Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:56:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Inequality (III): Less Employment… and More ‘Junk’ Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-iii-less-employment-and-more-junk-jobs/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 06:39:10 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148535 Article III of of this three-part series on inequality tackles the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part II focused on the impact of inequality on women. Part I dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide. ]]> Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

Cost of a plate of beans in Switzerland: 0.4 per cent of daily income. Cost of same meal in Malawi: 41 per cent of daily income, according to new World Food Programme (WFP) data. Photo: WFP West Africa

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 18 2017 (IPS)

While just eight men are enjoying their huge wealth, equivalent to that of half the world, new forecasts project darker shadows by predicting rising unemployment rates, more precarious jobs and worsening social inequality. To start with, there will be more than 1.4 billion people employed in vulnerable working conditions.

Throughout 2017, global unemployment is expected to rise by 3.4 million due to deteriorating labour market conditions in emerging countries –particularly those in Latin America and the Caribbean, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warns in a new report.

Meantime, unemployment is expected to fall in developed countries – especially in Northern, Southern, and Western Europe, the United States, and Canada, ILO says in its World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2017.

1 in 2 Workers Employed in Vulnerable Conditions

In addition, the figure of 1.4 billion people who are employed in vulnerable working conditions is not expected to decrease. That number represents 42 per cent of all employment for 2017, warns the report, which was released on January 12, 2017.

“Almost one in two workers in emerging countries are in vulnerable forms of employment, rising to more than four in five workers in developing countries,” said Steven Tobin, ILO Senior Economist and lead author of the report.

On this, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, said “We are facing the twin challenge of repairing the damage caused by the global economic and social crisis and creating quality jobs for the tens of millions of new labour market entrants every year…”

According to the report, global gross domestic product (GDP) growth reached a six-year low last year, well below the rate that was projected in 2015.

“Forecasters continue to revise their 2017 predictions downwards and uncertainty about the global economy persists, generating worry among experts that the economy will be unable to employ a sufficient number of people and that growth will not lead to inclusive and shared benefits.”

Since 2009, the percentage of the working-age population willing to migrate abroad for work has risen in almost every region in the world. That trend was most prominent in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Arab States, it notes.

The report also points out a number of social inequalities that are creating barriers to growth and prosperity.

Gender gaps in particular are affecting the labour market, ILO notes, and gives specific examples: in Northern Africa, women in the labour force are twice as likely as men to be unemployed. “That gap is wider still for women in Arab States. “

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Many young Albanian workers are returning home after losing their jobs abroad due to the economic crisis. For many of them, re-entering the local labour market is a daunting task. An ILO-UNDP project helped them address that challenge. Photo: United Nations.

Discontent, Unrest

As a result of these and other social inequalities across a wide range of demographics, the ILO estimates that the risk of social unrest or discontent is growing in almost all regions.

“Economic growth continues to disappoint and underperform – both in terms of levels and the degree of inclusion. This paints a worrisome picture for the global economy and its ability to generate enough jobs,” said Ryder.

“Persistent high levels of vulnerable forms of employment combined with clear lack of progress in job quality – even in countries where aggregate figures are improving – are alarming…”

ILO called for international cooperation and a coordinated effort to provide fiscal stimuli and public investments to provide an immediate jump-start to the global economy and eliminate an anticipated rise in unemployment for two million people.

On Jan. 16, Oxfam International released a major report — ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ — on the state of growingly deepening inequality worldwide.

On the specific case of employment, it says: “Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite”.

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

Young women and men in Tunisia, motivated by issues such as lack of opportunities for employment and low standards of living, took to the streets in 2011 in hopes of securing better futures for themselves. Since then, Tunisia has undergone a number of political and social changes. The labour market however has only worsened, further deteriorating chances of formal employment for youth in particular. Photo: United Nations

What Is Behind the Widening Gap?

Asked what is behind this increasingly worsening inequality, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” said to IPS: “The benefits of economic growth are not shared equally across our societies.

“The vast majority of income generated in the past thirty years has accrued to the owners of capital, and to those at the top of society. Workers have seen their wages stagnate in many countries across the globe, and in many other countries their wages have not risen anywhere near as fast as returns to the owners of capital.”

Ratcliff explained to IPS that in order to maximise returns to their wealthy shareholders, big corporations are dodging taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers, investing less in their business, and spending billions lobbying government to write the rules in their favour.

As a result, erosions in pensions, labour rights and secure work are common across the world, and hit women and the young hardest because tend to be the ones who are concentrated in precarious jobs, on very low pay, she warned.

“If we don’t tackle inequality, workers across the world will pay the price in terms of increasing insecurity and lower wages.”

The Poor Pay Far More than the Rich for a Hot Meal

Should all the above not be enough, new United Nations data shows that a simple bowl of food in Malawi is much more expensive than that same meal in Davos, Switzerland, once adjustments have been made to take into account one’s average daily income.

That is what research by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) revealed. The analysis is part of a new initiative by the WFP called ‘Hot Dinner Data’ which was made public on Jan. 13, just before the Jan. 17 opening of the annual World Economic Forum, a summit of political and economic leaders that takes place in Davos.

“The Hot Dinner Data analysis aims to hold a new mirror up to the world – one which illustrates the distortions in the purchasing power of the rich and the poor as they try to meet their basic food needs,” announced Arif Husain, Chief Economist of WFP.

‘Hot Dinner Data’ reveals that people in the developing world pay as much as 100 times more for a basic plate of food than those who live in wealthier nations. In the most extreme circumstances – for example, in regions under conflict – the cost can be 300 times higher.

For example, it says, a bowl of bean stew – a standard nutritious meal throughout regions and cultures – would cost a person in Switzerland 0.88 Swiss Francs (CHF), or an average 0.41 per cent of their daily income.

“That cost would be 100 times more in Malawi, where a person would need to spend 41 per cent of their daily income to purchase the same meal. In India and Nicaragua, it would be roughly 10 to 15 times more expensive than in Switzerland.”

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Inequality (II): “It Will Take 170 Years for Women to Be Paid as Men Are”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-ii-it-will-take-170-years-for-women-to-be-paid-as-men-are/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 06:28:32 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148522 Article II of this three-part series on inequality, focuses on the impact of discrimination on women. Part III will tackle the issue of the future and quality of jobs. Part I has dealt with the alarming deepening inequality worldwide.]]> Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

Infrastructure across Liberia, including electricity installations, was destroyed during the country's protracted civil war (1989-2003). Above, girls in the town of Totota in Bong County walk past homes that are being demolished as the government rebuilds roadways. Photo: UN Women

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

While just eight individuals, all of them men, own the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — half of world’s total population — it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men, warns a new major report on inequality.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

In it, OXFAM warns that women, who are often employed in low pay sectors, face high levels of discrimination in the workplace, and who take on a disproportionate amount of unpaid care work, often find themselves at the bottom of the pile.

“On current trends it will take 170 years for women to be paid the same as men.”Agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men” – EU Commissioner

‘An economy for the 99 per cent’ also reveals how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis, adds OXFAM, an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam interviewed women working in a garment factory in Vietnam who work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and still struggle to get by on the 1 dollar an hour they earn producing clothes for some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

“The CEOs of these companies are some of the highest paid people in the world.”

Why?

IPS interviewed Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign”.

“Around the world, women make up the majority of those in the worst-paid and least secure jobs, while shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for unpaid care work. This is not an accident; our current economic model depends on this supply of cheap or free labour.“

When public services are cut because big business and wealthy individuals don’t pay their fair share of taxes, Ratcliff told IPS, it is often women who are hit hardest – for example when education isn’t free, it is girls who tend to miss out.

“Women face discrimination at a household and institutional level, with political and economic elites dominated by men – all 8 of the richest people are men and 89 percent of all billionaires are men.”

According to Ratcliff, economies must be managed to ensure that women have the same economic opportunities as men.

“For example, by ensuring equal access to education, by providing better and more affordable child care services, by investing in basic infrastructure and services, and by challenging social norms about the role of women in our societies.”

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

Women farmers in Uganda need both better hand tools and access to animal traction. Photo: IFAD

If Women Had the Same Resources As Men…

Being among the poorest of the poor, and in spite of their critical contributions and of making up half of agriculture workers, rural women and farmers are major victims of inequality.

“If women had the same access to resources as men, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world, ” said Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at a recent high-level event co-organised by four UN specialised bodies, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

“It is often said that if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation. The same is true when we empower women across the board — not only through access to knowledge, but also to resources, to equal opportunities, and by giving them a voice… Yet current statistics suggest that the world is falling short on this score.”

The European Commissioner went on to say that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men.

“As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.”

Women, Half of Agriculture Workers, But…

In developing countries, women make up 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20 per cent in Latin America to up to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“And they are harder workers — in Africa and Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12-13 hours more than men per week.”

Across all regions, women are less likely than men to own or control land, and their plots often are of poorer quality. Less than 20 per cent of the world’s landholders are women.

“Women farmers generate productivity gains. And women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their earnings back into their households — that’s money spent on nutrition, food, healthcare, school, and income-generating activities — helping to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty.”

With this data in hand, José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, assured at last month’s high-level meeting that achieving gender equality and empowering women “is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.”

The meeting was co-organised by FAO, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women.

At it, Graziano da Silva affirmed that “Women are the backbone of our work in agriculture,” noting that they comprise 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, with that figure rising to 60 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia.

These numbers underscore the importance of ensuring that rural women enjoy a level playing field, according to the FAO Director-General

Close That Gender Gap!

In her remarks, Gabriela Matecná, Slovak Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and President of the Council of the European Union over last year‘s second semester, said, “the gender gap imposes significant costs on society, in terms of lost agricultural output, food security and economic growth.”

Although nearly half the world’s agricultural labour force is female, she noted, women own less than 20 per cent of agricultural land. At the same time, 60 per cent of chronically hungry people on the planet are women or girls.

“When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community,” noted for his part IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze.

“We see time and time again that gender equality opens doors for entire communities to strengthen their food and nutrition security and to improve their social and economic well-being,” he said, adding: “Empowering rural women is indeed empowering humanity.”

“It is only through empowering women farmers that we can unlock the power of global food systems. Supporting them is essential in creating resilience, building stronger businesses, and advancing food security in the long term,” Denise Brown, Director of Emergencies at World Food Programme (WFP), stated.

And Maria Noel Vaeza, Director of Programs at UN Women, said: “Closing the gender gaps in agriculture can provide multiple development dividends, including gender equality for rural women, food security and poverty reduction, improved climate management and peaceful societies.”

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Inequality (I): Half of World’s Wealth, in the Pockets of Just Eight Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:17:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148511 Article I of a three-part series focuses on the alarmingly deepening inequality. Part II deals with the staggering impact of inequality on women, and Part III with the future and quality of jobs. ]]> Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a major new report by an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

“The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend 1 million dollars every day for 2738 years to spend 1 trillion dollars.”

These Are the World’s 8 Richest People:

1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016.

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016.

The report details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

“New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.”

Had this new data been available last year, the report adds, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.

Obscene!

On this, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Oxfam’s report shows “how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of who are women.” (See Part II of IPS series).

Tax Dodging

OXFAM’s report also tackles the critical issue of tax dodging.

Corporate tax dodging, it informs, costs poor countries at least 100 billion dollars every year.

“This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.”

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’. Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries, which are prone to corruption and cronyism.

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them.

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

A Human Economy?

“Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. If politicians stop obsessing with GDP [Gross Domestic Product], and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.”

Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes a series of measures that should be adopted by governments to end the extreme concentration of wealth to end poverty.

These include increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field, and to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation; to work together to ensure workers are paid a decent wage; and to put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.

These steps also include supporting companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.

As well, governments should ensure economies work for women, and must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.

Does Anybody Care?

Here, a key question arises: national governments, the UN, the EU, and major civil society and human rights organisations, all know about the on-going, obscene inequality. How come that nothing effective has been done do far to prevent it or at least reduce it?

On this, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” comments to IPS that “tackling inequality properly will mean breaking with the economic model we have been following for thirty years.”

