Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice News and Views from the Global South Sat, 28 Nov 2015 08:29:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “París Is Not the End of a Climate Change Process but a Beginning” Fri, 27 Nov 2015 15:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during an exlusive interview with IPS in the Blue Room in the Moneda Palace, the seat of government, in Santiago, before flying to Paris to participate in the Nov. 30 inauguration of the climate summit, to be hosted by the French capital until Dec. 11. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during an exlusive interview with IPS in the Blue Room in the Moneda Palace, the seat of government, in Santiago, before flying to Paris to participate in the Nov. 30 inauguration of the climate summit, to be hosted by the French capital until Dec. 11. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Nov 27 2015 (IPS)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet says the climate summit in Paris “is not the end of a process but a beginning,” and that it will produce “an agreement that, although insufficient with respect to the original goal, shows that people believe it is better to move ahead than to stand still.”

In this exclusive interview with IPS, held shortly before Bachelet headed to the capital of France, the president reflected on the global impacts of climate change and stressed several times that the accords reached at the summit “must be binding,” as well as universal.

On Monday Nov. 30 Bachelet will take part in the inauguration of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will run through Dec. 11. At the summit, the 196 countries that are parties to the treaty are to agree on a new climate accord aimed at curbing global warming.

The president also said the Paris summit will have a different kind of symbolism in the wake of the terrorist attacks that claimed 130 lives: “It sends out an extremely clear signal that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated,” she said.

Q: Latin America is a region where the countries face similar impacts from climate change. But it is negotiating with a fragmented voice. Has the region missed a chance for a leadership role and for a better defence of its joint interests?

A: Sometimes it is very difficult to achieve a unified position, because even though there are situations that are similar, decisions must be taken that governments are not always able to adopt, or because they find themselves in very different circumstances.

We belong to the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) in the negotiations on climate change, along with Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. All of these countries did manage to work together, and we have a similar outlook on the question of climate change.

The countries in this region are not the ones that generate the most emissions at a global level. And above and beyond the differences we may have, the important thing is that we will all make significant efforts to reduce emissions and boost clean energies and other mechanisms and initiatives.

Q: Will the COP21 manage to approve a new universal climate treaty?

A: COP21 is not the end but a beginning of a process where the countries will turn in their national commitments [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS)]. After that will come the mechanisms to assess the implementation of these contributions, and, from time to time, propose other targets, which would be more ambitious in some cases.

This will be the first climate change summit, after the Copenhagen conference [in 2009] where no accord was reached even though the Kyoto Protocol was coming to an end, where we will be able to reach some level of agreement.

It might not be the optimal level; apparently the contributions so far publicly submitted by the states parties would not achieve the objective of keeping global warming down to two degrees Celsius. Nevertheless, it is a major advance, when you look at what has happened in the past.

That said, what Chile maintains is that the contributions should be binding, and we are going to back that position which is clearly not supported by everyone.

Q: So you include yourself among those who believe Paris will mark a positive turning point in the fight against climate change?

Chile’s contribution

Q: Chile carried out a much-praised citizen input process for the design of its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS), to be included in the new treaty. But media and business sectors were not pleased with some of the voluntary targets that were set. Will this hinder implementation?

A: Not everyone always agrees, we’ve seen that in different processes. I hope that awareness grows, and that is a task that we also have, as government. Climate change is a reality, not an invention, which will have disastrous consequences for everyone, but also for the economy.

For us it is indispensable, on one hand, to reduce emissions by 30 percent, by 2030. There are some who believe our commitment falls short, but it is what we can commit to today, understanding the economic situation that the country and the world find themselves in. It is a serious, responsible commitment. And obviously, if the economic situation improves, we will set more ambitious goals later.

On the other hand, Chile has an adaptation plan that includes, among other things, the reforestation of more than 100,000 hectares of native forest and an energy efficiency programme.

A: Yes, in the sense that a concrete, definitive agreement will be reached.

But it is, I insist, the start of a path. Later other, more ambitious, measures will have to be adopted, to further reduce global temperatures.

Q: Will the treaty currently being debated include the financing that the Global South and Latin America in particular will need in order to help prevent the planet from reaching a situation that is irreversible for human life?

A: I have a hope that the Green Climate Fund will grow and give more countries access to technology and resources. In this region we will always have the contradiction that we are considered middle-income countries, and thus we are not given priority when it comes to funding, while at the same time our economies are often unable to foot greater costs. And on the other hand, we are the smallest emitters [of greenhouse gases].

This is why in Chile we have set two targets, one without external support and the other with external financing, to reduce emissions by 45 percent. But there is also a possibility of financing through cooperation programmes for the introduction and transfer of new technologies to our countries, which will allow us to live up to the commitments.

Q: As the first executive director of U.N.-Women [2010-2013], you helped establish the idea that women must be taken into account in climate negotiations and actions, because they bear the impacts on a day-to-day basis and are decisive in adapting to and mitigating global warming. What is the central role that women should have in the new treaty?

A: There are a number of day-to-day decisions made by women, which have an influence. For example, energy efficiency is essential when it comes to reducing emissions, and it is often a domestic issue, in questions such as turning off lights, for example.

But in many parts of the world women are also the ones hauling water or cooking with firewood, especially in the most vulnerable areas.

So the importance of women ranges from these aspects to their contribution as citizens committed to the fight against climate change, with the conviction that a green, inclusive and sustainable economy is possible, and to the political role of women at the parliamentary and municipal level, where they are working hard for the adoption of measures and to ensure a livable planet.

Q: As president, and as a Chilean, what worries you most about the current climate situation? What would you see as the highest priority?

A: There are many things that worry me about climate change, ranging from severe drought and flooding to islands that could disappear under water – in other words, how natural events linked to climate change affect the lives of people.

I’m also concerned about two things that are essential for people: clean drinking water and food, two elements that can be profoundly affected by climate change. We have seen that there are areas of the country where people depend on rationed water from tanker trucks.

This not only affects the daily lives of people but also, in agricultural areas, it affects production and incomes. And think about the marvelous variety of fish and seafood that we have in our country, which depends on the temperatures in our oceans.

All of this could be modified. It is all very important, and ends up affecting people’s lives.

Q: Paris was the victim of a Jihadist terrorist attack on Nov. 13, which left 130 people dead. Did these attacks affect the climate surrounding the summit? Will the participation by the heads of state and government also serve as a response to the terrorism?

A: More than 160 heads of state and government have confirmed their attendance at the Paris conference, which sends out an extremely clear signal that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated.

We are going to Paris first, because the issue to be addressed and discussed is important, but also because we are sending a message that we will not tolerate this kind of action and that we will continue moving forward in the defence of the values that we believe are essential. And we will give a hug of solidarity to our sister republic, France, to President François Hollande and to the French people.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Uganda, Tanzania Need Gender Sensitive Climate Change Policies Thu, 26 Nov 2015 09:24:57 +0000 Wambi Michael 0 Did Argentina’s Elections Mark Start of Shift to the Right in South America? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 23:45:55 +0000 Mario Osava In the near future it will become clear whether the triumph of Mauricio Macri, to become president of Argentina on Dec. 10, marked the start of a new era in South America, with the emergence of conservative governments in a scenario where leaders identified as left-wing have been predominant so far this century. Credit: Mauricio Macri

In the near future it will become clear whether the triumph of Mauricio Macri, to become president of Argentina on Dec. 10, marked the start of a new era in South America, with the emergence of conservative governments in a scenario where leaders identified as left-wing have been predominant so far this century. Credit: Mauricio Macri

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2015 (IPS)

Different degrees of economic problems are a common denominator in South American countries where governments that identify as leftist may start to fall, in a shift that began in Argentina and could continue among its neighbours to the north.

