Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 28 Aug 2015 16:50:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Disarmament Conference Ends with Ambitious Goal – But How to Get There?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:00:18 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142177 Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

By Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

A three-day landmark U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues has ended here – one day ahead of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests – stressing the need for ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons, but without a consensus on how to move towards that goal.

The Aug. 26-28 conference, organised by the Bangkok-based United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan and the city and Prefecture of Hiroshima, was attended by more than 80 government officials and experts, also from beyond the region.

It was the twenty-fifth annual meeting of its kind held in Japan, which acquired a particular importance against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the United Nations.“In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons” – Fumio Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister

Summing up the deliberations, UNRCPD Director Yuriy Kryvonos said the discussions on “the opportunities and challenges in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” had been “candid and dynamic”.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference from Apr. 27 to May 22 at the U.N. headquarters drew the focus in presentations and panel discussions.

Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, who presided over the NPT Review Conference, explained at length why the gathering had failed to agree on a universally acceptable draft final text, despite a far-reaching consensus on a wide range of crucial issues: refusal of the United States, Britain and Canada to accept the proposal for convening a conference by Mar. 1, 2016, for a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

Addressing the issue, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida joined several government officials and experts in expressing his regrets that the draft final document was not adopted due to the issue of WMDs.

Kishida noted that the failure to establish a new Action Plan at the Review Conference had led to a debate over the viability of the NPT. “However,” he added, “I would like to make one thing crystal clear. The NPT regime has played an extremely important role for peace and stability in the international community; a role that remains unchanged even today.”

The Hiroshima conference not only discussed divergent views on measures to preserve the effective implementation of the NPT, but also the role of the yet-to-be finalised Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in achieving the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons, humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic weapons, and the significance of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) for strengthening the non-proliferation regime and nuclear disarmament.

Speakers attached particular attention to the increasing role of local municipalities, civil society and nuclear disarmament education, including testimonies from ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings mostly in their 80s and above) in consolidating common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear weapons for people from all countries around the world regardless whether or not their governments possess nuclear weapons.

UNRCPD Director Kryvonos said the Hiroshima conference had given “a good start for searching new fresh ideas on how we should move towards our goal – protecting our planet from a risk of using nuclear weapons.”

Hiroshima Prefecture Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, the city’s Mayor Karzumi Matsui – son of a ‘hibakusha’ father and president of the Mayors for Peace organisation comprising 6,779 cities in 161 countries and regions – as well as his counterpart from Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, pleaded for strengthening a concerted campaign for a nuclear free world. Taue is also the president of the National Council of Japan’s Nuclear-Free Local Authorities.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki city leaders welcomed suggestions for a nuclear disarmament summit next year in Hiroshima, which they said would lend added thrust to awareness raising for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Though foreign ministry officials refused to identify themselves publicly with the proposal, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, emphasised the need for nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states to “work together in steadily advancing practical and concrete measures in order to make real progress in nuclear disarmament.”

Kishida said that Japan will submit a “new draft resolution on the total elimination of nuclear weapons” to the forthcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Such a resolution, he said, was “appropriate to the 70th year since the atomic bombings and could serve as guidelines for the international community for the next five years, on the basis of the Review Conference”.

The next NPT Review Conference is expected to be held in 2020.

Mayors for Peace has launched a 2020 Vision Campaign as the main vehicle for advancing their agenda – a nuclear-weapon-free world by the year 2020.

The campaign was initiated on a provisional basis by the Executive Cities of Mayors for Peace at their meeting in Manchester, Britain, in October 2003. It was launched under the name ‘Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons’ in November of that year at the 2nd Citizens Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons held in Nagasaki, Japan.

In August 2005, the World Conference endorsed continuation of the campaign under the title of the ‘2020 Vision Campaign’.

Foreign Minister Kishida expressed the views of the inhabitants of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he pointed out in a message to the UNRCPD conference: “… the reality of atomic bombings is far from being sufficiently understood worldwide.”