“It will also mean taking on and overcoming the powerful interests of the super-rich and corporations who are benefiting from the status quo. So it is not surprising that despite global outcry at the inequality crisis, very little has changed.”

Nevertheless, says Ratcliff, some governments are bucking the trend, and managing to reduce inequality, listening to the demands of the majority not the minority.

Asked for specific examples, Ratcliff says that some governments, like Namibia’s, have managed to decrease inequality by taxing the rich more and spending it on things such as free secondary education that help reduce the gap between rich and poor.

“These countries show that another world is possible, if we can reject this broken economic model and stop the undue influence of the rich.”

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Ordinary Citizens Help Drive Spread of Solar Power in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ordinary-citizens-help-drive-spread-of-solar-power-in-chile/#comments Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:44:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148502 Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Panels at the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first plant in Chile financed with shares sold to citizens, are ready to generate 10 KW, 75 per cent of which will be consumed by the participating households while the remainder will go into the national grid. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 14 2017 (IPS)

Chile, Latin America’s leader in solar energy, is starting the new year with an innovative step: the development of the country´s first citizens solar power plant.

This South American country of nearly 18 million people has projects in non-conventional renewable energies (NCRE) for a combined total of nine billion dollars over the next four years, in the effort to reduce its heavy dependency on fossil fuels, which still generate more than 55 per cent of the country’s electricity.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s 2014 Energy Agenda involves the participation of international investors, large power companies, the mining industry, agriculture, and academia.

Now ecologists have come up with the first project that incorporates citizens in the production and profits generated by NCRE, in particular solar power.

The small 10-KW photovoltaic plant will use solar power to generate electricity for the participating households and the surplus will go into the national power grid.

This will allow the “citizen shareholders“ taking part in the initiative to receive profits based on the annual inflation rate plus an additional two per cent.

“The objective is to create a way for citizens to participate in the benefits of solar power and the process of the democratisation of energy,“ said Manuel Baquedano, head of the Institute of Political Ecology, which is behind the initiative.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant will start operating commercially this month in Buin, a suburb on the south side of Santiago. Its main client is the Centre for Sustainable Technology, which from now on will be supplied with the power produced by the plant.

“In Chile we have experienced an important development of solar energy, as a consequence of the pressure from citizens who did not want more hydroelectric dams. This paved the way for developing NCREs,“ Baquedano told IPS.

“But solar power development has been concentrated in major undertakings, with solar plants that mainly supply the mining industry. And the possibility for all citizens to be able to benefit from this direct energy source had not been addressed yet.”

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

General map of the location of the Centre for Sustainable Technology, where future technicians in non-renewable energies study, and which is the main client of the Buin 1 Solar Plant, the first citizen solar power plant in Chile. Credit: Courtesy of Camino Solar

The environmentalist said “we decided to organise a business model to install these community solar power plants using citizen investments, since there was no support from the state or from private companies.”

The model consists of setting up a plant where there is a client who is willing to buy 75 per cent of the energy produced, and the remaining power is sold to the national grid.

The Buin 1 Solar Plant required an investment of about 18,500 dollars, divided in 240 shares of some 77 dollars each. The project will be followed by similar initiatives, possibly in San Pedro de Atacama, in the north of the country, Curicó in central Chile, or Coyhaique in Patagonia in the south.

The partners include engineers, journalists, psychologists, farmers, small business owners, and even indigenous communities from different municipalities, interested in replicating this model.

The subway, another example

A symbolic illustration of progress made with solar power is the Santiago Metro or subway. It was announced that 42 per cent of the energy that it will use as of November 2017 will come from the El Pelicano solar power project.

This plant, owned by the company SunPower, is located in the municipality La Higuera, 400 km north of Santiago, and it cost 250 million dollars to build.

“The subway is a clean means of transport… we want to be a sustainable company, and what is happening now is a major step, since we are aiming for 60 per cent NCREs by 2018,” said Fernando Rivas, the company´s assistant manager of environment.

El Pelícano, with an expected generation of 100 MW, “will use 254,000 solar panels, which will supply 300 gigawatt hours a year, equivalent to the consumption of 125,000 Chilean households,” said Manuel Tagle, general manager of SunPower.

Dionisio Antiquera, a farmer from the Diaguita indigenous community from northern Chile, who lives in Cerrillos de Tamaya, in Ovalle, 400 km north of Santiago, bought a share because “I like renewable energy and because it gives participation to citizens, to the poor.“

“There are many ways of participating in a cooperative,” he told IPS by phone.

Jimena Jara, assistant secretary for the Ministry of Energy, underlined the progress made in the development of NCREs and estimated that “investment in this sector could reach about nine billion dollars between 2017 and 2020.“

“Considering the projects that are currently in the stage of testing in our power grids, more than 60 per cent of the new generation capacity between 2014 and the end of 2016 will be non-conventional renewable energies,” she told IPS.

”Chile has set itself the target for 70 per cent of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2050, and 60 per cent by 2035. We know that we are making good progress, and that we are going to reach our goal with an environmentally sustainable and economically efficient energy supply,” said Jara.

This boom in NCREs in Chile, particularly solar and wind power, is underpinned by numbers, such as the reduction of the cost of electricity.

As of November 2016, the annual average marginal cost of energy in Chile´s central power grid, SIC, which covers a large part of the national territory, was 61 dollars per mega-watt hour (MWh), a fall of more than 60 per cent with respect to 2013 prices.

SIC´s Power Dispatch Center said that this marginal cost, which sets the transfer value between generating companies, is the lowest in 10 years, and was lower than the 91.3 dollars per MWh in 2015 and the nearly 200 MWh in 2011 and 2012, caused by the intensive use of diesel.

David Watts, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Electrical Engineering Department, told IPS that “solar and wind energy have offered competitive costs for quite some time,” and for this reason have permanently changed Chile´s energy mix.

“In the past, Chile did not even appear in the renewable energy rankings. Now it ranks first in solar power in Latin America and second in wind power,” he said.

The expert said “this energy is spreading and we expect it to continue to do so over the next couple of years, when the battery of projects that were awarded contracts in the last tendering process of regulated clients,” those which consume less than 500 KW, come onstream.

Once the economy recovers from the current weak growth levels, “we hope that a significant proportion of our supply contracts with our non-regulated clients (with a connected power of at least 500 KW) will also be carried out with competitive solar and wind power projects,“ said Watts.

“There is no turning back from this change. From now on, some conventional project may occasionally be installed if its costs are really competitive,“ he said.

Watts, who is also a consultant on renewable energies at the Ministry of Energy, pointed out that the growth in solar and wind power was also driven by changes in the country’s legislation, which enabled energy to be offered in blocks, and permitted the simultaneous connection of NCREs to the grid.

The report New Energy Finance Climatescope, by Bloomberg and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), ranked Chile as the country that invests the most in clean energies in Latin America, only surpassed by China in the index, which studies the world’s major emerging economies.

Commenting on the report, published on December 14, Bachelet said “we invested 3.2 billion dollars last year (2015), focusing on solar power, especially in solar photovoltaic installations, and we are also leading in other non-conventional renewable energies.”

“We said it three years ago, that Chile would change its energy mix, and now I say with pride that we have made progress towards cleaner and more sustainable energies,“ she said.

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Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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Trump, the Banks and the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148435 Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 7 2017 (IPS)

When pro-nuclear disarmament organisations last October cheered the United Nations decision to start in 2017 negotiations on a global treaty banning these weapons, they probably did not expect that shortly after the US would elect Republican businessman Donald Trump as their 45th president. Much less that he would rush to advocate for increasing the US nuclear power.

The United Nations on Oct. 27, 2016 adopted a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, putting an end to two decades of paralysis in world nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, 38 against it and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March 2017, which will be open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July this year.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a “fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.”

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

European Parliament’s Resolution

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour, 124 against, 74 abstentions– inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in the 2017 year’s negotiations, ICAN noted.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts, the anti-nuke campaign chief warned.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s [Oct. 27, 2016] vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament.”

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

ICAN also recalls that nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. “Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernisation of their nuclear forces.”

Other pro-nuclear disarmament organisations also welcomed the UN resolution. They included PAX, a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi; Soka Gakai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organisation that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life; and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), just to mention a few.

US Must Greatly Strengthen, Expand Its Nuclear Capability – Trump

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

The global ani-nuke movment, however, soon saw its joy being frustrated by the US president-elect Donald Trump, who in a tweet on Dec. 22, 2016, wrote:

Donald J. Trump Verified account ‏@realDonaldTrump : “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

Trump’s announcement, if materialised, would imply one of the most insourmountable hardles facing the world anti-nuclear movement.

Is Your Bank Funding Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, the international campaign to prevent private banks and financial companies from funding the production and modernisation of nuclear weapons has achieved a further step forward.

“Governments have decided to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and now is the time for banks, pension funds and insurance companies to get ready and end financial relations with companies involved in nuclear weapons,” says Susi Snyder from PAX and author of a the Hall of Fame report.

“Around 400 private banks, pension funds and insurance companies continue to fund –with their clients’ money– the production of nuclear weapons.”

According to this study, 18 banks, controlling over 1.7 trillion Euros, are ready not to collaborate in the funding of atomic weapons, with policies that strictly prohibit any investment of any type in any kind of nuclear weapon-producing company.

These 18 banks are profiled in the Hall of Fame of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb 2016 edition, which was issued on Dec. 7, 2016. These Hall of Fame institutions are based in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report also shows there are another 36 financial institutions with policies that specifically name nuclear weapons as a concern, and limit investment in some ways.

“Even though these policies have loopholes, they still demonstrate there is a stigma associated with investments in nuclear weapons. PAX calls on these institutions to strengthen their policies and Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers tailored recommendations for each financial institute in the Runners-Up.”

Investments are not neutral, warns the report. “Financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of a company and its plans. Institutions imposing limitations on investing in nuclear weapons producers are responding to the growing stigma against these weapons, designed to kill indiscriminately.”

All of the nuclear-armed countries are modernising their nuclear weapon arsenals, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb details how 27 private companies are producing key components to make nuclear weapons as well as the 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon-producing companies, the report adds.

“As a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is to be negotiated in 2017, states should include a prohibition on financing to provide an added incentive for the financial industry to exclude nuclear weapon associated companies from their investment universe, and raise the economic cost of nuclear weapons deployment, stockpiling and modernisation.”

Some Striking Facts about Nukes

The International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons summarises the most striking facts about this weapon of mass destruction:

Which countries have nuclear weapons and how many?

What are their effects on health and the environment?

Who supports a global ban on nuclear weapons?

What are the most significant events of the nuclear age?

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Native Seeds Sustain Brazil’s Semi-Arid Northeasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/native-seeds-sustain-brazils-semi-arid-northeast/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 21:51:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148428 Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, better known as Mundinho, a 76-year-old farmer who lives in the Apodi municipality in Northeast Brazil, shows a visiting farmer a bottle of bean seeds which he stores and protects. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
APODI, Brazil, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

In his 76 years of life, Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo has endured a number of droughts in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast region. And he remembers every one of them since 1958.

“The worst one was in 1982 and 1983, the only time that the river dried up,” said Pinheiro do Melo, who has lived near the river since 1962. “The one in 1993 was also very bad,” he told IPS, because neither Bolsa Familia nor Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA) existed yet, which contribute to a less traumatic coexistence with droughts like the current one, which has dragged on for five years.

Bolsa Familia is a government cash-transfer programme which helps some 13.8 million poor families in Brazil, half of whom are in the Northeast. ASA is a network of 3,000 social organisations which promotes the collection of rainwater, as well as techniques and know-how suited to rural life in a climate of irregular rainfall.

Water is not so scarce for Pinheiro do Melo and his neighbours because of their proximity to the Apodi river, because even when it dries up, they can get water from the cacimbas, which are water holes in the riverbed or along the banks.

Mundinho, as he is known, besides making an effort to obtain water on the high-lying land where he lives in a rural area in the Apodi municipality, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, is dedicated to a task that is vital to the sustainability of small-scale farming in the semi-arid interior of Northeast Brazil, an ecosystem known as the Sertão. He is a “guardian” of native seeds.