“It is not possible yet to say whether this is the end of a cycle, because the reasons for it are still very present…but there is a very complex crisis affecting the governments that I call ‘distributionist’, which are facing difficulties, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela,” Professor Tullo Vigevani of the São Paulo State University told IPS.

For his part, retired diplomat Marcos Azambuja, a former Brazilian ambassador to Argentina and France, told IPS: “It’s not the end of a cycle in Latin America, but the waning of a group of governments tending towards populism associated with nationalism.”“My fear is that the dying Chavismo will come to an undemocratic end, given the fragile position of President Nicolás Maduro, while in Brazil the change will surely be democratic.” -- Marcos Azambuja

“Left” is a concept that has lost validity, he added, preferring to talk about populist governments, stressing the ones along South America’s Atlantic coast. “The ones along the Pacific coast are more modern,” he said.

Argentina is experiencing “the end of a cycle in a completely normal democratic manner, which should be celebrated,” after 12 years of presidency by the Kirchners, he said, referring to the consecutive terms of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández, who steps down on Dec. 10. Both belonged to the Justicialista – Peronist – party.

“But any non-Peronist government will face great difficulties in that country,” Azambuja warned.

Neither of the last two non-Peronist presidents, Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) and Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), managed to serve out their full terms; they were both forced to resign.

That will be a challenge for Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, who won the elections for president in the Nov. 22 runoff, representing the centre-right opposition Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, made up of his conservative Republican Proposal (PRO) party and the traditional Radical Civic Union (UCR).

Helping him win the elections were the division of the Justicialista Party, on the political front, and the economic crisis.

But now he will have to deal with the country’s economic woes.

The problems include stagnation and the subsequent high unemployment, high inflation – close to 30 percent, say analysts, but only half that according to the authorities – dwindling foreign reserves, and a black market where the dollar is worth nearly 50 percent more than the official exchange rate.

There are also distortions, such as protectionist measures in some sectors, export duties on agricultural products, and subsidies that affect national production and trade with Brazil, whose main market for industrial exports used to be Argentina.

The economic changes promised by Macri, such as the removal of currency controls and restrictions on foreign trade, will affect relations with Argentina’s neighbours. But it is his foreign policy that could drastically modify things in the region.

He wants, for example, to exclude Venezuela from the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) as long as the current government there remains in power, by citing the bloc’s democratic clause, which already led to the suspension of Paraguay’s membership for over a year, due to the impeachment and removal of former president Fernando Lugo in 2012.

A return to warmer ties with the United States, trade accords with the European Union and Pacific rim blocs, and greater openness to trade in general form part of Macri’s plans, in contrast to the protectionist tendencies of governments described as leftist, populist, “distributionist” or Bolivarian, depending on the vocabularies used by different ideological currents.

But regional organisations like Mercosur, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbbean States (CELAC) will not fall into crisis as a result of the political changes in the region, according to Vigevani.

These kinds of organisations are slow to react, which “has adequately served a few limited objectives,” he said.

The change in Argentina and the crises in Brazil and Venezuela, which have political as well as economic aspects, point to a probable wave of right-leaning, neoliberal governments in Latin America, that put a higher priority on the economy than on the social policies of their predecessors.

The situations are different. In Venezuela, where the economy is virtually in a state of collapse, “my fear is that the dying Chavismo will come to an undemocratic end, given the fragile position of President Nicolás Maduro, while in Brazil the change will surely be democratic,” Azambuja predicted in his conversation with IPS.

In those three countries along the Atlantic coast of South America governments “did not adequately administer economic policy, leading to low levels of investment, low savings rates, and scarce technological training, and failed to develop policies to expand, rather than reduce, consensus. Thus, the capacity to prevent neoliberal advances was decisively reduced,” said Vigevani.

Brazil has been suffering from an economic recession since late 2014, aggravated by nearly 10 percent annual inflation and a fiscal deficit that scares off investors. To all of this was added a corruption scandal involving the state oil giant Petrobras as well as all of the country’s major construction companies and around 50 politicians.

In addition, the campaign that led to the reelection of left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff in October 2014 was marked by an unprecedented degree of violence, with clashes and accusations that destroyed the chances of dialogue and negotiation.

As a result, the contradictions between the government’s election promises and its actual practices became so obvious that they undermined the legitimacy and popularity of the president, who had the approval of less than 10 percent of the population according to the latest polls, and is facing the threat of impeachment.

The political bickering has made it impossible to cobble together a stable majority in Congress, which has stood in the way of a fiscal adjustment programme that requires legislative approval of public spending cuts and a rise in taxes.

The economic crisis, blamed by the government on an adverse international environment and by the opposition on mistakes by the government, thus drags on.

“Economic results are important factors in the shift in favour of conservative candidates,” said Vigevani. “But besides the crises and the recession, there are underlying theoretical problems to be addressed, which the neoliberals don’t have answers to either, and this leads to a balance, even in the case of Argentina.”

“Distributionism without a capacity for investment, innovation and adjustment of the productive system is not sufficient, although it is necessary,” he said.

Underestimating or poorly managing economic questions would seem to be the Achilles’ heel of governments seen as leftist or populist in Latin America.

That curse has not affected leaders who, even though they are distributionist or “Bolivarian”, adopted orthodox economic policies, such as Evo Morales, in power in Bolivia since 2006, or Rafael Correa, who has governed Ecuador since 2007.

At the same time, it does not seem to be possible for new or future leaders, even right-leaning ones, to eliminate or even reduce social programmes that “populist” governments have used to pull millions of families out of poverty. Macri has already announced that he will keep them in place.

Everything would seem to indicate that these programmes are now a new dimension incorporated into regional politics, while poverty and social inequality remain unacceptably high in a majority of the countries in Latin America which, despite these “inclusion policies,” remains the world’s most unequal region.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Hunger Heralds Climate Change’s Arrival in Botswana Tue, 24 Nov 2015 15:38:23 +0000 Baboki Kayawe Cattle among drought victims. Credit: Kagiso Onkatswitse

Cattle among drought victims. Credit: Kagiso Onkatswitse

By Baboki Kayawe

A perfect storm of lower rainfall and a growing population beckons for Botswana. But others find climate change is already in the fields and paddocks. “As climate change ushers in more stress on the water sector, it is increasingly a concern that losses in rangeland productivity will result in food insecurity, especially in rural areas,” a country analysis report unveiled recently on Botswana states.

Far from the airy conference rooms where such reports are typically shared, are thousands of subsistence farmers – growing crops mainly to feed their families – for whom these words come to life in the fields and the paddocks of Botswana every harvest season.

For these farmers, the national ideals of poverty eradication and sustainable development are slipping ever further out of reach. Bathalefhi Seoroka, 65, is a subsistence farmer in Boteti, one of Botswana’s drier areas located in the central region. She mostly grows maize, sorghum, beans and melons on her six-hectare field.

Seoroka has noticed her crops have been failing because of declining rainfall since 2010. “Weather patterns have drastically changed,” she says. “I don’t know how we will be able to survive under such dry conditions.”

Another farmer, Kgasane Tsele accuses the government of responding too slowly to the 2014-2015 drought, which was declared early in June. “This is really scary for us as farmers and we eagerly wait to see how government will respond,” he says. “By now government should have announced how it is going to help farmers in alleviating the impact of this drought. The response team must always be on alert and respond early.”

