Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:58:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Zimbabwe’s Climate Change Ambitions May be Too Tallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-climate-change-ambitions-may-be-too-tall/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 13:12:03 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141841 These Zimbabwean farmers with their harvested sorghum are at the mercy of climate change, while the government struggles with meagre financing and tall ambitions to take adequate action. Credit: UNDP-ALM

These Zimbabwean farmers with their harvested sorghum are at the mercy of climate change, while the government struggles with meagre financing and tall ambitions to take adequate action. Credit: UNDP-ALM

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe , Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

With the U.N. Climate Change conference later this year in Paris fast approaching, Zimbabwe’s climate change commitments face the slow progress on an issue that continues to stalk other developing countries – climate finance.

As it prepares for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21), Zimbabwe – like many others in the global South – is grappling with radical climate shifts that have seen devastating exchanges of floods and droughts every year, and still awaits green bailout funds from developed nations, with officials here telling IPS, “this support should come in the forms of technology.”

The country’s halting progress on the climate front is being blamed by local climate researchers on the country’s failure to invest in state-of-the-art climate monitoring technology. More still needs to be done as the country heads to Paris, says Sherpard Zvigadza, Programmes Manager, Climate Change and Energy, for the Harare-based ZERO Regional Environment Organisation (ZERO)."The country [Zimbabwe] needs to partner with those in the private sector who are making an effort to develop projects or reduce their footprint, and implement a reward-based strategy so that both individuals and corporates are encouraged to support the government’s policies" – Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa

“Zimbabwe should strengthen systematic observation, ensuring improved real-time observations and availability of meteorological data for research,” Zvigadza told IPS.

These concerns arise from what is seen here as repeated failure by the poorly-funded Meteorological Services Department to adequately monitor climate patterns and put in place effective early warning systems for disaster preparedness.

However, these constraints have not stopped Zimbabwe, which for the past two decades has seen a wilting of international financial support for crafting ambitious climate change interventions.

Recurrent climate-induced disasters have shown that this not the time to treat anything as “business as usual”, says Elisha Moyo, principal climate change researcher in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

And these efforts have brought together civic society organisations (CSOs), farmers and ordinary Zimbabweans in what is expected to shape the country’s negotiations in Paris.

CSOs point to the fact that Zimbabwe has been identified by GLOBE International, which brings together legislators from all over the world, as having on the most comprehensive environmental laws in southern Africa, and say that this should be a stimulus for helping the country make greater strides in climate governance.

According to a climate ministry brief issued last month, Zimbabwe’s climate policy seeks, among others, weather and climate modelling, vulnerability and adaptation assessments, mitigation and low carbon development.

However, as tall as these ambitions sound, the climate ministry has acknowledged that in the absence of adequate financing the country could still be far from meeting its United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) commitments.

“There is a need to expand current projects as well as develop new projects throughout the country for the country to position itself to be able to raise funding for these developments,” said Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, a Zimbabwe-based company established to facilitate the generation of carbon credits through validating Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects.

“The country needs to partner with those in the private sector who are making an effort to develop projects or reduce their footprint, and implement a reward-based strategy so that both individuals and corporates are encouraged to support the government’s policies,” Wentzel told IPS.

“If the country is serious about moving away from business as usual, awareness raising is key for all stakeholders, including the general population as well as industry,” Zvigadza told IPS. “A vigorous campaign is needed across the country. More importantly, Zimbabwe’s national climate change response strategy has to be operationalised so that the challenges are addressed according to different local circumstances.”

Yet, by the climate ministry’s own admission, progress has remained slow due to the continuing problem of lack of funds, which Moyo believes should be tapped from the richer nations.

“As Africa, and supported by other developing countries from other regions, we believe the rich countries have not yet shouldered a fair share of the burden and should lead by example, in terms of cutting emissions and also providing financial support to poorer nations as stated in the Climate Change Convention,” Moyo told IPS.

And Zimbabwe certainly does need the money. The climate ministry is already wallowing in reduced state funding after the Finance Ministry slashed its national budget from 93 million dollars in 2014 to 52 million this year.

Meanwhile, domestic economic considerations are one of the obstacles to implementation of the country’s troubled climate change policy. Despite seeking to promote clean energy, power generation is still largely fossil fuel-based, where instead of cutting emissions, relatively cheaper coal feeds power generation.

The climate ministry policy brief says the country needs to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy production transmission and use”, but economic hardships have made this a tall order where millions also rely on highly-polluting firewood for fuel.

“We are compiling the “intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) and have been conducting consultations and data collection around the country especially with reference to the energy sector, which has a high potential of emission reductions through adoption of
renewable energy wherever possible,” Moyo told IPS.

INDCS are the post-2020 climate actions that countries say they will take under a new international agreement to be reached at COP21 in Paris, and to be submitted to the United Nations by September.

For its climate change ambitions to succeed, Zimbabwe must go back to the grassroots, says Wentzel, but unfortunately “there is a lack of knowledge of climate changes issues,” he told IPS.

As Washington Zhakata, Zimbabwe’s lead climate change negotiator put it: “The road to the Paris summit remains unclear with many stumbling blocks on the road.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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‘Permaculture the African Way’ in Cameroon’s Only Eco-Villagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/permaculture-the-african-way-in-cameroons-only-eco-village/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 08:16:10 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141834 Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Scene from Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the country’s first and only eco-village which is based on the principle that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

Marking a shift away from the growing trend of abandoning sustainable life styles and drifting from traditional customs and routines, Joshua Konkankoh is a Cameroonian farmer with a vision – that the answer to food insecurity lies in sustainable and organic methods of farming.

Konkankoh, who left a job with the government to pursue that vision, founded Better World Cameroon, which works to develop local sustainable agricultural strategies that utilise indigenous knowledge systems for mitigating food crises and extreme poverty, and is now running Cameroon’s first and only eco-village – the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village in Bafut in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.

“Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs. Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage” – Joshua Konkankoh
Talking with IPS, Konkankoh explained how the eco-village organically fertilises soil through the planting and pruning of nitrogen-fixing trees planted on farms where mixed cropping is practised. When the trees mature, the middles are cut out and the leaves used as compost. The trees are then left to regenerate and the same procedure is repeated the following season.

“Here we train youths and farmers on permanent agriculture or permaculture,” he said. “I call it ‘permaculture the African way’ because the concept was coined by scientists and we are adapting it to our old ways of farming and protecting the environment.”

While government is keeping its distance from the project, Konkankoh said that local councils and traditional rulers are encouraging people to embrace the initiative, which is said to be ecologically, socially, economically and spiritually friendly.

“I was active during the U.N. Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. In studying the reason why many countries failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we realised that there were some gaps but we also found out that permaculture was a solution to sustainability, especially in Africa. So I felt we could contextualize the concept – think globally and act locally.”

The permaculture used at the eco-village makes maximum use of limited agricultural land, and villagers are taught how to plant more than one crop on the same piece of land, use a common organic fertiliser and obtain high yields.

Farmers, said Konkankoh, are encouraged to trade and not seek aid, to benefit from their investment and prevent middlemen and multinationals from scooping up a large share of their earnings. The organic agriculture practised and taught in the eco-village is a blend of culture and fair trade initiatives.

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

Joshua Konkankoh, founder of Cameroon’s first and only eco-village, shows off some nitrogen-fixing trees. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

“We encourage rural farmers to guarantee food sovereignty by producing what they also consume directly and not cash crops like cocoa and coffee.”

Farmers are trained in the importance of manure, of producing it and selling it to other farmers, as well in innovative techniques of erosion control, water management, windbreaks, inter-cropping and food foresting.

Konkankoh also told IPS that it was a mistake to have left the spiritual principle out of the MDG programme. “Biodiversity was protected by traditional beliefs.  Felling of some trees and killing of certain animal species in certain forests were prohibited. They were protected by gods and ancestors. We want to protect such heritage.”

The eco-village has started a project to replant spiritual forests with 4,000 medicinal and fruit trees in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions.

Fon Abumbi II, traditional ruler of Bafut, the village which hosts the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco-village, believes that the type of cultivation of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants used by the eco-village will improve the health of local people.

He is also convinced that with many firms around the world producing health care products with natural herbs, the demand for the products of the eco-village is high, guaranteeing a promising future for the villagers who cultivate them.

Houses in the eco-village are constructed with local materials such as earth bags and mud bricks, and grass for the roofs. Domestic appliances such as ovens and stoves are earthen and homemade.

Sonita Mbah Neh, project administrator at eco-village’s demonstration centre, said that the earthen stoves bit not only reduce the impact of climate change by minimising the use of wood for combustion but the local women who make then also earn a living by selling them.

Lanci Abel, mayor of the Bafut municipality, told IPS that his council is mobilising citizens to embrace permaculture. “You know, when an idea is new, people only embrace it when it is recommended by authorities. We are carrying out communication and sensitisation of the population to return to traditional methods of farming as taught at the eco-village.”

Abel also had something to say about the performance of genetically modified plantain seedlings planted by the Ministry of Agriculture at the start of the 2015 farming season in Cameroon’s Southwest Region, which recorded a miserable 30 percent yield.

The issue had been raised by Mbanya Bolevie, a member of parliament from the region who asked Minister of Agriculture Essimi Menye about the failure of the modern seeds during the June session of parliament.

Julbert Konango, Littoral Regional Delegate for the Chamber of Agriculture, said the failure was due the fact that seeds are often old because “there is inadequate finance for agricultural research organisations in Cameroon as well as a shortage of engineers in the sector,” a sign that the country not fully prepared for second-generation agriculture.

Commenting on the incident, Abel said that citizens using natural seeds and compost would not have faced these problems, adding that “besides the possibility of failure of chemical fertilisers, they also pollute the soil.”

