Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:38:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

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Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

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Deforestation in the Andes Triggers Amazon “Tsunami” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/deforestation-andes-triggers-amazon-tsunami/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:35:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133699 Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil. That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru. His […]

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The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Beni river, a tributary of the Madeira river, when it overflowed its banks in 2011 upstream of Cachuela Esperanza, where the Bolivian government is planning the construction of a hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Deforestation, especially in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, was the main driver of this year’s disastrous flooding in the Madeira river watershed in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest and the drainage basin across the border, in Brazil.

That is the assessment of Marc Dourojeanni, professor emeritus at the National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru.

His analysis stands in contrast with the views of environmentalists and authorities in Bolivia, who blame the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built over the border in Brazil for the unprecedented flooding that has plagued the northern Bolivian department or region of Beni.

“That isn’t logical,” Dourojeanni told IPS. Citing the law of gravity and the topography, he pointed out that in this case Brazil would suffer the effects of what happens in Bolivia rather than the other way around – although he did not deny that the dams may have caused many other problems.

The Madeira river (known as the Madera in Bolivia and Peru, which it also runs across) is the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, receiving in its turn water from four large rivers of over 1,000 km in length.

The Madeira river’s watershed covers more than 900,000 square km – similar to the surface area of Venezuela and nearly twice the size of Spain.

In Bolivia, which contains 80 percent of the watershed, two-thirds of the territory receives water that runs into the Madeira from more than 250 rivers, in the form of a funnel that drains into Brazil.

To that vastness is added the steep gradient. Three of the Madeira’s biggest tributaries – the Beni, the Mamoré and the Madre de Dios, which rises in Peru – emerge in the Andes mountains, at 2,800 to 5,500 metres above sea level, and fall to less than 500 metres below sea level in Bolivia’s forested lowlands.

These slopes “were covered by forest 1,000 years ago, but now they’re bare,” largely because of the fires set to clear land for subsistence agriculture, said Dourojeanni, an agronomist and forest engineer who was head of the Inter-American Development Bank’s environment division in the 1990s.

The result: torrential flows of water that flood Bolivia’s lowlands before heading on to Brazil. A large part of the flatlands are floodplains even during times of normal rainfall.

This year, 60 people died and 68,000 families were displaced by the flooding, in a repeat of similar tragedies caused by the El Niño and La Niña climate phenomena before the Brazilian dams were built.

Deforestation on the slopes of the Andes between 500 metres above sea level and 3,800 metres above sea level – the tree line – is a huge problem in Bolivia and Peru. But it is not reflected in the official statistics, complained Dourojeanni, who is also the founder of the Peruvian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature, Pronaturaleza.

When the water does not run into barriers as it flows downhill, what happens is “a tsunami on land,” which in the first quarter of the year flooded six Bolivian departments and the Brazilian border state of Rondônia.

The homes of more than 5,000 Brazilian families were flooded when the Madeira river overflowed its banks, especially in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondônia, the state where the two dams are being completed.

BR-364 is a road across the rainforest that has been impassable since February, cutting off the neighbouring state of Acre by land and causing shortages in food and fuel supplies. Outbreaks of diseases like leptospirosis and cholera also claimed lives.

The dams have been blamed, in Brazil as well. The federal courts ordered the companies building the hydropower plants to provide flood victims with support, such as adequate housing, among other measures.

The companies will also have to carry out new studies on the impact of the dams, which are supposedly responsible for making the rivers overflow their banks more than normal.

Although the capacity of the two hydroelectric plants was increased beyond what was initially planned, no new environmental impact studies were carried out.

The companies and the authorities are trying to convince the angry local population that the flooding was not aggravated by the two dams, whose reservoirs were recently filled.

Such intense rainfall “only happens every 500 years,” and with such an extensive watershed it is only natural for the plains to flood, as also occurred in nearly the entire territory of Bolivia, argued Victor Paranhos, president of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR), the consortium that is building the Jirau dam, which is closest to the Bolivian border.

The highest water level recorded in Porto Velho since the flow of the Madeira river started being monitored in 1967 was 17.52 metres in 1997, said Francisco de Assis Barbosa, the head of Brazil’s Geological Service in the state of Rondônia.

But a new record was set in late March: 19.68 metres, in a “totally atypical” year, he told IPS.

The counterpoint to the extremely heavy rainfall in the Madeira river basin was the severe drought in other parts of Brazil, which caused an energy crisis and water shortages in São Paulo.

A mass of hot dry air stationed itself over south-central Brazil between December and March, blocking winds that carry moisture from the Amazon jungle, which meant the precipitation was concentrated in Bolivia and Peru.

These events will tend to occur more frequently as a result of global climate change, according to climatologists.

Deforestation affects the climate and exacerbates its effects. Converting a forest into grassland multiplies by a factor of 26.7 the quantity of water that runs into the rivers and increases soil erosion by a factor of 10.8, according to a 1989 study by Philip Fearnside with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA).

That means half of the rain that falls on the grasslands goes directly into the rivers, aggravating flooding and sedimentation.

The higher the vegetation and the deeper the roots, the less water runs off into the rivers, according to measurements by Fearnside on land with gradients of 20 percent in Ouro Preto D’Oeste, a municipality in Rondônia.

And clearing land for crops is worse than creating grassland because it bares the soil, eliminating even the grass used to feed livestock that retains at least some water, Dourojeanni said.

But grazing livestock compacts the soil and increases runoff, said Fearnside, a U.S.-born professor who has been researching the Amazon rainforest in Brazil since 1974.

In his view, deforestation “has not contributed much to the flooding in Bolivia, for now, because most of the forest is still standing.”

Bolivian hydrologist Jorge Molina at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, a university in La Paz, says the same thing.

But Bolivia is among the 12 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates, says a study by 15 research centres published by the journal Science in November 2013.

The country lost just under 30,000 sq km of forest cover between 2000 and 2012, according to an analysis of satellite maps.

Cattle ranching, one of the major drivers of deforestation, expanded mainly in Beni, which borders Rondônia. Some 290,000 head of cattle died in January and February, according to the local federation of cattle breeders.

The excess water even threatened the efficient operation of the hydropower plants. The Santo Antônio dam was forced to close down temporarily in February.

That explains Brazil’s interest in building additional dams upstream, “more to regulate the flow of the Madeira river than for the energy,” said Dourojeanni.

Besides a projected Brazilian-Bolivian dam on the border, and the Cachuela Esperanza dam in the Beni lowlands, plans include a hydropower plant in Peru, on the remote Inambari river, a tributary of the Madre de Dios river, he said.

But the plans for the Inambari dam and four other hydroelectric plants in Peru, to be built by Brazilian firms that won the concessions, were suspended in 2011 as a result of widespread protests.

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Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

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An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

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Côte d’Ivoire’s Tech Solutions to Local Problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cote-divoires-tech-solutions-local-problems/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 18:41:45 +0000 Marc-Andre Boisvert http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133677 When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms. N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet […]

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Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Thierry N’Doufou and his team of IT specialists developed a tablet — the Qelasy — specifically for the Ivorian market as they aim to bring local school kids into the digital era. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Marc-Andre Boisvert
ABIDJAN, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

When Ivorian Thierry N’Doufou saw local school kids suffering under the weight of their backpacks full of textbooks, it sparked an idea of how to close the digital gap where it is the largest — in local schoolrooms.

N’Doufou is one of 10 Ivorian IT specialists who developed the Qelasy — an 8-inch, Ivorian-engineered tablet that is set to be released next month by his technology company Siregex.The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

“It is more than me feeling sorry for them. It is also about filling the digital gap between the south and the north, and bringing Ivorian education into the 21st century,” N’Doufou tells IPS.

Qelasy means “classroom” in several African languages, including Akan, Malinke, Lingala and Bamileke.

The Qelasy team began by converting all government-approved Ivorian textbooks into digital format.

“We were obligated to process everything in a way to have quality images for high definition screens. It is a lot of work,” explains N’Doufou, who is CEO of Siregex.

“We also enriched the curriculum with images and videos in way to make the educational experience more convivial.”

A solution to Ivorian problems 

The tablet uses an Android operating system and is resistant to water splashes, dust, humidity and heat.

“The Qelasy is protected against everything that an African pupil without transportation might encounter during their walk home from school,” says N’Doufou.

