Inter Press Service » Trade & Investment http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:39:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140180 Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Two Winners and One Loser at the Summit of the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-two-winners-and-one-loser-at-the-summit-of-the-americas/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 10:58:35 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140141

In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, argues that U.S. President Barack Obama earned a place in history at the recent Summit of the Americas for taking the first steps towards overturning a policy that has lasted over half a century but has failed in its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba. The other winner, he says, is Cuban President Raúl Castro, who wisely accepted Obama’s challenge and rose to the occasion, while Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro failed in his attempt to have the summit condemn Obama.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has earned a place in history for taking the first steps towards rectifying a policy that has lasted over half a century without ever achieving its primary goal of ending the Castro regime in Cuba.

At the Seventh Summit of the Americas, held in Panama City Apr. 10-11, Obama set aside the tortuous negotiations with his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro and the impossible pursuit of consensus with his domestic opponents. Going out on a limb, he made an unconditional offer. He knew, or he sensed, that Castro would have no option but to accept.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

The Cuban economy is on the verge of collapse and the regime is receiving subtle pressure from a population that has already endured all manner of trials.

Signs of weakening in Venezuela, its protector, with which it exchanged social favours (in the fields of health and education) for subsidised oil, are gathering like hurricane storm clouds over the Raúl Castro regime

Instead of shaking the tree to knock the ripe fruit to the ground, Obama chose to do the unexpected: to prop it up and instead encourage its survival.

Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control. Washington knows that only the Cuban armed forces can guarantee order. The last thing the Pentagon aspires to is to take on that unenviable role.

Thus, between underpinning the Raúl Castro government and the doubtful prospect of attempting instantaneous transformation, the pragmatic option was to renew full diplomatic relations and, in the near future, lift the embargo.

Raúl Castro, for his part, yielded ground on the oft-repeated demand for an end to the embargo as a prior condition for any negotiations, and has responded wisely to the challenge. He contented himself with the consolation prize of reviewing the history (incidentally, an appalling one) of U.S. policy towards Cuba, in his nearly one-hour speech at the Summit.

“Obama is committing to stability in Cuba as the lesser evil, compared with sparking an internal explosion, with conflict between irreconcilable sectors and the imposition of a military solution more rigid than the current level of control”
To sugar the pill, however, he generously recognised that Obama, who was not even born at the time of the Cuban Revolution, shares no blame for the blockade. In this way, Castro contributed decisively to Obama’s triumph at the summit.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has emerged from this inter-American gathering as the clear loser. The key to his failure was not having calculated his limitations and having undervalued the resources of his fellow presidents. Initially, Maduro logically exploited Obama’s mistake in decreeing that Venezuela is a “threat” and imposing sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials.

A large number of governments and analysts criticised the language used in the U.S. decree. In the run-up to the summit, Obama publicly recanted and admitted that Venezuela is no such threat to his country.

Maduro’s weak showing at the Summit was due to a combination of his own personality, the reactions of important external actors (significantly distant from the United States), the weak support of many of his traditional allies or sympathisers in Latin America, and the absence of unconditional support from Cuba.

It should be noted that the United States barely made its presence felt over this issue, although U.S. State Department counsellor Thomas Shannon made an effort to smooth over Maduro’s excesses and visited the Venezuelan president in Caracas ahead of the summit.

Maduro’s actions were already burdened by the imprisonment of a number of his opponents on questionable charges. As a result, protests spread worldwide, especially in Latin America, but also in Europe.

A score of former Latin American presidents signed a protest document which was presented at the summit.

Although these former presidents might be regarded as conservative and liberal, they were joined by former Spanish president José María Aznar (a notorious target of attacks by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and, afterwards, Maduro himself) and former Spanish socialist president Felipe González, who offered to act as defence lawyer for Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, who is one of those imprisoned by the Venezuelan regime.

Maduro’s attempt to have a condemnation of the U.S. decree included in the summit’s final communiqué ended in another defeat. Although efforts were made to eliminate direct mention of the United States, the outcome was that the summit issued no final declaration because of lack of consensus.

In spite of the loquacity of its partners and protégés in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Venezuela’s Latin American supporters showed caution and avoided direct confrontation with Washington.

The same was evidently true of the Caribbean countries; fearful of losing supplies of subsidised Venezuelan oil, they made their request to Obama for preferential treatment by the United States at the meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Jamaica earlier in the month.

But Maduro’s main failure was not realising that Raúl Castro would have to choose between fear of diminished supplies of cheap Venezuelan crude and rapprochement with Washington. It remains unknown how Cuba will be able to continue supplying Cuban teachers and healthcare personnel to Venezuela, until now the jewel in the crown of the alliance between Havana and Caracas in the context of ALBA.

Translated by Valerie Dee/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. 

Joaquín Roy can be contacted at jroy@Miami.edu

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Nepal: A Trailblazer in Biodiversity Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 04:01:35 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140118 Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
CHITWAN, Nepal, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

At dusk, when the early evening sun casts its rays over the lush landscape, the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 200 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a place of the utmost tranquility.

As a flock of the endangered lesser adjutant stork flies over the historic Narayani River, a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India, this correspondent’s 65-year-old forest guide Jiyana Mahato asks for complete silence: this is the time of day when wild animals gather near the water. Not far away, a swamp deer takes its bath at the river’s edge.

“A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.” -- Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)
“The sight of humans drives them away,” explains Mahato, a member of the Tharu indigenous ethnic group who play a key role in supporting the government’s wildlife conservation efforts here.

“We need to return now,” he tells IPS. The evening is not a safe time for humans to be wandering around these parts, especially now that the country’s once-dwindling tiger and rhinoceros populations are on the rise.

Mahato is the ideal guide. He has been around to witness the progress that has been made since the national park was first established in 1963, providing safe haven to 56 species of mammals.

Today, Chitwan is at the forefront of Nepal’s efforts to conserve its unique biodiversity. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the world to implement a new conservation tool, created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known as the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standard (CA|TS).

Established to encourage effective management and monitoring of critically endangered species and their habitats, CA|TS has received endorsement from the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Tiger Forum, who intend to deploy the tool worldwide as a means of achieving global conservation targets set out in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Experts say that the other 12 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) should follow Nepal’s example. This South Asian nation of 27 million people had a declining tiger population – just 121 creatures – in 2009, but intense conservation efforts have yielded an increase to 198 wild tigers in 2013, according to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020.

Indeed, Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts, both in the region and worldwide. With 20 protected zones covering over 34,000 square km – or 23 percent of Nepal’s total landmass – it now ranks second in Asia for the percentage of protected surface area relative to land size. Globally it ranks among the world’s top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land.

In just eight years, between 2002 and 2010, Nepal added over 6,000 square km to its portfolio of protected territories, which include 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas and over 5,600 hectares of ‘buffer zone’ areas that surround nine of its national parks.

These steps are crucial to maintaining Nepal’s 118 unique ecosystems, as well as endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers have risen from 354 in 2006 to 534 in 2011 according to the CBD.

Collaboration key to conservation

Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), tells IPS, “A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.”

 

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Those like Mahato, for whom conservation is not an option but a way of life, have partnered with the government on a range of initiatives including efforts to prevent poaching. Some 3,500 youths from local communities have been enlisted in anti-poaching activities throughout the national parks, tasked with patrolling tens of thousands of square km.

Collaborative conservation has taken major strides in the last decade. In 2006, the government passed over management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal to a local management council, marking the first time a protected area has been placed in the hands of a local committee.

According to Nepal’s latest national biodiversity strategy, by 2012 all of the country’s declared buffer zones, which cover 27 districts and 83 village development committees (VDCs), were being collectively managed by about 700,000 local people organised into 143 ‘buffer zone user committees’ and 4,088 ‘buffer zone user groups’.

Other initiatives, like the implementation of community forestry programmes – which as of 2013 “involved 18,133 forest user groups representing 2.2 million households managing 1.7 million hectares of forestland”, according to the study – have helped turn the tide on deforestation and promote the sustainable use of forest resources by locals.

Since 2004 the department of forests has created 20 collaborative forests spread out over 56,000 hectares in 10 districts of the Terai, a rich belt of marshes and grasslands located on the outer foothills of the Himalayas.