In bottles and small plastic barrels, he stores the seeds of corn, bean, sorghum, watermelon and other locally planted species, in a shack next to his house, in the middle of land that is now sandy and covered with dried-up vegetation.

More than a thousand homes that serve as “seed banks”, and 20,000 participating families, make up the network organised by ASA to preserve the genetic heritage and diversity of crops adapted to the climate and semi-arid soil in Brazil’s Northeast.

Saving seeds is an age-old peasant tradition, which was neglected during the “green revolution”, a period of agricultural modernisation which started in the mid-20th century and involved “an offensive by companies that produced the so-called ‘improved’ seeds,” which farmers became dependent on, said Antonio Gomes Barbosa, a sociologist who is coordinator of ASA’s Seed Programme.

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Native seeds stored in recycled plastic bottles, in a shack on his farm specially built by Raimundo Pinheiro de Melo, who proudly guards native seeds that contribute to food security in Northeast Brazil, in the midst of a drought that has dragged on for over five years. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strategy, adopted in 2007, of disseminating technologies for harvesting rainwater for production, in search of food security, lead ASA to the awareness that small producers needed to always have seeds available, he told IPS.

A study carried out among 12,800 families found that “the semi-arid Northeast has the greatest variety of seeds of food and medicinal plant species in Brazil.” Of the 56 million people who live in the Northeast, more than 23 million live in the semi-arid parts of the region, in this South American country of 208 million.

According to the survey, the family and community tradition of storing seeds and passing them down from one generation to the next contributed to this diversity of seeds, as did migrants who returned to the semi-arid Northeast from southern São Paulo and east-central Brazil, bringing seeds native to those areas.

What ASA did was to identify the houses which had stored seeds, create a network of them and help multiply the number of these traditional seed banks, in order to salvage, preserve, increase stocks and distribute native seeds, Barbosa said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira, or Antonieta as she is known, participates in seed bank number 639, according to ASA’s records, in Milagre, a village of 28 families on the Apodi plateau, which is crossed by the river of the same name.

The community seed bank “has 17 guardians and stocks mainly of corn, bean and sorghum seeds,” she said.

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonia de Souza Oliveira in front of the seed bank in Milagre, a rural settlement of 28 families in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil, which has become famous for the strong participation of women in the village’s collective activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The strong presence of women in the activities in this community prompted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) to choose Milagre to inaugurate a line of credit for women participating in the National Programme to Strengthen Family Farming (PRONAF).

A model case, highlighted by ASA, is the seed bank in Tabuleiro Grande, another rural settlement in the municipality of Apodi, in Rio Grande do Norte. There, a family initiative stores seeds of 450 varieties of corn, beans and other legumes and herbs.

Antonio Rodrigues do Rosario, 59, heads the fourth generation that maintains the “family bank”.

The native seed movement is in conflict with the green revolution, where seeds are distributed by the government or are sold by biotech corporations “in great quantities but with little variety,” said Barbosa.

“We don’t need this kind of distribution, just local initiatives in every area to rescue local seeds, with great diversity and dissemination,” said Barbosa.

The movement is about knowledge accumulated by local families with experience in adaptation to each specific place, soil and climate, based on the intended type of production and resistance to pests and drought.

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Antonio Gomes Barbosa, coordinator of the Native Seeds Programme of the movement Networking in the Brazilian Semi Arid, which brings together more than 3,000 organisations. This initiative is key to food security and biodiversity in agriculture in Northeast Brazil, especially during the prolonged drought currently plaguing the region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“There are many varieties of corn that address different needs; you can produce more leaves to feed animals, or more corn for human consumption,” he said.

“Family gardens are laboratories, where experiments are carried out, genetic improvements and testing of resistance and productivity of seeds. The garden is where women participate the most, teaching their children as well,” Barbosa said.

“In the severe 1982-1983 drought, a variety of fast-growing potato, which in 60 days was reproduced and stored by a grandmother, saved many lives,” he said.

The exchange of materials and knowledge within and among communities is also an important part of maintaining the diversity of native seeds. ASA works to bolster this exchange, promoting contact among small farmers from different areas.

“Native seeds are at the centre of resistance to the impositions of the market, in order to overcome the dependence on big suppliers,” said Barbosa.

Climate change boosts the importance of native seeds from the semi-arid region. “There is no agricultural poison to combat the rise in temperatures,” he said, half-jokingly.

The Semi-Arid Seeds Programme proved the “great creative capacity and ability to experiment of family farmers in the Northeast,” Barbosa told IPS in the nearby municipality of Mossoró.

It also showed their tendency towards autonomy. “Farmers follow their own experience, more than the advice of agronomists, because they always choose the safest bet.”

But there are two threats that concern ASA’s seed movement. One is the “genetic erosion” which could be caused by the current drought, which in some areas has lasted for seven years.

Isolated rains tempt farmers to plant. Knowing they could lose their entire crop, they never use all of their seeds. But the seeds are gradually lost, with each deceptive rainfall, which puts their entire stock of seeds at risk.

Another threat is posed by transgenic seeds, which farmers involved in ASA reject. The presence of genetically modified corn was detected in some crops in the northeastern state of Paraíba, apparently a consequence of contamination from seeds brought in from other regions.

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Poor Darwin – Robots, Not Nature, Now Make the Selectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:56:01 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148413 TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

When British naturalist Charles Darwin published in 1859 his theory of evolution in his work On the Origin of Species, he most likely did not expect that robots, not nature, would someday be in charge of the selection process.

In his On the Origin of Species, (more completely: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), Darwin introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Now the so-called ”fourth industrial revolution” comes to turn Darwin’s theory upside down, as the manufacturing process has been witnessing such a fast process of automation that machines will more and more replace human workers.

So fast that it is estimated that by the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots.

Moreover, the robotising trend is now being perfected in a way that machines are gradually able to solve problems posed by other machines.

Oxford University predicts that machines and robots will perform nearly half of US jobs within the next 20 years.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says in its report “Future of Work in figures” that some studies argue that 47 per cent of US employment is subject to substitution (39 per cent in Germany, 35 per cent in the UK). "By the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots"

“The assumptions of what tasks are replaceable are key, but the undisputed fact is that the occupational structure will change and the tasks required to carry out jobs will also change,” says the OECD while trying to inject some optimism: “Substitution may mean the destruction of certain jobs, but not the destruction of employment.”

This process of “substitution” could not come at a tougher time, as the so-called job market is already much too precarious.

Just an example: this organisation grouping nearly one fifth of all countries –those considered most developed—in a report titled “Employment and unemployment in figures,” says that there are now over 40 million unemployed in the OECD area — that’s around 8 million more than before the crisis, i.e., one million jobs lost yearly over the last 8 years.

Add to this, the fact that 1 in 3 jobs are considered precarious in the industrialised countries, and that workers now earn between 15 and 20 per cent less than in the year 2009.

These figures, however, are viewed in a positive light by the business sector as they imply a growing reduction of the costs of production.

What to Do With Humans Then?

Politicians, likely propelled by big business pundits, have just started to think now of how to face this challenge.

One of the trendiest formulae is now to give a basic income to citizens.

Such a basic income (also called unconditional basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demo-grant) implies that all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

According to its defenders, this would be financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. But it will be a difficult exercise given that the private sector has been taking over the roles of the state, which has been gradually dismantled.

Many citizens’ first reaction to this formula would be –is– “… sounds great… getting money without even working is a dream!”

The realisation of such a dream poses, however, a number of questions and concerns.

For instance: where will governments find the resources needed for such basic incomes? From which national budget items will these amounts be deducted?

Will governments continue anyway to provide social services, such as public health care, education, unemployment subsidies, pension funds? Are such services sentenced to privatisation?

Will this mean the elimination of the 20 billion dollars that the OECD countries dedicate every year to the employment funds, which are aimed at promoting the creation of job opportunities?

And how can unemployed people contribute with their basic income to replenishing the retirement funds of the elderly, whose lives are already long and expected to get longer and longer?

Let alone infrastructure like public transport, roads and highways, subsidies to alternative sources of energy, and a long et cetera.

In other words, will such basic income without even working lead to the definite dismantlement of the already rapidly shrinking social welfare?

Most likely it will be so. After all, it would be about a step further in the very process of robotising the very lives of human beings.

This way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are expected to do: that’s to consume what industries produce and, by the way, continue playing their role as voters (not electors, mind the difference).

The Rule of the Multimillionaires

This trend, which seems to be unavoidable, will likely receive a giant push pretty soon—as soon as the new United States administration, lead by Donald Trump, takes office in January 2017.

An administration, by the way, made of multi-millionaires who are highly unlikely to have the sensibility of average citizens and workers.

The effects on Europe will be immediate in view of the irresistible rise of the extreme right in countries like Germany, France and Italy — which will go through elections in 2017 – as well as the Netherlands, Austria, Hungry and even Greece, to mention a few.

Inequality, That Dangerous Gap

Add to all of the above the fact that growing unemployment will deepen the already considerable inequality.

Roberto Savio, Founder of IPS and of Other News, in a recent master lecture at the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, compiled the following shocking data: six years ago, 388 persons possessed the same wealth as 3.2 billion people; in 2014, their number was of just 80, and in 2015 only 62.

These figures, added to the fact that, according to the International Labour Organization, 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the working age population, will leave more millions behind, forcing massive displacements, especially from developing countries, as survival migrants.

“The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

This is how Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, a private company that “makes software for people who make things,” described the current, unstoppable process of automation.

Bass’ comment was quoted by Xavier Mesnard in an article titled “What happens when robots take our jobs?” which was published in the World Economic Forum.

Most probably Darwin would have never expected that the current artificial selection process –propelled by an irrepressible greed and subjected to the financial interests of big private corporations exercising full control without any regulation mechanism, amid short-sighted politics — would replace his great theory of evolution and natural selection.

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Anti-Fracking Movement Alarmed at Trump’s Focus on Fossil Fuelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/anti-fracking-movement-alarmed-at-trumps-focus-on-fossil-fuels/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 01:09:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148396 A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A gas field in Damascus, in the Fayetteville basin in the southern state of Arkansas in the U.S., the world’s biggest shale fuel producer. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, USA , Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Earl Hatley, a descendant of the Cherokee/Delaware tribe, has witnessed the consequences of using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on his native land to produce shale gas.

“Fracking is harmful to water supplies, wildlife, and property values. It has caused earthquakes where there were none. Since 2007, it began to tremble more and more near the wells. I can smell the foul emissions, which make me sick,” the founder of Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.), a non-governmental organisation based in Oklahoma, told IPS.

Hatley has property in Payne, Oklahoma, in the Midwest, which he says he cannot visit anymore because of the toxic emissions from the wells.“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active.” -- Andrew Grinberg

“The oil and and gas industry flares their escaping gas and also do not monitor leaks, as there are no regulations in Oklahoma demanding they do. We had the opportunity to test a few wells and found all of them were bad,” he said.

In the state of Oklahoma there are about 50,000 active natural gas wells, of which some 4,000 use fracking. At least 200 of them are in Payne.

With similar scenarios in other states, the anti-fracking movement in the US is especially worried about what President-elect Donald Trump will do after he takes office on Jan. 20, since he pledged to give a boost to the fossil fuel industry, despite its impact on global warming.

The United States is the country that produces the largest quantities of shale oil and gas, which has made it the main global producer of fossil fuels, ranking first in gas extraction and third in oil.

Trump “is sending signals of the support the industry will receive, which will exacerbate the already-known impacts of fracking, such as water pollution and methane emissions,” Argentine activist Daniel Taillant, head of the non-governmental Center for Human Rights and Environment (CHRE), told IPS during a workshop on fracking in the Americas, held in Little Rock, the capital of the southern state of Arkansas.

Natural gas trapped in underground shale rock is released by the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure, which fractures the rocks. Fracking requires large amounts of water and chemical additives, some of which are toxic. Drilling and horizontal fracking generate enormous quantities of waste fluid.

The waste liquid contains dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that need to be treated for recycling, and methane emissions, which pollutes more than carbon dioxide, the main culprit in global warming.

Numerous studies have confirmed the damage fracking causes to water, air and the landscape, and how it triggers seismic activity.