“We knew we needed our own product … Our clients’ needs are very specific,” he explained.

The parent- and teacher-controlled tablet replaces all textbooks, correspondence books, calculators and the individual chalkboards often used in Ivorian classrooms.

It can also be programmed to allow kids to surf the web or play games according to a pre-defined timetable. Siregex staff have also developed a store where parents and educators can buy over 1,000 elements like apps, educational materials and books.

While the Qelasy is currently focused on education, its marketing director Fabrice Dan tells IPS that users will soon be able to use it for other things. “We believe in technology as a way to create positive changes. And we believe in education. But eventually, we will present solutions in other fields, like agriculture and microcredit,” he says.

Qelasy was launched at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress 2014.  Exactly how much it will sell for has not yet been determined, but it is expected to be priced between 275 and 315 dollars.

That’s a steep price in a country where, according to government figures, only two million of its 23 million people are classified as middle class, earning between two and 20 dollars a day.

While N’Doufou expects the government to purchase a few tablets for use in schools, this product will mostly benefit the country’s middle and upper classes.

For now, it is only available for the Ivorian market, but the firm is targeting Francophone and Anglophone Africa.

However, the biggest challenge to the success of the product remains the electricity deficit. In a country where, according to the World Bank, only 59 percent of the population has access to electricity, a tablet with an eight-hour battery life faces limited penetration.

But N’Doufou says “There is an 80 percent cellphone penetration rate in Côte d’Ivoire in spite of the low electricity penetration. People find solutions in villages. They will for this too.”

While N’Doufou says “most of the know-how comes from here,” the Qelasy was assembled in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Shenzen, where 10,000 units have been produced.

Other Ivorian Tech Solutions 

The Qelasy is merely the latest in locally-developed technologies designed specifically to answer Ivorian problems.

Last week, young Ivorian programmer Regis Bamba launched an app to record the licence plate numbers and other details of taxis. Taxi Tracker allows a user to send this information about the taxi they are travelling in to selected users who can follow their journey in real time.

It is an attempt to find a way to prevent incidents like the murder of young Ivorian model Awa Fadiga, who was attacked during a taxi ride home in March.

The story of Fadiga’s tragic death gripped the nation as it exposed gaps in the country’s security and healthcare systems. She had been left untreated in a comatose state for more than 12 hours at a local hospital, which allegedly refused to treat her until payment for her care was received.

“It is my reaction to her death. I saw her picture, and I thought that could be my little sister. I told myself that I could not just sit back with my arms crossed,” Bamba tells IPS.

“It is my concrete solution as a citizen until the authorities do something meaningful to protect citizens. So Awa’s death will not be in vain.”

Another application, Mô Ni Bah, was developed by Jean Delmas Ehui in 2013 and allows Ivorians to declare births through SMS.

Trained locals then transfer the information provided in the SMSes to a registration authority. It has been another important invention in a country where the great distance between rural areas and government centres has hindered birth registration. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, almost a third of births are undeclared here.

Bacely Yoro Bi, a technology evangelist, internet strategist and organiser of ConnecTIC — a gathering of Abidjan’s IT enthusiasts — says there is definitively a boom in the local IT business.

“There is a lot happening here in terms of technology, although it is still limited to Abidjan. There are several start-ups that have been created with a local focus,” he tells IPS.

Part of the success, says Yoro Bi, is because of the cooperation among developers.

“Qelasy has been possible because there is a techie community that support each other,” N’Doufou points out.

Yoro Bi says that Côte d’Ivoire’s inventions should be exported to the rest of West Africa and to the world.

With the creation of two free trade zones dedicated to technology in Abidjan’s suburbs, and investments in internet infrastructure, he predicts that inventors like N’Doufou and Bamba now have the potential to go beyond the national borders.

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Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

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Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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Whales Find Good Company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whales-find-good-company http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/whales-find-good-company/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 06:51:40 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133634 Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S. […]

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Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

Workers start to dismember a fin whale at the whaling station in Hvalfjordur, about 45 km north of Reykjavik. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS.

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Posters with the words “Do you know who caught your seafood?” are now appearing on buses, trains and other venues in Boston. They are part of a campaign organised by a coalition of U.S. environmental groups called Whales Need Us, to draw attention to the links between Icelandic whalers and fish sold in the U.S.

A picture of a whale appears on the poster, together with the name of the website where those interested can find more information.“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers."

The groups decided to focus on Boston because the launch of the campaign mid-March coincided with the opening of the North American Seafood Expo at the Boston Convention Centre.  Supporters picketed the stall of HB Grandi, one of Iceland’s largest fishing companies, asking onlookers to stop trading with the company because of its links with whaling.

The expo is the largest seafood trade event in North America.

At the start of the protest, fish consumers were requested to ask their local food retailers and restaurants to verify that their seafood products did not come from a source linked to Icelandic whaling.

“The campaign has contacted retailers, wholesalers and the food service industry across the U.S. to let them know that American consumers do not want to buy seafood from whalers, and asking for their help,” says Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute, one of the organisations behind the Whales Need Us campaign.

On Mar. 18, the last day of the three-day expo, Canadian-U.S. seafood company High Liner Foods (HLF) announced it would discontinue trading with HB Grandi because of its whaling connections. It had been trading with the Icelandic company since October 2013.

Since the end of the expo, U.S. companies Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market have severed ties with Rhode Island-based Legacy Seafoods, another company that imports substantial quantities of fish from HB Grandi.

HLF say they do not have any existing contracts outstanding with HB Grandi, and are committed not to enter into any new contracts with them until they have fully divested their involvement and interest in whaling.

“Even though HLF’s policy is strict on not doing business with suppliers directly involved in whaling, it has nothing to do with individuals or shareholders of HB Grandi. We have no control over the ownership of privately or publicly owned companies in HLF’s supplier base,” Elvar Einarsson from High Liner’s procurement division tells IPS.

At the end of 2011, High Liner bought Icelandic Group’s U.S. and Asian operations. Icelandic Group also agreed to a seven-year licensing agreement with HLF for the use of the Icelandic Seafood brand in North American countries until 2018.

“For HLF the marketing and sales of seafood from Iceland under the brand Icelandic Seafood is an important part of our business. There will be no change on HLF’s procurement from its other Icelandic suppliers and hopefully HB Grandi’s circumstances will change so they will be able to become one of HLF’s suppliers again,” says Einarsson.

Last September, Kristjan Loftsson from the whaling company Hvalur increased his family’s shares in HB Grandi from 10.2 percent to 14.9 percent. On the HB Grandi website, Loftsson is listed as chairman of the board.

At the time, there was obviously some concern over the repercussions that this could have. The fishing website Undercurrent reported “an Icelandic industry player” as saying: “Hvalur is Iceland’s only whaling company, and it’s increasingly a controversial activity. It’s obviously a risk to a company selling wild fish that their ownership is closely connected to whaling.”

Vilhjalmur Vilhjalmsson, CEO for HB Grandi, has stated publicly that he will not speak to the press on the company’s trade with High Liner Foods. In a short press release issued by his company, he is quoted as saying: “We agree with the government’s policy on sensible utilisation of natural resources and have nothing to do with what operations individual shareholders choose to practise or not practise.”

But Millward emphasises that they are not trying to attack Icelandic fisheries as such. “The campaign is in no way meant as an attack on Iceland’s economy and is geared only at those companies linked to the Hvalur whaling company,” she says.

In 2011, President Barack Obama issued diplomatic sanctions on Iceland as part of the Pelly Amendment. The Whales Need Us coalition has once again made use of this.

“The campaign has also urged the public to contact President Obama, and ask that he take targeted action against Icelandic companies connected to whaling by invoking the Pelly Amendment, a tool promulgated by the U.S. Congress as a means of compelling compliance with international conservation treaties,” Millward told IPS.

To an extent, this policy worked. Obama has said that he would invoke the Pelly Amendment and instigate a number of measures aimed at Iceland. But once again, these measures appear to be diplomatic rather than trade sanctions, although they are more extensive than before.

Coincidentally, Icelandic Social Democratic MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir has just put forward a parliamentary proposal that calls for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

“The investigation will take into account both minke whales and fin whales,” she told IPS. “Are we prepared to sacrifice more for less, when there is growing opposition to whaling and Iceland is catching more whales than are deemed sustainable by the IWC [International Whaling Commission]?”

