, Nigeria has the second largest number of people living with HIV in Africa – 3.4 million in 2012, according to UNAIDS.

Government’s response to the epidemic picked up last year but is still woefully inadequate. Many people are not accessing the treatment and care services they need, or at a steep price. Out of pocket expenditure for HIV and AIDS services accounts for 14 percent of household income, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Nigeria has US$600 million for AIDS until 2015, with donors shelling out 75 percent. This is an improvement: government provided only seven percent of total AIDS funding in 2010, compared to 25 percent now.
 
This year, the government is expected to allocate 373 million dollars to HIV programmes and 470 million in 2015, to meet the target of contributing half of AIDS financing needs.
But it remains to be seen if this will be done. Nigeria has many competing health priorities, and the recent Ebola fever outbreak will require extra funding and urgency.
Meanwhile, the proposed defence budget for 2014 awarded 830 million dollars to the Nigerian army, 440 million to its navy, and 460 million dollars to the air force.
 
In total, the country has allocated 2.1 billion dollars to defence this year, according to the Nigerian Budget Office.
 
This includes 32 million dollars for two offshore patrol vessels purchased from China, and 11.2 million dollars for the procurement of six Mi-35M attack helicopters, according to DefenceWeb.

And, as the 2015 deadline for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals looms large – with donor countries tightening their purse strings – health experts worry about financing for HIV prevention and AIDS treatment after 2015.

New funding for AIDS in low- and middle-incoming countries fell three percent from 2012 to 8.1 billion dollars in 2013, says a joint report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released in June.

Five of the 14 major donor governments – the U.S., Canada, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands – decreased AIDS spending last year.

And yet, while governments claim to be too cash-strapped to fight the AIDS war, funding for other wars seems much more forthcoming.

Spending on arms and on AIDS

Africa will need to do more with less to manage AIDS, concludes a 2013 UNAIDS report entitled Smart Investments.

In Kenya, a funding shortfall is expected soon, since the World Bank’s 115 million-dollar ‘Total War on HIV/AIDS’ project expired last month.

Meanwhile, the country’s defence budget is expected to grow from 4.3 billion dollars in 2012-2014 to 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, as the country stocks up on helicopters, drones and border surveillance equipment, according to the news portal DefenceWeb.

True, Kenya is under attack from Al-Shabaab terrorists. Still, five out of 10 pregnant Kenyan women living with HIV do not get ARVs to protect their babies.

Mozambique’s fighter jets

In Mozambique, a dearth of funding puts the country’s recent military expenditures into a harsh light.

Daniel Kertesz, the World Health Organization representative in Mozambique, told IPS the country’s six-year health program has a 200 million dollar finance gap per year.

Mozambique being very poor, it is difficult to see how the country – with 1.6 million infected people, the world’s eighth burden – will meet its domestic commitments.

“Today, Mozambique spends between 30 and 35 dollars per person per year on health. WHO recommends a minimum of 55-60 per person per year,” Kertesz said.

The same week, the government announced it had fixed eight military fighter jets, which it had discarded 15 years ago, in Romania, and is receiving three Embraer Tucano military aircraft from Brazil for free, with the understanding that purchase of three  fighter jets will follow.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Intelligence Unit, Mozambique’s spending on state security is expected to rise sharply, partly owing to the acquisition, by the ministry of defence, of 24 fishing trawlers and six patrol and interceptor ships at the cost of 300 million dollars – equal to half the 2014 national health budget of 635.8 million dollars.

 The same week the refurbished fighter jets landed at Maputo airport, the press reported that the main hospital in Mozambique’s north-western and coal-rich Tete province went for five days without water.

Indeed, the country’s public health system is in such dire straits that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) meets 90 percent of the health ministry’s annual AIDS budget.

Military Spending in Africa
Angola spent 8.4 percent of its 69 billion dollar budget on defence and just 5.3 percent on health in 2013.
In 2013, Morocco’s military expenses of 3.4 billion dwarfed its health budget of just over 1.4 billion dollars.
South Sudan spent one percent of its GDP on health and 9.1 percent on military and defence in 2012.

“The state budget for social programmes is not increasing at the same level as military, defence and security spending,” Jorge Matine, a researcher at Mozambique’s Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), told IPS.

“We have been pushing for accountability around the acquisition of commercial and military ships for millions of dollars,” he said.

A coalition of NGOs has requested the government to explain “its decision to spend that money without authorisation from Parliament when the country is experiencing severe shortages of personnel and supplies in the health sector,” Matine explained.

The coalition argues that, if defence spending remained as it was in 2011, the country would save 70 million dollars, which could buy 1,400 ambulances (11 per district, when many districts have only one or two) or import 21 percent more medicines.

A similar pattern unfolds across the continent where, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military spending reached an estimated 44.4 billion dollars in 2013, an 8.3 percent increase from the previous year. In Angola and Algeria, high oil revenues fuel the buying spree.

The South Africa-based Ceasefire Campaign reported recently that arms deals with private companies are also on the rise in Africa, with governments expected to sign deals with global defence companies totalling roughly 20 billion dollars over the next decade.

