Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:05:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 U.S.-India Partnership a Step Forward for Low-Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:44:06 +0000 David Waskow and Manish Bapna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138861 President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By David Waskow and Manish Bapna
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

As President Barack Obama visited the country at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation, the two leaders announced a new U.S.-India agreement on clean energy and climate change.With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

The agreement will help turn India’s bold renewable energy targets into reality.

Rather than relying on one major plank, the collaboration is a comprehensive set of actions that, taken together, represent a substantial step in advancing low-carbon development in India while also promoting economic growth and expanding energy access.

This agreement comes just two months after the U.S-China climate agreement.

While expectations for the two agreements were quite different — India’s per capita emissions are a fraction of those from China and the United States, and India is in a very different phase of economic development— Modi’s commitments are significant steps that will help build even further momentum for a new international climate agreement.

Prime Minister Modi’s new government has made a significant commitment to sustainable growth in the past several months, setting a goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2022 and considering a new target of 60 GW in wind energy capacity.

The Indian government has also created a new initiative to develop 100 “smart cities” across the country, aimed at building more sustainable, livable urban areas.

The U.S.-India collaboration takes a multi-pronged approach to turn these promising pledges into concrete results. For example:

Setting a renewable energy goal

Building on India’s 100 GW solar capacity goal, Modi announced India’s intention to increase the overall share of renewable energy in the nation’s electricity supply.

Setting a percentage of overall energy consumption that will come from renewables can not only help India reduce emissions, it can also play a key role in expanding energy access.

Roughly 300 million Indians—nearly 25 percent of the country’s population—lack access to electricity.

Solar power—which is already cheaper than diesel in some parts of the country and may soon be as cheap as conventional energy—can put affordable, clean power within reach.

Accelerating clean energy finance

Given that the entire world’s installed solar capacity in 2013 was 140 GW, India’s plan to reach 100 GW by 2022 is nothing short of ambitious.

The Modi government estimates that scaling up its 2022 solar target from 20 GW to 100 GW will save 165 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent emissions of about 23 million American households’ annual electricity use.

The U.S.-India announcement reveals a clear commitment from both countries to stimulate the public and private investment needed to achieve this bold target.

Improving air quality

Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution, India houses 13 of them.

The cost of premature deaths from air pollution in the country is already 6 percent of GDP, and it’s poised to worsen as the urban population increases from 380 million to 600 million over the next 15 years.

The U.S.-India plan to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AIR Now-International Program can help cut back on harmful urban air pollution, improve human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modi’s plan to establish 100 “smart cities” can support this initiative by designing compact and connected rather than sprawled urban areas, which are associated with a heavy transportation-related emissions footprint.

Boosting climate resilience

India is already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change: rising sea level threatens 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half of its 28 states.

The U.S.-India deal builds on both countries’ previous commitment to climate adaptation, outlining a plan to better assess risks, build capacity and engage local communities.

With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

This action is not only important for reducing emissions in the three nations, but also for building momentum internationally. Obama and Modi have created a direct line of communication, a relationship that will be important for securing a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

Prime Minister Modi made it clear that he sees it as incumbent on all countries to take action on climate change.

Rather than being motivated by international pressure, he said what counts is “the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure… We understand this pressure and we are responding to it.”

Modi is tasked with confronting not just global warming, but a number of immediate threats—alleviating poverty, improving air quality, expanding electricity access and enhancing agricultural productivity, just to name a few.

Many of the actions under the U.S.-India agreement will not only reduce emissions, but will also help address these development challenges.

With the new agreement, India is positioning itself as a global leader on pairing climate action with economic development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:20:34 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138850

In this column, Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, argues that the United States and the European Union are working hand in hand in a takeover of Ukrainian agriculture which – besides being a sign of Western governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict – is of dubious benefit for the country’s agriculture and farmers.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received 350 million dollars in U.S. military aid, coming on top of a one billion dollar aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in March 2014. 

Western governments’ further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a U.S.-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the U.S. government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country.

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports – The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture and Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict – the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector.

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych’s removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union (EU) Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the
EU – an agreement that was tied to a 17 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the president’s departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform programme that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country.“The manoeuvring for control over the country’s [Ukraine’s] agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War”

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the “structural roots” of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country.

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government’s readiness to follow their advice.

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties.

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector – the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat – could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land – the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union.

The manoeuvring for control over the country’s agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years.

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilisers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country.

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested 140 million dollars in building a new seed plant in Ukraine.

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country.

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping.

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a “25% +1 share” in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tons of grain per year. 

All aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain – from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country – are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms.

European institutions and the U.S. government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a “pro-business” reform agenda, as described by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014.

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies” within the country.

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto.

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians.

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers.

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern “pro-Russian” part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country’s ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit.

As for U.S. and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Aboriginal Businesses Stimulate Positive Change in Australiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aboriginal-businesses-stimulate-positive-change-in-australia/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 07:51:12 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138815 Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, had to wait 20 years for his dream of being part of a native-owned sustainable ecotourism venture to become a reality. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
MOSSMAN, Queensland, Australia, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Roy Roger Gibson, an indigenous Kuku Yalanji elder, would watch thousands of tourists and vehicles trampling his pristine land while working on the sugarcane fields in Far North Queensland. His people were suffering and their culture was being eroded. The native wildlife was disappearing. He dreamt of turning this around.

It took 20 years to bring his vision to fruition, but today the Mossman Gorge Centre is a successful indigenous ecotourism business in the world heritage-listed Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people.
With more people travelling the world and seeking authentic experiences, tourism has acted as a catalyst for preserving indigenous culture, providing employment, education and training opportunities and protecting the environment – especially in remote locations such as the Mossman Gorge, the ancestral home of the Kuku Yalanji people in the southern tip of the Daintree National Park.

Roy and the Mossman Gorge Aboriginal Community worked in collaboration with the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), to build the Centre, which has a 90-percent indigenous workforce – 61 employees and 21 trainees.

Roberta Stanley, 18, who joined the Centre as a trainee along with her twin sibling, says, “Every morning, when I step out of home in my work uniform, I can’t stop smiling. It has helped me reconnect with our history, legends, languages, music and the arts. I feel a sense of immense pride and have the confidence to pursue my dream of becoming an artist and dancer.”

This was something young people like her couldn’t do before the Centre began providing accredited skills training in tourism, hospitality, retail and administration. Both her parents also work at the Centre. With four members of the Stanley family employed, it has made life easier.

In 2011, an estimated 207,600 indigenous people were in the labour force. About two in five (42 percent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over were employed, compared with about three in five non-indigenous people (61 percent).

With limited employment opportunities, pursuing their dreams is not something every native Australian is free to do.

Pamela Salt, 41, used to be a cleaner and paint in colours representing the rainforest and sea during her spare time. Since she began working at the Mossman Gorge Centre, she feels a sense of ownership with the place.

“Physically, mentally and emotionally, it has given our people the confidence that we can do it. One of my daughters is also employed here,” Pamela told IPS. A self-taught artist with no formal training, today her work is on display in the Centre’s gallery and bought by national and international visitors.

Since July last year, 250,000 tourists, 40 percent of them international, have visited the Centre. As Mossman Gorge Centre’s General Manager Greg Erwin told IPS, “Indigenous tourism is gaining momentum. It will add a cultural depth to the experiences that visitors have in any destination. The Kuku Yalanji people, like other Aboriginal communities, have been nurturing and looking after the environment for thousands of years. It is their supermarket and their pharmacy.”

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Eighteen-year-old Roberta Stanley joined the Mossman Gorge Centre as a trainee. Now she, along with four other members of her family, works there full time. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

In the next 10 to 15 years, the business will be totally owned by the aboriginal people of the Gorge – a long way from the ‘Stolen Generation’: the tens of thousands of children who were forcibly removed from their families between 1900 and 1970 under Australian government assimilation policies to “breed out” their Aborigine blood and supposedly give them a better life.

Roy, 58, who also belongs to the ‘Stolen Generation’, doesn’t want his people to ever experience that psychological trauma again.

“This Centre is a role model for our younger generation dreaming of a better life.” He, along with other indigenous guides, takes visitors on “dreamtime walks” highlighting the nuances of the world’s oldest rainforest, relating stories spun around creation, food sources, flora and fauna, the caves and Manjal Dimbi (Mt. Demi), a mountain with spiritual significance for the indigenous people.

“Now we are able to protect our ecosystem and at the same time provide visitors an insight into the lives, culture and beliefs of the Kuku Yalanji people and their connection to the natural environment. Our emphasis is on sustainability,” Roy told IPS.

Stimulating positive change

Sustainable indigenous businesses like the Mossman Gorge Centre are not only helping protect and preserve the ecosystem, but lifting out of poverty some of the most disadvantaged communities that suffer from alcohol abuse, domestic violence, chronic diseases, unemployment and high suicide rates.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australians; about half of the young people in juvenile detention are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Meanwhile, indigenous women are hospitalised for family violence-related assaults at 31 times the rate of non-indigenous women, according to the 2014 Social Justice and Native Title Report.

Indigenous people are three times less likely to own and run their own business than non-indigenous people. The remoteness of places where many indigenous people reside plays a large part in this.

Still, Tourism Research Australia’s 2014 figures show 14 percent of international visitors enjoy an indigenous experience and these visitors spent 5.2 billion dollars in Australia, highlighting a huge demand for authentic experiences in out-of-the-way locations.