The IWC says that the annual sustainable catch for fin whales in the North Atlantic is 46, whereas Iceland has set a quota of 154.

Meanwhile, Loftsson and other Hvalur employees are becoming increasingly sensitive to outside criticism and have now removed the company phone numbers from ja.is, the Internet listing of Icelandic phone numbers.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Iraqi Sunnis Seek a Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-sunnis-seek-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 09:33:34 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133624 Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30. Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil […]

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Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan , Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30.

Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq April 8 to set up a new party, Karama (Dignity).Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a project “in the long-term”.

The Sunni Arabs came from several western towns of Iraq, where fighting and unrest have not yet ended, 11 years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled.

No bloc is expected to get a majority but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the favourite to lead. Shia Arabs are split between the prime minister’s State of Law party, the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Karama candidate Afifa Agus al-Jumaili says a third consecutive term for Maliki would be “disastrous” for all Iraqis.

“The Sunni provinces of Iraq have turned into a combat zone between tribal militias, Al-Qaeda and Maliki’s Shias,” Jumaili tells IPS. She sees Karama as the “only chance for Sunni Iraqis of all walks of life to get back their rights and dignity.”

Karama is among 276 political entities approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission to contest the election. It’s among several parties looking to win over supporters of the now fragmented secular and Sunni Iraqiya coalition. That coalition won the last elections but was ousted by a Shia coalition, that brought Maliki to power.

The Sunni population is variously estimated to be 20 to 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million. Sunnis have been complaining of increasing marginalisation by the predominantly Shia political leaders.

“The sad irony of all this is that we are forced to gather in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq because an event like this is simply not feasible in Arab Iraq,” says Jumaili.

Despite their initial opposition to a federal model for the country, Iraqi Sunnis have increasingly been demanding an autonomous region similar to that for the Kurds.

Jumaili is originally from Hawija town 230 km north of Baghdad. Apr. 23 will mark a year since Iraqi special forces killed 51 protesters in this town. At least 215 more were killed in violence that followed.

In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch says security forces “responded to peaceful protests with threats, violence, and arrests, using lethal force on demonstrators who had been gathering largely peacefully for five months.” It spoke of “arbitrary and often massive arrests.”

Following the killings, anti-government protests picked up new momentum, particularly in mid-December after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, were arrested on suspicion of engaging in terrorism.

Sunnis are functionally excluded from government. The few who participate are coopted by Maliki.

The protests for rights and over the deaths has dragged the west of the country into unprecedented chaos since the peak of sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.

Among the most prominent protesters is Ghanim Alabed, a resident of Mosul town about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.

“Mosul has become a real nightmare over the last year,” Alabed, who has joined Karama, tells IPS. “Car bombs, kidnappings, killing of tribal leaders or simply ordinary civilians are sadly common currency among us, yet again.”

Alabed says most attacks are carried out by “either the army or Shia militias.” He says local journalists are increasingly being targeted. At least 50 journalists have been killed in Mosul alone since 2003.

The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Iraq the “worst nation” in its 2013 Impunity Index of unsolved journalist murders.

“I cannot set foot in Mosul, Baghdad or any other Arab part of Iraq because I know they will kill me straightaway,” says Alabed, who moved to Erbil with his family a few months ago.

His face is familiar to almost every Iraqi, and not just for his public appearances at many demonstrations. Cartoons portraying him as a terrorist leader have been shown on a government-funded TV channel.

“Americans had labelled all Sunni insurgents ‘Al-Qaeda’ and, today, Maliki still sticks to that line,” says Alabed. “But the truth is that most of us hate Al-Qaeda because we know that they are backed by Iran. Their sole aim is to destroy our society and prevent us from sharing power.”

The proof, he says, is that Islamic extremists hardly ever target Shias in his hometown.

The death toll is increasing by the day. Mera Faris Hassan, a tribal leader from Samarra, 130 km northwest of Baghdad, is mourning the death last week of Sheikh Juma al-Samarrai in his hometown.

Hassan tells IPS a curfew is in force in Samarra. He condemns constant attacks from both the government and unidentified groups.

“Through Karama we will struggle to get rid of policies meant only to justify repression against our people,” says Hassan. “We deserve to get back our legitimate rights as Iraqis.”

The emergency situation extends to virtually every Sunni area in Iraq. But Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, could well be facing the worst of the unrest.

Karama candidate Mohamed Jassim speaks of a mass exodus of civilians from Fallujah to Baghdad and Erbil. The situation in Fallujah, he says, is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every main road is blocked and the only way in and out is through secondary roads, and often on foot. The outskirts of the city are under the control of armed gangs but it’s difficult to know whether they are Al-Qaeda fighters or tribal militias because most are masked and carry no emblems.

“The biggest threat, though, comes from the constant bombings by the Iraqi air force,” the 44-year-old candidate tells IPS.

Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a “long-term” project. At this nascent stage and under the difficult circumstances it is hard to gauge whether Karama can emerge as a Sunni political force to contend with.

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Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:48:37 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133588 Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is. Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate […]

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Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is.

Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives — most Rwandans are still coping with the trauma of the violence. Most affected are the women who have children born of genocidal rape. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the genocide."The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu." -- Claudine Umuhoza, genocide survivor

Umuhoza, who lives in Gasabo district, near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, was only 23 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.

During the conflict that ensued she was raped by seven men — one of whom stabbed her in the stomach with a machete. She was left to die, lying on the floor.

Umuhoza survived only because a Hutu neighbour helped her escape to safety and gave her a fake Hutu identity card.

“The neighbour who saved my life is no longer in Rwanda, his family went to Mozambique. I’d like to say thank you for saving me. I would have died if it was not for him,” she remembered.

She lost four brothers and other family members in the massacre.

Now 43, Umuhoza is infected with HIV and has not yet told her son the origins of his birth.

“I have not being able to disclose to my son how he was born. My son doesn’t know. I got married in September 1994, after the genocide ended.

“I was pregnant when I married and after giving birth my husband realised the child born was not his. He didn’t accept this and as a result he left home,” she told IPS.

Umuhoza never remarried. Rape is a taboo subject in Rwanda’s society.

According to Jules Shell, the executive director and co-founder from Foundation Rwanda, even though this Central African nation has made great strides in rebuilding the country, women who were infected with HIV as a consequence of rape still face severe stigmatisation.

The U.S.-based NGO was established in 2008 and began supporting an initial cohort of 150 children born of rape with their schooling in 2009.

“A disproportionate number of the women who were raped were also infected by HIV,” Shell told IPS, explaining that the exact infection rate was not known but it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s women are living with HIV.

According to the government, women comprise the majority, 51.8 percent of this country’s population of 11.5 million. However, antiretroviral treatment only became widely available here 10 years ago and is accessible through the national healthcare system.

“We will never know the true number of children born of rapes committed during the genocide.

“As many women are afraid, unable, or understandably unwilling, to acknowledge the circumstance of their children’s birth … we will never know the true number,” Shell said.

The consequences of the genocide still affect the youth who were born after it.

“Many of the young people are experiencing a phenomena common to the children of Holocaust survivors, known as the ‘intergenerational inheritance of trauma’.

“This has resulted from the inability of mothers to speak openly to their children about their experiences and own trauma, which in turn affects them,” explained Shell.

Like Umuhoza, many other women still have not publicly acknowledged that their children were born of rape, though their children are aware that they have fathers who are unknown to their mothers.

This also creates problems for these children when they try to register for national identity cards, which requires the identification of both names of father and mother.

But thanks to Foundation Rwanda, Umuhoza’s son is about to finish high school — something she did not have the opportunity to do. Umuhoza is one of  600 mothers currently supported by Foundation Rwanda, which also provides fees and school material for their children.

“I am very happy that my son is in secondary school. One thing that I pray to god for is to see my son in school … and I have a hope that he will be able to go to university.

Preventing another genocide
There are over 3,000 volunteers in the country using various strategies to bring about reconciliation such as community dialogue, community works, poverty-reduction activities and counselling.

Richard Kananga, director of Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that another genocide could occur if national authorities do not promote inclusive and reconciliation to bring people together.

“Through community dialogues people are being able to talk to one another. Talks have helped to reduce the suspicion promoting trust and healing,” he said.
 