He added: “In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: A Farewell to Arms that Fuel Atrocities is Within Our Grasphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 19:09:41 +0000 Marek Marczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142170 The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Marek Marczynski
CANCUN, Mexico, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The recent explosions that apparently destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria were yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda.

But what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? The answer lies in recent history – arms flows to the Middle East dating back as far as the 1970s have played a role.

Marek Marczynski

Marek Marczynski

After taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, IS fighters paraded a windfall of mainly U.S.-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which had been sold or given to the Iraqi armed forces.

At the end of last year, Conflict Armament Research published an analysis of ammunition used by IS in northern Iraq and Syria. The 1,730 cartridges surveyed had been manufactured in 21 different countries, with more than 80 percent from China, the former Soviet Union, the United States, Russia and Serbia.

More recent research commissioned by Amnesty International also found that while IS has some ammunition produced as recently as 2014, a large percentage of the arms they are using are Soviet/Warsaw Pact-era small arms and light weapons, armoured vehicles and artillery dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

Scenarios like these give military strategists and foreign policy buffs sleepless nights. But for many civilians in war-ravaged Iraq and Syria, they are part of a real-life nightmare. These arms, now captured by or illicitly traded to IS and other armed groups, have facilitated summary killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture, and other serious human rights abuses amid a conflict that has forced millions to become internally displaced or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.“It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers … But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson”

It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers.

What is even worse is that this is a case of history repeating itself. But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson.

For many, the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq drove home the dangers of an international arms trade lacking in adequate checks and balances.

When the dust settled after the conflict that ensued when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s powerful armed forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait, it was revealed that his country was awash with arms supplied by all five Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council.

Perversely, several of them had also armed Iran in the previous decade, fuelling an eight-year war with Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

Now, the same states are once more pouring weapons into the region, often with wholly inadequate protections against diversion and illicit traffic.

This week, those states are among more than 100 countries represented in Cancún, Mexico, for the first Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force last December. This Aug. 24-27 meeting is crucial because it is due to lay down firm rules and procedures for the treaty’s implementation.

The participation of civil society in this and future ATT conferences is important to prevent potentially life-threatening decisions to take place out of the public sight. Transparency of the ATT reporting process, among other measures, will need to be front and centre, as it will certainly mean the difference between having meaningful checks and balances that can end up saving lives or a weakened treaty that gathers dust as states carry on business as usual in the massive conventional arms trade.

A trade shrouded in secrecy and worth tens of billions of dollars, it claims upwards of half a million lives and countless injuries every year, while putting millions more at risk of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.

The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the flow of arms to countries when it is known they would be used for further atrocities. 

The treaty has swiftly won widespread support from the international community, including five of the top 10 arms exporters – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The United States, by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 additional countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. However, other major arms producers like China, Canada and Russia have so far resisted signing or ratifying.

One of the ATT’s objectives is “to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion”, so governments have a responsibility to take measures to prevent situations where their arms deals lead to human rights abuses.

Having rigorous controls in place will help ensure that states can no longer simply open the floodgates of arms into a country in conflict or whose government routinely uses arms to repress peoples’ human rights.

The more states get on board the treaty, and the more robust and transparent the checks and balances are, the more it will bring about change in the murky waters of the international arms trade. It will force governments to be more discerning about who they do business with.

The international community has so far failed the people of Syria and Iraq, but the ATT provides governments with a historic opportunity to take a critical step towards protecting civilians from such horrors in the future. They should grab this opportunity with both hands.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Water, Climate, Energy Intertwined with Fight Against Poverty in Central Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/water-climate-energy-intertwined-with-fight-against-poverty-in-central-america/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:41:18 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142161 A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

A Honduran peasant on his small farm. Two-thirds of rural families in Central America depend on family farming for a living. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
MANAGUA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Central America’s toolbox to pull 23 million people – almost half of the population – out of poverty must include three indispensable tools: universal access to water, a sustainable power supply, and adaptation to climate change.

“These are the minimum, basic, necessary preconditions for guaranteeing survival,” Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, a leading Nicaraguan environmental think tank, told IPS.