For the fracking industry, good times will return when Trump is sworn in. In May he launched a plan for the first 100 days of his administration, which included giving a strong boost to the sector, despite the denounced environmental, social and economic impacts.

The programme includes the removal of all barriers to energy production, including fossil fuels, natural gas, oil and “clean coal”, valued in the document at 50 trillion dollars, in what it calls an “energy revolution” destined to produce “vast new wealth”.

In addition, the president-elect promised to eliminate existing regulatory barriers on fossil fuels and promote the development of “vital energy infrastructure projects,” such as oil and gas pipelines.

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A technician monitors the gas-water separators in the Charles Wood 09-13 shale gas well in Van Buren, Arkansas, in the United States, the world’s leading fossil fuel producer, thanks to the use of fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that, of the daily US production of over nine million barrels of gas and oil equivalent, 51 per cent were extracted in 2015 by fracking, in spite of the collapse in international prices this year.

The cost of extracting a barrel of oil by fracking is at least 65 dollars. Apart from Trump’s promises, the gradual rise in prices as a consequence of the reduction in production by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since January, has encouraged the sector to continue to extract.

The growing use of fracking has sparked lawsuits over its effects and scientific research to determine the impacts.

The fourth edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)” lists 685 scientific studies published between 2009-2015 that prove water pollution, polluting emissions released into the atmosphere and their impacts on human health.

The compendium, drafted by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), cites more than 900 studies in the US on the impact of fracking, which demonstrate the concern generated by the use of this technology.

Meanwhile, people affected by fracking have filed more than 100 lawsuits since 2011, according to a count carried out by Blake Watson with the School of Law of the private University of Dayton, Ohio.

In the specific case of Arkansas, a state where fewer people have been affected because the gas fields are located in sparsely populated areas, five cases have been settled out of court, three are still in progress and 10 have been thrown out of court.

Fracking has also sparked local reactions.

The states of Vermont and New York have banned the use of this technology, while in California six counties have followed suit, and in Florida 32 counties and 48 cities.

Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has imposed a two-and-a-half-year moratorium, while Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled in May to lift the bans applied by two cities, and Texas passed a law making local bans on fracking illegal.

“Opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, because there is more knowledge and evidence about the effects. Besides, the organisations have become more sophisticated in their analyses and more active,” said Andrew Grinberg, National Campaigns – Special Projects manager for the non-governmental Clean Water Action.

For economic reasons, coal has lost ground to gas. In addition to the expansion of solar and wind energy, the resurrection promised by Trump faces a complex panorama.

“Resistance against fracking is growing, especially in places where it is not yet widely practiced, because there is more knowledge about the harm it causes and that knowledge will increase. But the results of Trump’s support remain to be seen,” said Taillant, whose organisation operates in the state of Florida.

Hatley said that opposition to fracking is slowly growing due to the reported increase in seismic activity, but “people are afraid, because the industry is very powerful.”

In Oklahoma, 1,900 earthquakes have been documented since 2015, blamed on the injection of fluid byproducts from drilling operations into deep underground wells.

Grinberg told IPS there are still pending issues in relation to regulation, such as the need for more public information on the chemicals used, and for a ban on basins for disposal of liquid waste, gas storage and methane emissions, a gas much more polluting than carbon dioxide.

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No More Mass Deaths from Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/no-more-mass-deaths-from-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 20:57:42 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148366 Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Water tanks to collect rainfall water behind a house in Buena Esperanza, a settlement of 45 families in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region, where thanks to such initiatives the rural population manages to survive prolonged droughts, without the tragedies of the past. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

By Mario Osava
OURICURI, Brazil, Dec 30 2016 (IPS)

The drought that has plagued Brazil’s semiarid Northeast region since 2012 is already more severe than the 1979-1983 drought, the longest in the 20th century. But prolonged dry spells no longer cause the tragedies of the past.

There are no widespread deaths from hunger or thirst or mass exodus of people due to water shortages, like in the past when huge numbers of people would swarm into cities and towns and even loot the shops, or head off to distant lands in the more developed centre-south of the country, in search of a better life.

The lack of rains, nevertheless, impacts everything. The caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, which consists of shrubland and thorn forest, looks dead with the exception of a few drought-resistant trees and areas where recent sprinkles have turned some shrubs green again.

The Tamboril reservoir, on the outskirts of Ouricuri, a city of 68,000 people in the state of Pernambuco, has been dry for more than a year now. Fortunately, the city is also supplied by water piped in from the São Francisco river, 180 kilometres away.

“The 1982-1983 drought was worse, not so much due to the lack of water, but because we did not know how to cope with the situation,” Manoel Pereira Barros, a 58-year-old father of seven, told IPS on his farm in Sitio de Santa Fe, about 80 kilometres from Ouricuri.

He got married at the height of the crisis, in 1983. “It was difficult for the entire family…we killed some oxen, we survived on the water from a cacimba (water hole), a few cattle and many goats. The animals saved us, the bean crop dried up,” he said.

That year, the governors of the nine states that make up Brazil’s semiarid region requested more help from the national government, pointing out that one hundred people a day were dying as a result of the drought.

According to the state governments in the region, 100,000 people died in the space of five years, although researchers put the number of deaths at more than 700,000. Most of those who died were children.

And one million deaths is the estimate of Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), a network of 3,000 social organisations created in 1999 to promote the transformations which are improving the life of the population most affected by the drought: poor farmers in the Northeast.

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Apparently dead dry vegetation of the caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. But in general the plants are highly resilient and turn green again after even just a sprinkle. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Distributing water tanks to collect and store rainwater for drinking and cooking was their first goal. Beyond assuring safe drinking water during the eight-month dry season, this initiative was at the centre of a new approach towards the development of the semiarid region, which is home to more than 23 million people in this country of 208 million.

One million water tanks have been built so far, about one-third by ASA, which distributes 16,000-litre family units made of concrete slabs that are installed with the participation of the beneficiaries, who also receive citizenship classes and training in water management.

To coexist with the local climate, overcoming the failed policies of the past based on “combating the drought”, is the movement’s slogan, which thus promotes learning about the ecosystem, capitalising on farmers’ traditional knowledge and fostering an intense exchange of experiences among rural communities.

Other methods for coexisting with the local ecosystem include contextualised education, which prioritises the local reality, agroecological practices, and the principle of storing everything, including the water used for irrigation and livestock, fodder for the dry season, and native seeds adapted to the local soil and climate.

These technologies, provided by the Advice and Help Centre for Workers and Alternative Non-Governmental Institutions (CAATINGA), a member of ASA, did not exist during previous droughts and are making the difference today, Barros said.

To these are added the Bolsa Familia, a monthly grant of 53 dollars on average, new retirement pensions for farmers, and other government social programmes that help farmers survive even when it doesn’t rain.

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Manoel Pereira Barros shows the beehives on his small farm, now useless because the bees have left due to the drought. Honey production, one of the sources of income of many small farming families, will have to wait to be resumed until the rains return to Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Barros decided to leave his land in 1993, at the end of another two-year drought, to look for work in vineyards and on mango plantations in the municipality of Petrolina, 200 km south of Ouricuri, on the shores of the São Francisco river.

“I spent 15 years away from my family, working with poisonous agricultural chemicals, that is why I look older than my age,” he said jokingly. “Here I only eat organic food.”

“I dreamed of having a water tank, which did not exist. Now I have three, and one of them still has water from the January rains. Used only for drinking water, it lasts over a year for five people,” he said. “We are very strict about saving, we used to waste a lot of water.”

Besides the water tanks, the community of 14 families has a pond dug in the rocky ground 70 years ago, to collect water from a stream. It has not dried out yet, but it is very dirty. “It needs to be cleaned,” said Clarinda Alves, Barros’ 64-year-old neighbour.

“Biowater”, a system of filters which makes it possible to reuse household sewage to irrigate vegetable gardens and fruit trees, is another technology which is expanding among the farmers of the semiarid region.

Despite this arsenal of water resources, plus the water increasingly distributed by the army in tanker trucks throughout the Northeast, Barros decided to stop growing vegetables and other crops, unlike many other farmers, who have managed to keep producing. He opted instead to prioritise the water for human and animal consumption.

ASA believes there is still much to do with respect to the question of water supply. To reach the goal of universalising “two water tanks”, there is still a need for 350,000 tanks for drinking water and 800,000 devoted to production.

 The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level - another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS


The water in Sobradinho, Brazil’s largest reservoir, covering 4,200 square kilometres in the state of Bahía, is 500 metres away from the normal shoreline due to the low water level – another impact of the drought that the country’s Northeast has been suffering since 2012. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

“Five water tanks” are needed, according to André Rocha, climate and water coordinator for the non-governmental Regional Institute for Appropriate Small-Scale Agriculture (IRPAA), a member of ASA, based in Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

Domestic use requires two tanks, one for drinking and cooking, and one for hygiene, so water for production purposes would be the third source, he said. The fourth is for emergencies or reserves, “like a blood bank, and the fifth would be dedicated to the environment, to recuperating freshwater sources, restoring the groundwater table and keeping rivers running year-round,” Rocha told IPS in his office.

But the task of “building coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem,” ASA’s goal, faces a political threat.

It will be difficult to maintain water collection and the strengthening of small-scale agriculture as public policies, after Brazil’s government took a conservative turn in August 2016, when the leftist Workers’ Party, which governed the country since 2003, lost power.

It also requires an ongoing ideological battle and communications effort, because “combating drought”, instead of adapting, is still the mindset of the country’s authorities and economic powers-that-be.

Large water projects, like the diversion of the São Francisco river to provide water to other rivers and basins in the Northeast, as well as the irrigation of the monoculture crops of agribusiness or large-scale agriculture destined mainly for export, are still being carried out to the detriment of family agriculture.

Hefty investments and official loans are devoted to agribusiness, despite previous failures and corruption, while funding is dwindling for ASA’s activities, which have proven successful in overcoming the effects of drought.

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Reporting from Inside a Refugee Detention Centrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 23:01:17 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148350 Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Despite being locked up in an Australian detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has continued reporting – gaining bylines and media attention around the world.

Journalism is the reason Boochani was forced to flee his home country of Iran, and – like the other 900 men detained indefinitely on Manus Island – seek refuge in Australia.

“When the Australian government exiled me to Manus Island I found out that they are basing their policy on secrecy and dishonesty,” Boochani told IPS.

“In my first days here I started to work to send out the voice of people in Manus. Why did I start? Because the Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention is against my principles and values, and against global human values.”

“I know that I am a refugee but I'm a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don't care about that." -- Behrouz Boochani

Boochani worked as a freelance writer in Iran and founded the magazine Werya, devoted to exploring Kurdish politics, culture and history. In February 2013 the offices of Werya were raided by the paramilitary agency the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also known as Sepah, classified by the US government as a terrorist organisation.

Boochani was in a different city when 11 of his colleagues were arrested. The story he wrote about the raid on the website Iranian Reporters quickly went global and put him in the government’s sights and he fled.

Boochani spent his first two years in detention writing and publishing articles under a fake name, for fear of losing the mobile phone that has been his lifeline since arriving on Manus Island.

“We were not allowed to have phones until April this year,” he explains. “The guards twice searched my room looking for my phone. After two years of sending out my work in this way I felt that I had become part of Australian society and with the support of (international organisations) PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, I started to use my real name. I would never say that I’m not scared, but I say that fear is not powerful enough to stop me or prevent me from working on my mission. It’s my duty to document all of what happens here.”

What has been happening on Manus Island has attracted global condemnation. In May the UN Human Rights Council condemned the detention centre and Papua New Guinea affirmed that it would be shut down. Since then, the Australian government have declared the centre ‘open’, meaning that inmates can come and go freely though they cannot leave the island. Boochani and other detainees have spoken of being encouraged to accept residency in Papua New Guinea, despite attacks on detainees from both local residents and police forces. Returning to Iran, Boochani says, is not an option.

