Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:41:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Zimbabwe Battles with Energy Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:59:47 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138847 Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Janet Mutoriti (30), a mother of three from St Mary’s suburb in Chitungwiza, 25 kilometres outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, frequently risks arrest for straying into the nearby urban forests to fetch wood for cooking.

Despite living in the city, Janet’s is among the 20 percent of the urban households which do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs.

Worldwide, energy access has become a key determinant in improving people’s lives, mainly in rural communities where basic needs are met with difficulty.

In Zimbabwe, access to modern energy is very low, casting doubts on the country’s efforts at sustainable development, which energy experts say is not possible without sustainable energy.

In an interim national energy efficiency audit report for Zimbabwe issued in December, the Sustainable African Energy Consortium (SAEC) revealed that of the country’s slightly more than three million households, 44 percent are electrified.“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country” – Chiedza Mazaiwana, Practical Action Southern Africa

They consumed a total of 2.7 million GWh in 2012 and 2.8 million GWh in 2013, representing 34 percent of total electrical energy sales by the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Transmission Company.

According to SAEC, of the un-electrified households, 62% percent use wood as the main source of energy for cooking, especially in rural areas where 90 percent live without access to energy.

A significant chasm exists between urban and rural areas in their access to electricity. According to the 2012 National Energy Policy, 83 percent of households in urban areas have access to electricity compared with 13 percent in rural areas.

Rural communities meet 94 percent of their cooking energy requirements from traditional fuels, mainly firewood, while 20 percent of urban households use wood as the main cooking fuel. Coal, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas are used by less than one percent.

Engineer Joshua Mashamba, chief executive of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which is crusading the country’s rural electrification programme, told IPS that the rate of electrification of rural communities was a mere 10 percent.

“As of now, in the rural areas, there is energy poverty,” he said. “As the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), we have electrified 1,103 villages or group schemes and if we combine that with what other players have done, we are estimating that the rate of rural electrification is at 10 percent. It means that 90 percent remain un-electrified and do not have access to modern energy.”

Since the rural electrification programme started in the early 1980s, Mashamba says that 3,256 schools, 774 rural centres, 323 government extension offices, 266 chief’s homesteads and 98 business centres have also been electrified.

Zimbabwe Energy Council executive director Panganayi Sithole told IPS that modern energy services were crucial to human welfare, yet over 70 percent of the population remain trapped in energy poverty.

“The prevalence of energy of poverty in Zimbabwe cuts across both urban and rural areas. The situation is very dire in peri-urban areas due to deforestation and the non-availability of modern energy services,” said Sithole.

“Take Epworth [a poor suburb in Harare] for example. There are no forests to talk about and at the same time you cannot talk of the use of liquefied petrol gas (LPG) there due to costs and lack of knowledge. People there are using grass, plastics and animal dung to cook. It’s very sad,” he noted.

Sithole said there was a need to recognise energy poverty as a national challenge and priority, which all past and present ministers of energy have failed to do.

Zimbabwe currently faces a shortage of electrical energy owing to internal generation shortfalls and imports much its petroleum fuel and power at great cost to close the gap.

Demand continues to exceed supply, necessitating load shedding, and even those that have access to electricity regularly experience debilitating power outages, says Chiedza Mazaiwana, an energy project officer with Practical Action Southern Africa.

“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country. The percentage of people relying entirely on biomass for their energy is 70 percent,” she adds.

According to the World Bank, access to electricity in Southern Africa is around 28 percent – below the continental average of 31 percent. The bank says that inadequate electricity access poses a major constraint to the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the region.

To end the dearth of power, Zimbabwe has joined the global effort to eliminate energy poverty by 2030 under the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

The country has abundant renewable energy sources, most of which are yet to be fully utilised, and energy experts say that exploiting the critical sources of energy is key in closing the existing supply and demand gap while also accelerating access to green energy.

By 2018, Zimbabwe hopes to increase renewable energy capacity by 300 MW.

Mashamba noted that REA has installed 402 mini-grid solar systems at rural schools and health centres, 437 mobile solar systems and 19 biogas digesters at public institutions as a way to promote modern forms of energy.

A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) led by Zero Regional Environment Organisation and Practical Action Southern Africa is calling for a rapid increase in investment in energy access, with government leading the way but supported in equal measure by official development assistance and private investors.

Though the current output from independent power producers (IPPs) is still minimal, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) says that contribution from IPPs will be significant once the big thermal producers come on stream by 2018.

At the end of 2013, the country had 25 power generation licensees and some of them have already started implementing power projects that are benefitting the national grid.

Notwithstanding the obvious financial and technical hitches, REA remains optimistic that it will deliver universal access to modern energy by 2030.

“By 2018, we intend to provide rural public institutions with at least one form of modern energy services,” said Mashamba. “In doing this, we hope to extend the electricity grid network to institutions which are currently within a 20 km radius of the existing grid network. Once we have electrified all public institutions our focus will shift towards rural homesteads.”

For CSOs, achieving universal access to energy by 2030 will require recognising the full range of people’s energy needs, not just at household level but also enterprise and community service levels.

“Currently there is a lot of effort put in to increasing our generation capacity through projects such as Kariba South Extension and Hwange extension which is good and highly commended but for us to reach out to the rural population (most affected by energy poverty, according to our statistics, we should also increase efforts around implementing off grid clean energy solutions to make a balance in our energy mix,” says Joseph Hwani, project manager for energy with Practical Action Southern Africa.

Practical Action says that on current trends, 1.5 billion people globally will still lack electricity in 2030, of whom 650 million will be in Africa.

This is some fifteen years after the target date for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which cannot be met without sustainable, affordable, accessible and reliable energy services.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Renewables Can Benefit Water, Energy and Food Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/renewables-can-benefit-water-energy-and-food-nexus/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:48:33 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138830 The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

The Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the United Arab Emirates covers an area the size of 285 football pitches and generates over 100 MW of electricity for the country’s national grid. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

With global energy needs projected to increase by 35 percent by 2035, a new report says meeting this demand could increase water withdrawals in the energy sector unless more cost effective renewable energy sources are deployed in power, water and food production.

The report, titled Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy & Food Nexusby the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), says that integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability.

The  report, launched at the International Water Summit (Jan. 18-21) in Abu Dhabi, examines how adopting renewables can ease trade-offs by providing less resource-intensive energy services compared with conventional energy technologies. Integrating renewable energy in the agrifood supply chain alone could help to rein in cost volatility, bolster energy security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to long-term food sustainability

“Globally, an energy system with substantial shares of renewables, in particular solar photovoltaics and wind power, would save significant amounts of water, thereby reducing strains on limited water resources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin.

Unfortunately, he said, detailed knowledge on the role of renewable energy at the intersection of energy, food and water has so far been limited.

In addition to the water-saving potential of renewable energy, the report also shows that renewable energy-based desalination technologies could play an increasing role in providing clean drinking water for people around the world.

Amin said although renewable desalination may still be relatively expensive, decreasing renewable energy costs, technology advancements and increasing scales of deployment make it a cost-effective and sustainable solution in the long term.

Dr Rabia Ferroukhi, Deputy Director of IRENA’s Knowledge, Policy and Finance division, told IPS that “water, energy and food systems are inextricably linked: water and energy are needed to produce food; water is needed for most power generation; and energy is required to treat and transport water in what is known as ‘the water-energy-food nexus’.”

She said deployment of renewable energy is already showing positive results in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with an over 50 percent cost share of global desalination capacity.

Some 120 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi lies the Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, which generates over 100 MW of electricity for the United Arab Emirates national grid.

Shams 1, which was designed and developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture among Masdar (60 percent), Total (20 percent) and Abengoa Solar (20 percent), accounts for almost 68 percent of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and close to 10 percent of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

Abdulaziz Albaidli, Sham’s Plant Manager, told IPS during a visit to the plant that the project reduces the UAE’s carbon emissions, displacing approximately 175,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year.

Located in the middle of the desert and covering an area of 2.5 km² – or 285 football fields – Shams 1 incorporates the latest in parabolic trough technology and features more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors.

By concentrating heat from direct sunlight onto oil-filled pipes, Shams 1 produces steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. Shams 1 also features a dry-cooling system that significantly reduces water consumption – a critical advantage in the arid desert.

“This plant has been built to be a hybrid plant which allows us to produce electricity at very high efficiency, as well as allowing us to produce electricity when there is no sun. Also the use of an air-cooled condenser allows us to save two hundred million gallons of water. That is a very important feature in a country where water is scarce,” said.

In addition, he continued, “the electricity we produce is able to provide twenty thousand homes with a steady supply of electricity for refrigeration, air conditioning, lighting and so on.”

Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar – the majority shareholder in Shams 1 – told delegates at the just concluded Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit (Jan. 18-21) that “through Masdar, we are redefining the role our country will play in delivering energy to the world.”

“From precious hydrocarbons exports to commercially viable renewable energy projects,” he said, “we are extending our legacy for future generations.”

Morocco is another country aiming to become a world-class renewable energy producer and is eyeing the chance to export clean electricity to nearby Europe through the water, energy and food nexus.

Its first CSP plant located in the southern desert city of Ouarzazate, which is now operational, is part of a major plan to produce over 2,000 megawatts (MW) at an estimated cost of nine billion dollars with funding from the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Meanwhile, South Africa is taking advantage of a solar-powered dry cooling system to generate power. In collaboration with Spanish-based CSP technology giant Abengoa Solar, the country is installing two plants – Khi Solar One and KaXu Solar One – that will generate up to 17,800 MW of renewable energy by 2030 and reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas.

Dr Linus Mafor, an analyst with the IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre, told IPS that there is an encouraging trend across the globe with countries implementing projects that aim to account for the interdependencies and trade-offs among the water, energy and food sectors.

He said that the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) is one of the promoters of the water, energy and food nexus in six Asian countries which are integrating the approach into development processes.  According to Mafor, such initiatives will see more affordable and sustainable renewable energy deployed in water, energy and food production in the near future.

The Austria-based Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) is one of the supporters of the nexus among clean energy, food production and water provision. Its Director-General, Martin Hiller, told IPS that understanding the inter-linkages among water resources, energy production and food security and managing them holistically is critical to global sustainability.