The Department of Meteorological Services predicts the southeastern part of Botswana – which is already suffering from drought and water shortages – is poised to experience its driest season in 34 years.

To cope with food shortage risks, the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) ordered 1,000 tons of yellow maize from South Africa, and an additional 10,000 tons of white maize is due to arrive soon.

BAMB spokesperson, Kushata Modiakgotla says strategic grain reserves currently stand at 30,000 tons of sorghum and 3,000 tons of cowpeas left, but there is no maize. “BAMB has started the process of buying 5,000 tons of white maize from Zambia and it is exploring other avenues to import an additional 5,000 tons if necessary,” she states.

Imports from both nations would help meet supply as local reserves are under threat, while yellow maize is used to produce animal feed. The government insists consumers are not in any danger of going hungry as more than 90 percent of the maize consumed in Botswana is sourced by local millers from South Africa. But despite the supply contracts, consumers will have to pay more for maize meal the longer drought persists.

Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) chief executive Akolang Tombale says climate risks also present challenges to beef production and exports. “We are just emerging from a very dry season and if another drought is forecast it is a problematic state as production will be reduced,” he explains. Grasslands and pasture are an important resource for Batswana who derive most of their livelihood from livestock.

The majority of the BMC’s throughput starts at natural pastures, before being prepared with feedstock. Tombale is holding out hope for showers to replenish pastures around the country, but he acknowledges this may not be a long-term solution.

BMC has been receiving higher rates of deliveries than usual this year, since the Ministry of Agriculture advised farmers to destock as means of cutting their losses. However, this is a short-lived gain because if the situation persists in the next raining cycle, beef revenues would be badly affected. The BMC is now urging farmers to change their approach from quantity to quality-based cattle production.

President Ian Khama recently urged farmers to adopt more innovative approaches to their work in order to cope with the impacts of climate change. Speaking at the 2015 National Agricultural Show ‘Practicing Smart Agriculture to Combat the Effect of Climate Change’, he pointed to Israel, where farmers have harnessed new technologies in order to maintain production in highly water stressed environments.

“This ravaging drought we are currently experiencing is an opportunity to be innovative and resort to new methods and technologies to produce under such conditions. It is for this reason that farming methods such as conservation agriculture are promoted,” he said.

Recommendations include using improved crop varieties that are drought tolerant and high yielding, investing in breeds that can withstand the current climate, as well as adoption of proper crop husbandry practices though agricultural infrastructure. Lare Sisay, United Nations Development Programme’s deputy resident representative, predicts water shortages will lead to an increase in undesirable types of grass species.

“This has a far-reaching impact on social and economic sectors, and this has not yet been quantified and factored into the country’s economic projections,” he says. He predicts this could derail Botswana’s efforts to break through its middle-income country status.

Parliamentarians – many of whose constituents are rural and peri-urban populations involved in communal farming – are expected to tackle the climate change policy, once it appears in the National Assembly. The policy is due in the November sitting and already momentum is gathering from activists to ensure robust debate and urgent approval.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to Jessica Shankleman from @BusinessGreen.

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Analysis: Are Young People the Answer to Africa’s Food Security? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 07:41:28 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 Sinking into Paradise: Climate Change Worsening Coastal Erosion in Trinidad Mon, 23 Nov 2015 23:47:45 +0000 Rajiv Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

Coastal damages in the aftermath of the floods. Credit: Rajiv Jalim

By Rajiv Jalim
PORT-of-SPAIN, TRINIDAD, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

As unusually heavy rainfall battered Trinidad’s east coast a year ago, a lagoon here was overwhelmed, flooding a major access road to the island’s south-eastern communities. As the flood waters poured over Manzanilla beach, they washed sand away, caved in sections of road and collapsed a seawall at a tourist beach facility. Further damages were also incurred with the flooding of homes and agricultural plots.

The coastline of Trinidad is under threat as seas rise, storms grow heavier, and as sand is washed away. As iconic coconut trees are lapped by an encroaching sea, some of the dangers of climate change are becoming clear.

Seas in the region have been rising by more than 2 millimeters every year — though scientists are still trying to pinpoint the role of climate change in accelerating local beach erosion.

“On Manzanilla beach the sea is definitely getting closer to the land, but the primary reason may not be land deformation or sea level rise,” said Keith Miller, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of West Indies.

“The Atlantic swell causes longshore drift and beach sediments move southward,” Miller said. “Research has been done to suggest that the sediment source has dried up to some extent, so material is being moved along the beach, but there is less material available to replace it.”

In addition to the problems on the east coast, Trinidad’s south-western peninsula is experiencing rapid erosion. Despite being sheltered from the open ocean, satellite images have shown large portions of it being lost to the Gulf of Paria.

According to the World Bank publication Turn Down the Heat, Earth is locked into at least a 1.5°C rise in temperature compared with pre-industrial times. Rising seas caused by rising temperatures, coupled with projected increases in the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, which also affect wave energy, are expected to accelerate coastal erosion. Such effects are of grave concern for small island developing states (SIDS).

With Trinidad’s east coast sustaining several developing communities, through income from tourism, agriculture and fishing, management of the coastline — which is also a nesting site for endangered leatherback turtles — is of utmost importance.

Subsequent to reports of the extensive damage at Manzanilla, emergency services responded through a coordinated effort between government agencies and ministries to bring relief to those affected.

Disaster management and response units, including the local Risk Reduction Management Centre, assisted residents by providing basic supplies to flood victims, while personnel from the University of the West Indies conducted site visits to assess the damage and collect data. The Ministry of Works was involved in trying to reconnect the main access route to the south-eastern community.

At an estimated cost of $US5.8 million, the rehabilitation work combined the expertise of academics and researchers with coastal management organizations and engineering firms, both local and international.

One year later, key learnings are still being generated from data collected after the event. It is from these analyses that gaps in the coastal management plans and developmental strategies for the east coast can be identified.

Perhaps the most significant gap has been the lack of sufficient hydrological and maritime data for the island, which could be used to develop models and improve the predictive power for rare disasters.

Extraordinary events such as the Manzanilla flood occur infrequently, but they can cause significant and expensive damage when they do occur. Predicting and preparing for such events based on scientific knowledge can reduce not only their impacts, but also the recovery time.

Looking beyond Trinidad to the wider Caribbean region, and to other islands across the world, coastal erosion linked to climate change can be extremely dangerous.

Experts say long-term strategies should go beyond revetment and seawall repairs, and consider policy support, planning strategies and contingency mapping. Additionally, there is a need for increased public-private partnerships across the globe, where resources, creativity, expertise and innovation can be expanded and exchanged to deal with coastal management in a sustainable manner.

“I’m more on the side of investing in state-of-the-art, long-term monitoring and innovative research,” said Christopher Daly, lecturer in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department of the University of the West Indies.

“There is no real profit to be made from this so it’s difficult to get private investment,” Daly said. “This has to be funded through a national or regional science board that has the long-term interest of society at heart. It also has to have full government support but be independent of political influence.”

Developed countries have pledged to begin providing $100 billion a year through the United Nations to help developing countries slow and adapt to climate change by 2020. During climate negotiations in Paris later this year, developing countries will ask wealthier ones to produce a roadmap for raising and providing those funds.

SIDS have also been calling during the United Nations climate negotiations for a “loss-and-damage mechanism,” which could help poorer countries cope with flooding and other impacts of climate change. The concept was first proposed more than two decades ago, but the wealthier countries that would be expected to provide the funding have opposed it.