“It is very important for me. I know it is expensive, but I didn’t even think that he would attend secondary school. So doors may open suddenly. I have hope,” she trusted.

Her dream is that her son becomes a lawyer to advocate for poor and marginalised people. However, he has dreams of his own and wants to become a doctor.

“He always sees me going for treatment and feeling a lot of pain and he dreams about being able to treat me,” she explained.

Because of her ill health and the severe stomach pains caused by the machete wound, Umuhoza is only able to perform light housework.

As a survivor she receives medical treatment from the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) — to which the government allocates two percent of its national budget.

And on Apr. 15 she will undergo an operation to repair her wounds in the military hospital in Kigali.

Twenty years after the genocide, the country has not been able to forget its past, remarked Shell. She explained there is still stigma and discrimination against Tutsis, particularly in rural and isolated areas where they are very much a minority.

According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) survey, at least 40 percent of Rwandans across the country say they still fear a new wave of genocide.

“Suspicion is still there. Trauma is still an issue. We still have recently-released prisoners who are now in society but not integrated yet,” Richard Kananga, director of the Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the NURC, told IPS.

The NURC was created in 1999 to deal with aspects of discrimination among local communities and lead reconciliation in Rwanda.

According to Kananga, reconciliation is a continuous process.

“We can’t tell how long it will take, it’s a long-term process. We have researchers to measure how people perceive this process of human security in the country. We cannot say that in 20 more years we’re going to reach 100 percent [of people who feel secure],” he said.

The children born after the genocide may represent a dark period of Rwanda’s history, but, according to Shell, they also represent the “light and the hope for a brighter future.”

Umuhoza believes it too.

“I have hopes that the future for Rwanda will be good. Comparing how the country was 20 years ago and how it is today. I wish for unity and reconciliation.

“The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu. Rwandans will still know who they are,” said the mother.

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Soaring Child Poverty – a Blemish on Spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/soaring-child-poverty-blemish-spain/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 19:05:23 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133550 “I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, […]

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Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Families demonstrating to demand respect for their right to a roof over their heads, before the authorities evicted 13 families, including a dozen children, from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t want them to grow up with the notion that they’re poor,” says Catalina González, referring to her two young sons. The family has been living in an apartment rent-free since December in exchange for fixing it up, in the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Six months ago González, 40, and her two sons, Manuel and Leónidas, 4 and 5, were evicted by the local authorities from the Buenaventura “corrala” or squat – an old apartment building with a common courtyard that had been occupied by 13 families who couldn’t afford to pay rent. The evicted families included a dozen children.

Since then, she told IPS, her sons “don’t like the police because they think they stole their house.”

Spain has the second-highest child poverty rate in the European Union, following Romania, according to the report “The European Crisis and its Human Cost – A Call for Fair Alternatives and Solutions” released Mar. 27 in Athens by Caritas Europa.

Bulgaria is in third place and Greece in fourth, according to the Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organisation.

The austerity measures imposed in Europe, aggravated by the foreign debt, “have failed to solve problems and create growth,” said Caritas Europa’s Secretary General Jorge Nuño at the launch of the report.

“We’re doing ok. The kids are already pre-enrolled in school for the next school year,” said González, a native of Barcelona, who left the father of her sons in Italy when she discovered that “he mistreated them.”

She started over from scratch in Málaga, with no family, job or income, meeting basic needs thanks to the solidarity of social organisations and mutual support networks.

According to a report published this year by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, in 2012 more than 2.5 million children in Spain lived in families below the poverty line – 30 percent of all children.

UNICEF reported that 19 percent of children in Spain lived in households with annual incomes of less than 15,000 dollars.

“Child poverty is a reality in Spain, although politicians want to gloss over it and they don’t like us to talk about it because it’s associated with Third World countries,” the founder and president of the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), Catholic priest Ángel García, told IPS.

Spain’s finance minister Cristóbal Montoro said on Mar. 28 that the information released by Caritas Europa “does not fully reflect reality” because it is based solely on “statistical measurements.”

But in Málaga “there are more and more mothers lining up to get food,” Ángel Meléndez, the president of Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche, told IPS.

Every day, his organisation provides 500 breakfasts, 1,600 lunches and 600 dinners to the poor.

For months, González and her sons have been taking their meals at the “Er Banco Güeno”, a community-run soup kitchen in the low-income Málaga neighbourhood of Palma-Palmilla, which operates out of a closed-down bank branch.

According to Father Ángel, child poverty “isn’t just about not being able to afford food, but also about not being able to buy school books or not buying new clothes in the last two years.”

“It’s about unequal opportunity among children,” he said.

The crisis in Spain is still severe. The country’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU: 25.6 percent in February, after Greece’s 27.5 percent.

In 2013, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy approved a National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2013-2016, which includes the aim of reducing child poverty.

Caritas Europa reports that at least one and a half million households in Spain are suffering from severe social inclusion – 70 percent more than in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out.

“Entire families end up on the street because they can’t afford to pay rent,” Rosa Martínez, the director of the Centro de Acogida Municipal, told IPS during a visit to the municipal shelter. “More people are asking for food. They’re even asking for diapers for newborns because they are in such a difficult situation.”

Of the nearly 26 percent of the economically active population out of jobs, half are young people, according to the National Statistics Institute, while the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As of late March, 4.8 million people were unemployed, according to official statistics. The figures also show that the proportion of jobless people with no source of income whatsoever has grown to four out of 10.

Social discontent has been fuelled by austerity measures that have entailed cutbacks in health, education and social protection.

A report on the Housing Emergency in the Spanish State, by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) and the DESC Observatory, estimates that 70 percent of the families who have been, or are about to be, evicted include at least one minor.

“The right to equal opportunities is dead letter if children are ending up on the street,” José Cosín, a lawyer and activist with PAH Málaga, told IPS.

Cosín denounced the vulnerable situation of the children who were evicted along with their families from the Buenaventura corrala on Oct. 3, 2013.

Fifteen of the people who were evicted filed a lawsuit demanding respect of the children’s basic rights, as outlined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which went into effect in 1990.

The Convention establishes that states parties “shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

The number of families in Spain with no source of income at all grew from 300,000 in mid-2007 to nearly 700,000 by late 2013, according to the report Precariedad y Cohesión Social; Análisis y Perspectivas 2014 (Precariousness and Social Cohesion; Analysis and Perspectives 2014), by Cáritas Española and the Fundación Foessa.

And 27 percent of households in Spain are supported by pensioners. Grown-up sons and daughters are moving back into their parents’ homes with their families, or retired grandparents are helping support their children and grandchildren, with their often meagre pensions.

“When times get rough, the social fabric is strengthened,” said González. She stressed the solidarity of different groups in Málaga who for three months helped her clean up and repair the apartment she is living in now, which is on the tenth floor of a building with no elevator, and was full of garbage and had no door, window panes or piped water.

González complained that government social services are underfunded and inefficient, and said she receives no assistance from them.

Like all young children, her sons ask her for things. But she explains to them that it is more important to spend eight euros on food than on two plastic fishes. It took her several weeks to save up money to buy the toys. Last Christmas she took them to a movie for the first time.

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New Treatments May Defuse Viral Time Bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/new-treatments-may-defuse-viral-time-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-treatments-may-defuse-viral-time-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/new-treatments-may-defuse-viral-time-bomb/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 08:10:04 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133530 Mohamed Ibrahim first learned he had hepatitis C when he tried to donate blood. Weeks later he received a letter from the blood clinic telling him he carried antibodies of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). He most likely acquired the disease from a blood transfusion he received during surgery when he was a child. “I […]

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Egyptian HCV carriers will soon have cost-effective alternatives to interferon therapy. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

Egyptian HCV carriers will soon have cost-effective alternatives to interferon therapy. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Mohamed Ibrahim first learned he had hepatitis C when he tried to donate blood. Weeks later he received a letter from the blood clinic telling him he carried antibodies of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). He most likely acquired the disease from a blood transfusion he received during surgery when he was a child.

“I needed a lot of blood, and this was at a time before they screened it,” Ibrahim recalls.Even with new drugs showing promise in reversing cirrhosis, it may already be too late for late-stage HCV patients.

Now, at 24, Ibrahim is living with the blood-borne virus, knowing it is slowly eroding his liver. Unless treated, by the time he reaches his forties the disease will likely advance to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

While Ibrahim has been undergoing treatment since he first learned of his infection, the medication is costly and yet ineffective.