The agrifood industry, he said, accounts for over 80 percent of total freshwater use, 30 percent of total energy demand, and 12 to 30 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

REEEP is supporting countries like Kenya, Indonesia, Kenya and Burkina Faso, among others, in developing solar-powered pumps for irrigation, with the aim of improving energy efficiency.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:51:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138792 One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the U.N. Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (U.N.) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the U.N. Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the U.N. Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Africa Needs to Move Forward on Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:02:30 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138773 Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Diversification of Africa’s electricity sources by embarking on renewable energy solutions – such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power – is being heralded as a solution to the continent’s energy poverty.

But although a number of countries are already reaping benefits from investment in renewables, there is concern that many of the countries are yet to exploit those resources.

African ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi International Renewable Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi from January 15-17 noted that a mere handful of countries in the continent are tapping into renewable energy resource.“People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid” – Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy

Some of the bottlenecks identified included lack of finance, lack of interest from investors and the desire by some to take on mega projects that could easily fail to attract private investors.

Davis Chirchir, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Energy, told IPS that for many sub-Saharan Africa countries, accessing financing for fossil fuel projects was much easier compared with renewable energy options. “It is a big problem even when the prices for renewable energy solutions like solar and wind are going down” said Chirchir, whose country is now seeing costs reducing as a result of investing in geothermal energy.

Kenya plans to generate up to three gigawatts (3GW) of power from geothermal energy alone from its Rift Valley area.

Chirchir said that despite the long-term benefits, many of the countries in the region lacked their own initial resources for investment in projects.

“While renewable projects are often cheaper, they tend to require up-front capital costs. So for many, we shall require more targeted financing if we are to kick off many from the ground,” said Chirchir.

“In Kenya, our investment in geothermal energy displaced some 65 percent of fossil fuels, and brought down the cost to the customer by about 30 percent,” he added.

Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy and CEO of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, decried the fact that despite the declining costs of generating energy from renewable energy sources, Africa was consuming only one-quarter of global average energy per capita.

“How do we help the majority of people in Africa that rely on charcoal and cow dung for their primary needs? How do we do that? This is where the context of off-grid really comes in,” he suggested.

According to Yumkella, Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects.

“Sometimes the project preparation costs before the investments come are about three to ten percent of project costs. For many African countries that is a lot of money. It takes a big time to get the big projects under way,” he noted.

For Yumkella, African governments urgently need to put in place policies that would support renewable energy power generation using private investments to construct off-grid power stations, especially in areas where it is hard to reconnect to the main grids.

We can have millions of energy entrepreneurs spreading the off-grid solutions while we wait for the big projects to take off,” he explained. “People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid.”

Furthermore, said Yumkella, off-grid solutions would support Africa’s social development agenda at the community level and “that can be done now because off-grids can be in the hands of the poor communities to increase their productivity and help their social development.  But we will need millions of entrepreneurs in Africa in order to make energy poverty history.”

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), even with available renewable energy potential, Africa still has the lowest rate of rural electrification compared with other continents.

Globally, over the last two decades, rural electrification has increased from 61 to 70 percent but there are large disparities in rural access rates – in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, that rate is just 18 percent compared with over 70 percent in developing Asia.

IRENA says that Africa needs to double its rate of expansion of rural electrification and change the way it approaches rural electrification for it to achieve the universal electricity access for all target by 2030.

“And in this expansion, it is estimated that about 60 percent of additional generation will come from stand-alone and mini-grid solutions, with most of it being renewables because they can tap into locally available energy resources,” said Rabia Ferroukhi, IRENA Deputy Director in charge of Knowledge, Technology and Financing.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Meanwhile, African energy ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi renewable energy conference called on IRENA and countries with greater knowledge in renewable energy to help them in supporting the Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative.

This initiative encourages the deployment of hydro, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar options from Cairo to Cape Town to increase capacity, stabilise the grid, and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Ethiopia, one of the countries already investing in renewable energy, especially in wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power, is one of the proponents of financing for the Clean Energy Corridor.

The country plans to generate 800 megawatts of wind power, 1 gigawatt of geothermal power and is constructing a 6,000 MW hydroelectric plant, which will be the largest such facility in Africa costing about 4.8 billion dollars.

Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, told IPS that, if implemented, the Africa Clean Energy Corridor would help to advance renewable energy solutions to the corridor.

Adnan Amin, the Director-General of IRENA, told IPS that the Africa Clean Energy Corridor has gathered strong political support and engagement from within Africa and at the level of the United Nations.

“We have to make sure that we have regional programmes that can support countries to move in the clean direction and this is the concept behind our African Clean Energy Corridor,” said Amin.

“We want to interconnect African markets, create a larger regulated market, because when you have big markets, you can have big projects that pass the technology forward.”

With smart planning and prudent investment, Amin believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Prosecutor’s Death a Test for Argentine Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 22:15:38 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138769 “Today we are all Nisman” - demonstrators demand justice for the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Argentina during a Jan. 19 protest convened over the social networks. His murder shook the entire nation. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Today we are all Nisman” - demonstrators demand justice for the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Argentina during a Jan. 19 protest convened over the social networks. His murder shook the entire nation. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

The death of a special prosecutor investigating one of the biggest unresolved mysteries in the history of Argentina, the bombing of a Jewish community centre over 20 years ago, has put to the test an immature democracy that is caught up in a web of conspiracy theories and promiscuity between the secret services and those in power.

The victim was Natalio Alberto Nisman, found dead Sunday Jan. 18, the day before he was to present to Congress alleged evidence that President Cristina Fernández had taken part, according to him, in a cover-up of five Iranians suspected of involvement in the Jul. 18, 1994 attack on the AMIA building which left 85 dead and 300 wounded.

The scene of his death – which officials have described as occurring in mysterious circumstances that prompted the need to investigate whether he was pressured to kill himself, under threat – was his apartment in the Puerto Madero neighbourhood in the capital of Argentina.

“This mystery is similar to the story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ that Edgar Allan Poe published in 1841: doors locked from the inside, no balcony, on the 13th floor of an apartment building not accessible by any other means, the body collapsed on the floor of the bathroom blocking the door…one single shot to the temple and without the intervention of another person,” wrote journalist Horacio Verbitsky in the pro-government newspaper Página 12.

Argentines tend to turn to noir novels to describe their own history.

Among the highest-profile unresolved crimes is the disappearance of the hands of the embalmed corpse of former president Juan Domingo Perón in 1987, blamed on a ritual by the Masonic lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P2; an attempt to deal a blow to the country as it had recently returned to democracy in 1983; or an effort to symbolically destroy the cult surrounding the late leader who governed the country from 1946-1955 and 1973-1974.

But in the current global scenario and not so long after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which left 30,000 people “disappeared”, the prosecutor’s death has revived the sensation of vulnerability and “déjà vu”, with ingredients from a modern-day police novel.

“We’re all vulnerable. Today they came for him, tomorrow they’ll come for us,” Rita Vega, a teacher, told IPS while taking part in a Jan. 19 protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the square in front of the presidential palace.

The demonstration was convened over the social networks under the theme “I am Nisman”, inspired by the “I am Charlie” campaign that followed the Jan. 7 attack on the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“Argentine democracy, which is entering its 32nd year, is solid and peaceful enough to weather blows like the one dealt by the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman,” international analyst Martín Granovsky told IPS.

His death has once more divided Argentine society, between those who from the political opposition blame the centre-left Fernández administration for Nisman’s death and government supporters who say the prosecutor committed suicide because he didn’t have proof to back up his accusations, or was “induced” to kill himself.

Ronald Noble, the head of Interpol until late 2014, refuted Nisman’s accusations (based on wiretaps) that the president and officials close to her had asked for the cancellation of international arrest warrants against five Iranians suspected of involvement in the 1994 attack on AMIA, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina Jewish community centre.

On Jan. 14, Nisman accused Fernández of a cover-up aimed at “forging closer relations with the Iranian regime and fully reestablishing trade ties to ease Argentina’s severe energy crisis, through a swap of oil for grains.”

Granovsky, the analyst, said “The AMIA case has a basic problem: when Carlos Menem was president (1989-1999), the state did not carry out an in-depth investigation into the bombing in the first few days, and in addition the complicities generated by the security forces’ side business dealings stood in the way of a serious probe.”

The president brought up that hypothesis, in her first statement on Nisman’s death, through Facebook, stressing that it “suggestively” happened just before the start of the trial for the cover-up of the attack, in which Menem, a former intelligence chief and others are implicated.

The head of the lower house of parliament, lawmaker Julián Domínguez of the governing Frente para la Victoria, said “we want to know what event or what mafioso sector prompted Mr. Nisman to take the decision he took.

“We are certain that there are segments of the intelligence community, the last redoubt that democracy has not yet been able to penetrate, seeking to create signs of instability and to pressure judges,” he said.

In December, the government removed Antonio ‘Jaime’ Stiuso as director of operations in the Intelligence Secretariat.

The ties between Stiuso and Nisman were well-known, and according to government leaks it was Stiuso who made the prosecutor come back early from his vacation in Europe in the middle of the judicial break to make his presentation to the legislature on Monday Jan. 19.

Néstor Pitrola, a legislator with the Workers’ Party, which forms part of the opposition Frente de Izquierda (Left Front), pointed out that Nisman was named special prosecutor in the AMIA case by late president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), Fernández’s predecessor and husband. But “a political shift created an internal war in the justice system and the intelligence services,” he said.

According to Pitrola, the prosecutor’s death revealed the presence of “an intelligence state within the state.

“Three weeks before Nisman made his allegations, the intelligence services were beheaded to the benefit of a new intelligence clique, led by (César) Milani, a repressor during the dictatorship who has been questioned by the justice system,” he said.

Atilio Borón, a former executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), said Nisman’s death especially hurts the government, which is the most interested in disproving the prosecutor’s supposed evidence, in a year when both presidential and legislative elections are to be held.

“He was a man who was very mixed up with the services, people you don’t play around with. You don’t fool with the CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency), you don’t play with the Mossad (Israel’s secret service). He took instructions from them; you can see the Wikileaks cables, which have never been refuted,” he said.

Borón also said the international context, “what some call the West’s war against Islam,” should not be ignored.