ILC subsidiary, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, offers unique experiences in iconic locations around Australia. Besides the Mossman Gorge Centre, it manages the Ayers Rock Resort and Longitude 131° in the Northern Territory, Home Valley Station in The Kimberley in Western Australia.

While the ILC is focused on acquiring land and assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders manage that land to provide sustainable benefits, Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) is a commercially focused organisation providing sustainable economic development opportunities for indigenous Australians.

As IBA’s CEO Chris Fry said, “Our Business Development and Assistance Programme (BDAP) assists indigenous entrepreneurs to start and grow their own enterprises, and indigenous-owned businesses to be strong employers of indigenous peoples.”

Jo Donovan, a beneficiary of the programme, turned her hobby into a business after attending IBA’s BDAP. She formed Bandu Catering with her son Aaron Devine and daughter Jessica, both chefs. Bandu (‘food’ in the Dhanggati language) provides quality food, blending native ingredients and flavours with innovative, contemporary Australian cuisine.

The BDAP, which has partnered with the banking sector, has provided over 90 loans valued at 55 million dollars during the last financial year.

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners currently hold more than 68 million dollars in equity across a range of commercial businesses and assets through IBA’s Equity and Investment Programme and the IBA purchased over 2.4 million dollars [of] goods and services from approximately 30 indigenous businesses,” Fry told IPS.

IBA also has a scholarship programme for mature-age, full-time indigenous students to complete tertiary qualifications in business, financial, commercial or economic management disciplines.

As the international community prepares for a new era of development, one that puts sustainability at the heart of poverty-eradication, initiatives like these can provide a blueprint for inclusive and equal growth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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After Nine Years of Foot-Dragging, U.N. Ready for Talks on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 16:43:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138808 Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

After four days of intense negotiations – preceded by nine years of dilly-dallying – the United Nations has agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The final decision was taken in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the United Nations was fast asleep.

The open-ended Ad Hoc informal Working Group, which negotiated the deal, has been dragging its collective feet since it was initially convened back in 2006.

The High Seas Alliance, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty.

Karen Sack, senior director of international oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the coalition, told IPS a Preparatory Committee (Prep Com), comprising of all 193 member states, will start next year.

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

“As part of reaching consensus, however, there was no deadline set for finalising the treaty,” she said.

Asked if negotiations on the treaty would be difficult, she said, “Negotiations are always tough but a lot of discussion has happened over almost a decade on the issues under consideration and there are definitely certain issues where swift progress could be made.”

The Prep Com will report to the General Assembly with substantive recommendations in 2017 on convening an intergovernmental conference for the purpose of elaborating an internationally legally binding instrument.

The four-day discussions faced initial resistance from several countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, and to some extent Iceland, according to one of the participants at the meeting.

But eventually they joined the large majority of states in favour of the development of a high seas agreement.

Still they resisted the adoption of a time-bound negotiating process, and “setting a start and end date was for them a step too far,” he added.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS: “Regarding the United States in particular, we are very pleased to see them finally show flexibility and hope that moving forward they find a way to support a more ambitious timeline.”

In a statement released Saturday, the High Seas Alliance said progress came despite pressure from a small group of governments that questioned the need for a new legal framework.

“That minority blocked agreement on a faster timeline reflecting the clear scientific imperative for action, but all countries agreed on the need to act,” it added.

The members of the High Seas Alliance applauded the decision to move forward.

Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defence Council said many states have shown great efforts to protect the half of the planet that is the high seas.

“We know that these states will continue to champion the urgent need for more protection in the process before us,” she added.

Daniela Diz of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Saturday’s decision was a decisive step forward for ocean conservation. “We can now look to a future in which we bring conservation for the benefit of all humankind to these vital global commons.”

Mission Blue‘s Dr Sylvia Earle said, “Armed with new knowledge, we are taking our first steps to safeguard the high seas and keep the world safe for our children.”

The outcome of the meeting will now have to be approved by the General Assembly by September 2015, which is considered a formality.

The high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the Alliance.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas ‑ and therefore the entire global ocean ‑ from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Greece Gives EU the Chance to Rediscover Its Social Responsibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Marianna Fotaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138804 Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

By Marianna Fotaki
COVENTRY, England, Jan 24 2015 (IPS)

The European Union should not be afraid of the leftist opposition party Syriza winning the Greek election, but see it as a chance to rediscover its founding principle – the social dimension that created it and without which it cannot survive.

Greece’s entire economy accounts for three per cent of the euro zone’s output but its national debt totals €360 billion or 175 per cent of the country’s GDP and poses a continuous threat to its survival.

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

While the crippling debt cannot realistically be paid back in full, the troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF insist that the drastic cuts in public spending must continue.

But if Syriza is successful – as the polls suggest – it promises to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and ask for substantial debt forgiveness, which could change the terms of the debate about the future of the European project.

It would also mean the important, but as yet, unaddressed question of who should bear the costs and risks of the monetary union within and between the euro zone countries is likely to become the centrepiece of such negotiations.

The immense social cost of the austerity policies demanded by the troika has put in question the political and social objectives of an ‘ever closer union’ proclaimed in the EU founding documents.The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

Formally established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries tied closely the economies of erstwhile foes, rendering the possibility of another disastrous war unaffordable. Yet the ultimate goal of integration was to bring about ‘the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of their peoples’.

The European project has been exceptionally successful in achieving peaceful collaboration and prosperity by progressively extending these stated benefits to an increasing number of member countries, with the EU now being the world’s largest economy.

Since the economic crisis of 2007, however, GDP per capita and gross disposable household incomes have declined across the EU and have not yet returned to their pre-crisis levels in many countries. Unemployment is at record high levels, with Greece and Spain topping the numbers of long-term unemployed youth.

There are also deep inequalities within the euro zone. Strong economies that are major exporters have benefitted from free trade and the fixed exchange rate mechanism protecting their goods from price fluctuations, but the euro has hurt the least competitive economies by depriving them of a currency flexibility that could have been used to respond to the crisis.

Without substantial transfers between weaker and stronger economies, which accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the EU’s budget at present, there is no effective mechanism for risk sharing among the member states and for addressing the consequences of the crisis in the euro zone.

But the EU was founded on the premise of solidarity and not as a free trade zone only. Economic growth was regarded as a means for achieving desirable political and social goals through the process of painstaking institution building.

With 500 million citizens and a combined GDP of €12.9 trillion in 2012 shared among its 27 members the EU is better placed than ever to live up to its founding principles. The member states that benefitted from the common currency should lead in offering meaningful support rather than decimating their weaker members in a time of crisis by forcing austerity measures upon them.

This is not denying the responsibility for reckless borrowing resting with the successive Greek governments and their supporters. However, the logic of a collective punishment of the most vulnerable groups of the population must be rejected.

The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

With youth unemployment above 50 per cent, many well-educated people have left the country. There is no access to free health care and the weak social safety net from before the crisis has all but disappeared. The dramatic welfare retrenchment combined with unemployment has led to austerity induced suicides and people searching for food in garbage cans in cities.

A continued commitment to the policies that have produced such outcomes in the name of increasing the EU’s competitiveness challenges the terms of the European Union’s founding principles. The creditors often rationalise this using a rhetoric that assumes tax-evading unproductive Greeks brought this predicament upon themselves – they are seen as the undeserving members of the euro zone.

Such reasoning creates an unhealthy political climate that gives rise to extremist nationalist movements in the EU such as the Greek criminal Golden Dawn party, which gained almost 10 per cent of votes in the last European Parliament elections.

Explaining the euro zone debt crisis as a morality tale is both deleterious and untrue. The problematic nature of such moralistic logic must be challenged: one cannot easily justify on ethical grounds forcing the working poor to bail out a banking system from which many wealthy people benefit, or transferring the consequences of reckless lending by commercial outlets to the public.

Nor can one explain the acquiescence of creditors to the machinations of the nepotistic self-serving corrupt elites dominating the state over the last 40 years that got Greece into the euro zone on false data and continue to rule it. As I have argued, the bailout money was given to the very people who are largely responsible for the crisis, while the general population of Greece is being made to suffer.

Greece’s voters are determined to stop the ruling classes from continuing their nefarious policies that have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, but in the coming elections their real concern will be opposing the sacrifice of the futures of an entire generation.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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The Bahamas’ New Motto: “Sand, Surf and Solar”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:42:41 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138764 The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
ABU DHABI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to tourism in the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), The Bahamas — 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off Florida — is a heavyweight.

With a gross domestic product of eight billion dollars, the Bahamian economy is almost twice the size of Barbados, another of CARICOM’s leading tourism destinations."Reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us." -- Environment Minister Kenred M.A. Dorsett

Visitors are invited to “imagine a world where you can’t tell where dreams begin and reality ends.”

However, in the country’s Ministry of the Environment, officials have woken up to a reality that could seriously undermine the gains made in tourism and elsewhere: renewable energy development.

In 2014, in a clear indication of its intention to address its poor renewable energy situation, The Bahamas joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental organisation supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. IRENA also serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

The Bahamas has also advanced its first energy policy, launched in 2013, and has committed to ramping up to a minimum of 30 per cent by 2033 the amount of energy it generates from renewable sources.

“Currently, we are debating in Parliament an amendment to the Electricity Act to make provision for grid tie connection, therefore making net metering a reality using solar and wind technology,” Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred M.A. Dorsett told IPS on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

ADSW is a global forum that unites thought leaders, policy makers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development. The week includes IRENA’s Fifth Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit, and the International Water Summit.