The eco-village, which would like to become a model for Cameroon and West Africa, is a member of the Global Ecovillage Network.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Belo Monte Dam Marks a Before and After for Energy Projects in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 20:20:19 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141821 A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Paulo de Oliveira drives a taxi in the northern Brazilian city of Altamira, but only when he is out of work in what he considers his true profession: operator of heavy vehicles like trucks, mixers or tractor loaders.

For the past few months he has been driving a friend’s taxi at night, while waiting for a job on the construction site of the Belo Monte dam – a giant hydroelectric plant on the Xingú river in the Amazon rainforest which has given rise to sharply divided opinions in Brazil.

Oliveira, whose small stature contrasts with the enormous vehicles he drives, has lived in many different parts of the Amazon jungle. “I started in the Air Force, a civilian among military personnel, building airports, barracks and roads in Itaituba, Jacareacanga, Oriximiná, Humaitá and other municipalities,” he told IPS.

His sister’s death in a traffic accident brought him back to Altamira, where he became a garimpeiro or informal miner. “I was buried once in a tunnel 10 metres below ground,” he said.

He survived this and other risks and earned a lot of money mining gold and ferrying miners – who paid him a fortune – in a taxi back and forth from the city to the illegal mine. “But I spent it all on women,” he confessed.

He then moved to Manaus, the Amazon region’s capital of two million people, to work on the construction of the monumental bridge over the Negro river. After that he headed to Porto Velho, near the border with Bolivia. But he had a feeling that something would go wrong at the Jirau hydropower construction site and quit after a few months.

Just a few days later, in March 2011, the workers rioted, setting fire to 60 buses and almost all of the lodgings for 16,000 employees, and bringing to a halt construction on the Jirau dam and another nearby large hydropower plant, Santo Antônio, both of which are on the Madeira river.

After bouncing between jobs on different construction sites, at the age of 50 Oliveira found himself back in Altamira, a city of 140,000 people located 55 km from Belo Monte, where he already worked in 2013 and is trying to get a job again. But things are difficult, because the amount of work there is in decline, as construction of the cement structures is winding up.

And it is possible that workers like him, specialised in heavy construction, no longer have a future in building large hydroelectric dams. The controversy triggered by Belo Monte will make it hard for the country to carry out similar projects after this.

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The final assessment of the Belo Monte experience will determine the fate of the government’s plans to harness the energy of the Amazon rivers, the only ones that still have a strong enough flow to offer large-scale hydropower potential, which has been exhausted on rivers elsewhere in Brazil.

A study by the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute states that if the government’s construction plans for the 2005-2030 period are implemented, the hydropower dams in the Amazon will account for 67.5 percent of the new power generation in this country of 203 million people.

The next project of this magnitude, the São Luiz dam on the Tapajós river to the west of the Xingú river, is facing an apparently insurmountable obstacle: it would flood indigenous territory, which is protected by the constitution.

Belo Monte, whose original plan was modified to avoid flooding indigenous land, has drawn fierce criticism for affecting the way of life of native and riverbank communities. The public prosecutor’s office accuses the company that is building the dam, Norte Energía, of ethnocide and of failing to live up to requirements regarding indigenous communities, who in protest occupied and damaged some of the dam’s installations on several occasions.

São Luiz, designed to generate 8,040 MW, and other hydropower dams planned on the Tapajós river, are facing potentially more effective resistance, led by a large indigenous community that lives in the river basin – the Munduruku, who number around 12,000.

Just over 6,000 indigenous people belonging to nine different ethnic groups live in the Belo Monte area of influence, with nearly half of them living in towns and cities, Francisco Brasil de Moraes, in charge of the middle stretch of the Xingú river in Brazil’s national indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS.

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Another battle, for local development, has had less international repercussions than the indigenous question. But it could also be decisive when it comes to overcoming resistance to future hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

Norte Energía, a consortium of 10 public and private companies and investment funds, has channeled some 1.1 billion dollars into activities aimed at mitigating and compensating for social and environmental impacts in 11 municipalities surrounding the megaproject.

This sum, unprecedented in a project of this kind, is equivalent to 12 percent of the total investment.

The company resettled 4,100 families displaced from their homes by the construction project and reservoir, and indemnified thousands more. It rebuilt part of Altamira and the town of Vitoria de Xingú, including basic sanitation works, and built or remodeled six hospitals, 30 health centres and 270 classrooms.

Nevertheless, complaints have rained down from all sides.

Norte Energía installed modern water and sewage treatment plants, and sewers and water networks in Altamira. But there was a 10-month delay before an agreement was signed in June to connect the water and sewer networks to the housing units, which the local government will administer and the company will finance.

And it will take even longer for the city council to create a municipal sanitation company and for the service to begin to operate.

“My family was promised three houses, because we have two married sons,” said José de Ribamar do Nascimento, 62, resettled in the neighbourhood of Jatobá, on the north side of Altamira, the first one built for families relocated from areas to be flooded by the reservoir. “But then they took away our right to two of them, maybe because I was unable to protest, since I’m ill.”

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Each 63-square-metre housing unit has three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom, and is built on 300 square metres of land in a neat new housing development with paved streets.

Nascimento, who has prostate cancer, has a hard time walking and survives on a small pension. But he is confident that the future will be more promising for the local population, thanks to the jobs generated by the hydropower plant.

“We live much better here,” said his wife, 61-year-old Anerita Trindade. “Our old house would get cut off by the water when it rained; we had to wade through the water, on little walkways made of rotten boards. Sometimes there’s no water or transportation to get downtown, but now we’re on dry land.”

The move especially benefited Francisco Assis Cardoso, who at the age of 32 has become the leading shopkeeper in Jatobá. His family of four siblings was assigned five houses in a row. That enabled him to build a supermarket and a pharmacy together with his mother. “I worked in a pharmacy, it’s what I know how to do,” he said.

But Norte Energía has been criticised for delays in providing the promised schools, buses and health posts in the five new neighbourhoods, and for what many say was an unfair distribution of new housing.

A Plan for Sustainable Regional Development of the Xingú aims to go beyond compensation for relocation and other impacts of the dams. Together, society and governments choose projects that are financed with contributions from Norte Energía.

The Territorial Development Agenda was drafted on the basis of studies and consultations with a team hired by the government’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development, which financed 80 percent of the construction of the Belo Monte dam.

A third challenge for Belo Monte is to effectively combat criticism from voices within the power industry itself, who are opposed to run-of-the-river hydroelectric plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and during the dry season the power generation is low.

Belo Monte will generate on average only 40 percent of its 11,233 MW of installed capacity. To avoid flooding indigenous lands, it reduced the size of the reservoir to 478 square kilometres – 39 percent of what was envisaged in the original plan drawn up in the 1980s.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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‘Ambassadors of Freedom’ – Palestine’s Resistance Babieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:51:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141818 Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA CITY, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Thirteen-year-old Hula Khadoura sits on a large sofa in her grandfather’s home in the neighbourhood of Tuffah, Gaza City, her one-year-old twin brothers Karam and Adam on her lap. “I am so happy they arrived,” she beams, holding the babies’ feeding bottles in her hands.

There is an aura of mystery and something of the miraculous around the  twins’ births – their father, Saleh Khadoura, has spent the past 11 years in an Israeli prison and has had no physical contact with Hula’s mother, Bushra, since then.

Hula hears people refer to her brothers as ‘special babies’ but does not fully grasp what the fuss is about. She is completely unaware of the unusual obstacles her father’s sperm had to overcome to reach her mother’s eggs.“After the suffering I am put through with each visit [to her husband in an Israeli prison], with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken” – Bushra Abu Saafi

Freedom ambassadors

Bushra Abu Saafi, is one of around 30 Palestinian women who have conceived babies since 2013 with sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prisons in which their husbands are being held. She was only the second woman in Gaza to do this. Before her, two had tried but only one succeeded.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ NGO Addameer, there are currently some 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel. Of these, roughly 5,550 are adult males.

Women whose husbands are serving decades-long sentences do not want to see their dream of starting a family, or increasing its size, taken away by the very same authorities that took away their husbands.

Until recently, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) was highly sceptical that sperm smuggling could be happening at all. Spokesperson Sivan Weizman told the press that tight security made it very unlikely. Recently, though, they have acknowledged that it may be an issue.

The Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, on the other hand, have never shown any doubt and have financially supported women wishing to try this very unconventional method of conceiving.

In May in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners even organised a collective birthday party for the little ‘ambassadors of freedom’, as babies born this way are often called.

Families apart

“It was my husband who suggested we try ‘in vitro fertilisation’ (IVF) treatment with his smuggled sperm,” Bushra Abu Saafi told IPS from her father’s apartment, where she lives with her five children.

The majority of Palestinian households have at least one relative in an Israeli prison. For a people under occupation, political prisoners become part of the collective identity, they are adopted by Palestinians as long lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers and are celebrated at Prisoners’ Day marches and recurring demonstrations.

In the private sphere, the prisoners continue to be individuals and occupy prominent places in the home. Their handicrafts are displayed with pride, their photos adorn each room and the vacuum they have left is still palpable.

A flowery picture frame with a photo of her smiling husband Saleh in his twenties sits on a side table in Bushra’s living room. He was arrested at the age of 23, accused of being part of the Islamic Jihad. They had been married for five years and only two of their children have had the privilege of spending some time with him as a family.

When Saleh was imprisoned, Bushra was pregnant with Ahmed. “It hasn’t been easy these past 11 years,” she told IPS.  “We miss him terribly, my son Ahmad especially. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘father’. He tells me ‘when I grow up I want to be like grandad’.”

Smuggling new life out of jail

Entering a fourth pregnancy was something Bushra did not take lightly and her father worried about the extra pressure. “When Saleh proposed this to me from prison, I was sceptical,” she confessed. “My family and I worried about what people would say. Imagine, pregnant with a husband in jail!”