In addition, a leasehold forestry programme rolled out in 39 districts has combined conservation with poverty alleviation, providing a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in the sustainable management and harvesting of selected forest-related products, while simultaneously protecting over 42,000 hectares of forested land.

Forest loss and degradation is a major concern for the government, with a 2014 country report to the CBD noting that 55 species of mammals and 149 species of birds – as well as numerous plant varieties – are under threat.

Given that Nepal is home to 3.2 percent of the world’s flora, these trends are worrying, but if the government keeps up its track record of looping locals into conservation efforts, it will soon be able to reverse any negative trends.

Of course, none of these efforts on the ground would be possible without the right attitude at the “top”, experts say.

“There is a high [degree] of political commitment at the top government level,” Ghanashyam Gurung, senior conservation programme director for WWF-Nepal, tells IPS. This, in turn, has created a strong mechanism to curb the menace of poaching.

With security forces now actively involved in the fight against poaching, Nepal is bucking the global trend, defying a powerful, 213-billion-dollar annual industry by going two years without a single reported incident of poaching, DPNWC officials say.

Although other threats remain – including burning issues like an increasing population that suggests an urgent need for better urban planning, as well as the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters like glacial lake outburst floods and landslides that spell danger for its mountain ecosystems – Nepal is blazing a trail that other nations would do well to follow.

“Conservation is a long process and Nepal’s efforts have shown that good planning works […],” Janita Gurung, biodiversity conservation and management specialist for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Plunging Oil Prices Won’t Kill Vaca Muertahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:42:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140111 The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

Despite the precipitous fall in global oil prices, Argentina has continued to follow its strategy of producing unconventional shale oil, although in the short term there could be problems attracting the foreign investment needed to exploit the Vaca Muerta shale deposit.

The uncertainty has come on the heels of the initial euphoria over the exploitation of shale oil and gas, of which Argentina has some of the world’s largest reserves.

Is the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in intensive care, now that the price of a barrel of oil has plummeted from 110 dollars to under 50 in just seven months? That is the question repeated by financial and oil industry experts.

Argentina’s energy trade deficit climbed to almost seven billion dollars in 2014, partly due to the decline in the country’s conventional oil reserves.

Eliminating that deficit depends on the development of Vaca Muerta, a major shale oil and gas deposit in the Neuquén basin in southwest Argentina. At least 10 billion dollars a year in investment are needed over the next few years to tap into this source of energy.“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so.” -- Víctor Bronstein

“In the short term, it would be best to import, rather than exploit the shale resources,” Víctor Bronstein, the director of the Centre of Studies on Energy, Policy and Society, told IPS.

“But taking a more strategic view, investment in and development of these resources must be kept up, since oil prices are going to start climbing again in the near future and we have to have the capacity to produce our own resources when that happens,” he added.

That is how President Cristina Fernández saw things, he said, when she set a domestic price of 72 dollars a barrel – “40 percent above its international value” – among other production incentives that were adopted to shore up Vaca Muerta.

According to the state oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Vaca Muerta multiplied Argentina’s oil reserves by a factor of 10 and its gas reserves by a factor of 40, which will enable this country not only to be self-sufficient in energy but also to become a net exporter of oil and gas.

YPF has been assigned 12,000 of the 30,000 sq km of the shale oil and gas deposit in the province of Neuquén.

The company admits that to exploit the deposit, it will need to partner with transnational corporations capable of providing capital. It has already done so with the U.S.-based Chevron in the Loma Campana deposit, where it had projected a price of 80 dollars a barrel this year.

“Who is going to invest in unconventional oil and gas at the current prices?” the vice president of the Grupo Moreno, Gustavo Calleja, commented to IPS.

“We have to hold on to Vaca Muerta and continue studying its deposits in just a few pilot wells, to see how deep they are and what kind of drilling is necessary to keep down costs and curb the environmental impacts,” said Calleja, who was the government’s undersecretary of fuel in the 1980s.

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to extract shale oil and gas, involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and chemical additives into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

Besides being very costly, fracking poses environmental risks, as it requires huge volumes of water, pollutes aquifers, and can cause earthquakes.

The shale boom that began in the United States in 2008 was driven, among other factors, by high oil prices, which provided a profit margin.

“At the current prices only those who have cutting-edge technology can develop their shale reserves,” said Calleja.

The cost of producing a barrel of shale oil is based on variables such as extraction, exploration, investment amortization and the payment of taxes and royalties. In the United States, the cost is calculated at between 40 and 70 dollars.

That fact, explained Bronstein, led to an over 30 percent reduction in drilling activity since prices fell, “which will bring down production over the next few months.”

In Argentina, shale development is just starting, which means costs are high “due to a question of scale and problems of logistics and infrastructure,” said the expert.

In the United States, “developing a shale well, including fracking, costs around three million dollars,” while in Argentina “it costs more than twice that,” he said.

“The cost of extracting conventional oil in Argentina ranges between 20 and 30 dollars a barrel, while it costs around 90 dollars to extract a barrel of shale oil, although that will gradually go down as Vaca Muerta is developed,” he said.

Argentina does not yet produce shale gas on a commercial scale, as it still has large reserves of conventional gas. YPF’s shale oil production represents 10 percent of the company’s total output, and between three and four percent of the oil extracted by all operating companies in the country.

Canada and China produce unconventional oil on a commercial scale. But due to their geologic and operative characteristics, the United States and Argentina are seen as having the greatest potential in terms of future production of shale oil and gas.

YPF argues that with the gradual reduction in production costs, a rise in output, and higher domestic oil prices, Vaca Muerta is still profitable.

The industry is waiting for the collapse in prices to bring down the costs of international inputs and services, thus reducing the high domestic industrial costs.

YPF has also signed agreements for the joint exploitation of shale deposits with Malaysia’s Petronas and Dow Chemical of the United States, while other transnational corporations have announced their intention to invest in Vaca Muerta.

Bronstein believes the investments will continue to flow in because they were planned with an eye to “significant production in five years.”

“This means investors don’t take the current price of crude oil into account as much as the future price. And virtually all analysts agree that oil prices will rally within a few years,” he said.

“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so,” Bronstein added.

Cristian Folgar, who was undersecretary of fuels last decade, said “any snapshot of the market today would be distorted because the costs of different oil industry services have not yet settled.”

“YPF will continue to forge ahead and will not slow down investments that depend on its decision because the company currently channels its entire flow of investment into Argentina,” he told IPS.

In his view, international corporations will reduce their investments at a global level, which means “YPF is not at all likely to reach new joint venture agreements with other oil companies until the situation stabilises.”

But “those who have already started to invest are not going to back out,” he added.

“Argentina continues to pay for crude and gas at the same prices as before the start of this downward price trend,” Folgar said. “Since a change of government lies just ahead, new developments will probably wait for the next government to send signals indicating what its plans are in the energy sector.”

Calleja is worried that Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, and the country that according to experts is pulling the strings of the current price collapse in order to – among other goals – push shale out of the market, “may drive prices even further down.”

In the face of what he describes as a global “war of interests”, he believes it is a good time to start looking to energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Calleja argues in favour of hydroelectricity and nuclear energy, which currently represent just 14 percent of Argentina’s energy mix, but have “lower economic and environmental costs.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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781 Million People Can’t Read this Storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=781-million-people-cant-read-this-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/781-million-people-cant-read-this-story/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 03:16:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140114 A student at the Hazi Ibrahim Government Primary School in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, raises her hand in response to her teacher’s questions. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

A student at the Hazi Ibrahim Government Primary School in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, raises her hand in response to her teacher’s questions. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

If you are reading this article, consider yourself one of the lucky ones; lucky enough to have received an education, or to be secure in the knowledge that your child will receive one. Lucky enough to be literate in a world where – more often than not – the ability to read and write can mean the difference between a decent life and abject poverty.

In the 15 years since the landmark World Education Forum in Senegal’s capital Dakar laid out six ambitious education targets agreed upon by 164 governments, a lot has changed.