But Dorsett was especially interested in the IRENA assembly, which took place on Jan. 17 and 18.

At the assembly, ministers and senior officials from more than 150 countries met to discuss what IRENA has described as the urgent need and increased business case for rapid renewable energy expansion.

Dorsett came to Abu Dhabi with a rather short shopping list for both his country and the CARICOM region, and says he did not leave empty-handed.

“Our involvement in IRENA is important because the world over is concerned with standardisation of technology to ensure that our citizens are not taken advantage of in terms of the technology we import as we advance the renewable energy sector,” he told IPS.

“We certainly were able to engage IRENA in discussions with respect to what the Bahamas is doing, and our next steps and they have indicated to us that they will be able to assist us on the issue of standardisation,” Dorsett tells IPS.

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says IRENA has developed a programme that looks at practical consideration for the implementation or ramping up of renewable energy, including assistance in developing regulations for ensuring that standards are maintained.

“So, I think from our perspective, it is clear to us that IRENA would be prepared to assist us on that particular issue, and I think that generally speaking, what I certainly found was that the meeting was very innovative, particularly in light of the fact that there was a lot of technical support for countries looking to implement or deploy renewable energy technologies,” he said of Bahamas-IRENA talks on the sidelines of the assembly.

Dorsett also wanted IRENA to devote some special attention to CARICOM, a group of 15 nations, mostly Caribbean islands, in addition to Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

At a side event — “Renewables in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” — ahead of the Assembly, there was no distinction between Caribbean and Latin American nations.

“… I think that’s very, very important for us as region, as we move to ensure that CARICOM itself is a region of focus for IRENA, that we are not consumed in the entire Latin America region and there is sufficient focus on us,” he told IPS ahead of the assembly.

Dorsett is now convinced that CARICOM positions will be represented as Trinidad and Tobago, another CARICOM member, and the Bahamas, have been elected to serve on IRENA Council in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

“We do know that deployment of renewable energy in our region is important, we are small island development states, we live in [low-lying areas] and sea level rise is a major issue for us in the Caribbean region.

“Therefore, reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, Director-General of IRENA, Adnan Amin, said that his agency is “trying to develop a new type of institution for a new time”.

“We know that the islands’ challenges are very particular. We have developed a lot of expertise in doing that, and we know in a general sense the challenge they face is quite different from mainland Latin America,” Amin told IPS. “So we see them as logically separate entities in what kinds of strategies we will have.”

He says IRENA has been working in the Pacific islands — early members of the agency — and is moving into the Caribbean.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

IRENA is already working in the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica, and this year agreed to lend St. Vincent and the Grenadines 15 million dollars to help fund its 10-15 megawatt geothermal power plant, expected to come on stream by 2018.

Dorsett is also pleased that at the assembly the Bahamian delegation was able to get a briefing on the advances of technology that stores electricity generated from renewable sources.

“That also can prove to be very important for us as many Caribbean counties are faced with addressing the issue of grid stability,” he told IPS, adding that the ability to have storage that is “appropriately priced and that works efficiently” can help the Bahamas to exceed the average of 20 to 40 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by many countries.

The Bahamas woke up to the realities of its poor renewable energy situation in 2013 when Guilden Gilbert, head the country’s Renewable Energy Association, decried the nation for not doing enough to advance renewable energy generation.

The call came after the release of a report by Castalia-CREF Renewable Energy Islands Index for the Caribbean, which ranked the Bahamas 26 out of 27 countries in the region for its progress and prospects in relation to renewable energy investments.

The 2012 edition of the same report had ranked The Bahamas 21 out of the 22 countries on the list.

In the two years leading up to the announcement of the “National Energy Policy & Grid Tie In Framework”, The Bahamas established an Energy Task Force responsible for advising on solutions to reducing the high cost of electricity in the country.

The government also eliminated tariffs on inverters for solar panels and LED appliances to ensure that more citizens would be able to afford these energy saving devices.

The government also advanced two pilot projects to collect data on renewable energy technologies. The first project provided for the installation of solar water heaters and the second project for the installation of photovoltaic systems in Bahamian homes.

Dorsett tells IPS that he thinks that it is “incredibly important” that CARICOM focuses on renewable energy generation.

“I think CARICOM, as a region, has to look at renewable energy sources to build a sustainable energy future for our region as well as to ensure that we build resilience as we address the issues of climate change,” he tells IPS.

However, in some CARICOM nations, there is a major hurdle that policy makers, such as Dorsett, will have to overcome before the bloc realises its full renewable energy potential.

“There are very special challenges in the Caribbean. For example, many of the utilities are foreign-owned and they negotiated 75-year-long, cast-iron guarantees on their existence,” Amin tells IPS.

“They were making money off diesel. They have no incentive to move to renewables, but we are moving ahead,” the IRENA chief says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

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OPINION-CUBA/US: Catching a Glimpse of the Possible Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:14:18 +0000 Leonardo Padura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138755 Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

By Leonardo Padura
HAVANA, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

All Cubans, on either side of the Florida Straits, but in places like Spain, France or Greenland – where there must be a couple of Cubans – as well felt it was a historic moment that included each and every one of us, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 the normalisation of relations after half a century of hostility.

Those of us who are in Cuba felt that way precisely because we live here; and those who live abroad felt it because of the various motives that prompted them, at different times and for a range of reasons, to move away and rewrite their lives.

The great majority met the news with joy and hope; a smaller percentage felt a sensation of defeat and even betrayal; and another small group perhaps felt little about what the decision might mean for their futures.

But what is indisputable is that each one of us was shocked by the announcement, which some media outlets even dubbed “the news of the year” – extraordinary, really (even if you consider it an exaggeration), given that we’re just talking about the normalisation of ties between the United States and a small Caribbean island nation that is not even decisive in the economy of the region and supposedly does not influence the world’s big political developments.

But for years Cuba’s small size, in terms of both its geography and economy, has been far out of proportion to its international stature and influence, and the “news of the year” really was (or may have been) such due to several reasons, besides the emotional ones that affected us Cubans.We Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

This was because of its symbolic nature as a major step towards détente and as a final stop to the long-drawn-out epilogue to the Cold War, as acknowledgement of a political error sustained by the United States for far too long, because of its weight in inter-American relations, and because of its humanistic character thanks to the fact that the first concrete measure was a prisoners swap, which is always a moving, humanitarian move.

And it also was so because in a world where bad news abounds, the fact that two countries that were at a political standoff for over half a century decided to overcome their differences and opt for dialogue is somewhat comforting.

Three weeks later, the machinery that will put that new relationship in motion has begun to move. On the eve of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana to start high-level “face-to-face” talks with the Cuban government, President Obama announced the introduction of his government’s first measures towards change.

The policies will make it easier for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba, expand the remittances people can send to Cuba, open up banking relations, increase bilateral trade in different areas, and help strengthen civil society by different means, including improved information and communications and economic support for entrepreneurs.

Cuba, meanwhile, released prisoners with regard to whom Washington had expressed concern.

The measures recently implemented by Obama could be extremely significant for Cuba. Above all because they have punched holes in the straitjacket of the half-century embargo and have practically made its removal a question of time, and since they eliminate many of the fears that investors from other countries had with regard to possibly investing here.

Cuba, in the meantime, is waiting to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on for years.

And on both sides of the Straits, Cubans have an understandable sense of uncertainty about the future of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guaranteed U.S. residency to any Cuban who set foot on U.S. soil – an issue that will surely be discussed during Jacobson’s visit.

But while the political agreements are moving along at a surprising pace, we Cubans insist on asking ourselves how this new situation created since Dec. 17 will play out on the island.

Because while Obama’s intention is to bring about a change in policy that will lead to a transformation of the system in Cuba, at the same time there are decisions that the Cuban government will be adopting internally to take advantage of the useful aspects of the new relationship and eliminate potential dangers.

The possible massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuba could be the first visible effect.

Today the island receives three million visitors a year. That number could double with the new regulations announced by Obama. Everyone is asking themselves whether the country is prepared for this – and the answers are not overly encouraging in general.

After a lengthy crisis triggered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies, and the stiffening of the U.S. embargo with the Torricelli Act [of 1992] and the Helms-Burton Act [of 1996, which included extra-territorial effects], Cuba today is a country with serious problems of infrastructure in communications, roads, transportation, buildings and other areas.

The lack of resources to make the necessary investments also affects the purchase of products that the presumed visitors would demand and will create difficulties for domestic consumption, where there are already problems of high prices and occasional shortages.

Perhaps the first to benefit from the massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuban shores will be the small businesses that offer accommodation (and the thousands of other people connected to them).

Currently in a city like Havana there aren’t enough rooms in the hotels (which belong to the state or are joint ventures with foreign companies), let alone quality service in the state-owned restaurants that would make them competitive.

That means a significant part of the money that will circulate will pass through the hands of those involved in private enterprise (the so-called “cuentapropistas” or self-employed) – a sector that even though they must pay high taxes to the state and extremely high prices for inputs purchased in the retail market (because the wholesale market that they are demanding does not yet exist), will make major profits in the scenario that will take shape in the near future.

And this phenomenon will contribute to further stretching the less and less homogeneous social fabric of this Caribbean island nation.

Another of the major expectations in Cuba is for the chance to travel to the United States because, even though this has become much more of a possibility in recent years, obtaining a visa is still a major hurdle.

