Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 03 Sep 2014 01:34:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Afghan “Torn” Women Get Another Chancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 14:14:35 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136457 Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

“The smell of faeces and urine isolates them completely. Their husbands abandon them and they become stigmatised forever” – Dr Pashtoon Kohistani barely needs two lines to sum up the drama of those women affected by obstetric fistula.

Alongside the health centre in Badakhshan – 290 km northeast of Kabul – Malalai Maternity Hospital is the only health centre in Afghanistan with a section devoted to coping with a disease that is seemingly endemic to the most disadvantaged members of the population: women, young, poor and illiterate.

“Given that a caesarean birth is not an option for most Afghan women, the child dies inside them while they try to give birth. They end up tearing their vagina and urethra,” Dr Kohistani told IPS. “Urinary, and sometimes faecal incontinence too, is the most immediate effect,” added the surgeon as she strolled through the hospital corridors where only women wait to be seen by a doctor, or just come to visit a sick relative.“Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law. They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide” – Dr Nazifah Hamra

They are of practically all ages. Some show obvious signs of pain while others look almost relaxed. In fact, they are in one of the very few places in Afghanistan where the total lack of male presence allows them to uncover their hair, take off their burka and even roll up their sleeves to beat the heat.

According to Nazifah Hamra, head of Malalai´s Fistula Department, “malnutrition is one of the key factors behind this problem. You have to bear in mind that women from remote rural areas in Afghanistan always eat after the men. Girls often don´t get enough milk and essential nutrients for their growth. And add to it that they only get to see a doctor when they marry, and usually at a very early age.”

Dr Hamra told IPS that she attends an average of 4-5 patients suffering from a fistula at any one time. Rukia is one of the two recovering in an eight-bed ward on the hospital´s second floor.

“I was 15 when I got married and 17 when I got pregnant,” recalls the 26-year-old woman from a small village in the province of Balkh, 320 km northwest of Kabul.

“When I was about to give birth, I had a terrible pain but the road to Kabul was cut so I was finally taken to Bamiyan, 150 km east of Kabul.”

Sitting on the bed carefully in order not to obstruct the catheter that still evacuates the remaining urine, Rukia tells IPS that her son died in her womb. An unskilled medical staff only made things worse.

“What the doctors did to her is difficult to believe. She was brutally mutilated,” said Dr Hamra, adding that medical negligence was “still painful common currency” in Afghanistan.

In a 2013 report on the risks of child marriage in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch claims that children born as a result of child marriages also suffer increased health risks, and that there is a higher death rate among children born to Afghan mothers under the age of 20 than those born to older mothers.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called on Afghan officials to end the harm being caused by child marriage. “The damage to young mothers, their children and Afghan society as a whole is incalculable,” Adams stressed.

Rukia´s husband left to marry another woman so she had no other choice but to move back to her parents´ house, where she has lived for the last nine years. But even more painful than her ordeal and the defection of her husband, she says, is the fact that she will never be a mother.

Dr Hamra knows Rukia´s story in detail, as well as those of many others in her situation. “Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law,” she told IPS. “They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide.” However, preferring to look towards the future, she said that Rukia will do well after the operation.

“From now on she´ll be able to enjoy a completely normal life again,” stressed the surgeon, who also wanted to express her gratitude to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which “seeks to guarantee the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity.”

Annette Sachs Robertson, UNFPA representative in Afghanistan, briefed IPS on the organisation´s action in the country:

“We started working in 2007, in close collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. We train surgeons and we provide Malalai with the necessary equipment and medical supplies. Thanks to this initiative, over 435 patients have been treated and rehabilitated at Malalai Maternity Hospital and we have plans to extend the programmes to Jalabad, Mazar and Herat provinces,” explained Robertson, a PhD graduate in biology and biomedical sciences from the University of Harvard.

“You hardly ever see these cases in developed countries,” she added.

According to a 2011 report on obstetric fistula in six provinces of Afghanistan conducted by the country’s Social and Health Development Programme (SHPD), “the prevalence of obstetric fistula is estimated to be 4 cases per 1000 (0.4 percent) women in the reproductive age group. 91.7 percent of women with confirmed cases of obstetric fistula cannot read and write while 72.7 percent of fistula patients reported that their husbands are illiterate.”

“Twenty-five percent of women with fistula reported that they were younger than 16 years old and 67 percent reported they were 16 to 20 years old when they had got married. Seventeen percent of women with fistula reported that they were younger than 16 years old when they had their first delivery. Twenty-five percent of women with fistula reported that they developed the fistula after their first delivery, while 64 percent reported prolonged labour.”

Meanwhile, thanks to yet another successful operation, Najiba, a 32-year-old from Baghlan – 220 km north of Kabul – will soon be back home after suffering from a fistula over the last 14 years.

Born in a remote rural village, she was married at 17 and lost her first son a year later, after three days of labour. Despite the fistula problem, she was not abandoned by her husband and, today, they have six children.

“I was only too lucky that my husband heard on the radio about this hospital,” explains Najiba, with a broad smile hardly ever seen among those affected.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/feed/ 0
Why Principle Matters at UN Human Rights Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:08:29 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136441

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that too often principle is being abandoned at the United Nations Human Rights Council and that every time this happens the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

The killings of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, in Gaza – whose only fault was to have been born on the wrong side of the wall – was a major point of contention at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of July.

The high death toll caused by indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Israeli military has resulted in what may very likely be war crimes. The United Nations has said that 70 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

Mandeep Tiwana

Mandeep Tiwana

Yet Western democracies, normally proactive on human rights issues at the Council, chose to withhold their vote when a resolution urging immediate cessation of Israeli military assaults throughout the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians, was brought forward.

Notably, the resolution sought to create an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of military operations conducted since June 13, 2014.

When asked to vote on the above, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom chose to abstain. The United States, whose foreign policy mission is to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere,” was ironically the only country in the 47 member U.N. Human Rights Council to have voted against the resolution.“Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.”

Essentially, each country standing for election to the Human Rights Council is required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” By any yardstick, looking at the wanton death and destruction that has rained down on the people of Gaza, destroying the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands as well as vital public infrastructure, is a blatant abdication of responsibility.

In 2006, when the Human Rights Council was created, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan poignantly remarked that the true test of its ability would be the use that member states make of it. Eight years down the line, sadly the Council remains a house divided on the great human rights matters of the day.

Earlier this year in March, when the Human Rights Council passed a resolution aimed at addressing impunity for the widespread violations of international law committed during and after the Sri Lankan civil war, many of the countries strongly in favour of accountability for crimes committed in the Gaza conflict – such as Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Viet Nam – voted against the Sri Lanka resolution. Conversely, Western democracies that abstained on the Gaza vote robustly supported action to tackle impunity in Sri Lanka.

This double standard represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world’s premier human rights body.

Notably, the Human Rights Council was established in response to well-founded criticism of rampant politicisation of human rights issues by its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  At the Human Rights Council too, geopolitical interests of the more powerful states are driving selective blocking and support for human rights causes by elected member states, weakening respect for international standards. 

Notably, the formation of blocs presents a grave threat to the Council’s work. Its members have unfortunately slotted themselves into various informal groups such as the Western European and Others Group (WEOG),  African Group, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, and even a motley ‘Like-Minded Group’ that shares little in political culture and world view except that it largely opposes whatever the Western group comes up with.

These unfortunate political dynamics have weakened the ability of the Council to be a beacon for the advancement of human rights discourse. Tellingly, the issue of discrimination against and violations of the personal freedoms of sexual minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) individuals remains another hotly contested area.

A regressively worded June 2014 resolution on the ‘protection of the family’ – which excludes LGBT individuals from the ambit of the family – witnessed en-masse voting in favour by the African, OIC and ‘Like-Minded Group’.

Worryingly, far too many countries are caught up in the herd mentality of en-masse voting coupled with advancement of strategic interests at the Human Rights Council. Too often, principle is being abandoned at the altar of politics. Every time this happens, the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers, further exacerbating conflict.

A report by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, points out that in an ever more complex governance environment, where large problems are acknowledged to cross national borders, international level decision-making is starting to matter more.

Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.

Civil society and the media have their work cut out to expose the hypocrisy and inconsistency that mars action on gross human rights violations in international forums like the Human Rights Council. States need to be held accountable and practice what they preach – on principle, and not only when it suits them. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/feed/ 0
The Gambia’s Democratic Space ‘Constricted, Restricted and Shrinking’ Ahead of 2016 Polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:25:41 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136381 Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

With the approach of the Gambia’s 2016 presidential elections, which will see President Yahya Jammeh seek re-election for a fifth, five-year tenure, more than a dozen opposition activists have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the past eight months.

The leader of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, told IPS, “the democratic space, instead of being expanded is constricted, restricted and shrinking.”

Just in the past eight months, 15 of Darboe’s party members have appeared before a court of law. Twelve members of the party’s youth wing were arrested in February for “an unlawful gathering” but where later acquitted by the court in March.

“The security forces have been scuttling our efforts by arresting my party supporters and I believe this is done with the full encouragement of the ruling party,” Darboe said.

Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the secretary general of youth wing of the UDP, was also acquitted in March on a charge of giving false information when obtaining a permit from the police to hold a social gathering for his party in Tujerang village, which lies some 40 km from Banjul. According to the state, Sandeng held a political rally instead of a social gathering.  Before his acquittal, Sanneh was originally sentenced in December 2013 to five years in jail after initially being found guilty of sedition.

Lasana Jobarteh, an audio visual expert attending the event, was not as lucky.  Jobarteh, 59, was charged with broadcasting without a license for providing live coverage of the UDP’s political gathering for online Gambian radio stations via skype. In July Jobarteh was found guilty and issued with a fine of 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars).

“I shocked by the judgment,” Darboe said of Jobarteh’s conviction.

“I don’t want to say more because we’ve filed an appeal. But I just have to repeat that I am thoroughly shocked. You don’t have to have any legal mind to know it’s not right. This is common sense.”

The case of Bai Mass Kah, from the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party, is the most recent one.“My party will never boycott the elections. The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.” -- Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party

On Sept. 9 Kah will appear before a court in Banjul, the country’s capital, to face judgement on a charge of sedition. Sedition has a broad definition in the Gambia – it means saying anything that tarnishes the image of the country, the government or the president. Kah’s crime was telling a ruling party supporter not to paste a photo of Jammeh on his car.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to two years imprisonment or face a fine of between 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars) and 250,000 dalasis (about 6,300 dollars), or both.

“The election is not an event but a process and the stage we’re in is very crucial,” political analyst Bakary Touray told IPS.

“If this stage [the pre-election period] is ignored, an unfair election could be declared fair by even international election observers [who are only present to witness the elections themselves and not the run-up process] as we have seen it happen in many elections across Africa.”

However, Touray says the current oppressive political environment is not unfamiliar.

“What we have seen in recent months — the arrest and prosecution — is a tactic by the ruling regime to weaken the opposition. Technically, the election has begun.”

Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP), told IPS that the current “political landscape is bad.”

“People are being arrested and detained beyond the 72-hour limit and the president is making utterances that violate the constitution. This is not a good situation for the country.”

Besides facing arrest and prosecution, the opposition claimed that they are being denied permits by the police to hold political rallies, which they are required to apply for according to the Public Order Act.

“We wanted to tour the country, meet the people and discuss with them our political agenda. Unfortunately, the Inspector General of Police has for the second time in May refused us a permit,” Bah said.

Bah said the reasons for refusing the permit “were not genuine.”

“In a letter dated Mar. 11, he [the Inspector General of Police] said there were programmes scheduled ahead of our programme, but he did not specify. In our second attempt, he said in a letter dated May 22, they were preoccupied with a women’s advancement forum, which was taking in Banjul, not in Upper River Region where we requested to go to for our rally. Absolutely, they [the reasons for refusal] were baseless.”