She need not have worried. The advice she was given, like other women undergoing IVF in this way, was to tell everyone in her family and village that her husband’s sperm had been brought out and would be used for insemination. Since then, local media stations have helped spread the story and both Palestinian society and local religious authorities have been highly supportive.

“In the end, my father saw that it was my desire to try for another baby and eventually supported my choice,” Bushra said. It took two months and many tests before she could be ready for the operation.

Although the women do not wish to discuss how the sperm is smuggled past Israeli security and out of prison, it is acknowledged that it may be slipped into the clothes of  unaware children.

While wives talk to imprisoned husbands through glass and over a phone, children are the only ones allowed physical contact at the end of a visit. The clinics performing the operation,  both in Gaza and in the West Bank, report that sperm has arrived in a variety of improvised containers, from sweet wrappers to eye drop bottles.

“The preparation, the waiting, it was all very tough,” said Bushra. “But when the news came that I was pregnant, the pressure was off and we finally celebrated.” The double surprise came later, when she was told that twins were expected.

She describes the steps leading to this pregnancy as being about resistance and overcoming challenges. “After the suffering I am put through with each visit, with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken.”

Fertility and non-violent resistance

According to Liv Hansson, a Danish public health specialist who has researched fertility in Palestine, the practice of sperm smuggling only makes associations between fertility and resistance easier to draw.

“In a context such as Palestine, where women are well educated and child mortality is low, a lower fertility rate would be expected according to classic demography,” Hansson told IPS. The fertility rate of 4.1 registered in Palestine between 2011 and 2013, then, must be seen in the light of Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Indeed, fertility has long been considered by Palestinians as part of resistance efforts against Israel’s military occupation. For its part, Israel views high fertility rates in the West Bank and Gaza, and in majority Palestinian areas inside Israel, as a very real threat. Talk of the ‘demographic time-bomb’ – the time when Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis – is very common.

“Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously stated that ‘the wombs of Palestinian women are the greatest weapon of Palestine’,” Hansson told IPS. “Fertility is seen as something of interest not only to the family but to the community, society at large and to politicians too.”

The wait

Bushra and her five children will have to wait three more years to be reunited as a family with Saleh. Since 2012, following the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit, Israel’s Prison Service has been slowly reinstating visiting rights for family and prisoners from Gaza.

Ahmed saw his father two years ago for the first time, Hula six months ago and for the twins, the only meeting so far has been through the photograph on the side table, portraying Saleh as a young man eager to live life.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Kenyan Pastoralists Fighting Climate Change Through Food Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyan-pastoralists-fighting-climate-change-through-food-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 23:56:14 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141811 Sipian Lesan, a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Lekuru village in Samburu County, Kenya, taking care of one of his edible fruit-producing plants. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Sipian Lesan, a semi-nomadic pastoralist from Lekuru village in Samburu County, Kenya, taking care of one of his edible fruit-producing plants. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
SAMBURU, Kenya, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

Sipian Lesan bends to attend to the Vangueria infausta or African medlar plant that he planted almost two years ago. He takes great care not to damage the soft, velvety, acorn-shaped buds of this hardy and drought-resistant plant. ”All over here it is dry,” says the 51-year-old Samburu semi-nomadic pastoralist.

“We hope that every manyatta [homestead] will have a small food forest and that these will grow in concentric circles until they meet and touch each other and expand, creating a continuous food forest" – Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest
Sipian is from Lekuru, a remote village located in the lower ranges of the Samburu Hills, an area dotted by Samburu homesteads commonly known as ‘manyattas’, some 358 km north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Here, the small villages are hot and arid, dominated by thorny acacia and patches of bare red earth that signify overgrazed land.

Samburu County is one of the regions in Kenya ravaged by recurrent drought, with most of the population living below the poverty line.

Climate change has made pastoralism an increasingly unsustainable livelihood option, leaving many households in Samburu without access to a daily meal, let alone a balanced diet.

“Animals have and will continue to die due to severe drought,” said Joshua Leparashau, a Samburu community leader. “The community still wants to hold on to the concept that having many livestock is a source of pride. This must change. If we as a community do not become proactive in curbing the menace, then we must be prepared for nature to destroy us without any mercy.”

As he looks after his fruit-producing sapling, Sipian tells IPS that some decades ago, before people he calls “greedy” started felling trees to satisfy the growing demand for indigenous forest products, his community used to feed on their readily available wild fruits during extreme hunger.

Now, through a concept new to them – dubbed food or garden forest, and brought to Kenya by Israeli environmentalist Aviram Rozin, founder of Sadhana Forest, an organisation dedicated to ecological revival and sustainable living work – the locals here are adopting planting of trees and shrubs that are favourable to the harsh local weather in their manyattas.

Community tree-planting in semi-arid Samburu County, Kenya. Robert Kibet/IPS

Community tree-planting in semi-arid Samburu County, Kenya. Robert Kibet/IPS

On a voluntary mission to help alleviate the degraded land and food insecurity in this part of northern Kenya, Rozin said that his vision would be to see at least each manyatta owning a food forest.

“The rate at which the community is embracing the concept is positive,” he said. “We hope that every manyatta will have a small food forest and that these will grow in concentric circles until they meet and touch each other and expand, creating a continuous food forest.”

However, the work of Sadhana Forest is not limited to forestation, as 35-year-old Resinoi Ewapere, who has eight children, explained.

“I used to leave early in the morning in search of water and return after noon. My children frequently missed school owing to the shortage of water and food.” But this daily routine came to an end after Sadhana Forest drilled a borehole from which water is now pumped using green energy – a combined windmill and solar energy system.

“Apart from the training we receive on planting fruit-producing trees and practising low-cost permaculture farming, we currently receive water from this centre at no cost,” Ewapere told IPS.

According to Rozin, Sadhana Forest’s initiative to help the Samburu community plant the 18 species of indigenous fruit trees which are drought-resistant and rich in nutrients is also part of a major conservation effort in that the combination of “small-scale food security and conservation of indigenous trees. will also create a linkage between people and trees and they will protect them.”

“We produce the seedlings and then supply them to the locals at no charge for them to plant in their manyattas,” said Rozin. Then, with careful management of the land and water-harvesting structures (swales or ditches dug on contours), water is fed directly into the plants.

The quality of the soil on the swales is improved by planting nitrogen-fixing plants such as beans, while the soil is watered and covered with mulch to prevent evaporation, thus remaining fertile.

One of the tree species being planted to create the food forests is Afzelia africana or African oak, the fruits of which are said to be rich in proteins and iron.  Its seed flour is used for baking. Another species is Moringa stenopetala, known locally as ‘mother’s helper’ because its fruit helps increase milk in lactating mothers and reduces malnutrition among infants.

“Residents here understand that their semi-nomadic life has to be slightly adjusted for survival,” noted George Obondo, coordinator of the NGO Coordination Board, who played a role in ensuring that Sadhana received 50,000 dollars from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to jump start its Samburu project.

The money was used to set up a training centre with over 35 volunteers from various countries, including Haiti, to train locals and at the same time produce seedlings, and to build the green energy system for pumping water from the borehole it drilled.

“Things are changing,” said Obondo, “and Samburus know that their lifestyle needs to be altered and also tied to greater dependence on plant growing and not just livestock.” This is why the Sadhana Forest initiative is important, he added, because it is training people and giving them the knowledge and ability to create the resilience that they will need to avoid a harsh future.

Edited by Phil Harris

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U.N.’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-s-post-2015-development-agenda-under-fire/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 23:19:17 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141793 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) with Irish Minister and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Dublin. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2015 (IPS)

The U.N.’s highly ambitious post-2015 development agenda, which is expected to be finalised shortly, has come fire even before it could get off the ground.

A global network of civil society organisations (CSOs), under the banner United Nations Major Groups (UNMG), has warned that the agenda, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “lacks urgency, a clear implementation strategy and accountability.”“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got." -- Shannon Kowalski

Savio Carvalho of Amnesty International (AI), which is part of the UNMG, told IPS the post-2015 agenda has become an aspirational text sans clear independent mechanisms for people to hold governments to account for implementation and follow-up.

“Under the garb of national ownership, realities and capacities, member states can get away doing absolutely nothing. We would like them to ensure national priorities are set in conformity with human rights principles and standards so that we are not in the same place in 2030,” he added.

The 17 SDGs, which are to be approved by over 150 political leaders at a U.N. summit meeting in September, cover a wide range of socio-economic issues, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, sustainable development, full employment, quality education, global governance, human rights, climate change and sustainable energy for all.

All 17 goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, are expected to be met by the year 2030.

The proposed follow-up and review, as spelled out, lacks a strong accountability mechanism, “with several references to national sovereignty, circumstances and priorities which risk undermining the universal commitment to deliver on the SDGs,” says UNMG.

“We are wondering how committed member states will be able to ensure genuine public participation, in particular of the most marginalised in each society, in decisions that will have an impact on their lives.”

This applies also to questions related to financing (budget allocations) in the actual implementation of the agenda, says a statement titled “Don’t break Your Promise Before Making it”.

“We are keen to ensure that people are able to hold governments to account to these commitments so that these goals are delivered and work for everyone,” says UNMG, which includes a number of coalitions and networks who will be monitoring the post-2015 process.

These groups include CSOs representing women, children and youth, human rights, trade unions and workers, local authorities, volunteers and persons with disabilities.

Asked about the composition of the UNMG, Jaimie Grant, who represents the secretariat for Persons with Disabilities, told IPS that UNMG is the official channel for the public to engage with the United Nations on matters of sustainable development.

“Across all these groups, stakeholders and networks, we share some very broad positions, but there are many thousands of organisations feeding in to it, in various capacities, with various positions and priorities,” he explained.

Adding strength to the chorus of voices from the opposition, the Women’s Major Groups, representing over 600 women’s groups from more than 100 countries, have also faulted the development agenda, criticising its shortcomings.