In that vein, Gustavo Sierra, a journalist with the opposition daily Clarin, referred to “speculations of international intelligence” on the role that Iranian agents or their allies might have played in the prosecutor’s “induced” death, because he might have hurt their interests.

“Could Iranian intelligence have induced Nisman to commit suicide by threatening to kill one of his daughters, who lives in Europe? Did they have compromising information that implicated the prosecutor? Did they manage to make it through the Puerto Madero apartment building’s security barrier using some agent who was able to make it look like a suicide, without being detected?” Sierra wrote.

The plot is too complex, and even the mystery that gave rise to it has never been resolved: who was responsible for the worst attack suffered by Argentina, in a saga that Fernández described as “too long, too heavy, too hard, and above all, very sordid.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Bahamas’ New Motto: “Sand, Surf and Solar”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/the-bahamas-new-motto-sand-surf-and-solar/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:42:41 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138764 The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

The Bahamas is focusing on renewable energy as it tries to preserve gains in tourism. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
ABU DHABI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to tourism in the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), The Bahamas — 700 islands sprinkled over 100,000 square miles of ocean starting just 50 miles off Florida — is a heavyweight.

With a gross domestic product of eight billion dollars, the Bahamian economy is almost twice the size of Barbados, another of CARICOM’s leading tourism destinations."Reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us." -- Environment Minister Kenred M.A. Dorsett

Visitors are invited to “imagine a world where you can’t tell where dreams begin and reality ends.”

However, in the country’s Ministry of the Environment, officials have woken up to a reality that could seriously undermine the gains made in tourism and elsewhere: renewable energy development.

In 2014, in a clear indication of its intention to address its poor renewable energy situation, The Bahamas joined the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Abu Dhabi-based intergovernmental organisation supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future. IRENA also serves as the principal platform for international cooperation, a centre of excellence, and a repository of policy, technology, resource and financial knowledge on renewable energy.

The Bahamas has also advanced its first energy policy, launched in 2013, and has committed to ramping up to a minimum of 30 per cent by 2033 the amount of energy it generates from renewable sources.

“Currently, we are debating in Parliament an amendment to the Electricity Act to make provision for grid tie connection, therefore making net metering a reality using solar and wind technology,” Minister of Environment and Housing Kenred M.A. Dorsett told IPS on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

ADSW is a global forum that unites thought leaders, policy makers and investors to address the challenges of renewable energy and sustainable development. The week includes IRENA’s Fifth Assembly, the World Future Energy Summit, and the International Water Summit.

But Dorsett was especially interested in the IRENA assembly, which took place on Jan. 17 and 18.

At the assembly, ministers and senior officials from more than 150 countries met to discuss what IRENA has described as the urgent need and increased business case for rapid renewable energy expansion.

Dorsett came to Abu Dhabi with a rather short shopping list for both his country and the CARICOM region, and says he did not leave empty-handed.

“Our involvement in IRENA is important because the world over is concerned with standardisation of technology to ensure that our citizens are not taken advantage of in terms of the technology we import as we advance the renewable energy sector,” he told IPS.

“We certainly were able to engage IRENA in discussions with respect to what the Bahamas is doing, and our next steps and they have indicated to us that they will be able to assist us on the issue of standardisation,” Dorsett tells IPS.

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Minister of the Environment and Housing in The Bahamas, Kenred Dorsett. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

He says IRENA has developed a programme that looks at practical consideration for the implementation or ramping up of renewable energy, including assistance in developing regulations for ensuring that standards are maintained.

“So, I think from our perspective, it is clear to us that IRENA would be prepared to assist us on that particular issue, and I think that generally speaking, what I certainly found was that the meeting was very innovative, particularly in light of the fact that there was a lot of technical support for countries looking to implement or deploy renewable energy technologies,” he said of Bahamas-IRENA talks on the sidelines of the assembly.

Dorsett also wanted IRENA to devote some special attention to CARICOM, a group of 15 nations, mostly Caribbean islands, in addition to Belize, Guyana and Suriname.

At a side event — “Renewables in Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” — ahead of the Assembly, there was no distinction between Caribbean and Latin American nations.

“… I think that’s very, very important for us as region, as we move to ensure that CARICOM itself is a region of focus for IRENA, that we are not consumed in the entire Latin America region and there is sufficient focus on us,” he told IPS ahead of the assembly.

Dorsett is now convinced that CARICOM positions will be represented as Trinidad and Tobago, another CARICOM member, and the Bahamas, have been elected to serve on IRENA Council in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

“We do know that deployment of renewable energy in our region is important, we are small island development states, we live in [low-lying areas] and sea level rise is a major issue for us in the Caribbean region.

“Therefore, reducing our various countries’ dependence on fossil fuels, ramping up renewable energy, building more climate change resilience is incredibly important for us,” he told IPS.

Meanwhile, Director-General of IRENA, Adnan Amin, said that his agency is “trying to develop a new type of institution for a new time”.

“We know that the islands’ challenges are very particular. We have developed a lot of expertise in doing that, and we know in a general sense the challenge they face is quite different from mainland Latin America,” Amin told IPS. “So we see them as logically separate entities in what kinds of strategies we will have.”

He says IRENA has been working in the Pacific islands — early members of the agency — and is moving into the Caribbean.

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Adnan Amin, Director-General of the International Energy Agency, says the Caribbean has “particular” renewable energy considerations that are distinct from Latin America. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

IRENA is already working in the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, and Jamaica, and this year agreed to lend St. Vincent and the Grenadines 15 million dollars to help fund its 10-15 megawatt geothermal power plant, expected to come on stream by 2018.

Dorsett is also pleased that at the assembly the Bahamian delegation was able to get a briefing on the advances of technology that stores electricity generated from renewable sources.

“That also can prove to be very important for us as many Caribbean counties are faced with addressing the issue of grid stability,” he told IPS, adding that the ability to have storage that is “appropriately priced and that works efficiently” can help the Bahamas to exceed the average of 20 to 40 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by many countries.

The Bahamas woke up to the realities of its poor renewable energy situation in 2013 when Guilden Gilbert, head the country’s Renewable Energy Association, decried the nation for not doing enough to advance renewable energy generation.

The call came after the release of a report by Castalia-CREF Renewable Energy Islands Index for the Caribbean, which ranked the Bahamas 26 out of 27 countries in the region for its progress and prospects in relation to renewable energy investments.

The 2012 edition of the same report had ranked The Bahamas 21 out of the 22 countries on the list.

In the two years leading up to the announcement of the “National Energy Policy & Grid Tie In Framework”, The Bahamas established an Energy Task Force responsible for advising on solutions to reducing the high cost of electricity in the country.

The government also eliminated tariffs on inverters for solar panels and LED appliances to ensure that more citizens would be able to afford these energy saving devices.

The government also advanced two pilot projects to collect data on renewable energy technologies. The first project provided for the installation of solar water heaters and the second project for the installation of photovoltaic systems in Bahamian homes.

Dorsett tells IPS that he thinks that it is “incredibly important” that CARICOM focuses on renewable energy generation.

“I think CARICOM, as a region, has to look at renewable energy sources to build a sustainable energy future for our region as well as to ensure that we build resilience as we address the issues of climate change,” he tells IPS.

However, in some CARICOM nations, there is a major hurdle that policy makers, such as Dorsett, will have to overcome before the bloc realises its full renewable energy potential.

“There are very special challenges in the Caribbean. For example, many of the utilities are foreign-owned and they negotiated 75-year-long, cast-iron guarantees on their existence,” Amin tells IPS.

“They were making money off diesel. They have no incentive to move to renewables, but we are moving ahead,” the IRENA chief says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

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Fighting Extremism with Schools, Not Gunshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:23:15 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138760 The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

As a wave of outrage, crossing Pakistan’s national borders, continues a month after the Dec. 16 attack on a school in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some citizens are turning away from collective expressions of anger, and beginning the hard work of building grassroots alternatives to terrorism and militancy.

While many millions of people are lashing out at the Taliban for going on a bloody rampage in a school in the province’s capital, Peshawar, killing 141 people including 132 uniformed children in what is being billed as the group’s single deadliest attack to date, The Citizens Foundation (TFC), a local non-profit, has reacted quite differently.

"With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani." -- Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of The Citizens Foundation (TCF)
Rather than join the chorus calling for stiff penalties for the attackers, it busied itself with a pledge to build 141 Schools for Peace, one in the name of each person who lost their life on that terrible day.

“We dedicate this effort to the children of Pakistan, their right to education and their dreams of a peaceful future,” Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of TCF, said in an email launching the campaign.

“With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani,” he added.

In their war against western, secular education, which the group has denounced as “un-Islamic”, the Pakistan Taliban have destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012, claimed responsibility for the near-fatal shooting of teenaged education advocate Malala Yousafzai and issued numerous edicts against the right of women and girls to receive proper schooling.

In their latest assault on education, nine militants went on an eight-hour-long killing spree, throwing hand grenades into the teeming school premises and firing indiscriminately at any moving target. They claim the attack was a response to the military operation aimed at rooting out the Taliban currently underway in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

While armed groups and government forces answer violence with more of the same, the active citizens who comprise TCF want to shift focus away from bloodshed and onto longer-term solutions for the future of this deeply troubled country.

The charity, which began in 1995, has completed 1,000 school ‘units’, typically a primary or secondary institution capable of accommodating up to 180 pupils, all built from scratch in the most impoverished areas of some 100 towns and cities across Pakistan.

The 7,700 teachers employed by the NGO go through a rigorous training programme before placement, and the organisation maintains a strict 50:50 male-female ratio for the 145,000 students who are now benefitting from a free education, according to TCF Vice President Zia Akhter Abbas.

In a country where 25.02 million school-aged children – of which 13.7 million (55 percent) are girls – do not receive any form of education, experts say TCF’s initiative may well act as a game changer in the years to come, especially given that the government spends just 2.1 percent of its GDP on education.

“Our job is to ensure that wherever we have our schools, there are no out-of-school children, especially girls,” Abbas told IPS. “We believe the change in society will come automatically once these educated and enlightened children grow up into responsible adults.”

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

He added that the schools are designed to “serve as a beacon of light restricting the advance of extremism in our society.”