Darboe said that after the 2011 presidential elections, which Jammeh won in a landslide, there had been an unequivocal promise from the Independent Electoral Commission to ensure electoral reforms. However, the opposition overwhelmingly boycotted the parliamentary and local government elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively, after their demands for electoral reforms were unmet.

According to Darboe, if the playing field for multi-party elections is not levelled, his party may not participate in the upcoming presidential elections.

“We might as well call it quits. There’ll be no use in contesting an election that will not be fair. You don’t just want to go through the motions of electioneering when in fact [it is a] farce and mock election.”

Bah, the leader of NRP, however, holds a different view. When the opposition boycotted the parliamentary election, he contested. Even though his party managed to win only one seat in the parliamentary elections, and none in the local government election, Bah is undeterred.

“My party will never boycott the elections,” he said. “The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.”

Despite their apparent division, the opposition believe that political reforms are needed in Gambia.

“We need a comprehensive electoral reform and the institution that has the moral courage to ensure that the electoral laws as reformed will be implemented,” Darboe said.

“You can reform electoral laws but if you have a rogue institution [implementing them], the usefulness of reform will be questionable. And we need men of integrity to be in charge.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/feed/ 0
OPINION: Towards a Global Governance Information Clearing Househttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 17:26:00 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136355 This is the third in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.]]>

This is the third in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and UNCTAD.

By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN/ROME, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Inter Press Service News Agency has braved severe political assaults and financial tempests since 1964, when Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini laid its foundation as a unique and challenging information and communication system.

Fifty years on, IPS continues to provide in-depth news and analysis from journalists around the world – primarily from the countries of the South – which is distinct from what the mainstream media offer. Underreported and unreported news constitutes the core of IPS coverage. Opinion articles by experts from think tanks and independent institutions enhance the spectrum and quality offered by IPS.

IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape. Credit: cc by 2.0

IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape. Credit: cc by 2.0

As the social media transforms the communication environment, IPS is determined to consolidate its unique niche and is tailoring its offer to adapt to the changes under way, while remaining true to its original vocation: make a concerted effort to right the systematic imbalance in the flow of information between the South and the North, give a voice to the South and promote South-South understanding and communication. In short, nothing less than turning the world downside up.

The fiftieth anniversary coincides with IPS decision to strengthen coverage not only from the U.N. in New York, but also from Vienna – bridging the U.N. there with the headquarters – as well as from Geneva and Nairobi, the only country in Africa hosting a major U.N. agency, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Turning 50 is also associated with a new phase in IPS life, marked not only by challenges emerging from rapid advance of communication and information technologies, but also by globalisation and the world financial crisis.

The latter is causing deeper social inequalities, and greater imbalances in international relations. These developments have therefore become thematic priorities in IPS coverage.

The consequences of “turbo-capitalism”, which allows finance capital to prevail over every aspect of social and personal life, and has disenfranchised a large number of people in countries around the world constituting the global South, are an important point of focus.

IPS has proven experience in reporting on the issues affecting millions of marginalised human beings – giving a voice to the voiceless – and informing about the deep transitional process which most of the countries of the South and some in the North are undergoing.

This latter day form of capitalism has not only resulted in dismissal of workers and catapulted their families into the throes of misery, but also devastated the environment and aggravated the impact of climate change, which is also playing havoc with traditional communities.

IPS also informs about the critical importance of the culture of peace and points to the perils of all forms of militarism. A Memorandum of Understanding between IPS and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) provides an important framework for seminars aimed at raising the awareness of the media in covering cross-cultural conflicts.

Nuclear weapons that are known to have caused mass destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago, represent one of the worst forms of militarism. IPS provides news and analysis as well as opinions on continuing efforts worldwide to ban the bomb. This thematic emphasis has educed positive reactions from individual readers, experts and institutions dealing with nuclear abolition and disarmament.

As globalisation permeates even the remotest corners of the planet, IPS informs about the need of education for global citizenship and sustainable development, highlighting international efforts such as the United Nations Global Education First Initiative. IPS reports on initiatives aimed at ensuring that education for global citizenship is reflected in intergovernmental policy-making processes such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda.

IPS reports accentuate the importance of multilateralism within the oft-neglected framework of genuine global governance. It is not surprising therefore that IPS coverage of the United Nations and its social and economic agenda is widely recognised as outstanding in the global media landscape.

This is particularly important because the news agency has come to a fork in the road represented by the financial crunch, which is apparently one of the toughest IPS has ever faced. However, thanks to the unstinting commitment of ‘IPS-ians’, the organisation is showing the necessary resilience to brave the challenge and refute those who see it heading down a blind alley.

At the same time, IPS is positioning itself distinctly as a communication and information channel supporting global governance in all its aspects, privileging the voices and the concerns of the poorest and creating a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development and promoting a new international information order between the South and the North.

IPS has the necessary infrastructure and human resources required for facilitating the organisational architecture of an information clearing house focused on ‘global governance’. Whether it is the culture of peace, citizen empowerment, human rights, gender equality, education and learning, development or environment, all these contribute to societal development, which in turn leads towards global governance.

In order to harness the full potential of communication and information tools, adequate financial support is indispensable. Projects that conform to the mission of IPS – making the voiceless heard by the international community, from local to global level – are one way of securing funds.

But since projects alone do not ensure the sustainability of an organisation, IPS is exploring new sources of funding: encouraging sponsorships through individual readers and institutions, enlightened governments and intergovernmental bodies as well as civil society organisations and corporations observing the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption, which enjoy universal consensus.

Ramesh Jaura is IPS Director General and Editorial Coordinator since April 2014.

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be contacted at headquarters@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-towards-a-global-governance-information-clearing-house/feed/ 1
How Midwives on Sierra Leone’s Almost Untouched Turtle Islands are Improving Women’s Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:02:40 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136350 The eight islands that comprise Turtle Islands, Sierra Leone, are remote and practically untouched by modern civilisation. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

The eight islands that comprise Turtle Islands, Sierra Leone, are remote and practically untouched by modern civilisation. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
MATTRU JONG, Sierra Leone, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Emmanuel is a male midwife.

At the age of 26, he lives and works on one of eight islands off the southwest peninsular of Sierra Leone, an hour by speedboat from Mattru Jong, the capital of Bonthe District.

On a particularly hot Wednesday morning, IPS joins Marie Stopes, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health to go and visit a population on one of the Turtle Islands that is practically untouched by modern civilisation.

Marie Stopes is a British-based non-profit that provides family planning and reproductive health services to over 30 countries around the world. They work as a back-up support system to the government, filling in the gaps in hard-to-reach areas that the government is still working to resource.

On the mainland of Mattru Jong there is a small market, situated on the river Jong which flows into the Atlantic ocean, and crowded with various kiosks boasting fish, vegetables and live chickens tied at their feet in straw baskets.

To reach the islands, one has to travel by boat. But all the islands don’t have landing docks and the boats sometimes stop in knee-deep water. Passengers — and midwives visiting the islands to provide reproductive health and family planning services — have to hoist their belongings and supplies above water, to make their way to the villages.

“Their [midwives] challenge is that they don’t have a boat. If you want to do this effectively, you need a good boat,” Safiatu Foday, a regional family planning coordinator for UNFPA in Sierra Leone, explained to IPS.

For island communities that have very little access to the mainland, basic health information is difficult to come by, therefore the risks — especially those pertaining to pregnancy, become inevitable.

With a population of over six million, where women of childbearing age are between the ages of 15 and 49, this West African country has refocused its health initiatives, working tirelessly to strengthen the capacity and training of skilled midwives — an exceptional tool in reducing maternal and infant mortality.

It Takes a Village

The village is inhabited by about a few hundred people — most of them large families, many of whom have just started utilising the peripheral health unit (PHU) that is onsite.

Emmanuel, one of the first men to undertake the position of midwife in this area, is the person “in-charge,” facilitating prenatal visits, deliveries, antenatal care, attending to illnesses and referring patients to a hospital when needed.  

“There are people who since their birth, have never left the island,” Fadoy said.

Some of the women say they have delivered 13 or 14 children prior to the work of Marie Stopes in their village.

Others recount having no time to “rest” or take care of their other children while being pregnant almost every year.

There are common reasons as to why women become pregnant so consistently.

One woman shares that there is a fear of being “abandoned” by one’s husband. The women say if they do not engage in sexual intercourse during the marriage, their husbands will look elsewhere. Therefore women feel they have no choice but to keep getting pregnant.

There is also the question of approval; many women must obtain permission from their husbands to start using contraceptives.

“We used to get pregnant all the time and our husbands would abandon us, so we had to fight for ourselves to survive. Since Marie Stopes came to the island and we now have access to contraceptives, we are able to take care of ourselves,” Yeanga, 33 tells IPS, adding, “It has created an impact in my life, one, because I now know about spacing births.”

Yeanga is the mother of five children with the oldest aged 25, and the youngest only three years old.

Before going on family planning, Yeanga admits to having difficulties with her husband, which were only heightened when he found out that contraceptives would help her not to get pregnant.

“Even when I wanted to join family planning, my husband was not agreeing, but I talked to him about it and we finally agreed to allow me to start family planning.”

In order to fully meet the demand of women who are in search of family planning and reproductive health services, the government has come up with an interesting strategy: recruit and train traditional birth attendants (TBA’s) to provide quality health care services in the villages.

Because they are from the village, they are both respected and valued, thus their insight, advice and knowledge are taken very seriously.

“Before midwives came to the island, there were just TBA’s doing deliveries in this area – and there were a lot of problems with these births,” Isatu Jalloh, 28, a nurse working in the village, told IPS.

Without skilled birth attendants, many of the women on the island suffered complications like preeclampsia, fistula and even death.

Though Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates, 140 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and 857 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, Jalloh believes that the maternal death rate on the island has reduced due to the advocacy of midwives who travel to the island to promote family planning and reproductive health.

The ability to choose when to have children has allowed women on the island to pursue small economic ventures. They are able to produce an income to not only take care of themselves, but also their children.

The Future is Bright?

As the last few hundred days of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to a close, Sierra Leone stands at an interesting cross section: that of incremental success and challenges to come.

Demand for reproductive health and family planning services is high, the commodities are being supplied through partnerships with UNFPA and Marie Stopes, midwives are being dispatched to different districts, yet obstacles remain.

Most trained midwives deployed to health centres far from their homes don’t want to stay in those areas due to harsh working conditions and unfamiliarity with their surroundings.

And with the outbreak of Ebola, most midwives have been immediately evacuated, leaving patients, many of them pregnant women, without proper care.

Sierra Leone faces an opportunity to scale-up its reproductive health and family planning services by continuing its ability for form essential partnerships, most effectively illustrated in the one with civil society and advocacy group, Health Coalition for All.

“Our focus is on health and health-related issues. The key areas are advocacy and monitory, we work to ensure that services are available, accessible, affordable and that they reach the beneficiary,” Al Hassane B. Kamara, a programme manager for the coalition, shared with IPS.

Based in Makeni, in Northern Province, the Health Coalition for All has played an essential role in ensuring that women have access to healthcare, especially during pregnancy.

By addressing the issues such as lack of trained staff, delivery of commodities and most importantly, the high user fees during clinic visits, the coalition takes a proactive stand to ensure that women do not end up in unqualified hands.

“They pay very high fees to see a qualified doctor, especially for cesarean operations.  As a result they have no options but to work with the TBA or a “quack doctor.”

With programmes such as the Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI) that allows pregnant mothers, lactating mothers and children under the age of five to access services for free, Sierra Leone continues to put its focus on reproductive health.

 Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted through Twitter on: @Erakit

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health/feed/ 1
Building Public Trust is a Key Factor in Fighting West Africa’s Worst Ebola Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/building-public-trust-is-a-key-factor-in-fighting-west-africas-worst-ebola-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-public-trust-is-a-key-factor-in-fighting-west-africas-worst-ebola-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/building-public-trust-is-a-key-factor-in-fighting-west-africas-worst-ebola-outbreak/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 09:40:15 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136347 Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouman Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Two health care workers clean their feet in a bucket of water containing bleach after they leave an Ebola isolation facility during an Ebola simulation at Biankouman Hospital in Côte d’Ivoire. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
KANDOPLEU/ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

The nurse carefully packs the body into a plastic bag and then leaves the isolation tent, rinsing his feet in a bucket of water that contains bleach. Then he carefully takes off his safety glasses, gloves and mask and burns them in a jerry can.

Behind a cordon, hundreds of people are watching, including Ivorian Health Minister Raymonde Goudou Coffie and several local media.

They face no risks even if the deadly virus kills up to 90 percent of the infected persons: there is no Ebola outbreak in Côte d’Ivoire. And the corpse is a mannequin. This is an Ebola simulation at the district hospital in Biankouma.

Prevention of Ebola
In Africa, during Ebola outbreaks, educational public health messages for risk reduction should focus on several factors:

  • Reducing the risk of wildlife-to-human transmission from contact with infected fruit bats or monkeys/apes and the consumption of their raw meat.
  • Animals should be handled with gloves and other appropriate protective clothing. Animal products (blood and meat) should be thoroughly cooked before consumption.
  • Reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission in the community arising from direct or close contact with infected patients, particularly with their bodily fluids.
  • Close physical contact with Ebola patients should be avoided.
  • Gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn when taking care of ill patients at home.
  • Regular hand washing is required after visiting patients in hospital, as well as after taking care of patients at home.
  • Communities affected by Ebola should inform the population about the nature of the disease and about outbreak containment measures, including burial of the dead. People who have died from Ebola should be promptly and safely buried.

Source: World Health Organisation

“We want to test our medical teams. And see what we can do to improve our reaction,” explains the health minister, a pharmacist by training who does not hesitate to provide her in-sights.

Schoolteacher Edinie Veh Gale is in the crowd watching the exercise. “It is not translated in Yacuba, the local language. So people around do not understand. But it is good though. At least, it piqued people’s curiosity and they will search for information,” she tells IPS in French.

While the attention on the epidemic that has now been declared “out-of-control” is focused on the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria, unaffected countries in the region, like Côte d’Ivoire, are struggling to understand what to do keep the disease away.

While strict epidemiological-control measures have been applied, including closing borders and banning people travelling into  Côte d’Ivoire from countries where the disease is prevalent, the current outbreak has highlighted huge gaps in prevention methods.

Especially since some citizens refuse to submit to restrictive measures.

Until now, the previous Ebola outbreaks were contained in villages in Central Africa where distance and isolation were important factors in stopping the disease.

But the current wave that resulted in over 1,135 deaths — making it the worst Ebola outbreak ever — has spread to several urban centres. In the cities restrictive measures have been met with reduced success.

Susan Shepler, an associate professor at American University and a specialist in education and conflict, is back from six weeks of research in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Despite several measures adopted by authorities, she noticed that while there have been some developments in the population’s awareness, most people in those countries have a deep mistrust for government assistance.

“It is not simply a mistrust of the state. It is a mistrust of the system. People don’t see the boundaries of the state,“ Shepler tells IPS. She explains that citizens believe politicians enter government to enrich themselves, and they therefore do not think that the state could help them.

She says that trust has yet to be built as many people, especially those who reside in opposition strongholds, see Ebola as a government plot or a religious curse.

In Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, government services and trained medical workers are barely available in regions infected by Ebola.

So when heavily-equipped medical teams, often backed by foreign experts, go to affected areas, it has been difficult for those local communities to instantly trust them.

“Western media tends to present the crisis with a focus on frontline work and chaotic scenes. But what is missing, [that needs to be] understood, is everyday life. There is a rationale for citizens’ actions,” says Shepler.

Building trust beforehand

It is difficult to discern what are good practices to fight Ebola.

Côte d’Ivoire may not have any cases, but it is uncertain if this is because the country took the right approach to the disease or if it was simply a matter of luck.

But what is clear is that Côte d’Ivoire fears being the next site of the outbreak.

Around the country, the government has multiplied preventative measures.

Last March, it banned bush meat. And since then the government has adopted several measures to contain the epidemic, including implementing screening for the disease at borders and banning direct flights to affected areas.

Now, the government has recommended that people stop hugging and shaking hands, insisting that they comply with strict hygiene rules.

The government has made also several efforts to build the trust of its people by getting local authorities and medical staff that are know to local communities involved in education campaigns.

And citizen’s initiatives are also multiplying.

In a bank in Abidjan’s commercial district, a security guard gives a shot of hand sanitiser to any client using the banking machine. “It’s for your own health,” he says.

In front of the same bank, street hawkers who help drivers park their cars refuse to shake hands.

Social media has exploded with various initiatives, notably the #MousserpourEbola (#FoamingAgainstEbola) challenge, which is used to raise money and public awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Launched by a young blogger, Edith Brou, videos of Ivorians throwing a bucket of soap water on themselves have became viral. When one is nominated for the challenge, you are required to throw a bucket of soap water on yourself and distribute three bottles of hand sanitiser. They you don’t agree to the soap shower, then you have to distribute nine bottles of hand sanitiser.

“Ivorians play down everything through humour. In spite of the funny aspect of it, the message is forwarded and listened to. There are many actions like mine. We cannot only stand by. We are responsible for our lives,” she tells IPS.

In the village of Pekanhouebli, in the west of the country and close the the Liberian border, there is no electricity and no internet access. But in this village that strongly supports the opposition, a citizen’s committee has been created to mobilise the community against Ebola.

“We did not believe that Ebola was true. We thought it was a white man’s disease from cities when authorities came to us,”senior resident Serge Tian tells IPS. “But when we heard it on the radio, we realised it was true. And we started listening to the nurse who would visit the village.”

Tian does not shake hands with IPS as we leave — it’s because he now understands a bit more about how the disease is spread. And he knows why he should comply to these restrictive measures.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/building-public-trust-is-a-key-factor-in-fighting-west-africas-worst-ebola-outbreak/feed/ 0
These Children Just Want to Go Back to Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 02:42:10 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136319 About 518,000 primary school students have sat idle over the last decade as a result of the Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

About 518,000 primary school students have sat idle over the last decade as a result of the Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Between government efforts to wipe out insurgents from Pakistan’s northern, mountainous regions, and the Taliban’s own campaign to exercise power over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the real victims of this conflict are often invisible.

Walking among the rubble of their old homes, or sitting outside makeshift shelters in refugee camps, thousands of children here are growing up without an education, as schools are either bombed by militants or turned into temporary housing for the displaced.

Schools have been under attack since 2001, when members of the Taliban fleeing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan took refuge across the border in neighbouring Pakistan and began to impose their own law over the residents of these northern regions, including issuing a ban on secular schooling on the grounds that it was “un-Islamic”.

“We don’t want to see these children without an education. They have suffered a great deal at the hands of the Taliban and cannot afford to remain [out of] school any longer." -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani
To make matters worse, a military offensive against the Taliban launched on Jun. 18 has forced close to a million civilians to flee their homes in North Waziristan Agency, one of seven districts that comprise FATA, thus disrupting the schooling of thousands of students.

Officials here say the situation is very grave, and must be urgently addressed by the proper authorities.

Over the last decade, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools in FATA, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, depriving about 50 percent of children in the region of an education, says Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education.

“We will rebuild them once the military action is complete and the Taliban are defeated,” the official tells IPS, though when this will happen remains an unanswered question.

Even prior to the latest wave of displacement, FATA recorded one of the lowest primary school enrolment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children in classrooms.

Girls on the whole fared worse than their male counterparts, with a female enrollment rate of just 25 percent, compared to 42 percent for boys.

The period 2007-2013 saw a wave of dropouts, touching 73 percent in 2013, as the Taliban stepped up its activities in the region and families fled in terror to safer areas.

All told, some 518,000 primary school students have sat idle over the last decade, Khan said, citing government records.

In the Bannu district of the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where most of the displaced from North Waziristan have taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps, the situation is no better.

While the local government struggles to provide basics like food, medicine and shelter, education has fallen on the backburner, and scores of children are losing hope of ever going back to school.

Ahmed Ali, a 49-year-old IDP, had hoped that his daughters, aged five, six and seven years, would be enrolled in temporary schools in the camp in Bannu, but was shattered when he discovered that this was not to be.

“I have no way of ensuring their education,” he lamented to IPS.

A rapid assessment report by the United Nations says that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys are not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

This is not only exacerbating the woes of the refugees – who are also suffering from a lack of food, dehydration in 42-degree-Celsius heat, diseases caused by inadequate sanitation, and trauma – but it also threatens to upset the school system for locals in the Bannu district, officials say.

An existing primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) is likely to worsen, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs are occupying school buildings.

Though schools are currently closed for the summer holiday, the new term is set to begin on Sep. 1. But 45-year-old Hamidullah Wazir, a father of three whose entire family is being housed in a classroom, says few displaced are ready to vacate the premises because they have “no alternatives”.

He recognises that their refusal to leave could adversely affect education for local boys and girls in Bannu, but “until the government provides us proper shelter, we cannot move out of here,” he tells IPS.

Statistics from the department of education indicate there are 1,430 schools in Bannu, of which 48 percent are girls’ schools and 1,159 are primary schools.

Over 80 percent of these institutions are currently occupied by displaced people, of which some 22,178 (43 percent of occupants) are children.

In addition to the IDPs who have flocked here since mid-June, KP is also home to 2.1 million refugees who fled in fear of the Taliban over the last decade.

These families, too, have been struggling for years to educate their children.

“One whole generation has [missed out] on an education due to the Taliban,” Osama Ghazi, a father of four, tells IPS. A shopkeeper by trade, he says that wealthier families moved to KP years ago in search of better opportunities for their families, but not everyone found them.

“We have been asking the government to make arrangements for the education of our children but the request is yet to fell on receptive ears,” Malik Amanullah Khan, a representative of the displaced people, tells IPS.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani says the government is in the process of finding alternatives for displaced children.

“We don’t want to see these children without an education. They have suffered a great deal at the hands of the Taliban and cannot afford to remain [out of] school any longer,” he told IPS, adding that the government, in collaboration with U.N. agencies, aims to provide educational facilities in Bannu free of cost.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/these-children-just-want-to-go-back-to-school/feed/ 1
The Time for Burning Coal Has Passedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 00:38:11 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136333 Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

By Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli
GRABICE, Poland / PROSCHIM, Germany, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

“People have gathered here to tell their politicians that the way in which we used energy and our environment in the 19th and 20th centuries is now over,” says Radek Gawlik, one of Poland’s most experienced environmental activists. “The time for burning coal has passed and the sooner we understand this, the better it is for us.”

Gawlik was one of over 7,500 people who joined an 8-kilometre-long human chain at the weekend linking the German village of Kerkwitz with the Polish village of Grabice to oppose plans to expand lignite mining on both sides of the German-Polish border.“It's high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels" – Anike Peters, Greenpeace Germany

They were inhabitants of local villages whose houses would be destroyed if the plans go ahead, activists from Poland and Germany, and even visitors from other countries who wanted to lend a hand to the anti-coal cause. The human chain – which was organised by Greenpeace and other European environmental NGOs – passed through the Niesse river which marks the border between the two countries, and included people of all ages, from young children to local elders who brought along folding chairs.