“Nothing has worked, and the side effects of the medicine are as bad as the disease,” he says. “I can’t work in [other places such as) Dubai or Saudi Arabia, because they require a clean blood test before issuing a work permit.”

Ibrahim is one of an estimated eight to 10 million Egyptians living with hepatitis C.

Egypt is said officially to have the highest prevalence of hepatitis C in the world, with 10 to 14 percent of its 85 million people infected, and about two million in dire need of treatment. HCV-related liver failure is one of the country’s leading causes of death, taking over 40,000 lives a year.

But Egyptians infected with HCV now have fresh hope in novel treatments.

The Egyptian government recently struck a deal with U.S. pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences to purchase its new hepatitis C pill Sovaldi at a fraction of its American price.

Under the agreement, Gilead will supply a 12-week regimen of Sovaldi to Egypt for 900 dollars, instead of the 84,000 dollars the medicine costs in the United States. Egypt’s health ministry is expected to make the drug available at specialised government clinics in the second half of 2014, once local drug registration procedures are completed.

Studies have shown that Sovaldi is up to 97 percent effective in curing HCV type-4, the most common strain of hepatitis C among Egyptians. The pill is seen as a significant improvement over the traditional HCV treatment in Egypt, which is a 48-week course of the anti-viral drug interferon taken in combination with ribavirin tablets.

The existing treatment costs up to 7,000 dollars using pegylated interferon supplied by multinational pharmaceutical firms Roche and Merck, and is only about 60 percent effective. Many patients also report severe side effects such as anaemia and chronic depression.

Interferon is available without a prescription at pharmacies in Egypt, but at 150 dollars per weekly injection, the 48-week regimen is well beyond the reach of most Egyptians. Reiferon Retard, a locally manufactured interferon, costs a third of that price, but critics claim it is less than 50 percent effective.

Since 2006, the Egyptian government has treated more than 250,000 HCV patients at specialised units affiliated to the National Committee for the Control of Viral Hepatitis, a government body formed to tackle the disease. Interferon injections are provided at reduced cost or free to uninsured Egyptians, but as many as half of the patients treated suffer a relapse within six months.

A 2010 study by the U.S.-based National Academy of Sciences estimates that more than 500,000 new cases of HCV infection occur in Egypt each year. Researchers attributed the spread of the disease to the high background prevalence of HCV in Egypt – about 20 times higher than the global average – and to poor medical hygiene practices, including the use of unsterilised medical equipment and unscreened blood.

Egypt’s government claims the figures are highly exaggerated, and that the high prevalence is the clinical outcome of infections decades earlier.

Many HCV carriers were infected during a national campaign in the 1960s and 1970s to stamp out the water-borne disease schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia. Health authorities administered repeated injections of the bilharzia treatment to Egyptians in rural areas using unsterilised needles, inadvertently spreading hepatitis C among the population.

“Doctors at that time were unaware of HCV, which was only identified in 1987, and were using glass syringes instead of the plastic disposable syringes that is current practice,” explains Dr. Refaat Kamel, a surgeon and specialist in tropical diseases. “Once a needle got infected, the disease spread quickly.”

Kamel says a better understanding of the structure and reproductive mechanism of HCV has allowed scientists to devise more effective treatments.

Gilead’s Sovaldi received the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2013 after clinical trials demonstrated its effectiveness in curing HCV without significant adverse effects. The drug, one of a new line of direct-acting antiviral agents, combats the disease by targeting infected liver cells and inhibiting the enzymes that allow the virus to replicate.

The FDA has also approved Janssen Therapeutics’ Olysio, a direct-acting antiviral agent that is about 25 percent cheaper than Gilead’s pill. Pharmaceutical firms AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and others are all hustling to develop their own oral therapies.

Sovaldi’s effectiveness on HCV type-4 is proven only when used with interferon and ribavirin. Further testing will establish whether the drug can be taken without weekly interferon injections, or as a combined therapy with other direct-acting antiviral agents.

“Trials here of six months of Sovaldi without interferon but with ribavirin showed similar success rates, higher than 96 percent (cured),” says Dr. Mohamed Abdel Hamid, director of the government-run Viral Hepatitis Research Lab (VHRL). “The drug might also be effective taken for three months without interferon. We just don’t know yet.”

He says that apart from the reduced cost and greater efficacy of Sovaldi, oral medication could reduce the manifold problems associated with long-term intravenous interferon therapy.

“Obviously, over 48 weeks there is a lot more that can go wrong,” Abdel Hamid tells IPS. “Adherence is a problem as patients must visit the treatment centre at the same time every week to receive the injection. There are also problems keeping the interferon cold, and the medication has many side effects.”

But he cautions that even with new drugs showing promise in reversing cirrhosis, it may already be too late for late-stage HCV patients. With a limited healthcare budget, Egypt is expected to prioritise treatment for those in whom the disease has not yet manifested.

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Colombia’s Breadbasket Feels the Pinch of Free Trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/colombias-breadbasket-feels-pinch-free-trade/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:11:21 +0000 Helda Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133521 “Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly. “Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is […]

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The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

The home of a poor farming family in the mountains of Cajamarca, in the central Colombian department of Tolima. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Helda Martínez
IBAGUÉ, Colombia , Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

“Things are getting worse and worse,” Enrique Muñoz, a 67-year-old farmer from the municipality of Cajamarca in the central Colombian department of Tolima, once known as the country’s breadbasket, said sadly.

“Over the past five decades, the situation took a radical turn for the worse,” activist Miguel Gordillo commented to IPS, referring to what is happening in Tolima, whose capital is Ibagué, 195 km southwest of Bogotá.

“Fifty years ago, Ibagué was a small city surrounded by crops – vast fields of cotton that looked from far away like a big white sheet,” said Gordillo, head of the non-governmental Asociación Nacional por la Salvación Agropecuaria (National Association to Save Agriculture).

Seeds, also victims of the FTAs

Miguel Gordillo mentioned another problem created by the FTAs: seeds.

In 2010, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), a government institution, prohibited farmers from saving their own seeds for future harvests, the expert pointed out.

ICA established in Resolution 970 that only certified seeds produced by biotech giants like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, the world leaders in transgenic seeds, could be used.

The measure “ignores a centuries-old tradition that started with indigenous peoples, who always selected the best seeds for planting in the next season. Today, in the areas of seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, we are at the mercy of the international market,” Gordillo said.

“In Tolima we planted maize, tobacco, soy, sorghum and fruit trees, and the mountains that surrounded Cajamarca were covered with green coffee bushes protected by orange trees, maize and plantain, and surrounded by celery,” Muñoz said.

His voice lost in the past, he said the farms in the area also had “piggies, chickens, mules, cows; everything was so different.”

Gordillo said, “In the north of the department we had fruit trees of all kinds, and the rivers were chock full of fish. There’s still rice, some maize, coffee…but even the fish have disappeared.

“In short, in five decades the look of this agricultural region has changed, and today it’s all freeways, residential complexes, gas stations, and here and there the odd field with crops,” he complained.

As a result, everything changed for Muñoz. “My wife and I are now supported by our kids who work, one in Ibagué and two in Bogotá. On the farm we have a cow, whose milk we use to make cheese that we sell, and we plant food for our own consumption.”

Muñoz plans to take part in the second national farmers’ strike, on Apr. 27, which the government is trying to head off.

The first, which lasted from Aug. 19 to Sep. 9, 2013, was held by coffee, rice, cotton, sugar cane, potato and cacao farmers, who demanded that the government of Juan Manuel Santos revise the chapters on agriculture in the free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by Colombia, especially the accord reached with the United States.

The national protest was joined by artisanal miners, transport and health workers, teachers and students, and included massive demonstrations in Bogotá and 30 other cities.

Clashes with the security forces left 12 dead, nearly 500 injured and four missing.

Colombia has signed over 50 FTAs, according to the ministry for economic development.

The highest profile are the FTA signed in 2006 with the United States, which went into effect in May 2012, and the agreement with the European Union, that entered into force in August 2013, besides the FTAs with Canada and Switzerland. Another is currently being negotiated with Japan.

In 2011, Colombia founded the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Mexico and Peru, and Panama as an observer. It also belongs to other regional integration blocs.