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Credit: Marshall Patstanza and Nqabomzi Bikitsha/IPS

Failing Abuja 

At the same time, the 2001 Abuja Declaration, whose signatories committed to allocating at least 15 percent of gross domestic product to health, has “barely become a reality”, Vuyiseka Dubula, general-secretary of the South Africa-based Treatment Action Campaign, told IPS.

 “Regardless of our calls, very few countries have even come close to 12 percent, including some of the richer African countries such as South Africa and Nigeria,” Dubula said.

Between 2000-2005, she added, “almost 400,000 people died from AIDS in South Africa; during that same period we spent so much money on arms we don’t need, and one wonders whether that was a responsible [use] of public resources.”

Mozambique is a sad example of Abuja failure. Back in 2001, Mozambique’s health budget represented 14 percent of the total state budget, tailing the Abuja target. It declined to a low of seven percent in 2011 and clawed to eight percent since.

“Financing mirrors the priorities of the government,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopia’s minister of foreign affairs and former minister of health, told IPS. “We have seen that in countries that had the political will to turn around their health sectors, they upscale finance and really invest in the health sector.”

If this is true, the budgets of many African countries reflect greater interest in arms deals than in managing the deadly HIV epidemic.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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What Do the World Bank and IMF Have to Do With the Ukraine Conflict?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/what-do-the-world-bank-and-imf-have-to-do-with-the-ukraine-conflict/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:26:25 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136051 Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Typical agricultural landscape of Ukraine, Kherson Oblast. Credit: Dobrych (Flickr)/CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Mostly unreported as the Ukraine conflict captures headlines, international financing has played a significant role in the current conflict in Ukraine.

In late 2013, conflict between pro-European Union (EU) and pro-Russian Ukrainians escalated to violent levels, leading to the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and prompting the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually Yanukovych’s removal from office was his rejection of an EU association agreement that would have further opened trade and integrated Ukraine with the European Union. The agreement was tied to a 17 billion dollars loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Instead, Yanukovych chose a Russian aid package worth 15 billion dollars plus a 33 percent discount on Russian natural gas.

The relationship with international financial institutions changed swiftly under the pro-EU government put in place at the end of February 2014 which went for the multi-million dollar IMF package in May 2014.

Announcing a 3.5 billion dollars aid programme on May 22, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim lauded the Ukrainian authorities for developing a comprehensive programme of reforms, and their commitment to carry it out with support from the World Bank Group. He failed to mention the neo-liberal conditions imposed by the Bank to lend money, including that the government limit its own power by removing restrictions that hinder competition and limiting the role of state control in economic activities. “The stakes around Ukraine's vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe”

The rush to provide new aid packages to the country with the new government aligned with the neo-liberal agenda was a reward from both institutions.

The East-West competition over Ukraine, however, is about the control of natural resources, including uranium and other minerals, as well as geopolitical issues such as Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute a critical factor that has been overlooked. With ample fields of fertile black soil that allow for high production volumes of grains, Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe.

In the last decade, the agricultural sector has been characterised by a growing concentration of production within very large agricultural holdings that use large-scale intensive farming systems. Not surprisingly, the presence of foreign corporations in the agricultural sector and the size of agro-holdings are both growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years.

Now the goal is to set policies that will benefit Western corporations. Whereas Ukraine does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture, Article 404 of the EU agreement, which relates to agriculture, includes a clause that has generally gone unnoticed: both parties will cooperate to extend the use of biotechnologies.

Given the struggle for resources in Ukraine and the influx of foreign investors in the agriculture sector, an important question is whether the results of the programme will benefit Ukraine and its farmers by securing their property rights or pave the way for corporations to more easily access property and land.

By encouraging reforms such as the deregulation of seed and fertiliser markets, the country’s agricultural sector is being forced open to foreign corporations such as Dupont and Monsanto.

The Bank’s activities and its loan and reform programmes in Ukraine seem to be working toward the expansion of large industrial holdings in Ukrainian agriculture owned by foreign entities.

Amid the current turmoil, the World Bank and the IMF are now pushing for more reforms to improve the business climate and increase private investment. In March 2014, the former prime minister ad interim, Arsenij Yatsenyuk, welcomed strict and painful structural reforms as part of the 17 billion dollars IMF loan package, dismissing the need to negotiate any terms.

The IMF austerity reforms will affect monetary and exchange rate policies, the financial sector, fiscal policies, the energy sector, governance, and the business climate.

The loan is also a precondition for the release of further financial support from the European Union and the United States. If fully adopted, the reforms may lead to significant price increases of essential consumer goods, a 47 to 66 percent increase in personal income tax rates, and a 50 percent increase in gas bills. These measures, it is feared, will have a devastating social impact, resulting in a collapse of the standard of living and dramatic increases in poverty.

Although Ukraine started implementing pro-business reforms under president Yanukovych through the Ukraine Investment Climate Advisory Services Project and by streamlining trade and property transfer procedures, his ambition to mould the country to the World Bank and IMFs standards was not reflected in other realms of policy and his allegiance to Russia eventually led to his removal from office.

Following the installation of a pro-West government, there has been an acceleration of structural adjustment led by the international institutions along with an increase in foreign investment, aimed at further expansion of large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land by foreign companies and further corporatisation of agriculture in the country.