The project has received widespread support from a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Twenty-four-year-old Usman Riaz, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston who recently donated the proceeds of his jam-packed concerts in Karachi to TCF’s efforts, says the Schools for Peace are a “wonderful way to honor the innocent victims”.

But it will take more than one-off charitable donations to make the scheme a reality. It costs about 15 million rupees (148,000 dollars) to build and equip each new school, so the total bill for all 141 institutions stands at some 21 million dollars.

With a track record of building 40-50 schools a year, however, the NGO is confident that it will honor its pledge within three years.

Combating extremism

Besides immortalizing the victims of the Taliban’s attack, experts here say that shifting the focus away from terrorism and onto education will help combat a growing pulse of religious extremism.

The prominent Pakistani educationist and rights activist A.H. Nayyar told IPS that it is crucial for the country to begin educating children who would otherwise be turned into “fodder for extremists”.

In fact, part of the government’s 20-point National Action Plan – agreed upon by all political parties dedicated to completely eradicating terrorism – includes plans to register and regulate all seminaries, known here as madrassas, in a bid to combat extremism at its root.

With thousands of such religious institutions springing up across the country to fill a void in the school systems, policy-makers are concerned about the indoctrination of children at a young age, with distorted interpretations of religious texts and the teaching of intolerance playing a major role in these schools.

Some sources say that between two and three million students are enrolled at the nearly 20,000 madrassas spread across Pakistan; others say this is a conservative estimate.

While there is some talk about bringing these institutions under the umbrella of the public school system, experts like Nayyar believe this will do little to combat the “forcible teaching of […] false and distorted history, excessive emphasis on Islamic teachings to the extent of including them in textbooks of all the subjects, explicit teaching of jihad and militancy, hate material against other nations, peoples of other faiths, etc, [and] excessive glorification of the military and wars.”

Nayyar and other independent scholars have been at the forefront of calling for an overhaul of the public school curriculum, which they believe is at odds with the goals of a modern, progressive nation.

But until policy-makers and politicians jump on the bandwagon, independent efforts like the work of TCF will lead the way.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION-CUBA/US: Catching a Glimpse of the Possible Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-cubaus-catching-a-glimpse-of-the-possible-future/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 12:14:18 +0000 Leonardo Padura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138755 Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

By Leonardo Padura
HAVANA, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

All Cubans, on either side of the Florida Straits, but in places like Spain, France or Greenland – where there must be a couple of Cubans – as well felt it was a historic moment that included each and every one of us, when U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Dec. 17 the normalisation of relations after half a century of hostility.

Those of us who are in Cuba felt that way precisely because we live here; and those who live abroad felt it because of the various motives that prompted them, at different times and for a range of reasons, to move away and rewrite their lives.

The great majority met the news with joy and hope; a smaller percentage felt a sensation of defeat and even betrayal; and another small group perhaps felt little about what the decision might mean for their futures.

But what is indisputable is that each one of us was shocked by the announcement, which some media outlets even dubbed “the news of the year” – extraordinary, really (even if you consider it an exaggeration), given that we’re just talking about the normalisation of ties between the United States and a small Caribbean island nation that is not even decisive in the economy of the region and supposedly does not influence the world’s big political developments.

But for years Cuba’s small size, in terms of both its geography and economy, has been far out of proportion to its international stature and influence, and the “news of the year” really was (or may have been) such due to several reasons, besides the emotional ones that affected us Cubans.We Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

This was because of its symbolic nature as a major step towards détente and as a final stop to the long-drawn-out epilogue to the Cold War, as acknowledgement of a political error sustained by the United States for far too long, because of its weight in inter-American relations, and because of its humanistic character thanks to the fact that the first concrete measure was a prisoners swap, which is always a moving, humanitarian move.

And it also was so because in a world where bad news abounds, the fact that two countries that were at a political standoff for over half a century decided to overcome their differences and opt for dialogue is somewhat comforting.

Three weeks later, the machinery that will put that new relationship in motion has begun to move. On the eve of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson’s visit to Havana to start high-level “face-to-face” talks with the Cuban government, President Obama announced the introduction of his government’s first measures towards change.

The policies will make it easier for people from the U.S. to travel to Cuba, expand the remittances people can send to Cuba, open up banking relations, increase bilateral trade in different areas, and help strengthen civil society by different means, including improved information and communications and economic support for entrepreneurs.

Cuba, meanwhile, released prisoners with regard to whom Washington had expressed concern.

The measures recently implemented by Obama could be extremely significant for Cuba. Above all because they have punched holes in the straitjacket of the half-century embargo and have practically made its removal a question of time, and since they eliminate many of the fears that investors from other countries had with regard to possibly investing here.

Cuba, in the meantime, is waiting to be removed from the U.S. government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on for years.

And on both sides of the Straits, Cubans have an understandable sense of uncertainty about the future of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which guaranteed U.S. residency to any Cuban who set foot on U.S. soil – an issue that will surely be discussed during Jacobson’s visit.

But while the political agreements are moving along at a surprising pace, we Cubans insist on asking ourselves how this new situation created since Dec. 17 will play out on the island.

Because while Obama’s intention is to bring about a change in policy that will lead to a transformation of the system in Cuba, at the same time there are decisions that the Cuban government will be adopting internally to take advantage of the useful aspects of the new relationship and eliminate potential dangers.

The possible massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuba could be the first visible effect.

Today the island receives three million visitors a year. That number could double with the new regulations announced by Obama. Everyone is asking themselves whether the country is prepared for this – and the answers are not overly encouraging in general.

After a lengthy crisis triggered by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its generous subsidies, and the stiffening of the U.S. embargo with the Torricelli Act [of 1992] and the Helms-Burton Act [of 1996, which included extra-territorial effects], Cuba today is a country with serious problems of infrastructure in communications, roads, transportation, buildings and other areas.

The lack of resources to make the necessary investments also affects the purchase of products that the presumed visitors would demand and will create difficulties for domestic consumption, where there are already problems of high prices and occasional shortages.

Perhaps the first to benefit from the massive arrival of U.S. citizens to Cuban shores will be the small businesses that offer accommodation (and the thousands of other people connected to them).

Currently in a city like Havana there aren’t enough rooms in the hotels (which belong to the state or are joint ventures with foreign companies), let alone quality service in the state-owned restaurants that would make them competitive.

That means a significant part of the money that will circulate will pass through the hands of those involved in private enterprise (the so-called “cuentapropistas” or self-employed) – a sector that even though they must pay high taxes to the state and extremely high prices for inputs purchased in the retail market (because the wholesale market that they are demanding does not yet exist), will make major profits in the scenario that will take shape in the near future.

And this phenomenon will contribute to further stretching the less and less homogeneous social fabric of this Caribbean island nation.

Another of the major expectations in Cuba is for the chance to travel to the United States because, even though this has become much more of a possibility in recent years, obtaining a visa is still a major hurdle.

And there are new questions among those who hoped to settle down in the United States under the Cuban Adjustment Act, and who now have the added possibility of not losing their citizenship rights on the island under the protection of the migration laws approved two years ago by the government of Raúl Castro, which eliminated the rule that if a Cuban stayed overseas for a certain amount of time, their departure was automatically seen as permanent, and they lost their rights and assets on the island.

And then there is the less tangible but no less real aspect of discourse and rhetoric. Half a century of hostility on many planes, including verbal, should begin to wane in the light of the new circumstances.

The “imperialist enemy” and “communist menace” are sitting down at the same table to seek negotiated solutions, and the language will have to adapt to that new reality to achieve the necessary comprehension and the hoped-for political accords.

In the meantime, we Cubans who live on the island have already felt a noticeable initial benefit from the announced accords: we have felt how a political tension that we have lived in for too many years has begun to ease, and we can already feel it is possible to rebuild our relationship with a neighbour that is too powerful and too close, and relate to each other if not in a friendly way, then at least in a cordial, civilised manner.

For that reason many of us – I include myself – have felt since Dec. 17 something similar to waking up from a nightmare from which almost none of us believed we could escape. And with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.

Edited and translated by Stephanie Wildes

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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Final Push to Launch U.N. Negotiations on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:39:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138751 A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations will make its third – and perhaps final – attempt at reaching an agreement to launch negotiations for an international biodiversity treaty governing the high seas.

A four-day meeting of a U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group is expected to take a decision by Friday against a September 2015 deadline to begin negotiations on the proposed treaty.“The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.” -- Lisa Speer of NRDC

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “This is the last scheduled meeting where we hope to see the decision to launch negotiations materialise.”

Asked about the timeline for the final treaty itself, she said “it really depends on the issues that will come up during the negotiations.”

In a statement released Monday, the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, said the high seas is a vast area that makes up nearly two-thirds of the ocean and about 50 percent of the planet’s surface, and currently falls outside of any country’s national jurisdiction.

“This means it’s the largest unprotected and lawless region on Earth,” the Alliance noted.

The lack of governance on the high seas is widely accepted as one of the major factors contributing to ocean degradation from human activities.

The issues to be discussed include marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as well as benefit-sharing of marine genetic resources, capacity building and transfer of marine technology.

At the same time, the growing threat from human activities, including pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering, and climate change, have made an international agreement to protect these waters more critical than ever, says the High Seas Alliance.

Lisa Speer, international oceans programme director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, says “The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.”

Kristina M. Gjerde, senior high seas policy advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told IPS U.N. member states have the historic opportunity to launch negotiations for a new global agreement to better protect, conserve and sustain the nearly 50 percent of the planet that is found beyond national boundaries.

The U.N. process, initiated at the 2012 Rio+20 summit in Brazil, has extensively explored the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument under the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), she added.

“It is clear that by now the vast majority of States are overwhelmingly in support,” Gjerde said.

Though some outstanding issues remain, IUCN is confident that once negotiations are launched, rapid progress can be made toward achieving an effective and equitable agreement, she added.

“With good luck, good will and good faith, negotiations, including a preparatory stage, could be accomplished in as little as two to three years,” Gjerde declared.

At the Rio+20 meeting, member states pledged to launch negotiations for the new treaty by the end of the 69th U.N. General Assembly in September 2015.

In a briefing paper released Monday, Greenpeace called on the 193-member General Assembly to take a “historic decision to develop an agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond the jurisdiction of States.”