“There are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education." -- UNESCO
For one thing, 34 million more children have attended school as a result of policies rolled out under the Education for All (EFA) initiative; the number of children out of school has been halved since the year 2000; and many countries have made great strides towards bringing as many girls into classrooms as boys.

But dig a little deeper and the good news gives way to a bleak reality. According to the most recent EFA Global Monitoring Report released Thursday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), “There are still 58 million children out of school globally and around 100 million children who do not complete primary education. Inequality in education has increased, with the poorest and most disadvantaged shouldering the heaviest burden.

“The world’s poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the world’s richest children, and five times more likely not to complete primary school,” the report stated, adding, “Despite all efforts by governments, civil society and the international community, the world has not achieved Education for All.”

Six goals: A mixed report card

Given the vast spectrum of cultures, economies and political ideologies represented by the 164 governments in Dakar in 2000, the six targets agreed upon reflected some of the most urgent and universal challenges facing the world today: early childhood education and care; universal primary education; youth and adult skills; adult literacy; gender equality; and the quality of education.

Although the pre-primary school enrolment rate has improved by two-thirds since 1999, and the primary net enrolment rate is set to reach 93 percent by the end of the year, the fact remains that one in six children in low or middle-income countries – roughly one million kids in total – will not be in school at the time of the 2015 deadline.

Only 69 percent of countries studied will have achieved gender parity at the primary level by 2015, a number that falls to just 48 percent for secondary education. Although governments agreed in 2000 to halve the global illiteracy rate by 2015, a four-percent reduction is all that has so far been achieved.

Katie Malouf Bous, a policy advisor for Oxfam International based in Washington DC, told IPS the results of the monitoring report showed “a mixed bag, very uneven across different countries.”

She stressed that the widening of inequalities in education access and outcomes was a worrying trend, adding that there is an urgent need to “redouble investments in public education and make sure those investments are being targeted at the right communities and children.”

According to a March 2015 UNESCO policy paper, “The annual total cost of achieving universal pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education in low and lower-middle income countries is projected to increase from 100 billion dollars in 2012 to 239 billion dollars, on average, between 2015 and 2030.”

The policy brief went on to say that “the total annual financing gap between available domestic resources and the amount necessary to reach the new education targets is projected to average 22 billion dollars between 2015 and 2030.”

This funding gap proves that most governments are failing to allocate the required 20 percent of national budgets, or four percent of annual gross national product (GNP), on education.

Asia-Pacific: Is the region pulling its weight?

According to Oxfam’s Bous, “One of the things we’re really worried about is the trend we see of the state pushing some of its responsibilities on to the private sector, and focusing on low-cost private schools or public-private partnerships to deliver education.”

“We believe this is only deepening educational inequalities, particularly in the Asia region, where a lot of donor-driven initiatives are supporting low-cost private schools, which are basically profit-making schools that charge fees from poorer families […],” she explained.

Home to four of the world’s six billion people, the Asia-Pacific region is rife with inequality, a situation that will only worsen unless governments take the necessary steps to educate this massive population. Currently, one-third of all students between six and 18 years of age in South Asia attend private rather than public schools.

A 2015 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

In a 2014 regional report tracking progress on Education for All, UNESCO noted that five of the so-called E-9 countries, defined as the world’s most populous developing nations, were in Asia: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

Together, they accounted for some 45 percent of the total global enrolment in primary education and 80 percent of the Asia-Pacific region’s total enrolment in 2009, according to UNCEF.

While these states have made great strides in bringing children into the classrooms, they account for millions of out-of-school youth, most of whom will never receive a proper education.

This has major implications for the economic health of the entire region, which already hosts 64 percent of the world’s illiterate adults – roughly 497 million people as of 2014.

While 10 countries in the region have achieved universal (99 percent or more) participation in primary education, with nine countries on track to achieve the goal by the end of the year according to UNESCO, survival rates remain a challenge, with nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and the Solomon Islands experiencing difficulty in retaining students up until the last year of primary school, let alone ensuring that they will enroll in – or complete – a secondary education.

As the U.N. moves closer to finalising its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), education experts around the world are pushing urgently for policies that direct all necessary funds, energy and action into the classrooms – where the futures of many developing nations will either be made or broken in the coming decade.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Child Labour on U.S. Tobacco Farms: A Stubborn Problem in a Billion-Dollar Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/child-labour-on-u-s-tobacco-farms-a-stubborn-problem-in-a-billion-dollar-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labour-on-u-s-tobacco-farms-a-stubborn-problem-in-a-billion-dollar-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/child-labour-on-u-s-tobacco-farms-a-stubborn-problem-in-a-billion-dollar-industry/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 21:36:49 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140054 Children who work on tobacco farms in the U.S. are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, especially when handling wet tobacco leaves. Credit: MgAdDept/CC-BY-SA

Children who work on tobacco farms in the U.S. are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning, especially when handling wet tobacco leaves. Credit: MgAdDept/CC-BY-SA

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

For many young people, the summer is synonymous with free time, relaxation, or family vacations. For less fortunate kids the summer means labour, with scores of youths taking on part-time work to support their families.

In the U.S., not only is this work not optional, it is also unhealthy – especially for those unfortunate enough to seek employment on the country’s tobacco farms.

“The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked [with] is tobacco. You get tired. It takes energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.” -- Dario, a child labourer interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW)
A recent string of policies aimed at addressing child labour in this major industry signals a turning point – but activists say the uphill battle is not yet over.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a report detailing conditions of child labour in four of the country’s main tobacco-producing states – North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia – which together account for 90 percent of domestic tobacco production. In 2012, the total value of tobacco leaves produced in the U.S. touched 1.5 billion dollars.

According to the report, most of these children, sometimes as young as 12 years old, come from Hispanic immigrants families, and work on tobacco farms to help their families to pay rent and bills, and buy food and school supplies.

Margaret Wurth, co-author of the report and children’s rights researcher at HRW, told IPS that many children “chose to do this difficult job because there are no other job opportunities in the communities where they live […].”

Out of the 141 children interviewed by HRW, two-thirds suffered from acute nicotine poisoning, or Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS) while working on plantations. GTS happens when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants, especially when the leaves are wet.

Sixteen-year-old Dario, who has worked on farms in Kentucky, said in an interview with HRW, “The hardest of all the crops we’ve worked [with] is tobacco. You get tired. It takes energy out of you. You get sick, but then you have to go right back to the tobacco the next day.”

Typical symptoms include dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and headaches. Some children also reported that employers did not guarantee training courses or safety equipment. Some had to work barefoot; others wore only socks as they worked in fields thick with mud, according to HRW research.

Fabiana, 14, said to HRW, “I wore plastic bags because our clothes got wet in the morning. They put holes in the bag so our hands could go through them […]. Then the sun comes out and you feel suffocated in the bags. You want to take them off.”

A giant industry in need of reform

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012 the U.S. produced nearly 800 million pounds of tobacco. The U.S. is the fourth leading tobacco producer in the world, after China, Brazil and India but unlike its competitors, the U.S. does not regulate the age of its employees on the tobacco fields, according to Alfonso Lopez, Democratic representative of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Recently, Virginia had the chance to become the first U.S. state to enact a law on child labour in tobacco plantations, in order to set a standard for all tobacco growers to protect children. But the proposed bill was defeated.

“My bill would prohibit hiring children under 18 to work in direct contact with tobacco leaves, or dried tobacco, with the exception of children who received parental consent to work in family farms,” Lopez explained to IPS.

Pressure from advocates, and studies like the one produced last year by HRW are slowly bearing fruit, with two large associations of tobacco farmers – the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina (TGANC) and the Council for Burley Tobacco in Kentucky – adopting new policies that prevent the hiring of children under the age of 16, and requiring parental consent for children aged 16-17.

This, in turn, led to two major U.S. tobacco companies – the Virginia-based Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJRT) – adopting similar policies, for the safety of children working along the tobacco supply chain, Wurth said.

In 2014, three companies – Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc., and Lorillard – accounted for 85 percent of U.S. cigarettes sales.

An Altria Group spokesperson, Jeff Caldwell, told IPS that in 2014, Altria signed the global pledge of commitment to eliminate any form of child labour in the tobacco supply chain worldwide, promoted by the Eliminating Child Labour in Tobacco Growing Foundation (ECLT).