The experience of structural adjustment programmes around the developing world foretells that it will increase foreign control of the Ukrainian economy as well as increase poverty and inequality. As Western powers get ready to impose sanctions on Russia for its transgressions in Ukraine, it remains unclear how programmes and conditionalities imposed by the World Bank will improve the lives of Ukrainians and build a sustainable economic future.

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Zimbabwe’s ‘Casualisation of Labour’ Leads to a New Form of Exploitationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwes-casualisation-of-labour-leads-to-a-new-form-of-exploitation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-casualisation-of-labour-leads-to-a-new-form-of-exploitation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwes-casualisation-of-labour-leads-to-a-new-form-of-exploitation/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 08:08:25 +0000 Michelle Chifamba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136055 Casual workers in Zimbabwe usually work for long hours without safety clothing. Labour unions say that many employees are hiring people as casual staff to avoid providing benefits. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

Casual workers in Zimbabwe usually work for long hours without safety clothing. Labour unions say that many employees are hiring people as casual staff to avoid providing benefits. Credit: Michelle Chifamba/IPS

By Michelle Chifamba
HARARE, Aug 12 2014 (IPS)

Ethel Maziriri, 27, holds an Honours Degree in Social Work from the University of Zimbabwe, but instead of working in her chosen profession, she works as a cashier in one of the country’s leading clothing retail company. And it’s not by choice.

Maziriri, who graduated in 2010, has been employed as a casual worker at the store for the past 12 months.

In a country that is reeling from a liquidity crisis and a crumbling economy, company closures and downsizing have forced many into unemployment here.

She earns 80 dollars each fortnight, for working 10-hour days. But the working conditions are less than ideal.

Maziriri told IPS that most of the workers at the company are causal workers, employed on temporary contracts for six weeks at a time. She says that as contract workers they have to be very cautious to avoid their contracts being terminated prematurely without any wages or benefits.

“At work one has to be very cautious because if money or clothes go missing in the shop, everyone on the shift will have to pay for the damages and have their contracts terminated,” Maziriri said.

But she’s more concerned about earning money rather than the unfair working conditions here.

“I do not think it is necessary for a contract worker to join a labour union and I do not have any money for subscriptions to pay the union. I treasure my job and if am dismissed I will just go home and wait until I get another one,” she said.

But the Federation of Food and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (FFWUZ), a union which represents more than 50,000 members in the food processing industry, says the “casualisation of labour” is leading to a new form of exploitation here.

“A new form of labour exploitation has erupted as employers prefer to hire short-term contract workers to escape from the costs incurred by permanent workers,” Gift Maoneka, FFWUZ paralegal officer, told IPS.

He said that since January, more than six companies have retrenched and that most industries were retrenching at least 450 workers a week.

“Most of the companies are abusing the retrenchment board in doing away with permanent workers and the law does not provide an appeal against retrenchment,” Maoneka said.

FFWUZ says that Zimbabwe’s crumbling economy and lack of investment has forced companies to downsize and retrench workers. Many are doing away with formal employment, according to FFWUZ, and are instead offering contracts to workers as a way of avoiding providing benefits such as medical aid, funeral policies and pensions.

“Casual workers endure years of work with no terminal benefits, pensions, medical aid for them and their families,” Maoneka said.

Maoneka pointed out that while employees were “putting workers on short contracts,” the jobs were in fact “permanent of nature.”

The latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme points out that across the world formal employment lacks social, legal or regulatory protection.

According to the report, nearly half the world’s workers are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs usually outside the jurisdiction of labour legislation and social protection.

According to FFWUZ, many casual workers here are afraid to join labour unions for fear of being victimised and hence continue to have their rights infringed, through lack of knowledge and representation.

“But many employees who do not join labour unions for fear of being victimised by their employers have their rights infringed — being made to work long hours at lower wages,”  Maoneka added. He added that many did not have legal protection.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa in his budget statement in December, 2013 said that government was reviewing the labour law to make the hiring of employees easier.

“The minister responsible for labour should seriously consider amendments to the Labour Act that relates work to productivity. It is also necessary that we introduce in our labour laws flexibility in the hiring of workers, as well as alignment of wage adjustments to labour productivity,” Chinamasa said during the 2013 to 2014 budget announcement.  

The current Labour Relations Act makes dismissals and retrenchments a slow process as employees have to go through a number of hearings. The hearings start at company level and a dissatisfied party can appeal to labour courts.  

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions maintains that workers in Zimbabwe have no rights when faced with retrenchment, and this creates a situation where they can be manipulated by their employers.

Meanwhile, FFWUZ points out that the few people employed by foreign Chinese employers are also being subjected to unlawful working conditions, but lack the knowledge on how to deal with the matter of exploitation and unfair dismissal.

“Foreigners take advantage of the language barrier when we engage them on discussing labour laws and unfair dismissal of their employees. Non-provision of protective clothing, total disregard of labour laws are some of the matters that affect most employees,” Maoneka said.

For Gareth Makaripe, who is casually employed at a Chinese-owned bakery in Msasa industrial area in Harare, the conditions of services are dehumanising.