Shannon Kowalski, director of Advocacy and Policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told IPS the SDGs could be a major milestone for women and girls.

They have much to gain: better economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive health care and information and protection of reproductive rights, access to education, and lives free from violence, she noted.

“But in order to make this vision a reality, we have to ensure gender equality is at the heart of our efforts, recognising that it is a prerequisite for sustainable development,” she added.

The coalition includes Women in Europe for a Common Future, Equidad de Genero (Mexico), Global Forest Coalition, Women Environmental Programme, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development) and the Forum of Women’s NGOs (Kyrgyzstan).

Kowalski also expressed disappointment over the outcome of the recently concluded conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa.

“We hoped for a progressive and fair financing agreement that addressed the root causes of global economic inequality and its impact on women’s and girls’ lives. But that’s not what we got,” she said.

“We expected strong commitments on financing for gender equality and recognition of the value of women’s unpaid care work. We expected governments to address the systemic drivers of inequalities within and between countries, to establish fair tax policies, to stop illicit financial flows, and to address injustices in international trade structures that disadvantage the poorest countries.”

“We were disappointed that there were no new commitments to increase public financing in order to achieve the SDGs,” Kowalski declared.

Carvalho of Amnesty International said, “It will be impossible to achieve truly transformative sustainable development and to leave no one behind without conducting regular, transparent, holistic and participatory reviews of progress and setbacks at all levels.”

“The agenda acknowledges the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to respect domestic policy, but does not go far enough to ensure that their activities do not contribute to any human rights violations.”

“I think we need to strengthen the argument for the agenda to be universal – when all countries have to deliver on their commitments and obligations.”

These, he said, include Official Development Assistance (ODA) and tax justice.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to IPS, Beyond 2015, described as a global civil society campaign pushing for a strong successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), said “for the SDGs to have a real impact on people’s lives everywhere, people themselves must participate in implementing the goals and reviewing progress, and be active agents in decisions affecting them.”

The Beyond 2015 Campaign said it welcomes the focus on inclusion and participation reflected in the current draft that is being negotiated at the United Nations, and “we count on governments to translate their commitments into action as soon as the SDGs are adopted.”

In implementing the SDGs, it is crucial that states honour their commitment to “leave no one behind”.

“This means tracking progress for all social and economic groups, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, drawing upon data from a wider range of sources, and regular scrutiny with the involvement of people themselves,” the statement added.

Additionally, an even higher level of participation and inclusion is needed, at all levels, when implementation starts.

“People must be aware of the new agenda and take ownership of the goals for real and sustainable changes to occur.”

The Beyond 2015 campaign also welcomed the commitment to an open and transparent follow-up framework for the SDGs, grounded in people’s participation at multiple levels.

“We believe the current draft could be improved by including specific time-bound commitments and endorsing civil society’s role in generating data to review commitments,” it said.

“We insist on the need for governments to translate the SDGs into national commitments as this is a crucial step for governments to be genuinely accountable to people everywhere.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Central America Fails to Take Advantage of Energy from Sun, Wind and Earthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:00:02 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141781 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/central-america-fails-to-take-advantage-of-energy-from-sun-wind-and-earth/feed/ 0 One Tune, Different Hymns – Tackling Climate Change in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/one-tune-different-hymns-tackling-climate-change-in-south-africa/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 10:43:41 +0000 Munyaradzi Makoni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141772 Arnot coal-fired power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Climate activists are pushing for a much greater rollout of renewable energy as the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. Photo credit: Gerhard Roux/CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

Arnot coal-fired power station in Middelburg, South Africa. Climate activists are pushing for a much greater rollout of renewable energy as the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future. Photo credit: Gerhard Roux/CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0

By Munyaradzi Makoni
CAPE TOWN, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

Anti-nuclear energy activists are up in arms, and have taken to vigils outside South Africa’s parliament in Cape Town to protest against President Jacob Zuma’s push for nuclear development.

The protest has been building since September 2014 when Zuma struck a deal with Russia’s Rossatom to build up to eight nuclear power stations in South Africa. The stations would cost the country around 1 trillion South African rands (84 billion dollars).

As the protests mount, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), an interdenominational faith-based environment initiative led by Bishop Geoff Davies, has said the government’s nuclear policy is not only foolish but immoral.“SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country [South Africa] and lead to further energy impoverishment” – Liziwe McDaid, energy advisor for the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute

SAFCEI is demanding that the government take a fresh look at its drive for nuclear energy, and the call has found resonance among clean energy civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa.

Although CSOs and government agree in the need to tackle climate change urgently, they differ on core issues as South Africa prepares for the U.N. Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris in December.

“We believe that adaptation needs to be given greater emphasis,” says Liziwe McDaid, SAFCEI’s energy advisor. “Building the capacity of affected and vulnerable communities to respond to climate change must be a priority,” she adds.

For mitigation, argues McDaid, a much greater rollout of renewable energy is the key to shifting the carbon-intensive energy sector towards a sustainable low carbon future.

As a participant in the country’s National Climate Change dialogues, she says that SAFCEI shares the aspiration for responsible climate change and “we are in agreement with government on many of the priorities as outlined in the White Paper.”

South Africa’s White Paper seeks to prioritise climate change responses that have huge adaptation benefits, imply significant economic growth and job creation, and are responsive to public health and risk management.

However, stresses McDaid, when it comes to nuclear energy, “SAFCEI does not believe that nuclear energy is an answer to climate change but is a distraction likely to bankrupt the country and lead to further energy impoverishment.”

Dissenting voices

Meanwhile, David Hallowes researcher and editor of Slow Poison for groundWork, another climate change pressure group, feels there is no consensus between the government and the CSOs ahead of the crucial Paris meeting.

South Africa is not doing enough on adaptation, said Hallowes. “Government is still allowing mining and industry to poison water and land in key catchments and agricultural areas,” he told IPS, adding that the result is that climate impacts will be amplified.

The same plants and developments that are driving climate change are poisoning and killing people, animals and plants that are in the path of pollution, “so the people’s struggles for an environment not harmful to their health and wellbeing are also climate struggles.”

According to Hallowes, “there are different views on what can be achieved with renewable energy. We (groundWork) do not think it can power infinite economic growth and hence we do not believe it can sustain a capitalist economy. In the short term, we think we should be looking for a reduction in energy consumption. The question is who gets it for what.”

Referring to South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, which some say proves the benefits of privatisation, he also pointed to differences over nationalisation or privatisation.

“We think we should have a programme that creates democratic ownership and control of renewable energy at different levels from community or settlement, to municipality to national. We call it energy sovereignty.  The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa calls it social ownership. It’s the same thing.”

The groundWork researcher said that CSOs want to see an end to new coal developments, such as new mines or power stations. “I think everyone agrees but don’t necessarily mean the same thing. For some, it’s just a matter of jobs. We think it means the transformation of the economy towards equality and freedom that is democratic control rather than plutocratic control.”

Muna Lakhani, founder and national coordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa (IZWA), is equally concerned that government is not doing enough to fight climate change.

“Our government sees too much of ‘business as usual’ and is very lax in implementing even the minimal legislation, such as air quality permits, carbon taxes and the like,” he says.

According to Lakhani, CSOs are mostly united on key issues, such as the call for no more fossil fuel, a bigger push for renewables, and promoting local resilience especially of poorer communities and the generally disadvantaged.

Government role

Leluma Matooane, director of Earth Systems Science at Department of Science and Technology (DST) says the Department of Environmental Affairs has the responsibility to implement the country’s National Climate Change Response Policy but that the DST has taken a leadership and coordinating role in climate change research and in ensuring that the country’s responses to climate change are informed by robust science.

Under DST’s 10-Year Innovation Plan, argues Matooane, more focus is being placed on improving the scientific understanding of the drivers, impacts and risks of climate change, as well as on technological innovations the country may need to allow vulnerable sectors of the economy and society at large to adapt.

While views may differ on how to deal with climate change, notes the DST official, government has allowed the setting up of a multi-stakeholder grouping in which government has been joined by the private sector and civil society to discuss solutions.

Discussions in this grouping, he adds, influence and shape the country’s position in international debates and there is a deliberate attempt to have South Africa’s representatives deliver the similar position and messages at different platforms.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classroomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/digital-era-here-to-stay-in-argentinas-classrooms/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:08:19 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141766 Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Graciela Fernández Troiano teaching a visual skills class at the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández , the public high school where she works in the city of La Plata, in Argentina. The learning process has been transformed in the country’s public schools thanks to the distribution of laptops to all students, under the government’s Conectar Igualdad programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
LA PLATA, Argentina, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The showcases in the Colegio Nacional Rafael Hernández, a public high school in La Plata, Argentina, tell the story of the stern neoclassical building which dates back to 1884. But the classrooms reflect the digital era, thanks to the computers distributed to all public school students as part of a government social inclusion programme.

The atmosphere is happy and noisy during the first year visual skills class, where the students are focused on making a short film using their computers. The film opens with the school’s majestic central staircase and goes on to discuss the often traumatic transition from primary to secondary school.

“Kids from many different primary schools come together here,” the teacher of the class, Graciela Fernández Troiano, told IPS. “I put the emphasis on providing them with support using the images and metaphors that art offers, in the transformation they’re going through.”

“When we came to this school, we didn’t know anyone,” said one of the students, Giancarlo Gravang. “With this project we started to get to know each other, to make friends, because we worked in groups.”“What (Conectar Igualdad) tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education.” -- Silvina Gvirtz

The 12- and 13-year-olds in this class took photos of feet and staircases using their laptops or cell phones and digitalised and animated them, thanks to the programme Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality), run by the National Social Security Administration.

Since 2010, 5.1 million laptops – referred to here as notebooks – have been distributed, reaching all of the students and teachers in the country’s secondary and special education schools and government teacher training institutes.