In 2015, Altria started buy tobacco directly from growers, instead of buying it from third parties, in order to ensure that growers were not hiring children under 18, Caldwell added.

“We also have a very robust programme to train our growers and communicate to all of them the standardised U.S. tobacco good agricultural practices, to ensure that all of these growers are aware of, trained on, and in compliance with policies and laws that govern tobacco growing in order to protect children,” he added.

However, these measures only apply to farms that are part of large corporate supply chains, said Lopez.

“Most of the major buyers of U.S.-grown tobacco have adopted child labour standards more protective than U.S. law. But I think that without a stronger [federal] regulatory framework, dozens of children will inevitably be left out,” he remarked.

Last week the U.S. Department of Labour released a recommended practices bulletin, issued jointly by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A Department of Labour Spokesperson told IPS that the bulletin focuses on the hazards of working in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. The guidelines are designed to educate tobacco companies, farmers, and workers on preventing the effects of GTS, through appropriate training and working equipment.

The guidelines recommend the use of gloves, long sleeve shirts, long pants and water-resistant clothing when handling tobacco leaves to prevent exposure to nicotine, while recognising that children may suffer worse consequences than adults if these regulations aren’t met, the spokesperson added.

However, the bulletin made no explicit mention of child labour, nor did it specify ways to tackle the problem through more concrete regulation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Opinion: A Long History of Predatory Practices Against Developing Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-a-long-history-of-predatory-practices-against-developing-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-long-history-of-predatory-practices-against-developing-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-a-long-history-of-predatory-practices-against-developing-countries/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 19:11:12 +0000 Kinda Mohamadieh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139820

In this column, Kinda Mohamadieh, a researcher at the South Centre, argues that the predatory practices of ‘vulture funds’ and their systemic implications represent a threat to the development of indebted poor countries.

By Kinda Mohamadieh
GENEVA, Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

The world’s attention turned to the practices of vulture funds after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court opinion in the NML Capital vs Argentina case, which forbids the country from making payments on its restructured debt.

Argentina had defaulted in 2001 and went through two rounds of negotiations to restructure its debt, both in 2005 and 2010. In June 2014, the court ordered Argentina to pay the ‘vulture funds’ that held out and did not accept the terms of the debt swaps.

Kinda Mohamadieh

Kinda Mohamadieh

The vulture funds had held out with the aim of achieving what amounts to a 1,600 percent return on their original investment. The funds concerned had purchased the Argentinian bonds in 2008 at 48 million dollars and the court ruling ordered Argentina to pay them 832 million dollars.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz noted that this was “the first time in history that a country was willing and able to pay its creditors, but was blocked by a judge from doing so”.

While this case brought the term ‘vulture funds’ into the public sphere, the predatory practices of these entities did not start with Argentina.

According to a former U.N. independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related financial obligations of states on the full enjoyment of all human rights, the term ‘vulture funds’ describes “private commercial entities that acquire, either by purchase, assignments or some other form of transaction, defaulted or distressed debts, and sometimes actual court judgments, with the aim of achieving higher returns.”

Basically, vulture funds are hedge funds whose modus operandi focuses on three main steps including: (1) purchasing distressed debt on the secondary market at deep discounts far less than its face value; (2) refusing to participate in restructuring agreements with the indebted state; and (3) pursuing full value of the debt often at face value plus interest, arrears and penalties, including through litigation, seizure of assets or penalties.“The African Development Bank has reported that at least twenty heavily indebted poor countries have been threatened with or have been subjected to legal actions by commercial creditors and vulture funds since 1999”

Many developing countries have been exposed to the predatory practices of vulture funds, especially African and Latin American countries.

The African Development Bank has reported that at least twenty heavily indebted poor countries have been threatened with or have been subjected to legal actions by commercial creditors and vulture funds since 1999. These countries include Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, as well as Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Peru was targeted by NML Capital in the year 2000. According to media reports, the fund spent almost four years in the courts to win a ruling that forced Peru to settle for almost 56 million dollars on distressed debt, which the fund had initially bought for 11.8 million dollars.

The African Development Bank has documented that up until the year 2007, 25 judgments in favour of vulture funds had yielded nearly one billion dollars. Out of this amount, 72 percent of the judgments have been against African countries. The reported number of outstanding cases against debtor countries has doubled since 2004.

According to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 54 court cases were instituted against 12 heavily indebted poor countries between 1998 and 2008. The IMF estimates that in some cases claims by vulture funds constitute as much as 12 to 13 percent of a country’s gross domestic product.  The World Bank estimates that nearly one-third of countries that are eligible for debt relief and other poverty alleviation programmes are the targets of nearly 26 vulture funds.

Concerned about the extent of the threat posed by such predatory practices and their systemic implications, several international authorities and multilateral institutions have voiced their concern about the matter.

The African Development Bank has warned that by precluding debt relief and costing millions in legal expenses, these vulture funds undermine the development of the most vulnerable African countries.

In June 2014, the heads of state and government of the Group of 77 and China, in their declaration issued on the occasion of the ‘For a New World Order for Living Well’ summit held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, reiterated the importance of “not allowing vulture funds to paralyse the debt restructuring efforts of developing countries” and stressed that “these funds should not supersede the state’s right to protect its people under international law.”

The IMF had cautioned that upholding the decision against Argentina would harm future sovereign debt restructuring attempts. In 2013, the IMF stated that “if upheld, [the Court of Appeals decision] would likely give hold-out creditors greater leverage and make the debt restructuring process more complicated”.

In 2007, G8 finance ministers had expressed concern about actions of some litigating creditors against heavily indebted poor countries, and agreed to work together to identify measures to tackle this problem based on the work of the Paris Club.

In September 2014, a resolution on the activities of vulture funds and the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of states on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, was presented by Argentina and adopted at the 27th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council which took place in Geneva.

It is also worth noting that the 26th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2014 had adopted a resolution titled ‘Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights’.

This resolution sets in place a process of negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and their liability in the area of human rights. (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. 

* This column is based on a longer version published in published in the South Centre’s South Bulletin 83 of 12 February 2015.

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Obama Prepares for Showdown with Congress Over Iran Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/obama-prepares-for-showdown-with-congress-over-iran-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-prepares-for-showdown-with-congress-over-iran-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/obama-prepares-for-showdown-with-congress-over-iran-deal/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 20:45:58 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140020 President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

Two days after the deadline for reaching a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme had passed, negotiators looked like they would be going home empty handed. But a surprisingly detailed framework was announced Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as in Washington, and in the same breath, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the battle he faces on Capitol Hill.

“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” said Obama on the White House lawn after announcing the “historic understanding with Iran,” which, “if fully implemented will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“If Congress kills this deal [...] then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy." -- U.S. President Barack Obama
“If Congress kills this deal – not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative – then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy,” he said. “International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.”

Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany) have until Jun. 30 to produce a comprehensive final accord on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. That gives Congress just under three months to embrace a “constructive oversight role”, as the president said he hoped it would.

“Congress has played a couple of roles in these negotiations,” Laicie Heeley, policy director at the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told IPS. “I think some folks would like to think they are playing a bad cop role, but I’m not sure how effective they’ve been…it’s a dangerous game to play.”

If negotiators had gone home empty handed, hawkish measures, like the Kirk-Menendez sponsored Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, which proposes additional sanctions and the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities – a non-starter for the Iranians – would have had a better chance of acquiring enough votes for a veto-proof majority.

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

But now that a final deal is on the horizon, Republicans will have a much harder time convincing enough Democrats to sign on to potentially deal-damaging bills.

Excerpts from Comprehensive Action Plan

According to the document ‘Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program’:

• Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these [for] enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.


• Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.


• Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.

• All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.

• Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.

[…]

• The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

• Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.

[…]

• Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

• U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.

• The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
With the Kirk-Menendez bill out of the way, the most immediate threat Obama faces now comes from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 proposed by the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker.

The Corker bill gives the final say to a Republican-majority Congress – which has consistently criticised the president’s handling of the negotiations – granting it 60 days to vote on any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran immediately after it’s reached. During that period, the president would not be able to lift or suspend any Iran sanctions.