And there are new questions among those who hoped to settle down in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and who now have the added possibility of not losing their citizenship rights on the island under the protection of the migration laws approved two years ago by the government of Raúl Castro, which eliminated the rule that if a Cuban stayed overseas for a certain amount of time, their departure was automatically seen as permanent, and they lost their rights and assets on the island.

And then there is the less tangible but no less real aspect of discourse and rhetoric. Half a century of hostility on many planes, including verbal, should begin to wane in the light of the new circumstances.

The “imperialist enemy” and “communist menace” are sitting down at the same table to seek negotiated solutions, and the language will have to adapt to that new reality to achieve the necessary comprehension and the hoped-for political accords.

In the meantime, we Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

For that reason many of us – I include myself – have felt since Dec. 17 something similar to waking up from a nightmare from which almost none of us believed we could escape. And with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.

Edited and translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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From Bullets to Ballots: The Face of Sri Lanka’s Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:17:06 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138736 Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka , Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

In four months’ time, Sri Lanka will mark the sixth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil conflict. Ever since government armed forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009, the country has savored peace after a generation of war.

Suffocating security measures have given way to a sense of normalcy in most parts of the country, while steady growth has replaced patchy economic progress – averaging above six percent since 2009.

But these changes have largely eluded the area where the war was at its worst: the Vanni, a vast swath of land in the Northern Province that the LTTE ruled as a de facto state, together with the Jaffna Peninsular, for over a quarter of a century.

Home to over a million people, one-fourth of whom are war returnees, the Vanni has been in the doldrums since ballots replaced bullets.

“Peace should mean prosperity, but that is what we don’t have. What we have is a struggle to survive from one day to another,” Kajitha Shanmugadasan, an 18-year-old girl from the northern town of Pooneryn, told IPS.

She said youth her age were frustrated that multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects have failed to deliver decent jobs. “Look around, we have new highways, new railway lines, but no jobs, for five years people have been suffering, and it should not be [so] when there is peace,” she asserted.

Youth from the Northern Province have historically performed well at national exams, even during conflict times. That trend has held true: at the 2013 university entrance exam, 63.8 percent of those who sat their papers gained the scores required to enter the country’s top universities, a national high.

But with unemployment also at record levels here, and hardly any jobs for university graduates, those like Shanmugadasan are either staying out of universities or leaving the province in search of better prospects.

A new government, the result of presidential elections just a week into the New Year, and the Papal visit to the heart of the former battle zone on Jan. 14, have given rise to new hopes in the Vanni that life will improve for the ordinary people, who suffered during the war and have had little respite since the guns fell silent.

The 72-percent voter turnout in the Northern Province at the Jan. 8 presidential poll – an all-time high for the region – is a reminder to the new regime how desperate the people here are for real change.

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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CORRECTION/Sustainable Energy Starts With the Sunhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 16:38:24 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138722 Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
BARODA, India, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

It began with an experiment to install photovoltaic cells over an irrigation canal that forms part of the Sardar Sarovar canal network – a massive hydel power project across the River Narmada that irrigates some 1.8 million hectares of arable land in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

After a successful pilot project, the Government of Gujarat has now invested some 18.3 million dollars replicating the scheme over a 3.6-km stretch of the irrigation canal in the hopes of generating 10 MW of power.

The project received endorsement from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 11, as it represents global efforts to move towards a new poverty-eradication framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of this year, putting sustainability at the heart of the global development agenda.

Given that no extra land had to be acquired for installation of the solar power panels, its uniqueness was lauded by the U.N. secretary-general.

“Looking out at the plant, I saw more than glittering panels—I saw the future of India and the future of our world,” Ban said, addressing the media at the site on Jan. 11.

With some 21,600 solar panels running over a length of the Vadodara branch of the canal, experts say the installation could generate power to the tune of 16.2 million units per annum, since the canal runs right over the Tropic of Cancer and receives bright sunlight for eight months out of the year.

Sceptics worry that without planning, the surplus power could be siphoned off by commercial enterprises unless there are concerted efforts to combine the sustainable energy initiative with poverty eradication.

All across India, stakeholders are taking stock of progress on the MDGs, keeping their eyes on the new era of sustainable development. Many gaps remain in the country’s efforts to improve the lives of millions, with water scarcity, lack of sanitation, and sprawling slums pointing to a need for better management of India’s human, economic and natural resources.

A view of the transformer, which transmits solar power generated at the canal-top solar power plant. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of the transformer, which transmits solar power generated at the canal-top solar power plant. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Such are the typical scenes in every slum area in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Such are the typical scenes in every slum area in India. Experts are hopeful that the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will succeed where the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Traditional systems of water harvesting and conservation have gained new-found respect in the era of sustainable development. Here, a woman uses her ox to churn a water mill in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Traditional systems of water harvesting and conservation have gained new-found respect in the era of sustainable development. Here, a woman uses her ox to churn a water mill in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Indigenous people, like this Soliga woman, all across India are in urgent need of far-reaching sustainable development plans that will improve the lives and habitats of forest-dwellers. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Indigenous people, like this Soliga woman, all across India are in urgent need of far-reaching sustainable development plans that will improve the lives and livelihoods of forest-dwellers. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A water crisis continues to plague both urban and rural areas across India. A solar power project recently inaugurated by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon promises to improve water and sanitation access for communities in the western state of Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A water crisis continues to plague both urban and rural areas across India. As the U.N. gears up to implement a new sustainable development agenda, hopes are running high that gaps in the MDGs will now be filled. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of a polluted stream in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, points to an urgent need for better planning and management of the country’s scarce water sources. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of a polluted stream in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, points to an urgent need for better planning and management of the country’s scarce water sources. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: A New Era of Hemispheric Cooperation Is Possiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 18:34:54 +0000 Luis Almagro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138705 Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Luis Almagro
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

Two decades after the first Summit of the Americas, a lot has changed in the continent and it has been for the good. Today, a renewed hemispheric dialogue without exclusions is possible.

Back in the mid-1990s, at the time of the Miami summit, it was the time of imported consensus, models of economic and social development exclusively based on the market and its supposed perfect allocation of resources through the invisible hand.Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

Hidden under a development rationale, the greatest wave of privatisation and deregulation took over the continent. The role of the state was reduced to be a facilitator of a process based on the principle of survival of the fittest. Solidarity, equity and justice were all values from the past and poverty a necessary collateral damage.

However, these values were in the top of the minds of the people of the hemisphere, who turned their backs to these policies and instead during the past 15 years, have forcefully supported the alternatives that combine economic growth with social inclusion, broadening opportunities for all citizens.

Economic growth went hand in hand with social inclusion, adding millions to the middle class – which today accounts for 34 percent of Latin Americans – surpassing the number of poor for the first time in the history.

If this was possible it was because governments added to the invisible hand of the market, the very visible hand of the state.

And this took place within the context of the worst post war global financial crisis that led to an unprecedented recession in the United States and Europe, which the latter still strives to leave behind.

Growth with social equity turned out to be the new regional consensus.

Today, this binds the region together.

Today, conditions are present to set up a more realistic cooperation in the Americas, where all members could partner in equal conditions, from the most powerful to the smallest islands in the Caribbean.

Today, nobody holds the monopoly over what works or does not; neither can anybody impose models because the established truths have crashed against reality. While in the 1990s social exclusion in domestic policies and voice exclusion at the international level were two sides of the same token, this in not any longer acceptable.

Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

To the existing bodies, the region has added in this past decade the dynamic UNASUR in South America and CELAC in the Americas, thus leaving the OAS as the only place for dialogue among all countries of the Americas, whether large, medium, small, powerful or vulnerable.

But, governmental or inter-governmental actors by themselves are not the only answer to the problems of today´s world. Non-state actors of the non-governmental world, the private sector, trade unions and social organisations must be part of the process.

Leaders need to interpret the time in order to generate an agenda for progress, but progress that is tangible for people, for citizens, to whom we are accountable to.

Therefore, in a more uncertain international economic environment, we should focus on maintaining and expanding our social achievements and a new spirit of cooperation in the Americas can be instrumental for that.

The Summit of the Americas in Panama, in April 2015, may be the beginning of this new process of confidence building, where all countries can feel they can benefit from a cooperative agenda. This will be a historical moment because this time there will be no exclusions.

The recent good news on the diplomatic front related to the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and the participation of Cuba in the Summit represent an additional positive signal. Panama deserves the support of the entire region before and during the Summit.

This will be a great opportunity to strengthen democratic values, the defence of human rights, institutional transparency and individual freedoms together with a practical agenda for cooperation for shared prosperity in the Americas.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Aid Freeze Over Energy Controversy a Blow to Tanzanian Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 13:53:57 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138693 Engineers working on a 512 km pipeline to scale up the amount of gas transported to Dar es Salaam plants for electricity generation and other industrial supplies. Allegations of corruption in Tanzania’s energy sector are holding up foreign aid disbursement. Credit: Juma Mtanda

Engineers working on a 512 km pipeline to scale up the amount of gas transported to Dar es Salaam plants for electricity generation and other industrial supplies. Allegations of corruption in Tanzania’s energy sector are holding up foreign aid disbursement. Credit: Juma Mtanda

By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

As foreign donors drag their feet on injecting badly needed cash into the government’s coffers, local analysts are increasingly worried that this will affect implementation of key development projects that require donor funding.