These three tools are especially important for agriculture, the engine of the regional economy, and particularly in rural areas and indigenous territories, which have the highest levels of poverty.

Campos stressed that this is the minimum foundation for starting to work “towards addressing other issues that we must pay attention to, like education, health, or vulnerable groups; but first these conditions that guarantee minimal survival have to be in place.”

In Central America today, 48 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. And the region is facing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which the international community will launch in September, with the concept of survival very much alive, because every day millions of people in the region struggle for clean water and food.

Everyone agreed on the vulnerability of the region and its people at the Central American meeting “United in Action for the Common Good”, held Aug. 21 in the Nicaraguan capital to assess the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 SDGs are the pillar of the agenda and will be adopted at a Sep. 25-27 summit of heads of state and government at United Nations headquarters in New York, with a 2030 deadline for compliance.

The issues of reliable, sustainable energy, availability and sustainable management of water, and urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts are included in the SDGs. But the experts taking part in the gathering in Managua stressed that in this region, the three are interlinked at all levels with the goal of reducing poverty.

“In our countries, our fight against poverty is complex,” Campos said.

This region of 48 million people, where per capita GDP is far below the global average – 3,035 dollars in Central America compared to the global 7,850 dollars – needs to come up with new paths for escaping the spiral of poverty which entraps nearly one out of two inhabitants.

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

Central America’s GDP improved in real terms in the last 13 years, but remains lower than the Latin American and global averages. Credit: State of the Nation

According to the 2012 report “The Economics of Climate Change in Central America” by the U.N. Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), “reduction of and instability in the availability of water and of agricultural yields could affect labour markets, supplies and prices of basic goods, and rural migration to urban areas.”

That would have an impact on subsistence crops like maize or beans or traditional export products like coffee, which are essential in the region made up, from south to north, of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala. (U.N. agencies also include the Dominican Republic, an island nation, in the region.)

Poverty laid out in the SDGs

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, is divided into two.

The first of the 17 SDGs is “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and the second is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

The sixth is “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, the seventh is “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” and the 13th is “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

A key area is the so-called Dry Corridor, an arid strip that runs from Guatemala to Costa Rica, which according to experts has grown.

“We are modifying land use, which is associated with the climate phenomenon, and as a consequence the Dry Corridor is not limited to the Corridor anymore: we are turning the entire country into a kind of dry corridor,” Denis Meléndez, executive secretary of Nicaragua’s National Forum for Risk Management, told IPS.

The “Outlook for Food and Nutritional Security in Central America” report published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014 says this could hinder compliance with the goal of eliminating hunger in the region.

The first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in a global summit in 2000 – now to be replaced by the SDGs – is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, cutting in half the proportion of extremely poor and hungry people by 2015, from 1990 levels.

FAO reported that the countries of Central America have come close to meeting the goal, with the proportion of hungry people being reduced from 24.5 to 13.2 percent of the total, but the percentage is still more than double the Latin American average of 6.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable people goes beyond agriculture, access to water, or sustainable energy.

According to ECLAC, two out of three inhabitants of the region live in shantytowns or slums in unsanitary conditions, where climate change will drive up the prevalence of diseases associated with poverty, such as malaria and dengue.

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

Nearly half of the population of Central America lives in poverty, with Honduras in the most critical situation, with a poverty rate of close to 70 percent. Credit: FAO

“Because climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity is facing at the present and in the coming decades, we have to think about adaptation not necessarily as a cross-cutting issue, but in terms of ‘what goes around, comes around’,” Francisco Soto, the head of El Salvador’s Climate Change Forum, told IPS.

This impact has been acknowledged by governments in the region, and in 2010 the Central American Integration System (SICA) described it in its Regional Climate Change Strategy as a phenomenon that would “make social challenges like poverty reduction and governance more difficult to fight.”

Experts like Andrea Rodríguez of Bolivia stressed at the meeting that every government anti-poverty project should take into account the impacts of climate change.