Corker said Thursday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would take up the bill on Apr. 14, when lawmakers return from a spring recess.

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable,” he said in a statement.

But administration officials reminded reporters yesterday that the president would oppose any bill that it considered harmful to the prospects of a final deal.

“The president has made clear he would veto new sanctions legislation during the negotiation, and he made clear he would veto the existing Corker legislation during negotiations,” said a senior administration official yesterday during a press call.

“What would not be constructive is legislative action that essentially undercuts our ability to get the deal done,” said the official.

The idea that Congress should have a say on any deal became especially popular after a preliminary accord was reached in Geneva two years ago, clearing the path for a host of congressional measures particularly from the right. But now that a final deal is in the works, hawks will have a harder time acquiring essential support from Democrats.

“Before yesterday Senator Corker was fairly certain he could get a veto-proof majority, but now that there’s a good deal on the table he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting votes from enough Democrats,” said Heeley, who closely monitors Capitol Hill.

Statements from key democrats yesterday retained what has become customary skepticism, but some are already hinting that they are gearing up to support the administration’s position.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on his colleagues to “take a deep breath, examine the details and give this critically important process time to play out.”

“We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Obama has his work cut out for him, however, in the next two weeks as pro- and anti-deal groups press Congress to take up their positions.

“[W]e have concerns that the new framework announced today by the P5+1 could result in a final agreement that will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a leading Israel lobby group, in a statement.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a well-known hawkish think tank in D.C, also reiterated its stance against any deal that allows Iran to maintain its nuclear infrastructure.

“The parameters of the nuclear deal that have emerged look like we are headed toward a seriously flawed one,” wrote FDD’s Mark Dubowitz and Annie Fixler in an article on the Quartz website entitled ‘Obama’s Nuclear Deal With Iran Puts the World’s Safety at Risk’.

The Israeli prime minister, who received numerous standing ovations when he addressed Congress on Iran in March – even after the White House made its opposition to his visit crystal clear – meanwhile called the framework deal “a grave danger” that would “threaten the very survival” of Israel.

Both Israel, and to a lesser degree Saudi Arabia, have made their opposition to the negotiations with Iran clear, and are expected to voice their concerns loudly over the next few months.

But the Obama administration’s efforts can’t be solely devoted to convincing allies or fighting a home front battle—it must also nail down the details of the final deal, which is far from guaranteed at this point.

“A lot of thorny issues will have to be resolved in the next three months, chief among them the exact roadmap for lifting the sanctions, language that goes into the U.N. Security Council resolution, measures for resolving the PMD [possible military dimensions] issues, and the mechanism for determining violations,” Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst, told IPS.

“Negotiations will not get easier in the next three months; in fact, they will get harder as the parties struggle to resolve the remaining thorny issues and defend the agreement,” said Vaez, who was in Lausanne when the agreement was announced.

“Success is not guaranteed, but this breakthrough has further increased the cost of breakdown,” he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Curbing Tobacco Use – One Step Forward, Two Steps Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/curbing-tobacco-use-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:30:13 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139988 According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025. Credit: Marius Mellebye/CC-BY-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
ABU DHABI, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The numbers are in, and there’s not much to celebrate: every year, about six million people die as a result of tobacco use, including 600,000 who succumb to the effects of second-hand smoke.

Whether consumed by smoking or through other means, tobacco is a deadly business, and while usage statistics vary drastically across countries, time periods and age-groups, one thing is plain to policy makers all over the world: tobacco is going to be a huge development challenge in the coming decade.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace." -- Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.” Smoking in particular, and other forms of tobacco use to a lesser degree, has been found to increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including chronic respiratory conditions, cardiovascular illnesses, and cancers of all stripes.

Already the global burden of NCDs is tremendous, accounting for the most number of deaths worldwide. Some 36 million die annually from NCDs, representing 63 percent of global deaths. Of these, more than 14 million people die prematurely, before the age of 70.

In a bid to stem this rampant loss of life, governments all over the world have signed numerous treaties and protocols, including the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which presently boasts 180 states parties covering 90 percent of the world’s population.

One of the convention’s goals is to achieve a 30-percent reduction in tobacco use among people aged 15 years and older by 2025.

By some calculations, the international community is moving slowly but surely towards this target. For instance, a new WHO study released last month found that in 2010 there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member states (or 78 percent of the population of 5.1 billion people over the age of 15).

The number of non-smokers is projected to rise to five billion (or 81 percent of the projected population of 6.1 billion people aged 15 and up) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues, the report said.

According to a study published last month by the UK-based medical journal, The Lancet, the prevalence of tobacco smoking among men fell in 125 out of 173 countries surveyed, and the smoking rate among women fell in 156 countries out of 178, in the 2000-2010 period.

But while these trends are positive, a closer look at the data shows that at current levels of progress, only 37 countries worldwide, or just 21 percent of all member states, stand ready to meet the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-2020.

In fact, according to the WHO, there will be between 1.5 and 1.9 billion smokers worldwide in 2025, representing a potential health crisis of severe proportions.

Catching them young – killing them young?

Last month some 3,000 tobacco control advocates closed the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCOTH) here in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with appeals to world leaders to crack down on the tobacco industry’s campaign to lure young people into the habit.

Among other demands, activists and experts pressed governments to enforce bans on massive advertising campaigns, which many see as a gateway to what could become a lifetime of smoking.

In 2008, the WHO reported that 30 percent of young teens worldwide aged 13 to 16 smoke cigarettes, with between 80,000 and 100,000 children taking up the habit each day.

The organisation estimates that half of those who start smoking in their adolescent years will continue smoking for the next 15 to 20 years of their life, lending credibility to the widely held fear that when tobacco use starts young, life might also end young.

From the music and fashion industries to food and sports, the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry is finding marketing and advertising opportunities to attract scores of potential young consumers, since their curiosity and tendency to experiment have long marked them as a key ‘target’ group.

“In tobacco and smoking, we see death and disease. The tobacco industry sees a marketplace,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a leading US-based tobacco control campaign organisation.

In a statement released back in January, Myers alleged, “The tobacco industry spends 8.8 billion dollars a year – one million dollars an hour – on marketing, much of it in ways that make these products appealing and accessible to children.”

“They also use all means – legal and illegal – to sell their deadly products, deceive the public and policy makers by attempting to appear credible and trustworthy, and use lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations firms to undermine good government and the will of the people,” Myers said during the WCOTH last month.

From rock concerts to sporting events and from cafes to nightclubs, where young people of a higher income bracket typically socialise, cigarettes are readily available, making it difficult to avoid the pull of peer pressure.

Experts say young women, especially those who are economically independent, also fall into the category of an emerging market for the tobacco industry, as they seek fresh outlets for expressing their newfound freedom.

Myers cited Russia, where 25 percent of young women between 18 and 30 years old have taken up the habit, and China, where the equating of cigarette smoking with high fashion is evident in the country’s major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Neither Russia nor China is expected to meet the smoking component of the global NCD target by 2025.

Although Russia could witness a decrease in the number of smokers from 46.9 million in 2010 to 36.6 million in 2025, and China is slated to slash its smokers from 303.9 million in 2010 to 291 million in 2025, the rate of decrease in both countries is too low.

The situation is particularly dire in China, where an estimated 740 million suffer from exposure to second-hand smoke. The WHO estimates that 1.3 million die here each year from lung cancer, accounting for one-third of lung cancer-related deaths globally.

Judith Mackay, senior adviser of the World Lung Foundation, said Asian women in particular are being targeted by the industry because of the number of developing countries and fast-growing economies in the region with large young female populations.

“For developing countries in this region, the style of advertising in the 50s has come back – portraying smoking among young women as cool and sexy,” she said during a press conference in Abu Dhabi.

A 2010 report by the George Institute of Global Health stated that Asia and the Pacific were home to 30 percent of all smokers in the world, with India and China contributing hugely to these numbers.

In a bid to help member countries meet the smoking component of the NCD target, the WHO introduced a set of measures called MPOWER, encapsulating efforts to monitor tobacco use, protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to those seeking to quit the habit, warn about the dangers of tobacco use, enforce bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco products.