The computers, with Internet connection, are used in all of the courses, both in school and at home.

“You can do your homework better, and do searches for more things,” said Lourdes Alano, a student.

In the “transformational staircases” project, Fernández Troiano introduces the students, for example, to works of art such as Dutch artist M.C. Escher’s House of Stairs, or Argentine writer Julio Cortázar’s short story Instructions On How to Climb a Staircase.

“Leaving the classroom and using the computer in a different part of the school wasn’t a source of distraction for them, like I thought it would be, but actually helped them concentrate on their work,” Fernández Troiano said. “It broke the routine of sitting at their desks. The inclusion of technology and space made them work harder.”

The programme’s administrators see creative initiatives like Fernández Troiano’s combination of diverse disciplines as a reflection of how universal access to a computer is a powerful educational tool, as IPS found the day we spent at the school in this city 52 km from Buenos Aires.

Silvina Gvirtz, executive director of Conectar Igualdad, explained to IPS that the programme emerged from a decision by President Cristina Fernández, as part of an integral educational policy that in 2006 made secondary education compulsory until the age of 18.

“It emerged as an educational tool that makes it possible to improve the quality of teaching, and as a result, of learning,” she said.

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

One of the laptops distributed to all public secondary school students in Argentina. A flying cow is the symbol of the open source Linux-based Huayra operating system, which was created locally for the government programme Conectar Igualdad. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

But the programme goes beyond distributing laptops.

“What it tries to do is narrow the digital gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, to meet a first objective, social justice, and a second – equally or more important – objective: to improve the quality of education,” said Gvirtz.

“Every adolescent has a computer, no matter where they live or where they come from,” Daniel Feldman, a professor of educational sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS. “This also creates changes in the family – in some cases it’s the only computer in the home, giving the entire family access to information and the Internet.

“That in itself has a compensating effect,” he said.

“The gaps lie elsewhere, they aren’t fixed just by distributing computers, but this obviously helps combat inequality,” Feldman added.

That inequality is familiar to Ezequiel Zanabria, who says he is happy now because he has his own computer “with all my things on it,” or Esteban López, who proudly shows his mother how to use the notebook.

According to Feldman, other effects of the programme are the recognition of “a right to and a sentiment of restoration of dignity” which at the same time “generates other mechanisms of integration and social participation.

“It’s wonderful to see the kids in front of the school, sitting in long lines along the sidewalks with their notebooks. It doesn’t matter if they’re studying, playing, chatting – they now have access to all of that, which is a big first change,” he stressed.

To illustrate the different ways the laptops can be used, Gvirtz said: “Instead of the traditional drawings on the blackboard, by using a programme we developed, students see how atoms join together to form molecules…In a dance school, some girls used their notebooks to film themselves while they danced, to analyse the mistakes they made.”

“The computer doesn’t replace the direct experience of a museum, but it indirectly allows access to historical and scientific sources, images, films, not only purely educational but with educational content…all they need is access to the normal channels, in order to have a huge quantity of information at their fingertips,” Feldman said.

Conectar Igualdad has also given a major boost to the national computer industry. Ten computer factories have opened, and in each public tender, more domestically produced parts have been required, as well as more and more advanced technologies, such as greater memory and better video definition, Gvirtz said.

Along with Windows, the notebooks use Huayra, a Linux-based open source operating system developed locally for the programme, which unlike proprietary systems can be modified and improved, she noted.

“When they started saying that every student would have a notebook, nobody believed it – people said that would be the day when cows fly (an expression roughly equivalent to ‘when hell freezes over’),” said a student, María Elena Davel.

But the cow, which today is the Huayra symbol, is now flying and plans to go even higher. The next step is to add a computer programming course in schools.

“This is key because we want to move towards technological sovereignty,” said Gvirtz. “We want to form both producers and intelligent consumers of technology.”

The laptops are distributed to the students under a loan-for-use agreement with the parents. The youngsters can then keep them if they graduate.

One challenge is training the teachers, who must adapt to the new e-learning and digital culture in this country of 42 million people, where there are nearly 12 million students in the educational system.

“It’s like the transition from a blackboard with chalk in the hands of each student, to the school notebook and pen. That was also a change in technology in the classroom, which had to be adapted to,” Feldman pointed out.

“This is here to stay,” he said. “We’re all going to have to adapt and accept that this will bring changes in the way we teach.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Kenya’s Climate Change Bill Aims to Promote Low Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/kenyas-climate-change-bill-aims-to-promote-low-carbon-growth/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 16:33:27 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141763 A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change.  Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A geothermal drilling rig at the Menengai site in Kenya's Rift Valley to exploit energy which is more sustainable than that produced from fossil fuels. A Climate Change Bill now before the Kenyan parliament seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
NAIROBI, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Alexander Muyekhi, a construction worker from Ebubayi village in the heart of Vihiga County in Western Kenya, and his school-going children can now enjoy a tiny solar kit supplied by the British-based Azuri Technologies to light their house and play their small FM radio.

This has saved the family from use of kerosene tin-lamps, which are dim and produce unfriendly smoke, but many other residents in the village – and elsewhere in the country – are not so lucky because they cannot afford the 1000 shillings (10 dollars) deposit for the kit, and 80 weekly instalments of 120 shillings (1.2 dollars).

“Such climate-friendly kits are very important, particularly for the rural poor,” said Philip Kilonzo, Technical Advisor for Natural Resources & Livelihoods at ActionAid International Kenya. “But for families who survive on less than a dollar per day, it becomes a tall order for them to pay the required deposit, as well as the weekly instalments.”“Once it [Climate Change Bill] becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth” - Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, Kenyan MP

It was due to such bottlenecks that Dr Wilbur Ottichilo, a member of parliament for Emuhaya constituency in Western Kenya, and chair of the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change, moved a motion in parliament to enact a Climate Change Bill, which has already been discussed, and is now being subjected to public scrutiny before becoming law.

“Once it becomes law, we will deliberately use it as a legal instrument to reduce or exempt taxes on such climate-friendly gadgets and on projects that are geared towards low carbon growth,” said Ottichilo.

While Kenya makes a low net contribution to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the country’s Draft National Climate Change Framework Policy notes that a significant number of priority development initiatives will impact on the country’s levels of emissions.

In collaboration with development partners, the country is already investing in increased geothermal electricity in the energy sector to counter this situation, switching movement of freight from road to rail in the transport sector, reforestation in the forestry sector, and agroforestry in the agricultural sector.

“With a legal framework in place, it will be possible to increase such projects that are geared towards mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” said Ottichilo.

The Climate Change Bill seeks to provide the legal and institutional framework for mitigation and adaption to the effects of climate change, to facilitate and enhance response to climate change and to provide guidance and measures for achieving low carbon climate-resilient development.

“We received the Bill from the National Assembly towards the end of March, we studied it for possible amendments, and we subjected it to public scrutiny as required by the constitution before it was read in the senate for the second time on Jul. 22, 2015,” Ekwee Ethuro, Speaker of the Senate, told IPS.

“After this, we are going to return it to the National Assembly so that it can be forwarded to the president for signing it into law.”

The same bill was first rejected by former President Mwai Kibaki on the grounds that there had been a lack of public involvement in its creation. “We are very careful this time not to repeat the same mistake,” said Ethuro.

Under the law, a National Climate Change Council is to be set up which, among others, will coordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies, and make them available to the public.

“This law is a very important tool for civil society and all other players because it will give us an opportunity to manage and even fund-raise for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects,” said, John Kioli, chair of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG).

Evidence of climate change in Kenya is based on statistical analysis of trends in historical records of temperature, rainfall, sea level rise, mountain glacier coverage, and climate extremes.

Temperature and rainfall records from the Kenya Meteorological Department over the last 50 years provide clear evidence of climate change in Kenya, with temperatures generally showing increasing trends in many parts of the country starting from the early 1960s. This has also been confirmed by data in the State of the Environment reports published by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

As a result, the country now experiences prolonged droughts, unreliable rainfall patterns, floods, landslides and many more effects of climate change, which experts say will worsen with time.

Furthermore, 83 percent of Kenya’s landmass is either arid or semi-arid, making the country even more vulnerable to climate change, whose impacts cut across diverse aspects of society, economy, health and the environment.

“We seek to embrace climate-friendly food production systems such as use of greenhouses, we need to minimise post-harvest losses and food wastages, and we need to adapt to new climate friendly technologies,” said Ottichilo. “All these will work very well for us once we have a supporting legal environment.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Multilingualism Opens Doors to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:59:22 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141749 Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

On Friday, 67 student essay winners from 42 different countries convened at the United Nations General Assembly to present their essays at the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum.

The students were selected as winners of the Many Languages, One World International Essay Contest among a pool of over 1,250 participants.

Participating students were required to write a 2,000-word essay on a topic related to the post-2015 development agenda in any of the official U.N. languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – the condition being that the language chosen was not the participant’s first language or primary language of instruction during pre-university study.

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language.

The idea behind the contest, organised by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational Services, is to pay tribute to the impact and value of multilingualism and promote dialogue and debate with and among young people on the post-2015 development agenda.

“Multilingualism is a basic free condition for global citizenship because it enables citizens to understand the perspectives of other people in their languages as well as in their own. It is the only way to truly communicate with other people and reach a common understanding which is the basis for dialogue, debate, argumentation and reaching compromise,” Mark W. Harris, President and CEO of ELS Educational Services, said in his opening remarks.

Addressing the student winners of the contest, Hossein Maleki, Rapporteur of the U.N. General Assembly Committee on Information and First Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Iran to the U.N., added: “As winners of this contest on multilingualism, you embody key values of the United Nations. Implicit in the concept of multilingualism is respect for the plurality of civilisations and the necessity of dialogue between them.”