At least 6,000 people in the German part of Lusatia region and another 3,000 across the border in south-western Poland stand to be relocated if the expansion plans in the two areas go ahead.

In Germany, it is Swedish state energy giant Vattenfall that plans to expand two of its lignite mines in the German states of Brandenburg and Saxony; state authorities have already approved the company’s plans. In Poland, state energy company PGE (Polska Grupa Energetyczna) plans an open-cast lignite mine from which it would extract almost two million tonnes of coal per year (more than from the German side).

On the German side

Germany has for a long time been perceived as an example in terms of its energy policy, not in the least because of its famous Energiewende, a strategy to decarbonise Germany’s economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent, reaching a 60 percent renewables share in the energy sector, and increasing energy efficiency by 50 percent, all by 2050.

Today, one-quarter of energy in Germany is produced from renewable sources, and the same for electricity, as a result of policies included in the Energiewende strategy.

Expanding coal mining as would happen in the Lusatia region contradicts Germany’s targets, argue environmentalists. “The expansion of lignite mines and the goals of the Energiewende to decarbonise Germany until 2050 do not fit together at all,” says Gregor Kessler from Greenpeace Germany.  “There have to be severe cuts in coal-burning if Germany wants to reach its own 2020 climate goal (reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent).

“Yet the government so far is afraid of taking the logical next step and announce a coal-phase-out plan,” Kessler continues. “So far both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats keep repeating that coal will still be needed for years and years to provide energy security. However even today a lot of the coal-generated energy is exported abroad as more and more energy comes from renewables.”

Proschim, a town of around 360 people, is one of the villages threatened by Vattenfall’s planned expansion. Already surrounded by lignite mines, this little community has one feature that makes its possible destruction even more controversial: nowadays it produces more electricity from renewable energy than its citizens use for themselves.

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

But Vattenfall’s project to extend two existing open cast mines, namely Nochten and Welzow-Süd, would destroy Proschim along with its solar and wind farm and its biogas plant.

“It is such a paradox, we have so much renewable energy from wind, solar and biogas in Proschim. And this is the town they want to bulldoze,” says former Proschim mayor Erhard Lehmann.

The village is nevertheless split on the issue, with half of its citizens welcoming Vattenfall’s expansion project, including Volker Glaubitz, the deputy mayor of Proschim, and his wife Ingrid, who came from Haidemühl, a neighbouring village that was evacuated to make room for the Welzow-Süd open-cast mine. The place is now known as the “ghost-town”, due to the abandoned buildings that Vattenfall was not allowed to tear down because of property-related controversies.

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Lignite undoubtedly played a major role in Lusatia’s economic development, creating jobs not only in the many open-cast mines spread over the territory, but also through the satellite activities connected to coal processing. Lehmann himself was employed as a mechanic and electrician for the excavators used in the mines. Ingrid Glaubitz was a machinist at ‘Schwarze Pumpe’, one of Vattenfall’s power plants and her son also works for Vattenfall.

“There must be renewable energy in the future, but right now it is too expensive and we need lignite as a bridge technology,” Volker Glaubitz told IPS. “The mines bring many jobs to the region: without the coal, Lusatia would be dead already.”

Johannes Kapelle, a 78-year-old farmer of Sorb origin and at the forefront of the battle against Proschim’s destruction, sees coal in a completely different way: “Coal is already vanishing, it something that belongs to the past.”

His house, right in front of the Glaubitz’s, is covered in solar panels, and from his garden he proudly shows the wind park that provides Proschim with an estimated annual production of 5 GWh.

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

According to Kapelle, lignite extraction has been threatening the Sorb culture, which is spiritually connected to the land, since the beginning of industrialisation over a hundred years ago. “When a Sorb has a house without a garden, and without farmland, without forests and lakes, then he’s not a true Sorb anymore, because he has no holy land.”

On the Polish side

Poland is Europe’s black sheep when it comes to climate, with 90 percent of electricity in Poland currently produced from coal and the country’s national energy strategy envisaging a core role for coal for decades to come. The Polish government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk has over the past years tried to block progress by the European Union in adopting more ambitious climate targets.

For Polish authorities, the over 100,000 jobs in coal mining in the country today are an argument to keep the sector going. Additionally, says the government, coal constitutes a local reserve that can ensure the country’s “energy security” (a hot topic in Europe, especially since the Ukrainian-Russian crisis).

Coal opponents, on the other hand, note that the development of renewables and energy efficiency creates jobs too (according to the United Nations, investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings alone could create up to 3.5 million jobs in the European Union and the United States). Environmentalists further argue that coal is not as cheap as its proponents claim: according to the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, in some years, subsidies for coal mining in Poland have reached as much as 2 percent of GDP.

“In Poland, the coal lobby is very strong,” says Gawlik. “I also have the impression that our politicians have not yet fully understood that renewables and energy efficiency have already become real alternatives and do not come with some mythically high costs.”

The future of coal in Europe

In Europe as a whole, coal has seen a minor resurgence over the past 2-3 years, despite the European Union having the stated goal to decarbonise by 2050 (out of all fossil fuels, lignite produces the most CO2 per unit of energy produced).

Access to cheap coal exports from the United States, relatively high gas prices, plus a low carbon price on the EU’s internal emissions trading market (caused in turn by a decrease in industrial output following the economic crisis) led to a temporary hike in coal usage. Yet experts are certain that coal in Europe is dying a slow death.

“In the longer term the prospects for coal-fired power generation are negative,” according to a July report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Air-quality regulations (in the European Union) will force plant closures, and renewable energy will continue to surge, while in general European energy demand will be weak. The recent mini-boom in coal-burning will prove an aberration.”

“Additional coal mines would not only be catastrophic for people, nature and climate – it would also be highly tragic, as beyond 2030, when existing coal mines will be exhausted, renewable energies will have made coal redundant,” says Anike Peters, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Germany.

“It’s high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels.”

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report in Germany

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/feed/ 0
U.N. Conference Set to Bypass Climate Change Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 21:56:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136329 A boy walks his bicycle down a flooded street in Georgetown, Guyana. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A boy walks his bicycle down a flooded street in Georgetown, Guyana. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

An international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas.

“It’s not on the final declaration called the outcome document,” a SIDS diplomat told IPS."It's clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad." -- Kristin Casper of Greenpeace

The rich countries that neighbour small island states are not in favour of a flood of refugees inundating them, he added.

Such a proposal also involves an amendment to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, making it even more divisive.

The outcome document, already agreed upon at a U.N. Preparatory Committee meeting last month, will be adopted at the Sep. 1-4 meeting in the Samoan capital of Apia.

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.”

Unfortunately, she said, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees.

“Worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees,” Shaw added.

The world’s first-ever “climate change refugee” claimant, a national of Kiribati, lost his asylum appeal in a New Zealand courtroom last May on the ground that international refugee law does not recognise global warming and rising sea levels as a valid basis for asylum status.

Ioane Teitiota, a 37-year-old native of the Pacific island nation, claimed his island home was sinking – and that he was seeking greener and safer pastures overseas.

But the New Zealand court ruled that the 1951 international convention on refugees, which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change, permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

The U.N.’s electronic newsletter, U.N. Daily News, quoted Francois Crepeau, the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, as saying, “We don’t have, in international law, or any kind of mechanisms to allow people to enter a State against the will of the State, unless they are refugees.”

And even then, he said, they don’t technically have the right to enter, but cannot be punished for entering.

Addressing the General Assembly last September, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Winston Baldwin Spencer told delegates, “It is a recognised fact – but it is worth repeating – that small island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects.”

He said small island states have expressed their “profound disappointment” at the lack of tangible action at U.N. climate change talks.

Developed countries, he said, should shoulder their moral, ethical and historical responsibilities for emitting high levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“It is those actions which have put the planet in jeopardy and compromised the well-being of present and future generations,” he said.

Kristin Casper, legal counsel for campaigns and actions at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “It’s a scandal that low-lying coastal and small island developing states stand to lose their territory by the end of this century due to sea level rise.”

She said climate-driven migration will increase, “therefore we salute all efforts by Pacific Small Island Developing States, other governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to call for urgent action to allow the world to fairly deal with climate-forced migration.

“It’s clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad,” Casper said.

The Samoa conference is officially titled the Third International Conference on SIDS, the last two conferences being held in Barbados in 1994 and Mauritius in 2005.

The 52 SIDS include Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Fiji, Grenada, Bahamas, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Addressing reporters last week, the Secretary-General of the Samoa conference Wu Hongbo told reporters he expects over 700 participants, including world political leaders, 21 heads of U.N agencies and over 100 NGOs.

The outcome document, he said, has several recommendations for action on how to move forward. But these goals, he stressed, cannot be achieved by governments alone.

“All of us are affected by climate change,” he said, pointing out that there was a broad agreement among member states on the challenges ahead.

FoEI’s Shaw told IPS millions of people around the world are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in other countries because of hunger or conflict. Many of these crises are being directly exacerbated by climate change as resources such as fresh water become scarcer and conflicts arise.

“The impacts of climate change, which include increased sea-level rise, droughts, and more frequent extreme weather events, will lead to a growing number of climate refugees around the world,” she warned.

Friends of the Earth would welcome climate refugees being recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection, she said.

“However we remain doubtful that these refugees would ever receive a warm welcome from the rich countries whose climate polluting actions forced them from their homes.”

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of climate refugees like those escaping conflict or persecution will end up in other poor countries, whilst rich countries build ever greater walls and fences to keep out those seeking a safer life for their families,
Shaw said.

According to the United Nations, SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact.

SIDS face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general.

These include challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/feed/ 0
When Land Restoration Works Hand in Hand with Poverty Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 02:53:42 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136297 Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Villagers in the Medak District of southern India’s Telengana state are helping to revive degraded farmland. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
SANGAREDDY, India, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

Tugging at the root of a thorny shrub known as ‘juliflora’, which now dots the village of Chirmiyala in the Medak District of southern India’s Telangana state, a 28-year-old farmer named Ailamma Arutta tells IPS, “This is a curse that destroyed my land.”

The deciduous shrub, whose scientific name is prosopis juliflora and belongs to the mesquite family, is not native to southern India. The local government introduced it in the 1950s and 1960s to prevent desertification in this region where the average annual rainfall is about 680 mm.

Decades later, the invasive plant has become a menace to farmers in the area, making it impossible to cultivate the land. This is partly due to juliflora’s ability to put out roots deep inside the earth – up to 175 feet in some places – in search of water.

Desperate farmers, who number some 5.5 million in the region, are now uprooting the shrubs as part of a government-sponsored scheme to make the land fertile once more.

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance. -- Indian Council for Agricultural Research
“The last time we grew anything on the land was about seven years ago, before this [shrub] started spreading all over it,” says Arutta, who is paid about three dollars a day for his work and looks forward eagerly to begin cultivating rice once more.

The operation provides employment while simultaneously laying the groundwork for future food security, and revitalising a degraded area.

Villagers employed by the scheme also perform duties such as removing stones and pebbles from the land, tilling the soil, de-silting ponds and lakes, and collecting fresh mud from waterholes and tanks to apply to the tilled land.

With funds provided through the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a nationwide programme that provides 100-day jobs to poor villagers during the non-farming season, locals are also building check dams on streams and rivulets, and digging percolation tanks to recharge the groundwater table.

Though small in scope, the scheme is highlighting the threat posed by desertification and its impact on the poorest communities in a country where 25 percent of the rural population (roughly 216.5 million people) lives below the poverty line, earning some 27 rupees (0.44 dollars) a day.

In Telangana there are 1.1 million small and marginal farmers who own less than five acres of land. With 54 percent of the state’s land degraded, these farmers fear for their future.