“PEN International and a coalition of human rights groups launched an international campaign on behalf of Mr Boochani in September 2015. The campaign called for Mr Boochani’s request for asylum to be processed by Australian immigration officials as soon as possible and urged the Australian government to abide by their obligations to the principle of non-refoulement—as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite numerous approaches to the Australian government and relevant ministers and departments, by the campaign coalition and its supporters, there has been no response from senior government officials.”
– PEN International letter to Australian Minister of Immigration Hon. Peter Dutton MP, November 3, 2016

“The political situation in Iran does not change especially for Kurdish people. There are about 20 journalists still in prison there. In November, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution against the Iranian regime for violating human rights. Last year they hanged more than 1,000 people. How can I go back?”

Since arriving in Manus Island, Boochani has written for Australian and international newspapers and radio programs and co-directed the feature length documentary about life on Manus Island Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. He has continued to write articles about Kurdish culture and politics for Kurdish media, published poetry and essays, contributed to two forthcoming books and completed his first novel, due in mid-2017.

One of the greatest challenges facing Boochani is what he calls “the refugee concept”, the willingness of Australian and international media to use his insight and words but to cast him as a “broken man” or a refugee.

“This is a big form of censorship,” he says. “I know that I am a refugee but I’m a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don’t care about that. When I have found a subject for a story and provided information and documents to other journalists sometimes they have ignored me, or other times they published a story on the basis of my information but denied my identity by referring to me only as a refugee. I’m doing the same job as other journalists in Australia or anywhere else, but I am always called a refugee.”

Overcoming the international concept of Australia as a peaceful, law-abiding nation with a relaxed attitude to life also presents a difficulty to Boochani as a journalist. “We are being tortured by a western country and the media and human rights organisations find it hard to believe that a country like Australia is implementing policies that are the same in many ways as Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I am a prisoner like the others here. It’s hard to work in this situation. I have to endure prison and torture and at the same time work as a journalist or human rights defender.”

The Manus Island detention centre holds around 900 men, most of whom are refugees intercepted en route to Australia having fled conflicts in countries such as Sudan or Syria, or persecution as is the case with Rohingyas from Myanmar.

The detention centre is a key part of a multi-billion-dollar bilateral agreement between the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments. Condemnation of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers has come from several branches of the United Nations including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee Against Torture, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

While identifying as a journalist and writer, Boochani is not motivated by profit.

“If I do work for money, I will lose my way. The important thing is to send out a voice from Manus and let people know the reality.”

“I am a journalist, I am a writer, I am a prisoner. The history of this prison is written in my hand … I am here with only a phone and my tongue and say:  I am more than you know. The Australian government made a mistake exiling a journalist to this prison and keeping him as hostage.  Writing is my mission, my work, it is me.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the UN Human Rights Council had declared Manus Island Detention Centre illegal. The council condemned the centre, and in response the PNG government declared it illegal.

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How the US Government Subsidizes Obesityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/how-the-us-government-subsidizes-obesity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-the-us-government-subsidizes-obesity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/how-the-us-government-subsidizes-obesity/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 17:48:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148348 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> 8976878849_a17eba627c_z

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR , Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Until the turn of the century, the United States of America (US) was the country with the highest share of overweight and obese people. Soon after the former president of Coca-Cola Mexico became the new president of his country, Mexico overtook the US.

In late 2014, the McKinsey Global Institute announced that 2.1 billion of the 7.3 billion people in the world were overweight or obese. This represented a fifty per cent increase over the previous WHO estimate of 1.4 billion less than a decade earlier. The Institute also estimated that about 2.8 percent of world income is spent dealing with the consequences of associated ill health.

While almost 800 million people are estimated to be ‘chronically hungry’, higher real incomes for many as well as globalized lifestyles, including food consumption, have changed micronutrient deficiencies and increased diet-related non-communicable diseases, many associated with overweight and obesity. With the United Nations General Assembly calling for a global Decade of Action against malnutrition from 2016, there is greater interest in the role of food systems in contributing to various dimensions of malnutrition.

A recent study found that those who most consume government subsidized foods had a 37 percent greater risk of being obese. They were significantly more likely to have belly fat, abnormal cholesterol and high blood sugar. While it could not prove cause and effect, this strong association is consistent with other research showing that diets higher in subsidized foods tend to be of poorer quality and more harmful to health.

American junk food
Almost three-quarters of the US population is overweight or obese. Junk foods are the largest source of calories in the American diet, with sweet desserts, bread, pizza, pasta and sweetened drinks the major culprits. These foods are largely products of seven food items heavily subsidized by the US government, namely maize, wheat, rice, soy, sorghum, milk and meat. Hence, such foods are cheap and plentiful.

Between 1995 and 2010, the US government paid out US$170 billion in agricultural subsidies to produce these foods. While many such foods are not inherently unhealthy, only small shares are eaten as produced. Most are used as feed for livestock, converted into biofuels or processed into cheap products such as sweeteners, industrial oils, processed meats, refined carbohydrates and other processed foods.

While the US government’s latest dietary guidelines recommend that people eat much more fruits and vegetables, only a very small fraction of its subsidies actually support fresh produce. Most agricultural subsidies go to crops processed into foods linked to obesity. Thus, such subsidies damage health and raise medical costs to treat the effects of overweight and obesity.

US farm subsidies
US farm subsidies were introduced decades ago to secure its food supply and to support struggling farmers. Since 1995, the US government has provided American farmers with almost $300 billion in agricultural subsidies. Typically, these have been included in the US farm bill, besides financing its food stamps program. The US farm bill is renewed by Congress every five years, with the 2014 bill approving US$956 billion in expenditure.

But the subsidies program no longer serves its original intent. Instead of supporting small farmers who grow fruits, nuts and vegetables – considered ‘specialty crops’ by the US government – the program now primarily subsidizes large commodity crop producers.

Small, including ‘specialty’ farms use three-quarters of the country’s cropland, but receive only 14 percent of government subsidies. Large agribusinesses specializing in growing the major commodity crops represent 7 percent of cropland, but receive half of all subsidies.

Thanks to public awareness and pressure, the 2014 farm bill allows farmers who grow commodity crops to use 15 percent of their farmland to grow fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. It now supports organic farmers, including US$100 million for research to improve such production.

A ‘healthy incentives’ program encourages food stamp recipients to consume more fruits and vegetables by increasing the value of food stamps used to buy fresh produce at retail stores or farmers’ markets. However, such funding is still paltry compared to the billions in subsidies for commodity crops.

Of course, many factors influence what people eat. While it is impossible to prove that farm subsidies directly cause obesity, they clearly contribute as agriculture and food policies are not aligned with public health goals.

A national food policy should ensure that farm laborers gets decent incomes, everyone has affordable access to healthy foods and is effectively discouraged from consuming unhealthy foods, and that governments coordinate their nutrition goals with their food and agricultural policies.

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Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Agroecology Booming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agroecology-booming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/agroecology-booming-in-argentina/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:04:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148299 Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Agroecological farmer Alicia Della Ceca at her stand in El Galpón, in the neighborhood of Chacarita in the Argentine capital. In the organic producers market, she sells directly to consumers what she and her two children grow on their 3.5-hectare farm. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

Organic agriculture is rapidly expanding in Argentina, the leading agroecological producer in Latin America and second in the world after Australia, as part of a backlash against a model that has disappointed producers and is starting to worry consumers.

According to the intergovernmental Inter American Commission on Organic Agriculture (ICOA), in the Americas there are 9.9 million hectares of certified organic crops, which is 22 per cent of the total global land devoted to these crops. Of this total, 6.8 million of hectares are in Latin America and the Caribbean, and three million in Argentina alone.

The Argentine National Agrifood Health and Quality Service (SENASA) reported that between 2014 and 2015, the land area under organic production grew 10 per cent, including herbs, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and oilseeds.

Legumes and vegetables experienced the largest increase (200 percent). In Argentina there are 1,074 organic producers, mainly small and medium-size farms and cooperatives.“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model.” -- Eduardo Cerdá


“The organic market is starting to boom. We have been producing since 20 years ago, when this market did not exist in Argentina and we exported everything. Now we sell abroad, but about 50 percent remains here,” said Jorge Pierrestegui, manager of San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, an agroecology company that produces olives and olive oil on some 1,000 hectares in the Argentine province of Córdoba.

“Opting for organic was a company policy, mainly due to a long-term ecological vision of not spraying the fields with poisonous chemicals,” Pierrestegui said.

Agricultural engineer Eduardo Cerdá, an agroecology adviser, differentiates between this practice and organic. Agroecology doesn’t use agrochemicals either, but it does not seek to certify production which is “concentrated in four or five companies” and which “has a cost for the producer,” he told IPS.

“We basically work to generate experiences, to accompany producers, to train students, as part of a vision of agriculture based on ecological principles,” he said.

Cerdá, who is vice president of the Graduate Centre of the Agronomy School at the National University of La Plata (UNLP), said there is growing interest in agroecology.

In 10 years the area receiving specialised advice grew from 600 to 12,500 hectares. He and his few colleagues are not able to meet the demand.

The expert attributes it to the disappointment in the “current model” based on agrochemicals, which he considers to be “exhausted.” For him, agroecology “is not an alternative but the agriculture of the near future.”

“Producers are seeing that the promise of 20 years ago of what this technology would solve has not been fulfilled. Neither in terms of high yields nor in costs. They see that the costs are very high due to the amount of inputs that they use,” he said.

While in the 1990s, a hectare of wheat cost 100 dollars, by 2015 it had climbed to 400 dollars. However, the yields did not quadruple. Back then, a hectare produced 3,000 kilos, and now “at the most, we may be at 6,000 or 7,000,” he said.

For Cerdá, “it is an extremely expensive technology for a very inefficient result. We have measured agroecological crops which use a mixed scheme of agriculture and livestock against conventional fields where the crops are produced by companies. We can even say that they are more efficient.”
The ICOA attributes the growth of organic agriculture in Argentina to the increase in international demand, mainly in Europe and the United States. But he points out that organic crops still represent only 0.5 of the total planted area.

In this country of 43 million people, agriculture is one of the mainstays of the economy, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 per cent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

“The main crops grown in Argentina are transgenic soybean, corn and cotton. Organic producers are still very few and far between and they mostly grow fresh produce. We can count on our fingers the farmers who produce ecological grains, because there is no government policy that promotes this production,” said Graciela Draguicevich, head of the Mutual Sentimiento Association.

This association runs El Galpón, in the Chacarita neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which for 14 years has been a market supplying organic products based on the social economy.

“We discovered that the main problem was the middlemen so we directly contacted farmers. But we looked for producers of products free of agrotoxics, because we thought that it was not a good thing to keep consuming toxic chemicals and getting sick from our food,” she told IPS.

Members of the association have a different concept of what is organic. “It’s when they have no social or economic poisons either. When there is no exploitation, or gender-based wage differences, or child labour. Everything has to conserve a balance,” she said.

Draguicevich is pleased that there are more and more markets like El Galpón, although not yet “one in every neighborhood,” as she considers necessary.

Alicia Della Ceca sells fruits and vegetables in this solidarity-based market, which she grows along her two children on 3.5 hectares of land about 20 kilometres from the capital.

They stopped using chemicals 10 years ago, when the government offered them technical assistance. “Since my children are young and have an open mind, they were interested,” she told IPS.

“It is beneficial for health, for the product, and for the earth. My husband 40 years ago used pesticides because it was the normal practice, it was thought that nothing would grow otherwise. But my children have demonstrated that it is possible to work this way. The land gives, there is no need to punish it with chemicals,” she said.

“People who work with chemicals want things fast, in abundance, big and shiny. This is driven by the supermarkets. With neighborhood stores it was not like that. But the supermarkets imposed plastic bags and many other things that go against nature,” she said.

Now a “new awareness” is growing among consumers, according to Pierrestegui from San Nicolás Olive Groves and Vineyards, in the face of the “abuse of agrochemicals.”

A study on pesticides published in 2015 by the UNLP found that in the 60 samples tested, eight of 10 fruits and vegetables contained agrochemicals.

“The level of pollution is really high. When we measure, traces of agrochemicals appear in the food, soil, water and atmosphere. And no matter how careful we are, our products, our grains, contain agrochemicals from our neighbours. It is a very perverse model,” said Cerdá.