Donors – including the United Kingdom, Germany and the World Bank – are withholding 449 million out of 558 million dollars pledged for the 2014/15 budget, pending a satisfactory outcome to investigations over corruption in the energy sector.

Senior government officials have been accused by the Parliament of authorising controversial payments of 122 million dollars to Pan Africa Power Solutions Tanzania Limited (PAP), which claims to have bought a 70 percent share of the Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) – a private energy company contracted by the government to produce electricity.The government’s inability to wipe out corruption in the energy sector is setting a bad precedent because the country is poised to prosper economically in the wake of massive discoveries of natural gas resources.

“Many infrastructure development projects that require donor funding will probably stall due to this problem,” Benson Bana, a political analyst at Dar es Salaam University, told IPS. “Donors are keen to see their money is spent on intended objectives and government must learn a lesson to ensure that public funds are managed well.”

East Africa’s second largest economy after Kenya  is currently implementing a myriad of projects that require donor funding in the energy and  infrastructure sectors, such as construction of ports, roads and power plants  under a  25.2 billion dollar five-year development plan.

But the government said last year that the impending delay in the disbursement of aid funds may prompt it to shelve some critical projects until the next financial year.

The international Monetary Fund (IMF) has added its voice to the ongoing standoff between Tanzania and foreign donors, saying that further delay in disbursement of aid would certainly affect the country’s economic performance.

“Performance … was satisfactory through June, but has deteriorated since and risks have risen, stemming from delays in disbursements of donor assistance and external non-concessional borrowing, and shortfalls in domestic revenues,” the IMF said in a statement posted on its website in January 2015.

Tanzania is one of the biggest aid recipients in sub-Saharan Africa, with an annual aid inflow in grants and concessional loans ranging from 20 to 30 percent of its budget.

The move by donors to freeze aid over corruption concerns, said the IMF, is a stunning blow to the country’s economy.

“It will be critical to the business environment to address the governance issues raised by the IPTL case, which would also unlock donor assistance,” the IMF said.

The Ministry of Finance has unveiled a 19.6 trillion shilling (11.6 billion dollar) budget with plans to borrow 2.96 trillion shillings from domestic sources and about 800 million dollars from external sources to finance key projects.

“Achieving our revenue target is a matter of life or death; we are very serious in our quest to reduce reliance on foreign aid and we are refining our business environment to attract investments that can yield revenues,” said Finance Minister Saada Mkuya.

Critics told IPS that it is not wise for Tanzania to cling to unpredictable foreign aid to finance its budget after more than 50 years of political independence.

“For a country like ours to keep depending on donors to finance our development is not healthy, there’s no doubt many project will fail to take off because of this standoff,” Humphrey Moshi, an economist and professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, told IPS.

Political observers say that the government’s inability to wipe out corruption in the energy sector is setting a bad precedent because the country is poised to prosper economically in the wake of massive discoveries of natural gas resources.

“Corruption in the energy sector can be reduced by introducing strong accountability systems in the sector,” Zitto Kabwe, the chairman of a parliamentary oversight committee on public accounts, told IPS, adding that “legislations that subject contracts to parliamentary vetting and transparency would really help.”

Latest data from the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation show that Tanzania has estimated reserves of 53.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off its southern coast.  According to local analysts, these resources are more than enough to put the country on a path of economic development while ending its dependence on aid.

As the government grappled to bridge gaps in its budget, donors last week said  that they would only release the rest of the aid money pledged after seeing appropriate action taken against officials implicated in the so-called “escrow scandal”.

“Budget support development partners in Tanzania take the emerging IPTL case with the utmost seriousness and are carefully monitoring its development  as the case involves  large amounts of public funds,” Sinikka Antila, Finland’s ambassador to Tanzania and chairperson of Tanzania’s donor group, was quoted as saying.

In November last year, parliament called on government to sack senior officials, including the country’s Attorney General and  energy minister who, it said, had played an instrumental role to facilitate the dubious IPTL-PAP deal. The Attorney General, Frederick Werema, has since resigned.

In December, in a desperate bid to win back donor confidence, President Jakaya Kikwete sacked Anna Tibaijuka – a senior cabinet minister holding the land and human settlement development portfolio – for allegedly having received a1.6 billion shilling gift from one of the IPTL’s shareholders contrary to the government’s public leadership code of ethics.

In what appears to be a show of strength, the United States, through its Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has expressed serious concern about the country’s sluggish pace in controlling corruption and has urged the government to take firm concrete steps to combat corruption as a condition for the approval of future aid.

“Progress in combating corruption is essential to a new MCC compact, as well to an overall improved business climate in Tanzania,” Mark Childress, U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania said in December 2014.

“We are encouraged by the State House’s announcement of December 9 that it will soon address the parliamentary resolutions linked to IPTL, and we urge quick government action, given the impact on several key development issues.”

Tanzania was one of 10 countries discussed by the MCC Board, which met in December to determine the eligibility of countries to begin or continue the compact development process.

If finalised, this would be Tanzania’s second MCC compact. Between 2008 and 2013, the MCC funded a 698 million dollar compact for investment projects in water, roads and electric power throughout Tanzania.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Battle Heats Up Over Legalisation of Sex Work in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:10:38 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138679 The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-six-year-old Chameli Devi, a sex worker operating out of New Delhi’s G.B. Road – Asia’s largest red-light district, housing an estimated 12,000 of India’s three million sex workers – is an unhappy woman these days.

A contentious debate over the sex trade in India, following a call for legalisation by the National Commission for Women (NCW) – a state-run body that advises the government on women-related policy matters – has Devi worried.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband." -- Sarita, a 43-year-old sex worker in New Delhi
She feels that merely issuing licences or permits to people of her ilk will not lead to the improvement of the unhealthy and, at times, dangerous conditions under which commercialised prostitution functions.

According to U.N. reports, about 70 percent of sex workers in India are abused by their clients and the police. Abuse, say activists, is often under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.

“Most of us don’t take to the flesh trade out of choice but are sold by criminal mafias to brothels. The move to regulate our business will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell poor women like us while increasing trafficking of young women and children,” Devi told IPS.

A recent study conducted by the Indian philanthropic non-profit Dasra found that roughly half of trafficking victims are adolescent girls, while the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16, to 10-14, “because young girls are believed to have a lower risk of carrying a sexually transmitted disease”.

“Most victims come from rural areas, over 70 percent are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about one dollar [per day],” the report stated.

Other studies have found that most sex workers in India are form the lower castes, communities that are routinely subjected to violence and exploitation in a highly stratified society.

It is unsurprising, then, that scores of women trapped in the trade remain highly opposed to legalization.

Sarita, 43, another sex worker, feels that while there may be a sound argument for legalisation in richer countries like the USA, or even China, such a system is ill-suited to India.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband,” she asserted. “So the dynamics of our society are very different.”

Curbing the flourishing sex trade

A 2014 study, ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’, spearheaded by Indian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, contains some of the most up-to-date data on the flourishing sex trade.

“The figures are shocking…In India alone, the money generated through [the] sex trade so far stands at a whopping 343 billion dollars. Research confirms that several agencies such as traffickers, brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judiciary and to a certain level even the victims of CSE (commercial sexual exploitation) eventually receive money for participation,” Satyarthi said in the study.

According to a 2009 United Nations report, sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world, making it the largest slave trade; about 79 percent of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are not much better off. The Netherlands, which legalised prostitution in 2000, continues to grapple with human traffickers smuggling women into the country’s brothels, point out non-profits working in the area.

With the legalisation debate gaining traction, public opinion in India is also splintered over the issue. Those who favour the move feel that it will whittle down harassment, legal intimidation, entrapment and exploitation of sex workers.

NCW Chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who set the ball rolling with her suggestion that the trade be brought under state control last month, feels that such a step will ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work.

She contends it will reducing trafficking of both girls and women and improve the health conditions of sex workers who are presently forced to serve clients in unhygienic conditions and without condoms, which has caused HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread.

In fact health care experts extend some of the strongest arguments in favour of legalising prostitution, or regulating it. They feel that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, can be checked by bringing the business under the state umbrella as this will help health workers to better educate those in the trade about condom usage and basic hygiene.

Safer sex work or a massive bureaucracy?

Opponents of legalisation, however, are wary of the consequences of adding layers of regulation to India’s massive bureaucracy. They fear that government intervention could trigger harassment of the very people it seeks to protect.

“Legalising prostitution is legalising the profiteers of the sex-industry and their customers,” Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Social Research, told IPS.

“It means rape of poor, lower-caste women with impunity. Not only that, it will make India a world magnet for sex trafficking and sex tourism.”

Donna M. Hughes, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, writes in her essay ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’ that legalisation does not reduce prostitution or trafficking.

“In fact,” she writes, “both activities increase because men can legally buy sex acts, and pimps and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them … In the Netherlands, since legalisation, there has been an increase in the use of children in prostitution.”

Activists working with sex workers are also deeply divided over the issue. While Dr S. Jana, who launched the 65,000-strong sex workers’ forum — Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee — based out of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, has supported the legalisation call, others fear that it will further embolden traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

“Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers due to the loopholes in law which makes them vulnerable to abuse. If the trade is legalised, the situation will worsen,” Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, a voluntary organisation working in the field of HIV control based in Sangli, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, told IPS.

Legalisation, adds the activist, could also scupper attempts by many women’s organisations and NGOs to rehabilitate women and children forced into prostitution.