Unfortunately a few countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Iceland, have expressed opposition to an agreement going forward. But this could change, it added.

Norway – previously unconvinced – has now become supportive and calls for the launch of a meaningful implementing agreement for biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

For the United States in particular, said Greenpeace, standing against progress towards a U.N. agreement that would provide the framework for establishing a global network of ocean sanctuaries would be at odds with the U.S.’s leadership on ocean issues such as the establishment of marine reserves in EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zones) as well as the Arctic, Antarctic and fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

The environmental groups say there is overwhelming support for an UNCLOS implementing agreement from countries and regional country groupings across the world, from Southeast Asian nations, to African governments, European and Latin American countries and Small Island Developing States.

Among them are Australia, New Zealand, the African Union, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Group of 77 developing nations plus China, the 28-member European Union, Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico, Benin, Pakistan, Uruguay, Uganda and many more.

Karen Sack, senior director of The Pew Charitable Trusts international oceans work, said the upcoming decision could signal a new era of international cooperation on the high seas.

“If countries can commit to work together on legal protections for biodiversity on the high seas, we can close existing management gaps and secure a path toward sustainable development and ecosystem recovery,” she added.

According to the environmental group, the high seas is defined as the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, says the coalition, would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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From Bullets to Ballots: The Face of Sri Lanka’s Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:17:06 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138736 Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka , Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

In four months’ time, Sri Lanka will mark the sixth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil conflict. Ever since government armed forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009, the country has savored peace after a generation of war.

Suffocating security measures have given way to a sense of normalcy in most parts of the country, while steady growth has replaced patchy economic progress – averaging above six percent since 2009.

But these changes have largely eluded the area where the war was at its worst: the Vanni, a vast swath of land in the Northern Province that the LTTE ruled as a de facto state, together with the Jaffna Peninsular, for over a quarter of a century.

Home to over a million people, one-fourth of whom are war returnees, the Vanni has been in the doldrums since ballots replaced bullets.

“Peace should mean prosperity, but that is what we don’t have. What we have is a struggle to survive from one day to another,” Kajitha Shanmugadasan, an 18-year-old girl from the northern town of Pooneryn, told IPS.

She said youth her age were frustrated that multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects have failed to deliver decent jobs. “Look around, we have new highways, new railway lines, but no jobs, for five years people have been suffering, and it should not be [so] when there is peace,” she asserted.

Youth from the Northern Province have historically performed well at national exams, even during conflict times. That trend has held true: at the 2013 university entrance exam, 63.8 percent of those who sat their papers gained the scores required to enter the country’s top universities, a national high.

But with unemployment also at record levels here, and hardly any jobs for university graduates, those like Shanmugadasan are either staying out of universities or leaving the province in search of better prospects.

A new government, the result of presidential elections just a week into the New Year, and the Papal visit to the heart of the former battle zone on Jan. 14, have given rise to new hopes in the Vanni that life will improve for the ordinary people, who suffered during the war and have had little respite since the guns fell silent.

The 72-percent voter turnout in the Northern Province at the Jan. 8 presidential poll – an all-time high for the region – is a reminder to the new regime how desperate the people here are for real change.

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cuban Diplomacy Looks Towards Both Brussels and Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:24:42 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138723 Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has decided to move ahead in its talks with the European Union towards an agreement on cooperation parallel to the negotiations aimed at normalising relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility.

As everyone’s attention is focused on the start of talks this week to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, Brussels and Havana scheduled for Mar. 4-5 the third round of negotiations launched in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital.

“We first thought we had slipped down a bit on the list of priorities; now the message is that no, the Cuban state wants to keep a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarero, told IPS.

Delegations from Cuba and the United States will meet Jan. 21-22 in Havana, in the first meeting since the two governments announced Dec. 17 that diplomatic relations would be reestablished, and since sweeping new measures to ease trade and travel between the two countries were presented by Washington on Jan. 15.

In a process that got underway in 2008, Cuba and the EU finally held their first round of talks Apr. 29-30 for a future bilateral accord on political dialogue and cooperation which, according to Portocarero, should define aspects like the role of civil society and the main issues involving long-term cooperation.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a cooperation agreement with the EU.

A second meeting was held in August in Brussels, and on Jan. 8-9 the Cuban and EU delegations were to sit down together for the third time. But in early December the meeting was postponed by the Cuban authorities, with no new date scheduled, apparently solely due to a busy agenda.

After a year during which Cuba strengthened its relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and which ended with the historic announcement of a thaw with Washington, Havana will now be in a different position in its negotiations with Brussels.

The main aim of Cuban diplomacy in this case is to push for more trade, but above all for an increase in capital inflows under the new law on foreign investment.

The European bloc is currently Cuba’s second trading partner after Venezuela, whose economic difficulties raise doubts about what will happen to its wide-ranging trade ties with this Caribbean island nation. In 2013, according to the latest available figures, Cuba’s imports from Europe totalled 2.12 billion dollars and exports amounted to 971 million dollars.

According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro hopes that a stable relationship under a framework accord like the one sought with the 28-member European bloc will lead to increased trade, but also to the diversification of economic and trade ties given the possibility that the normalisation of relations with the United States will lead to the lifting of the half-century U.S. embargo.

Portocarero believes Cuba’s new relationship with its northern neighbour will accelerate all of the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that not everything is monopolised through the United States, then they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Brussels is observing with concern that some of the measures announced by the United States favour its financial sector, while Europe’s remains subject to enormous fines because of the extra-territorial reach of the Helms Burton Act, which in 2006 codified Washington’s sanctions against Cuba, and can only be repealed by the U.S. Congress.

“It is an imbalance that we have to put on the table with our friends in the United States,” Portocarero said in an interview with IPS. “It is not acceptable for us to continue to be subject to sanctions and huge fines against Europe’s financial sector, while restrictions are removed in the case of the U.S.”

The EU, for its part, hopes for faster changes in Cuba. “My message has always been: move faster while you are in control, so as to better defend the good things that should be preserved,” the ambassador said. In his view, moves should also be made to make Cuba’s foreign investment law more attractive.

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

“Foreign investment is competitive and special zones [like Cuba’s Mariel special economic development zone] are everywhere. At this point, 30 percent of the foreign capital invested in Cuba comes from the European Union,” he said.

Cuba has indicated that to ensure the normal growth of its economy, it needs some 2.5 billion dollars a year in investment.

The Mariel special economic development zone, which covers 465 square km 45 km west of Havana, has a modern port terminal built with investment from Brazil, and areas for a broad range of productive activities open to foreign investment.

The questions of foreign trade and cooperation made up the working agenda in the first and second round of talks, although no final documents have yet been produced. Human rights, civil society and good governance are to be discussed in the third round in March, although they are also crosscutting issues that arise in other areas.

These are touchy subjects for the Cuban government, which does not accept being internationally judged regarding them, while they are concerns raised by both Brussels and Washington.

Castro has stated that he is willing to engage in respectful, reciprocal dialogue on the discrepancies, including “any issue” regarding Cuba, but also the United States.

Over 50 inmates considered political prisoners by the U.S. government were released in Cuba in the first few days of January. Spokespersons for the Obama administration clarified that human rights would continue to be a focus of discussion in the talks on migration and the normalisation of ties with Havana.

The Cuban delegation in the talks will be headed by the director general of the foreign ministry’s United States division, Josefina Vidal. On Wednesday Jan. 21 a meeting is to be held to assess the progress of the migration accords and the measures taken by both sides to tackle undocumented migration and smuggling of migrants, among other issues.

In the two-day meeting, the U.S. delegation will be led by U.S acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee. The 1994 and 1995 migration accords are reviewed every six months, in meetings that rotate between Cuba and the United States.

Steps towards opening embassies in the two countries will be discussed at the first meeting on reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, on Jan. 22.

Bilateral issues will be addressed later that day, including cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The U.S. representatives in these two meetings will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Escape Route Towards Social Inclusion for War-Disabled Gazan Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/escape-route-towards-social-inclusion-for-war-disabled-gazan-youth/#comments Sat, 17 Jan 2015 19:50:54 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138686 Samah Shaheen (right), one of Gaza’s many disabled young people, joined the Irada programme to acquire expertise, learn computerised wood carving and escape social marginalisation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Samah Shaheen (right), one of Gaza’s many disabled young people, joined the Irada programme to acquire expertise, learn computerised wood carving and escape social marginalisation. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Jan 17 2015 (IPS)

The Israeli attacks that the Gaza Strip has suffered in recent years have left in their wake a large number of young people who have come up against a further barrier to their creative energies – physical disability caused by military aggression.

Institutions here are increasingly facing the challenge of developing rehabilitation programmes to help support these physically disabled Gazan youth cope with living under the existing harsh political, economic and social conditions.

One of these programmes – known as “Irada” (“will” in Arabic) – is providing young people who have been disabled by war with vocational training with the ultimate objective of helping them earn their own livelihoods.

Launched by the Islamic University of Gaza, the Irada programme aims to support, train and reintegrate physically challenged young people in social and economic terms and boost community trust in the abilities of this so far marginalised group. More than 400 persons with all types of disabilities have already received rehabilitation and training.“After I joined the [Irada] programme and learnt computer skills for carving and decoration on wood, I now have a career, earn well and I am seriously thinking of opening a workshop” – Samah Shaheen, a 33-year-old physically disabled woman from Al-Bureij refugee camp

Irada project director Emad Al Masri told IPS that the project concept was initially developed for the massive number of young people who became disabled as a result of the Israeli war against Gaza in 2008. The project received support from the government of Turkey for the building construction to house Irada’s academic and vocational training programmes.

“The basic idea of the project is to help disabled people and reintegrate them into the community and help them to be productive instead of being seen as a burden,” Al Masri said.

Samah Shaheen, a 33-year-old from Al-Bureij refugee camp, has a physical disability that makes it difficult for her to engage in community activities. She joined the Irada programme in an attempt to acquire expertise and learn computerised wood carving. She spent more than six months in training before moving on to practice her new skills within the community under Irada supervision.

“I spent several years of my life jobless due to my disability, and also because I had no experience,” Samah told IPS. “After I joined the [Irada] programme and learnt computer skills for carving and decoration on wood, I now have a career, earn well and I am seriously thinking of opening a workshop because of the overwhelming response to the ornate wood furniture products that I have made.”