“When we reach to people in a language that is not our own, the whole world opens up to us.”

For the presentation of their essays, the students were divided up into six groups, according to the U.N. language in which they submitted their essay.

Each language group covered a different topic related to the post-2015 development framework, ranging from education, health, sustainable economic growth, inclusiveness and justice to water management and sanitation as well as nutrition and food security.

Among the numerous ideas and recommendations put forth by the students, emphasis was placed on the increased use of technology as a tool to reach rural areas, the value of scholarships and academic contests to encourage student performance and achievement, the added-value of healthy and sustainable lifestyles, including fair and just working conditions and the way individual consumer decisions can ultimately make a difference.

 Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Faith Leaders Issue Global “Call to Conscience” on Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:36:34 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141742 Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“We received a garden as our home, and we must not turn it into a wilderness for our children.”

These words by Cardinal Peter Turkson summed up the appeal launched by dozens of religious leaders and “moral” thinkers at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, a one-day gathering in Paris earlier this week aimed at mobilising action ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference (COP 21) scheduled to take place in the French capital in just over four months.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course [over climate change] is our minds and hearts” – Cardinal Peter Turkson, an adviser for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change
“Our prayerful wish is that governments will be as committed at COP 21 as we are here,” said Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the advisers for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, released in June.

With the theme of “Why Do I Care”, the Summit of Conscience drew participants from around the globe, representing the world’s major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – and other faiths and movements.

Government representatives also joined activists from environmental groups, indigenous communities and the arts sector to call for an end to the world’s “throw-away consumerist culture” and the “disastrous indifference to the environment”, as Turkson put it.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course is our minds and hearts,” he said, after pointing out that “climate change is being borne by those who have contributed least to it”.

The summit was used to highlight an international “Call to Conscience for the climate” and to launch a new organisation called ‘Green Faith in Action’, aimed at raising awareness about environmental and sustainable development issues among adherents of different religions.

Participants drew up a letter that will be delivered to the 195 state parties at COP 21, signed by summit speakers including Prince Albert II of Monaco; Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, Sufi Master of the Alawiya in Algeria; Rajwant Singh, director of an international network called Eco Sikh; and Nigel Savage, president of the Jewish environmental organisation Hazon.

Voicing the concerns of religious groups and faith leaders, the letter is equally a reflection of the challenges faced by indigenous communities, who made their voices heard in Paris, describing attacks on their territories and way of life by the petroleum industry, for example.

“We’re not some kind of folkloric tradition, we’re living beings,” said Valdelice Veron, spokesperson of the Guarani-Kaoiwa people of Brazil, who delivered her speech in traditional dress.

She and other indigenous delegates spoke of their culture also being decimated by the practice of mono-cropping, where large soybean plantations are causing ecological damage.

“We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard,” Patricia Gualinga, a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told IPS.

“We share all the concerns about the climate and we too are being affected in many different ways,” she said.

Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy who spoke near the end of the summit, said the participants’ appeal was “first and foremost, an appeal for action”.

“Climate change should be considered as an opportunity – for business, technology, [and other sectors],” Royal said. “We need to pave the way together.”

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand  together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Samantha Smith, leader of the “Global Climate and Energy Initiative” at green group WWF, the Summit of Conscience reflected a “really big and unprecedented social mobilisation” of civil society, which she hopes will continue beyond COP 21.

“When I read the latest climate science report, it keeps me awake at night. But when I see the mobilisation and the strength of the conviction, I’m optimistic,” Smith said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.

“Now is not the time to focus on where we disagree. Now is the time to work together,” she added.

But not everyone is invited to the same table – the alliances do not necessarily extend to companies in the fossil fuel industry, said Smith.

“When I say that we need to be united, it doesn’t mean that we need to be united with the fossil fuel industry,” Smith told IPS. “That is an industry which has contributed vastly to the problem and so far is not showing a very substantial contribution to the solution.”

The business sector, including oil producers, held their own conference in May, titled the Business & Climate Summit. At that event, which also took place in Paris, around 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest companies declared that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wished to see this achieved at COP 21.

Then at the beginning of July, hundreds of local authority representatives, civil society members and other “non-state actors” took part in the World Summit on Climate & Territories in Lyon, France.

There, participants pledged to take on the “challenge” of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius increase “by aligning their daily local and regional actions with the decarbonisation of the world economy scenario”.

The scientific community also held their meeting on climate this month at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

At most of these conferences, French president François Hollande has been a keynote speaker, reiterating his message that the stakes are high and that governments need to show commitment to reach a legally binding, global accord at COP 21, which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

“We need everyone’s commitment to reach this accord,” Hollande said at the Summit of Conscience. “We need the heads of state and government … local actors, businesses. But we also need the citizens of the world.”

Even as he delivered his speech, another conference on the climate was taking place – at the Vatican, with the mayors of about 60 cities meeting with Pope Francis to formulate a pledge on combating greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayors from around the world will meet again, in Paris during COP 21, through an initiative organised by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and by Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former mayor of New York. Billed as the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, this meeting will be held Dec. 4 and should bring together 1,000 mayors.

A question that some observers have been asking, however, is how does one cut through all the grandiose and repetitive speeches at these incessant “summits” and get to real, sustainable action?

Nicolas Hulot, the “Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet” and the main organiser of the Summit of Conscience, said he has faced similar queries.

“I’ve been asked ‘what is this going to be useful for’,” he said. “But a light has emerged today, and I hope it will light us up.”

Hulot sought to encourage indigenous groups and others who had travelled from South America, Africa and other regions to Paris for the event, promising them continued support.

“Don’t you doubt the fact that we’re all involved, and we’ll never give in to despair,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody hears your message because we heard it.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

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Opinion: European Federalism and Missed Opportunitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-european-federalism-and-missed-opportunities/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:32:41 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141694

In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, argues that serious problems affecting Europe, like the Greek crisis and waves of migration, could have been addressed more quickly and efficiently if the European Union had embraced federalism.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“A serious political and social crisis will sweep through the euro countries if they do not decide to strengthen the integration of their economies. The euro zone crisis did not begin with the Greek crisis, but was manifested much earlier, when a monetary union was created without economic and fiscal union in the context of a financial sector drugged on debt and speculation.”

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

These words, which are completely relevant today, were written by a group of federalists, including Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato, Jacques Attali, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and this author, in May 2012.

Those with a federalist vision are not surprised that the crisis in Greece has dragged on for so many years, because they know that a really integrated Europe with a truly central bank would have been able to solve it in a relatively short time and at much lower cost.

In this region of 500 million people, another example of the inability to solve European problems was the recent great challenge of distributing 60,000 refugees among the 28 member countries of the European Union. Leaders spent all night exchanging insults without reaching a solution.

Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration.

It can be stated that European federalism – which would complete Europe’s unity and integration – is now more necessary than ever because it is the appropriate vehicle for overcoming regional crises and starting a new phase of growth, without which Europe will be left behind and subordinated not only to the United States but also to the major emerging powers.“Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration”

Furthermore, its serious and growing social problems – such as poverty, inequality and high unemployment especially among young people – will not be solved.

Within the federalist framework there is, at present, only the euro, while all the other institutions or sectoral policies (like defence, foreign policy, and so on) are lacking.

Excluding such large items of public spending as health care and social security, there are however other government functions which, according to the theory of fiscal federalism (the principle of subsidiarity and common sense), should be allocated to a higher level, that of the European central government.

Among them are, in particular: defence and security, diplomacy and foreign policy (including development and humanitarian aid), border control, large research and development projects, and social and regional redistribution.

Defence and foreign policy are perhaps considered the ultimate bastions of state sovereignty and so are still taboo. However, the progressive loss of influence in international affairs among even the most important European countries is increasingly evident.

To take, for instance, the defence sector: as Nick Witney, former chief executive of the European Defence Agency, has noted: “most European armies are still geared towards all-out warfare on the inner-German border rather than keeping the peace in Chad or supporting security and development in Afghanistan.

“This failure to modernise means that much of the 200 billion euros that Europe spends on defence each year is simply wasted,” and “the EU’s individual Member States, even France and Britain, have lost and will never regain the ability to finance all the necessary new capabilities by themselves.”

It should be noted that precisely because the mission of European military forces has changed so radically, it is nowadays much easier, in principle, to create new armed forces from scratch (personnel, armaments, doctrines and all) instead of persisting in the futile attempt to reconvert existing forces to new missions, while at the same time seeking to improve cooperation between them.

Why should it be possible to create a new currency and a new central bank from scratch, and not a new army?

Common defence spending by the 28 European Union countries amounts to 1.55 percent of European GDP. Hence, a hypothetical E.U. defence budget of one percent of GDP appears relatively modest.

However, it translates into nearly 130 billion euros, which would automatically make the E.U. armed forces an effective military organisation, surpassed only by that of the United States, and with resources three to five times greater than those available to powers like Russia, China or Japan.

It would also mean saving an estimated 60 to 70 billion euros, or more than half a percentage point of European GDP, compared with the present situation.

Transferring certain government functions from national to European level should not give rise to a net increase in public spending in the whole of the European Union, and could well lead to a net decrease because of economies of scale.

Taking the example of defence, for the same outlay a single organisation is certainly more efficient than 28 separate ones. Moreover, as demonstrated by experiences with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Cold War, efforts to coordinate independent military forces always produced disappointing results and parasitic reliance on the wealthier providers of this common good. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141737 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa Advised to Take DIY Approach to Climate Resiliencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/africa-advised-to-take-diy-approach-to-climate-resilience/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 11:14:19 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141716 Carcases of dead sheep and goats stretch across the landscape following drought in Somaliland in 2011, one of the climate impacts that experts say should be actively tackled by African countries themselves without passively relying on international assistance. Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa/CC by 2.0

Carcases of dead sheep and goats stretch across the landscape following drought in Somaliland in 2011, one of the climate impacts that experts say should be actively tackled by African countries themselves without passively relying on international assistance. Photo credit: Oxfam East Africa/CC by 2.0

By Fabiola Ortiz
PARIS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

African countries would do well to take their own lead in finding ways to better adapt to and mitigate the changes that climate may impose on future  generations instead of relying only on foreign aid.