“The state should formulate policies and schemes for the rehabilitation of sex workers who are coming out of this commercial sexual exploitation. This will offer a better solution to this complex problem,” Seshu contends.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Papal Visit Rekindles Hopes in Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:01:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138660 Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MADHU, Sri Lanka, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Jessi Jogeswaran, a 20-year-old woman from Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna district, waited over six hours with 18 friends in the sweltering heat just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis on Jan. 14.

The much-anticipated Papal visit brought well over a million people out into the streets to hear the pontiff’s sermons, first in the capital Colombo and later on in Madhu, a village in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar District.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed." -- Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD)
Young and old alike congregated at designated sites, including those like Jogeswaran who traveled miles to be present for the historic occasion.

The young woman with a disarming smile hides a terrible tale: as an 11-year-old, she endured three years of death and mayhem in her native village of Addankulam in Mannar, caught between advancing government forces and military units of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who at the time controlled a vast swath of land in the north of Sri Lanka.

The six-member family’s flight began in 2007, at the tail-end of the country’s civil conflict, and would last almost two years before, in tattered clothes, they escaped the final bouts of fighting in April 2009.

“The nightmare has not ended, it has become less intense,” Jogeswaran told IPS, sitting in the compound of the Madhu Shrine, a church nestled in the jungle that is home to a statue of the Virgin Mary, which millions around the country believe to be miraculous.

Jogeswaran said that despite the war’s end, thousands of people in the north were still fighting to escape the crutches of abject poverty, recover from the traumatic events of the last days of the war and reunite with relatives lost in the chaos of prolonged battles over a period of 26 years.

“We need peace, both within and without,” she added.

Delivering a short sermon at the shrine, Pope Francis echoed her sentiments.

“No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place,” he said, referring to the attacks on the church and its use by local residents as a place of refuge during extreme bouts of fighting.

He also acknowledged that the healing process would be hard, and that sustained effort would be required “to forgive, and find peace.”

For scores of people here, however, the wounds are too many to forget. The over 225,000 who were displaced during the war have now returned to a region where some parts boast poverty rates over four times the national average of six percent.

There is an urgent need for some 138,000 houses, amidst a funding shortfall of 300 million dollars. Nearly six years after the war’s end there could be as many as 40,000 missing people, although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has records of little above 16,000 dating back over two decades.

While the completion of several large infrastructure projects suggested rapid development of the former war zone – including reconstruction of the 252-km-long rail-line connecting the north and south at a cost of 800 million dollars – few can enjoy the perks, with 5.2 percent unemployment in the Northern Province.

A lack of job opportunities is particularly hard on war widows and female-headed households – estimated at between 40,000 and 55,000 – and the nearly 12,000 rehabilitated LTTE combatants, among whom unemployment is a soaring 11 percent.

Untreated trauma, coupled with a lifting of the LTTE’s long-standing ban on the sale and production of liquor, has pushed alcohol dependency to new heights.

With scores of people seeking solace in the bottle, the northern Mullaitivu District recently recorded the second-highest rate of alcohol consumption in the island: some 34.4 percent of the population identify as ‘habitual users of alcohol’.

Finally, despite the war’s end, there has been no progress on power devolution to the Tamil-majority Northern Province, a root cause of the war.

A new political era: A bright future for the North?

The week before the Papal visit, Sri Lanka underwent a seismic change in its political landscape, when long-time President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, who campaigned with the support of a wide array of political parties including those representing Sinhala extremists and others representing the minority Tamil and Muslim populations.

Jogeswaran, who voted to elect a national leader for the first time at the Jan. 8 poll, told IPS that she felt nervously optimistic that things would change.

“We have a new president, who has promised change, now it is up to him to not deceive the voters,” she said.

Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD), told IPS the northern population was desperate for things to improve.

“There are new roads, new electricity stations and a new train line, but no new jobs,” Pachchanlam said, commenting on the over three billion dollars worth of infrastructure investments made under the former Rajapaksa administration that has not trickled down to the people.

The Sirisena government has shown some signs that it was much more amenable to the needs of minority Tamils than its predecessor.

In his first week in office, Sirisena replaced the long-standing governor of the Northern Province, G. A. Chandrasiri – a former military officer – with G. S. Pallihakara, a career diplomat.

The appointment of a civilian officer to the post was a key demand of the Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which had previously accused the former governor of stifling the council’s independence by carrying out instructions received directly from Colombo.

Many hope that greater political autonomy will pave the way to resolution of the most burning issues plaguing the people.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed,” social worker Pachchanlam said.

It remains to be seen if change will happen on the ground, but for a brief moment, in that jungle shrine, thousands came together in hope and expectation of a brighter future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Island States Throw Off the Heavy Yoke of Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/island-states-throw-off-the-heavy-yoke-of-fossil-fuels/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 21:55:41 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138625 In 2010, the 13-kilometre-long island of Nevis launched the first-ever wind farm to be commissioned in the OECS with a promise to provide jobs for islanders, a reliable supply of wind energy, cheaper electricity and a reduction in surcharge and the use of imported oils. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

In 2010, the 13-kilometre-long island of Nevis launched the first-ever wind farm to be commissioned in the OECS with a promise to provide jobs for islanders, a reliable supply of wind energy, cheaper electricity and a reduction in surcharge and the use of imported oils. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

The Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, on a quest to become the world’s first sustainable island state, has taken a giant leap in its programme to cut energy costs.

Last week, the government broke ground to construct the country’s second solar farm, and Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas told IPS his administration is “committed to free the country from the fossil fuel reliance” which has burdened so many nations for so very long.“This farm will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that St. Kitts and Nevis pumps into the atmosphere. It will move forward our country’s determination to transform St. Kitts and Nevis into a green and sustainable nation." -- Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas

Douglas said the aim is “to harness the power of the sun – a power which nature has given to us in such great abundance in this very beautiful country, St. Kitts and Nevis.

“The energy generated will be infused into the national grid, and this will reduce SKELEC’s need for imported fossil fuels,” he said, referring to the state electricity provider.

“This farm will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that St. Kitts and Nevis pumps into the atmosphere. It will move forward our country’s determination to transform St. Kitts and Nevis into a green and sustainable nation. It will reduce the cost of energy and it will reduce the cost of electricity for our consumers,” Douglas added.

Electricity costs more than 42.3 cents per KWh in St. Kitts and Nevis.

Construction of the second solar plant is being funded by the St. Kitts Electricity Corporation (SKELEC) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). SKELEC is assuming 45 percent of the cost and the Republic of China (Taiwan) 55 percent of the costs.

The first solar farm, commissioned in September 2013, generates electricity for the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport.

Meanwhile, as environmental sustainability gains traction in the Caribbean, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said the region is on the right track to better integrate environmental considerations into public policies.

“I think in some respects it is in the Caribbean that we are already seeing some very bold leadership,” Steiner told IPS.

“The minute countries start looking at the implications of environmental change on their future and the future of their economies, you begin to realise that if you don’t integrate environmental sustainability, you are essentially going to face, very often, higher risks and higher costs and perhaps the loss of assets.” He said such assets could include land, forests, coral reefs or fisheries.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Caribbean coral reefs have experienced drastic losses in the past several decades and this has been cited by numerous studies as the primary cause of ongoing declines of Caribbean fish populations. Fish use the structure of corals for shelter and they also contribute to coastal protection.

It has been estimated that fisheries associated with coral reefs in the Caribbean region are responsible for generating net annual revenues valued at or above 310 million dollars.

Continued degradation of the region’s few remaining coral reefs would diminish these net annual revenues by an estimated 95-140 million dollars annually from 2015. The subsequent decrease in dive tourism could also profoundly affect annual net tourism revenues.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne said his government will not be left behind in pursuit of a policy of reducing the carbon footprint by incorporating more renewable energy into the mix.

“Barbuda will become a green-energy island within a short period, as more modern green technology is installed there to generate all the electricity that Barbuda needs,” Browne, who’s Antigua Labour Party formed the government here in June 2014, told IPS.

“My government’s intention is to significantly reduce Antigua’s reliance on fossil fuels. A target of 20 percent reliance on green energy, in the first term of this administration, is being pursued vigorously.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a new report Monday which provides a plan to double the share of renewable energy in the world’s energy mix by 2030.

IRENA’s renewable energy roadmap, REmap 2030, also determines the potential for the U.S. and other countries to scale up renewable energy in the energy system, including power, industry, buildings, and the transport sector.

“This report adds to the growing chorus of studies that show the increasing cost competitiveness and potential of renewable energy in the U.S.,” said Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre.

“Importantly, it shows the potential of renewables isn’t just limited to the power sector, but also has tremendous potential in the buildings, industry and transport sectors.”

Next week, efforts to scale up global renewable energy expansion will continue as government leaders from more than 150 countries and representatives from 110 international organisations gather in Abu Dhabi for IRENA’s fifth Assembly.

After spending the better part of 25 years trying to understand the threat of global warming, manifesting itself in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon dioxide emissions, the UNEP executive director said only slowly are we beginning to realise that in trying to address this threat we’re actually beginning to lay the tracks for what he calls “the 21st century economy” – which is more resource efficient, less polluting, and a driver for innovation and utilising the potential of technology.

“So you can take that track and say climate change is a threat or you can also say out of this threat arise a lot of actions that have multiple benefits,” Steiner said.

“We also have to realise that in a global economy where most countries today are faced with severe unemployment and, most tragically, youth unemployment, we need to start also looking at a transition towards a green economy as also an opportunity to make it a more inclusive green economy.”