In the meantime, the hastily built seawall, boardwalk and main road on the Manzanilla beach will again have to stand the test of the Atlantic and the effects of climate change. Only time will tell if feats of engineering can withstand the changing environment, or if the island of Trinidad will be left to slowly erode into rising seas.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to John Upton and @ClimateCentral.

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Cubans Seeking the American Dream, Stranded in Costa Rica Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:16:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of Cubans heading for the United States have been stranded at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border since mid-November, waiting for the authorities in Managua to authorise their passage north.Just over 2,500 Cubans are waiting in northern Costa Rica, the majority in temporary shelters opened by the local authorities. After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance when they reached Nicaragua, which closed the border and denied them passage.

“We’re desperate to get to the United States because we want a better future for our children and for ourselves,” said Arley Alonso Ferrarez, a Cuban migrant, in a video provided by the Costa Rican government’s National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission.

Alonso and the other Cubans stuck at the Nicaraguan border are seeking refuge under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

The exodus was fuelled once again this year by the fear that the thaw between the Cuban and U.S. governments, which began in December 2014 and has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties, would result in the modification or elimination of the special treatment received by Cuban immigrants to the United States.

Cubans have been making their way to the United States through Central America for several years now, but the phenomenon had gone unnoticed until the Costa Rican government adopted measures in early November to fight the trafficking of persons through this country.

That cut short the flow of undocumented immigrants and revealed the scale of the movement of Cubans from Ecuador to the United States.

“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” Cuban migrant Ignacio Valdés told the local newspaper La Nación, referring to the dangers faced along the lengthy journey. “We’ve been robbed, we were forced to jump into the sea between Colombia and Panama, some girls were even raped, and the police stole from us.”

After the Nov. 10 arrest of members of the trafficking ring which smuggled migrants through Costa Rican territory, Cubans began to be stranded in groups along the southern border of the country.

That forced the authorities to issue seven-day safe conducts, to regulate their passage to Nicaragua. But that country completely sealed its border on Nov. 15, and blocked the entrance of Cubans when it reopened the border the next day.“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants.” - Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González

The migrants are awaiting the results of a meeting to be held Tuesday Nov. 24 in El Salvador, where the countries of Central America, as well as Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, will try to hammer out a joint regional response.

The meeting will explore options to create a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the passage of Cubans to the United States – which has not been invited to the meeting, while Cuba has failed to confirm its participation, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry reported.

In recent years, more and more Cubans have been going through Ecuador, which grants them three-month tourist visas and to which they arrive by plane. The route – by land and sea – is much less frequently used and less well-known than the Florida Straits.

It is 5,000 km as the crow flies between Ecuador and the U.S. border, but the routes used by the trafficking gangs are much longer.

In April 2014, the Ecuadorean government eliminated the requisite that Cubans applying for visas present a letter of invitation, thus allowing them to remain in the country for up to three months without any additional requirements.

Once they make it to the South American continent, the migrants go by land across the border between Ecuador and Colombia, before taking a boat along Colombia’s Pacific coast to Panama, where they are smuggled, once more by land, to the Costa Rican border.

“These people are brought in by the mafias, the international people trafficking networks; without a doubt they are risking their lives,” said the foreign minister. “We have received reports of women who have been raped, who have crossed through jungles, and of children who are put in danger. The conditions are deplorable.”

According to Costa Rica’s immigration office, around 13,000 Cubans have travelled through this country since last year.

But they have mainly gone unnoticed, because most of them are smuggled by people traffickers, who charge between 7,000 and 13,000 dollars per person.

Carlos Sandoval, an expert on immigration issues, told IPS that the trafficking rings operate throughout Central America, and are also involved in smuggling migrants from the region who are trying to make it into the United States.

And, he added, while a solution for the stranded Cubans is urgently needed, Central America has long been in debt to its own citizens who try to reach the United States.

“An ironic aspect of this humanitarian corridor initiative is that it’s happening in a region that spits out migrants. Around 300,000 people a year set out from Central America in an attempt to make it to the United States,” said Sandoval, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica’s Social Research Institute.

The Central American migrants heading towards the United States face situations just as complex as what the Cubans are going through.

“The case of the Cubans is just one more instance of what is a day-to-day reality in Central America,” said the Costa Rican expert, who for years has studied Central American migration to the United States, carrying out fieldwork in this region, in Mexico, and in the U.S.

Sandoval said the situation requires a regionwide response – something Costa Rica should have had in mind when it issued the first safe-conduct passes. He argued that it is the region’s governments themselves that create the conditions that allow trafficking networks to operate.

“What makes their business possible? It is possible to the extent that the borders are closed: it is so difficult to get there that without the support of these people (traffickers), it is even more complicated and dangerous,” Sandoval said.

Costa Rica plans to open new shelters in the northern town of Upala, because the ones already set up are full, the minister of human development and social inclusion, Carlos Alvarado, told IPS.

“Many of these people (the Cubans) are professionals, others are skilled workers. They are between the ages of 20 and 45. There are more men than women, some 30 children, and around 10 women who are pregnant,” said Alvarado.

Cubans continue pouring into the country, said the minister. On Friday Nov. 20, for example, some 200 people arrived.

On Saturday Nov. 21, Costa Rica’s authorities reported that there are more than 2,500 Cubans in transit in this country.

“Most of them report that they came using their own funds – they sold all they had and left everything behind to go to the United States,” the minister said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Keep Family Farms in Business with Youth Agripreneurs Mon, 23 Nov 2015 19:48:06 +0000 Nteranya Sanginga Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

By Nteranya Sanginga
IBADAN, Nigeria, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

Finding a way to allow youth to contribute their natural and ample energies to productive causes is increasingly the touchstone issue that will determine future prosperity.

It is a tragic irony that today’s youth, despite being the most educated generation ever, struggle to be included.

That’s true in advanced countries. But it is even more true in Africa, where almost two-thirds of the jobless are young adults, whose ranks swell by 10 to 12 million new members each year. The challenge is staggering in scale: Today there are 365 million Africans aged 15 to 35, and over the next 20 years that figure will double.

There is no magic wand. It is youth themselves who must find a solution.

Everyone else – governments, international organizations, the private sector, social groups and parents – has a huge stake in their success and so must not stand in the way. Normally one hears about the need to help cast in elaborate theories based on the need for redistribution. But the truth is, we need a step change.

That’s the spirit the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is adopting with our “agripreneur” coaching programmes. These aim to use self-help groups so that people can indeed help themselves. As I bluntly told a group of youth in Uganda, we will provide support in the form of technology, knowledge and advocacy, but the real activity has to be done by themselves. Another message was: “be aggressive.”

It is well known that Africa is a vast land of family farmers, many living in rural areas and regularly struggling with poverty and hunger. Figures can also be easily made to show how most family farms are exercises in subsistence, and don’t always succeed without external help.

Family farming is a way of life, to be sure. But that does not mean, when you really think about it, that it cannot be done as a business. Doing so would represent a change, but the time has come. Making agriculture a commercial trade offers a set of new tools to entice talented youth to a sector we all know they tend to run away from.

As Akinwumi Adesina, formerly Nigeria’s agriculture minister and now the president of the African Development Bank, likes to say, “Africa’s future millionaires and billionaires will make their money from agriculture.”

And it is quite likely that youth, being in a proverbial rush, will accelerate the transformations that will lead to better lives than a mad rush to cities where employment prospects aren’t keeping pace with urban population. Moreover, agriculture has been the weak link in terms of productivity growth across the continent – that means there is an enormous upside to doing it better.