“These people are slave masters and they use fear to intimidate workers. We are forced to work over night without proper bakery clothing — no gloves, boots or overalls — and people are mocked on petty issues,” Makaripe told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Zimbabwean Women Breathe New Life into Private Transport Sectorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwean-women-breathe-new-life-into-private-transport-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwean-women-breathe-new-life-into-private-transport-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/zimbabwean-women-breathe-new-life-into-private-transport-sector/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 08:30:31 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135997 Taxi driver Jesca Machingura is one of the few women who has been involved in the industry for 15 years. With the income she earns she has been able to send her daughter to university in South Africa. Courtesy: Jeffrey Moyo

Taxi driver Jesca Machingura is one of the few women who has been involved in the industry for 15 years. With the income she earns she has been able to send her daughter to university in South Africa. Courtesy: Jeffrey Moyo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Mavis Gotora from Mabvuku high-density suburb, in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, walks up and down, as she persuades one passer-by after another to board the private taxi cab she drives.

But eight years ago when she first started in this industry things weren’t so easy for her. “I had to fight hard [and was] competing against verbally-abusive male taxi drivers who envied how I easily got clients,” she tells IPS.

“The male taxi drivers who felt challenged by my presence on the streets where we scrounged for clients would call me all sorts of names, at times labelling me a whore. But I remained unbreakable as I fought my way through to live on in the industry,” says Gotora.

Gotora says eight years ago she was unemployed and had no other option except to try taxi driving.

“Most women scramble for jobs as hairdressers and as vendors on street pavements. But hit hard with joblessness, I said let me try taxi driving after I had obtained a driver’s licence in 2005,” explains Gotora.

Now she says her fortunes have turned around.  

“I’m now a proud owner of a housing stand, with my new home at foundation level. I also bought my own car, which is still being shipped from Japan, which I’m going to convert into a taxi and [start my own business],” adds Gotora.

But she is not the only woman who has turned to the transport sector looking for a job.

According to the Female Drivers Association of Harare (FEDAH), an independent organisation of women drivers, there are currently 3,200 women drivers in public transport countrywide, with 22,5 percent of these driving private taxis cabs. 

FEDAH chairperson Lynette Muzondiwa attributed the presence of women in what was formerly a male-dominated job to the harsh economic conditions in this southern African nation.

“For over a decade the Zimbabwean economy has been shrinking, leaving many people including women out of employment and consequently forcing women to turn to any jobs even those dominated by men. That is why today other women have turned to driving taxis,” Muzondiwa tells IPS.

Surveys conducted by FEDAH from 2007 to 2013 shows that the number of female taxi drivers has been steadily rising.

In 2007 and 2008 approximately 110 women nationwide became taxi drivers. Currently there are 720.

Tinashe Murwira, a 30-year-old female taxi driver, says the job offers quick returns to both owners and drivers.

“As taxi drivers, we are obliged to meet a weekly target of 250 dollars, which is submitted to the taxi owner and whatever remains is the driver’s commission and this is unlike the little moneys women vendors make daily on the streets,” Murwira tells IPS.

But she agrees with Gotora that its not always an easy environment for women to work in.

“We have to outdo each other on the streets as private taxi drivers, mostly against our male counterparts begrudging us for being more appealing to customers than them.

“On the other hand some of our unscrupulous clients at times pester us for sexual favours,” Murwira says.

But Murwira said she used to make about 25 dollars a week selling sweets and mobile phone recharge cards. But now her earnings have increased.

“Each week I make about 400 dollars, out of which I take 250 dollars to surrender to my employer, meaning every week I often carry home 150 dollars, adding to 600 dollars in monthly earnings,” says Murwira.

Taxi owners like Nkosana Dlamini from Harare say there are still few women drivers here.

“Women are quite rare in terms of being taxi drivers. In business you have to introduce newness always for a business to survive. The taxi business is a money-spinning venture where you have to entrust your resources on trustworthy characters, and women drivers fit easily into that bracket,” Dlamini tells IPS.

“Women again are not reckless drivers unlike their male counterparts,” he adds, adding that passengers feel safer with women drivers.

Ashley Muzenda, a hairdresser, agrees.

“I feel safer being driven by women taxi drivers than male drivers as women are responsible drivers. Male drivers often drive dangerously, eluding traffic cops while they also use foul language against passengers and often double as criminals,” Muzenda tells IPS.

Meanwhile, in 2013 Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Transport started training young women drivers for employment in the public transport sector.

For Gotora and many other female drivers here, with government behind them, better days may be looming.

“I feel hey-days are approaching, with government backing women’s survival efforts in the driving industry,” Gotora says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at: moyojeffrey@gmail.com

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will Obama’s “New Africa” Deliver on Its Promises?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-obamas-new-africa-deliver-on-its-promises/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:08:08 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135984 President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama takes the stage to deliver remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

As the three-day U.S- Africa Leaders Summit here drew to a close Wednesday, experts across the private, public and non-profit sectors continued to debate the opportunities and obstacles posed by the U.S’ expanding business partnership with Africa.

Speaking Tuesday regarding the 17 billion dollars pledged toward African business development, U.S President Obama declared his determination to be a “good,” “equal” and “long term” partner for Africa’s success.“African leaders are asking for US investment, while Africans are asking for jobs…this disconnect hasn’t completely been dealt with.” -- Gregory Adams

“We cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging,” Obama said Tuesday, announcing new private partnerships, as well as a reaffirmed commitment to improving infrastructure, expanding trade, and providing educational opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

While such business advances most directly benefit actors in the U.S. private sector, non-profits expressed similarly qualified enthusiasm about the summit’s promise of increased economic engagement with Africa.