Steiner said one of the core items that UNEP would like to see much more work on is a better understanding of how countries can reform their taxation system to send a signal to the economy that they want to drive businesses away from pollution and resource inefficiency.

At the same time, the UNEP boss wants countries to also address unemployment.

“So we need to reduce this strange phenomenon that we call income tax which makes labour as a factor of production ever more expensive,” Steiner said.

“So shifting from an income tax revenue base for governments towards a resource efficiency based income or revenue generating physical policy makes sense environmentally. It maintains the revenue base of governments and it also increases the incentive for people to find jobs again. It’s complex in one sense but very obvious in another sense.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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More Than Half of Africa’s Arable Land ‘Too Damaged’ for Food Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 10:52:05 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138619 Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

By Busani Bafana
NTUNGAMO DISTRICT, Uganda, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

A report published last month by the Montpellier Panel – an eminent group of agriculture, ecology and trade experts from Africa and Europe – says about 65 percent of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain viable food production.

The report, “No Ordinary Matter: conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soil“, notes that Africa suffers from the triple threat of land degradation, poor yields and a growing population."Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil." -- Rattan Lal

The Montpellier Panel has recommended, among others, that African governments and donors invest in land and soil management, and create incentives particularly on secure land rights to encourage the care and adequate management of farm land. In addition, the report recommends increasing financial support for investment on sustainable land management.

The publication of the report comes with the U.N. declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils, a declaration the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) director general, Jose Graziano da Silva, said was important for “paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all and by all.”

According to the FAO, human pressure on the resource has left a third of all soils on which food production depends degraded worldwide.

Without new approaches to better managing soil health, the amount of arable and productive land available per person in 2050 will be a fourth of the level it was in 1960 as the FAO says it can take up to 1,000 years to form a centimetre of soil.

Soil expert and professor of agriculture at the Makerere University, Moses Tenywa tells IPS that African governments should do more to promote soil and water conservation, which is costly for farmers in terms of resources, labour, finances and inputs.

“Smallholder farmers usually lack the resources to effectively do soil and water conservation yet it is very important. Therefore, for small holder farmers to do it they must be motivated or incentivized and this can come through linkages to markets that bring in income or credit that enables them access inputs,” Tenywa says.

“Practicing climate smart agriculture in climate watersheds promotes soil health. This includes conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, diversification, mulching, and use of fertilizers in combination with rainwater harvesting.”

Before farmers received training on soil management methods, they applied fertilisers, for instance, without having their soils tested. Tenywa said now many smallholder farmers have been trained to diagnose their soils using a soil test kit and also to take their soils to laboratories for testing.

According to the Montpellier Panel report, an estimated 180 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are affected by land degradation, which costs about 68 billion dollars in economic losses as a result of damaged soils that prevent crop yields.

“The burdens caused by Africa’s damaged soils are disproportionately carried by the continent’s resource-poor farmers,” says the chair of the Montpellier Panel, Professor Sir Gordon Conway.

“Problems such as fragile land security and limited access to financial resources prompt these farmers to forgo better land management practices that would lead to long-term gains for soil health on the continent, in favour of more affordable or less labour-intensive uses of resources which inevitably exacerbate the issue.”

Soil health is critical to enhancing the productivity of Africa’s agriculture, a major source of employment and a huge contributor to GDP, says development expert and acting divisional manager in charge of Visioning & Knowledge management at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Wole Fatunbi.

“The use of simple and appropriate tools that suits the smallholders system and pocket should be explored while there is need for policy interventions including strict regulation on land use for agricultural purposes to reduce the spate of land degradation,” Fatunbi told IPS

He explained that 15 years ago he developed a set of technologies using vegetative material as green manure to substitute for fertiliser use in the Savannah of West Africa. The technology did not last because of the laborious process of collecting the material and burying it to make compost.

“If technologies do not immediately lead to more income or more food, farmers do not want them because no one will eat good soil,” said Fatunbi. “Soil fertility measures need to be wrapped in a user friendly packet. Compost can be packed as pellets with fortified mineral fertilisers for easy application.”

Fatunbi cites the land terrace system to manage soil erosion in the highlands of Uganda and Rwanda as a success story that made an impact because the systems were backed legislation. Also, the use of organic manure in the Savannah region through an agriculture system integrating livestock and crops has become a model for farmers to protect and promote soil health.

Meanwhile, a new report by U.S. researchers cites global warming as another impact on soil with devastating consequences.

According to the report “Climate Change and Security in Africa”, the continent is expected to see a rise in average temperature that will be higher than the global average. Annual rainfall is projected to decrease throughout most of the region, with a possible exception of eastern Africa.

“Less rain will have serious implications for sub-Saharan agriculture, 75 percent of which is rain-fed… Average predicated production losses by 2050 for African crops are: maize 22 percent, sorghum 17 percent, millet 17 percent, groundnut 18 percent, and cassava 8 percent.

“Hence, in the absence of major interventions in capacity enhancements and adaption measures, warming by as little as 1.5C threatens food production in Africa significantly.”

A truly disturbing picture of the problems of soil was painted by the National Geographic magazine in a recent edition.

“By 1991, an area bigger than the United States and Canada combined was lost to soil erosion—and it shows no signs of stopping,” wrote agroecologist Jerry Glover in the article “Our Good Earth.” In fact, says Glover, “native forests and vegetation are being cleared and converted to agricultural land at a rate greater than any other period in history.

“We still continue to harvest more nutrients than we replace in soil,” he says. If a country is extracting oil, people worry about what will happen if the oil runs out. But they don’t seem to worry about what will happen if we run out of soil.

Adds Rattan Lal, soil scientist: “Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil.”

Edited by Lisa Vives

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Haitians Worry World Bank-Assisted Mining Law Could Result in “Looting”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/haitians-worry-world-bank-assisted-mining-law-could-result-in-looting/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 00:26:23 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138611 The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

With Haiti’s Parliament having dissolved on Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.

Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law.” -- Sarah Singh

The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.

“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.

“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”

Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.

Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.

“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.

“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”

An opaque process

The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.

On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.

The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.

Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.

The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.

“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.

“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”

The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.

Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.

Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.

“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”

A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.

Parliamentary moratorium

Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.

Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.

Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.

Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.

That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.

“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.

“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Oil, An Invasive Water Species in the Carnival Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-an-invasive-water-species-in-the-carnival-capital/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:39:50 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138601 Fishermen row their small boat out into Guanabara bay from a beach on Gobernador island. In the background can be seen an oil tanker and an island with oil silos belonging to Petrobras. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Fishermen row their small boat out into Guanabara bay from a beach on Gobernador island. In the background can be seen an oil tanker and an island with oil silos belonging to Petrobras. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

“We ran down to the beach and found a black tide, whose waves didn’t make the sound of water, but the slurp of a thick paste,” said Alexandre Anderson, describing the oil spill in Guanabara bay in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro which turned him into an activist and leader among the local small-scale fishing community.

The January 2000 disaster marked a low point for environmental conditions in the bay, and drew global attention because of the impact of the sudden massive spill of 1.3 million litres of oil from a leaking underground pipeline.

The water in the bay is also polluted by untreated sewage from Greater Rio de Janeiro, which has a population of 12 million.“The oil industry is synonymous with the end: the end of fishing and the end of fish in Guanabara bay." -- Alexandre Anderson

Nevertheless, fish and fishing have survived, although the number of local fisherpersons has dropped around 60 percent since then, to 9,000 today, Anderson estimates.

The threat to their livelihood comes mainly from the shrinking of the space available for fishing, which covered 78 percent of the bay a few decades ago and currently is limited to just 12 percent, he said.

The activities of the oil industry’s plants, pipelines and tankers occupy 46 percent of the bay and that area is expanding, due to deepwater drilling in the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil, and the construction of a second refinery near the bay, set to begin operating in 2016.

“The oil industry is synonymous with the end: the end of fishing and the end of fish in Guanabara bay,” Anderson told IPS.

Besides narrowing the space available for fishing, the numerous pipelines that crisscross the bay change the environment. The oil is piped at high temperatures, to keep it liquid, while the natural gas is pumped cold, at dozens of degrees below zero.

Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras, occupies islands in the bay with regasification plants of liquefied natural gas and stocks of oil and gas, supplied by oil and gas pipelines.

Marine life in the bay also suffers the effects of the sounds and vibrations caused by the pumping of tons of gas and oil at high pressure. “Imagine the impact of all of that on the seabed,” said Anderson.

The small-scale fishing community has fallen victim to the major economic transformation of the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region. The economy of Rio, best known for its cultural activities, tourism and carnival, is now largely based on oil and the metalworking industry.

The oil deposits discovered in what is known as the “pre-salt” area, below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water some 300 km off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, have fuelled the recovery of shipyards that were practically inactive and have drawn large multinational engineering and oil services corporations to the area.

They also boosted the choice of Itaboraí, 60 km from Rio de Janeiro and near the northeast edge of Guanabara bay, for the construction of a petrochemical complex, COMPERJ, limited so far to a refinery with a capacity to handle 165,000 barrels a day.

On the other side of the bay, along whose banks the metropolitan region of 12 million people has grown up, Petrobras has been operating the Duque de Caxias refinery, which processes 242,000 barrels a day, since 1961.

