Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 00:46:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Q&A: “It’s a Crime” that 35 Million Latin Americans Still Suffer from Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 22:33:10 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150579 Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 24 2017 (IPS)

The fight against hunger has been “remarkably successful” in Latin America and the Caribbean, but “it is a crime” that 35 million people still go to bed hungry every day, FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.

Berdegué, who is also assistant director-general of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), with decades of experience in matters related to rural development, said during his first interview as the new regional representative that the biggest challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is inequality, which “is present in every action and contributes to many other problems.”

In the FAO regional office in Santiago, Berdegué, from Mexico, discussed with IPS issues such as obesity, “in which we are losing the fight,” the weakness of rural institutions, which facilitates corruption, or the weakness of the social fabric, which drug trafficking mafias depend on, as well as the need to address the question of water scarcity which is here to stay due to climate change, and where the key is the transformation of agriculture, which uses 70 per cent of all water consumed.

IPS: What do you consider are the greatest debts of the region in the agri-food sector?

JULIO BERDEGUÉ: We unfortunately still have very high levels of rural poverty. Nearly 50 per cent of the rural population is still living in poverty conditions and almost 30 per cent in extreme poverty. There are 58 million rural poor and 35 million living in conditions of indigence, who are not even able to feed themselves adequately.

IPS: This is happening in the region that has been the most successful in reducing poverty and hunger in this century…

JB: We have a problem with malnutrition and hunger, which even though they have been notably reduced, still stand at 5.5 per cent, which in human terms means that 35 million Latin Americans are still going to bed hungry every day, and six million children are chronically undernourished… Which is a crime. And of these, 700,000 children suffer from acute and chronic undernutrition… that is terrible.

IPS: In that context, which will be the priorities of your administration?

JB: The main thrust has been continuity, and I want to adhere to that. FAO’s mission and strategic objectives are clearly defined in a medium-term work plan discussed and approved in May in Rome (at FAO’s global headquarters).

The first objective has to do with hunger…undernourishment and malnutrition will continue to have a central role in the agenda. The second has to do with greater sustainability of agriculture, contributing to global food security, in a sustainable manner.

The issues of rural poverty, where unfortunately family agriculture is included, beyond what people might think, are not yet lost, but we still have a long way to go. Also the importance of food systems, which have experienced in the past 25 to 30 years a radical shift in their depth and speed, and the importance of resilience in the face of climate change.

IPS: And what are the regional assets available to carry out these tasks?

JB: We must not lose sight of the fact that Latin America is a great contributor to global food security. What our region does in this matter is very important, and we must take advantage of this strength.

This is also a region with enormous biodiversity. In terms of biodiversity the region is a player of global importance and whatever we do well or badly affects each person on this planet.

IPS: Has there been progress in the political and social spheres?

JB: The question of peace in the region is another asset. What has happened in Colombia (with the peace agreements that came into force in late 2016) is exciting for all of us, and is of utmost importance. In the last 20 years there has also been heavy spending in rural areas, on roads, electrification, telecommunications, and access to basic services, education and health. The educational levels of our rural people under 35 are far higher than that of their parents. These are assets that we need to mobilise.

IPS: And what are the weaknesses you perceive in these same fields?
JB: In rural areas, government institutions are very weak, in most countries in the region… The exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand… and they are weak because they are outdated, because there is much corruption, patronage, use of public budgets for particular interests, and that weakens the government and public action for the benefit of society as a whole. It makes our job difficult.

IPS: Apart from that difficulty, what other challenges does the region face?

JB: The rural social fabric has been weakening in some countries. The penetration of drug trafficking, of violence, which often goes hand in hand with corruption, makes life very hard for the inhabitants of those rural areas and makes it very difficult to bring political solutions that would increase their opportunities and well-being. The situation in some Central American countries is extremely concerning. In my own country, Mexico, the situation worries all Mexicans. The levels of violence in Venezuela… There are countries where the weakening of the social fabric is a warning sign.

IPS: Latin Americans are facing a new and growing problem, obesity, without yet having solved that of chronic malnutrition…

JB: Malnutrition is a crime. The fact that more than half of the rural children in Guatemala suffer from chronic undernutrition is unacceptable in the 21st century, but obesity is killing us. Not long ago, Mexico’s minister of health, Dr. José Navarro, who until recently was the provost of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reminded us that obesity kills more people than organised crime in Mexico. Obesity is definitely killing us.

IPS: Do malnutrition and obesity have anything in common?

JB: First, let me say in what they differ. We have greatly reduced undernutrition. In this, Latin America has been remarkably successful, even at a global level. We are the only region that has met its Millennium Development Goals. But in terms of obesity we are losing the fight badly. Every day there are more overweight and obese people.

What they have in common, from FAO’s perspective, is a radical change in Latin America’s food systems. The world in which we had local markets and people ate locally produced food, where many people went home to eat, has disappeared forever.

Today our food systems are globalised, the bulk of the distribution of food products is through supermarket chains, most of what we eat are ultra-processed foods. Even our farmers eat mostly purchased food: processed and ultra-processed.

IPS: But this is a global phenomenon, as you say, not only regional…

JB: The point is not the transformation of the agri-food systems. That transformation can also be observed in Norway, Canada or New Zealand. They have the same patterns of urbanisation, of eating outside the home, purchasing in supermarkets, ultra-processed foods, etc. The difference is that in those places there are public policies. Ours is a transformation that responded to market forces without public policies. The market achieves important things… today food products are much cheaper, but with enormous consequences, one being obesity and the erosion of public health in all aspects that have to do with what and how we eat.

IPS: So, what public policies are needed in the region to tackle obesity?

JB: What has to be done is to ‘redirect’ these transformation processes of the food systems, bearing in mind that we have public objectives. Redirecting means setting certain limits. For example, what is being done in Chile and to some extent in Mexico with sugary beverages, and labeling. There are healthy and unhealthy foods, and consumers have to know this.

Redirecting also means putting greater emphasis on public education with regard to healthy eating. It means that if there are places with less access to a more varied diet, to fresh fruit and vegetables, we cannot leave it to be solved by the market.

IPS: Another problem that is creating conflicts is water, its scarcity and its uses. What should be done from the agri-food sector?

JB: We have a terrible problem here, which is that agriculture is consuming 70 per cent of our planet’s fresh water. This is not sustainable and has no future. If I were president of a given country in 30 or 50 years, and they told me: ‘To produce potatoes you are using 70 per cent of the water and people have no water in the cities because of climate change,’ as president I would say: ‘well, we will import potatoes, and stop growing them.’

Between giving water to the people or producing potatoes, lettuce or asparagus… we are going to lose that fight. Our farmers fight, they organise to get more water, and it is good that they do that. We make dams and reservoirs, that’s great. But we have to start thinking how we can practice agriculture using less water, how we can produce the same amount of food without using 70 per cent of the water, and using half of that instead. We cannot talk about ‘zero water’ agriculture, but it should be much less than 70 per cent, and this is something that we are not thinking about.

We are used to using water almost without restrictions, and climate change is putting an end to that. We will not be able to go rapidly from 70 to 35 per cent water use in agriculture, but we better start now because otherwise climate change will win the race.

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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Ecuador Focuses on New UN Tax Body to Fight Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 19:29:49 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150523 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long.

Guillaume Long

Guillaume Long

Ecuador, having long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens that often harm developing countries and to create an intergovernmental body to help regulate taxation and financial flows.

In an interview with IPS, Long explains the issues, challenges, and goals in achieving tax justice.

Q: The President of the General Assembly said that SDG financing is going to take 6$ trillion annually and $30 trillion through 2030. Do you think much-needed finances will be made available if the current rate of illicit financial flows is curbed?

A: I think it’s huge what you can get from curbing illicit flows and basically from tax dodging or tax evasion. In the case of Ecuador, we calculated that an approximate amount of $30 billion is held in tax havens. Just so you get a general idea of what that means, Ecuador’s gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly around $100 billion so $30 billion means almost 1/3rd of our GDP. Most countries struggle to grow, but here you’ve got 30 percent of GDP literally being robbed from us in tax havens.

That means less investment, less dynamism in the economy, less creation of jobs and also less taxes—it’s those taxes that are used for public policies to reduce poverty, reduce inequality, and create much needed infrastructure.

There are have been estimates that public infrastructure that is needed right now in the developing world is roughly $1.5 trillion. This includes hospitals, schools—the kind of infrastructure that the developing world needs to reduce huge rates of inequality, poverty, and some of the things we are trying to amend through, for example, the SDGs. And that’s only probably about 15% of illegal assets held abroad in tax havens and various offshore accounts.

[Curbing illicit financial flows] could revolutionize and dramatically transform the story and history of development. And it would certainly be one of the best sources of financing for development which is the big thing. Now that we have come to an agreement on the 2030 Goals and what it is that we want to do, the next question is how do we do this? And we have to do this with resources. Some resources are available to us, but many others aren’t and this is basically through tax dodging.

This is also fundamentally a practice that is carried out by elites and therefore it also means that you get greater rates of inequality. In a continent or a region like Latin America—if you do a per capita average then it is the middle class but we know that averages hide huge disparities and Latin America is actually the most unequal region in the world and a lot of that has to do with elites not being a willing part of the social contract. And a major aspect of the social contract is taxation and not participating in tax dodging.

Q: How much does the developing world, particularly Africa, Asia, and Latin America, lose to illicit financial flows?

A: There are huge numbers that are being reported. Oxfam talks of $7.6 trillion in tax dodging—I’m not even talking about illicit financial flows, not even talking about offshore accounts, I’m talking about $7.6 trillion in tax dodging.

This is why Ecuador has taken this issue so seriously. We’ve been talking about tax havens and tax avoidance for years, particularly in this government in the last ten years with the Presidency of Rafael Correa. But after the Panama Papers scandal last year, President Correa really launched this as his priority and as a major crusade. He even launched what he called an “Ethical Pact” which included a referendum in Ecuador to ban civil servants and elected officials from holding assets in tax havens. If you are found to hold assets in tax havens, you can be removed from office automatically.

I really think Ecuador is one of the countries, if not the country in the world, that’s done the most. This referendum, which was successful in terms of its results, is an example to the world. And I think Ecuador has been the most proactive country in the year that’s transpired since the revelations of the Panama Papers in taking concrete and bold steps.

Another major thing that we have been doing on the international front is from our presidency of the G77 which we currently chair. We have pushed for the creation of an intergovernmental body on tax justice. We had a workshop this morning which was co-chaired by Ecuador, India, and South Africa with huge participation exactly on this issue.

There is an opportunity—now that the issue is back at the forefront of the media, it means that we have to maximize that opportunity to try and create mechanisms, particularly inside the United Nations, that fight tax dodging. [This issue] we can deal with if we have the right tools and institutions to fight that.

Q: What are your thoughts on public disclosures on tax havens like the Panama Papers? Is that something that is needed more in order to increase transparency and action on tax havens?

A: Whistleblowing plays an important role. When information is public and people find out about these things, if their politicians have been hiding money and fog them—most politicians have a very patriotic discourse saying they’re going to create jobs and economic activity and bring foreign investment. But surely there is a paradox and a contradiction if you are saying ‘vote for me because I’ll bring loads of foreign investment into the country’ and then on the other hand you’ve got all your personal assets hidden away somewhere without paying taxes. I think when those contradictions and lies, and I would use the world ‘robbery’ especially if you are dodging taxes, are exposed then that’s a good thing. It creates greater consciousness.

I think this is a time of great opportunity because since the Panama Papers scandal, a lot of countries that could be considered to be tax havens are starting to take measures because they are under increasing pressure by people and by countries like Ecuador and other countries to do something about it. The fact that we are having this debate today and the fact that I am talking to you is not necessarily in the tax havens’ interest because it brings the spotlight onto their activities so generally speaking, those kinds of public disclosures are very important part of creating a general awareness that this must stop.

There are a lot of double standards too. On the one hand, developing countries are under pressure for all sorts of things. They’ve got to grow, they’ve got to be good economically, they’ve got to guarantee human rights—all of these things which we absolutely abide by and are very committed to—but surely there is a contradiction with having to do that and then on the other hand, all of these countries that are kind of sermonizing the rest of the world from their civilizational pedestal are reaping the benefits of all the crony and corrupt elites of the developing countries depositing their money in these bank accounts without paying taxes.