“Over the past 20 years, production of soy has grown to 20 million hectares (in Argentina). We are talking about more than 200 million litres of herbicides every year, plus other products that are applied, which is causing a very dangerous environmental explosion. A great loss of fertility lies ahead,” he said.

Pierrestegui considers that this country has special potential for organic production.

“Argentina is not a great world producer of olive oil, but it is one of the few that are able to produce it organically,” he said. “Spain, for example, one of the main global producers, works on very arid lands, where they need to use many agrochemicals and artificial fertilisers. Argentina has the advantage of good soil,” he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report “World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables” says “conversion from conventional to organic production is generally easy in Argentina, thanks to its physical conditions.”

“The endowment of ample and natural fertile soil, the wide abundance of virgin land, and the low use of chemical inputs in conventional farming practices enable farmers to switch to organic production without major adjustments to their farming methods. The diverse climates throughout the country and a low pest pressure allow organic production virtually throughout the whole country.”

Cerdá urged: “All the research that is carried out, everything that the producers spend, even nature is telling them: Folks, weeds work in a different way, it is not enough to increase the dosage, mix more toxic cocktails, because in the long run we all end up poisoned. The logics of nature are different, try to understand them.”

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Beyond Standing Rock: Extraction Harms Indigenous Water Sourceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/beyond-standing-rock-extraction-harms-indigenous-water-sources/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 20:23:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148257 At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

Since the decision by the U.S. army to suspend the Dakota Access pipeline on 4 December, many are still unsure of the controversial pipeline’s future or its implications for other mega infrastructure projects affecting indigenous communities across North America.

After months of demonstrations by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies from across the world, the Army announced that it will not allow the 1,172-mile long pipeline to cross Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

The statement was met with celebrations and tears by those who have taken up residence in camps along the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers as part of the #NoDAPL movement.

“Everyone was very excited, very pleased at the camp,” said Sioux County native involved in #NoDAPL Cannupa Hanska Luger told IPS.

Among concerns over the pipeline is its risk of contaminating the Missouri River, the tribe’s main source of water.

However, the excitement over the Army’s decision did not last long, Luger said.

“Primarily this is an issue of Native people not being too comfortable and too steadfast with government decrees. All of our treaties have been broken…we were elated in the moment but then we also readied ourselves for any future statement or outcome,” Luger told IPS.

One such treaty is the 1851 treaty of Fort Laramie which defined Sioux territory as the land where DAPL is being constructed. Though it was later taken away under a 1868 treaty, the land remains disputed as some say they never ceded the territory.

Despite the recent decision and territorial disputes, Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company in charge of the  $3.8 billion project, has vowed to continue DAPL, stating: “[We] are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

Many also fear that incoming President-elect Donald Trump will overturn the decision as he has vowed to divert billions of payments to UN climate programs towards building up domestic coal, oil and gas industries.

His cabinet nominations also suggest an increased focus on such industries including ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt – who has been battling President Obama’s climate change policies – as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary who, during his time as governor of Texas, expanded oil and gas development.

“This fight is not over, not even close. In fact, this fight is escalating,” said a coalition of grassroots organisations including Sacred Stone one of the Dakota Access resistance camps, pointing to the new administration as a source of uncertainty.

The struggle is far from over, not only for DAPL, which is just one of many extractive projects that threaten access to clean water for many indigenous communities on the continent.

One such case is the legacy of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation in the Southwestern United States.

During the Cold War, the U.S. government extracted uranium from the Navajo Reservation, which is home to the largest indigenous population in the country. According to the EPA, over 30 million tonnes of uranium ore was extracted from or adjacent to Navajo lands.

Executive Director of global water organisation DigDeep George McGraw remarked on the similarities between DAPL and uranium mining to IPS, calling it “if not sister problems, cousin problems.”

“The Sioux, like the Navajo, have struggled to maintain water access for the majority of their population in general…so to come in and threaten, in a really meaningful way, the resources that they do have like a river is an even more gross offense,” he said.

Decades of uranium mining have contributed to a water crisis leaving approximately 40 percent of Navajo households without clean running water.

McGraw noted that water contamination has only worsened because mines have not been cleaned up. There are over 500 abandoned mines with radioactivity levels as high as 25 times above what is considered to be safe.

Such exposure has led to alarmingly high rates of cancer in a population which the medical community previously thought had “cancer immunity.”

By treaty and law, the United States is responsible for protecting the health of the Navajo Nation. However, McGraw pointed to unfulfilled treaty obligations, similar to that of the Sioux Nation.

Despite a recent settlement between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government to help clean up 16 abandoned uranium mines, access to clean water remains elusive as ongoing coal mining in the Navajo reservation poses a further threat to drinking water sources.

McGraw noted that such extractive processes tend to take place more often on Native American land.

“That’s symptomatic of our treatment of Native Americans when it comes to all these energy issues…most of the country ignores this place and they can get away with that, “ he told IPS.

Chair of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS) Rudolph Ryser echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The indigenous world is invisible to the rest of the world…so it’s easy for developers, corporations, governments to press economic development projects that advantage them at the expense of indigenous nations and it’s been going on for a long time.”

Ryser particularly pointed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada which was recently approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The expansion will create a twinned pipeline which was increase oil transports from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.

Some First Nations have strongly opposed the project, citing concerns of an increased risk of an oil spill. Oil company Kinder Morgan only garnered support for the pipeline from one-third of the 120 indigenous groups it consulted.

The Canadian province of Alberta also approved another three oil sands projects including Husky Energy’s Saleski project, the same company responsible for a July oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River from a different pipeline.

Approximately 250,000 litres of oil was leaked, impacting numerous cities including the James Smith Cree Nation territory. Five samples from the First Nation’s water revealed levels of toxins unfit for human consumption.

Though the DAPL movement was important in that it brought different tribes together, Ryser said that as long as these projects continue, the “struggle is not over.”

Similarly, Luger noted that stopping one pipeline does not mean the end.

“The solidarity that was created within Native communities at Standing Rock…set a precedent where we went and decided that we must help one another. And because most of these extractive resources are taking place on or near Native borders, we also know that we are readying ourselves to work towards the future and help one another within our communities nationally and internationally,” he concluded.

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Feminism Helps Villagers Coexist with Drought in Northeast Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/empowering-women-to-coexist-with-drought-in-northeast-brazil/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 01:26:56 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148244 “This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“This vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita da Silva (right, in yellow), in the Primeiro do Maio village, where some 65 families live. A group of women organised to collectively grow vegetables and fruit to sell in the market in Caraúbas, a nearby city in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
CARAÚBAS, Brazil, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

“The vegetable garden changed my life,” said Rita Alexandre da Silva, in the village of Primeiro do Maio where 65 families have obtained land to grow crops since 1999, in this municipality in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in Northeast Brazil.

She is part of the Group of Women that organised in 2001 and adopted the slogan “United to overcome”, with the goal of having their own productive activities, reaffirming their rights and combating sexism.

“I used to only stay at home or in the fields, I wasn’t allowed to go out, to go to town. With the garden I started to go to the city to sell our products in the market, over the objections of my husband and my oldest son,” Da Silva told IPS.

“Bringing money home when my husband was sick” helped overcome the resistance, she said. “Now my son, who is married, has a different attitude towards his wife.”

The 60-year-old mother of three grown-up children shares with five other local women one hectare of the village’s collective land, where they grow lettuce, coriander, onions, tomatoes, manioc, papayas, coconuts and other fruits and vegetables.

The difficulty is transporting products to the city of Caraúbas, 22 km away. The women hire a truck for 25 dollars, and they also have to pay for the maintenance and cleaning up of the stand where they sell their produce.

“We get up at two in the morning every Saturday to get to the market,” said Antonia Damiana da Silva, a 41-year-old mother of four.

But “our life has changed for the better, we eat what we produce, without poisonous chemicals, and we are different people, more free, we decide what we’re going to do and tell our husbands,” she said.

The village was created by families of farmers who lived in the surrounding areas, without land of their own, who occupied an unproductive piece of land. Their first attempt to occupy it lasted 18 days in 1997, when the owners of the land obtained a court order to evict them.

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of the “agrovillage” where 65 families of the Primeiro do Maio village live, an oasis of green vegetation in the midst of aridity caused by five years with almost no rain in the caatinga, the semi-arid ecosystem exclusive to the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two years later, they tried again, and the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform assigned each family 13 hectares and a good house in the “agro village”. They were also awarded a common area for the community association building, for raising livestock, and for growing fruits and vegetables.

“Agro villages” in Brazil are rural settlements created in isolated areas, where houses and community and service facilities are concentrated near the plots of land. They form part of the government’s land reform programme, and offer previously landless farmers urban advantages such as schools, health posts and in some cases sewerage.

The drought which has dragged on for five years in the semi-arid Northeast is all too evident in the grey vegetation, apparently dead, throughout the entire ecosystem exclusive to Brazil known as the caatinga. But its low and twisted bush-like trees tend to turn green a few hours after it rains, even if it barely sprinkled.

The Primeiro do Maio agro village appears in the landscape almost like an oasis, because of the green of its trees and of the vegetable garden and orchard, populated by birds and other animals.

The traditional crops grown by the families, mostly corn and beans, were lost to the drought. But the community garden is still productive, irrigated with well water and managed according to the principles of agro-ecology, such as crop diversity and better use of natural resources, including straw.

They receive technical assistance and support from Diaconía, a non-profit social organisation composed of 11 evangelical churches, which are very active in the Northeast.

  Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Antonia Damiana da Silva (C) proudly explains how her biodigester uses the manure from her small livestock to produce cooking gas for her family in the rural settlement where she lives in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

The income from the garden empowers the women, particularly in times of drought when the local crops are failing.

But because of the difficulties in getting the produce to market, and the prevailing but rarely mentioned sexism, the Group shrank from 23 to six members, who work in the garden and sell their produce in Caraúbas.

The garden, irrigated without any water wastage, is based on a production model promoted by Networking in Brazil’s Semi-Arid Region (ASA), which groups together some 3,000 social organisations in the Northeast, including trade unions, religious groups and non-governmental organisations.

“Coexisting with the semi-arid” is its slogan, in contrast to the former official policy of ”fighting drought” which generated one failure after another, with the construction of big dams, aqueducts and canals that do not provide solutions to the most vulnerable: poor peasant farmers scattered throughout rural areas.

The Primeiro do Maio village was one of eight places visited by participants in the National Meeting of ASA, which drew about 500 people Nov. 21-25 to Mossoró, a city in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, 80 km from Caraúbas.

“There can be no coexistence with the semi-arid, without feminisim,” according to ASA, which supports the Group of Women and other initiatives that bolster gender equality in rural communities.

 The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village stands in sharp contrast to the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


The green of the garden cultivated by women in the Primeiro do Maio village contrasts with the aridity of the surrounding area in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, in the Northeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The “social technologies” that drive that coexistence are in general more rapidly embraced and with more determination by women.

Damiana, for example, has an arsenal of resources in the backyard of her house that enable her to assert that she enjoys “a wonderful life”.

A biodigester, fed with the manure from her small livestock, provides her with cooking gas. In the village there are 10 other houses that use this technology, which consists of a sealed container where organic waste ferments until producing methane gas and natural fertilisers.

“Biowater”, a chain of filters which cleans the wastewater produced in her home, makes it possible to reuse it in her vegetable garden and orchard. She also raises fish in a small three-metre-diameter tank. The fish she raises is the tilapia azul (Oreochromis niloticus), native to the Nile River, which is highly productive in fish farming.

Vanusa Vieira, a 47-year-old mother of two, is another participant in the Group who works in the collective garden, although she says she prefers working with animals. “I love raising animals, I can’t live without them, I look after them from early morning to night,” she told IPS standing in her yard where she has birds, goats and a cow.

“I learned from my father and mother, who had cattle and chicken,” she said. Now that she has her own house with a big yard she has an aviary and pens.

But the drought has forced her to reduce the number of animals she keeps. Corn got too expensive and water is scarce, she said. And her honey production, which “helped us buy a truck,” has stalled because the woods are dry and there are no flowers, Vieira explained.