Knowledge needs pollinators. While extension services are excellent and should be upgraded, young people are natural communicators when they think something is cool and useful. That’s what agriculture has to be.

IITA’s agripreneur campaign hinges on our version of a Silicon Valley hackathon. Incubators are created to allow youth to learn and exchange ideas of a practical nature – about how to keep accounts, new crops and farming techniques, the myriad possibilities of agricultural value chains that include roles for seed traders, food processors, weather forecasters, insurance salespeople, marketing specialists.

One of our agripreneur “interns” told me that what he took away was that success is not in fact all down to money. An enterprise really needs ideas, of course, and the ability to plan.

To be clear, his enthusiasm – as so many of our alumni say – was about the possibility of enterprise. Call it agribusiness. Agricultural commodity value chains provide just that, a series of transactional opportunities that work to improve efficiency for all and reward the talented. This is a major catalyst for youth. After all, it opens the door for the professionalization of agriculture.

To be sure, the agribusiness model crucially requires inclusive efforts to make sure credit is available to youth, to assure that gender equity becomes an operational assumption rather than just a goal, and a host of public goods including scientific research. Yet it begins with a changed mind set.

People must learn how to apply for a loan. Bankers always say they wish to fund on the basis of a business plan rather than collateral. It is time to put that to the test. IITA’s focus on agripreneurs is a well-placed bet on the idea that nobody learns faster than youth.


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Against the Odds, Caribbean Doubles Down for 1.5 Degree Deal in Paris Mon, 23 Nov 2015 07:57:02 +0000 Zadie Neufville 0 Asia Wants Paris Climate Talks to Tackle Historic Emissions and Make Some Real Change Sun, 22 Nov 2015 15:14:05 +0000 Amantha Perera 0 Aflatoxins: Poisoning Health and Trade in Sub-Saharan Africa Fri, 20 Nov 2015 15:32:03 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 Private Nature Reserves in Latin America Seek a Bigger Role Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:27:09 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Punta Leona private reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, where the owners voluntarily protect biological diversity and use a small part of the property for ecotourism. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
PUNTA LEONA, Costa Rica , Nov 20 2015 (IPS)

Private voluntary nature reserves in Latin America should be seen as allies in policies on the environment, climate change mitigation and the preservation of biological diversity in rainforests, say experts.

“Private reserves in Latin America are not included in conservation policies; they should be integrated in our national strategies,” said Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, vice-president of conservation policies in Conservation International (CI) in Costa Rica.

Rodríguez, a former Costa Rican minister of environment, energy and mines (2002–2006), was addressing 150 environmentalists, promoters of voluntary conservation agreements, and ecotourism business owners, during the 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves, held Nov. 9-13 in the Punta Leona private nature reserve and tourism destination.

In his view, the private sector should play a more central role and governments and the owners of private nature reserves should work together to achieve compliance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

During the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, 193 United Nations members established 20 targets to fight the loss of biodiversity, with a 2020 deadline.

“We are losing our natural capital due to climate change and the big gap between private and public conservation,” said Rodríguez. “The owners of private reserves should become political actors, to help meet the Aichi Targets.”

The global cost of financing efforts towards the targets is estimated at 150 to 440 billion dollars a year, according to figures from the Convention itself. But currently, CI says, the world is only channeling 45 billion dollars towards that end.

Rodríguez says private conservation efforts could help mitigate the shortfall in funds.

With that aim, the Latin American Alliance of Private Reserves was formally created Nov. 6 – the first of its kind in the world. It groups 4,345 private reserves in 15 countries, with a combined total of 5,648,000 hectares of green areas.

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The 11th Latin American Congress of Networks of Private Reserves held No. 9-13 in the Punta Leona nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“The idea is to form a conservation chain,” Martin Keller of Guatemala, the president of the new alliance, told IPS. “Private areas can form a chain with national parks and expand national conservation systems. They are also a mechanism to absorb drastic climate changes.”

He argues that there should be no borders for private reserves in the region. “We are joining together in something magnificent, and formalising associations with international institutions so that they include us in environmental projects,” he said.

During the congress in Costa Rica, a pilot programme to encourage the sale of carbon credits was announced, with the donation of 200 hectares of land by a member of the Alliance. The programme will have an estimated 3,600 tonnes of carbon.

Keller hopes Latin America will begin to sell carbon as a bloc, starting in 2017.

“We have dreams and a passion for conserving nature,” the president of the Costa Rican Network of Nature Reserves, Rafael Gallo, who is donating the 200 hectares for the pilot plan, told IPS. “We want the sale of carbon to be a mechanism for private conservation at a global level.”

Gallo has an 800-hectare property on the Banks of the Pacuare River along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Of that total, 700 hectares are a forest reserve. It is located in Siquirres, 85 km east of San José, near the Barbilla National Park, which forms part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.

“The market is still just getting off the ground, a ton of carbon is worth three dollars,” said Gallo, who believes the mechanism will become viable when the price of a ton reaches 10 dollars.

The countries in the Alliance are Argentina, Belize, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. Uruguay and Venezuela also have private reserves, but they have not yet set up local networks – a necessary step before they can join.

Keller said he hopes the initiative will expand to the entire hemisphere, including the Caribbean island nations, Canada and the United States.

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves in the northern Costa Rican province of Heredia. A pilot project for carbon credits will be carried out on one such reserve, thanks to a donation of 200 hectares of land by its owner. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Private reserves would like to benefit from multilateral institution programmes, and with that in mind they have made contact with U.N. partners involved in one way or another with conservation issues, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“We want to be a regional bloc, we want to be heard at an international level, and we want incentives for property owners to continue joining forces to support conservation – because we would have a massive impact as a bloc,” Claudia García de Bonilla, executive director of the Association of Private Natural Reserves of Guatemala, told IPS.

Voluntary conservation areas are set up by ecotourism businesses, academic institutions, research bodies, or organic agricultural producers, and their advocates see them as green shields against climate extremes and the loss of biodiversity.

“Forests are a sponge, absorbing storms and hurricanes. We have to keep expanding our ecological corridors,” Bonilla said.

The representative of private green areas in Chile, Mauricio Moreno, underscored benefits that nature reserves belonging to individuals or private bodies can offer a global vision of conservation.

“These areas are refuges protected with a great deal of goodwill and effort,” he told IPS. “They complement the public networks. There are reserves that border natural parks and thus create much bigger areas that make it possible to conserve species of animals. With a public and private effort, integral conservation is possible.”

According to Ariane Claussen, an engineer in renewable natural resources at the University of Chile, the budget assigned to public protected areas in the region is insufficient, which makes it difficult for countries to have the capacity to act on their own in the preservation of biodiversity.

“Rather than seeing private reserves as independent, they should be seen in an integrated manner,” she told IPS. “If these people didn’t decide to practice conservation, they would be using that land in different ways, for unsustainable monoculture or stockbreeding.”

She said “the property owners dedicate a small portion of this land to (economic) development like tourism, because they need an income.”

Claussen, along with another Chilean colleague, Tomás González, stressed the Latin American initiative Huella, aimed at voluntary cooperation in technical planning for conservation, environmental education and ecological activism in the region.

Private reserves cover gaps left by the state, she said. “The idea is that they take part in conservation as buffer zones and link up the ecosystems of public protected areas that are isolated and fragmented,” she explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Where Technology and Medicine Meet in Rural Zambia Fri, 20 Nov 2015 06:29:22 +0000 James Jeffrey 0 Latin American Legislators Find New Paths to Fight Hunger Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:40:02 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

With eight specific commitments aimed at pushing through laws and policies on food security and sovereignty, family farming and school feeding programmes, legislators from 17 countries closed the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean.