“If this is not taken into consideration, we won’t be able to find an effective solution, because climate change and development are like twins – they go hand in hand and have to be addressed simultaneously in order for aid and cooperation to be effective,” she told IPS.

Rodríguez, a legal adviser to the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA) Climate Change Programme, insisted on the need to jointly plan long-term investment in energy infrastructure and sustainable development.

“The only way to combat climate change and contribute to economic development is by leaving aside fossil fuels and looking for cleaner alternatives,” she said.

Civil society organisations grouped in the Central American Alliance for Energy Sustainability (ACCESE) propose small-scale renewable installations as a solution for meeting the growing demand for energy while at the same time empowering vulnerable communities.

In the region, 15 percent of the population does not have electricity, and up to 50 percent cook with firewood, according to figures provided by ACCESE. This portion of the population is mainly found on islands and in remote mountainous and rural areas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Poverty and Slavery Often Go Hand-in-Hand for Africa’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:50:16 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142136 Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

“Poverty has become part of me,” says 13-year-old Aminata Kabangele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me.”

Aminata, who fled her war-torn country after the rest of her family was killed by armed rebels and now lives as a as a refugee in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge on the country’s eastern border, told IPS that she has had no option but to resign her fate to poverty.

Despite the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, African children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent.“Poverty has become part of me. I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me” – Aminata Kabangele, a 13-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“In every country you may turn to here in Africa, children are at the receiving end of poverty, with high numbers of them becoming orphans,” Melody Nhemachena, an independent social worker in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Based on a 2013 UNICEF report, the World Bank has estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide live in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa and Asia.

According to human rights activists, the growing poverty facing many African families is also directly responsible for the fate of 200,000 African children that the United Nations estimates are sold into slavery every year.

“Many families in Africa are living in abject poverty, forcing them to trade their children for a meal to persons purporting to employ or take care of them (the children), but it is often not the case as the children end up in forced labour, earning almost nothing at the end of the day,” Amukusana Kalenga, a child rights activist based in Zambia, told IPS.

West Africa is one of the continent’s regions where modern-day slavery has not spared children.

According to Mike Sheil, who was sent by British charity and lobby group Anti-Slavery International to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage, for many families in Benin – one of the world’s poorest countries – “if someone offers to take their child away … it is almost a relief.”

Global March Against Child Labour, a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations working to eliminate and prevent all forms of child labour, has reported that a 2010 study showed that “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years worked in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.”

“Trafficking in children is real. Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children,” Gabon’s Social Affairs Director-General Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga told a conference on preventing child trafficking held in Congo’s southern city of Pointe Noire in 2012.

Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human trafficking report.

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, a study of child poverty showed that over 70 percent of children are not registered at birth while more than 30 percent experience severe educational deprivation. According to UNICEF Nigeria, about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

“These boys and girls, some as young as 13-years-old, serve in the ranks of terror groups like Boko Haram, often participating  in suicide operations, and act as spies,” Hillary Akingbade, a Nigerian independent conflict management expert, told IPS.

“Girls here are often forced into sexual slavery while many other African children are abducted or recruited by force, with others joining out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival,” she added.

Akingbade’s remarks echo the reality of poverty which also faces children in the Central African Republic, where an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls became members of armed groups following an outbreak of a bloody civil war in the central African nation in December 2012, according to Save the Children.

Violence plagued the Central African Republic when the country’s Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the country’s capital Bangui in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian militia.

A 2013 report by Save the Children stated that in the Central African Republic, children as young as eight were being recruited by the country’s warring parties, with some of the children forcibly conscripted while others were impelled by poverty.

Last year, the United Nations reported that the recruitment of children in South Sudan’s on-going civil war was “rampant”, estimating that there were 11,000 children serving in both rebel and government armies, some of who had volunteered but others forced by their parents to join armed groups with the hopes of changing their economic fortunes for the better.