But small livestock such as goats and sheep that are able to survive on limited food and water are a resource that helps families survive lengthy droughts like the one that has had the Northeast in its grip since 2012.

Also important is the small subsidy that the families of the agrovillage receive from the social programme Bolsa Familia, aimed at the poorest in this country of 202 million people. In addition, some of the men work as day labourers to boost the family income, in light of the fall in production on their plots of land.

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New Technologies in Debate in Biodiversity Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/new-technologies-a-focus-of-debate-in-biodiversity-conference/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 22:18:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148211 In the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, government delegates, representatives of international organisations, and civil society activists came from every continent to Cancún in southeast Mexico, to make their proposals to protect biological resources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, government delegates, representatives of international organisations, and civil society activists came from every continent to Cancún in southeast Mexico, to make their proposals to protect biological resources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

Synthetic biology, geoengineering and the recognition of ancestral knowledge are the issues that have generated the most heated debate in the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, which ends in this Mexican resort city on Friday Dec. 17.

The outcome of the debates on these questions will be seen this week, in the final stretch of the Dec. 2-17 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP 13, and other meetings and international forums focusing on the planet’s natural resources.

For developing countries these issues are vital, due to the biological and biocultural capital that they concentrate in their territories and that could be undermined if their exploitation is allowed within the framework of the CBD.

“On a scale of one to 10, I would say that we are at four. The negotiations are slow. We need to speed them up and they have to in favour of the people,” Venezuelan Santiago Obispo, leader of the non-governmental Amazon Cooperation Network, told IPS.

With respect to synthetic biology, governments and representatives of academia, civil society and indigenous communities are concerned about the possible devastating impacts on ecosystems and on the livelihood of local communities.

This discipline consists of computer-assisted biological engineering to design and build synthetic life forms, live parts, artifacts and systems which do not exist in nature.

Currently, research is being carried out on the creation of synthetic vanilla flavour, whose industrial production threatens the well-being of farmers in countries like Comoros, China, Madagascar, Mexico, Reunion and Uganda.

Similar research is also being conducted on vetiver, a fragrance used in cosmetic products and whose biosynthetic version will affect Brazil, China, Haiti, Indonesia, Japan, India and Reunion.

Laboratory studies are also focusing on genetic drivers, able to permanently alter species by driving one specific characteristic in the reproductive process.

Through this process, the altered genes are the ones inherited by the offspring. But opponents fear that species or ecosystems will be modified or eliminated, with unpredictable consequences.

In Cancún, where more than 6,500 official delegates and representatives of civil society are taking part in the conference, over 160 non-governmental, academic and indigenous organisations called for a moratorium on experiments involving synthetic biology, like gene drivers.

In the COP 13 debates, the African and Caribbean countries, seconded by El Salvador, Bolivia and Venezuela, pronounced themselves in favor of a moratorium, while Australia, Brazil and Canada led the group lobbying for the acceptance of synthetic biology within the CBD.

One issue which did gain unanimous support from the state parties is the rejection of digital genomic sequencing, molecular structures created with computer programmes.

In the text of the Cancun Declaration which is being negotiated, there is no reference to a “moratorium” on bioengineering and genetic drivers, but it does invite countries to postpone this kind of research.

In previous COPs, which are held every two years, the CBD recommended a precautionary approach with respect to the positive and negative effects of synthetic biology and called for further scientific research.

Delegates of the 196 states parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity step up the pace to achieve agreements on conservation and use of the planet’s biodiversity, in a summit that closes on Dec. 17 in Cancún, in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Delegates of the 196 states parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity step up the pace to achieve agreements on conservation and use of the planet’s biodiversity, in a summit that closes on Dec. 17 in Cancún, in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

For Barbara Unmüssig, one of the heads of Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation, linked to Germany’s Green Party, the Cancún summit will be a success if the CBD adopts a precautionary approach towards bio engineering and geo engineering.

“The COP should come up with a strong declaration to tell companies behind synthetic biology and geoengineering that they take steps towards evaluating them and establishing a moratorium. If it confirms moratoria, it will show that it’s a convention with teeth and that it’s not in favour of certain technologies,” the activist told IPS.

“We have to stop the main drivers behind the destruction of biodiversity. If we are really interested in maintaining ecosystems, we have to think about adequate measures against overexploitation of fisheries and cultivating GMOs. The agroindustry tries to landgrab for monoculture, it’s happening all around the world.”

Geoengineering represents the large-scale intentional manipulation of planetary systems to combat climate change through techniques referring to the management of solar radiation, greenhouse gas reduction and weather modification.

During COP 9, held in Bonn, Germany in 2008, the CBD adopted a moratorium on ocean fertilisation, a geoengineering technique.

Meanwhile, delegates of native communities have been very active in the Cancún summit defending their rights in their territories and as protectors of biodiversity.

Bolivia suggested the creation of an ad hoc body responsible for indigenous peoples issues, now that native communities have gained recognition from the CBD of the concept of “indigenous peoples and local communities” as subjects of rights, in response to a demand that gained the support of organisations worldwide.

But within this recognition, there is one issue that faces opposition: the demand that native peoples settled in the territories must give consent to policies of conservation and best use of biodiversity. The term “free” in the proposed prior, free and informed consent is blocking negotiations due to opposition led by Asian and African countries.

“We want a balance of perspectives, a serious and responsible balance to increase the participation of indigenous peoples,” Diego Pacheco, the head of Bolivia’s delegation at COP 13 and his country’s vice minister of planning and development, told IPS.

The Cancún conference coincides with the halfway mark of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020.

Studies published on the occasion of the summit show that ecosystems continue to be destroyed worldwide, despite conservationist efforts.

The world is living up to less than 60 per cent of the Aichi Targets, the 20 points of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states parties to the CBD, which refers to the protection of natural resources, participation of indigenous peoples and sustainable use, among others.

“These negotiations will affect biodiversity in the planet. We cannot allow the CBD to try to commercialise biodiversity, to put a price tag on it,” said Obispo, of Venezuela.

Unmüssig recommended addressing the causes of the loss of biological resources.

“We have to stop the main drivers behind the destruction of biodiversity. If we are really interested in sustaining ecosystems, we have to think of adequate measures against the overexploitation of fisheries and the cultivation of GMOs. Agroindustry tries to landgrab for monoculture, it’s happening all around the world.”

For Pacheco, the CBD must not impose “a hegemonic model. It has to listen to alternatives, but there is strong influence from developed countries.”

Topics such as the recognition of natural pollinisers and the designation of protected marine areas have progressed without any major setbacks.

In the first case, the importance of agroecology, of the maintenance of habitats, and of the need to avoid or reduce the use of toxic chemical substances in agriculture was discussed. In the second case, the significance of marine planification was debated.

In Cancún it was decided that Egypt would host COP 14 in 2018.

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Developmentalism and Conservation Clash Out at Seahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/developmentalism-and-conservation-clash-out-at-sea/#comments Mon, 12 Dec 2016 13:10:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148182 Representatives of native peoples all over the world take part in a meeting during the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico. Indigenous delegates in the summit are defending their rights and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change, the extractive industries and biopiracy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Representatives of native peoples all over the world take part in a meeting during the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity in the resort city of Cancún, Mexico. Indigenous delegates in the summit are defending their rights and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change, the extractive industries and biopiracy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
CANCUN, Mexico, Dec 12 2016 (IPS)

“We don’t have access to marine areas, because most are protected areas or are in private hands. We indigenous people have been losing access to our territories, as this decision became a privilege of the state,” complained Donald Rojas, a member of the Brunka indigenous community in Costa Rica.

The complaint from the head of the non-governmental National Indigenous Council of Costa Rica was in response to the ban keeping the Brunka and Huetar people from entering five of their ancestral land and sea territories, after they were declared natural protected areas.

“That restricts access to and management of resources,” said Rojas, who is a member of one of the eight native peoples in that Central American country of 4.8 million people, where 104,000 indigenous people live on a combined area of 3,500 square km.

Rojas is one of the Latin American indigenous leaders participating in different events and forums in the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, which has brought together nearly 6,500 delegates of governments, international organisations, academia and civil society in Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 2-17.

Native people used to fish and gather food in these areas located near the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, within Costa Rica’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

This conflict reflects the growing exploitation of EEZs by the states, which at the same time face an obligation to increase their protected marine areas and clean up the oceans – a contradiction that generates friction, and where the local communities are often victims.

This collision of interests has been seen during the global summit on biodiversity in the coastal city of Cancún, 1,200 km southeast of Mexico City, where the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or COP13, as well as other intergovernmental events and forums related to the preservation of the planet’s natural wealth, is taking place.

Coastal waters and continental shelves are increasingly exploited for fishing, agricultural, industrial or touristic purposes.

In the EEZ, which comprises a 200-nautical mile strip (240 km) from the coast, traditional activities are carried out such as fishing, extraction of oil and dredging of ports, that now extend to ultra-deep water drilling, underwater mining and extraction of minerals from polymetallic nodules.

Altogether, protected marine areas cover about 15 million square kilometres or 4.12 per cent of the world’s oceans, which is still far from the goal of 10 per cent, although the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted in Cancún the increase achieved in recent years.

But protection of coastal and marine areas under national jurisdiction has already reached 10 per cent, according to the “Protected Planet Report 2016” by UNEP and other international and civil society organisations.

Indigenous women in Ecuador demand protection of native corn during the global summit on biodiversity taking place Dec. 2-17 in Cancún, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Indigenous women in Ecuador demand protection of native corn during the global summit on biodiversity taking place Dec. 2-17 in Cancún, in southeast Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

However, only 0.25 per cent of areas beyond national jurisdiction are protected, which demonstrates a significant gap in conservation efforts and underlines the urgent need to seek ways to address the challenges of expanding protected areas.

Goal 11 of the 20 points of the Strategic Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, wbich includes the Aichi Targets, adopted in 2010 by the state parties to the CBD, states that “by 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.”

Moreover, the 14th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the international community has set itself to achieve by 2030 proposes to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The 10 targets included in SDG 14 refer to healthy seas, the sustainable use of resources and the reduction of pollution.

“It’s a big challenge. Two approaches can be adopted. One is based on marine planning and management, and the other on selection of economic sectors and closed seasons,” said Christian Neumann, Marine Ecosystem Services project manager for the Norway-based non-governmental GRID-Arendal, which collaborates with UNEP.

“The general problem is the overexploitation; it’s very difficult to put them (the two approaches) on balance. There is a growing understanding that in order to achieve sustainable development, a healthy ocean is needed,” he told IPS.

Construction projects highlight the contradiction between the exploitation of the EEZs and the preservation of healthy oceans and the rights of coastal inhabitants.

One example near Cancún is the expansion of the port of Veracruz, which is going ahead in spite of the threat it poses to the Veracruz Reef System, a natural protected area that spans coral reefs and subtidal aquatic beds, shallow marine waters, sandy beaches and mangroves.

The reef system was declared a national marine park in 1992.

The project, presented as the biggest port investment in the country in 100 years, includes the construction of two 7,740-metre-long breakwaters, an 800-metre-diameter harbor and nine kinds of dock terminals in a nine-square-km area.

In Honduras, the Misquito indigenous people are waiting to see the results of the oil exploration, which started in 2014 in the department of Gracias a Dios off the country’s Caribbean coast.

“It’s a fishing area, so there is an impact on this sector. We need to know what will happen with those jobs,” Yuam Pravia, a delegate from the non-governmental Moskitia Asla Takanka – Unity of the Moskitia (MASTA) in Honduras, told IPS during the conference.

In 2014, the British BG Group (which has since been taken over by Royal Dutch Shell) began exploration in a 35,000-square-km area granted in concession by the Honduran government.

In an attempt to safeguard their rights, the Misquito people set a series of conditions in order to allow the exploration to go ahead. But since the company failed to comply, the Misquito and Garifuna people are considering withdrawing their approval.

In Costa Rica a dialogue began between the government and indigenous peoples to solve the question of territorial access. “We are losing a fundamental basis of our indigenous identity. Since the government does not acknowledge this, an entire biological and cultural system is being violated,” said Rojas.