This was one of the messages that rang out during the international scientific conference on ‘Our Common Future under Climate Change’ held earlier this month in Paris, six months before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), also to be held in Paris, that is supposed to pave the way for a global agreement to keep the rise in the Earth’s temperature under 2°C.African countries would do well to take their own lead in finding ways to better adapt to and mitigate the changes that climate may impose on future generations instead of relying only on foreign aid

Africa is already feeling climate change effects on a daily basis, according to Penny Urquhart from South Africa, an independent specialist and one of the lead authors of the 5th Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Projections suggest that temperature rise on the continent will likely exceed 2°C by 2100 with land temperatures rising faster than the global land average. Scientific assessments agree that Africa will also face more climate changes in the future, with extreme weather events increasing in terms of frequency, intensity and duration.

“Most sub-Saharan countries have high levels of climate vulnerability,” Urquhart told IPS. “Over the years, people became good at adapting to those changes but what we are seeing is increasing risks associated with climate change as this becomes more and more pressing.”

Although data monitoring systems are still poor and sparse over the region, “we do know there is an increase in temperature,” she added, warning that if the global average temperature increases by 2°C by the end of the century, this will be experienced as if it had increased by 4°C in Southern Africa, stated Urquhart.

According to the South African expert, vulnerability to climate variation is very context-specific and depends on people’s exposure to the impacts, so it is hard to estimate the number of people affected by global warming on the continent.

However, IPCC says that of the estimated 800 million people who live in Africa, more than 300 million survive in conditions of water scarcity, and the numbers of people at risk of increased water stress on the continent is projected to be 350-600 million by 2050.

In some areas, noted Urquhart, it is not easy to predict what is happening with the rainfall. “In the Horn of Africa region the observations seem to be showing decreasing rainfall but models are projecting increasing rainfall.”

There have been extreme weather events along the Western coast of the continent, while Mozambique has seen an increase in cyclones that lead to flooding. “Those are the sum of trends that we are seeing,” Urquhart, “drying mostly along the West and increase precipitations in the East of Africa”.

For Edith Ofwona, senior programme specialist of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate variation in Africa is agriculture – the backbone of most African economies – and this could have direct negative impacts on food security.

“The biggest challenge,” she said, “is how to work with communities not only to cope with short-term impacts but actually to be able to adapt and be resilient over time. We should come up with practical solutions that are affordable and built on the knowledge that communities have.”

Experts agree that any measure to address climate change should be responsive to social needs, particularly where severe weather events risk uprooting communities from their homelands by leaving families with no option but to migrate in search of better opportunities.

This new phenomenon has created what it is starting to be called “climate migrants”, said Ofwona.

Climate change could also exacerbate social conflicts that are aggravated by other drivers such as competition over resources and land degradation. According to the IDRC expert, “you need to consider the multi-stress nature of poverty on people’s livelihoods … and while richer people may be able to adapt, poor people will struggle.”

Ofwona said that the key is to combine scientific evidence with what communities themselves know, and make it affordable and sustainable. “It is important to link science to society and make it practical to be able to change lives and deal with the challenges people face, especially in addressing food security requirements.”

Meanwhile, she added, consciousness in Africa of the impacts of climate change is “fairly high” – some countries have already defined their own climate policies and strategies, and others have green growth strategies with low carbon and sustainable development.

Stressing the critical role that African nations themselves play in terms of creating the right environmental policy, Ofwona said that they should be protagonists in dealing with climate impacts and not only passive in receiving international help.

African governments should provide some of the funding that will be needed to implement adaptation and mitigation projects and while “we can also source internationally, to some extent we need to contribute with our own money. While the consciousness is high, the extent of the commitment is not equally high.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Latin America Tackles Informal Labour among the Younghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-tackles-informal-labour-among-the-young/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:35:10 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141710 A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The 56 million young people who form part of Latin America’s labour force suffer from high unemployment, and many of those who work do so in the informal sector. Governments in the region have begun to adopt more innovative policies to address a problem that undermines the future of the new generations.

According to an International Labour (ILO) report, unemployment among young people between the ages of 14 and 25 is three times higher than among adults.

That is just one aspect of the problem, however according to the coordinator of the study, Guillermo Dema from Peru. “These statistics are compelling, but the main problem faced by young people in Latin America is the precariousness and poor quality of the work they have access to,” he told IPS.

The region’s seven million unemployed young people represent 40 percent of total unemployment. But another 27 million have precarious work, which aggravates the phenomenon.The total population of young people in Latin America is around 108 million, of the region’s 600 million people.

“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector,” said Dema. “In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.”

Gala Díaz Langou with Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth said “An informal sector worker has no job security, health coverage, trade union representation, or payments towards a future pension. That means unregistered workers do not have decent work.”

In summary, “their basic labour rights are violated, and they can’t demand respect for their rights by means of representation or social dialogue,” she told IPS.“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector. In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.” -- Guillermo Dema

The poor are overrepresented in the informal economy. Only 22 percent of young people in the poorest quintile have formal work contracts, and just 12 percent are registered in the social security system, according to the ILO.

But precarious employment also affects middle-class young people, including those who have higher education.

“The big problem in landing a serious job today is what I call the ‘vicious cycle’. To get a job you need work experience, but to get experience you need a job,” Hernán F, a 23-year-old from Argentina who juggles work and university studies and speaks several languages, told IPS.

“Obviously if you’ve studied at university you go farther,” said Hernán, who asked that his last name not be used.” But that’s where you see the big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities. The good ones, which are recognised and have good names, open many more doors for internships – even if they’re poorly paid – in better places.”

Most precarious jobs are in small and micro enterprises that do not formally exist. But 32 percent of young people who work in formal companies also suffer from precarious employment, the ILO reports.

The rate of informal labour among young wage-earners is 45.4 percent, while among those who are self-employed, the proportion climbs to 86 percent.

“When you’re young you don’t think about the future, about your retirement. You think about the present, paying rent, vacation. You don’t care about working in the black economy. You care about having a job, probably earning a little more than if you were formally employed,” said Hernán F.

But for Hernán, who worked as an unregistered employee in a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, “it’s not the young people’s fault.”

“Capitalism, which created this system, and the people who hire you without registering you are to blame. They want more, easier money. They make you hide in the bathrooms when the inspectors come to check the hotel. And it’s also the state’s fault, because it doesn’t oversee things as it should, and allows labour inspectors to be bribed,” he said.

Dema said informal labour fuels “discouragement and frustration among those who feel that they don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

“This has social, economic and political repercussions, because it can translate into situations where people question the system, or situations of instability or marginalisation, which can affect governance,” he warned.

It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders the fight against inequality.

“Low wages, job instability, precarious working conditions, a lack of social security coverage, and a lack of representation and social dialogue make informal workers a vulnerable group,” said Dema.

But in spite of the continued problems, the region is “slowly” improving, he added.

From 2009 to 2013, the proportion of young people in informal employment in the region fell from 60 to 47 percent. But there are some exceptions like Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, where no significant progress was made.

Innovative policies to the rescue

Dema attibutes the improvement to government measures, which are cited by the ILO report, launched in April by the organisation’s regional office in Lima with the promising title: “Promoting formal employment among youth: innovative experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

He said initiatives have emerged that focus on combining attempts to formalise employment while adapting “to the heterogeneity of the economy and informal employment,” together with strategies to help young people land their first formal sector job.

He mentioned Brazil’s Apprenticeship Act, which introduced a special work contract for young apprentices, that can be used for a maximum of two years.

The law requires all medium and large companies to hire apprentices between the ages of 14 and 24, who must make up five to 15 percent of the payroll.

He also cited Chile’s Youth Employment Subsidy, Mexico’s Ley de Fomento al Primer Empleo, which foments the hiring of young workers without prior experience, and Uruguay’s Youth Employment Law.

These laws, he said, “provide for monetary subsidies, subsidies for wages or social security contributions, or tax breaks. “

For her part, Díaz Langou, with the Centre of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth, mentioned Argentina’s “More and better work for young people” programme, which targets people between the ages of 18 and 24.

“It was a very interesting and successful initiative aimed at combining education with active employment policies, to achieve better insertion of this age group in the labour market,” she said.

Dema also cited Mexican programmes aimed at promoting the regularisation of informal sector employment, such as the Let’s Growth Together programme, which “incorporates the concepts of gradualism, advice and support in the transition from informal to formal employment.”

Another model, the expert said, is offered by Colombia with its “formalisation brigades,” which incorporate benefits and services for companies that regularise their activities and employees.

These initiatives are complemented by social protection policies.

“In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance is compatible with the workers registered in the ‘monotributo social’ (simplified tax regime for small taxpayers) and those who are registered in the domestic service regime. And in Colombia, the law on the formalisation and generation of employment establishes the coordination of contracts with the ‘Families in Action’ programme and Subsidised Health Insurance,” he said.

Díaz Langou said that international experiences have shown that one of the policies that works best is the introduction of incentives to hire young workers, such as offering subsidies or tax breaks to companies that hire them.

“But this has provided much better results for men than for women,” she said. “Policies tailored towards improving the skills of young people by means of training and education have more modest effects on wages for young people, and also present gender disparities.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Caribbean Seeks Funding for Renewable Energy Mixhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/caribbean-seeks-funding-for-renewable-energy-mix/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 10:31:18 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141677 St Kitts and Nevis has launched a 1-megawatt solar farm at the country’s Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. A second solar project is also nearing completion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

St Kitts and Nevis has launched a 1-megawatt solar farm at the country’s Robert L Bradshaw International Airport. A second solar project is also nearing completion. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A leading geothermal expert warns that the small island states in the Caribbean face “a ticking time bomb” due to the effects of global warming and suggests a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the only way to defuse it.