A global problem from an Indian perspective

According to Venkat Ravinder, an assistant director for the MGNREGA programme in Medak district, land degradation is the main environmental problem for farmers in the region.

Recurring drought and erratic rainfall have played havoc on groundwater tables (in some areas water levels have fallen five to 20 metres below ground level), making the surface of the soil unhealthy and dry.

Also, abundant growth of juliflora has increased the level of acidity in the topsoil, making it difficult for farmers to ensure plentiful yields of crops like rice, cotton and chili.

“Due to the high level of land degradation, over 2,000 acres of land have been lying fallow here,” Ravinder, who is overlooking the land restoration process in 125 villages of the district, told IPS.

“Our aim is to make this fallow land cultivable. So, we are clearing it of the harmful vegetation, and through silt application we are increasing the fertility and water-holding capacity of the soil,” he explained.

Globally, 1.2 billion people are directly affected by land degradation, which causes an annual loss of 42 billion dollars, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In India, of the 417 million acres of land under cultivation, a whopping 296 million acres are degraded, according to the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Some 200 million people are dependent on this degraded land for their sustenance.

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

About 296 million acres of Indian farmland are degraded. Some 200 million people are dependent on this land for their sustenance. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Having set 2013 as a global deadline to end land degradation, the UNCCD says governments around the world should prioritise land restoration, given that such a massive population depends on unyielding and unhealthy soil.

“Landscape approaches to degraded land restoration are key in drylands to enhance livelihoods and address environmentally forced migrations,” Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the UNCCD, told IPS.

According to the Indian minister for the environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, this is an achievable goal. He says his own government is determined to be “land degradation neutral” by 2030.

Speaking on the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) earlier this year in New Delhi, the minister said that the problem of degradation, desertification and the creation of wastelands were major challenges impacting livelihoods.

Reiterating the government’s stated goal of scaling up efforts to eradicate poverty, under the leadership of newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Javadekar stressed that various government agencies should work together on a common implementation strategy regarding desertification, including the departments of water resources, land resources, forests, and climate change and agriculture.

With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of India’s economy, such moves are urgently required, experts say.

Land degradation, poverty and migration: A vicious cycle

Thirty-year-old Arutta Somaya, a farmer from a small village in Telangana state, says his four-acre plot of farmland has become infested with juliflora, and is now virtually uncultivable.

With few options open to him, and a family of four to feed, Somaya left home in 2010 in search of work and for three years travelled to states like Maharasthra in the north, and Odisha in the east, working as a daily migrant labourer.

Today, he is back home and cultivating his land, which was cleared and restored under the land development programme.

Somaya tells IPS that several of his neighbours and friends are also considering returning home as they can earn a livelihood again.

“Before returning home, I was digging bore holes. We had to work for over 15 hours a day. It was very difficult. Now I don’t have to do that again,” adds the farmer, who is planting rice and napier grass, a fast-growing, commercially viable crop that is used as cattle fodder.

Hundreds of other seasonal migrants will be able to return home if the land development programme continues, says Subash Reddy, director of Smaran, a Hyderabad-based non-profit that promotes soil and water conservation.

He also believes the scheme could be more successful if the government roped in community organisations, especially those that work for the welfare of migrants.

“In India, at least 15 million people migrate each year from villages to the cities,” he told IPS. “How many of them are aware of what schemes the government is introducing at home?

“There are several NGOs that work closely with migrant workers,” Reddy added. “These organisations could be instrumental in informing the workers about land restoration [programmes] and also help them return home in time to avail themselves [of the benefits].”

According to the UNCCD, rampant land degradation could cause a collapse of food production, which would see global food prices “skyrocket”. Also, continued desertification, land degradation and drought could cause rampant migration and displacement of millions.

India is poised to set an example to a global problem – it just needs to find the political will to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/when-land-restoration-works-hand-in-hand-with-poverty-eradication/feed/ 1
Innovation Offers Hope in Sri Lanka’s Poverty-Stricken Northhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 03:33:00 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136293 In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

In Sri Lanka’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, residents say they must stretch the few resources they have in order to survive. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
ODDUSUDDAN, Sri Lanka, Aug 24 2014 (IPS)

In this dust bowl of a village deep inside Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone, locals will sometimes ask visitors to rub their palms on the ground and watch their skin immediately take on a dark bronze hue, proof of the fertility of the soil.

Village lore in Oddusuddan, located in the Mullaitivu district, some 338 km north of the capital Colombo, has it that the land is so fertile, anything will grow here. But Mashewari Vellupillai, a 53-year-old single mother, knows that rich farmland alone is not enough to ensure a viable future.

Thirty years of civil war in the Northern Province, where the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were defeated by government forces in May 2009, are not easily forgotten, and five years of peace have not yet resulted in prosperity for many residents in this former battleground.

“You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money." -- Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu
Schemes to provide relief and employment opportunities for civilians and rehabilitated combatants are few and far between, and several villagers tell IPS that survival here is dependent on creative thinking to make the most of the few income generation options available.

At least 30 percent of the population in the province derives their income from agriculture or related areas, and a 10-month-old drought is wrecking havoc on farmers who tend to focus on a single crop at a time.

After taking a 50,000-rupee (384-dollar) financial hit following a failed harvest last year, Vellupillai has diversified the two-acre plot that surrounds her half-built house and planted everything from onions and bananas to cassava, aubergines and tobacco.

In addition, she has leased out her two acres of paddy land, and hires workers intermittently to see to its harvest.

Vellupilla’s most profitable crop is tobacco; a single, good-quality leaf fetches about 10 rupees (0.77 dollars), giving her an income of about 10,000 rupees (about 76 dollars) monthly.

“I can’t take a chance by depending on one source of income, I have to be sure that I have alternatives,” she tells IPS, citing cases of villagers here falling victim to a buyers’ market, as was the case in 2011 when most Oddusuddan residents grew aubergines and were forced to part with their yields for dirt cheap prices as buyers from Vavuniya Town, 60 km south, manipulated the market.

Over 400,000 people like Vellupillai have returned to the north after fleeing the last days of fighting between armed forces and the LTTE.

Since then, the government has poured over three billion dollars into massive infrastructure projects in the region, including rail-links, new roads and electrification schemes.

But despite such impressive figures, life in general remains hard. Poverty is rampant according to the latest government figures released for the first quarter of this year.

Four of the five districts that make up the province recorded rates higher than the national figure of 6.7 percent.

Three of them – Kilinochchi, Mannar and Mullaittivu – recorded poverty rates of 12.7 percent, 20.1 percent and 28.8 percent respectively, according to the latest government poverty head count released in April. Experts say this comes as no surprise, since these districts were hit hardest by the war, and are suffering the worst of its long-term impacts.

Unemployment also remains above national levels. There are no official figures for full unemployment rates in the Northern Province, but in the two districts where figures are available – Kilinochchi at 9.3 percent and Mannar at 8.1 percent – they were over twice the national rate of four percent.

Economists working in the region feel that unemployment could be as high 30 percent in some parts of the province.

A dearth of proper housing adds to the troubles of the north, with only 41,000 out of a required 143,000 houses being handed over to returning residents, while some 10,500 homes are still under construction.

According to UN Habitat, initial funding was for 83,000 units, including those already built, but no funds are available for the remaining 60,000 homes.

“Those who can make the situation work for them, or use what they have in them […] will fare better,” Sellamuththu Srinivasan, the additional district secretary for the Kilinochchi District, told IPS.

That is precisely what Velupillai Selvarathnam, a former lorry driver from Mullaitivu, has done.

Since the war’s end, he rents a small vehicle and commutes between Colombo and his hometown, covering a distance of over 300 km each week to bring ready-made garments from the capital to his small shop close to the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

“I can make a 25,000-rupee profit [about 192 dollars] every month,” he told IPS.

That is good money, especially if it is constant in a district that is one of the poorest five in the country and where the average monthly income is less than 4,000 rupees (about 30 dollars).

Selvarathnam, who has a deep scar on the side of his chest running down to his abdomen caused by a shell injury, tells IPS, “You have to do things on your own otherwise there will be no money.” His next aim is to travel to India to purchase garments in bulk, so that he can cut down on costs even more.

Like him, Velvarasa Sithadevi, another resident of Oddusudan has her hands full. She has to take care of a 25-year-old son who suffers from shellshock and a husband who is yet to recover from his wartime injuries.

When the family received a 25,000-rupee (192-dollar) grant from the U.N. Refugee Agency upon returning to their home village in 2011, Sithadevi invested the money in setting up a small shop. “We live in the back room, that is enough for us,” she told IPS.

Sithadevi is a good cook, and sells food products in her roadside shop. “It is a good business, especially when there are people working on roads and other construction [sites],” she stated, adding that she makes about 4,000 rupees (30 dollars) a day.

But for every single individual success story, there are thousands of others unable to break out of the suffocating cycle of poverty in the region.

Public official Srinivasan said that if assistance were to increase, the overall situation would improve. That, however, is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“The next option is to attract private sector investment […]. We are talking with companies in the south, there is some progress, but we need more companies to come in,” he stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/innovation-offers-hope-in-sri-lankas-poverty-stricken-north/feed/ 2
Migrants Deported from the U.S. in Limbo on the Mexican Borderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 21:40:12 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136301 A migrant deported from the United States sleeps under a bridge on the stretch of the Tijuana River known as El Bordo, at the northwestern tip of Mexico, next to the border. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

A migrant deported from the United States sleeps under a bridge on the stretch of the Tijuana River known as El Bordo, at the northwestern tip of Mexico, next to the border. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
TIJUANA, Mexico, Aug 23 2014 (IPS)

The areas under the low bridges over a section of the canalised channel of the Tijuana River that runs along the border between Mexico and the United States have become enormous open-air toilets.

Along the entire two-km stretch from the eastern part of Tijuana to the wall on the U.S. border, hundreds of people sleep in makeshift tents of cardboard and cloth, tunnel-like holes, and sewage ditches and on the bridges and the sides of the levees. The banks are strewn with trash washed down by the Tijuana River, which stinks from the sewage.

The stench is dizzying. At 7:00 AM, the junkies, who can get heroin here for two dollars a dose, are happy to be given a few chocolates, which help curb their sugar craving. “This is the city of El Bordo,” one of them tells IPS with a crooked smile, his hand stretched out.

This is the “city” of people who have no one. The underside of the border bridges and the banks of the concrete-lined channel are home to hundreds of deported homeless migrants who have decided to wait for a better moment to cross this tightly sealed border, and who survive cleaning windshields, offering to carry people’s bags outside of supermarkets, doing odd construction jobs, collecting refuse to sell for recycling, or panhandling on the streets of the border city of Tijuana.

“The population that inhabits El Bordo is an illustration of the extreme conditions that the most vulnerable deportees can face in Mexico,” says the study “Estimates and Characteristics of the Population Residing in El Bordo on the Tijuana River Channel”.

The report, produced by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), counted between 700 and 1,000 people living in El Bordo in August-September 2013.In the last five years more and more families have been broken up as a result of deportations. One statistic reflects the magnitude of the phenomenon: while in 2007 only 20 percent of those deported were sent back without their families, that proportion climbed to 77 percent in 2012.

It adds that the residents of El Bordo are mainly male addicts (some began to use drugs here) in their forties, who were deported in the last four years and have no identity documents. Most of them have left children behind in Mexico or the United States.

According to the report, half of them speak English, and overall they have similar levels of schooling as the rest of the population of Tijuana. It adds that only six percent say they want to return to their place of origin in Mexico.

“These results reflect that deportations from the United States to Mexico are causing families to separate, and are specifically separating parents from their homes, which causes a rupture in the lives of individuals and families, and puts an end to the possibility of integration in the country of residency by the rest of the members of the family,” says the study, coordinated by Laura Velasco, a researcher in COLEF’s Department of Cultural Studies.