“What the summit has offered is an opportunity for the United States is to see Africa as a land of opportunity,” Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America, a development organisation here, told IPS.

Adams also said the proceedings have helped move U.S.-African relations more “from patronage to partnership,” and have facilitated “good” and “direct” exchanges between civil society actors and leaders from both the United States and Africa.

But he warned that not all African voices were heard during the three-day proceedings, and that an “important distinction” between the diverse economic interests of Africans has yet to be established.

“African leaders are asking for U.S. investment, while Africans are asking for jobs…this disconnect hasn’t completely been dealt with,” Adams told IPS, noting how “tremendous” economic growth does not necessarily translate to job creation.

More intensive effort to listen

Adding that representatives from Africa’s local and small business have historically been absent from large-scale conversations about U.S-African engagement, Adams explained that “if we’re truly moving from patronage to partnership,… we’re going to need a more intensive effort to listen to variety of African voices…and do more to engage with civil society and local African businesses.”

In a plea to examine just how “demand-driven” the announced investments to Africa are, Adams also called for there to be “follow-through” on such pledges, saying that “all of these commitments are coming fast and furious, so it’s hard to keep track of them and determine what’s real and what’s not.”

Such commitments were premiered within the three-day U.S-Africa Leaders Summit, in which delegations from more than 50 African countries – including more than 40 heads of state – came to Washington to discuss security, trade, infrastructure, and governance with U.S. President Obama and other top U.S. government officials.

Announced last year during U.S President Obama’s visit to Africa, the joint African leaders summit is the first in U.S. history, and has marked a major effort to play catch-up with the EU and China, where governments have previously used summits with Africa as a platform to expand economic partnerships and strengthen diplomatic ties.

While civil society groups participated in the proceedings, the summit’s centrepiece came Tuesday with the U.S-Africa Business Forum, which featured pledges by U.S. government officials, World Bank leaders and CEOs of major U.S. companies – including General Electric, Coca Cola, Walmart, Marriot, and  Mastercard – to provide aid to a variety of sectors in Africa

Special emphasis was given to Obama’s Power Africa programme, which has mobilised 12 billion dollars from both the public and private sector to an initiative that will provide 600 million Africans with a reliable electricity supply.

Ben Leo, director of Rethinking U.S. Development Policy at the Centre for Global Development (CGD), a think tank here, claimed that the Power Africa initiative is a key pre-cursor for business development in the region, explaining how the promise to provide electricity across Africa may even save the otherwise-neglected small businesses.

“If some of these commitments under the Power Africa initiative are effective in addressing both access to power and reliability to power, there will be significant benefits for [Africa’s] small and medium enterprises,” Leo told IPS.

Yet the Atlantic Council, a think tank here, believes that despite the promising nature of Power Africa, the region still lacks adequate infrastructure, and suffers from profound geographic disadvantages.

Most data-driven investors in the world”

In a report released Wednesday, the Atlantic Council cited these two factors, along with the need for more market data and stronger policy implementation, as obstacles plaguing business development in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although these are obstacles that affect everyone, the U.S. is the most frustrated with the lack of data… [because] they are the most data-driven investors in the world,” Diana Layfield, CEO of Africa Operations at Standard Chartered Bank, said at the report’s premiere.

But through harnessing innovation, a virtue that CGD’s Leo dubs as one of “America’s core strengths,” the Atlantic Council is optimistic about the opportunity for increased investment in sub-Saharan Africa.

From using satellite imagery to identify local traffic patterns, to issuing SMS surveys to learn about consumer preferences, private companies have been using technology as means to obtain basic information about consumer behaviour, which, the report says, is otherwise unavailable from public sector sources.

Yet for Oxfam’s Adams, such tech innovations miss a crucial point.

“I think we’re really skipping a step as a country if we’re not looking ahead to 30 years from now and asking if all this investment is a flash in the pan, or if  it’s going to lead to the emergence of  local businesses that will lead to job creation,” Adams told IPS.

Stressing that the U.S. is “incredibly non-transparent” and rarely “tell[s] countries the details of their own aid,” Adams concluded that “there is a lot more that the U.S. government needs to do if it actually wants to support Africa.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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Tech Entrepreneur Encourages Rwanda’s Young Women to Venture into ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tech-entrepreneur-encourages-rwandas-young-women-to-venture-into-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tech-entrepreneur-encourages-rwandas-young-women-to-venture-into-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tech-entrepreneur-encourages-rwandas-young-women-to-venture-into-ict/#comments Thu, 07 Aug 2014 10:13:53 +0000 Aimable Twahirwa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135979 Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation in Rwanda. She is one of the few women in the ICT sector. Credit: Orphelie Thalmas/IPS

Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation in Rwanda. She is one of the few women in the ICT sector. Credit: Orphelie Thalmas/IPS

By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

Akaliza Keza Gara is only 27, but she’s achieved much for women in Rwanda’s technology sector in just a short space of time.

She is the founder and managing director of Shaking Sun, a multimedia business specialising in website development, graphic design and computer animation.