Central to the Irada rehabilitation programme is to follow up with the disabled people who have received training after leaving the programme in order to ensure their integration and participation in the labour market.  Part of this follow-up strategy also includes monitoring their progress in the workshops and factories where they are employed, and offering professional support if needed.

Because of its success, the Irada programme has been awarded funding by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help programme graduates start up small business projects, develop their economic independence and enhance their production profile.

Tariq Sha’at, NGO Coordinator for UNDP, told IPS that “UNDP allocated 150,000 dollars to establish centres for the production of home furniture throughout the governorates of the Gaza Strip and help 90 disabled trainees to manage their own businesses, continue their lives and reintegrate into the society naturally.”

Adding further success to the promising and successful Irada programme, three female information technology (IT) students from the Islamic University of Gaza have designed the first application to enable visually impaired people to write in Braille language on smart phones in Arabic.

Seen as a major breakthrough, visually impaired people can now download and install the application for performing all operations, including calls and text messaging. It also allows physically impaired people to use smart phones with high efficacy and facilitates communications with people in the wider society.

Dr. Tawfiq Barhom,  Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology, explained to IPS that “this group of female students was able to provide a great service to the community of visually impaired people, in addition to winning a global competition in which the application was selected as one of the five best projects for developers from among 2500 projects.”

Students are now trying to develop this application even further by increasing the number of languages supported to facilitate use by larger groups worldwide. Israa Al Ashqar, one of the students on the project team told IPS that the project came about because of the marginalisation experienced by visually impaired people in society and their increased isolation as a result of their inability to use social media and smart phone applications.

“The application will provide a Braille keyboard for every programme used by visually impaired people on mobile phones which will allow them to use social media and communicate with their community naturally. This will in turn increase the chances for this marginalised group to integrate into local and global society,” she said.

Together, the Irada programme and the Braille smart phone application represent a serious attempt by universities and students in Gaza to support an important section of the community that has not only suffered from wars and traumas but also hopelessness and isolation within Gazan society.

They are a tangible demonstration that the people of Gaza have the will and the talent to work together and develop opportunities, where possible, for an inclusive society.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Battle Heats Up Over Legalisation of Sex Work in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:10:38 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138679 The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-six-year-old Chameli Devi, a sex worker operating out of New Delhi’s G.B. Road – Asia’s largest red-light district, housing an estimated 12,000 of India’s three million sex workers – is an unhappy woman these days.

A contentious debate over the sex trade in India, following a call for legalisation by the National Commission for Women (NCW) – a state-run body that advises the government on women-related policy matters – has Devi worried.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband." -- Sarita, a 43-year-old sex worker in New Delhi
She feels that merely issuing licences or permits to people of her ilk will not lead to the improvement of the unhealthy and, at times, dangerous conditions under which commercialised prostitution functions.

According to U.N. reports, about 70 percent of sex workers in India are abused by their clients and the police. Abuse, say activists, is often under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.

“Most of us don’t take to the flesh trade out of choice but are sold by criminal mafias to brothels. The move to regulate our business will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell poor women like us while increasing trafficking of young women and children,” Devi told IPS.

A recent study conducted by the Indian philanthropic non-profit Dasra found that roughly half of trafficking victims are adolescent girls, while the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16, to 10-14, “because young girls are believed to have a lower risk of carrying a sexually transmitted disease”.

“Most victims come from rural areas, over 70 percent are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about one dollar [per day],” the report stated.

Other studies have found that most sex workers in India are form the lower castes, communities that are routinely subjected to violence and exploitation in a highly stratified society.

It is unsurprising, then, that scores of women trapped in the trade remain highly opposed to legalization.

Sarita, 43, another sex worker, feels that while there may be a sound argument for legalisation in richer countries like the USA, or even China, such a system is ill-suited to India.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband,” she asserted. “So the dynamics of our society are very different.”

Curbing the flourishing sex trade

A 2014 study, ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’, spearheaded by Indian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, contains some of the most up-to-date data on the flourishing sex trade.

“The figures are shocking…In India alone, the money generated through [the] sex trade so far stands at a whopping 343 billion dollars. Research confirms that several agencies such as traffickers, brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judiciary and to a certain level even the victims of CSE (commercial sexual exploitation) eventually receive money for participation,” Satyarthi said in the study.

According to a 2009 United Nations report, sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world, making it the largest slave trade; about 79 percent of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are not much better off. The Netherlands, which legalised prostitution in 2000, continues to grapple with human traffickers smuggling women into the country’s brothels, point out non-profits working in the area.

With the legalisation debate gaining traction, public opinion in India is also splintered over the issue. Those who favour the move feel that it will whittle down harassment, legal intimidation, entrapment and exploitation of sex workers.

NCW Chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who set the ball rolling with her suggestion that the trade be brought under state control last month, feels that such a step will ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work.

She contends it will reducing trafficking of both girls and women and improve the health conditions of sex workers who are presently forced to serve clients in unhygienic conditions and without condoms, which has caused HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread.

In fact health care experts extend some of the strongest arguments in favour of legalising prostitution, or regulating it. They feel that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, can be checked by bringing the business under the state umbrella as this will help health workers to better educate those in the trade about condom usage and basic hygiene.

Safer sex work or a massive bureaucracy?

Opponents of legalisation, however, are wary of the consequences of adding layers of regulation to India’s massive bureaucracy. They fear that government intervention could trigger harassment of the very people it seeks to protect.

“Legalising prostitution is legalising the profiteers of the sex-industry and their customers,” Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Social Research, told IPS.

“It means rape of poor, lower-caste women with impunity. Not only that, it will make India a world magnet for sex trafficking and sex tourism.”

Donna M. Hughes, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, writes in her essay ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’ that legalisation does not reduce prostitution or trafficking.

“In fact,” she writes, “both activities increase because men can legally buy sex acts, and pimps and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them … In the Netherlands, since legalisation, there has been an increase in the use of children in prostitution.”

Activists working with sex workers are also deeply divided over the issue. While Dr S. Jana, who launched the 65,000-strong sex workers’ forum — Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee — based out of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, has supported the legalisation call, others fear that it will further embolden traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

“Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers due to the loopholes in law which makes them vulnerable to abuse. If the trade is legalised, the situation will worsen,” Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, a voluntary organisation working in the field of HIV control based in Sangli, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, told IPS.

Legalisation, adds the activist, could also scupper attempts by many women’s organisations and NGOs to rehabilitate women and children forced into prostitution.

“The state should formulate policies and schemes for the rehabilitation of sex workers who are coming out of this commercial sexual exploitation. This will offer a better solution to this complex problem,” Seshu contends.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Papal Visit Rekindles Hopes in Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:01:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138660 Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MADHU, Sri Lanka, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Jessi Jogeswaran, a 20-year-old woman from Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna district, waited over six hours with 18 friends in the sweltering heat just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis on Jan. 14.

The much-anticipated Papal visit brought well over a million people out into the streets to hear the pontiff’s sermons, first in the capital Colombo and later on in Madhu, a village in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar District.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed." -- Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD)
Young and old alike congregated at designated sites, including those like Jogeswaran who traveled miles to be present for the historic occasion.

The young woman with a disarming smile hides a terrible tale: as an 11-year-old, she endured three years of death and mayhem in her native village of Addankulam in Mannar, caught between advancing government forces and military units of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who at the time controlled a vast swath of land in the north of Sri Lanka.

The six-member family’s flight began in 2007, at the tail-end of the country’s civil conflict, and would last almost two years before, in tattered clothes, they escaped the final bouts of fighting in April 2009.

“The nightmare has not ended, it has become less intense,” Jogeswaran told IPS, sitting in the compound of the Madhu Shrine, a church nestled in the jungle that is home to a statue of the Virgin Mary, which millions around the country believe to be miraculous.

Jogeswaran said that despite the war’s end, thousands of people in the north were still fighting to escape the crutches of abject poverty, recover from the traumatic events of the last days of the war and reunite with relatives lost in the chaos of prolonged battles over a period of 26 years.

“We need peace, both within and without,” she added.

Delivering a short sermon at the shrine, Pope Francis echoed her sentiments.

“No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place,” he said, referring to the attacks on the church and its use by local residents as a place of refuge during extreme bouts of fighting.

He also acknowledged that the healing process would be hard, and that sustained effort would be required “to forgive, and find peace.”

For scores of people here, however, the wounds are too many to forget. The over 225,000 who were displaced during the war have now returned to a region where some parts boast poverty rates over four times the national average of six percent.

There is an urgent need for some 138,000 houses, amidst a funding shortfall of 300 million dollars. Nearly six years after the war’s end there could be as many as 40,000 missing people, although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has records of little above 16,000 dating back over two decades.

While the completion of several large infrastructure projects suggested rapid development of the former war zone – including reconstruction of the 252-km-long rail-line connecting the north and south at a cost of 800 million dollars – few can enjoy the perks, with 5.2 percent unemployment in the Northern Province.

A lack of job opportunities is particularly hard on war widows and female-headed households – estimated at between 40,000 and 55,000 – and the nearly 12,000 rehabilitated LTTE combatants, among whom unemployment is a soaring 11 percent.

Untreated trauma, coupled with a lifting of the LTTE’s long-standing ban on the sale and production of liquor, has pushed alcohol dependency to new heights.

With scores of people seeking solace in the bottle, the northern Mullaitivu District recently recorded the second-highest rate of alcohol consumption in the island: some 34.4 percent of the population identify as ‘habitual users of alcohol’.

Finally, despite the war’s end, there has been no progress on power devolution to the Tamil-majority Northern Province, a root cause of the war.

A new political era: A bright future for the North?

The week before the Papal visit, Sri Lanka underwent a seismic change in its political landscape, when long-time President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, who campaigned with the support of a wide array of political parties including those representing Sinhala extremists and others representing the minority Tamil and Muslim populations.

Jogeswaran, who voted to elect a national leader for the first time at the Jan. 8 poll, told IPS that she felt nervously optimistic that things would change.

“We have a new president, who has promised change, now it is up to him to not deceive the voters,” she said.

Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD), told IPS the northern population was desperate for things to improve.