Meanwhile, back in the Tongogara refugee camp, Aminata has resigned herself. “I have descended into worse poverty since I came here in the company of other fleeing Congolese and, for many children like me here at the camp, poverty remains the order of the day.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Alternative Destinations Emerge as Cuba Gets Ready for Tourism Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/alternative-destinations-emerge-as-cuba-gets-ready-for-tourism-boom/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 16:28:31 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142127 Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Plaza del Carmen in the historic centre of the central Cuban city of Camagüey, which is seeking to join the tourist circuit for visitors interested in alternatives to sun and beach tourism. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
El ABRA, Cuba, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Along the road to the Viñales valley, travelled by thousands of tourists to Cuba, lies the home of self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios, which he has turned into a sort of museum to show visitors a wooden home typical of this mountainous area in the west of the country.

“It would be a big help if (state tour operators) included this project on the tourist routes,” the 47-year-old painter told IPS in his home, which doubles as a gallery, where he has his studio and has launched the initiative “Remedios del Abra”.

His project and similar initiatives are overcoming hurdles to tap into the tourism boom in this socialist island nation, which has become fashionable since the thaw with the United States.

The U.S. government put new rules in place in January making it easier for people from that country to visit Cuba, expanding the list of categories of authorised travel to 12, including visits for educational, religious, cultural, journalistic, humanitarian or family purposes.

After that, in the first half of the year, 88,900 visitors came from the United States – 54 percent more than in the first half of 2014.

In that period, the number of foreign tourists totaled 1,136,948, which would indicate an increase from last year’s total by year-end, when the number of visitors climbs.

Viñales valley and El Abra, a mountain village in the municipality of La Palma, are places of spectacular scenery in the hills of Cuba’s westernmost province, Pinar del Río.

Offering bird-watching, hiking, and striking landscapes of mogotes or tall, dome-like limestone hills that rise abruptly from the flat plain of the valley, the province draws part of the three million foreign tourists who visit Cuba every year.

Remedios’ home is a traditional western Cuban wooden house with a palm-frond thatched roof. Above the wide gate hangs an ox yoke. In the main room inside is a long, rustic table lined with benches, a clay pitcher with fresh water, and a woodstove. The bedrooms are furnished with beds with wire mesh.

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Self-taught artist Miguel Antonio Remedios in his rural home, which he has turned into a gallery, art studio and museum of a traditional western Cuban house in El Abra, a mountain village in the western province of Pinar del Río. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Paintings by the artist, who is registered with the government’s Cultural Goods Fund – a requirement to be able to sell his art – hang on the walls, waiting for buyers.

With the sales of his art works, which are painted in a naive style, Remedios fixed up his museum-home, where he was born and grew up, and bought the materials needed to give free painting classes to local children. He began his project in 2013. He accepts small voluntary donations from visitors.

He says that “to revive peasant traditions and promote local painters” he would like to have more support from the local authorities, in order to build a classroom, an exhibition room and a ranchón or open-walled thatch-roofed structure to hold traditional rural fiestas or festive gatherings on weekends.

Alternatives

“The development of tourist attractions other than sun and beach will depend above all on the efforts made by the provinces, and how they use their own resources and capacities,” Professor Ricardo Jorge Machado, who was an adviser on tourism to the Council of Ministers between 1980 and 1993, told IPS.

Challenges posed by Cuba’s unique character

Among Cuba’s limitations as a tourism destination, experts identify the limited nightlife, a lack of culinary variety, stores with limited supplies and a lack of personalised services.

The biggest attractions, on the other hand, are how safe the country is, and the fact that Cuba is an oasis in today’s globalised world, free of the same old stores, chain restaurants and products. There are no Coca Cola or McDonald’s billboards, or fast food restaurants, they note.

The country has begun to improve infrastructure, with new hotels, ports that can serve cruise ships, terminals for the ferries that will begin to arrive from the U.S. state of Florida in September, and the expansion of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The expert advises local governments not to wait for financing from the tourism ministry but to undertake their own initiatives in conjunction with the private sector and with cooperatives, using their own funds made available by the current economic decentralisation process.