So there’s a hypocrisy there that has to be exposed. And if these public disclosures can help to do that, then so be it.

Q: Has there been any progress since the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) adoption of the ‘UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion’?

A: That was a very important step. It was the first piece of important legislation and regulatory result that came out of the Committee of Experts in a long time. So we are seeing progress, though still not enough, but still progress. And that has to do with [it being] back on the agenda.

Now there is a new step, which I think is very important, that the Secretary-General from June onwards is going to be naming the members of the Committee of Experts. So that’s also a positive development because it obviously raises the stakes and gives it more political clout.

Ecuador’s position is that we celebrate that the Committee of Experts was created with largely the fruit of debate that goes back to Monterrey in 2002. But now we think that the Committee of Experts is insufficient and that we need something else. We need something with more clout, with more accountability, with more relation with the United Nations system itself and the governmental nature of this organization.

You have it in other spheres—if you look at trade, the World Trade Organization is a regulatory body at the highest level for trade while the Intellectual Property Organization is a regulatory body for intellectual property at the highest level.

Those institutions exist because it is in the interest of big capital that they should exist. Big capital is in favor of free trade and if a country stands in the way of free trade, then you get reprimanded. But it’s not necessarily in the interest of big capital to have the equivalent in the field of taxation. This is an important concept that we should bear in mind. A lot of the institutions of global governance that we have inherited respond to specific interests and not always to the interests of the most powerless in society. They respond to the interests of the most powerful in society.

And why should trade be more important than taxation? Probably in terms of redistribution, taxation is more important than trade. Although, nobody is saying that trade isn’t important for the overall accumulation of wealth of different countries, but in terms of redistribution and in terms of capacity of the state to work towards the 2030 Agenda, then surely [taxation] plays a huge role.

It is great that we are getting closer but it is frustrating that we are still talking about a fight in order to create an institution that will then dedicate itself to fighting for a greater outcome which is tax justice. We are not even fighting for tax justice, we are fighting for the right to have the corresponding institutions just like you have them in the fields of trade and intellectual property and others.

Q: Are you proposing for a new UN tax body or are you hoping to transform the Committee of Experts into an intergovernmental body that you have proposed?

A: We are looking to transform the Committee of Experts but we are very open to different kinds of formats. We are trying to create consensus and if you are trying to create consensus—I mean, we preside over the G77 which is 134 nations so creating consensus between 134 nations is already a tall order—but at the end of the day, we are actually trying to create consensus between 193 nations of the United Nations and that includes tax havens, countries that have been a little pro-status quo particularly in the OECD, and a lot of countries that are not in the G77.

So we are open to all sorts of different outcomes. We just want to raise the hierarchy, the political clout, the visibility, the strength of the body. There are a number of initiatives. Some people have talked about keeping it within the ECOSOC while others want to elevate it to the General Assembly—there’s a huge debate within the G77 about it. But there is consensus between 134 nations of the G77 that it should be an intergovernmental body. And that’s something that we are trying to, through our presidency, express the will of the nations that are members of our group.

Q: How feasible is the proposal for an intergovernmental body for approval by the General Assembly?

A: I think multilateralism is a slow process always. I think we are getting closer. And I think that the big conference on financing for development in the next few weeks should make significant progress. I think we will find that there is much more consensus than there was in Addis Ababa in 2015.

Most countries from the Global South have these discussions about tax justice and the right to development. But a number of countries from the G20 or OECD or more industrialized countries have also started to be flexible in their position. We are seeing changes. In the workshop we had today, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago, we had loads of tax havens present. Not just tax havens that are blacklisted in the Global South by the Global North but tax havens from Europe and from other parts of the world. And they were there because they want to listen in on the debate which shows that at least they are concerned or interested and some of them actually spoke out and said they are making changes and showing a greater commitment.

There is another major thing which is the securitization of the issue. For some countries, issues of terrorism is a big thing. Where do terrorists hide their money? Well, increasingly in constituencies that enjoy banking secrecy and those tend to be tax havens. If we can all at least agree on the outcome which is greater accountability and greater regulations on that matter, even if it is for different reasons, it’s about consensus building and that’s what multilateralism is about.

Q: So would this proposed UN tax body help bring such international cooperation in tackling illicit financial flows?

A: That’s exactly right. It’s not just about naming and shaming tax havens. If suddenly you have two neighboring countries in a European setting, even if they are developed countries, and they start this kind of taxation war by lowering their taxes in order to try to suck capital and investment out of each other in this kind of race to the bottom, then a [UN tax] body like that should be able to intervene and make at least the right recommendations. Whether those recommendations become compulsory then that’s another debate, but it should be a body like you have in other fields that has the capacity to make clear recommendations.

Q: Have you faced or expect to face opposition for this proposal, especially from the Global North?

A: For sure. The G77 has been facing—basically with the same position I am presenting to you is not a new position, the position has been going on for decades and there has been clear language on behalf of the G77.

It is interesting because within the G77, you actually have tax havens as well. But even those tax havens have accepted that an intergovernmental body, which doesn’t exclude them, is quite a good measure if you want to have a serious debate and discussion between member States on this issue. This has been the position of the G77 which has been resisted for decades. There has been loads of opposition. We saw it in Addis Ababa, particularly members of the G7 or the G20 and lots of opposition from the OECD countries and oppositions from countries that are not always considered to be tax havens in the kind of stereotypical manner.

Countries like the United Kingdom has been opposed to this very much, not only because of its own policies but also because of what is euphemistically called non-autonomous territories. The five biggest tax havens in relative terms of the offshore assets per GDP index are non-autonomous territories and four of the five are British while one is the U.S. They are not sovereign nations and they are not members of the United Nations. That’s an important issue and it’s not surprising that there is opposition when we are trying to move away from this.

The Panama Papers singled out Panama and actually Panama is making quite significant efforts to move away from that image. We are very happy to see them move away from such practices but actually, Panama is not necessarily in the top five in terms of the GDP index. The very people who even write up the black lists are not free of tax malpractice themselves.

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A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:20:14 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150510 In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 22 2017 (IPS)

Don’t read this story if you are a parent or have children relatives. It is the bloodcurdling story of over 300,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who are just a small part of millions of children that are innocent, easy prey for smugglers and human traffickers worldwide.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, a new UN report has just found that children account for around 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. And that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims, at the rates of 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. “I’m a child, not a criminal, not a threat, not an outcast” – UNICEF

The new report, issued by the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), also informs that the number of children travelling alone has increased five–fold since 2010, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which was released on May 18, and presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” commented UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

First and foremost, children need protection, the UN agency reminded, while highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.”

One of World’s Deadliest Routes for Children

Few weeks earlier, a senior UNICEF official called the routes from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Europe one of the “world’s deadliest and most dangerous for children and women,” as the UN agency informed that nearly half of the women and children interviewed after making the voyage were raped.

On this, its report A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route, warned that “refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy,”

At the time of the report, which was issued end of February, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including about 54,000 included women and children. “This is a low count with actual numbers at least three times higher.”

The UN agency believes that at least 181,000 people –including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children –used smugglers in 2016 to try to reach Italy. “At the most dangerous portion– from southern Libya to Sicily – one in every 40 people is killed.”

Raped, Exploited, Left in Debt

Here, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women. “The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo


“Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations,” with “widespread and systematic” sexual violence at crossings and checkpoints.

“In addition, about three-quarters of all the children interviewed said that they had “experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults” including beatings, verbal and emotional abuse.”

In Western Libya, women were often held in detention centres were they reported “harsh conditions, such as poor nutrition and sanitation, significant overcrowding and a lack of access to health care and legal assistance,” the UN Children Fund informed.

What the Most Powerful Should – and Can Do

Included in the report is a six-point agenda calling for “safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children.” UNICEF urged the European Union to adopt this agenda ahead of the Summit of the G7 (the group of the 7 most powerful countries) in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May.

The six-point agenda stresses the need to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives, and to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.

It recommends, as well, to keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; to press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Such commitments would obviously be easy to take and implement by the G7 governments. The point is: will the political leaders of the world’s richest countries consider, seriously, this inhuman tragedy?

Are they aware that the number of children left alone has been soaring? UNICEF –which they created to assist millions of European refugee children, victims of their Wold War II– has just reported that 92 per cent of children who arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.

Do these mandatories know that 75 per cent of children who arrived in Italy—the very same country hosting their Summit—have reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay?

Let alone the case of hundreds of children who are abducted to sell their organs, to be recruited by terrorist organisations as child soldiers, or are exploited in harsh “modern” slavery work.

Will these political leaders mostly talk big finance and big business–including the 20 May US-Saudi Arabia weapons deal amounting to 110 billion dollars? Who knows…they might also have some spare time to read US president Donald Trump’s latest tweets.

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Unique Sandbar Coastal Ecosystem in Cuba Calls for Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 23:03:49 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150493 Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, May 19 2017 (IPS)

A battered bridge connects the centre of Baracoa, Cuba´s oldest city, with a singular dark-sand sandbar, known as Tibaracón, that forms on one of the banks of the Macaguaní River where it flows into the Caribbean Sea in northeastern Cuba.

Just 13 wooden houses with lightweight roofs shield the few families that still live on one of the six coastal sandbars exclusive to Baracoa, a mountainous coastal municipality with striking nature reserves, whose First City, as it is locally known, was founded 505 years ago by Spanish colonialists.

These long and narrow sandbars between the river mouths and the sea have a name from the language of the Araucan people, the native people who once populated Cuba. The sandbars are the result of a combination of various rare natural conditions: short, steep rivers, narrow coastal plains, heavy seasonal rainfall and the coral reef crest near the coast.

Local experts are calling for special treatment for these sandbars exclusive to islands in the Caribbean, in the current coastal regulation, which is gaining momentum with Tarea Vida (Life Task), Cuba´s first plan to tackle climate change, approved on April 27 by the Council of Ministers.

Baracoa, with a population of 81,700, is among the municipalities prioritised by the new programme due to its elevation. Authorities point out that the plan, with its 11 specific tasks, has a more far-reaching scope than previous policies focused on climate change, and includes gradually increasing investments up to 2100.
“I was born here. I moved away when I got married, and returned seven years ago after I got divorced,” dentist María Teresa Martín, a local resident who belongs to the Popular Council of La Playa, a peri-urban settlement that includes the Macaguaní tibaracón or sandbar, told IPS.

The sandbar is the smallest in Baracoa, the rainiest municipality in Cuba, while the largest – three km in length – is at the mouth of the Duaba River.

“It’s not easy to live here,” said Martín. “The tide goes out and all day long you smell this stench, because the neighbours throw all their garbage and rubble into the river and the sea, onto the sand,” she lamented, while pointing out at the rubbish that covers the dunes and is caught in the roots of coconut palm trees and on stranded fishing boats.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Macaguaní River runs down from the mountains and across the city, along Baracoa bay, which it flows into. It stinks and is clogged up from the trash and human waste dumped into it, one of the causes of the accelerated shrinking of the tibaracón.

“We even used to have a street, and there were many more houses,” said Martín.

The Greater Caribbean launches a project

The 25 members of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) approved on Mar. 8 in Havana a regional project to curb erosion on the sandy coastlines, promote alternatives to control the phenomenon, and drive sustainable tourism.

The initiative, set forth by Cuba during the first ACS Cooperation Conference, in which governments of the bloc participated along with donor agencies and countries, including the Netherlands and South Korea, was incorporated into the ACS´ 2016-2018 Action Plan, which will extend until 2020.

The project, currently in the dissemination phase to raise funds, already has a commitment from the Netherlands to contribute one billion dollars, while South Korea has initially offered three million dollars.

The initiative will at first focus on 10 island countries, althoug others plan to join in, since the problem of erosion of sandy coastlines affects local economies that depend on tourism and fishing.

“We have lost other communication routes with the city. We have to evacuate whenever there is a cyclone or tsunami warning,” said the local resident, who is waiting to be resettled to a safer place in the city.

Local fisherman Abel Estévez, who lives across from Martín, would also like to move inland, but he is worried that he will be offered a house too far from the city. “I live near the sea and live off it. If they send us far from here, how am I going to support my daughter? How will my wife get to her job at the hospital?” he remarked.