“There are new roads, new electricity stations and a new train line, but no new jobs,” Pachchanlam said, commenting on the over three billion dollars worth of infrastructure investments made under the former Rajapaksa administration that has not trickled down to the people.

The Sirisena government has shown some signs that it was much more amenable to the needs of minority Tamils than its predecessor.

In his first week in office, Sirisena replaced the long-standing governor of the Northern Province, G. A. Chandrasiri – a former military officer – with G. S. Pallihakara, a career diplomat.

The appointment of a civilian officer to the post was a key demand of the Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which had previously accused the former governor of stifling the council’s independence by carrying out instructions received directly from Colombo.

Many hope that greater political autonomy will pave the way to resolution of the most burning issues plaguing the people.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed,” social worker Pachchanlam said.

It remains to be seen if change will happen on the ground, but for a brief moment, in that jungle shrine, thousands came together in hope and expectation of a brighter future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Sri Lanka Cartoonists Aren’t Killed – They’re Disappearedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-sri-lanka-cartoonists-arent-killed-theyre-disappeared/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-sri-lanka-cartoonists-arent-killed-theyre-disappeared http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-sri-lanka-cartoonists-arent-killed-theyre-disappeared/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 19:00:04 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138622 Sri Lankan columnist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda has been missing for almost five years. Credit: Vikalpa | Groundviews | CPA/CC-BY-2.0

Sri Lankan columnist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda has been missing for almost five years. Credit: Vikalpa | Groundviews | CPA/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

Scenes from the brutal shooting of 12 journalists with the French satirical weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’ have monopolised headlines worldwide ever since two men opened fire in the magazine’s Paris office on Jan. 7.

Millions have marched in the streets against what is widely being billed as an attack on free speech, and the work of the magazine’s cartoonists has gone viral.

Several thousands miles away, in Sri Lanka, a different attack on press freedom has not received even a fraction of the attention. Perhaps because, in this particular tragedy, the leading character was not killed. He simply vanished without a trace.

“One sure way to reverse the dangerous trajectory Sri Lanka has been going down during the past decade is to seriously address the pleas of those like Sandhya Eknaligoda, whose husband Prageeth remains missing five years on [...]." -- Sumit Galhotra, Asia Researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
The last time anyone heard from Prageeth Eknaligoda was on Jan. 24, 2010. Just after 10 p.m. he called to inform his wife, Sandhya, that he was on his way home from the office. He never arrived.

From local police stations all the way to the United Nations in Geneva, she has searched for answers as to his whereabouts, but found none.

Rights groups like Amnesty International believe the authorities played a role in his disappearance, while neighbours report seeing an unmarked white van parked outside his house the day he went missing – a vehicle widely associated with enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

A cartoonist and columnist for Lanka eNews (LEN), Eknaligoda had long used his pen to draw attention to corruption, human rights abuses and eroding democracy in Sri Lanka.

One of his most widely shared images depicts the back of a half-naked woman facing a gang of laughing men. Scratched on the wall behind her are the words “Preference of the majority is democracy”, which some commentators claimed was a reference to the powerlessness of minorities in a largely Sinhala-Buddhist country.

He also turned his sharp pen to the issue of education, sketching out in glaring detail the impact of a weak school system on the youth, including one cartoon that depicted the tragic suicide of a student at a leading girls’ school in the capital, Colombo.

In a country that is ranked fourth – between the Philippines and Syria – on the Impunity Index compiled by the leading media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), it was perhaps only a matter of time before Eknaligoda was forced to answer to the powers that be.

But because there is no evidence to show he suffered the same fate as the 19 Sri Lankan journalists who have been killed in cold blood since 1992, Eknaligoda is not included among those who paid with their lives for their writings.

Because his body was never found, there is no gravesite around which to gather to mourn his death. In fact, former Attorney General Mohan Peiris told a United Nations Committee against Torture in 2011 that Eknaligoda was still alive and living in a foreign country – a statement he later retracted.

As far as the family is concerned, disappearance is a fate worse than death. In an interview with IPS in 2012, Sandhya Eknaligoda explained, “Not knowing where your loved one is, that is mental torture. And it is worse than physical torture, where at least the world can see the marks of your suffering.”

New government, new hopes

On Jan. 7, as news of the Charlie Hebdo massacre reached heads of state around the world, Sri Lanka’s then-president Rajapaksa was among those to immediately offer condolences to the victims’ families.

Those who have closely followed Eknaligoda’s case called the statement hypocritical, given the government’s alleged indifference to a free press in Sri Lanka.

So when Rajapaksa was ousted at the Jan. 8 presidential election, replaced by his former party secretary Maithripala Sirisena, experts and activists began, tentatively, to hope for accountability.

“Maithripala Sirisena’s stunning win marks an opportunity for Sri Lanka to improve the climate for press freedom,” Sumit Galhotra, Asia researcher for CPJ, told IPS. “While he has pledged to eradicate corruption and ensure greater transparency, we will be watching closely to see if he follows these verbal commitments with concrete steps.

“One sure way to reverse the dangerous trajectory Sri Lanka has been going down during the past decade is to seriously address the pleas of those like Sandhya Eknaligoda, whose husband Prageeth remains missing five years on and to begin combating the culture of impunity that has flourished in the country when it comes to anti-press violence,” he added.

Among a long list of atrocities that the journalistic community has suffered was the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge in broad daylight on Jan. 8, 2009. Founder-editor of the major English-language weekly, the Sunday Leader, Wickrematunge was an outspoken critic of all forms of abuse of power and human rights violations.

Addressing a crowd of some 50 people who gathered at his gravesite on the morning of the presidential poll exactly six years after Lasantha’s death, his brother Lal Wickrematunge called attention to the failure of the “numerous squads assigned to handle investigations into the murder [to make] any headway.”

Now, as the new government assumes office, activists say there will be a renewed push for justice.

It is still early days, but already there have been some positive steps.

“Some of the websites that were blocked like TamilNet and Lanka eNews are accessible now, and these are good signs,” Ruki Fernando, a prominent grassroots activist here, told IPS.

“But there are a number of cases, like Prageeth’s, Lasantha’s and many, many others – including numerous cases against the [Jaffna-based Tamil language daily newspaper] Uthayan – that need to be expedited.

“That doesn’t mean that Lal [Wickrematunge] or Sandhya [Eknaligoda] are asking for political favours,” he asserted. “All they’re asking is that the normal course of justice, which was been obstructed so far, be allowed to proceed in an independent manner without political interference.

“These are things we expect from the new regime in its first 100 days,” Fernando stated. “Until they are implemented, I don’t have much confidence – I only have hope.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: For the Good of Humanity – Towards a Culture of Caringhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 12:46:56 +0000 Andrew MacMillan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138580

In this column, Andrew MacMillan, former director of the Field Operations Division of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joint author with Ignacio Trueba of ‘How to End Hunger in Times of Crises’, argues that behind the so-called success of globalisation lie problems that are “taken for granted” and little thought is given to how it can be better managed to serve the interests of people.

By Andrew MacMillan
ROME, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

About a week ago my wife was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. She was promptly treated with antibiotics and, wonderfully, is now on the mend.

What has struck me about this experience is not so much the high professionalism of the health workers or their up-to-date hospital equipment but the fact that she has become immersed in what can best be described as “a culture of caring”.

Andrew MacMillan

Andrew MacMillan

She and the other patients in her ward are looked after round the clock by an extraordinary team of state-employed nurses in a quiet, efficient and courteous way that inspires confidence.

I suppose that there is nothing particularly unusual about this. Caring for others is a very natural human trait. Everywhere, mothers care for their children; sons and daughters care for their aging parents; and neighbours rush to help each other when they hit problems.

Perhaps, however, “modern” societies – if one dares to generalise about them – are driven more by the quest for individual material wealth than by any widely expressed wish to do things for the general good of humanity.

Unless you live in Bhutan, your country’s performance is measured not in terms of the happiness of its people but by the growth of its Gross Domestic Product; bankers and businessmen reward themselves with salary bonuses rather than with extra time with their families; and those who enjoy the highest pinnacles of wealth vie with each other over the size of their fleet of private jets or the tonnage of their personal yachts.

The idiosyncrasies of the super-rich and celebrities would not matter much if they had not become the new role models for people who aspire to “do well” in life and if their wealth did not entitle them to a voice in the corridors of world power. It seems odd that Presidents and Prime Ministers flock each year in January to [the World Economic Forum in] Davos to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but perhaps this is simply a tacit admission of the influence that the latter have.“I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice
even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being”

Much of the recent material gains all around the planet is the result of the processes of globalisation that have successfully combined inventiveness, capital, low-cost but increasingly skilled labour and cheap transportation in new ways that have flooded the world’s markets with an amazing array of tantalising goods.

This apparent success of globalisation, however, may distract political attention from the idea that it could perhaps work better in everyone’s interest.

It seems absurd that 6 billion mobile phones have been produced and sold but 800 million people still go hungry every day; that, as people travel further, faster and more frequently, diseases such as Ebola spread more rapidly and more widely but the institutions responsible for protecting us from increased threats remain desperately under-funded; and that governments hesitate to upset their voters by acting to trim greenhouse gas emissions while, as predicted, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events is repeatedly wreaking havoc upon the unfortunate.

We tend to take these problems for granted rather than face up to the need to identify how to best manage globalisation in the interests of humanity.

I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being.

I do not think that there are many people who, if asked, would want to see others starve for lack of food, who welcome greater weather instability or who think that it is right that their children should suffer from the environmental damage that results from our unsustainable lifestyles.

In a sense, President Lula of Brazil put this idea to the test during his successful 2002 campaign. Breaking out of the normal political mould, he did not promise his voters higher incomes but simply pledged that all Brazilians would enjoy three meals a day by the end of his term in office.

He unveiled his Zero Hunger Programme on his first day as President, with the State assuming the responsibility for assuring that all the poorest families in the country could fulfil their right to food. There was huge outpouring of popular support for his efforts to create the more just and equitable society that has now emerged.

What many of us would like to see is the emergence of a new international consciousness of social justice similar to that proposed by Lula and embraced by Brazilians twelve years ago.