Such measures will not be easily implemented but as WHO Director-General Margaret Chan pointed out, “It’s going to be a tough fight but we should not give up until […] the tobacco industry goes out of business.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Brazil at the Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:45:17 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139936

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the political and economic context within which newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff is operating and argues that Brazil is living through a very dangerous period, with neither the government nor the parliamentary opposition led by leaders that the population trusts.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

Even moderately well-informed analysts knew that the Brazilian economy was in dire straits as President Dilma Rousseff initiated her second term in office in January.

Unlike her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), Rousseff had not the same luck with the situation of the international economy. But also, unlike Lula, Rousseff showed herself a poor saleswoman for Brazilian goods and an even poorer manager of domestic economic policy.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

There was a strong suspicion that economic policy, especially in the last two years of her first term, had been conducted in ad hoc ways and that serious adjustments would be needed to steer the economy back to working condition anyway. Still, the situation seemed to be even worse than most analysts feared.

More surprising, however, is to find out that Brazilian politics is also in dire straits. Caught off guard by the Petrobras corruption scandal, federal authorities, beginning with Rousseff herself, seemed to become paralysed by the rapid fall in public support, completely losing the power of initiative and creating a dangerous political vacuum in the country.

It is a vacuum rather than a political threat because the opposition seems to be as lost as the president. The political right, never very fond of democratic institutions any way, seemed to be more interested in making the president “bleed” – as stated by Senator (and former vice-presidential candidate) Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party – than with fighting for political hegemony.

Economic problems were certainly fostered by the quality of economic policy-making in the second half of Rousseff’s first term. The realisation that tailwinds created by the Chinese demand for raw materials were no longer blowing led the government to implement a series of measures to stimulate the economy that turned out to be largely useless.

It was not “heterodoxy” that characterised the policy, it was uninformed wishful thinking. A plethora of measures were taken in isolation, without any apparent unifying strategy behind them, distributed mostly as “gifts” from the federal government (which later contributed to the public perception that corruption became a system of government). “Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts”

Plagued by semi-structural exchange rate problems, whereby Brazilian producers lose competitiveness in the face of imported goods in domestic markets and of other sellers in international markets, the federal administration tried to deal with them piecemeal, mostly through instruments like tax reductions or changes in tax rates.

Obsessed with car production, the government burned resources trying to stimulate production (only to meet increasing resistance of other countries to import them, most notably Argentina), again without any strategy thinking about how these newly-produced automobiles would be used in polluted and traffic-jammed Brazilian cities.

The federal government was not deficient only in terms of strategic thinking but also in terms of home caretaking: all available evidence points to the high probability that tax reductions and other similar measures were decided without any calculation of costs, lost fiscal revenues, and so on.

Anti-cyclical macroeconomic policy in late 2008 relied to a large extent on the expansion of consumption expenditures fuelled by increasing household indebtedness. The increase in non-performing loans and income stagnation made this option more and more unsustainable. Investment, in contrast, public and private, repeatedly frustrated expectations.

Unable to finance badly needed infrastructure investments, the government showed itself to be extraordinarily slow in devising appropriate strategies to attract private investors to implement them. Apparently lost in their own inability to define a way out of the mess, the government “muddled through” situations where more forceful definitions were required, as was the case of electric power.

The list of failures or of situations where the government showed inability to lead is long and well known. What was surprising to some extent was to find out that all evidence suggests that the government itself was unaware of what was going on.

Winning re-election by a narrow margin, President Rousseff, characteristically after a long period of hesitation, decided to take a 180-degree turn, asking a known orthodox and fiscal conservative economist to head an empowered Ministry of Finance, surprising even her supporters who seemed to be perplexed by the need to defend policies that they hotly denounced when presented by opposition politicians.

This picture would be difficult enough to manage without the Petrobras scandal. But Petrobras is not only the largest company in the country, it is practically a symbol of the nationality. Besides, energy was supposed to be Rousseff’s area of expertise and she was in fact responsible for the company’s policies for a while, as Minister of Mines and Power.

An increasingly loud murmur of a possible impeachment of the president led her to equivocal political decisions, beginning with the definition of her cabinet, widely considered to be particularly low quality, and alienating not only her major party in government, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, but even the majority of her own Workers’ Party.

The result of such initiatives was illustrated by the twin public demonstrations of Mar. 13 and 15.

On Mar. 13, nominal supporters of Rousseff marched through the streets of most of the largest cities in the country. Speaking to the press, most of the leaders of the march (Lula did not participate) declared conditional support for Rousseff – that is, conditional on the firing of the Minister of Finance and change of newly announced austerity policies.

On Mar. 15, an even larger crowd marched in the same cities declaring unconditional opposition to the president.

Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts. The president is slow and generally equivocal when making fateful decisions. The right-wing opposition seemed to be more interested in enjoying the possibility of enacting a “third” ballot to obtain at least a moral condemnation of the president.

This would be bad enough for a country that has just celebrated thirty years of civilian government. When the economy adds its own heavy problems to the political vacuum, it is impossible not to fear the future. (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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U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Authorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:51:41 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139975 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

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A “Year of Eye-Catching Steps Forward” for Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139953 Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014."Climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent" – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year.  However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Beginshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:46:40 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139934

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee – 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. 

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

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Opinion: Crisis Resolution and International Debt Workout Mechanismshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:34:01 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139924

In this column, Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, looks at the role of international debt workout mechanisms in debt restructuring initiatives and argues, inter alia, that while the role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible, it cannot be placed at the centre of these debt workout mechanisms because its members represent both debtors and creditors.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Debt restructuring is a component of crisis management and resolution, and needs to be treated in the context of the current economic conjuncture and vulnerabilities.

International debt workout mechanisms are not just about debt reduction, but include interim arrangements to provide relief to debtors, including temporary hold on debt payments and financing.

They should address liquidity as well as solvency crises but the difference is not always clear. Most start as liquidity crises and can lead to insolvency if not resolved quickly.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

Liquidity crises also inflict serious social and economic damages as seen in the past two decades even when they do not entail sovereign defaults.

International mechanisms should apply to crises caused by external private debt as well as sovereign debt. Private external borrowing is often the reason for liquidity crises. Governments end up socialising private debt. They need mechanisms that facilitate resolution of crises caused by private borrowing.

Only one of the last eight major crises in emerging and developing economies was due to internationally-issued sovereign debt (Argentina). Mexican and Russian crises were due to locally-issued public debt; in Asia (Thailand, Korea and Indonesia) external debt was private; in Brazilian and Turkish crises too, private (bank) debt played a key role alongside some problems in the domestic public debt market.

We have had no major new crisis in the South with systemic implications for over a decade thanks to highly favourable global liquidity conditions and risk appetite, both before and after the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008, due to policies in major advanced economies, notably the United States.

But this period, notably the past six years, has also seen considerable build-up of fragility and vulnerability to liquidity and solvency crises in many developing countries."There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure”

Sovereign international debt problems may emerge in the so-called ‘frontier economies’ usually dependent on official lending. Many of them have gone into bond markets in recent years, taking advantage of exceptional global liquidity conditions and risk appetite. There are several first-time Eurobond issuers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

In emerging economies, internationally-issued public debt as percentage of gross domestic product has declined significantly since the early 2000s. Much of the external debt of these economies is now under local law and in local currency.

However, there are numerous cases of build-up of private external debt in the foreign exchange markets issued under foreign law since 2008. Many of them may face contingent liabilities and are vulnerable to liquidity crises.

An external financial crisis often involves interruption of a country’s access to international financial markets, a sudden stop in capital inflows, exit of foreign investors from deposit, bond and equity markets and capital flight by residents. Reserves become depleted and currency and asset markets come under stress. Governments are often too late in recognising the gravity of the situation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending is typically designed to bail out creditors to keep debtors current on their obligations to creditors, and to avoid exchange restrictions and maintain the capital account open.

The IMF imposes austerity on the debtor, expecting that it would make debt payable and sustainable and bring back private creditors. It has little leverage on creditors.

There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure; and risks are created for the financial integrity of the IMF.