She has a list of accolades to her name, including being one of four Rwandan women entrepreneurs recognised in 2012 for their exceptional efforts in Information Communication Technology (ICT) by the International Telecommunication Union, and being appointed as a member of the 4Afrika advisory council for Microsoft this year."There is currently a growing need to nudge young Rwandan girls into being innovative, especially in the area of technology." -- Nancy Sibo, student

But Gara considers her main achievement as being part of a team of animators who worked on African Tales, the first ever cartoon series produced in Rwanda.

“Seeing my name in the credits [of the cartoon series] was a big moment for me and I am so thankful I had that opportunity,” she tells IPS.

As a university graduate in multimedia technology, Gara is convinced that since women are consumers of ICT, it is important that they are also a part of the developers of technology so they can ensure that there are more diverse products available that appeal to both genders.

However, Gara notes that there are a limited number of Rwandan women in the ICT industry.

“But there is  still hope that newer developments in the field of IT can now [see] women [working] alongside men,” she says.

There are no clear figures about the total number of women in the IT industry here. The blueprint for this Central African nation’s second phase of economic development emphasises transforming itself  from an agrarian to knowledge-based economy in order to achieve middle-income status by 2020.

A 2012 report by the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, praised Rwanda for laying a 2,500-km national fibre optic cable in order to provide broadband internet for all.

Rwanda  has been ranked seventh in Africa and 80th in the global ranking among countries that have embarked on boosting broadband affordability and uptake.

While the country has been developing national action plans on ICT since 2001, it is only recently that the need for women’s participation in the sector has been magnified.

Gara is among a group of young women entrepreneurs here who are promoting an initiative called “Girls In ICT Rwanda”, which was launched last year to encourage more girls and women to embrace the field.

The project provides grants to young women to implement and market their ICT projects. Money is allocated based on the innovation aspect for each project.

Goldon Kalema, a senior technologist in charge of e-government services coordination in the Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and ICT, tells IPS that the initiative aims to promote and encourage the deployment and utilisation of ICTs.

“The skills development area is designated to be among the key five focus areas identified to fuel continued growth, ” he says.

In 2012, a knowledge and technology lab — known more commonly as KLab — was established as the first-ever ICT innovation centre in the country to bring innovators together and give them the resources they need to explore their ideas, learn from each other, and develop innovative technology.

However, young women still remain intimidated by the technology sector because of the stereotype that it was a male-dominated field.

“If women are part of and can make up a huge part of the market for ICT products, they can also enjoy the available opportunities alongside men in the ICT industry from both developer and end-user perspective,” Gara points out.

Gara believes that there is also a need to ensure that young women acquire relevant skills. “Girls In ICT Rwanda” also organises events for female students here, giving them an opportunity to showcase their ICT skills and meet role models.

It has led to the introduction of a wide variety of training courses that are provide free of charge and are intended especially for young women

“This training has been vital in helping a number of beneficiaries acquire new skills, which lead to new and interesting jobs,” Gara says.

Nancy Sibo, a young student in the faculty of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Rwanda, is winner of a contest called Ms. Geek Rwanda.

The competition, which is hosted by “Girls In ICT Rwanda” and is open to female university students who have come up with their own technology innovations, is in its first year.

Sibo developed a mobile application that allows farmers to find out in real time the nearest area where they can get access to veterinary services and artificial insemination.

“There is currently a growing need to nudge young Rwandan girls into being innovative, especially in the area of technology … and promoting the girl effect approach for the sustainable development of the nation,” Sibo tells IPS.

Meanwhile, Gara is doing just that with cartoons.

She is currently in the process of setting up an animation studio to create cartoons and films targeting African children.

“My commitment is to encourage more girls and women to join the ICT sector, but I also get the feeling that by establishing an animation studio this will showcase my innovations to help Rwandan children, by creating characters and settings that they can relate to and stories to entertain and inspire them,” she explains.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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OPINION: Toward an Inclusive TPP Trade Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-toward-an-inclusive-tpp-trade-pact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-toward-an-inclusive-tpp-trade-pact http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-toward-an-inclusive-tpp-trade-pact/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:55:34 +0000 Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135965 By Dr. Harsha Vardhana Singh
NEW YORK, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations have been hitting headlines recently, but not for all the right reasons.

The media provides an incomplete picture of its implications, focusing mainly on its process and pre-occupations of the main parties to the negotiations. These negotiations, including the most recent meetings that took place in Ottawa, Canada, in July 2014, have been criticised by Canadian and international media for being veiled in secrecy.It is important that these negotiations do not create systems which are exclusionary, fragmenting and adversely affecting overall economic opportunities.

There have been, however, leaks and statements which show the broad contours of the ongoing talks covering the large number of subject areas which aim to develop a “21st century” trade and investment regime.

There is little attention, if any, to the adverse market conditions that the TPP will generate, for countries not part of these negotiations; countries which are significantly contributing to the prosperity of those who are negotiating TPP.

The TPP is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated by 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam (contrast this with 160 members of World Trade Organisation).

The TPP nations together account for about one-third of world trade and foreign direct investment. Thus, there is a larger interconnected world outside the coverage of TPP which is economically crucial for all concerned. It is important that these negotiations do not create systems which are exclusionary, fragmenting and adversely affecting overall economic opportunities.