During the Nov. 15-17 Forum in the Peruvian capital, the delegates of the national chapters of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) reasserted their determination to promote laws to “break the circle of poverty and enforce the right to food” in the region.

The more than 60 legislators who took part in the Forum, including guests from Africa and Asia, stated in the final declaration that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America and the Caribbean had made the greatest progress in reducing hunger, cutting the proportion of hungry people by more than half, in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which had a 2015 deadline. “After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity.” -- María Augusta Calle

But after stressing these results, John Preissing, representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Peru, called on the legislators not to be content “with averages” that hide inequalities between and within countries.

He also stressed that “it will be much more difficult” for the region to reduce the proportion of hungry people to two or three percent, than what they already managed to do: to cut the percentage from 32 to seven percent.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, some 37 million of the region’s 600 million people are still hungry, of a total of 795 million hungry people around the world, the Forum participants were told.

The final declaration emphasised that it is essential that the PFH work together with the governments of each country to create programmes and pass laws aimed at eradicating hunger, and to promote the three main areas for doing so: food security and sovereignty, family farming, and school feeding.

To advance in these three complementary areas, eight specific accords were reached, including the need for PFH legislators to participate in the debate on public budget funds, in order to guarantee that governments finance programmes against hunger.

The final declaration included the conclusions of the working groups on these three central themes, where one of the key issues was the importance of promoting public policies to benefit small farmers.

In another agreement, the lawmakers committed themselves to backing a new concept of food sovereignty.

“After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity,” Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle, who the Forum ratified in her post as regional coordinator of the PFH, told IPS.

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The next step, according to Calle, is to deliver the accords – especially the ones linked to food sovereignty – to the heads of state and government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), during the summit to be held in January 2016 in Ecuador.

“They asked us to draw up the concept of food sovereignty that has been debated here,” said Calle.

The parliamentarians also agreed to support CELAC’s plan for its member countries to reach the goal of “zero hunger” by 2025 – five years before the deadline established by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the international community in September.

Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, the subregional coordinator of the PFH in South America, told IPS that the Forum established long-term commitments to “eradicate hunger by 2025” in the region.

She said that meeting this goal will require “a complex effort to design public policies and laws.”

One hurdle standing in the way of the many initiatives launched by the PFH national chapters, said Sanseverino, is the inevitable and democratic renewal of parliament. “Sometimes they have a good Parliamentary Front, but those legislators serve out their terms, and the following year you come up against the need to put the Front together again,” she said.

The FAO’s Preissing said eradicating hunger in the region is “an uphill task….But we can do it, there is evidence here, there are commitments,” he added optimistically.

The Forum expressed its support for small-scale community agriculture, as well as traditional knowledge and practices of Latin America’s indigenous peoples, as instruments of healthy, diverse diets.

It also warned about a food-related problem that is new in the region, and has begun to affect the population of Latin America – the junk food craze, which is bringing problems that did not previously exist, like widespread obesity.

Before the Sixth Forum came to an end, all of the participants sent a communiqué to the president of the host country, Ollanta Humala, urging him to approve the regulations for the bill on the promotion of healthy eating, which was signed into law in May 2013, and whose implementation has been blocked by his failure to do so.

“This law has been a pioneer in Latin America, and they (the participants in the Forum) are surprised that since we were pioneers, the law has not been codified,” the coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS, pointing out that the law had served as a model for countries like Ecuador.

He added that the PFH is trying to make sure that the 2016 budget about to be approved includes funds earmarked for the fight against poverty, while he complained that “there are programmes that do not benefit small farmers,” who are the main link in the country’s food security chain.

Next year, the members of the regional front will meet in Mexico, in a new edition of the parliamentary forum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Open Defecation to End by 2025, Vows UN Chief, Marking World Toilet Day Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:39:07 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The state of the world’s toilets reveals the good, the bad and the ugly – but not necessarily in that order.

As the UN commemorated its annual World Toilet Day on November 19, a new study says, contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the rich nations of the developed world has access to a toilet.

The study, released by the UK based WaterAid, points out that Canada, UK, Ireland and Sweden are among nations with measurable numbers still without safe, private household toilets.

Russia has the lowest percentage of household toilets of all developed nations, while India, the world’s second-most populous country, holds the record for the most people waiting for sanitation (774 million) and the most people per square kilometre (173) practising open defecation.

The report highlights the plight of more than 2.3 billion people in the world (out of a total population of over 7.3 billion) who do not have access to a safe, private toilet.

Of these, nearly 1.0 billion have no choice but to defecate in the open – in fields, at roadsides or in bushes.

The result is a polluted environment in which diseases spread fast. An estimated 314,000 children under five die each year of diarrhoeal illness which could be prevented with safe water, good sanitation and good hygiene.

Still, the tiny South Pacific island of Tokelau has made the most progress on delivering sanitation, holding number one position since 1990, followed by Vietnam, Nepal and Pakistan.

Nigeria has seen a dramatic slide in the number of people with access to toilets since 1990 despite considerable economic development.

The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, has the worst household access to sanitation in the world, followed closely by Niger, Togo and Madagascar, according to the study.

WaterAid’s Chief Executive Barbara Frost says just two months ago, all UN member states promised to deliver access to safe, private toilets to everyone everywhere by 2030.

“Our analysis shows just how many nations in the world are failing to give sanitation the political prioritisation and financing required. We also know that swift progress is possible, from the impressive advances in sanitation achieved in nations like Nepal and Vietnam.”

No matter where you are in the world, everyone has a right to a safe, private place to relieve themselves, and to live healthy and productive lives without the threat of illness from poor sanitation and hygiene.

“On this World Toilet Day, it’s time for the world to make good on their promises and understand that while we all love toilet humour, the state of the world’s sanitation is no joke,” said Frost.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF says lack of sanitation, and particularly open defecation, contributes to the incidence of diarrhoea and to the spread of intestinal parasites, which in turn cause malnutrition.

“We need to bring concrete and innovative solutions to the problem of where people go to the toilet, otherwise we are failing millions of our poorest and most vulnerable children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The proven link with malnutrition is one more thread that reinforces how interconnected our responses to sanitation have to be if we are to succeed.”

In a report released Wednesday, the 21-member UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), calls for the mainstreaming of sanitation.

The focus should widen beyond the home – because toilets are needed in schools, clinics, workplaces, markets and other public places.

“Prioritize sanitation as preventive medicine and break the vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, especially affecting women and children.”

And “get serious about scaling up innovative technologies along the sanitation chain and unleash another sanitation revolution, as key economic and medical enabler in the run-up to 2030, and make a business case for sanitation by realizing the resource potential of human waste.”

Additionally, it says, “de-taboo the topic of menstrual hygiene management, which deserves to be addressed as a priority by the UN and governments.”

In its report, WaterAid is calling on world leaders to fund, implement and account for progress towards the new UN Global Goals on sustainable development.

Goal 6 – water, sanitation and hygiene for all – is fundamental to ending hunger and ensuring healthy lives, education and gender equality and must be a priority.

“Improving the state of the world’s toilets with political prioritisation and long-term increases in financing for water, sanitation and hygiene, by both national governments and donor countries like the UK.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the recently adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the central role sanitation plays in sustainable development.

“The integrated nature of the new agenda means that we need to better understand the connections between the building blocks of development.”