Many of these problems were recognised after the Asian crisis of the 1990s, giving rise to the sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, originally designed very much along the lines advocated by the U.N. Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD) throughout the 1980s and 1990s (though without due acknowledgement).

However, it was opposed by the United States and international financial markets and could not elicit strong support from debtor developing countries, notably in Latin America. It was first diluted and then abandoned.

The matter has come back to the attention of the international community with the Eurozone crisis and then with vulture-fund holdouts in Argentinian debt restructuring.

After pouring money into Argentina and Greece, whose debt turned out to be unpayable, the IMF has proposed a new framework to “limit the risk that Fund resources will simply be used to bail out private creditors” and to involve private creditors in crisis resolution. If debt sustainability looks uncertain, the IMF would require re-profiling (rollovers and maturity extension) before lending. This is left to negotiations between the debtor and the creditors.

However, there is no guarantee that this can bring a timely and orderly re-profiling. If no agreement is reached and the IMF does not lend without re-profiling, then it would effectively be telling the debtor to default. But it makes no proposal to protect the debtor against litigation and asset grab by creditors.

There is thus a need for statutory re-profiling involving temporary debt standstills and exchange controls. The decision should be taken by the country concerned and sanctioned by an internationally recognised independent body to impose stay on litigation.

Sanctioning standstills should automatically grant seniority to new loans, to be used for current account financing, not to pay creditors or finance capital outflows.

If financial meltdown is prevented through standstills and exchange controls, stay is imposed on litigation, adequate financing is provided and contractual provisions are improved, the likelihood of reaching a negotiated debt workout would be very high.

The role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible. However, the IMF cannot be placed at the centre of international debt workout mechanisms. Even after a fundamental reform, the IMF board cannot act as a sanctioning body and arbitrator because of conflict of interest; its members represent debtors and creditors.

The United Nations successfully played an important role in crisis resolution in several instances in the past.

The Compensatory Financing Facility – introduced in the early 1960s to enable developing countries facing liquidity problems due to temporary shortfalls in primary export earnings to draw on the Fund beyond their normal drawing rights at concessional terms – resulted from a U.N. initiative.

A recent example concerns Iraq’s debt. After the occupation of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to implement stay on the enforcement of creditor rights to use litigation to collect unpaid sovereign debt.

This was engineered by the very same country, the United States, which now denies a role to the United Nations in debt and finance on the grounds that it lacks competence on such matters, which mainly belong to the IMF and the World Bank.

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. 

* This article is partly based on South Centre Research Paper 60 by Yilmaz Akyüz titled Internationalisation of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies.

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Indonesian President Unyielding on Death Penaltyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/indonesian-president-unyielding-on-death-penalty/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:38:53 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139870 Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a rally on Election Day on Jul. 9, 2014, at Proklamasi Monument Park in Jakarta. Human rights groups have condemned the country’s seventh president for his “backwards” stance on capital punishment. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

When Indonesia’s law and human rights minister visited one of the country’s prisons in December last year, he met a Nigerian convict on death row for drug trafficking, who performed songs for him before leaving him with a parting gift.

“He sang […] beautifully,” Yasonna Laoly, the human rights minister, tells IPS. “He first quoted from the Bible before he gave me a souvenir when I left – it was a painting, a beautiful one.”

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty. Jokowi is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm." -- Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras)
A month ago, at one of the weekly Christian services held at his ministry in the capital, Jakarta, a pastor came up to the minister to plea for some prisoners facing the death penalty.

She brought up the Nigerian man Laoly had met last year, stressing that he had reformed, converted to Christianity and become a good person.

“She asked me, ‘Why can’t you help?’,” explains the minister, who has also received an album of songs from the Nigerian death row inmate.

“I told her that, psychologically, it bothers me, but I have to face the case,” Laoly tells IPS, adding that he “does not believe in capital punishment”.

“I spoke to the Attorney General [H.M. Prasetyo], who was with me when I visited him and he just replied: ‘This is the law of the country and we have a policy’.”

The government of this archipelago nation of 250 million people has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to drug trafficking and smuggling, and has no qualms about using the death penalty for such offenses.

Just after midnight on Jan. 18, six drug convicts were executed by firing squad, the first imposition of capital punishment since President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo took office last October.

Another 10 drug convicts – citizens of Australia, France, Brazil, the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria and Indonesia – are slated to be executed next, following their transfer to the island prison of Nusakambangan.

Prior to Widodo’s presidential election victory last year, capital punishment in the archipelago had declined. Four people were executed in 2013 after a five-year hiatus and no capital sentences were carried out by the state in 2014.

Still, there are currently 138 people – one-third of them foreigners – on death row, primarily for drug-related offenses. The government claims its hard-line stance has to do with the growing drug menace in Indonesia – at present, 45 percent of drugs in Southeast Asia flow through this country, making it the largest drug market in the region.

Citing statistics from the country’s National Narcotics Board (BNN), Troels Vester, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put the number of drug users at 5.6 million this year.

Government statistics further indicate that drug abuse kills off some 40 Indonesians every day, a figure hotly disputed by local rights groups.

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

A street food vendor walks past a sign, warning residents against taking drugs, outside of the Russian consulate in South Jakarta. Indonesia imposes harsh penalties, including capital punishment, for drug-related crimes. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Officials say that rampant drug use also fuels a demand for medical and health services, putting undue pressure on the government to expend public resources on treatment and counseling, HIV testing, and anti-retroviral therapy for those people living with HIV/AIDS.

But the United Nations says that the use of the death penalty will not necessary reduce Indonesia’s drug woes, and has urged the country to stopper the practice of capital punishment in line with international law.

Earlier this month some 40 human rights groups from around the world dispatched a letter to the Indonesian president, reminding him, “Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life.”

The letter further stated, “They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognises every human being’s inherent right to life.”

Such efforts have so far failed to sway the president, or stay the country’s harsh hand of justice.

Ignoring international pressure

Widodo has also rejected political bids for clemency, including entreaties from foreign governments to spare the lives of their citizens; five of the six drug convicts executed in January were foreigners.

In January, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands personally requested Widodo to pardon Dutch national Ang Kiem Soe – convicted of being involved in a scheme to produce 15,000 ecstasy pills a day – but Widodo was unmoved.

Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors from Jakarta after their nationals were executed in January, while Australia has been campaigning furiously to save two of its own citizens, with the country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, attempting an eleventh-hour prisoner swap, which was rejected.

Widodo has met all such efforts with a simple answer: there will be “no compromise” on the issue.

Human rights advocates like Amnesty International have slammed the Indonesian president’s “backwards” stance on capital punishment, accusing him of manipulating data to support his decisions.

“He says that 40 to 50 people are dying every day from drugs, but where is that figure coming from?” asks Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), adding that the president’s actions came as a surprise as he never shared his views on capital punishment during his campaign.

“The hospitals, doctors and the health ministry aren’t giving us data. These figures are from the anti-drugs body BNN, but they have never been proven,” Azhar adds.

Other activists like Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute, believe the president is using the death penalty to protect his image and regain public support following criticism over his government’s weak performance in law enforcement.

“There are no statistics of a deterrent effect with the death penalty,” the human rights defender tells IPS. “Jokowi [a popular nickname for the president] is using the death penalty […] to prove to his critics that he is firm. I think he is trying to gain back popularity as the death penalty is still favoured among Indonesians.”

While there has been no comprehensive nationwide poll to assess public opinion on, or popular support for, capital punishment, surveys conducted by the media suggest that some 75 percent of the population is in favour of death sentences, primarily for terrorism, corruption and narcotics charges.

Death sentences are typically carried out by a firing squad comprised of 12 people, who shoot from a range of five to 10 metres. Prisoners are given the choice of standing or sitting, as well as whether to have their eyes covered by a blindfold, or their face concealed by a hood.

Inmates are generally informed of their fate just 72 hours prior to execution, a practice that has been blasted by human rights groups.

While the human rights minister admits that the death penalty may not solve all the country’s drug problems, he believes that a firm policy is the first step to preventing millions from falling “into ruin” at the hands of narcotics.