Tijuana is at the northwestern tip of Mexico, 2,780 km from Mexico City. It is in the state of Baja California across the border from San Diego, California. In 2012, the city received 59,845 of the 409,849 people deported by the government of Barack Obama.

Since Obama’s second administration began in 2009, more than two million people have been deported – seven people per hour in 2012 – which means the administration has deported more people than any other government.

Tijuana, population 1.7 million, has more drug addicts than any other city in Mexico, in proportional terms. It is the headquarters of weakened drug cartels, and is considered one of the most violent and dangerous cities in the world.

For decades it was the main gateway for migrants to the United States.

But the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington prompted a shift in U.S. migration policy and the Mexican border began to be sealed off, forcing undocumented immigrants to seek out increasingly remote and hazardous routes, while the number of Border Patrol agents climbed from 3,500 in 2005 to 21,000 in 2013.

Mexico and the U.S. are separated by a 3,500-km border. Baja California, which borders the city of San Diego and the state of Arizona, receives one-third of the deportees and is the state with the largest number of foreign residents.

In the state capital, Mexicali, 177 km east of Tijuana, the heat of August – up to 50 degrees Celsius – can kill, and people who don’t have air conditioners sleep on rooftops.

Mexicali has its “mini Bordo”: the Montealbán condominium complex, severely damaged by an earthquake in 2010, on the eastern shore of the now non-existent Nuevo River, a few metres from the historic old city.

Some 80 local homeless people and deported immigrants, basically all of them addicts, live in the condemned buildings.

Bodies have been found in the ruins. The latest was discovered on Apr. 15. And there are constant fires and police raids.

“I live here because there is nowhere else to go,” Josué, a 33-year-old from Guatemala, told IPS.

“I felt overwhelmed in the shelter, there are so many people,” said Josué, who was deported Aug. 1, 2013 and has only one thing on his mind: returning to the United States.

He has already tried to cross the border in Nogales, in the state of Sonora, but he didn’t make it. He was told it was easier here, and he’s just waiting “for the heat to end” to try again. “I was 10 years old when I got to California; I have nothing in Guatemala,” he said.

Another COLEF study on the characteristics of deported immigrants, in this case Mexican women, sounds the alert about the health problems they face.

“There is an alarmingly high rate of symptoms of emotional problems among the deportees – nearly 20 times higher than among those who return voluntarily,” says the study, based on research on the health of deportees being carried out by Letza Bojórquez, a researcher with COLEF’s Department of Population Studies.

Drawing on statistics from the Border Survey of Mexican Migration, the study found that 40 percent of the migrant population living on the streets reported emotional problems and 12 percent answered “yes” to the question of whether they had ever thought about taking their life.

In the last five years more and more families have been broken up as a result of deportations. One statistic reflects the magnitude of the phenomenon: while in 2007 only 20 percent of those deported were sent back without their families, that proportion climbed to 77 percent in 2012.

“The problem here is that there is no policy providing for attention to the deportees,” activist Sergio Tamai, director of the Albergue Hotel Migrante, a shelter in Mexicali, and one of the heads of the organisation Ángeles sin Fronteras, told IPS. “Hundreds of deportees started to arrive and there was no institution prepared to receive them.”

Between August and November 2013, Tamai led a protest in Tijuana, with 800 people camping out in the Plaza Constitución to demand programmes providing assistance to migrants, deportees and the homeless.

Lobbying of the authorities by civil society organisations and religious groups has brought some results.

On Aug. 7, the state legislature of Baja California passed a law for support for the rights of and protection of migrants in the state, which requires that the state system for the integral development of the family provide social assistance to unaccompanied minor children and adolescents, and that a state registry of migrants be created.

It was the first state to do so, after the Mexican Congress approved the creation of a new migration law in 2011, which replaced the 1947 law and provides legal recourse for Central American migrants making their way through Mexico.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/feed/ 0
Women’s Football Struggles for Equal Rights In Ugandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/womens-football-struggles-for-equal-rights-in-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-football-struggles-for-equal-rights-in-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/womens-football-struggles-for-equal-rights-in-uganda/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 08:21:46 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136285 Majidah Nantanda is Uganda’s first female national coach for the country’s  women’s football team. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Majidah Nantanda is Uganda’s first female national coach for the country’s women’s football team. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 23 2014 (IPS)

Growing up with five brothers, soccer-mad Majidah Nantanda had half a team to compete against at home in Makindye, a suburb in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. But at her school, in the 1990s, there were two sports rules: “Netball for the girls and football for the boys,” recalls the 32-year-old, as she stands on the sidelines of a boy’s game in Makindye.

“So I’d sneak out of netball to watch the boys play.”

From the age of eight, her brothers realised they had some fierce competition so they introduced her to the neighbourhood boys, who Nantanda would play with during her holidays.

“My mum never told me you’re not supposed to play football,” Nantanda tells IPS, adding her single mother, a businesswoman, bought her a kit and later gave her transport money to go to games.

Despite only getting a chance to perfect her talent in her spare time, it didn’t stop the Ugandan from captaining the first national women’s football team before becoming the first female national coach in 2007.

The country’s sports fans have been encouraged recently by Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich picking up gold in the men’s marathon in the London 2012 Olympics, and countryman Moses Kipsiro winning the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow earlier this month.

But “there is no sport that promotes Uganda more than football”, Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) spokesperson Ahmed Hussein insists.

“Even if people go and win medals at international level [in other sports], nothing beats football,” Hussein tells IPS.

Nantanda says women playing football in Uganda has become more accepted over the past 15 years.

Today in this East African country there are at least 64 girls’ schools competing in the annual national secondary girls football championships, and many other women who aspire to be the next Nantanda.

This month, in fact, a team of 18 female footballers from Uganda could have travelled to Canada to participate in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

“They would have been so happy. For most of them it would have been their first time on a plane, and for all of them, the first time in North America,” says Nantanda, who would have made the journey with them as coach.

But instead of being cheered on by their country some 5,000km away in Ghana, the ladies, aged between 16 and 20 years, are getting on with their lives after having their hopes dashed at the last minute by a governing body that hasn’t grasped the potential of Uganda’s female football players, says Nantanda.

Nantanda says just three days before the match in Ghana, FUFA announced on radio that they had withdrawn the team, citing a lack of funds.

“Women’s football is not a priority for the nation,” says the coach.

“We are not catered for like the men’s national team.”

She adds: “The Cranes [the men’s national team] are paid a lot of money but women, they don’t take us seriously.”

A total of 25 aspiring sports stars, coached by Nantanda, trained for months while also studying at school or university and while holding down part-time jobs.

Last September, the women beat neighbouring South Sudan 13-0 on home soil in Kampala.

In defence, Hussein says Uganda is the only country among FIFA’s 209 members that doesn’t have an annual designated budget from the government. He stresses that although the government is “passionate” about the game, often approaching with support, the money they give isn’t enough.

FUFA are funded by local corporations such as Airtel, NIC and Nile Breweries, ticket sales and FIFA development grants.

The United Nations have stressed the potential contribution that sport can make towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), stressing it is about participation, inclusion and citizenship, and a certain percentage of FUFA grants must be spent on women’s football along with youth soccer and refereeing.

In 2004, Uganda’s football association was warned by FIFA that if they continued to use their yearly grant for the national team they risked losing it. In the past, FUFA have also denied corruption claims.

Nantanda sympathises with the girls. After all she has had her struggles.

“Not everyone’s happy that I’m a national coach,” she says, adding most soccer coaches in Uganda are male.

“A woman doing something different will straight away be attacked by men.

She adds: “If you’re not [emotionally] strong enough you’ll just give up.”

But that’s something Nantanda has never done, even when she’s been the only female alongside 60 men at an elite coaching session.

“I interact with these men and I do everything they do,” she says.

As one of only a few female FIFA-recognised referees in Uganda, Irene Namubiru, 34, has also smashed her own goals.

“[Women] enjoy playing football,” Namubiru tells IPS. “But they fear officiating because of the abuses, the insults from the fans, so they hold back.”

Nantanda doesn’t know when the under 20s team will play next.

Many women have stopped training and forgotten about football altogether.

Hussein says their Ghana match coincided with the men’s senior team travelling to South Africa for the African Nations Championship finals. Both competitions would have cost the federation “well over” 400 million shillings (153,552 dollars).

“People believe that the national senior team should be given a lot of precedence, as opposed to the women’s team or even to junior teams,” says Hussein.

“But we’re looking at entering the women’s team in future international tournaments.”

He says there could be a pilot project in the next couple of years in Uganda to form a women’s national football league.

“We believe that if the women’s team is properly handled they can get their own funding from different companies, the corporate world could come in and support them,” he says.

Nantanda still speaks to her under 20s and encourages them to train. But the coach, who admits she does mostly “volunteer work”, says she is putting more of her effort into “grassroots development”, encouraging girls in villages across Uganda to take up football through her charity Growing the Game for Girls.

Through Tackle Africa, Nantanda she is also getting rural communities hooked on football to teach them about HIV prevention and management.

There’s one piece of advice she gives all women, regardless of whether they have an upcoming tournament.

“Continue with your studies,” she reiterates.

“You won’t get paid through football.

“It’s not only about playing for the national team. I want these girls to be better women in the future and not waste their education.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/womens-football-struggles-for-equal-rights-in-uganda/feed/ 0
War Veterans Planting for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136267 Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and former Sudan People’s Liberation Army member. He’s started a war veteran’s co-op in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. Credit: Adam Bemma/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Along the fertile banks of sub-Saharan Africa’s White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, a war veteran’s co-op is planting for a food secure future in South Sudan, a country potentially facing famine.

Wilson Abisai Lodingareng, 65, is a peri-urban farmer and founder of Werithior Veteran’s Association, or WVA, in Juba, South Sudan. The association is a group of 15 farmers ranging in age, with the youngest being a 25-year-old veteran’s son. This group of 15 farmers tends to a garden, located six kilometres outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital, where they grow nearly 1.5 hectares of vegetables.

“I have seven active members in the group, all former SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops. I call them when it’s time to weed the garden,” Lodingareng told IPS. “I visit once a day, each morning, to check the health of the crops and too see what’s ready for the market.”

Some of the other WVA members have been displaced from their homes and are now living inside the UNMISS, United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Protection of Civilians camp in Juba.

Since the conflict began Dec. 15, 2013 between the government forces of South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the rebel forces of former Vice President Riek Machar, 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. Three-and-a-half million South Sudanese are suffering from emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Lodingareng said obtaining a plot of land along the Nile River was difficult with many international investors vying for this prime agricultural real estate. It took him almost three years to acquire a lease from the community which owns the idle land.

So far this year he has transformed the field with long grass and weeds into a garden with leafy vegetables and herbs sprouting. WVA cultivates okra, kale, mulukhiyah (jute leaves) and coriander.

“These are short impact crops which grow quickly, within one to two months,” Lodingareng said. “Okra is harvested every three to four days.”

The philosophy behind the WVA garden is to see land as a resource not to be wasted. As Lodingareng looks around his garden he sees a future expansion into the surrounding land, also lying idle.

“I’m looking at expanding to grow food crops like maize, potatoes, carrots and eggplant,” he said. “The first year has been a struggle. The next year should be much better.”

Simon Agustino is the programme officer at Mennonite Central Committee, or MCC, in South Sudan.

“Wilson [Lodingareng] came to our office with a proposal asking for assistance. The veterans had no hope and no way to provide for their families,” Agustino told IPS. “People thought he was wasting his time with digging. But he didn’t give up.”