Today’s trade negotiations focus significantly on issues commonly referred to as non-tariff barriers. These include standards which specify requirements for products to be sold in specific markets.

These standards could have a larger general impact, such as environment or social standards, or have product-specific effects such as specifications for cars, electric gadgets, textiles and clothing, fruits, etc. The focus of TPP negotiations suggests that there is a strong possibility for markets and economic opportunities to get fragmented.

That would create major difficulties for all. This can be prevented through specific steps to create inclusive systems, which are essential in our increasingly inter-dependent world.

In the next five to seven years, the rapid growth of middle class in regions outside the TPP and global links between trade and sustainable development could create significant potential conflicts without inclusive systems.

Photo by Jamie Levine

Photo by Jamie Levine

Just recently, I was in Beijing, China for a workshop that discussed the Implications of TPP for China and India in detail. At the event, co-organised by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the China Society for WTO Studies (CWTO), I made two strong recommendations for India, China and even other developing nations: (i) that these countries should upgrade their capacities for policies and meeting evolving standards, so that their access to major markets could continue without significant problems, and (ii) that non-TPP countries should combine forces to push for the development of more inclusive trade systems, and suggest ways of doing so.

However, the main action to develop inclusive systems within TPP has to be from those negotiating the agreement, so as to maintain substantive and effective linkages with the rest of the world.

While some additional countries may join the TPP, whenever concluded, others which may find it more difficult to do so would nonetheless be important parts of a trading system providing opportunities for sustained prosperity for all economies. Restraining their effective participation would mean restraining the positive potential of the system as a whole.

Various countries are in different stages of preparedness with respect to higher standards likely to arise from TPP. In late 2013, South Korea announced its interest in joining in TPP. There is a strong debate in China on whether or not to join TPP.

In Brazil, parts of the private sector seem open to joining this new mega-FTA, while the government appears to be reticent about it. In India, the policy makers have begun a process of upgrading domestic capacities, but it is very unlikely that India would be able to join an agreement such as TPP, for several years.

All African economies are outside the process of any of the mega-FTAs such as TPP. Their state of preparation is in general much less than the larger economies of other continents. In some instances, there is a view that TPP may not be concluded, so why worry about it!

However, progress in TPP negotiations is continuing, though at less than the desired pace of participants. It is expected to pick up in the months ahead.

Recognising the advent of the contours of a new trade regime in large parts of the global markets, China is already moving ahead with policy reform to better equip itself for a world of new trade and investment regulations.

This will help consolidate its existing position as an important hub of global value chains and its desire to move forward in the value chain to produce higher value items with state-of-art technologies. Interestingly, this preparation for a post-TPP world enmeshes well with its next stage of domestic reform.

However, even a relatively advanced developing nation such as China would find it difficult to have market access post-TPP unless the agreement incorporates an inclusive system. This task would be much more difficult for lesser developed nations. The content of standards under TPP is likely to be high, and lead to considerable cost escalation for exports of several developing nations.

In TPP, these would likely reflect standards prevailing in the U.S.; simultaneously with TPP we have the Trans-Atlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between EU and the US which have an important focus on standards. The results of TPP cannot be too different from that of TTIP in this regard.

Studies have shown that impediments to market access by standards are recognised by even exporters from the U.S. and the EU to each other’s market. Similarly, in a recent discussion of Korean emission standards for automobiles, U.S. Ford Motor Company argued that Korea’s standards and related system would raise cost by 7,000 dollars for each Ford Explorer vehicle.

Given that trade and investment play an important role in their growth performance, losing access to TPP and TTIP countries, which together account for about half of world trade, would be highly damaging for India, China or other non-member countries.

Ultimately, the most suitable action that the emerging developing economies (China, India, Brazil and others) can take at this point, would be to pool their collective energies together to press for conditions which ensure that the emerging international trade system works better for all countries, including those not part of the large free trade agreements such as TPP and TTIP.

Such synergies would be useful even for up-gradation of domestic capacities, working together with co-ordinated and cooperative programmes.

Common efforts are crucial for developing inclusive systems because each of these countries on its own will make little impact for changing the evolving regulatory regimes. A more formalised collective response would empower them to press the negotiating nations to develop more inclusive, rather than exclusionary, systems.

Dr. Singh has been with IISD as a senior fellow since October 1, 2013 and provides advice and support to the Institute’s work in China, and on multilateral trading systems.Before joining IISD, Singh served as deputy director-general at the World Trade Organisation from October 2005 to September 2013.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

 

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Asia Looks to Innovation to Achieve Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/asia-looks-to-innovation-to-achieve-sustainability/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 14:46:03 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135956 Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

Asia-Pacific will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity by 2015. Credit: Coralie Tripier/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

Innovation in the fields of renewable energy, food production, water conservation, education and health will be crucial for the developing economies of Asia to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs, which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are slated to expire in 2015, are aimed at fostering economic growth, environmental protection and ending poverty by 2030.

“As economic growth rises in Asia, more concentration is going into value addition and innovation is the principle vehicle for that,” Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Dr. Francis Gurry tells IPS.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) Supplement, released late July, maintains the ADB’s April forecast of 6.2 percent growth in 2014 and 6.4 percent in 2015 for the region’s 45 developing economies.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications." -- Bruno Lanvin, executive director of INSEAD Global Indices
“Clearly, there is a priority to make innovation work for sustainable development in these economies,” Gurry says.