Such as is happening with La Playa, the
Coastal regulations establish that municipal authorities must relocate to safer places 21 communities – including La Playa – along the municipality’s 82.5 km of coastline, of which 13.9 are sandy.

“We have exclusive and very vulnerable natural resources, such as the tibaracones,” explained Ricardo Suárez, municipal representative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. “They are a sandy strip between the river and the sea, which makes them fragile ecosystems at risk of being damaged by the river and the sea.”

The disappearance of the tibaracones would change the “coastal dynamics”, explained the geographer. “Where today there is sand, tomorrow there could be a bay, and that brings greater exposure to penetration by the sea, which puts urban areas at risk and salinises the soil and inland waters,” he told IPS.

He said that these sandbars are affected by poor management and human activities, such as sand extraction, pollution and indiscriminate logging, in addition to climate change and the resulting elevation of the sea level. He also pointed out natural causes such as geological changes in the area.

In his opinion, the actions to protect the sandbars are band-aid measures, since they are destined to disappear. He said this can be slowed down unless natural disasters occur, like Hurricane Matthew, which hit the city on Oct. 4-5, 2016.

Suárez is the author of a study that shows the gradual shrinking of the tibaracones located in Baracoa, which serve as “natural barriers protecting the city”. He also showed how the population has been migrating from the sandbars, due to their vulnerability.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In the shrinking community where Martín and Estévez live, between the mouth of the Macaguaní River and the sea, there were 122 houses in 1958. And on the Miel River tibaracón, at the eastern end of the city, there were 45 houses in 1978, while today there are only a few shops and businesses.

The unique Miel River delta used to be 70 metres wide in the middle of the last century, while today the narrowest portion is just 30 metres wide. In Macaguaní, meanwhile, the shrinking has been more abrupt, from 80 metres back then, to just six metres in one segment, the study found.

The expert recommends differentiated treatment for these ecosystems, which are not specifically contemplated under Decree Law 212 for the Management of Coastal Areas, in force since 2000, which is the main legal foundation for the current land-use regulation which requires the removal of buildings that are harmful to the coasts.

Suárez said the removal of structures on sandy soil surrounded by water must be followed with preventive measures to preserve the sand, such as reforestation with native species.

In the study, he notes that the government’s Marine Studies Agency, a subsidiary of the Geocuba company in the neighbouring province of Santiago de Cuba, proposes the construction of a seawall and embankment to protect the Miel River delta. And he emphasised the importance of carrying out similar research in the case of Macaguaní.

Cuba´s Institute of Physical Planning (IPF) inspected the 5,746 km of coastline in the Cuban archipelago, and found 5,167 illegalities committed by individuals, and another 1,482 by legal entities. The institute reported that up to February 2015, 489 of the infractions committed by legal entities had been eradicated.

When the authorities approved the Life Task plan, the IPF assured the official media that the main progress in coastal management has been achieved so far on the 414 Cuban beaches at 36 major tourist areas. Tourism is Cuba´s second-biggest source of foreign exchange, after the export of medical services.

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Agony of Mother Earth (II) World’s Forests Depleted for Fuelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 11:13:54 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150481 This is the second of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the real lungs of Mother Earth. Part I dealt with the relentless destruction of forests.]]> Forests play a critical role for many countries in their ability to mitigate climate change. Credit: FAO/Rudolf Hahn

Forests play a critical role for many countries in their ability to mitigate climate change. Credit: FAO/Rudolf Hahn

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Humankind is the biggest ever predator of natural resources. Just take the case of forests, the real lungs of Mother Earth, and learn that every 60 seconds humans cut down 15 hectares of trees primarily for food or energy production. And that as much as 45,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared for every million kilos of beef exported from South America.

Should these figures not be enough, Monique Barbut, the executive-secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), also drew world’s attention to the fact that “when we take away the forest it is not just the trees that go… The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart… with dire consequences for us all…”

Barbut, who provided these and other figures on the occasion of this year’s International Day of Forests –marked under the theme “Forestry and Energy”— also reminded that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for over 17 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

UNCCD’s chief is far from the only expert to sound the alarm–the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuel-wood and charcoal.

This happens largely due to unsustainable forest management and inefficient charcoal manufacture and fuel-wood combustion, according to The Charcoal Transition report published on the Day (March 21).

Right – but the other relevant fact is that for more than two billion people worldwide, wood fuel means a cooked meal, boiled water for safe drinking, and a warm dwelling, as this specialised body’s director-general José Graziano da Silva timely recalled.

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Poor People in Rural Areas

This is especially important for poor people in rural areas of developing countries, where wood is often the only energy source available.

Regions with the greatest incidence of poverty, most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and low income households in Asia, are also the most dependent on fuel-wood: “Nearly 90 per cent of all fuel wood and charcoal use takes place in developing countries, where forests are often the only energy source available to the rural poor,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

However, much of the current production of wood fuel is “unsustainable,” contributing significantly to the degradation of forests and soils and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, said Graziano da Silva. “In many regions the conversion to charcoal is often done using rudimentary and polluting methods.”

He urged countries to reverse these negative trends in wood energy production and use. “We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion.” Currently the organisation he leads while is participating in several programmes to deliver fuel-efficient stoves, especially for poor people in Latin America and Africa.

In conflict and famine-struck South Sudan, the organisation and partners have already distributed more than 30,000 improved stoves.

For his part, Fiji’s president, Jioji Konousi Konrote, stressed, “We need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass, in order to ensure that developing countries are making use of these technologies and keep pace with growing energy demands in a sustainable manner.”

The government of Fiji is poised to assume the presidency of the next Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Agreement scheduled to take place in in Bonn, Germany, in November.

1 in 3 People Wood-Fuel Dependent

The challenge is huge knowing that more than 2.4 billion people –about one-third of the world’s population– still rely on the traditional use of wood-fuel for cooking, and many small enterprises use fuel-wood and charcoal as the main energy carriers for various purposes such as baking, tea processing and brickmaking.

Of all the wood used as fuel worldwide, about 17 per cent is converted to charcoal, according to The Charcoal Transition report. The point is when charcoal is produced using inefficient technologies and unsustainable resources, the emission of greenhouse gases can be as high as 9 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1 kg charcoal produced.

The report highlights that in the absence of realistic and renewable alternatives to charcoal in the near future, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, greening the charcoal value chain and applying sustainable forest management practices are essential for mitigating climate change while maintaining the access of households to renewable energy.

Changing the way wood is sourced and charcoal is made offers a high potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it says, adding that a shift from traditional ovens or stoves to highly efficient modern kilns could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. At the end-use level, a transition from traditional stoves to improved state-of-the-art stoves could reduce emissions by around 60 per cent.

“Wood based energy accounts for 27 per cent of the total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania,” according to FAO estimates.

Forests continue to be under threat from unsustainable use, environmental degradation, rapid urbanisation, population growth, and the impacts of climate change. Between 2010 and 2015, global forest area saw a net decrease of 3.3 million hectares per year.

This is Part II of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the reall lungs of Mother Earth. Read Part I: Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forests.

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Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 13:13:36 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150456 This is the first of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the real lungs of Mother Earth. Part II will deal with forest depletion for wood-fuel.]]> The Selm Muir Forest of West Lothian, Scotland. Credit: UN Photo/Robert Clamp

The Selm Muir Forest of West Lothian, Scotland. Credit: UN Photo/Robert Clamp

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 18 2017 (IPS)

The world’s forests are being degraded and lost at a staggering rate of 3.3 million hectares per year. While their steady destruction in many Asian countries continues apace, deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest – the Amazon – increased 29 per cent from last year’s numbers. And some of the most precious ecosystems in Africa are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.

These are some of the facts that have been repeatedly heralded by the scientific community and the world’s most authoritative voices, who remind us that globally, 1.3 billion people are estimated to be “forest peoples”, who depend almost entirely on them for their livelihoods.

Asia

Patrick Durst, the senior Forestry officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on May 15 added to this figure that 28 per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income.

According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Moreover, the degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.

While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to struggle to respond to forest loss, some are taking positive action, says the assessment, adding that through reforestation programmes, China and Viet Nam are actually increasing the amount of forested land. And the government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover by as much as 35 per cent.

Latin America

Meanwhile, “the world’s ancient forests are in crisis–a staggering 80 per cent have already been destroyed or degraded and much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.”

Believe it or not, these estimates are anything but new or even recent—they were advanced around 9 years ago by a major independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.

In fact, Greenpeace had already on 30 January 2008 reported that illegal logging was having a devastating impact on the world’s forests.

Its effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and fuelling climate change, the group noted, adding that this creates “social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime and human rights abuses.”

According to Greenpeace, it is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Amazon Deforestation Now

Barely six months ago, the very same global campaigning organisation reported that Amazon deforestation had increased 29 per cent from the numbers released for last year, according to data released by the Brazilian government on 31 November 2016.

“Brazil is losing control over the destruction of its forests because of poor policy decisions and may now have difficulty reaching its climate agreement targets, “ Greenpeace said on Dec. 1, 2016.

Data from the Deforestation Monitoring Program for the Legal Amazon indicated that 7989 km² of forest in the Amazon was destroyed between August 2015 and July 2016, the conservationist organisation reported.

“This is the second consecutive year deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest has increased, a direct result of the government’s lack of ambition in dealing with the challenge of curbing forest loss. It is the first time in 12 years there have been increases in deforestation two years in a row.”

Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, warned that the increase in deforestation rates can be linked to signals from Brazil’s government that it will tolerate the destruction of the Amazon.

“In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation.”

According to Greenpeace, deforestation is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“With forest loss on the rise again, the country could find it difficult to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, recently signed and ratified by Brazil… It is estimated that the deforestation of 7989km² has released the equivalent of 586 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere—the same amount as eight years of emissions from all of the cars in Brazil.”

The illegal harvesting of timber, expansion of agribusiness and the conversion of forests into pasture are a few of the major drivers of deforestation, Mazzetti explained, adding that building large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric plants, also stimulates land grabbing and speculation, leading to even more deforestation.

Africa

For his part, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general and current chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), recently warned against the destruction of forests, which provide clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods.

“Each day more forests are cleared, driven by multiple activities, from agriculture to infrastructure development, to the growing demand for wood and forest products, often made worse by illegal logging,” he said.

In his keynote address at the ‘Forests for the Future – New Forests for Africa’ conference in Accra, Ghana on 16 March, Kofi Annan said, “some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin, are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation”.

Forests offer incredible impetus to the fight against climate change. “Forest restoration and reforestation in Africa can contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change and accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Annan, adding that “forest restoration of 350 million hectares could generate 170 billion dollars per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products”.

In its 2014 report, Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, the Africa Progress Panel argued that effective protection, management and mobilisation of Africa’s vast forest resources are needed to support transformative growth.

The Panel estimated that Africa lost 12.4 billion Euros (17 billion dollars) to illegal exports of timber in 2011.

Part II and last of this series on the Agony of Mother Earth focuses on forests depletion for fuel.

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Punishment for Human Rights Abusers Is Irrevocable Achievement for Argentine Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/#comments Fri, 12 May 2017 22:27:50 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150403 Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 12 2017 (IPS)

What at first was terrible news that outraged a large proportion of Argentine society, who see the conviction and imprisonment of dictatorship-era human rights violators as an irrevocable achievement for democracy, became a cause for celebration a week later.

An unexpected ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on May 3 initially opened the door to hundreds of members of the military and civilians in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to seek a reduction of their sentences, which would in some cases even allow them to immediately be released.

However, the wave of outrage that arose in human rights groups spread in the following days throughout society, leading to changes that came about at a dizzying pace that made it unlikely for the court ruling, which applied to one particular case, to be used as a precedent for other human rights abusers to obtain a reduction in their sentences.“I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.” -- Andrés Gil

“It won’t go any farther than this. In the Argentine justice system, the Supreme Court’s decisions are not binding on lower courts. After the strong social repulsion and after all political sectors spoke out against the early release of human rights violators, this will end with Muiña,” Jorge Rizo, chairman of the Buenos Aires Bar Association, told IPS.

It was the case of Luis Muiña, a civilian in prison for his participation in kidnappings and torture in 1976, that sparked the massive protest demonstrations held over the past week.