In that spirit, he said, this year’s observance of World Toilet Day focuses on the vicious cycle connecting poor sanitation and malnutrition. He said poor sanitation and hygiene are at the heart of disease and malnutrition.

Each year, too many children under the age of five have their lives cut short or altered forever as a result of poor sanitation: more than 800,000 children worldwide — or one every two minutes– die from diarrhea, and almost half of all deaths of children under five are due to undernutrition.

A quarter of all children under five are stunted, and countless other children, as well as adults, are falling seriously ill, often suffering long-term, even lifelong, health and developmental consequences.

Parents and guardians carry the cost of these consequences. Women in particular women bear the direct brunt, he noted.

“Despite the compelling moral and economic case for action on sanitation, progress is too little and too slow,” Ban complained.

By many accounts, sanitation is the most-missed target of the Millennium Development Goals.

“This is why the Call to Action on Sanitation was launched in 2013, and why we aim to end open defecation by 2025,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Progress Against Undernutrition, But Uneven Thu, 19 Nov 2015 15:14:03 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

At the end of 2014, an estimated 795 million people – one in nine people worldwide – were estimated to be chronically hungry. All but 15 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries, i.e., 780 million are in developing countries, where the share of the hungry has declined by less than half – from 23.4 per cent in 1991 to 12.9 per cent.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Progress Uneven

Overall progress has been highly uneven. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases. Marked differences in reducing undernourishment have persisted across regions.

There have been significant reductions in both the estimated share and number of undernourished in most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean South-East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia—where the target of halving the hunger rate has been reached.

Progress in sub-Saharan Africa has been more limited, and the region now has the highest prevalence of undernourishment. West Asia is the only region that has seen a rise in the share of the hungry, while progress in South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

In several countries, underweight and stunting persist among children, even when undernourishment is low and most people have access to sufficient food. Nutrition failures are due not only to insufficient food access, but also to poor health conditions and the high incidence of diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

One in seven children under five are underweight

An estimated 99 million children under five years of age were underweight in 2012. This represents a fall of 38 per cent from an estimated 160 million underweight children in 1990. Yet, 15 per cent, or about one in seven of all children under five worldwide, are underweight.

East Asia has led all regions with the largest decrease of underweight children since 1990, followed by the Caucasus and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia. While the proportion of underweight children was highest in South Asia, the region has also experienced the largest absolute decrease since 1990, contributing significantly to the global decrease over the period. Despite a modest reduction in the proportion of underweight children, Sub-Saharan Africa was the only region where the number of undernourished children increased, rising from 27 million in 1990 to 32 million in 2012.

In 2013, about 17%, or 98 million children under five years of age in developing countries were underweight. Underweight is most prevalent in South Asia (30%), followed by West Africa (21%), Oceania and East Africa (both 19%) and South-East Asia and Central Africa (both 16%) and Southern Africa (12%). Prevalence of underweight was below 10% in 2013 in East, Central and West Asia, North Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Globally, the proportion of underweight children under five years of age declined from 25 per cent to 15 per cent between 1990 and 2013. Africa experienced the smallest decrease, with underweight prevalence declining from 23 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2013 while in Asia, it fell from 32 per cent to 18 per cent, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, from 8 per cent to 3 per cent.

This means Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are likely to meet the MDG target for underweight, while Africa is likely to fall short, achieving only about half of the reduction target. And although Asia as a whole is likely to meet the MDG target, underweight rates remain very high in South Asia (30%). With its large, growing population, South Asia was home to 53 million underweight children in 2013.

One in four children under five are stunted

Stunting—defined as inadequate length or height for age—is a better indicator than underweight for capturing the cumulative effects of child undernutrition and infection during the critical 1,000-day period from conception through the first two years of a child’s life. Stunting is also more common than underweight, with one in four children globally affected in 2012.

Stunting is caused by long-term inadequate dietary intake and continuing bouts of infection and disease, often beginning with maternal malnutrition, which leads to poor fetal growth, low birth weight and poor growth. Stunting causes permanent impairment to cognitive and physical development that can lower educational attainment and reduce adult incomes.

Although the prevalence of stunting in children under five fell from about 40 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2012, an estimated 161 million children under five in 2014 remained at risk of diminished cognitive and physical development due to chronic undernutrition. Nearly all regions in the world have seen declines in the number of children affected by stunting. The sad exception is sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of stunted children increased by a third, from 44 million to 58 million between 1990 and 2012.


In countries where low undernourishment coexists with high malnutrition, specially-designed nutrition-enhancing interventions may be crucial to address early childhood stunting. Improvements in nutrition generally require complementary policies, including improving health conditions, hygiene, water, sanitation and education. More sophisticated and creative approaches to coordination and governance are needed, with more, as well as more effective, resources and other means to end hunger and malnutrition in our lifetimes.

The Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome on 19-21 November 2014 articulated coherent bases for accelerated progress to overcome all types of malnutrition (undernourishment, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity) and defined pathways for international cooperation and support for integrated national nutrition efforts. The international community, including those in the UN system, must now come together to improve coordination for a sustained effort against malnutrition over the next decade.

But with high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment continuing and likely to prevail in the world for the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome on a sustainable basis without the extension of universal social protection to all, especially those in need.


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Paris, the Refugees and Europe Wed, 18 Nov 2015 21:27:22 +0000 Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 18 2015 (IPS)

The focus on terrorism is obscuring the issues of refugees, and it is important to consider its impact on Europe, after the shock of Paris.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Of course, the impact of terrorism in the daily life of ordinary citizens is going to increase the culture of checks and controls in place since September 11, 2001. Since the New York massacre, the 10,000 planes that take off daily carry citizens who go through vexing security checks, and cannot bring liquid on boards, etc. Osama Bin Laden has changed totally our way of travelling. It is no small achievement, and Paris will increase that trend.

Let us not forget that we have ample literature from ISIS making it clear that its strategy is to get the West to react against the Muslim living in their countries, by erecting a wall of distrust and discrimination, so as to radicalise them as much as possible. There are 44 million Muslims living in the West: if they felt shunned and discriminated against, they would be a formidable force, well beyond the 50,000 fighters who now carry the ISIS project of domination. Since at least 50 per cent of them now come from the West (there were only Iraqi and Syrians at the beginning), the jihad is becoming much more globalised Estimates say now that ISIS is recruiting about 3,000 foreigners every month. The massacre of Paris will only increase this confrontation.

Writing in the Washington Post’s opinion pages last weekend, counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir said ISIS has set a dangerous trap for Europe with the Paris attacks. He recalls that, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, its website said that such attacks “compel the Crusaders (the West) to actively destroy the grey zone themselves… Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatise…or they will join the Caliphate”.

The fact that near one of the kamikaze was found a Syrian passport that could show that he came as a refugee is going to have a deep impact on the present policy on refugees. In the US, already about half the 50 state governors have declared that they will not admit Syrians. And Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, has already declared that in view of the Paris attacks Poland will not accept European Union (EU) quotas for asylum seekers.

This is a final blow for the Syrians. They have lost 250,000 people during the war, and they have now over 4 million refugees. To view all of them as terrorists is a total nonsense. But it is a nonsense which plays well in the hands of xenophobic and right wing parties, which have sprouted all over Europe, as well as of the Republicans during the US electoral campaign. In the polls, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and all right wing parties, with their speeches on security and controls, are finding consensus among a scared population. The German nationalist party will now certainly sit in the Parliament. Xenophobes and nationalists play a very irresponsible game, but it pays, and that is enough. No media are debating the ISIS trap, busy with their ritual stories on Paris. But this is medium term problem.