“Colombia’s governments, which since the 1990s have had the motto ‘Welcome to the future’, lived up to it: that future has been terrible for Tolima and the entire country,” Gordillo said.

In the last four years, coffee farmers have held strikes until achieving subsidies of 80 dollars per truckload of coffee.

In this South American country of 48.2 million people, agriculture accounts for 6.5 percent of GDP, led by coffee, cut flowers, rice and bananas. But that is down from 14 percent of GDP in 2000 and 20 percent in 1975.

“Agriculture is doing poorly everywhere, and Tolima is no exception,” the department’secretary of agricultural development, Carlos Alberto Cabrera, told IPS.

“Rice, which is strong in our department, is having a rough time,” he said. “In coffee, we are the third-largest producers in the country, and we hope to become the first. There’s not much cotton left. In sorghum we are the second-largest producers. Soy is disappearing, tobacco too, and many products are now just grown for the food security of our farmers.”

In the search for solutions, “we have invited ministers and deputy ministers to the region, but their response has been that we should plant what sells, to stay in the market of supply and demand,” he said.

But Cabrera said that in the case of Tolima, the FTAs weren’t a problem. “We haven’t felt any effect, because the only thing we export is coffee. Rice is for national consumption, and sorghum goes to industry,” he said.

Gordillo, meanwhile, criticised that when ministers visit the department, “they say farmers should plant what other countries don’t produce, what they can’t sell to us. In other words, they insist on favouring others. They forget that the first priority should be the food security of our people, and not the other way around.”

Because of this misguided way of looking at things, he said, “our farmers will hold another national strike. People from Tolima and from many other regions of the country will take part, because the government isn’t living up to its promises, and all this poverty means they have to open their eyes.”

The government says it has fulfilled at least 70 of the 183 commitments it made to the country’s farmers after last year’s agriculture strike.

The farmers were demanding solutions such as land tenure, social investment in rural areas, protection from growing industries like mining and oil, and a fuel subsidy for agricultural producers.

The government says it earmarked 500 million dollars in support for agriculture in the 2014 budget.

In the last few weeks, the ministry of agriculture and rural development has stepped up a campaign showing off its results, and President Santos has insisted in public speeches that “a new farmers’ strike is not justified.”

The authorities are also pressing for dialogue to reach a national pact with farmers, as part of their efforts to ward off the strike scheduled for less than a month ahead of the May 25 presidential elections, when Santos will run for a second term.

Small farmers and other participants in a Mar. 15-17 “agricultural summit” agreed on eight points that should be discussed in a dialogue, including agrarian reform, access to land, the establishment of peasant reserve zones, prior consultation on projects in farming and indigenous areas, protection from FTAs, and restrictions on mining and oil industry activities.

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On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity.  It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new […]

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Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Italian Doctors Abort a Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/italy-aborts-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italy-aborts-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/italy-aborts-law/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 07:19:47 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133355 Two out of three doctors in Italy are ‘conscientious objectors’ to abortion, according to new data. The Italian Ministry of Health reveals that in 2011, 69.3 percent of doctors refused to carry out abortions, with peaks of over 85 percent in some regions. In the face of such numbers, the ruling of the European Committee […]

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A demonstration in support of abortion rights in Dublin. Credit: Irish Family Planning Association.

A demonstration in support of abortion rights in Dublin. Credit: Irish Family Planning Association.

By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Two out of three doctors in Italy are ‘conscientious objectors’ to abortion, according to new data. The Italian Ministry of Health reveals that in 2011, 69.3 percent of doctors refused to carry out abortions, with peaks of over 85 percent in some regions.

In the face of such numbers, the ruling of the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe against Italy earlier this month over a complaint for violating the right to protection of health came as no surprise.“Many doctors object simply because they have nothing to gain from doing this extra work.”

“The Italian situation really worries us, and this is why we filed the complaint,” Irene Donadio, advocacy officer at the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF_EN) told IPS. “We believe that there is a problem with the functioning and application of the abortion law, which, in fact, would be a good law but is often violated.

“We acknowledge the fact that the right to conscientious objection is included in the same law, but the right of women to access a service that is legal and fundamental for their health needs to be respected as much as this right.”

IPPF_EN sees the high number of conscientious objectors in Italy as the main cause behind refusal of women’s right to termination of pregnancy.

IPPF_EN, with the help of several Italian associations, presented to the Committee a scenario of never-ending waiting lists and arbitrary suspensions of the service. It listed many instances where women were forced to travel for abortions within the country or to go abroad.

“According to data from the Ministry of Health, the number of voluntary interruptions of pregnancy per year is around 110,000,” Giuseppe Noia, president of the Italian Association of Catholic Gynaecologists Obstetricians (AIGOC) told IPS.

“If we consider that there are about 1,500 non-objecting physicians, each physician carries out around 74 abortions per year, that is an average of five or six per month. The fact that non-objectors are overloaded and cannot guarantee an efficient system is therefore absolutely false,” Noia said.

In its response to the Council, the Ministry had said that due to a decline in abortions, “the workload for non-objecting doctors was cut by half in the last 30 years” and therefore “it appears difficult…to maintain that the high number of conscientious objectors would be an obstacle for accessing the interruption of pregnancy.”

The ministry’s note does not elaborate on the geographical distribution of objectors across the country. This is what, according to the Council of Europe, creates a disparity in treatment depending on where the woman seeking an abortion resides.

In the southern region of Basilicata, according to official data, 85.2 percent of physicians are conscientious objectors, in Apulia they account for 79.4 percent of the total, and in Sicily 81.7 percent.

“The situation is generally worse in the South, but also Lombardy [in the north bordering Switzerland] has serious problems, and we know that this is because is a not very laic region,” Silvana Agatone, president of  the Free Italian Association of Gynaecologists for the Application of Law 194 (LAIGA) told IPS. Law 194 is the law that regulates abortion in Italy.

The decrease in abortions claimed is subject to different interpretations. The ministry maintains that this is due to “the promotion of a higher and more efficacious recourse to conscious procreation.” But Marilisa D’Amico, a lawyer who was involved in presenting the complaint, says that the increase of cases of spontaneous abortions, or miscarriages, “can only be explained as an increase of clandestine abortions” presented as miscarriages. There were less than 57,000 such abortions in 1990, 68,000 in 2000 and more than 76,000 in 2011, according to ISTAT.

The official figures show a constant increase in the number of miscarriages through recent years.

LAIGA provided a list of 45 hospitals that have a gynaecology unit but do not perform terminations of pregnancy, disregarding Article 9 of the Italian law on abortion. This article states that hospital establishments and authorised nursing homes shall ensure that procedures for the termination of pregnancy are guaranteed.

Clandestine abortions continue to take place, says Massimo Srebot, head of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Lotti Hospital of Pontedera in Tuscany region, the first structure in Italy to introduce RU-486, a pill that blocks the action of the hormone progesterone in order to cause abortion without surgical intervention.

“Women who find obstacles in public hospitals seek alternative channels with physicians who, upon receiving a bribe, are willing to simulate a spontaneous abortion. These are conscientious objectors only when they have to work for free. They turn a blind an eye to their conscience in their private clinics.”

Srebot says “many doctors object simply because they have nothing to gain from doing this extra work.” Also, “carrying out abortions doesn’t help a doctor’s professional career because it is not a high-level specialisation operation.”

Srebot has proposed new solutions to ensure the respect of Law 194. One option would be to nominate a non-objector as a sub-head physician for every public hospital.

“I truly respect the real conscientious objectors, but there are those who speculate on women’s difficult situations, they don’t sustain them, they don’t help them preventing further incidents, they only wait for them to get pregnant again, so they once again cash in.”

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Brazilian Dams Accused of Aggravating Floods in Bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/brazilian-dams-accused-aggravating-floods-bolivia/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 22:42:11 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133433 Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept. Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo […]

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A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

A local resident tries to save some of her belongings during the floods in Bolivia’s Amazon department of Beni. Credit: Courtesy of Diario Opinión

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

Unusually heavy rainfall, climate change, deforestation and two dams across the border in Brazil were cited by sources who spoke to IPS as the causes of the heaviest flooding in Bolivia’s Amazon region since records have been kept.