“With the pre-salt deposits, Brazil will produce between 4.5 and 5.5 million barrels a day over the next 20 years, and will be able to export another two million, becoming a major oil exporter,” said Alexandre Szklo, a professor of energy planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The recent fall in international oil prices, of nearly 40 percent, does not modify that tendency, because in the current conditions in Brazil, “price swings only affect long-term expansion,” he said. “The oil industry is like an elephant – it takes it a while to start running and to brake.”

Brazil’s share of total global oil supplies might be small, only around five percent, but this country accounts for 60 percent of orders for drilling rigs and oil exploration and drilling systems, because almost all of its reserves are offshore, said Szklo.

It’s an opportunity to develop the naval industry and services for that sector, thus benefiting the economy of the state of Rio de Janeiro, off the coasts of which are the main pre-salt deposits, which also extend to other states to the north and south.

Brazil hopes to tap into this enormous source of wealth to improve its education and health systems over the coming decades. But some curses are inherent.

Because of its diversified production system, by contrast with Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela, Brazil is protected from the main curse, which is sacrificing other sectors of the economy, especially processing industries, for an overvalued local currency and high dependency on oil exports, Szklo said.

But there is no denying that Rio de Janeiro suffers locally from Dutch Disease – an economic condition in which a nation’s economy becomes overly dependent on the export of natural resources.

“Oil production generates few jobs, but it provides work for highly-paid skilled workers who demand expensive services, driving up local costs, which debilitates other industrial sectors,” the professor explained.

On the outskirts of Campos, 280 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, where large amounts of oil (not pre-salt) have been extracted in deep waters over the past three decades, the phenomenon helped destroy the local sugar industry and drove the cost of living up to the level of wealthy cities.

Rio de Janeiro is experiencing the same phenomenon, which has made it one of the most expensive cities in the world. The cost of housing in middle-class neighbourhoods has tripled in the last five years.

This explains the royalties charged by municipal and state governments in oil-producing areas, as a way to prepare for the future economic transition, after the oil reserves have been exhausted.

But it is the social and environmental curses whose repercussions are felt first and which generate the most resistance.

“The choice of location for the installation of COMPERJ was a bad one, between protected natural areas and a national park, threatening rivers that are still in good shape, and the last preserved area in Guanabara bay,” said biologist Breno Herrera.

He led a movement supported by local inhabitants, scientists and prosecutors which blocked the plans of Petrobras – the owner of COMPERJ – to turn the Guaxindiba river into a waterway for transporting heavy equipment to the petrochemical complex.

“The dredging could stir up heavy metals lying on the riverbed and pollute fish and people,” said Herrera.

The refinery will cause acid rain which could destroy forests and green areas in the mountains, towards which the wind blows, carrying pollutants produced by the processing of oil, said Herrera, the former head of a protected natural area jeopardised by the oil industry.

The Duque de Caxias refinery, “one of the worst sources of pollution in Guanabara bay, also pollutes the air in nearby neighbourhoods, causing respiratory diseases, allergies and red, itchy eyes,” said Sebastião Raulino, an activist with the Forum of People Affected by the Oil and Petrochemical Industry (FAPP).

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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St. Vincent Embarks on Renewable Energy Pathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/st-vincent-embarks-on-renewable-energy-path/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 13:54:59 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138596 St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has installed 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic panels, which it says reduced its carbon emissions by 800 tonnes annually. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

For decades, the fertile slopes of La Soufriere volcano, which occupies the northern third of this 344-kilometre-square island, has produced illegally grown marijuana that fuels the local underground economy, and the trade in that illicit drug across the eastern Caribbean.

But now the 1,234-metre-high mountain, which last erupted in 1979, is now being explored for something very different — its geothermal energy potential."Even if you have a lot of solar, you are still going to need the hydro and the geothermal and the diesel to carry the base." -- Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves

The Ralph Gonsalves government believes that geothermal energy will be a “game changer” for the local economy.

In this country, where tourism is the mainstay, the cost of electricity ranges from 40 to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour — several times what consumers pay in the United States.

Householders and manufacturers are hoping that the geothermal energy exploration, which has been underway for more than a year, will in fact produce the 10 to 15 megawatts of electricity that the country desperately needs to relieve its dependence on high-cost fossil fuels and give new life to the manufacturing and agro-processing sectors.

The geothermal energy exploration is a partnership between the Unity Labour Party government, the Icelandic Firm Reykjavik Geothermal Ltd., and Emera Inc., an international energy company with roots in Nova Scotia, Canada that also owns power stations in the Caribbean.

One year after the geothermal project was launched, Prime Minister Gonsalves, who will run for a fourth consecutive five-year term in elections this year, told Parliament in December that the geothermal power plant is on track for a 2017-2018 completion.

By June 2015, a technical report will be completed and well and plant site selection will be done, Gonsalves, who also holds the energy portfolio, told lawmakers.

“We are still on target. I have been advised by the Energy Unit. … Barring some extraordinary challenge which may arise, we should be having a production of 10 megawatts by the end of 2017,” Gonsalves told lawmakers.

The slopes of St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano, long the home of illegally grown marijuana, are being explored for geothermal potential. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The slopes of St. Vincent’s La Soufriere volcano, long the home of illegally grown marijuana, are being explored for geothermal potential. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The “very low interest monies” that the prime minister says his government will receive shortly may have been a reference to his government’s application for a 15-million-dollar loan through the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The successful applicants will be announced at the Fifth Session of the IRENA Assembly, slated for Jan. 17-18 in Abu Dhabi, which Gonsalves will attend.

Putting the loan application of St. Vincent and the Grenadines into context, Gonsalves told IPS, “There are about 80 applications from which they are choosing eight, and the total sum would be 60 million [dollars] overall … which they will lend in this particular year.”

Notwithstanding falling oil prices recently, Gonsalves is still convinced that renewable energy is the way to go for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“In days gone by, when diesel was 15 dollars or less per barrel, there was no real urgency to address the other forms of energy,” he tells IPS.

One-quarter of the 20 megawatts of electricity generated during peak demand in this multi-island nation comes from the country’s three hydropower plants. The remaining 15 megawatts is generated by diesel, 70 million dollars worth of which was imported in 2013 for electricity generation.

“We want to make the hydro plants more efficient … and we want to do solar, and we are doing solar, and we want to do geothermal,” Gonsalves tells IPS, adding that geothermal energy can carry a base load of 98 per cent of the country’s energy needs, whereas solar could possibly generate 20 per cent — or higher with improved technology.

“So, even if you have a lot of solar, you are still going to need the hydro and the geothermal and the diesel to carry the base,” he tells IPS, adding that the country has a good geothermal source.

Among those who are hoping that the geothermal power plant becomes a reality sooner than later is 52-year-old furniture manufacturer Montgomery Dyer, who lives in Spring Village, a community in North Leeward, the district in northwestern St. Vincent, where the volcano is partly located.

Dyer tells IPS that he is excited about the prospects of lower electricity bills, as the cost of energy represents some 10 per cent of the production cost at his business, which employs 28 persons.

“The cost of energy in St. Vincent is very high. In any way we can reduce the cost of energy, the production cost will go down,” he tells IPS, adding that a spinoff effect would be increased competitiveness.

“We will be in a better position to compete, simple as that,” he says, even as he notes that the relatively high labour cost is also a challenge.

Dyer pays some 1,100 dollars for electricity each month, a substantial amount that would be even higher had he not taken steps to reduce electricity consumption at the factory.

“The factory is a mechanised factory, so everything [runs on] power. We try to use machines with smaller motors, and machines that rely on pneumatics. In any case, the compressor has to generate the air to power the machines where pneumatics are required,” he explained.

Outside of geothermal and hydropower, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is already taking steps to cash in on the warm tropical sunshine that bathes the nation almost year-round.

The country has some 750 kilowatt hours of photovoltaic installations, including a 10 kilowatt-hour installation on the Financial Complex — which houses the Office of the Prime Minister — that has seen the cooling cost at that building slashed by some 20 per cent.

Most of the solar installations are owned by the state electricity company, St. Vincent Electricity Services Ltd. (VINLEC), which has a legal monopoly on the commercial generation and distribution of electricity.

VINLEC has 557 kilowatt-hours of solar photovoltaic panels at its Cane Hall Power Plants, east of Kingstown, and another in Lowmans Bay, west of the capital, where another diesel power plant is also located.

The state-owned company has invested one million dollars in the panels, but the impact on the size of consumer’s electricity bill is expected to be negligible — a few cents annually.

All of the solar panels installed across the country, however, are expected to reduce by 800 tonnes annually the amount of greenhouse gases that St. Vincent and the Grenadines emits into the atmosphere.

“Now, 800 tonnes is not a significant number in global terms, but what it points to is that we are making our contribution as a small island developing state, and it is in that context of the geothermal that this visit arises,” Prime Minister Gonsalves says.

Greenhouse gases are a primary driver of climate change, which has resulted in several — sometimes unseasonal — severe weather events in St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the past few years.

These include a trough system on Christmas Eve 2013 that claimed 12 lives, and left loss and damages of 122 million dollars, or 17 per cent of the gross domestic product, according to government estimates.

Furniture manufacturer Dyer lost 445,000 dollars as a result of that trough system and had to borrow “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from commercial banks to restart his business some months later.

“It destroyed the factory,” he told IPS. “The water came through the factory — created a river in on section of the factory. It washed out everything on one side and deposited about 50 truckloads of stone, sand, and debris in the factory.

“It left the machines under about two feet of mud and silt,” he said. “It was crippling.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

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