In a divided ruling, the Supreme Court decided to apply the “two for one” law that compensates for time spent in pre-sentence custody, to reduce Muiña’s 13-year sentence to the nine years he has already served.

But exactly a week later, on May 10, Congress passed a law supported by all political sectors which established that the two-for-one law was not applicable in cases involving genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

A few hours later, hundreds of thousands of people filled the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, reminiscent of the biggest rallies in the country’s history.

Many wore white headscarves, a symbol of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups, who in April celebrated the 40th anniversary of their first march in the Plaza de Mayo square to demand that their “disappeared” sons and daughters be returned to them.

According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were killed or “disappeared” by the regime.

A big banner on the stage read: “Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”. The main speaker at the massive rally was Estela de Carlotto, the longtime head of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have so far found 122 of their grandchildren, stolen by the dictatorship and raised under false identities.

“Just like with the Nazis, wherever they go we will go after them,” Carlotto chanted along with the crowd estimated by the organisers at 400,000 people.

“Fortunately, society has taken a firm stance,” said the activist, adding that the quick action by Congress “fills us with hope and gratitude.”

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo

In the demonstration there was in the air a strong rejection of the government of conservative President Mauricio Macri, even though it did not play any role in the trial. Many protesters held signs linking the president to the Court’s decision, a connection also insinuated in Twitter by former president Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who at the moment was traveling through Europe.

The government had a somewhat unclear response to the Supreme Court ruling. It initially left the response exclusively in the hands of Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj who, although responsible for this area, is not a high-ranking official. Perhaps over-cautiously, he urged people to be “respectful of the verdict.”

But as the negative repercussions grew, the government began to reject the ruling, through more important figures. And once Congress passed the law, Macri himself congratulated the lawmakers, and said he was opposed to “any tool that favours impunity, and especially when this tool is applied to crimes against humanity.”

The Supreme Court ruling was divided, three-to-two. The majority was made up of Elena Highton, Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkrantz – the latter two named to the Court last year on Macri’s recommendation.

The two-for-one law, which stated that every day spent in pre-sentence custody counted for two days after two years had been served, was designed to help Argentina address the large proportion of people in prison who have not yet been tried and sentenced. But the 1994 law was repealed in 2001 as it had failed to achieve its aim.

But the three Supreme Court justices argued that the most beneficial law for the accused must be applied in penal law, even in cases involving crimes against humanity.

“The sentence, technically, goes against international law,” said Gastón Chillier, executive director of the Social and Legal Studies Centre (CELS), a human rights organisation created during the dictatorship.

“The law which was passed promptly by Congress is a result of the cross-cutting nature of the reaction against the ruling. From now on, the justice system will have to be very autistic to ignore the rejection that the sentence generated,” Chillier told IPS.

One of the founders of CELS, lawyer Marcelo Parrilli, filed criminal charges accusing the three magistrates of prevarication, or knowingly handing down a decision contrary to the law.

Soon after, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán considered that there were grounds to launch a judicial investigation. And the Front for Victory (FPV) political faction headed by former president Fernández sought to impeach Highton, Rosatti and Rosenkrantz.

But it did not all end there, since a well-known constitutionalist lawyer, Andrés Gil, asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to order Argentina to abstain from reducing the sentences of those convicted of human rights violations.

Gil told IPS: “I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.”

“Those who signed that decision did not realise that the trial and punishment of those responsible for human rights abuses during the last dictatorship now form part of the heritage of the Argentine people,” he added.

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Poor Rural Communities in Mexico Receive a Boost to Support Themselveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/poor-rural-communities-in-mexico-receive-a-boost-to-support-themselves/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 22:12:30 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150390 Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Jilder Morales tends to a young avocado plant on her plot of land within the ejido, where 55 farmers got together in 2014 to farm and improve their diet and incomes, in the poor farming town of Santa Ana Coatepec in southern Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HUAQUECHULA, Mexico, May 11 2017 (IPS)

Jilder Morales, a small farmer in Mexico, looks proudly at the young avocado trees that are already over one metre high on her ejido – or communal – land, which already have small green fruit.

“These were little-used lands. Now the people see that they can be worked. We seek a balance between a nutritional diet and an income, producing healthy food that brings in a profit,” said Morales, who told IPS that she starts her day as soon as the sun comes out, checking on her avocado trees, trimming her plants, applying fertiliser and making organic compost.

She is a member of the “Santa Ana for Production” association in the town of Santa Ana Coatepec, in the municipality of Huaquechula, in the southeastern state of Puebla, some 170 km south of Mexico City.

On August 2015, these small-scale producers planted avocado trees on 44 hectares of land in the ejido of El Tejonal, where 265 hectares belong to 215 ejido members. Of these, 55 are currently members of the association, which is close to achieving gender equality, with 29 men and 26 women, who play an especially important role.“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population.” -- Fernando Soto

Each member was initially given 32 plants on the ejido, which is public land allocated for collective use – a widespread traditional system in rural Mexico.

The initiative is part of Mexico´s Strategic Programme for Food Security (PESA).

This programme, created globally by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1994, was adopted by the Mexican government in 2002, and has been implemented since 2011 by the Agriculture Ministry together with the U.N. agency.

The aim is improving agricultural production and the diet and income of poor rural families and communities, such as Santa Ana Coatepec, in order to strengthen food security and help them gradually overcome poverty.

The association raises poultry to sell its meat and eggs, in addition to planting avocadoes, maize, sorghum and different vegetables. They also raise tilapia, a fish used widely in aquaculture in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Santa Ana for Production was founded in 2014, together with the Community Foundation, one of the 25 rural development agencies (ADR) in Puebla implementing the PESA, which only supports groups of small-scale farmers and not individuals.

Last year, the Agriculture Ministry hired 305 ADRs in the 32 states (plus the capital district) into which Mexico is divided, to carry out the programme in selected low-income rural areas.

“Women who participate have the personal satisfaction that we ourselves are producing, that we are the workers,“ said Morales, a single woman with no children.

The group has been trained in fish farming techniques, agroecological practices, and nutrition, to produce their own food and to know what to eat. The first production goal is self-sufficiency, and the surplus production is sold or traded with local residents.

Santa Ana Coatepec, population 1,147, was chosen by FAO and the Mexican government to participate in PESA, due to the high poverty rate.

The Ministry of Social Development and the National Council of Assessment of Social Development Policies reported in 2015 that 80 per cent of the population in Huaquechula, population 26,514, lived in poverty, while 30 per cent lived in conditions of extreme poverty.

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Aparicio (front) feeds the tilapia in the tank that her association built thanks to the support and training by PESA, an association of small-scale producers in Santa Ana Coatepec, in the southern Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The state of Puebla has the fourth largest number of ADRs, after Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas – the poorest states in Mexico.

María Aparicio, a married mother of three, knew nothing about fish farming, but became an expert thanks to the project, which has financed the association’s initiatives with a total of 263,000 dollars.

“We are creating knowledge for the region (of Puebla), for people to know how to raise tilapia,“ she told IPS.

First, the association installed a tank four metres deep, with a capacity of 4,500 cubic metres of water, obtained from the El Amate spring, 1.6 km from the town.

They laid a pipeline from the spring to the tanks, using the water also to irrigate the avocado trees, and maize and sorghum crops. The works took three months. The members pay 0.26 dollars per hour of water use.

The association raises Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), from the southeastern state of Veracruz, and so far have produced 1.6 tons of fish. Tilapia grows to 350 grams in five months, when it is big enough to be sold.

The fish farmers sell the fish at about four dollars per kilogram, with a production cost of about 1.8 dollars for each fish.

In June 2016, they installed three more tanks that are one metre deep and have a volume of 28 cubic metres, to raise “Rocky Mountain White” tilapia, a light-colored hybrid breed, investing 105 dollars. But in March they produced only 90 kilograms, much less than expected.

“We’re going to raise grey tilapia now. Our goal is to farm some 5,000 fish“ during each production cycle, said Aparicio, who returned to live in her town after working as an undocumented immigrant in the United States.

The group created a savings fund, fed by the profits of their different undertakings, to finance and expand their projects.

For Fernando Soto, FAO representative in Mexico, PESA generates “positive results“ of different types.

“It is a strategy to articulate other programmes, whose coordinated actions will generate greater impacts. PESA offers productive opportunities seeking to increase food production, while respecting natural resources, and improving the diet and health of the local population,” he told IPS in Mexico City.

These days, with the arrival of the first rains, the farmers have begun to prepare the land to plant maize and sorghum.

Watching their avocado trees and tilapia grow, the members of the association have new hopes for their future. “We will have food security, and we will generate employment,” said Morales.

“I see this and I cannot believe it. Soon all this will be full of plants and then we will harvest,” said Aparicio, looking at the avocado plantation with a hopeful expression.

PESA still has a long way ahead. An internal FAO report carried out in January stressed the importance of studying the factors that affect the survival and performance of the ADRs that support farmers at a local level, not only with quantitative measurements, but also with qualitative studies.

This study found that 270 ADRs do not register community promoters, 120 lack administrative staff, and 65 report no members.

“A higher chance of survival for the agencies and better prospects of stability in the employees’ jobs would have positive effects on the programme´s impact,” the document says.

Soto suggested promoting programmes to increase productivity in the southern and southeastern regions, strengthen the well-being and capacities of local people, contribute to preserving environmental assets, expand coverage under urban development systems, and strengthen productive infrastructure and regional connecting services.

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Who Are the Best ‘Eaters’ and How to Use Eggplants as a Toothbrushhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/who-are-the-best-eaters-and-how-to-use-eggplants-as-a-toothbrush/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-are-the-best-eaters-and-how-to-use-eggplants-as-a-toothbrush http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/who-are-the-best-eaters-and-how-to-use-eggplants-as-a-toothbrush/#comments Thu, 11 May 2017 13:09:46 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150380 Tempura, sashimi, pickles, ris og misosuppe (Tempura, sashimi, pickles, rice and miso soup). Credit: cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Tempura, sashimi, pickles, ris og misosuppe (Tempura, sashimi, pickles, rice and miso soup). Credit: cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 11 2017 (IPS)

The news is this: Japan is a global model for healthy diets and it currently has the lowest rate of obesity among developed countries–below four per cent. This is on the one hand. On the other, African eggplant gorongo is often used as toothbrush.

None of this is based on any personal, empirical experience—it all comes from the United Nations thought its leading food specialised agency.

See what the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says.

Japan has a very unique food culture that can greatly contribute to improvements in global nutrition, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva on May 10 assured during his visit to the country, which has a healthy and “unique” food culture, one that includes many vegetables, fruits and fish.

To explain this better, he cited Washoku, a comprehensive set of skills, knowledge and traditions relating to the preparation and consumption of food, which has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

Washoku is based on a “respect for nature” and is composed of fresh, seasonally available, low-fat ingredients, which together represent a well-balanced diet.

Graziano da Silva noted that Japan has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with other countries– an interaction the organisation he leads is keen to promote as an activity related to the United Nations Decade on Nutrition.

Graziano da Silva with a group of women who are participating in a vegetable-growing project in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria. Credit: FAO

Graziano da Silva with a group of women who are participating in a vegetable-growing project in Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria. Credit: FAO

This Decade aims to address poor dietary habits, which have been closely linked to non-communicable diseases, including heart attacks strokes, cancers and diabetes– a leading cause of premature death, not only in high-income countries, but also increasingly in many parts of the developing world.

“These diets are typically not only unhealthy, but environmentally unsustainable.”

In this context, Japan exemplifies how effective public policies and legislation can promote adequate nutrition, especially through laws aimed at educating children and controlling adults’ weight, according to the FAO chief.

Such measures, are in line with commitments made by world leaders at the 2014 Second International Conference on Nutrition and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to establish national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and transforming food systems to make nutritious diets available to all.

He praised Japan for supporting developing countries through the UN agency in the areas of food production and consumption as well as with regards to the agricultural sectors, including forestry, fisheries, livestock, land and water.

For example, in Afghanistan, Japan has contributed more than 100 million dollars to the organisation’s agricultural interventions, especially with efforts to rehabilitate the country’s irrigation infrastructure.

In Myanmar, funds from the Japanese government have helped deliver emergency and livelihood-rebuilding assistance – including high-quality seeds and fertilizers – to rural households affected by flooding and conflicts.