Environmental organisations are discussing the possibility of filing an international legal complaint against the Jirau and Santo Antônio hydroelectric dams built by Brazil, which they blame for the disaster that has already cost 59 lives in Bolivia and material losses of 111 million dollars this year, according to the Fundación Milenio.

Bolivian President Evo Morales himself added his voice on Wednesday Apr. 2 to the choir of those who suspect that the two dams have had to do with the flooding in the Amazon region. “An in-depth investigation is needed to assess whether the Brazilian hydropower plants are playing a role in this,” he said.

The president instructed the foreign ministry to lead the inquiry. “There is a preliminary report that has caused a great deal of concern…and must be verified in a joint effort by the two countries.”

Some 30,000 families living in one-third of Bolivia’s 327 municipalities have experienced unprecedented flooding in the country’s Amazon valleys, lowlands and plains, and the attempt to identify who is responsible has become a diplomatic and political issue.

Environmentalists argue that among those responsible are the dams built in the Brazilian state of Rondônia on the Madeira river, the biggest tributary of the Amazon river, whose watershed is shared by Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

In Bolivia – where the Madeira (or Madera in Spanish) emerges – some 250 rivers that originate in the Andes highlands and valleys flow into it.

“It was already known that the Jirau and San Antonio [as it is known in Bolivia] dams would turn into a plug stopping up the water of the rivers that are tributaries of the Madera,” independent environmentalist Teresa Flores told IPS.

“Construction of a dam causes water levels to rise over the natural levels and as a consequence slows down the river flow,” the vice president of the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development (FOBOMADE), Patricia Molina, told IPS.

Her assertion was based on the study “The impact of the Madera river dams in Bolivia”, published by FOBOMADE in 2008.

“The Madera dams will cause flooding; the loss of chestnut forests, native flora and fauna, and fish; the appearance and recurrence of diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, dengue; the displacement of people, increased poverty and the disappearance of entire communities,” the study says.

“Considering all of the information provided by environmental activists in Brazil and Bolivia, by late 2013 everything seemed to indicate that the elements for a major environmental disaster were in place,” Environmental Defence League (LIDEMA) researcher Marco Octavio Ribera wrote in an article published Feb. 22.

But Víctor Paranhos, the head of the Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR) sustainable energy consortium, rejected the allegations.

The dams neither cause nor aggravate flooding in Bolivia “because they are run-of-the-river plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and the dams are many kilometres from the border,” he told IPS.

In his view, “what’s going on here is that it has never rained so much” in the Bolivian region in question. The flow in the Madeira river, which in Jirau reached a maximum of “nearly 46,000 cubic metres per second, has now reached 54,350 cubic metres per second,” he added.

Moreover, the flooding has covered a large part of the national territory in Bolivia, not only near the Madeira river dams, he pointed out.

The ESBR holds the concession for the Jirau hydropower plant, which is located 80 km from the Bolivian border. The group is headed by the French-Belgium utility GDF Suez and includes two public enterprises from Brazil as well as Mizha Energia, a subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui.

At the Jirau and Santo Antônio plants, which are still under construction, the reservoirs have been completed and roughly 50 turbines are being installed in each dam. When they are fully operative, they will have an installed capacity of over 3,500 MW.

Claudio Maretti, the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Amazon Initiative, said “there is neither evidence nor conclusive studies proving that the dams built on the Madera river are the cause of the floods in the Bolivian-Brazilian Amazon territories in the first few months of 2014 – at least not yet.”

In a statement, Maretti recommended “integrated conservation planning, monitoring of the impacts of infrastructure projects on the connectivity and flow of the rivers, on aquatic biodiversity, on fishing resources and on the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to the major alterations imposed by human beings.”

The intensity of the rainfall was recognised in a study by the Fundación Milenio which compared last year’s rains in the northern department or region of Beni – the most heavily affected – and the highlands in the south of Bolivia, and concluded that “it has rained twice as much as normal.”

Several alerts were issued, such as on Feb. 23 for communities near the Piraí river, which runs south to north across the department of Santa Cruz, just south of Beni.

At that time, an “extraordinary rise” in the water level of the river, the highest in 31 years, reached 7.5 metres, trapped a dozen people on a tiny island, and forced the urgent evacuation of the local population.

The statistics are included in a report by SEARPI (the Water Channeling and. Regularisation Service of the Piraí River) in the city of Santa Cruz, to which IPS had access.

The plentiful waters of the river run into the Beni plains and contributed to the flooding, along with the heavy rain in the country’s Andes highlands and valleys.

The highest water level in the Piraí river was 16 metres in 1983, according to SEARPI records.

Flores, the environmentalist, acknowledged that there has been “extraordinarily excessive” rainfall, which she attributed to the impact of climate change on the departments of La Paz in the northwest, Cochabamba in the centre, and the municipalities of Rurrenabaque, Reyes and San Borja, in Beni.

Molina, the vice president of FOBOMADE, cited “intensified incursions of flows of water from the tropical south Atlantic towards the south of the Amazon basin,” as an explanation for the heavy rainfall.

She and Flores both mentioned deforestation at the headwaters of the Amazon basin as the third major factor that has aggravated the flooding.

In Cochabamba, former senator Gastón Cornejo is leading a push for an international environmental audit and a lawsuit in a United Nations court, in an attempt to ward off catastrophe in Bolivia’s Amazon region.

“The state of Bolivia has been negligent and has maintained an irresponsible silence,” he told IPS.

Molina proposes taking the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, to denounce the environmental damage reportedly caused by the Brazilian dams.

With reporting by Mario Osava in Rio de Janeiro.

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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Zimbabwe’s Positive Children, Negative News http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 07:42:07 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133392 This is the first in a three-part series on youth and AIDS in Africa

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Afraid of losing playmates, children hide their HIV positive status from their peers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Afraid of losing playmates, children hide their HIV positive status from their peers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

Three years ago, Robert Ngwenya* and his father got into a heated argument over medication. Ngwenya, then aged 15, refused to continue swallowing the nausea-provoking pills he had been taking since he was 12 years old, and flushed them down the toilet. 

During the argument, Ngwenya understood he had been born HIV positive, had been taking antiretrovirals (ARV) and not vitamins and anti-allergenics, and that his father too lived with the virus and the guilt of having infected him.

“This is unfair, what did I do to deserve this?” Ngwenya laments.

How to Dance
"Next time you see me walking on the street
Know there's a story that hides in me
Don't look away and pretend that l'm not there
All l want is for someone to care for me

I too have dreams of a better life
That someone will love me as I am
To hold my own child in my arms
And make sure she's safe from harm

What l'd like is some of your affection
Not your pity, just some kind of attention
You think l'm worthless,
You don't even know me
It's not my fault that this
Blood flows through me.

I want you to know that we're just kids
Even though we were born with HIV
Prenatal, virgin contraction
The first of a fighting generation,
We fight against AIDS and discrimination
We're God-made, put there for a reason
It's time to change and now's the reason
Yes, we're special but we're no different

But in the Storm
We've learned how to dance"

Ngwenya lives in the high density suburb of Pumula in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, with his father, a car mechanic, and his younger brother, who is HIV negative. His mother died when Nwengya was 10 and his father never remarried.

Ngwenya’s life was all planned: finish high school, get a degree in information technology, find a job and buy a car. Not any more. After the revelation, he is no longer the same outgoing teenager whose company brought smiles to friends and family.

“How do I tell my friends? How do I start a relationship knowing someone will have to carry my burden?” he asks.

Like Ngwenya’s father, other HIV positive parents, weighed down by guilt, find it hard to tell their children they were infected at birth.

How and who tells a child or teenager that they will live with the virus for the rest of their lives?

Hard choices

Thanks to ARV therapy, increasing numbers of HIV infected children are living to adolescence. In 2012, Zimbabwe had 180,000 children aged 0-15 and 1.2 million people aged 15 and above living with HIV, says the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

“As these children grow and surpass the immediate threat of death, the issue of informing them of their HIV status arises,” says a study on teenagers born with the virus in Zimbabwe.

Disclosing to adolescents is different from telling younger children and requires tailored, age-appropriate guidelines, says the study.

Adolescents aged 16-20 interviewed for the study preferred to be told by health care workers at clinics, with the presence of family.

“Disclosure to this age group in a healthcare setting may help overcome some of the barriers associated with caregivers disclosing in the home environment and make the HIV status seem more credible to an adolescent,” reports the study.