MCC provided him with some capital for leasing the land, the training of beneficiaries, fruit and vegetable production, farm supplies and tools as well to monitor WVA’s progress.

“Finally he got land and is now yielding and his crops which are being sold at the market. As a sign of improvement, more veterans are considering joining,” Agustino said.

According to Agustino, most SPLA veterans take to criminal activity after being de-commissioned, but Lodingareng wouldn’t turn to cattle raiding or using a weapon to rob and steal. He has a vision for the future of South Sudan.

“I did my part to put my country on the path to self-determination,” Lodingareng said. “Now my approach is to work hard. Me, I will do anything that can pull me out of poverty and improve my situation financially.”

Londingareng fought with the SPLA from 1985 to 2008, and when he wasn’t re-activated into the military six years ago he began to think back to his early days as an economics student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“I took a course and wrote a paper on agriculture economics. I was taught that land is food and that crops share behaviour traits with humans,” he said.

While Lodingareng comes from the Toposa, a cattle-herding pastoralist tribe in the southeast of the country, his wife is Nuer, one of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups, along with Dinka, in South Sudan.

“We were hunted. I hid my wife in town and with help from MCC, I took her to Uganda.” he said. “I came back to find out people had broken into my house. It was completely ransacked.”

WVA veterans come from various tribes in South Sudan. Its work demonstrates that agriculture could be a way of bringing South Sudanese together, looking past tribal differences, and planting together this rainy season.

Lodingareng believes it’s never too late to take up the cause of agriculture, even while millions are displaced and the country is on the brink of famine.

“The political climate has discouraged many from planting this season,” he said. “But if everyone planted gardens things will improve.”

MCC is looking at ways to start a peace and reconciliation programme with the help of WVA. “He has many ideas on how to end the conflict,” Agustino said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/war-veterans-planting-for-peace-in-south-sudan/feed/ 0
Organic Farming Taking Off in Poland … Slowlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 07:07:24 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136234 Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

Organic farmer Slawek Dobrodziej with volunteers from Warsaw helping on his farm. Credit: Courtesy of Malgosia Dobrodziej

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

Polish farmer Slawek Dobrodziej has probably the world’s strangest triathlon training regime: he swims across the lake at the back of his house, then runs across his some 11 hectares of land to check the state of the crops, and at the end of the day bikes close to 40 kilometres to and back from a nearby town for some shopping.

That Dobrodziej would still want to enter the triathlon, despite working daily in the fields from dawn until well into the night, speaks volumes about his supra-human levels of energy.

But it takes this kind of stamina to succeed as an ecological farmer in Poland.Community-supported agriculture “could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today” – organic farmer Sonia Priwieziencew

Today, around 3.5 percent of Poland’s agricultural land is taken up by organic farms. Their number has been growing steadily over recent years, yet farmers complain of obstacles. Of the country’s some 1.8 million farmers, just 26,000 have organic certification (though some of these farms are just meadows and do not necessarily produce food), and only 300 of these are vegetable producers.

Under the most recent national policies (adopted in parallel to the new European Union’s 2014-2020 budget, which will finance Polish agriculture), Polish authorities have been cutting subsidies for medium and large organic farms, and they have practically eliminated public support for organic orchards.

Smaller organic producers have to struggle with complicated bureaucratic procedures in place for obtaining national or European funding.

Slawek Dobrodziej and his wife Malgosia clearly have the determination to penetrate these procedures. Over the past eight years, the couple have managed to build up a successful organic farm in the village of Zeliszewo, near the western city of Szczecin. They sell some 100 types of fruit and vegetables to consumers in several Polish major cities, including the capital Warsaw.

According to Malgosia, the book-keeper of the family farm, the first years were particularly rough. Selling large quantities of one product to food processing companies did not pay off: organic farming, which uses no pesticides, is labour-intensive, and the prices paid by the companies were not enough to cover costs.

The family managed to access some national and European funds, but the amounts were barely sufficient to buy some basic machinery. European money must often be co-financed by the recipient, meaning that obtaining more funds would be impossible without becoming heavily indebted to banks.

The Dobrodziej’s fortunes improved once they diversified their vegetable production and found opportunities to sell their produce directly to consumers in big cities. Selling to a bio bazaar in Warsaw was a turning point.

Additionally, for the first time this year, they started selling to consumers via two community-supported agriculture (CSA) schemes in the cities of Szczecin and Poznan, through which the roughly 30 consumers in each scheme pay them in advance for vegetables they will receive weekly throughout the summer and autumn months.

The CSA model is based on the idea that consumers share risks with the farmers: consumers enter the scheme agreeing to take whatever vegetables the farmer is able to produce given weather conditions. They are also able to volunteer on the farm, which provides an understanding of seasonality and farm work that few city inhabitants have. Malgosia says that CSA is an excellent way of offering financial stability to a small farm.

The first CSA was created in Poland in 2012 in Warsaw, and this year six such schemes are operational in the country, including the two served by the Dobrodziej. More schemes are expected to be launched next year, given the warm welcome the model has received from city consumers and the farming community.

At the moment, the Dobrodziej’s week is a mad rush among various cities in Poland, with night-long drives to deliver fresh products, followed by days in the field. Yet Malgosia hopes that next year, once the bank credits are paid, they will be able to rely only on the two CSA schemes and sales to bio bazaars in Warsaw and Katowice. Meanwhile Slawek dreams of setting up an organisation to promote the model nationally.

“We do absolutely too much work right now, and we spend too much time packaging half kilos of vegetables to sell to small organic shops,” explains Malgosia. “The CSA model seems very promising, because we get rid of the packaging ordeal and we also get money in hand at the start of the season from which we can make investments in the machinery we need.”

“I think many Polish farms could go this way, because the model is really economically viable for farmers,” says Sonia Priwieziencew, who together with her partner Tomasz Wloszczowski, runs a 6 hectare organic farm in the village of Swierze Panki, 120 km northeast of Warsaw, which has been serving the first CSA in Poland for three years.

Priwieziencew and Wloszczowski had been active for years in NGOs promoting organic farming in Poland and they wanted to put theory into practice.

“CSA could help promote farm biodiversity because consumers buy different types of vegetables and products in this scheme, and it could also help to spread the certified organic model, which is only marginally developed in Poland today,” says Priwieziencew.

After years of experience with advocacy work and promotion of the organic model among farmers, Priwieziencew is quite critical of the authorities’ approach to ecological farming. According to her, despite the fact that the vast majority of farmers in Poland today have small plots of land, the policies issued both by the Polish government and the European Union are more favourable to large-scale industrial farming.

Despite the new Common Agricultural Policy adopted this year in Brussels, which is supposed to provide guidance to farming in the European Union for the coming years, paying much lip service to organic farming and small-scale agriculture as means to ensure food security, limit climate change and preserve biodiversity, national policies and financing do not necessarily follow this direction, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Yet, over recent years, citizens in these regions have become increasingly aware of the faults of industrial food production and numerous initiatives intended to safeguard small farming and promote ecological agriculture have been created across both regions.

This month, Warsaw saw the opening of the first cooperative shop bringing vegetables and other foods directly from producers, most of them local, and selling them at a discount to members of the cooperative who volunteer work.

Cooperatives and vegetable box schemes exist in most big Polish cities and are even developing at the level of neighbourhoods. A newly discovered passion for urban gardening in the country has led museums in Warsaw and other cities to open up their green areas to local inhabitants who want to grow vegetables.

Other countries in the region are not lagging behind. At least 15 CSA initiatives exist in the Czech Republic and, in addition, vegetable box schemes and urban gardens are continually appearing. In Romania, CSA groups exist now in at least six different cities, with some of the farms explicitly employing people from marginalised social categories.

”Every such new initiative gives small-scale ecological farmers a new chance to sell more and develop in Poland,” says Warsaw-based food activist Piotr Trzaskowski, who set up the first CSA in Poland. ”These farmers must survive because they are real caretakers of the land and the environment, unlike large-scale conventional producers who commodify the land, buying it, using it up and ignoring the impact on biodiversity, people and the environment.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/organic-farming-taking-off-in-poland-slowly-2/feed/ 0
No Hope for AIDS-Free Generation in Uganda as Controversial HIV Bill is Signed into Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:43:19 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136256 Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Aug 21 2014 (IPS)

HIV/AIDS activists are adamant Uganda will not achieve an “AIDS-free generation” now a “backwards” HIV/AIDS Bill criminalising the “wilful and intentional” transmission of the disease has been signed into law.

The act, they say, will lead to people shunning testing and treatment, but will particularly drive sex workers and gay men underground, and make women more vulnerable to domestic violence.

News that the controversial law, adopted unanimously by Parliament on May 13, and assented to by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Jul 31, broke on social media only this week on Aug. 19.

The bill also allows medical providers to disclose a patient’s HIV status to others without consent and prescribes mandatory testing for pregnant women, their partners, and victims of sexual offences.

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005.

But Museveni went against earlier promises to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) executive director and campaigners that he wouldn’t back the punitive law.

“This is a populist act,” Kikonyongo Kivumbi of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association (UHSPA-Uganda) told IPS.

“He knows what he’s doing is not the right thing in addressing the general public health concerns in this country.”

Kivumbi pointed out that according to the 2014 UNAIDS Global Progress report, Uganda was now the third country in the world contributing to sustaining the pandemic.

Other campaigners are “heartbroken” and “outraged” after the president approved the HIV Prevention and Control Bill.

The news broke as CSOs were still waiting for an audience with Museveni over the controversial bill, which has been slammed by Uganda’s own AIDS Commission and the AIDS Control programme of the Ministry of Health (MoH).

“Some bad news from Uganda. Please pray for us,” Jacquelyne Alesi, director or programmes at Uganda Network of Young People Living with HIV & AIDS (UNYPA), said in an email to IPS.

The legislation prescribes a maximum 10 years in jail, a fine of about five million Ugandan shillings (1,980 dollars) or both for anyone who “willfully and intentionally transmitting HIV/AIDS to another person”.

Another provision of the law, drafted in 2008, provides for a fine or a maximum five years in jail for those convicted of “attempted transmission”.

According to the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey, overall HIV prevalence is higher among women (8.3 percent) than among men (6.1 percent).

“Usually HIV bears the face of a woman,” Dorcas Amoding, policy, advocacy and networking officer for Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA-U), told IPS.

“So if she has tested positive and perhaps the husband becomes aware of it…he might treat this as a very negative result as well and she can be attacked.”

Amoding added, “it even brings about a very huge burden in terms of women inheriting property, because some people still think HIV is a death sentence.”

“So if I say ‘I want to have my husband’s property for the children’, people are going to say ‘you’ll die tomorrow, you’re HIV positive.’”

Most LGBT people with HIV/AIDS already “die silently” and many were no longer going for services in the after the passing of the Anti-Homosexual Act, Bernard Ssembatya, from Vinacef Uganda, a sexual health and reproductive NGO focusing on HIV, told IPS. The anti-gay law was, however, declared “null and void” by the constitutional court on a legality earlier this month.

“Some of them are wary of going to health services, some health providers are also scared of delivering services,” Ssembatya said.

There will be “an increase in deaths from HIV, more infections” as a result of the HIV/AIDS law, he warned.

According to AIDS Free World, over 60 countries criminalise the transmission of HIV or the failure to disclose one’s HIV status to sex partners, or both. Global Commission on HIV and the Law members have highlighted Guinea, Senegal and Togo, which they say in recent years have revised existing, or adopted new laws which limit HIV transmission to exceptional cases of wilful transmission.

Guyana also rejected a criminalisation law. In the U.S, 34 states still have HIV specific criminal statutes, however, in May Iowa approved a law revising a HIV specific statute.

Kivumbi pointed out that criminalisation was an “agenda of the U.S. republican right”, who he accused of influencing political and public health appointments in Uganda.