A Journalist and a Chef, Goodwill Ambassadors

The UN specialised agency chief announced the appointment of Hiroko Kuniya and Katsuhiro Nakamura as the first-ever FAO National Goodwill Ambassadors for Japan.

Kuniya became well known as a television news-anchor for the NHK Japan network, including on the acclaimed “Today’s Close-Up” programme, covering poverty, hunger and other social issues. More recently, she has worked as a journalist covering topics related to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nakamura initially became famous as the first Japanese chef to receive a One-Star Restaurant recognition by Michelin in 1979 in Paris. He later returned to Japan and in 2008 was named head chef during the G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido.

What about the Eggplant-Toothbrush Story?

Now that you know who are the best “eaters” on Earth—the Japanese, you will certainly like to also learn about why and how eggplants can be used as toothbrush. Here you are:

To start with, African eggplant lives up to its name: as it grows it bears white, oval-shaped fruits that look just like eggs before they ripen and turn green.

African eggplant “gorongo”. Credit: FAO

African eggplant “gorongo”. Credit: FAO

It is one of the vegetables grown by farmers displaced by Boko Haram violence in northern Nigeria who are participating in an FAO project to kick-start local food production. Here, this traditional vegetable is known as gorongo and it is an important social ingredient as well as a nutritious one.

The raw fruit of the gorongo is often chewed by women to clean their teeth. The fruit is also eaten as part of marriage and naming ceremonies.

What happened is that just few days before going to Japan, Graziano da Silva visited an FAO-supported dry season vegetable production site.

There, he met a group of women working together in a field growing gorongo among other crops. The women are survivors of Boko Haram attacks on their villages, and are the sole providers for their families.

One of the women explained that using the gorongo to clean her teeth was a way to restore a sense of dignity and to bring healthy smiles to her and her friends.

Gorongo is a useful plant for small-scale farmers because it bears fruit continuously and can produce an abundant yield even from a small plot.

Women have been able to grow a surplus of vegetables that they can sell to earn cash to cover their needs beyond food such as health care and education for their children.

The African Eggplant

The African eggplant originates from Central Africa, and has spread to other countries, particularly in West Africa, the UN specialised body informs.

The fruit can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, pickled, or in stews and the leaves are often used in soups. To make a stew, the eggplant is boiled then mashed, then added to a pan with oil, onion, cooked beans and chilli flakes.

Apart from oral hygiene, the plant is used in traditional medicine to treat throat infections by heating and then chewing the leaves. The juice of boiled roots is used to treat hookworm, while the crushed leaves are said to be useful for gastric complaints.

Now you know who eats better and what to do if run out of toothpaste.

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African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 13:32:17 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150360 A shot of the living conditions inside a detention centre in Libya. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

A shot of the living conditions inside a detention centre in Libya. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 9 2017 (IPS)

Hundreds of migrants along North African migration routes are being bought and sold openly in modern day ‘slave markets’ in Libya, survivors have told the United Nations migration agency, which warned that these reports “can be added to a long list of outrages” in the country. The International Criminal Court is now considering investigating.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had already sounded the alarm after its staff in Niger and Libya documented over the past weekend shocking testimonies of trafficking victims from several African nations, including Nigeria, Ghana and the Gambia. They described ‘slave markets’ tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.

Operations Officers with IOM’s office in Niger reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months, IOM had on April 11 reported.

According to the young man’s testimony, the UN agency added, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay about 320 dollars to continue North, towards Libya.

A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck, IOM said. But when his pick-up reached Sabha in south-western Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where the young man witnessed a slave market taking place.

“Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported.

A young South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the Imvepi settlement at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, in northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

A young South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the Imvepi settlement at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, in northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

A ‘Long List of Outrages’

“The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya],” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies. “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants.”

Abdiker added that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centres, where they are trying to improve conditions.

“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

So far this year, he said, the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

Sold in Squares or Garages

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesperson in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

Many describe being sold “in squares or garages” by locals in the South-Western Libyan town of Sabha, or by the drivers who trafficked them across the Sahara desert.

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Credit: UNHCR/A. D'Amato

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

“To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio. Tragically, the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalised and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s,” added Doyle.

So far, the number of Mediterranean migrant arrivals this year approaches 50,000, with 1,309 deaths, according to the UN migration agency.

IOM rose from the ashes of World War Two 65 years ago. In the battle-scarred continent of Europe, no government alone could help survivors who wanted no more than an opportunity to resume their lives in freedom and with dignity. The first incarnation of IOM was created to resettle refugees during this post-war period.

International Criminal Court May Investigate

In view of these reports, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 8 May told the United Nations Security Council that her office is considering launching an investigation into alleged migrant-related crimes in Libya, including human trafficking.

“My office continues to collect and analyse information relating to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya,” said Fatou Bensouda during a Security Council meeting on the North African country’s situation.

“I’m similarly dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings,” she added, noting that her office “is carefully examining the feasibility” of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya should the Court’s jurisdictional requirements be met.

‘Horrendous Abuses’ at the Hands of Smugglers

Meanwhile, one person out of every 35 trying to cross the inland sea between northern Africa and Italy in 2017 has died out in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, the United Nations refugee agency on 8 May reported, calling for “credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection.”

“Saving lives must be the top priority for all and, in light of the recent increase in arrivals, I urge further efforts to rescue people along this dangerous route,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi.

The Central Mediterranean – with smugglers trafficking people from the shores of Libya to Italy – has proven to be particularly deadly. Out on the open sea, approximately 1,150 people have either disappeared or lost their lives in 2017.

In response to the recent stories reported to UNHCR’s teams by survivors, Grandi said that he is “profoundly shocked by the violence used by some smugglers.”

As the “Central Mediterranean route continues to be particularly dangerous this year, also for 2016 the UN recorded more deaths at sea than ever before.

The main causes of shipwrecks, according to UNHCR, are the increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, the worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones.

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When It Comes to Fracking, Argentina Dreams Bighttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/when-it-comes-to-fracking-argentina-dreams-big/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 00:53:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150346 Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Two drilling rigs in the Loma Campana deposit, in Vaca Muerta, in the Neuquén Basin, in south-west Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 9 2017 (IPS)

Since a US Energy Information Administration (EIA) report announced in 2011 that Argentina had some of the world’s biggest shale oil and gas reserves, the dream of prosperity has been on the minds of many people in this South American nation where nearly a third of the population lives in poverty.

The question that hangs in the air is whether it is really possible for Argentina to become South America’s Saudi Arabia, or if it is just a fantasy.

Six years after the release of the report, although Argentina is still, like then, a net importer of oil and natural gas, the hope would appear to remain intact for centre-right President Mauricio Macri.

When Macri visited the United States on Apr. 25-27 he stopped over in Houston, Texas, described as the “Oil Capital of the World”. There, he urged the executives of the world’s top energy companies to make the huge investments that Argentina needs to exploit its reserves.“Today in Argentina there are more than 1,500 boreholes that are being exploited by the fracking method, not just in Vaca Muerta, but also in other deposits in the area. In the next years, this number is expected to multiply.” --
Diego de Rissio

“Argentina is among the countries with the greatest potential in the world. We want the best companies to come and partner with us,” Macri told oil executives at lunch in Houston on Apr. 26, before flying to Washington, where he met with his US counterpart Donald Trump at the White House.

“The delays in exploiting non-conventional fossil fuels in Argentina are inherent to the process, from a technical standpoint. The oil and gas industry operates in the long term,” said Martín Kaindl, head of the Argentine Oil and Gas Institute (IAPG), a think tank supported by oil companies in the country.

“We have to do things well for this opportunity to become a source of wealth for Argentina,” he told IPS.

So far, however, what seems to have grown more than the investments are the social movements opposed to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, in which rock is fractured by the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, as well as sand and chemicals,) to release natural gas and oil from shale deposits..

This process has environmental and socioeconomic effects, according to experts quoted by environmentalists.

The greatest achievement so far by the opponents of fracking in Argentina came on Apr. 25, when the legislature of the central-eastern province of Entre Ríos banned fracking and other non-conventional methods.

It became the first province in the country to reach this decision, which was preceded by local laws in dozens of municipalities. Entre Ríos has no oil industry tradition, but it is included in the long-run exploration plans of Argentina’s state-controlled company YPF.

“Entre Ríos is a province that lives mainly off of agriculture and tourism, where there is a tradition of environmental activism”, sociologist Juan Pablo Olsson, who is part of the Argentina Free of Fracking movement, told IPS.

“We must not forget that a few years ago, there were up to 100,000 people protesting against the pulp mills on the international bridge,” he added, referring to the 2005-2010 conflict with Uruguay over the construction of two paper factories, due to the environmental impact on the Uruguay River, which separates the province of Entre Ríos from the neighbouring country.

Pear trees in blossom in a farm in Allen, a city in the province of Río Negro, located next to a shale gas deposit. Fruit producers and other traditional sectors of that province are concerned about the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in blossom in a farm in Allen, a city in the province of Río Negro, located next to a shale gas deposit. Fruit producers and other traditional sectors of that province are concerned about the negative impacts of the oil and gas industry in Vaca Muerta. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the latest EIA data, Argentina has recoverable shale reserves that amount to 802 trillion cubic feet of gas and 27 billion barrels of oil. It is only second to China in shale gas reserves, and in fourth position after the US, Russia and China, in shale oil.

Of these reserves, 38 per cent of the gas and 60 per cent of the oil are concentrated in the geological formation of Vaca Muerta, where commercial exploitation began in 2013, in the Loma Campana deposit, by YPF and US company Chevron in the province of Neuquén.

This 30,000-sq- km deposit is located in the area known as the Neuquén Basin (a sedimentary basin which has traditionally been the main oil-producing area in Argentina), spreading over four provinces (Neuquén, Río Negro, Mendoza and La Pampa) in the country’s southwest.

The extraordinary potential of Vaca Muerta is one of the few things in which the current president and his centre-left predecessor, Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) have agreed on, with neither having made any reference whatsoever to the environmental risks posed by fracking.

The former president did not hide her enthusiasm when talking about the deposit, which in 2013 she suggested renaming as “Vaca Viva” (living cow) , instead of “Vaca Muerta” (dead cow), since “we are now extracting oil from it.”

Macri, meanwhile, said that Vaca Muerta “is changing the country’s energy future,” since it has “abundant, cheap and exportable” resources.

This was in January, when he announced the signing of an agreement with oil industry trade unions which allows a reduction of up to 40 per cent of labour costs, to attract investments.

Later, the president decreed a minimum price for shale gas, higher than the market price, reinforcing the strategy launched by his predecessor of maintaining domestic fossil fuel prices at levels making it possible to tap into non-conventional deposits.

In addition, during his stay in Washington he announced a 35 per cent reduction in the import tariffs on used oil industry machinery, which will favour the arrival of equipment that fell into disuse in the U.S-Mexican Eagle Ford Formation, due to the fall in international prices.

The minister of Energy and Mining, Juan José Aranguren, who went to Houston with Macri, said that currently between six and eight billion dollars a year are invested in Vaca Muerta, but that the government’s goal is to reach 20 billion in 2019.

“Today in Argentina there are more than 1,500 boreholes that are being exploited by the fracking method, not just in Vaca Muerta, but also in other deposits in the area. In the next years, this number is expected to multiply,” Diego di Risio, a researcher from the Oil Observatory of the South, an organisation of professionals from different disciplines interested in the energy issue, told IPS.

“But we believe that the environmental and social impacts should be debated, since it is a fruit-producing agricultural region,” said di Risio. One of the localities engaged in the production of fruit near Vaca Muerta, where shale oil is being extracted, is Allen, in the province of Río Negro.

Juan Ponce, a fruit jam manufacturer in Allen, told IPS: “Oil production overrode fruit-producing farms. There were 35 fruit warehouses, and now there are only five left.”

He also told IPS by phone that “most people buy bottled water, because our water is not drinkable anymore, despite the fact that we have the longest river in the Patagonia region, the Rio Negro.”

“The best evidence of the pollution that is being generated by the oil and gas extraction is that the owners of surrounding farms are receiving subsidies from the companies, since they can no longer produce good quality fruit,” he added.