Leading innovation performers in Asia include Japan, South Korea and Singapore, with China rapidly climbing up. Malaysia tops the middle-income countries’ category for innovation performance.

Amongst the other large Asian countries, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have the potential to move up the ladder of innovation, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014.

Co-author of the GII and executive director of INSEAD Global Indices, Bruno Lanvin, says, “It is a good sign that innovation is taking a front seat in the design and hopefully the implementation of the SDGs.

“Many Asian countries have already become surprising contenders, for instance, China has emerged as one of the main innovators in sectors like drones, civil aviation, biotechnology and telecommunications,” he tells IPS.

However, Lanvin warns that in these countries with large populations, “if innovation doesn’t translate into improving the lives of its people, it is failing somehow.”

Given the region’s dichotomies such as rapid urbanisation with large rural agricultural populations and extreme vulnerabilities to climate change with growing resource intensities, experts say that innovation must occur right across the economy, if it is to meet the SDGs.

For instance, slum populations in the developing world mushroomed from 650 million in 1990 to 863 million in 2012. More than half of these slum dwellers reside in Asia.

This situation is set to worsen, with Asia home to 56 percent of the world’s biggest cities, including seven of the top 10 ‘megacities’, defined as urban centres with over 10 million residents.

“Our attention has to be on the ‘bottom of pyramid’ populations, both urban and rural, and innovations in technology and systems design have to cater to that segment,” New Delhi-based Zeenat Niazi,vice president of Development Alternatives Group and co-chair of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), tells IPS.

“The challenges will be to reach to the geographically spread-out populations with informal and inconsistent income streams; and attract the private sector to partner with governments and community groups to invest in sustainable growth,” she added.

The Asian region is today fast becoming the hot bed of innovation on and off the field. Lanvin cites Tata’s Nano car in India as a good example of localised, affordable innovation, which Asia is going to need.

In his opinion, in the next decade the Nano will be regarded a success in terms of adapting manufactured equipment to specific conditions and bringing down the cost of production.

But he says, “If you want to be a successful innovator in the Asian region, you have to be a very large company like Tata or Huawei. If Asian countries could give themselves the means to allow successful small enterprises to bring innovation to the market, we would see a lot of frugal, path breaking innovation, especially in the field of renewable energy.”

Indeed, renewable energy is the Holy Grail in Asia and countries in the region will need to invest significantly in renewable energy technologies to meet the urgency of the climate change challenge – for instance, Asia-Pacific countries absorbed 80 percent of the 366 billion dollars in damages caused by climate change in 2011, and many countries in the region are poised to absorb major food and energy shocks as a result of extreme weather patterns in the coming decade.

A new analysis by the market research company Frost & Sullivan entitled ‘Global Solar Power Markets’ estimates that the world solar photovoltaic (PV) market will be worth 137.02 billion dollars in 2020.

This year, global solar PV demand is dominated by the Asia-Pacific, which will account for approximately 46 percent of annual installed solar PV capacity. China, Japan, India and Australia will continue to be the top four countries driving regional demand.

With panel prices coming down drastically, Asian manufacturers are now looking at value chain integration and technical efficiencies to differentiate their products from other suppliers in the market, the analysis adds.

Increasing scarcity of water will also drive innovation in sustainable irrigation, water filtration and water recycling techniques.

“In Asia and the Pacific, where almost two billion people live on less than 2.50 dollars a day, innovation is essential for identifying solutions to persistent development challenges,” Caitlin Wiesen, manager of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) regional centre in Bangkok, tells IPS.

To help countries achieve development goals, the UNDP has put in place a system for rapid prototyping and testing of potential solutions. Currently, it is testing 16 new ideas across Asia and the Pacific.

One such prototype is being tested in Bhutan. Jigme Dorji, acting head of the Poverty and MDG Unit at UNDP-Bhutan, is working with U.S.-based Emerson College’s Engagement Lab, local techies and youth leaders to generate the content and develop an outreach strategy to maximise youth participation in a game that would engage all the stakeholders in a constructive dialogue about youth unemployment.

“We will evaluate the results of these prototypes and assist countries in turning the successful ones so they can achieve impact at scale,” Wiesen adds.

China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Thailand, are demonstrating rising levels of innovation because of improvements in institutional frameworks, a skilled labour force with expanded tertiary education, better innovation infrastructure, a deeper integration with global credit investment and trade markets, and a sophisticated business community – even though progress on these dimensions is not uniform across their economies, according to the GII report.

Many successful Asians, working as entrepreneurs with major global corporations and universities, are beginning to return to their home countries to nurture the next wave of innovations and create local jobs.

Adam Bumpus, assistant professor of Environment, Innovation and Development at the University of Melbourne, says, “There are a number of initiatives that are directly contributing to SDGs by increasingly linking countries in research and technology development. For example, the University of Melbourne is working on initiatives that link Australia, China, India and the U.S. on innovation and climate change.”

“Secondly, there are opportunities to piggyback sustainable development initiatives by using existing technology in new innovative ways. In the Pacific we have been looking at the role of mobile phones for sustainable development priorities like climate change,” Bumpus tells IPS.

 Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

(END)

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