“We need to tell U.S. republican extremists and evangelical Christians to leave managing the HIV pandemic to ourselves,” he said.

“Just because the U.S. gives us money it does not mean [they] can impose their extremist agenda on us.”

Uganda had deliberately chosen to “moralise the pandemic and response, emphasising abstinence at the expense of condom use and other scientifically proven interventions,” Kivumbi said.

“We have had cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and other people at senior government level saying that people who are HIV positive are morally bankrupt,” the activist said.

Kivumbi said there was an “element of politicking” on Museveni’s part in inking his signature on the bill. Uganda will be submitting a “concept note” to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Oct. 15, and wanted to get access to a 90-million-dollar loan from the World Bank that was suspended, he said.

One clause of the HIV/AIDS Bill seeks to set up an AIDS Trust Fund managed by the MoH, with money coming from foreign governments and international agencies, among other means.

Ironically, that loan was put on hold in February, just days after the president approved the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“I think that the president thought that by signing this law, which [sets up] the AIDS Trust Fund, the World Bank would give him money and the Global Fund would contribute,” said Kivumbi.

“Let the Global Fund and the World Bank not be fooled.

”This law tramples upon basic civil liberties and cannot be acceptable in a free and democratic society that Uganda aspires to be.”

Dianah Nanjeho, a communications consultant at Uganda Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET), which works with a coalition of 40 organisations, told IPS the activists wanted the contentious clauses in the bill to be amended.

“The act in itself is a good act we don’t condemn it, we just want those one, two three things sorted out.”

She said the positive parts of the law were state obligations to provide care and treatment and the establishment of the AIDS Trust Fund.

Nanjeho said CSOs, who are still hoping to meet Museveni, hadn’t ruled out challenging the law in court, and would make a decision on this in the next few days.

“For now we are all weighing all options,” she said.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on Twitter @amyfallon 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/no-hope-for-aids-free-generation-in-uganda-as-controversial-hiv-bill-is-signed-into-law/feed/ 3
Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/feed/ 2
Stab in the Back for Painful Afghanistan Election Process?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:31:20 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136229 Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

A knife fight late Tuesday among several auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) still inspecting the results of the presidential elections held in mid-June could be the stab in the back for what has been a painful election process.

The vote audit process was resumed following a three-hour delay on Wednesday, a commission official said.

Two months after Afghans voted in a second runoff for election of the country’s president, ballots are being recounted amid growing questions on who is really arbitrating the process."What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed” – Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union

The four corrugated iron barracks east of Kabul that constitute the centre of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan in which the 22,828 ballot boxes are piled up, have become the Afghan insurgency´s main target.

In the June 14 runoff, presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai won 56.44 percent of the votes, while his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, received 43.56 percent, despite having been the most voted candidate in the first runoff on April 5.

The turnout was equally surprising: eight million out of 12 million voters, an unlikely figure given that most polling stations were reportedly empty on election day.

With Abdullah Abdullah’s allegations of massive fraud having put the electoral process on the brink of collapse, the two candidates were persuaded to agree to a full ballot recount.

In an audit that started mid-July, the ballot boxes are being examined by a team formed by auditors of both candidates and members of the IEC. Afghan as well as European Union observers are also on the spot in a process closely monitored by U.N. assistants.

“I have spent the last two weeks taking part in this massive farce,” Abdullah Abdullah´s auditor Munir Latifi told IPS. “The United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission are working together so that Ghani takes the win but there´s nobody supporting us,” he said before returning to his seat.

Latifi has to discuss whether the handwritten “V”, “X” or a circle on each candidate´s tick box is repeated in several of the ballots, or if it is really “one person, one vote”. Boxes suspicious of fraud are put in quarantine and records are taken by hand in a notebook.

Resources may look scarce but Shazad Ayubee, a Pashtun from Paktiya in southeast Afghanistan and one of Ghani´s auditors, told IPS he was “a hundred percent” satisfied with the process, although “things would be smoother if Abdullah´s auditors didn´t struggle to delay the publication of the results by any means necessary.”

Similar handwriting among different ballots “doesn´t necessarily imply fraud,” he added. “In the most remote villages of Afghanistan almost everybody is illiterate. Families simply show up at the polling stations and the one who can write marks their ballots,” explained Ayubee during the lunch break.

The most suspicious ballot boxes are those that arrive unlocked, the ones that boast over the maximum of 600 ballots, or even random objects such as traditional felt hats or tobacco packets. Many auditors claim that full boxes arriving from Taliban-controlled areas should be systematically discarded because the Afghan armed opposition consistently prevents the population from taking part in elections.

But Ayubee says he knows the reason behind the unexpected turn out in Taliban strongholds: “Unlike Pakistani or Uzbek Taliban, the Afghan Taliban told people to vote for Ghani because he is a Pashtun – a majority of the Afghan insurgents belong to that ethnic group. Everyone knows that Ghani will defend their interests much better than a Tajik like Abdullah Abdullah.”

Mid-morning, Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the IEC, appears in the press room opposite the barracks and starts his speech with a “sincere commitment to democracy” as opposed to “unfounded rumours and lies over the development of the audit.”

The IEC spokesman describes a “joint effort of 220 IEC workers, 305 auditors for Abdullah, 306 for Ghani and 1014 international observers.”

Asked by IPS whether the auditors are skilled in graphology, Mohammad showed no sign of hesitation: “This is a process under the close guidance of the United Nations, which displays 50 advisors on a daily basis. Besides, it´s the United Nations which has the last word over the ballots.”

Final decision

Speaking to IPS by phone from his office in Brussels, Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union, told IPS that it was “too early” to take stock of the process. “What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed.”

Commenting on the fact that the United Nations was acting both as adviser for the electoral process and as arbitrator in the recount, Berman said that “in countries like Spain or Holland we would have relied on a fully external body but in the case of Afghanistan we are dealing with very young institutions that do not yet have a significant credibility.”

“I agree that the U.N. role can be criticised, but what is the alternative,” he asked before reiterating that the E.U. delegation is determined to conduct its work “even in the case that the United Nations does not fulfil its part.”

Despite repeated calls and emails from IPS, the U.N. spokesman only agreed to respond to a questionnaire sent via e-mail. Jeff Fischer, senior international expert on elections and head of the U.N. Independent Electoral Commission advisory team, labelled the scale and scope of the audit as “unprecedented in the history of the United Nations.”

He stressed that all the auditors had received training on IEC procedures and invalidation and recount criteria before they could start working as advisors.

Regarding rumours concerning alleged U.N. backing for the Pashtun candidate, Fischer was blunt: “Final decisions as to whether votes are valid or invalid are taken by the IEC Board of Commissioners.”

Confusion over who has the last word in the audit grows while pressure from the outside strives to break the poll deadlock.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has recently warned that the alliance will be forced to take a decision regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan unless the new Afghan president signs the security agreements.

According to Rasmussen, the NATO summit scheduled for September 4-5 in Wales would be “very close” to a deadline for taking that decision.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/feed/ 0
In Saving a Forest, Kenyans Find a Better Quality of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:23:24 +0000 Peter Kahare http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136217 People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

People restoring section of depleted forest in Kasigau, in south eastern Kenya. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

By Peter Kahare
KASIGAU, Kenya, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

When Mercy Ngaruiya first settled in Kasigau in south eastern Kenya a decade ago, she found a depleted forest that was the result of years of tree felling and bush clearing.

“This region was literally burning. There were no trees on my farm when I moved here, the area was so dry and people were cutting down trees and burning bushes for their livelihood,” Ngaruiya, a community leader in Kasigau, told IPS.

Back then, she says, poverty and unemployment levels were high, there was limited supply of fresh water, and education and health services were poor.

Mike Korchinsky, the president of Wildlife Works, a Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) project development and management company, remembers it all too well.

“When I came here, you could hear the sounds of axes as people constantly cut trees. Cutting down trees is doubly alarming because you have an immediate emission when the carbon that has been stored in the forest for centuries is released into the atmosphere, and then there is nothing to sequester the carbon that is being produced by human activities,” Korchinsky told IPS.

Tucked between Tsavo east and Tsavo west in Voi district, 150 kilometres northwest of Mombasa, Kenya’s coastal city, Kasigau region is slowly rising from the ashes as its green economy flourishes. This region of almost 100,000 people is beginning to grow as the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project, implemented in 2004 through Wildlife Works, slowly bears fruit.

“Things are changing now since my fellow villagers agreed to embrace environmental conservation. The environment is continuing to improve,” Ngaruiya said.

The open canopy along the Kasigau corridor is now regenerating and the REDD+ project is empowering thousands of residents here to abandon forest destruction and embrace new, sustainable livelihoods.

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

The green and vibrant section of Kasigau forest following conservation efforts and the successful implementation of a REDD+ project. Courtesy: Wildlife Works

Currently, the Kasigau REDD+ project generates over one million dollars annually through the sale of carbon, at about eight dollars per tonne, on the African Carbon Exchange.

One third of the revenue goes towards project development and is reinvested in income-generating green initiatives like manufacturing clothes (which are sold locally and internationally), agroforestry, and artificial charcoal production, among other activities.

A portion of the profit is also distributed directly to the land owners here.

“We no longer need to cut trees now for charcoal, we use biogas and eco-friendly charcoal made from pruned leaves. We cook while conserving trees,” resident Nicoleta Mwende told IPS.

Chief Pascal Kizaka is the administrator of Kasigau location. He told IPS that the REDD+ project has had real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation.

“Besides conservation, part of the profits has enabled construction of 20 modern classrooms in local schools, bursaries for over 1,800 pupils, a health centre and an industry — hence improving our standards of living,” Kizaka said.

The Kasigau project is the first verified REDD+ project in Kenya where communities living in the area are earning money from conserving their natural resources.

Trading in carbon credits is still in a nascent stage in Kenya.

But according to Alfred Gichu, the forestry climate change specialist at Kenya Forest Service, a state corporation that conserves and manages forests, the future of carbon credits trade in Kenya is bright.

There are 16 active, registered carbon credits projects and 26 others are in the process of being registered.

“Of the 26, 19 are energy-based, like the Geothermal Development Company, and seven involve reforestation projects,” Gichu told IPS. The expansive Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley is a key target by the government for the carbon credits trade, he added.

When it comes to forests conservation, Kenya is one of the countries where policies have led to success according to “Deforestation Success Stories 2013” a report by the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

The report cites the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project as a major success story, noting that by late 2012, revenues generated from the sale of voluntary carbon credits from the project had reached 1.2 million dollars.

According to a UNEP’s 2013 “Emissions Gap” report, promotion of tree planting on farms, schools and other public institutions; prohibiting harvesting of trees in public forests; and awareness creation by both the government and private conservationists are some of the policy measures in Kenya that have boosted forest cover.

But there are also challenges that hinder development of REDD+ projects here.

Moses Kimani, the director of the African Carbon Exchange, cites lack of expertise and finances as some of the major challenges hindering development of carbon credits trade.

“Besides poor policies and weak legislative framework, many carbon credits projects in Kenya and Africa lack the much-needed expertise and finance,” Kimani told IPS.

During last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Poland, participants agreed on a framework for REDD+ and pledged 280 million dollars in financing.

But environmentalists lament a lack of clear mechanisms to enable these adaptation funds to trickle down and reach local communities.

John Maina, an environmental conservationist, says that Kenyans running these projects were losing out to traders after selling carbon at throwaway prices due to low level of understanding.

“The government, civil society sector and NGOs should work together to strengthen regulations and sensitise Kenyans on carbon projects and how they can access financing,” Maina told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at pkahare@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/in-saving-a-forest-kenyans-find-a-better-quality-of-life/feed/ 0
India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/feed/ 1