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Social Forum Calls for Fight Against Corruption, to Defend the Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/#comments Wed, 03 May 2017 21:53:04 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150273 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/social-forum-calls-for-fight-against-corruption-to-defend-the-amazon/feed/ 0 Informal Labour, Another Wall Faced by Migrants in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/informal-labour-another-wall-faced-by-migrants-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=informal-labour-another-wall-faced-by-migrants-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/informal-labour-another-wall-faced-by-migrants-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 27 Apr 2017 07:14:49 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150170 A migrant from an Andean country, carrying her daughter on her back, demonstrates for her rights along with other migrant women, in Buenos Aires, during a Mar. 24 march marking the anniversary of the 1976 military coup that ushered in seven years of dictatorship. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A migrant from an Andean country, carrying her daughter on her back, demonstrates for her rights along with other migrant women, in Buenos Aires, during a Mar. 24 march marking the anniversary of the 1976 military coup that ushered in seven years of dictatorship. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LIMA, Apr 27 2017 (IPS)

A large proportion of the 4.3 million migrant workers in Latin America and the Caribbean survive by working in the informal economy or in irregular conditions. An invisible wall that is necessary to bring down, together with discrimination and xenophobia.

“Looking for work is just one of the causes, but not the only one, or even a decisive one,” said Julio Fuentes, president of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Public Sector Workers (CLATE). “I believe the determining factors driving migration are poverty, low wages, lack of access to health and education services, and the unfair distribution of wealth in our countries.”

The study “Labour migration in Latin America and the Caribbean,” released in August 2016 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), identifies 11 main migration corridors used by workers throughout this region, including nine intra-regional, South-South corridors that connect countries in the region, and two extra-regional South-North corridors connecting with the United States and Spain.

According to the report, this network is constantly evolving due to changes in economic interdependence and labour markets, and has been expanding in volume, dynamism and complexity, growing from 3.2 million migrants in 2011 to 4.3 million at the start of 2016.

Denis Rojas, a Colombian sociologist with the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), mentioned from Buenos Aires other intra-regional migratory causes based on the experience of her compatriots in Argentina.

“It is necessary to bear in mind that the migration to Argentina seen in the past few decades is of different types: one well-identified group is that of generally middle-class professionals, who in view of the high costs and the constraints of access to postgraduate education in Colombia, decide to look for other options abroad, with Argentina being a country of interest due to its wide educational offer and accessible costs in comparison with Colombia,” she told IPS.

Moreover, “several years ago, the number of families sending their children to study in Argentina started increasing due to the high tuition costs in Colombian universities and extensive structural limitations to access education. It is similar to the case of Chile,” she said.

But although the main driver of this current of migration is access to education, Rojas doesn’t rule out labour causes.

“It responds fundamentally to Colombians’ need to enter the labour market. Due to the unemployment and a pervasive flexibilisation of labour standards, people believe that a higher level of education will give them a chance for a better income and better jobs,” she said.

Another group of migrants, she said, are those who were driven out of their homes by Colombia’s armed conflict. They range from poor peasant families and labourers to students and better-off activists.

“Insertion into the labour market depends in this case on the existing support networks,” she stressed.

The ILO points to several common labour-related aspects in these migration flows, which are important to note on International Workers’ Day, celebrated on May 1st.

 

Map of the 11 main migration corridors in Latin America and the Caribbean: nine South-South intra-regional and two North-South towards the US and Europe. Credit: ILO

Map of the 11 main migration corridors in Latin America and the Caribbean: nine South-South intra-regional and two North-South towards the US and Europe. Credit: ILO

It mentions the “feminisation” of labour migration, with women accounting for more than 50 percent of migrants; the high proportion of irregular and informal migrant workers and the low access to social protection; and the frequently deficient work conditions as well as the abuse, exploitation and discrimination faced by many migrant workers.

This is the case of a 35-year-old Peruvian migrant to Argentina, identified as Juliana, who was originally from the department of Arequipa in southern Peru.

To pay for her university studies, she worked five years as an unregistered domestic worker.

“At that time it was the only kind of work we could aspire to as foreigners with no contacts and often without the necessary papers. Back then, there was no immigration law as we have today, and it was very difficult to find something better. It took me three years to get my national identity document,” recalls Juliana, who is about to become a lawyer.

Pilar, a 34-year-old Colombian who has been in Brazil for eight years, mentioned a problem faced by many other migrants: they can only get jobs for which they are overqualified. Although she has a university degree, she had to work in a hostel without a contract or labour rights.

She chose Brazil because in her country higher education is expensive and “Brazil, with its free public education, is like a kind of paradise for many Colombians.”

“Many of the young Latin American migrants in Río de Janeiro end up being absorbed by the tourist market. I had no working permit the first few years and I would take whatever work cropped up. I would work over eight hours, with barely one day off a week, and they paid me less than minimum wage,” she said.

In Brazil as well as Argentina, Bolivians work in large clandestine textile sweatshops in near-slavery conditions, a reality that is repeated among migrants in different sectors and countries.
The ILO study points out that there are also migration corridors to other regions. Of a total 45 million migrants in the United States, more than 21 million are Latin American. In Spain, nearly 1.3 million foreigners living in the country are South American.

“The exploitation of Latin American and Caribbean immigrant labour by the central powers is another side of our dependence; they not only plunder our natural resources, but we also provide them labour, which is overexploited. Generating poverty conditions in our region, or in others such as Africa, allows the central powers and their multinationals double benefits: natural resources and cheap labour,” CLATE’s  Fuentes told IPS.

He is worried about the tightening of US immigration policies and the threat of building a wall along the border with Mexico.

“No wall can keep out people seeking to leave behind the poverty to which they have been condemned,” Fuentes said.

“Latin Americans seeking a better life in the US undertake a terrifying journey, which costs the lives of many, and those who reach their destination take the worst jobs, with low wages and more precarious working conditions,” he said.

“They make an enormous contribution to the US economy, but never get to become citizens and are forced to always live as undocumented immigrants,” he said.

This year the annual International Labour Conference, which sets the ILO’s broad policies, will meet June 5-17 in Geneva, Switzerland, with a focus on migrant worker’s rights. CLATE will launch a campaign targeting public employees working in government agencies linked to immigration, to “put a human face on border posts”.

“As unions, we also have to represent those migrant workers whose irregular migratory situation is used by employers to get around labour legislation, subjecting migrants to more precarious conditions, and abusing the possibility of temporary employment,” said Fuentes.

“Those who don’t have a right to citizenship will always be victims of abuse. As trade unions, we must combat the idea that migrants compete with local workers. We have to accept that we are all part of the same class, which knows no borders,” he said.

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No Trace of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-trace-of-the-nicaraguan-interoceanic-canal/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:40:11 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150149 In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

In April 2017, three years after this road was created to mark the official start of the construction of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal in Brito, on the country’s Pacific ocean western coast, it remains unpaved, and is only used by horses from nearby farms. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

By José Adán Silva
PUNTA GORDA/BRITO, Nicaragua, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Less than three years from the projected completion in Nicaragua of a canal running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, there is no trace of progress on the mega-project.

IPS traveled to both ends of the routet: Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast in eastern Nicaragua, 383 km from Managua, and Brito, on the Pacific coast in the southern department of Rivas, 112 km from the capital.

In the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, IPS traveled by boat from Bluefields, the regional capital, to the town of Punta Gorda to the south.“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned." -- Anonymous indigenous leader

There are 365 small scattered indigenous settlements along the banks of the rivers, in a region divided into two sectors: the Southern Triangle, facing the sea, and the Daniel Guido Development Pole, along the banks of the Punta Gorda River – the Caribbean extreme of the projected canal.

According to the plans of the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) group, in charge of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, in this sparsely populated jungle area bordering the territory of the Rama indigenous people, a deep-water harbour must be built, as well as the first locks on the Caribbean end for the ships that cross to or from the Atlantic Ocean.

The entire Great Canal project, according to HKND, is to include six sub-projects: the canal, the locks, two harbours, a free trade zone, tourist centres, an international airport, and several roads.

Other connected works are a hydroelectric power plant, a cement factory, and other related industrial facilities to ensure the supply of materials and the successful completion of the canal in five years, counting from 2014, when the project officially got underway.

But in Punta Gorda there are no infrastructure works, no HKND offices, and among the local population nobody is willing to openly talk about the subject.

“The silence is a matter of caution, people think you might be a government agent,” a local indigenous leader of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K), an autonomous organisation of indigenous communities that own the lands that will be affected by the canal, told IPS on condition of anonymity.

In the days prior to IPS’ visit to the region, army troops and the police carried out operations against drug trafficking, and there was an overall sense of apprehension.

The members of the GTR-K are divided between supporting and opposing the project, but negotiations with the government representatives have been tense and conflict-ridden, to the extent that complaints by the local indigenous people demanding respect for their ancestral lands have reached the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“About two years ago, foreigners used to come and travel around by helicopter and boat from the mouth of the Punta Gorda River all the way upstream. They were escorted by the army and would not talk with anyone, but they have not returned,” said the indigenous leader of this remote territory that can only be accessed by boat or helicopter.

Silence on the subject is not just found among the locals. There is no talk anymore at a government level about what was once a highly touted project.

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

Fishermen and stevedores on one of the docks on the Punta Gorda River, near where it runs into the Caribbean Sea, the projected Caribbean extreme of the interoceanic canal, where local residents have not seen any visible sign of progress on the works officially launched more than two years ago. Credit: José Adán Silva/ IPS

However, Vice President Rosario Murillo, the chief spokesperson of the government of her husband Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua since 2007, announced this month that with Taiwan’s support, a deep-water harbour, not connected to the plan for the canal, would be built in the same area with an investment that has not yet been revealed.

María Luisa Acosta, coordinator of the Legal Aid Centre for Indigenous Peoples, told IPS that the Special Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Transportation in Nicaragua Relating to the Canal, Free-Trade Areas and Associated Infrastructure, known as Law 840, was passed in June 2013 without consulting local indigenous and black communities.

A year later, on July 7, 2014, HKND and the Nicaraguan government announced the route that had been chosen for the canal, running from the Rivas Isthmus across Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, to Punta Gorda.

The route would negatively affect the indigenous communities of Salinas de Nahualapa, Nancimí, Veracruz del Zapotal, Urbaite de las Pilas and San Jorge Nicaraocalí, along the Pacific, while in the Caribbean region it would impact the Creole communities of Monkey Point and Punta Gorda, as well as the Rama people of Wiring Kay, Punta de Águila and Bangkukuk Tai, home to the last speakers of the Rama language.

According to leaders of different indigenous communities, government representatives began to pressure them to give their consent over their lands to allow the canal to be built, giving rise to a still lingering conflict.

The canal is to be 278 km in length – including a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca – 520 metres wide and up to 30 metres deep.

It was to be built by the end of 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars – more than four times the GDP of this Central American country of 6.2 million people, 40 per cent of whom live in poverty.

The construction of a harbour, the western locks and a tourist complex is projected in Brito, a town on the Pacific coast in the municipality of Tola.

The town is named after the Brito River, a natural tributary of Lake Cocibolca, which winds through the isthmus until flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The works were officially inaugurated in Brito in December 2014.

The president of HKND, Wang Jing, together with Nicaraguan government officials, appeared in the media next to the construction equipment to inaugurate the work on a 13-km highway, which would be used to bring in the heavy machinery to build the initial infrastructure.

It was the last time Wang was seen in public in Nicaragua.

There is no new paved highway, just a dirt road which in winter is difficult to travel because it turns into a muddy track.

No heavy machinery is in sight, or vehicular traffic, workers or engineering staff.

Here, as in Punta Gorda, people avoid talking about the canal, and if they do it is on condition of anonymity and in a low voice.

“In Rivas we drove out the Chinese with stones when they tried to come to measure the houses, and after that, the police harassed us. They disguised themselves as civilians – as doctors, vendors and even priests, to see if we were participating in the protests,” said one local resident in Brito, who was referring to the 87 protest demonstrations held against the canal in Nicaragua.

In Managua, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the state Commission of the Great Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal, said briefly to a small group of journalists, including IPS, that studies on the canal continue and that “the project is moving ahead as planned.”

However, Vice President Murillo announced in January that a 138-km coastal highway would be built along the Rivas Isthmus, to cater to the tourism industry and improve transportation, at a cost of 120 million dollars – with no mention of the canal.

One month later, government machinery was moved to Rivas to begin building the road where the canal was supposed to go.