It must be founded on a growing public recognition of the unique role that multilateral institutions have to play in ensuring that globalisation is harnessed to benefit all people, especially the poorest of the poor. It must also assure greater inter-generational fairness in the use of our planet’s scarce resources.

Nowhere is the need for greater fairness more apparent than in the realm of food management – where we face a crazy situation in which, though ample food is produced, the health of more than half the world’s population is now damaged by bad nutrition.

It is fitting that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, should have launched his personal “Zero Hunger Challenge” in Brazil in 2012 when he called for the elimination of hunger “within my lifetime”.

The fact that the current Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – the United Nations agency that that oversees global food management – is José Graziano da Silva, who was the Brazilian architect of Lula’s Zero Hunger Programme, inspires confidence that it will do all in its power to bring about a world without hunger.

We can already see a renewed FAO in action – committed to ending hunger and malnutrition, more focused in its goals, working as one and embracing partnerships for a better present and future. Four more years will allow Graziano da Silva to consolidate the transformations he has begun and realise their full effect to the benefit of the world´s poor and hungry.

Hopefully 2015 will be a year in which the world’s leaders will become the champions of the justice and fairness – the caring society that my wife has experienced – to which so many of us aspire.

At the very least, they should pick up the thought that, as in Brazil, it should be a perfectly normal function of any self-respecting government to ensure that all its people can eat healthily.

(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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More Than Half of Africa’s Arable Land ‘Too Damaged’ for Food Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/more-than-half-of-africas-arable-land-too-damaged-for-food-production/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 10:52:05 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138619 Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

By Busani Bafana
NTUNGAMO DISTRICT, Uganda, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

A report published last month by the Montpellier Panel – an eminent group of agriculture, ecology and trade experts from Africa and Europe – says about 65 percent of Africa’s arable land is too damaged to sustain viable food production.

The report, “No Ordinary Matter: conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soil“, notes that Africa suffers from the triple threat of land degradation, poor yields and a growing population."Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil." -- Rattan Lal

The Montpellier Panel has recommended, among others, that African governments and donors invest in land and soil management, and create incentives particularly on secure land rights to encourage the care and adequate management of farm land. In addition, the report recommends increasing financial support for investment on sustainable land management.

The publication of the report comes with the U.N. declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils, a declaration the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) director general, Jose Graziano da Silva, said was important for “paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all and by all.”

According to the FAO, human pressure on the resource has left a third of all soils on which food production depends degraded worldwide.

Without new approaches to better managing soil health, the amount of arable and productive land available per person in 2050 will be a fourth of the level it was in 1960 as the FAO says it can take up to 1,000 years to form a centimetre of soil.

Soil expert and professor of agriculture at the Makerere University, Moses Tenywa tells IPS that African governments should do more to promote soil and water conservation, which is costly for farmers in terms of resources, labour, finances and inputs.

“Smallholder farmers usually lack the resources to effectively do soil and water conservation yet it is very important. Therefore, for small holder farmers to do it they must be motivated or incentivized and this can come through linkages to markets that bring in income or credit that enables them access inputs,” Tenywa says.

“Practicing climate smart agriculture in climate watersheds promotes soil health. This includes conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, diversification, mulching, and use of fertilizers in combination with rainwater harvesting.”

Before farmers received training on soil management methods, they applied fertilisers, for instance, without having their soils tested. Tenywa said now many smallholder farmers have been trained to diagnose their soils using a soil test kit and also to take their soils to laboratories for testing.

According to the Montpellier Panel report, an estimated 180 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are affected by land degradation, which costs about 68 billion dollars in economic losses as a result of damaged soils that prevent crop yields.

“The burdens caused by Africa’s damaged soils are disproportionately carried by the continent’s resource-poor farmers,” says the chair of the Montpellier Panel, Professor Sir Gordon Conway.

“Problems such as fragile land security and limited access to financial resources prompt these farmers to forgo better land management practices that would lead to long-term gains for soil health on the continent, in favour of more affordable or less labour-intensive uses of resources which inevitably exacerbate the issue.”

Soil health is critical to enhancing the productivity of Africa’s agriculture, a major source of employment and a huge contributor to GDP, says development expert and acting divisional manager in charge of Visioning & Knowledge management at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Wole Fatunbi.

“The use of simple and appropriate tools that suits the smallholders system and pocket should be explored while there is need for policy interventions including strict regulation on land use for agricultural purposes to reduce the spate of land degradation,” Fatunbi told IPS

He explained that 15 years ago he developed a set of technologies using vegetative material as green manure to substitute for fertiliser use in the Savannah of West Africa. The technology did not last because of the laborious process of collecting the material and burying it to make compost.

“If technologies do not immediately lead to more income or more food, farmers do not want them because no one will eat good soil,” said Fatunbi. “Soil fertility measures need to be wrapped in a user friendly packet. Compost can be packed as pellets with fortified mineral fertilisers for easy application.”

Fatunbi cites the land terrace system to manage soil erosion in the highlands of Uganda and Rwanda as a success story that made an impact because the systems were backed legislation. Also, the use of organic manure in the Savannah region through an agriculture system integrating livestock and crops has become a model for farmers to protect and promote soil health.

Meanwhile, a new report by U.S. researchers cites global warming as another impact on soil with devastating consequences.

According to the report “Climate Change and Security in Africa”, the continent is expected to see a rise in average temperature that will be higher than the global average. Annual rainfall is projected to decrease throughout most of the region, with a possible exception of eastern Africa.

“Less rain will have serious implications for sub-Saharan agriculture, 75 percent of which is rain-fed… Average predicated production losses by 2050 for African crops are: maize 22 percent, sorghum 17 percent, millet 17 percent, groundnut 18 percent, and cassava 8 percent.

“Hence, in the absence of major interventions in capacity enhancements and adaption measures, warming by as little as 1.5C threatens food production in Africa significantly.”

A truly disturbing picture of the problems of soil was painted by the National Geographic magazine in a recent edition.

“By 1991, an area bigger than the United States and Canada combined was lost to soil erosion—and it shows no signs of stopping,” wrote agroecologist Jerry Glover in the article “Our Good Earth.” In fact, says Glover, “native forests and vegetation are being cleared and converted to agricultural land at a rate greater than any other period in history.

“We still continue to harvest more nutrients than we replace in soil,” he says. If a country is extracting oil, people worry about what will happen if the oil runs out. But they don’t seem to worry about what will happen if we run out of soil.

Adds Rattan Lal, soil scientist: “Political stability, environmental quality, hunger, and poverty all have the same root. In the long run, the solution to each is restoring the most basic of all resources, the soil.”

Edited by Lisa Vives

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European Citizens Call for Increased Aid to Developing Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 19:12:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138607 In Tapoa, Burkina Faso, a region bordering Niger, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) funds the NGO ACF to provide health and nutrition care as well as food assistance including cash transfers for the poorest families. Credit: © EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie/cc by 2.0

In Tapoa, Burkina Faso, a region bordering Niger, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) funds the NGO ACF to provide health and nutrition care as well as food assistance including cash transfers for the poorest families. Credit: © EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

An overwhelming majority of citizens in the 28-member European Union (EU) – which has been hamstrung by a spreading economic recession, a fall in oil prices and a decline of its common currency, the Euro – has expressed strong support for development cooperation and increased aid to developing nations.

A new Eurobarometer survey to mark the beginning of the ‘European Year for Development,’released Monday, shows a significant increase in the number of people in favour of increasing international development aid."The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development." -- Commissioner Neven Mimica

The survey reveals that most Europeans continue to “feel very positively about development and cooperation”.

Additionally, the survey also indicates that 67 percent of respondents across Europe think development aid should be increased – a higher percentage than in recent years, despite the current economic situation in Europe.

And 85 percent believe it is important to help people in developing countries.

“Almost half of respondents would personally be prepared to pay more for groceries or products from those countries, and nearly two thirds say tackling poverty in developing countries should be a main priority for the EU.”

Presenting the results of the survey, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said, “I feel very encouraged to see that, despite economic uncertainty across the EU, our citizens continue to show great support for a strong European role in development.

“The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development, helping us to engage in a debate with them,” he added.

Jens Martens, director of the Bonn-based Global Policy Forum-Europe, told IPS the Eurobarometer demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of EU citizens support global solidarity and strengthened international cooperation.

“This is good news. Now, EU governments must follow their citizens,” he said.

EU positions in the U.N.’s upcoming post-2015 development agenda and Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations will become the litmus test for their global solidarity, said Martens, who is also a member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch, a global network of several hundred non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigning for poverty eradication and social justice.

EU governments must translate the increased citizens support for development now into an increase of offical development assistance (ODA), but also in fair trade and investment rules and strengthened international tax cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations, he declared.

According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85), United Kingdom (0.72) and the Netherlands (0.67) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.

In an interview with IPS last November, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out the importance of the upcoming International Conference on FfD in Ethiopia next July.

He said the ICFD will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping the U.N.’s 17 proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs)” which will be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders next September.

Ban cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals.

“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.

Speaking of financing for development, Ban said ODA, from the rich to the poor, is “is necessary but not sufficient.”

Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the growing millions living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.

In a statement released Monday, the European Commission provided some of the results of the Eurobarometer on development: At 67 percent, the share of Europeans who agree on a significant increase in development aid has increased by six percentage points since 2013, and a level this high was last seen in 2010.

One in two Europeans sees a role for individuals in tackling poverty in developing countries (50 percent).

A third of EU citizens are personally active in tackling poverty (34 percent), mainly through giving money to charitable organisations (29 percent).

Most Europeans believe that Europe itself also benefits from giving aid to others: 69 percent say that tackling poverty in developing countries also has a positive influence on EU citizens.

Around three-quarters think it is in the EU’s interest (78 percent) and contributes to a more peaceful and equitable world (74 percent).

For Europeans, volunteering is the most effective way of helping to reduce poverty in developing countries (75 percent). But a large majority also believe that official aid from governments (66 percent) and donating to organisations (63 percent) have an impact.

The European Commission says 2015 promises to be “hugely significant for development, with a vast array of stakeholders involved in crucial decision-making in development, environmental and climate policies”.

2015 is the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the year in which the ongoing global post-2015 debate will converge into a single framework for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

2015 is also the year that a new international climate agreement will be decided in Paris.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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