President of the Ocean Geothermal Energy Foundation Jim Shnell says to solve the problems of global warming and climate change, the world needs a new energy source to replace coal, oil and other carbon-based fuels.  OGEF’s mission is to fund the R&D needed to tap into the earth’s vast geothermal energy resources."You need to have a balance of your resources but it is quite possible to have that balance and still make it 100 percent renewable and do without fossil fuels altogether." -- Jim Shnell

“With global warming comes the melting of the icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica and the projection is that at the rate we are going, they will both melt by the end of this century,” Shnell told IPS, adding “if that happens the water levels in the ocean will rise by approximately 200 feet and there are some islands that will disappear altogether.

“So you’ve got a ticking bomb there and we’ve got to defuse that bomb and if I were to rate the issues for the Caribbean countries, I would put a heavyweight on that one.”

It has taken just eight inches of water for Jamaica to be affected by rising sea levels, with one of a set of cays called Pedro Cays disappearing in recent years.

Scientists have warned that as the seas continue to swell, they will swallow entire island nations from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

In the Caribbean, scientists have also pointed to the likelihood of Barbuda disappearing in 40 years.

Shnell said countries could “essentially eliminate” the threat by turning to renewable energy, thereby decreasing the amount of fossil fuels or carbon-based fuels they burn.

“The primary driver of climate change is greenhouse gasses and one of the principal ones in terms of volume is carbon dioxide,” he said.

“For a long time a lot of electricity, 40 per cent of the electricity produced in many countries, would come from coal because it was a very inexpensive, plentiful form of carbon to burn.

“But now countries have seen that they need to move away from that and in fact the G7 just earlier this month got together and in their meeting, the leaders declared that they were going to be 100 percent renewable, that is completely stop burning carbon, coals and other forms of fossil fuels by the end of this century. The only problem is that for global warming purposes that’s probably too late,” Shnell added.

Shnell was among some of the world’s leading renewable energy experts who met here late last month to consider options for renewable energy development in the Caribbean.

The Martinique Conference on Island Energy Transitions was organised by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the French Government, which will host the United Nations International Climate Change Conference, COP 21, at the Le Bourget site in Paris from Nov. 30 Dec. 11 2015.

Senior Energy Specialist at the World Bank Migara Jaywardena said the conference was useful and timely in bringing all the practitioners from different technical people, financial people and government together.

“There’s a lot of climate funds that are being deployed to support and promote clean energy…and we talked about the challenges that small islands, highly indebted countries have with mobilising some of this capital and making that connection to clean energy,” Jaywardena told IPS.

“They want to do it but there isn’t enough funds and remember there’s a lot of other competing development interests, not just energy but non-energy interests as well. Since this conference leads to the COP in Paris, I think being a part of that climate dialogue is important because it creates an opportunity to begin to access some of those funds.”

“As an example, for Dominica we have an allocation of 10 million dollars from the clean technology fund to support the geothermal and that’s a perfect example of where climate funds could be mobilised to support clean energy in the islands,” Jaywardena added.

Shnell said Caribbean economies are severely affected by the cost of fuel but that should be an incentive to redouble their efforts to get away from importing oil.

“The oil that you import and burn turns right around and contributes to global warming and the potential flooding of the islands, whereas you have some great potential resources there in terms of solar and wind and certainly geothermal,” he said.

“What we’re advocating is the mixture of those resources. We feel it would be a mistake to try to select one and make that your 100 percent source of power or energy but it’s the mix, because of different characteristics of each of them and different timing of availability and so forth, they work much better together.”

He noted that wind and solar are intermittent while utility companies have to provide power all the time.

“So you need something like geothermal or hydropower that works all the time and provides enough energy to keep the grid running even when there is no solar energy. So you need to have a balance of your resources but it is quite possible to have that balance and still make it 100 percent renewable and do without fossil fuels altogether,” Shnell said.

A legislator in St. Kitts and Nevis said the twin island federation has gone past fossil fuel generation and is now adopting solar energy with one plant on St. Kitts generating just below 1 megawatt of electricity and another being developed which would produce 5 megawatts.

“In terms of solar we’ll be near production of 1.5 megawatts of renewable energy. As a government we are going full speed ahead in relation to ensuring that there’s renewable energy, of course, where the objective is to reduce electricity costs in St. Kitts and Nevis,” Energy Minister Ian Liburd told IPS.

In late 2013 legislators in Nevis selected Nevis Renewable Energy International (NREI) to develop a geothermal energy project, which they said would eventually eliminate the need for existing diesel-fired electrical generation by replacing it with renewable energy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:54:39 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141672 A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
LIVERPOOL, England, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the curators.

“Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour,” they add.

Presented in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, the exhibition uses photographs, film, personal testimony and other means to show “stories of hardship” that include sexual servitude and child bondage. It also profiles the activists working to mend “broken lives”.“Museums [in Liverpool, Nantes, Guadeloupe and Bordeaux ] hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability”

The display occupies a temporary exposition space at the museum, which has a permanent section devoted to the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the legacy of racism.

Along with the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in the French city of Nantes and the recently opened Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe, the Liverpool museum is one of too few national institutions focused on raising awareness about slavery, observers say.

But it has provided a “vital source of inspiration” to permanent exhibitions on the slave trade in places such as Bordeaux, southwest France, according to the city’s mayor Alain Juppé. Here, the Musée d’Aquitaine hosts a comprehensive division called ‘Bordeaux, Trans-Atlantic Trading and Slavery’ – with detailed, unequivocal information.

These museums hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability.

“We try to overtly encourage the public to get involved in the fight for human rights,” Fleming told IPS in an interview. “We’ve often said at the Slavery Museum that we want people to go away fired up with the desire to fight racism.

“You can’t dictate to people what they’re going to think or how they’re going to respond and react,” he continued. “But you can create an atmosphere, and the atmosphere at the Slavery Museum is clearly anti-racist. We hope people will leave thinking: I didn’t know all those terrible things had happened and I’m leaving converted.”

Despite Liverpool’s undeniable history as a major slaving port in the 18th century, not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. There have been swastikas painted on the walls of the museum in the past, as bigots reject the institution’s aims.

“Some people come full of knowledge and full of attitude already, and I don’t imagine that we affect these people. But we’re looking for people in the middle, who might not have thought about this,” Fleming said.

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

He described a visit to the museum by a group of English schoolchildren who initially did not comprehend photographs depicting African youngsters whose hands had been cut off by colonialists.

When they were given explanations about the images, the schoolchildren “switched on to the idea that people can behave abominably, based on nothing but ethnicity,” he said.

Fleming visits social justice exhibitions around the world and gives information about the museum’s work, he said. As a keynote speaker, he recently delivered an address about the role of museums at a conference in Liverpool titled ‘Mobilising Memory: Creating African Atlantic Identities’.

The meeting – organised by the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and a new UK-based body called the Institute for Black Atlantic Research – took place at Liverpool Hope University at the end of June.

It began a few days after a white gunman killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the U.S. state of South Carolina.

The murders, among numerous incidents of brutality against African Americans over the past year, sparked a sense of urgency at the conference as well as heightened the discussion about activism – and especially the part that writers, artists and scholars play in preserving and “activating” memory in the struggle for social justice and human rights.

“Artists, and by extension museums, have what some people have called a ‘burden of representation’, and they have to deal with that,” said James Smalls, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Many times, artists automatically are expected to speak on behalf of their ethnic group or community, and some have chosen to embrace that while others try to be exempt,” he added.

Claire Garcia, a professor at Colorado College, said that for a number of academics “there is no necessary link between scholarship and activism” in what are considered scholarly fields.

Such thinkers make the point that scholarship should be “theoretical” and “universal,” and not political or focused on “the specific plights of one group,” she said. However, this standpoint – “when it is disconnected from the embattled humanity” of some ethnic groups – can create further problems.

The concept of museums standing for “social justice” is controversial as well because the issue is seen differently in various parts of the world. The line between “objectifying and educating” also gives cause for debate.

Fleming said that National Museums Liverpool, for example, would not have put on the contentious show “Exhibit B” – which featured live Black performers in a “human zoo” installation; the work was apparently aimed at condemning racism and slavery but instead drew protests in London, Paris and other cities in 2014.

“Personally I loathe all that stuff, so my vote would be ‘no’ to anything similar,” Fleming told IPS. “And that’s not because it’s controversial and difficult but because it’s degrading and humiliating. There are all sorts of issues with it, and I’ve thought about that quite a lot.”

He and other scholars say that they are deeply conscious of who is doing the “story-telling” of history, and this is an issue that also affects museums.

Several participants at the CAAR conference criticised certain displays at the International Slavery Museum, wondering about the intended audience, and who had selected the exhibits, for instance.

A section that showed famous individuals of African descent seemed superficial in its glossy presentation of people such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and well-known athletes and entertainers.

Fleming said that museums often face disapproval for both going too far and not going “far enough”. But taking a disinterested stand does not seem to be the answer, because “the world is full of ‘faux-neutral’ museums”, he said.

The most relevant and interesting museums can be those that have a “moral compass”, but they need help as they can “do very little by themselves,” Fleming told IPS. The institutions that he directs often work with non-governmental organisations that bring their own expertise and point of view to the exhibitions, he explained.

Apart from slavery, individual museums around the world have focused on the Holocaust, on apartheid, on genocide in countries such as Cambodia, and on the atrocities committed during dictatorships in regions such as Latin America.

“Some countries don’t want museums to change,” said Fleming. “But in Liverpool, we’re not just there for tourism.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale   

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