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How Feminists Have Catapulted Women to National Leadership Roleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:51:10 +0000 Torild Skard http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150119 Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

By Torild Skard
NEW YORK, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Hillary Clinton did not make it to the top, but Theresa May, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, did. Since Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female prime minister, in Sri Lanka in 1960, one-hundred women have been heads of state or government around the world.

How did they get to power and did they make a difference? And how much did feminist activists influence the promotion of female leaders? Plenty and decisively.

The nations of the world reaffirmed faith in the equal rights of women and men when the United Nations was created in 1945, though all the existing states were male dominated and 97 percent of the representatives at the San Francisco conference were men.

My analysis of the conference shows that women from Latin America, headed by Bertha Lutz from Brazil, lobbied successfully for women’s rights, despite opposition from, among others, the sole US female representative, Virginia Gildersleeve, the dean of Barnard College.

Since then, the UN and member states have repeatedly demanded women’s equal participation in power structures, but progress has been slow. When it comes to everyday realities, men in power often seek to maintain their prerogatives, and the higher the position they hold, the greater the resistance to including women.

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

In 2017, only 23 percent of members of Parliament are women; 18 percent of government ministers are women; and 5 percent of national leaders are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

When I studied the life course of 73 female presidents and prime ministers in 53 countries from 1960 to 2010, in my book, “Women of Politics,” it was evident that national leadership for women was no simple matter.

In all regions, except North Africa and the Middle East, women rose to power but not often, and it happened in about twice as many industrialized nations as in developing countries. To succeed, most of the female top leaders had extraordinary qualifications, including extensive education and professional careers.

In addition, the political systems provided opportunities. The great majority of women rose to power in established or emerging democracies. But if a certain democracy was necessary for women’s political participation, that was not enough.

Worldwide, political institutions were male dominated and women were neither mobilized nor welcomed if there was no pressure from feminist movements to do so. Many women who climbed to power benefited from activists requiring more women in leading positions.

In practice, women used three paths to become national leaders. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi of India, Isabel Perón of Argentina and others in Asia and Latin America took over the political position of a deceased father or husband.

A few, such as Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot of Haiti, came in as outsiders relative to their personal background. But most of the women rose in the ranks of the political parties, gaining a degree of conditional support from male colleagues.

The political parties are crucial actors in democratic systems, representing a link between people and power. But often they represent an obstacle and do not provide support for women. Studies of parties are, unfortunately, rare. It is notable that globally, women hold only 10 percent of leadership positions in political parties.

Top female leaders are usually surrounded by men. At the same time, female politicians are often expected to promote the interests of women. Whatever they do, female leaders are criticized. So what did they do?

I studied to what extent female leaders followed up the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which has 189 states parties, of which the United States is a signatory but has not ratified it. Here is what I learned:

• Some women, albeit a few, conformed to male-dominated politics and neglected or weakened women’s positions. Such examples were Tansu Ciller of Turkey, Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of Britain.
• About half of the women played a compromising role, trying to look after the interests of both men and women. These included, among others, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Cristina Fernández Kirchner of Argentina, Mary McAleese of Ireland and Merkel and Gandhi.
• Finally, about a third of the women openly opposed male policies and promoted women-friendly measures, such as recruiting women to high positions, ensuring their reproductive rights and establishing special institutions for women. These include Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, Tarja Halonen of Finland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia.

Although most female heads of state and government did not call themselves a “feminist,” they all contributed to strengthening women as political actors by accepting a top position. Thereby, they broke prevailing patterns and, in most cases, showed that women could handle the tasks. In addition, the great majority — some more and some less — made efforts to support women in particular. So, it usually made a difference with a woman at the top instead of a man.

The approaches of top female leaders to winning gains for women was important, but to carry out substantial women-friendly policies they needed support. An active feminist movement pressuring the relevant levers was essential. And the political system had to work democratically, so feminist voters could have an impact on who was elected to political office and which policies were pursued to promote gender equality.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Improves Readiness for Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/#comments Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:41:32 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150081 A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua , Apr 22 2017 (IPS)

The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life.

Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, has endured a series of hurricanes, floods due to heavy rains or storm surges, droughts, environmental pollution and general changes in temperatures, which have caused economic damages to the local population.

The latest catastrophic event along Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean coast was Hurricane Otto, which was a category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit in October 2016.

The structural damages and heavy flooding were the same as always, but something changed for the better: there were no fatalities, wounded or missing people in Nicaragua.“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore.” -- Guillaume Craig

The 10,143 people from the 69 coastal communities directly affected in the South Caribbean Region survived with no injuries, having taken refuge in shelters set up by the governmental National Agency for Disaster Management and Prevention (SINAPRED).

This was due to the gradual development of social awareness in the face of climatic events, according to Ericka Aldana, coordinator of the non-governmental international organisation Global Communities’ climate change project: “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”.

“Historically, Nicaragua’s South and North Caribbean regions have been hit by natural disasters due to their coastal location and environment surrounded by jungles and big rivers which have served as means of transport. But with climate change the vulnerability increased, and it was necessary to make an effort to change the mindset of the population,” Aldana told IPS.

Her organisation, together with the civil and military authorities, have organised conferences, discussion forums and environmental awareness campaigns, in addition to prevention and coastal community rescue plans in the entire South Caribbean Region.

The two autonomous Caribbean coastal regions represent 52 per cent of the territory of Nicaragua and are home to 15 per cent of the country’s 6.2 million people, including a majority of the indigenous and black populations.

Aldana said that in the coastal communities, especially Corn Island and Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Bluefields, the waves changed due to the intensity and instability in wind patterns.
This makes it difficult to maneuver fishing boats, alters fishing cycles, drives away the fish, and erodes the coasts of the two small islands.

On Little Corn Island, local resident Vilma Gómez talked to IPS about the threats posed and damages caused by the change in ocean currents, winds and waves.

As an example, she said that she has seen almost four km of coastline submerged due to the erosion caused by waves over the last 30 years.

The municipality of Corn Island, comprised of the two islands separated by 15 km, with a total area of 13.1 square kilometres, is one of the most populated areas in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, with about 598 people per square kilometre.

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Gómez said that on her island, infrastructures such as seawalls was built with government funds, to contain the coastal erosion, the damage in wetlands, the shrinking of the beaches and the impact on tourism, which together with fishing make up 90 per cent of the municipality’s economic activity.

But in her opinion, they are futile efforts in the face of the strength of the sea. “I believe that if this continues this way, in a few years the island will become uninhabitable, because the sea could swallow it entirely after contaminating the water sources and arable lands,” lamented Gómez.

Other communities located near Bluefields Bay and its tributaries suffer ever more frequent storm surges and sudden floods, that have destroyed and contaminated the wetlands.

But once the shock and fear were overcome, the population started to try to strengthen their capacities to build resilience in the face of climate change, said Aldana.

Guillaume Craig, director of the environmentalist organisation blueEnergy in Nicaragua, is involved in the project “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”, in which authorities, civil society and academia together in Bluefields carry out campaigns to strengthen the Caribbean communities’ response capacity to the impacts of climate change.

“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore,” Craig told IPS.

As a result, he noted that “the wells dry out in January, when that used to happen in April, the rains in May sometimes fall in March, or do not occur until July. It is crazy, and the local people did not know how to handle it.”

After years of training and campaigns, the locals learned to apply techniques and methods to save water, plant crops resistant to the changes, and techniques for building in coastal areas, which started to suddenly flood due to storm surges or heavy rains.

Climate change has already cost the communities a great deal: a fall in the production of basic grains, a loss of biological diversity and forest resources, water shortages, degradation of soils, salinization of wells, floods in low-lying coastal areas and landslides, among other phenomena.

“The rise in temperatures is affecting people’s health and producing cardiac problems, increasing the populations of vectors that carry diseases, erosion by sea waves and loss of soil, and increasing energy consumption and the risk of fires. The rise in the water level is driving up the risks,” said Craig.
Bluefields, originally a pirate base of operations, is 383 km from the capital city, Managua, and can only be reached by air or by boat along the Escondido River from the El Rama port, located on the mainland 292 km from the capital.

The population of just over 60,000 people is multi-ethnic: Creoles, mestizos (mixed-race), Rama and Garifuna peoples, and descendants of English, French or Asian immigrants.

It faces a bay that serves as a barrier to the sea’s direct waves, and is surrounded by rivers and lakes that connect the region with the Pacific Ocean and the North Caribbean. The elevation above sea level is barely 20 metres, which makes it especially vulnerable.

Marlene Hodgson, who lives in the impoverished coastal neighborhood of El Canal, on the outskirts of the city, told IPS that she and her family have been suffering from the bay’s swells for years.

“Sometimes we did not expect it and all of a sudden we had water up to the waist. Now we have raised the house’s pilings with concrete and dug canals and built dikes to protect it. But we have also become aware of when they come and that allows us to survive without damages,” said the woman of Creole ethnic origin.

After the storms, many houses in the area were abandoned by their occupants, who moved to higher and less vulnerable lands.

The phenomenon also disrupted the economy and the way of life of the traditional fishers, said Alberto Down.

“Just 20 years ago, I would throw the net and in two hours I would get 100 fish,” he told IPS. “Now I have to spend more in fuel to go farther out to sea and I have to wait up to eight hours to get half of that. And on some occasions I don’t catch anything,” said the fisherman from the 19 de Julio neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable in this area forever threatened by the climate.

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Demand for Lower Peacekeeping Dues to Pit US Against UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 15:04:02 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150023 A memorial service for a UN peacekeeper, Corp. Khalid El Hasnaoui of Morocco, April 20, 2016, in the Central African Republic. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, above, leads the mission there. Credit: UN PHOTO

A memorial service for a UN peacekeeper, Corp. Khalid El Hasnaoui of Morocco, April 20, 2016, in the Central African Republic. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, above, leads the mission there. Credit: UN PHOTO

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The Trump administration, buoyed by a powerful anti-internationalist movement among conservative Republicans in the United States Congress, is headed for a new confrontation with the United Nations over who decides how much the US should pay for peacekeeping.

With a tentative US budget deadline of April 28 fast approaching, it is almost certain that American arrears will mount again, after the Obama administration closed the funding gap.

At the same time, a broad campaign against UN peacekeeping, reflecting current thinking in the US government, is also being waged in the Security Council by Ambassador Nikki Haley.

In her short time on the Council, she has never missed an opportunity to declare that the US will pay no more than 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget, down from about 28 percent. Haley, whose formal education is in accountancy, has also said that she will be looking hard at UN peacekeeping missions to cut costs, although this is still part of a learning curve for her.

Until recently, Haley seemed surprised to hear that troop-contributing countries were compensated by the UN for use of their soldiers.

The US position today is part of an historical cycle of standoffs that began in the 1980s and peaked during the administration of Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. That is when an earlier wave of anti-internationalism, led most prominently by the late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, exerted its influence.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms reveled in disparaging and insulting the UN, while forcing a politically weakened Clinton to make significant changes in US institutions working in international affairs, including the abolition of an independent Arms Control Agency.

At the time, the US contribution to the annual peacekeeping budget was assessed by the UN at about 31 percent, down from just under 40 percent assessed in the early years of the world body. In 1995, however, Congress passed a law putting a cap of 25 percent on payment of UN peacekeeping dues, and arrears in hundreds of millions of dollars began to accumulate.

By 1999, when the US was in danger of losing its vote in the UN General Assembly, the Helms-Biden agreement (Joseph Biden, a senator then, was the ranking Democrat on the committee) set up a timetable to start paying $926 million in arrears to the UN and other international organizations.

The UN-US calculations and gaps have seesawed ever since. In the early years of the George W. Bush administration, the US cap was raised several times by Congress as arrears were being reduced. In fact, when Barack Obama assumed the presidency in 2009, the US budget cap on payments was higher, at 27.1 percent, than the UN assessment of 25.9 percent.

At the end of the Obama years, the US payment ceiling was set at 28.57 percent, according to figures from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The UN assessment stood a little lower, at 28.3 percent.

Payments to the UN are drawn from sections of the US State Department budget, which Trump has promised to slash by about 31 percent, a figure that Congress, which writes the budget, is likely to oppose — or temper. The UN’s peacekeeping budget for 2016-2017 was $7.2 billion to $7.89 billion, depending on whose figures are used.