Silence and lies

Zivai Mupambireyi, a researcher with the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research (CeSHHAR) and co-author of a 2013 study of HIV positive children aged 11-13 in Zimbabwe, told IPS that children prefer to learn about their HIV status at the clinic because they believe health workers give them more and better information than their carers.

Children reported that their carers delayed disclosure, concealed information and lied about the pills.

“Most of these children were looked after by non-biological carers, as their parents were the first generation of AIDS patients and died before ARVs,” Mupambireyi explains.

Whether it is parents overwhelmed by guilt or carers distressed by the enormity of the revelation, telling adolescents they are HIV positive is fraught with pain and ambivalence.

Mupambireyi found that HIV positive children believe that disclosing to peers will expose them to discrimination. Although this often was not the case, fearing a loss of social interaction and friendship, children hide their HIV status.

“Although HIV status disclosure is noble and recommended, children’s concerns and fears around disclosure must be addressed before they are encouraged to disclose,” says Mupambireyi.

Health workers, parents and educators are tongue-tied as to the timing and best method of disclosing HIV status to youth.

Building trust

Definate Nhamo is the coordinator of Shaping the Health of Adolescents in Zimbabwe (SHAZ), a research and intervention project. One offshoot, SHAZ for Positives, reaches more than 700 youth living with HIV in Chitungwiza, a suburb of Harare, the capital.

Nhamo told IPS that the best age to disclose HIV status is probably around nine or 10 years, before puberty, and preferably in the presence of parents, guardians or a counsellor.

“When the child is younger, she is trusting, and will grow up knowing she must take the ARVs religiously,” says Nhamo.

SHAZ for Positives members agree that knowing their status early helps kids accept their condition and learn to be open about it, Nhamo told IPS.

Some adults tell children the ARV pills are for tuberculosis, without realising that children can google it. “Teenagers just stop taking their ARVs and do not tell their parents because they feel they are more informed since they have access to the internet,” observes Nhamo.

A young female participant in the SHAZ study, who did not want to be identified, tells IPS that her mother, distressed at having infected her, never told her the truth. At age 17, the girl took a routine HIV test and tested positive. Since she had never had sex, she confronted her mother and learned that her two siblings were HIV negative but she had been born positive.

“I was angry and frustrated. If my mother had told me earlier, I could have accepted my status better,” she says.

Zvandiri, meaning “what I am” in the Shona language, is a support group that helps adolescents deal with HIV.

In 2013, Zvandiri produced a catchy song and DVD, How to Dance, with cool young people spiritedly belting out their hopes and fears: “I too have dreams of a better life, that someone will love me as I am.”

They sing, “how to dance in the storm”.

* Not his real name

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Supreme Court Further Empowers Wealthy Political Donors http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/supreme-court-empowers-wealthy-political-donors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=supreme-court-empowers-wealthy-political-donors http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/supreme-court-empowers-wealthy-political-donors/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 22:46:30 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133387 In a decision with major implications for the U.S. political system, a bare majority of the Supreme Wednesday ruled that the government cannot limit total spending by individuals on federal elections. The highly anticipated judgement, rendered by the Court’s five right-wing justices, declared unconstitutional the legal cap on aggregate contributions individual donors can make to […]

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The Supreme Court ruling is almost certain to fuel the growing debate over increasing economic inequality in the U.S. CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:UpstateNYer, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

The Supreme Court ruling is almost certain to fuel the growing debate over increasing economic inequality in the U.S. CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:UpstateNYer, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

In a decision with major implications for the U.S. political system, a bare majority of the Supreme Wednesday ruled that the government cannot limit total spending by individuals on federal elections.

The highly anticipated judgement, rendered by the Court’s five right-wing justices, declared unconstitutional the legal cap on aggregate contributions individual donors can make to political candidates and party committees during the two-year election campaign cycle.“If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate.” -- Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority.

That limit, which was 123,200 dollars for the current cycle, was enacted by Congress and signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2002 as part of a larger effort to reform campaign finance laws.

The ruling in the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), was strongly denounced by civic groups that have argued that the rich already exert far too much influence on elected officials.

“The Supreme Court majority overrode the Legislative and Executive branches to empower a miniscule number of millionaires and billionaires to use their wealth to exercise extraordinary distortive influence over federal officeholders, government decisions and elections,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21 and a leading voice for taking money out of politics since the 1970s.

“The Supreme Court majority has refused to learn the lessons of history from our past corruption scandals and from decades of actions taken to protect citizens against government corruption,” he noted.

The ruling, which comes just as the 2014 Congressional campaigns are getting underway, is almost certain to fuel the growing debate over increasing economic inequality – ignited two-and-a-half years ago by the Occupy Movement – and its effects on the political system.

In just the past week, for example, op-eds decrying influence of money on government appeared in several of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

In the Washington Post, for example, Stein Ringen, an emeritus professor at Oxford University, compared the current U.S. system to that of ancient Athens where, he noted, “democracy disintegrated when the rich grew super-rich, refused to play by the rules and undermined the established system of government.”

Similar concerns surfaced when four potential Republican 2016 presidential candidates, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (George W.’s brother), trooped to Las Vegas last weekend for a convention of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), a right-wing, strongly pro-Israel group chaired by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson contributed nearly 100 million dollars of his 39-billion-dollar fortune to so-called super-PACS (political action committees) during the last political cycle in an ultimately vain effort to defeat President Barack Obama re-election bid in 2012.

Noting that, along with Adelson, two of the world’s other top-10 billionaires, David and Charles Koch, are already “pouring tens of millions [of dollars] into the 2014 midterm elections in an effort to swing the Senate to Republican control,” Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote Wednesday that “These and other wealthy people …are buying the U.S. political system in much the same way Russian oligarchs have acquired theirs.”

The McCutcheon decision, which drew a strong dissent from four of the justices on the nine-member court, complements the equally controversial “Citizens United” decision which the same majority handed down in 2010.

That decision found that limits to political contributions by corporations and unions violated the free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment. So long as those contributions were made to an entity that was not directly co-ordinating its advocacy work with a specific candidate’s political campaign or party, they were permissible, according to the majority.

As a substantial result of that decision, the 2012 election was the most expensive in U.S. history by far – most estimates place the amount at well over six billion dollars. In the 1960 election, by contrast, the comparable total was just over 100 million dollars adjusted for inflation.

While Citizens United applied to corporations and unions and permitted the creation of super-PACs to which anyone, such as Adelson and the Koch brothers, could contribute, it did not address the issue of direct donations by individuals to specific candidates or party organisations.

The McCutcheon case, which was based on a wealthy businessman who wanted to exceed the FEC’s 2012 aggregate limit by donating to dozens of Congressional campaigns, essentially fills that gap.

While the majority upheld FEC limits on individual contributions to specific candidates (2,600 dollars) and party organisations (5,000 dollars), it declared that the FEC’s aggregate limit (currently123,200 dollars) on any one individual’s contributions to political campaigns and parties during an election cycle violated the First Amendment.

“There is no right more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion that drew heavily on the four-year-old Citizens United decision to establish precedent for its ruling.

“An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support through contributions is not a modest restraint at all,” Roberts wrote. “The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

The majority opinion provoked a strong retort by the four more-liberal justices. “If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer for the minority.

“The result… is a decision that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform,” he argued.

His arguments were echoed by democracy advocates. “The First Amendment was intended to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among all of us and thereby encourage our informed participation in our government,” said J. Gerald Hebert, director of the Legal Center here.

“This decision turns the First Amendment on its head by enabling those with the biggest chequebooks to gain even more influence and access to our elected officials,” he added.

The head of Public Citizen, another Washington-based civic group, called the ruling a victory for “plutocrat rights.” “There are literally only a few hundred people who can and will take advantage of this horrendous ruling. But those are exactly the people our elected officials will now be answering to,” said Robert Weissman.

“That is not democracy. It is plutocracy,” he said.

With the notable exception of Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate who had co-sponsored the 2002 campaign finance reform law, Republicans expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

“What I think this means is that freedom of speech is being upheld,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. “You all have the freedom to write what you want to write. Donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give.”

For his part, McCain denounced the ruling. “I predict as a result of recent Court decisions, there will be scandals involving corrupt public officials and unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions that will force the system to be reformed once again,” he said in a statement.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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