UNODC estimates that there are 110,000 heroin addicts and 1.2 million users of crystalline methamphetamine in Indonesia. But experts like Azhar feel the problem cannot be ‘executed away’. Instead, the Kontras coordinator suggests the country adopt a humane approach to law enforcement.

According to Amnesty International, some “140 countries have now abolished the death penalty. Indonesia has the opportunity to become the 141st country.” However, if the president’s resolve remains unchanged, this is unlikely to happen in the near future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Multi-Drug Resistance Adds to Tuberculosis Epidemic in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/multi-drug-resistance-adds-to-tuberculosis-epidemic-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 22:33:08 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139840 In Papua New Guinea, most people live in rural areas with poor access to health services, increasing the challenges of fighting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In Papua New Guinea, most people live in rural areas with poor access to health services, increasing the challenges of fighting infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

Rising multi-drug resistance in patients suffering from tuberculosis, a debilitating infectious lung disease which mainly impacts the developing world, has led to a public health emergency in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, according to state officials.

While efforts to combat the disease worldwide have produced results, with the global death rate dropping by 45 percent since 1990, the annual number of new cases in Papua New Guinea has risen from 16,000 to 30,000 over the past five years.

“The biggest barrier for the moment is cultural beliefs about the causes of diseases [...]. The first source of help [for many patients] is witchdoctors and local remedies." -- Louis Samiak, chairman of public health at the School of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Papua New Guinea
On World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, observed on Mar. 24, the country’s health experts spoke out about the challenges they face in tackling a disease that thrives in communities struggling against hardship and inadequate access to information and basic services.

“The biggest barrier for the moment is cultural beliefs about the causes of diseases. TB is a disease with long incubation and the first source of help [for many patients] is witchdoctors and local remedies. When patients present late [at health facilities] with advanced disease, it is difficult to treat,” Louis Samiak, chairman of public health at the School of Medicine and Health Services at the University of Papua New Guinea, told IPS.

Disease symptoms include fever, chest pains, fatigue, weight loss and cough, frequently with sputum and blood, which results in the airborne spread of bacteria.

The illness transmits quickly in overcrowded impoverished settlements and in Papua New Guinea, where sanitation coverage is only 19 percent and less than half the population have access to clean water, it is the leading cause of hospital deaths.

In rural villages of Kikori District in the southern Gulf Province the TB incidence rate is an alarming 1,290 per 100,000 people, according to the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research. The national prevalence is 541 cases per 100,000 people, compared to the global average of 126.

The campaign to halt the epidemic in Gulf Province is supported by the international medical non-governmental organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Operating from the main town of Kerema, MSF has since last year diagnosed an average of 50 new TB cases every month, inlcuding patients as young as 10 months.

Adults aged 15-54 years are mainly afflicted, but youth account for about 28 percent of cases in PNG, while pulmonary TB and TB meningitis contribute to malnutrition and mortality in children.

One mother took her ill six-year-old child to Kerema General Hospital in an arduous journey from her mountain village, which took three hours by boat and two by truck.

“In the beginning, the mother did not understand what TB is, why the child needs treatment every day for long periods and why she has to be away from her village. It took two months to gain her acceptance of the treatment and for her to prepare for living away from the village,” a spokesperson for MSF in Papua New Guinea recounted to IPS.

“But the child is now receiving treatment every day with signs of improvement.”

Threatening disease control efforts is increasing resistance in patients to the strong first-line drugs, isoniazid and rifampicin. Common practice of patients stopping medication as soon as they feel better and not fully completing treatment is the main cause of multi-drug resistant TB in the country, Suparat Phuanukoonnon of the Institute of Medical Research told IPS.

When treatment is interrupted, the lower level of medication consumed fails to eradicate all the bacteria, which then develop resistance in the patient’s body.

In 2013, 4.5 percent of diagnosed TB cases in the country were multi-drug resistant, a significant increase from 1.9 percent in 2010. Drug resistant TB is rising in the rural Western and Gulf Provinces and the capital, Port Moresby, where more than half the population live in squatter settlements.

The impact on development is acute, with 75 percent of people with TB worldwide of working age.

“TB can affect all or any part of the human body. It, therefore, affects the whole person and reduces their ability to be productive to society or their community,” University of Papua New Guinea’s Samiak said.

While sufferers face rising healthcare expenses, the inability to work reduces their incomes. Poverty is perpetuated in the next generation when the disease affects both parents, forcing children to withdraw from school in order to care and provide for the family.

Papua New Guinea is the most populous Pacific Island nation with a population of seven million. But there are immense logistical challenges to fighting infectious diseases in the country, with more than 85 percent living in rural areas with poor, if any, access to roads and readily available transport to urban centres and health facilities.

A further hindrance is insufficient healthcare professionals with less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people and a decline in the country’s health services since 2002, according to a report last year by the National Research Institute.

It found the availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Resources also need to be directed toward public education following a medical research institute survey of 1,034 people in the Central, Madang and Eastern Highlands Provinces, which showed the majority to be unaware of TB, its causes, and treatment.

Phuanukoonnon explained, “Prior to the Global Fund grant for TB [eradication] in PNG in 2007, it was a neglected disease in terms of political commitment and proper funding for the control programme.”

Limited health services are stretched as it is and, while TB information is available at health centres, overworked staff members still have little time for advocacy.

Any educational approach should address “how people receive and process information and believe the information enough to take action”, which requires that “health communication should be relevant to local contexts,” she continued.

Resources to assail the epidemic have been boosted, with the Global Fund announcing last month a further 18 million dollars of funding to fight TB in Papua New Guinea over the next three years.

Samiak said that financial resources could be well spent developing in-country laboratory facilities and staff training, so that TB test results are processed more efficiently and patient follow up and treatment expedited.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Gates Foundation Slammed for Plan to Privatise African Seed Marketshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gates-foundation-slammed-for-plan-to-privatise-african-seed-markets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gates-foundation-slammed-for-plan-to-privatise-african-seed-markets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gates-foundation-slammed-for-plan-to-privatise-african-seed-markets/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:59:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139838 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been attacked by activists over alleged support of a plan to privatise African agricultural markets.

United Kingdom social justice organisation Global Justice Now levelled the claims at the Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Monday, saying the two agencies were holding a “secret meeting” in London to promote a plan to help companies sell seeds in Africa, that will cut out small farmers.

“This morning in response food justice campaigners have held a demonstration outside the offices of the BMGF in London, with placards calling on the foundation to ‘free the seeds’ and handing out packets of open-pollinated seeds as a symbol of the alternative to the corporate model promoted by USAID and BMGF,” Global Justice Now said in a release.

“A papier mâché piñata representing the commercial control of seed systems was smashed by the protesters, with thousands of seeds inside being spilled over the steps of the entrance to the BMGF.”

Global Justice Now said the London meeting was in response to a study by Monitor-Deloitte, commissioned by USAID and the Gates Foundation, which examined how corporate seed producers could better penetrate African markets.

“For generations, small farmers have been able to save and swap seeds. This vital practice enables farmers to keep a wide range of seeds which helps maintain biodiversity and helps them to adapt to climate change and protect from plant disease,” Global Justice Now food sovereignty campaigner Heidi Chow wrote in a blog post on their website.

“However, this system of seed saving is under threat by corporations who want to take more control over seeds.”

The group claims such “corporate-produced hybrid seeds” bring higher harvests in initial years, but later show unpredictable growth patterns.

“This means that instead of saving seeds from their own crops, farmers who use hybrid seeds become completely dependent on the seed companies that sell them,” the blog post continued.

“Often the seeds are sold in packages with chemical fertiliser and pesticides which can lead to spiralling debt as well as damaging the environment and causing health problems.”

Chow called the plan “another form of colonialism” for forcing African farmers to depend on corporate interests for their continued survival.

“We need to ensure that the control of seeds and other agricultural resources stay firmly in the hands of small farmers who feed the majority of the population in Africa rather than allowing big agribusiness to dominate even more aspects of the food system.”

Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah, Chair of Food Sovereignty Ghana, also expressed concern over the power that corporate interests would hold over farmers.

Activists worldwide are using the Twitter hashtag #FreeTheSeeds to protest the meeting and the plan.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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