A Republican-led Congress — especially the House of Representative — could argue that all the adjustments made over the years were one-off annual temporary measures that merely tinkered with the 1995 law capping US payments to peacekeeping at 25 percent. Along those lines, all that Congress would have to do is reaffirm the 1995 legislation to meet Trump’s 25 percent. The US would automatically fall back into default.

To describe the process by which the UN sets assessment and dues scales as Byzantine would be making it sound easy. It starts with the UN Charter, which mandated in Article 17 that all member nations contribute to budget expenses. There has been no dispute since 2000 over US dues to the UN’s regular operating budget, for which the US is assessed 22 percent, the highest payment of any nation. The American issue is with peacekeeping dues only.

In assessing peacekeeping rates, the central role is played by the 18-member UN General Assembly Committee on Contributions (separate from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, the ACABQ, which a previous Take a Look report on the US-UN budget crisis erroneously said was responsible).

Peacekeeping dues are calculated from the base of each nation’s regular budget assessments. A number of factors are then taken into account, including the strength of the national economy, measured in gross national income (GNI) and GNI per capita. Some poor countries receive a discount on their regular budget rate.

The biggest discounts go to least-developed countries (LDCs) , which get 90 percent knocked off their regular budget rate when peacekeeping dues are decided. Countries with high per capita income get no discount.

The permanent five members of the Security Council, or P5 — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — are a special case. Those nations, which can veto or alter proposed peacekeeping resolutions and other measures in the Council, are assessed at a premium rate.

This means that the sum of all discounts given to other countries are added pro rata to the regular budget rates of the P5 to determine what they will be charged for peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping rates and discounts may be recalculated and changed only every three years by the General Assembly, based on advice from the Committee on Contributions. The next major review takes place in 2018. Until then, annual “technical” reviews are held. The 2017 session for this year’s review is in June.

The US government will have to adhere to these timetables and work with the UN in New York throughout the coming months. But as the rules stand now, no major changes can be made on rates until the next three-year review.

The US will remain the world’s largest economy during this period, and there will not be much sympathy around the UN for the Trump administration as the dues argument burgeons. The US already pays less than it should because of previous budget deals.

Even before the Trump cuts kick in, only 1.4 percent of the US federal budget is devoted to foreign aid of all kinds. Within that total, American peacekeeping and regular budget dues to the UN combined account for a minuscule 0.2 percent of the US national budget.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Climate Impact on Caribbean Coral Reefs May Be Mitigated If…http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-impact-on-caribbean-coral-reefs-may-be-mitigated-if/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-impact-on-caribbean-coral-reefs-may-be-mitigated-if http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-impact-on-caribbean-coral-reefs-may-be-mitigated-if/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 14:43:51 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149978 Cahuita National Park, on Costa Rica's eastern Caribbean coast, is suffering a process of coastal erosion which is shrinking its beaches, while the coral reefs underwater are also feeling the impact of climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

Cahuita National Park, on Costa Rica's eastern Caribbean coast, is suffering a process of coastal erosion which is shrinking its beaches, while the coral reefs underwater are also feeling the impact of climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
CAHUITA, Costa Rica, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

A few dozen metres from the Caribbean beach of Puerto Vargas, where you can barely see the white foam of the waves breaking offshore, is the coral reef that is the central figure of the ocean front of the Cahuita National Park in Costa Rica.

Puerto Vargas is known for the shrinking of its once long beach, as a result of erosion. The coast has lost dozens of metres in a matter of a few years, which has had an effect on tourists and on the nesting of sea turtles that used to come to lay their eggs.

Just as the beaches have been affected, there have been effects under water, in this area of the eastern province of Limón, which runs along the the country’s Caribbean coast from north to south.“We can test which corals are more resistant to the future conditions and that way we can create stronger ecosystems based on survivors that will tolerate the conditions that lie ahead.” -- Dave Vaughan

“The impact of the rise in sea level and changes in temperatures also affect the coral ecosystems,” Patricia Madrigal, Costa Rica’s vice minister of environment, told IPS.

The waters of the Caribbean sea are particularly fertile for corals, but the warming of the waters and acidification due to climate change threaten to wipe out these ecosystems, which serve as environmental and economic drivers for coastal regions.

The most visible effect is the coral bleaching phenomenon, which is a clear symptom that corals are sick. This happens when corals experience stress and expel a photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae, that live in their tissues, producing oxygen in a symbiotic relationship. The algae are responsible for the colors of coral reefs, so when they are expelled, the reefs turn white, and the coral is destined to die.
According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2015, there is clear evidence that 80 per cent of coral reefs in the Caribbean have bleached, and 40 per cent died during a critical period in 2005.

This is a recurring phenomenon all over the world. The report projected that 75 per cent of coral reefs in the world would suffer severe bleaching by the middle of this century, if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed.

The coral reefs in the Caribbean make up about seven per cent of the world’s total, but play a key role in the economies of many coastal communities in the region.

The conservation of coral reefs goes beyond defending biodiversity. Coral reefs provide a living to nearly one billion people, offer protection by buffering coastal communities against storms and heavy swells, and bring in billions of dollars a year from tourism and fishing.

Because of this, experts from Costa Rica and the rest of the Caribbean region are calling for a halt to activities that cause global warming, such as the use of fossil fuels, and for research into how to restore coral reefs.

However, Caribbean countries should also think about reducing pollution, said biologist Lenin Corrales, head of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre´s (CATIE) Environmental Modeling Laboratory.

A reef in an underwater mountain area in Coiba National Park, Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

A reef in an underwater mountain area in Coiba National Park, Panama. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

“How do you maintain the resilience of coral reefs? By not dumping sediments or agrochemicals on them. A sick coral reef is more easily going to suffer other problems,” Corrales told IPS at CATIE´s headquarters.

This argument is well-known in badly managed coastal areas: marine ecosystems suffer because of human activities on land and poor health makes them more vulnerable to other ailments.

In fact, an academic study published in 2012 showed that coral degradation along Panama’s Caribbean coast began before global warming gained momentum in the last few decades. Researchers blame deforestation and overfishing.

In terms of preparing for climate change, this means a step back: it is not possible to protect against future global warming ecosystems that the countries of the region have been undermining for decades.

The sediments as a result of deforestation or poor agricultural practices prevent the growth of corals, while overfishing affects certain species key to controlling algae that infest the reefs.

“Many of the fish that are eaten in the Caribbean are herbivorous and are the ones that control the populations of macroalgae that damage the coral,” said Corrales.

“With the herbivorous fish gone, in addition to the higher temperatures, the algae have a heyday,” said the expert.

A report published in 2014 by several organisations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), notes that the absence of crucial herbivorous fish such as the parrotfish jeopardises the region’s coral reefs.

How long will these undersea riches last? No one knows for sure. All scenarios project severe impacts in the following decades, after many reefs suffered critical damage from the 2015 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather phenomenon.

That is why experts such as Corrales warn that far from expecting an increase of one to two degrees Celsius as some scenarios project, fast changes in temperature should be considered, such as those associated with El Niño.

“People think that biodiversity is not going to die until the climate changes; but really biodiversity, and in this case coral reefs, are already suffering from thermal stress,” said the biologist.

When a coral reef spends 12 weeks with temperatures one degree higher than usual, it can suffer irreversible processes, he pointed out.
As the average sea level rises, it is more likely for the threshold to be reached, but even before that point it is also dangerous for coral. Stopping global warming does not guarantee a future for coral reefs, but it does give them better opportunities.

A possible way forward is being developed by the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Summerland Key, in the U.S. state of Florida, where researchers are growing corals in controlled environments to later reintroduce them in the ocean, as is done with seedlings from a greenhouse in reforestation efforts.

“We can actually test to see which would have a given resistance to future conditions and in that way build a stronger ecosystem of survivors for what the next years might bring,” Dave Vaughan, the head of the lab, told IPS in an interview by phone.

The team headed by Vaughan reintroduced 20,000 small corals to degraded areas of the reefs, in a process that will accelerate the recovery of these ecosystems.

In 2015, the lab received an investment of 5.1 million dollars to make Vaughan´s ambition possible: reintroducing one million coral fragments in the next five to ten years.

However, Vaughan himself admits that this is a mitigation measure to buy time. The real task to fight against climate change is reducing the emissions that cause the greenhouse effect.

“Coral restoration can give us a 10, 50 or 100 years head start, but eventually if the oceans continue to raise in temperature, there’s not too much hope,” he said.

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Survivors of Sex Abuse Say UN Neglected Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:39:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149964 Shocking new revelations about what happened to children sexually abused in the Central African Republic by peacekeepers were revealed in a Code Blue Campaign press conference April 12. Credit: SVT

Shocking new revelations about what happened to children sexually abused in the Central African Republic by peacekeepers were revealed in a Code Blue Campaign press conference April 12. Credit: SVT

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

Several survivors who were sexually abused by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to be neglected by the UN, an investigative team has found.

Three years after cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces in CAR became public, a Swedish film team located a number of survivors who have said that the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) promised support never arrived.

“The exposure isn’t that these atrocities were committed against the kids, but that they were then promised support and just vanished,” Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign Paula Donovan told IPS.

The organization first documented the cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in 2015, causing public outrage. Children between the ages of 8 and 15, who were living in a refugee camp at the time, reported that they were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food and other goods. Fourteen French soldiers reportedly were suspected of being involved.

After speaking to UNICEF representative in CAR who said that the children are cared for and followed up with, investigative reporter Karin Mattisson and her team spoke to children who said otherwise. One such survivor is Martha who became pregnant and contracted HIV by a peacekeeping soldier when she was 14-years-old.

“Initially, UNICEF said that they would make sure that the soldier was imprisoned and take care of the mother and baby to help us. But then, nothing, no one came to visit. It was left to us to take care of the child,” her friend said. Martha said that all they received was a “present” of money equivalent to US$15, a bag of rice, milk and sugar. Meanwhile, the peacekeeper was sent home and it is uncertain if any punitive action was taken.

Two boys, who were also sexually abused and provided testimony to the UN’s initial investigation, similarly claimed that they did not receive any help. “We are trying to get it together on our own. We pick up water for people, we wash cars—that is how we have lived since then.”

In response to the allegations, UNICEF spokesperson Najwa Mekki told IPS that the agency has provided assistance to children whose cases they are aware of and that they have scaled up their reporting procedures, victim assistance, and staff capacity since 2015.

“We are following up on the children identified in the Swedish TV programme, providing assistance when appropriate, and will continue to give the necessary support to any victim of sexual exploitation and abuse who comes forward or is brought to our attention,” she told IPS.

Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who is also involved in the Code Blue Campaign, noted that UN bureaucracy often stands in the way of action by preventing clear and concise information on such cases to travel up the chain of command.

“Finally when it reaches the Secretary General, [information] is already absolutely diluted,” he told IPS. And without complete evidence, any investigation becomes a “sham inquiry,” Chowdhury added.

Despite steps taken by the UN to address the scandal in 2015, including the creation of a review panel which characterized the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse as a “gross institutional failure,” little to no punitive action has been taken.

Most recently in January, a French investigation into the cases closed without anyone being charged. Senior UN officials accused of abuse of authority for suppressing information rather than reporting cases have also remained largely untouched, Donovan said, adding that the initial “gross institutional failure” has only continued.

“Justice is being delayed and it is being denied,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Donovan also pointed to the problematic use of “UN insiders” in addressing the issue due to concerns of their own legacy and reputation.

“The people who are part of the problem have been tasked with the solution…they don’t want to come forward and say ‘here’s what is so broken and so awful about the UN and I’ve decided to fix it’ because they presided over all of it,” she told IPS.

Early this year, Secretary-General António Guterres announced the creation of a task force to investigate UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse. Among those in the task force is former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute and Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Military Adviser Lieutenant General Carlos Humberto Loitey.

Chowdhury said that no task force will help.

“If it is with UN insiders…they will not do anything to put their own into this abuse,” he told IPS.

Both Donovan and Chowdhury called for a special courts mechanism to deal with sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces. Chowdhury also highlighted the need for a independent unit to conduct inquiries and report cases which may help bring about more punitive action against perpetrators whose actions are often shielded by their colleagues.

“The UN needs to save itself from itself,” Donovan told IPS.

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