In the short term, Europeans will probably lose the benefits of the Schengen agreement: free circulation inside Europe. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, and now Austria is doing the same. And, if Europe becomes a fortress and closes its borders, thousands of refugees will remain blocked in the Balkans, exasperating an already difficult situation. Eastern Europe has made clear that they will resist EU quotas. But the EU plan of resettlement of 120,000 men and woman, has so far resettled a grand total of 327 people all over Europe. The chairman of EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has calculated that at this speed it will take until 2100 to implement the plan.

And Europe, even with right wing parties in power, will have to conduct a very difficult war with terrorism and refugees, at the same time. Until now it gave to Syrians priority in entering Europe. The Syrian passport found near one of the kamikaze is going to reopen that rule. It is irrelevant that the Syrian refugees are the consequence of a conflict started by Europe (like Libya). Fear will win over solidarity, if the latter was ever really available. A sense of guilt and remorse are hardly visible in European history.

We have now 60 million refugees. They would make the 23rd country of the world. But refugees are coming not only from war, but also because of sex discrimination (homosexuals in Africa, girls in Boko Harama and Yazhid territories); religions (just think of the Rohinga in Myanmar); climate refugees (they will grow exponentially, after 2020, since the coming conference of Paris will not solve climate warming). Today, somebody from Yemen is not accepted as a refugee. Yet there is a war, which is destroying its cities, under Saudi bombing. And Europe sticks to the definition of refugee as somebody escaping conflicts, then decides which conflicts are acceptable? And what about economic migrants, who escape hunger, not war? Does the distinction between refugees and immigrants make sense any longer?

By now, we know that the second or third generations of immigrants do not accept hardship for integration as their parents did. They are educated to a European standard of life and, if left out, they feel humiliated. The Caliphate becomes a way to get dignity, and escape the sad frustrations of a life without a future. And the reality is that Europe is not culturally prepared to accept people from different religions and different cultures.

There is a longing for a homogenous Europe (very much the way Japan goes). Of course, in schools that is changing, but young people are not in power. The demographic decline of the continent (it would lose 10 per cent of its population by 2030, according to United Nations projections, without immigrants or refugees), does not seep into collective consciousness. We will see, in the near future: a) a change of policy on refugees, b) a political success of the xenophobic parties, c) a decline of the European dream, and d) a new impossible challenge for Europe: how to keep out millions of people, without losing its identity, which is traditionally based on solidarity, tolerance and human values.


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Jamaica’s Aging Water Systems Falter Under Intense Heat and Drought Wed, 18 Nov 2015 11:12:37 +0000 Zadie Neufville 0 “Jasmine Revolution” Challenges Male Domination of Tea Trade Unions Wed, 18 Nov 2015 08:11:27 +0000 Harikrishnan 0 Latin America to Push for Food Security Laws as a Bloc Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:41:22 +0000 Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro
LIMA, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Lawmakers in the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean decided at a regional meeting to work as a bloc for the passage of laws on food security – an area in which countries in the region have show uneven progress.

The Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) in Lima, Peru drew more than 60 legislators from 17 countries in the region and guest delegations from parliaments in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The coordinator of the regional Front, Ecuadorean legislator María Augusta Calle, told IPS that the challenge is to “harmonise” the region’s laws to combat poverty and hunger in the world’s most unequal region.

Calle added that a number of laws on food security and sovereignty have been passed in Latin America, and the challenge now is to standardise the legislation in all of the countries participating in the PFH to strengthen policies that bolster family farming.“We have reduced hunger by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.” -- María Augusta Calle

In Latin America, 81 percent of domestically consumed food products come from small farmers, who guarantee food security in the region, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has advised the PFH since its creation in 2009.

Twelve of the 17 Latin American countries participating in the PFH already have food security and sovereignty laws, Calle said. But it has not been an easy task, she added, pointing out that several of the laws were approved only after long delays.

During the inauguration of the Sixth Forum, she said the region has reduced hunger “by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.”

The fight against hunger is an uphill task, and the forum’s host country is a clear illustration of this.

In Peru, the draft law on food security was only approved by Congress on Nov. 12, after two years of debate. The legislature finally reacted, just three days before the Sixth Forum began in the country’s capital. But the bill still has to be signed into law and codified by the executive branch, in order to be put into effect.

“How can it be possible for a government to put forth objections to a law on food security?” Peruvian Vice President Marisol Espinoza asked during the opening of the Sixth Forum.

Espinoza, who left the governing Peruvian Nationalist Party in October, took the place of President Ollanta Humala, who had been invited to inaugurate the Sixth Forum.

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS that he hopes the government will sign the new food security bill into law without setting forth observations.

Indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who took part in the Sixth Forum in representation of rural communities in Peru, said the government should pass laws to protect peasant farmers because they are paid very little for their crops, even though they supply the markets in the cities.

“What the government has to do is regulate this, for the citizens,” Buendía, who belongs to the Asháninka people, told IPS. “Why do we have a government that is not going to defend us? As we say in our community: ‘why do I have a father (the government)?’ If they want investment, ok, but they have to regulate.”

Another controversial question in the case of Peru is the more than two-year delay in the codification and implementation of the law on healthy food for children and adolescents, passed in May 2013, which requires that companies that produce food targeting this age group accurately label the ingredients.

Congressman Delgado said food companies are lobbying against the law, which cannot be put into effect until it is codified.

“It would be pathetic if after so much sacrifice to get this law passed, the government failed to codify it because of the pressure from business interests,” said Delgado.

He said that in Peru, over 200 million dollars are invested in advertising for junk food every year, according to a 2012 study by the Radio and Television Consultative Council.

Calle, from Ecuador, said the members of the PFH decided to call for the entrance into effect of the Peruvian law, in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration.

“The 17 countries (that belong to the PFH) are determined to see the law on healthy food codified in Peru. We believe it is indispensable. It is a wonderful law,” said the legislator.

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

She explained that in her country food and beverage companies have been required to use labels showing the ingredients, despite the opposition from the business sector.

“In Ecuador we have had a fabulous experience (regarding labels for junk food) which we would like businesses here in Peru to understand and not be afraid of,” Calle said.

The regional coordinator of the PFH said that to address the problem of food being seen as business rather than a right, “we need governments and parliaments committed to the public, rather than to transnational corporations.”

Another country that has made progress is Brazil, where laws in favour of the right to food include one that requires that at least 30 percent of the food that goes into school meals is purchased from local small farmers, Nazareno Fonseca, a member of the PFH regional consultative council, told IPS.

Calle said Brazil’s efforts to boost food security, in the context of its “Zero Hunger” programme, marked a watershed in Latin America.

The PFH regional coordinator noted that the person responsible for implementing the programme in the crucial first two years (2003-2004) as extraordinary food security minister was José Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO since 2011.

Spanish Senator José Miguel Camacho said it is important for legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean to act as a bloc because “there is still a long way to go, but these forums contribute to that goal.”

The commitments in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration will focus on three main areas: food security, where the PFH is working on a single unified framework law; school feeding; and efforts to fight overnutrition, obesity and junk food.

Peru’s health minister, Aníbal Velásquez, said the hope is that “the commitments approved at the Sixth Forum will translate into laws.”

And the president of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Iberico, said people did not enjoy true citizenship if basic rights were not guaranteed and hunger and poverty still existed.

The indigenous leader Buendía, for her part, asked the PFH legislators for a greater presence of the authorities in rural areas, in order for political declarations to produce tangible results.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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