For Neumann, energy, mining and waste are becoming serious issues. “We need to consider them. But we have the (question of) economic needs as well. It’s difficult to think about alternatives for millions of fishermen,” he pointed out.

In Pravia’s opinion, governments should protect the rights of communities. “They just issue permits, without considering the impacts. There is a lack of information,” he complained.

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Anti-Torture Law Helps Pay Off Chile’s Debt to Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/anti-torture-law-helps-pay-off-chiles-debt-to-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-torture-law-helps-pay-off-chiles-debt-to-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/anti-torture-law-helps-pay-off-chiles-debt-to-human-rights/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:10:50 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148142 About 20,000 people a year visit the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace, built in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where the city of Santiago lies, from the ruins of what was the biggest torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

About 20,000 people a year visit the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace, built in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where the city of Santiago lies, from the ruins of what was the biggest torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

After 26 years of democratic governments, Chile has finally passed a law that defines torture as a criminal act, but which is still not sufficient to guarantee that the abuses will never again happen, according to human rights experts.

On Nov. 11, President Michelle Bachelet enacted a law that typifies torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment as crimes, in what she described as “a decisive step in the prevention and total eradication of torture” in Chile.

“It is good that this law has been enacted and that torture can be prevented at a national level, which is what the United Nations demands. But for us this doesn’t mean anything,” Luzmila Ortiz told IPS.

Ortiz’s husband, sociologist Jorge Fuentes, was a leader of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). He was detained in Paraguay in May 1975 and handed over in September of that year to the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship’s (1973-1990) secret police."To fully recognise the phenomenon of torture as a serious crime to be eradicated and punished with sentences proportionate to its gravity is part of the state’s obligation to not repeat these acts in the future." -- Nelson Caucoto

DINA repatriated him to Chile, where he was tortured and later “disappeared” in January 1976 under Operation Condor, a plan involving the coordination between the military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay to track down, kidnap, torture, transfer across borders, disappear and kill opponents of the regimes such as guerrilla fighters, political activists, trade unionists, students, priests or journalists.

“They destroyed our lives, because this is a wound that will not close until we know what happened to him. This is terrible, and it not only hangs over me but over my son as well,” Ortiz said.

She recalled with sorrow that in Villa Grimaldi, a notorious torture centre, “they subjected him to atrocities. He was confined to a dog house. It is a pain so profound that you can’t get over it.”

For Cath Collins, director of the Diego Portales University’s Transitional Justice Observatory, the new law is welcome, but “no law can, by itself, guarantee that these things will never again happen.”

“To that end, efforts are needed in many areas, including a change in the institutional culture and day-to-day practices of the armed forces, police, prison guards and other state entities,” she said.

“Never again” was a demand set forth by groups of victims of human rights violations in the “Truth and Reconciliation” report drafted in 1991, a year after Chile’s return to democracy.

The report stated that reconciliation is impossible unless the truth comes out about every case, in order to avoid a repeat of human rights abuses.

Approximately 2,000 people were tortured in Londres 38 between October 1973 and January 1975. In the building, there are plaques with the names of the 98 people murdered and disappeared there. Credit: Courtesy of Memory Space Londres 38

Approximately 2,000 people were tortured in Londres 38 between October 1973 and January 1975. In the building, there are plaques with the names of the 98 people murdered and disappeared there. Credit: Courtesy of Memory Space Londres 38

Collins said that, to make progress towards the eradication of torture, “we have to eliminate every vestige of tolerance or normalisationof actions of brutality, incidental or systematic, and break the culture of denial and impunity.”

However, she cautioned, “institutional interventions are not enough.”

“The authorities as well as civil society also have to educate and educate ourselves, in favour of ethics and respect, and against authoritarianism, arrogance, verbal and physical violence that often invades our
social interactions and day-to-day relationships,” said the expert.

President Bachelet was herself a victim

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who governed Chile between 2006 and 2010, before beginning her second term in 2014, was also a victim of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Her father, Chilean Air Force General Alberto Bachelet, who opposed the 1973 military coup, died in March 1974 in a prison in Santiago of a heart attack caused by torture, according to the official ruling issued in 2012.

After her father’s arrest and death, Bachelet and her mother, Ángela Jeria, went into hiding until they were detained and taken to Villa Grimaldi in 1975, before being forced into exile. Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979 and in 2002 became the first female defence minister in Latin America.

Despite its limitations, the law enables Chile to present itself as a country that has accomplished this task, on Dec. 10 when Human Rights Day is celebrated. This year’s theme is “Stand up for someone’s rights today” – a reference to the need for everyone to play an active role in defending the rights of others – part of the new ethics that have to be promoted in this country, said Collins.

Nelson Caucoto, a human rights lawyer who has defended many victims of the dictatorship, says the new law that typifies torture “provides better protection for fundamental rights.”

“Every measure that entails the advancement, recognition, protection and guarantee of human rights helps build the edifice of ‘nunca mas’ (‘never again)’ To fully recognise the phenomenon of torture as a serious crime to be eradicated and punished with sentences proportionate to its gravity is part of the state’s obligation to not repeat these acts in the future,” he told IPS.

He added that “the issue of torture and its victims in Chile has been one of the poor cousins in the struggle to enforce human rights with respect to the dictatorship. Pinochet was arrested in London for (cases linked to) torture, but in Chile there were no legal proceedings against him for torture,” he said.

In 2004, the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture classified more than 40,000 Chileans as victims of this crime.

But human rights organisations say the figure is much higher. They estimate that half a million Chileans were victims of torture during the dictatorship, Caucoto said.

According to official figures, 2,920 people were killed in the political violence during the military dictatorship, including 1,193 who were “disappeared”, while 40,280 were tortured and one million fled into exile. Of the disappeared, the remains of 167 have been identified, according to the forensic medicine institute.

For Leopoldo Montenegro, member of the Londres 38 Memory Space, which was another major detention and torture centre, the new legislation is of utmost importance.

But in his opinion, “the state has failed to take strong decisions with respect to issues such as justice, restitution, compensation and measures to ensure non-repetition.”

Montenegro told IPS that while the new law has a preventive effect, in order to guarantee that the abuses will never again be committed, the most important element is justice. This means “that the courts must admit the charges of torture filed by the victims and punish the perpetrators. In that sense, there have only been symbolic rulings,” he said.

Two verdicts that stand out were handed down by Judge Alejandro Solís in cases involving 23 survivors of Villa Grimaldi, which has been turned into a Park for Peace and Memory, and 19 survivors of Tejas Verde, another illegal detention centre.

Caucoto hailed Bachelet’s announcement of the creation of a National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture, “which is required by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments or punishment.”

“Its creation is important because in Chile there is no body with the necessary powers to prevent torture. It has to be noted as a great advance,” he said.

Montenegro, meanwhile, advocated the adoption of measures to create the conditions to ensure that the abuses will never again occur, and complained about the state’s lack of will “to carry out public policies of justice with respect to crimes committed during the dictatorship.”

Collins said that what is needed is “a cultural shift and a change of mindset with respect to eliminating the acceptance of inflicting violence or tolerating passively that it be inflicted on our behalf. It doesn’t matter whether it is the political opponent of the past or the alleged ‘criminal’ of today.”

An annual report by the Ministry of the Interior’s Human Rights Programme pointed out that as of Dec. 1, 2015 there were 1,048 human rights cases in the courts.

Of the 1,373 former agents of the dictatorship facing prosecution, 344 have been convicted, 177 are serving prison sentences – 58 with benefits – and six are on parole.

Meanwhile, Luzmila Ortiz continues to face the trauma of her past and to deal with the psychological problems suffered by her son, who is now 45. “He was two and a half years old when he witnessed my detention (when agents of the regimebroke into their house searching for her husband) after being separated from his father. He has been affected since then,” she said.

Her case, dismissed by the Chilean justice system, is now pending in the Inter American Court of Human Rights “where there are many other legal proceedings and there is practically no hope.”

“There are always legal mechanisms to protect the perpetrators,” she lamented, arguing that “the crucial thing is to do away with the protection that the torturers still enjoy.”

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Resilient People & Institutions: Ecuador’s Post-Earthquake Challengehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/resilient-people-institutions-ecuadors-post-earthquake-challenge-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=resilient-people-institutions-ecuadors-post-earthquake-challenge-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/resilient-people-institutions-ecuadors-post-earthquake-challenge-2/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:52:09 +0000 Carlo Ruiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148132 Carlo Ruiz, is the Recovery Unit Coordinator, UN Development Programme, Ecuador]]> Group of participants community emergency work for debris management, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

Group of participants community emergency work for debris management, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

By Carlo Ruiz
QUITO, Ecuador, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

No one is really prepared for an emergency until they’ve had to live through one. And the 16 April earthquake in Ecuador put us to the test.

With the drawdown in the humanitarian response phase that is providing relief to survivors and victims, the hustle and bustle is dying down. Remnants of the disaster can be seen everywhere, and an idea of what the near future will bring and people’s resilience – their capacity to cope – is taking shape.

During tours of the affected areas, I saw that people have, to a greater or lesser extent, a natural conviction that pushes them to overcome the situation they are in. Shortly after a catastrophe hits, whether from the need to survive or from attempts to recover the normality that has been ripped from them, men and women begin to help each other out.

After the earthquake, small merchants relocate and rebuild their outlets on the outskirts of the city of Manta. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

After the earthquake, small merchants relocate and rebuild their outlets on the outskirts of the city of Manta. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

They get together and cook, and they care for, console and support each other. In places such as Pedernales, one of the hardest hit areas, just days following the tragedy, people had set up cooking hearths and places to prepare food to sell outside destroyed businesses. They organized games of ecuavoley (Ecuadorian-style volleyball) in streets where rubble was still being cleared.

Disasters hit poor people the hardest. This is why it is crucial to work on recovery of livelihoods starting in the emergency response period. People who can manage to earn a living can overcome the psychological impact of adversity more quickly. This has been a key factor in the post-earthquake process in Ecuador.

The institutional structure is another element that affects how fast communities recover. Having a response system, with mechanisms to quickly and strategically identify needs, makes recovery efforts more effective.

Communities are more vulnerable if local authorities are absent and exercise less authority to ensure, among other things, compliance with building and land-use standards.

Nationally, strong institutions and clarity in carrying out specific roles have enabled timely and appropriate disaster relief to affected communities. This undoubtedly will influence how quickly the country will recover the human development gains and how well it will design mechanisms to alleviate poverty caused by the earthquake.

The third important element is coordination. The extent to which organizations and institutions contribute in an orderly and technical fashion to response and recovery efforts reflects directly on the effectiveness of relief efforts.

Starts emergency community work for the management of rubble, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

Starts emergency community work for the management of rubble, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

This is evident even now, seven months after the earthquake. Coordination to identify needs and rebuild is vital in the reconstruction process. The event has been a wake-up call about the importance of supporting and strengthening local governments in their role as land-use planners and construction-quality inspectors.

As a result of all these efforts, UNDP has helped 533 families to get their businesses financially back on their feet in Manta, Portoviejo and Calceta (Manabí Province), and 490 people—half of them women—obtained emergency jobs on demolition and debris removal projects under our Cash-for-Work programme. Through this initiative, some 20,000 m3 of debris has been removed.

Additionally, 300 rice farmers and their families benefited from the repair of an irrigation canal; 260 families will restart farming, fishing and tourism activities; and 160 shopkeepers will get their businesses up and running again with the support of economic recovery programmes.

With regard to construction, UNDP supported development of seven guides for the assessment and construction of structures, to build back better and incorporate disaster risk reduction into urban development plans. And in Riochico Parish (Manabí Province), UNDP trained 500 affected homeowners on the principles of earthquake-resistant construction.

Poor people who have been hit by an earthquake live on the edge, where one thing or another can lead them to either give up or to survive. Therefore, it is crucial for actions to be fast, but also well thought-out.

Resilience is something that permeates survivors and is passed down to future generations. Building resilience should be one of our main objectives and responsibilities as institutions in a country such as Ecuador, where we live with the constant threat of natural disasters.

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