In its plan for the period up to 2030, the Tourism Ministry has prioritised 100 sun-and-beach projects and only two ecological tourism initiatives.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-biggest source of revenue, after the export of professional services. In 2014 tourism brought in more than 2.7 billion dollars.

The government’s strategy appears to focus on beach resorts and high-end tourism, with the construction of controversial golf courses and the boom in cruise ship traffic, which has risen nearly two-fold from last year, according to the Transport Ministry.

For the first time, the tourism authorities recognise the country’s growing private businesses and cooperatives as indispensable partners, while they attempt to capture foreign investment.

Up to now, the best-promoted tourism areas are the capital, the beach resort of Varadero, 140 km east of Havana, and the keys to the north of the main island.

The Cuban archipelago consists of the main island and 4,195 small islands and keys, where nature is exuberant.

Even in the capital, Machado estimates that there are 90 strong tourist attractions but says that only 12 are exploited, like the El Floridita bar, where U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a habitué, the La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant, and the Tropicana cabaret.

“Cuba should do more to vary its tourism products, putting an emphasis on elements of its public image that strengthen credibility: its health system and the safety of the country,” said the analyst. In his view, “more specialised forms of tourism, such as long-stay and health tourism, associated with older adults, should be a priority.”

He pointed out that competitors in the region, like Mexico and Colombia, are getting involved in medical tourism – including doctors trained in Cuba – but this country could offer even lower costs.

One million people from the United States travel abroad for health tourism every year.

Alternatives of this kind could generate opportunities in different parts of Cuba, because there are skilled healthcare professionals throughout the country, he said.

“It’s obvious that more and more visitors are arriving,” said Reina Ramos, a schoolteacher, walking down an avenue in central Havana, who pointed to the large numbers of tourists riding about the city in classic cars or convertibles now painted in bright colours – pink, purple or yellow – and serving as taxis.

If the U.S. Congress removes the restrictions on travelling to Cuba in the near future, as lawmakers are currently debating in Washington, the influx of visitors would set new records for the local tourism industry, posing the risk of collapse for the country’s hotels and other services.

In the meantime, villages and towns off the beaten track, with stunning landscapes or colonial-era architecture, have set their sights on tourism, but are facing difficulties creating lodgings, networks of services and even roads that would make it possible for them to share the benefits of the tourism boom.

With its cobblestone streets, spacious plazas and colonial-era houses, the historic centre of the city of Camagüey in central Cuba is drawing up its own plans for increasing the number of visitors.

“The idea is for tourists to come here as part of a circuit of colonial-era cities, similar to the one already offered by the Havana City Historian’s Office,” Camagüey city historian José Rodríguez told IPS.

He said the offices aimed at preserving the country’s heritage are designing a tour that would take visitors to Old Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Bayamo and Camagüey, whose historic centre was declared a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) World Heritage Site in 2008.

The Camagüey office is developing a list of high-quality tourist offerings, ranging from small charming hotels to a thriving nightlife, with a variety of cultural options for tourists and the 300,000 inhabitants of the country’s third-largest city.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Children of the World – We are Standing Watch for Youhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:48:05 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142106

Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, wrote this opinion piece to accompany the First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (Cancún, Mexico, 24-27 August 2015).

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSE, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Twenty-eight years ago this month, an indigenous woman stood in the plaza in Guatemala City, watching as the presidents of Central America walked out into the street after signing the Peace Accords that would end the civil wars in our region. When I reached her, she took both my hands in hers and said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

Oscar Arias

Oscar Arias

I don’t need to tell you that I have wondered about that woman’s children ever since. I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. Those children, and others like them, were the audience of the peace treaty I had drafted. They were its true authors, its reason for being. Theirs were the human lives behind every letter we put onto the page, every word we negotiated.

For the presidents who signed the treaty, achieving peace was the most important challenge of our lives. For those children, it was life or death.

But our victory for peace in 1987 did not fully safeguard those children, or millions more like them, because the weapons that had poured into our region during our conflicts did not disappear when the white flag was raised.

For years after arms suppliers channelled weapons to armies or paramilitary forces during the 1980s, those weapons were found in the hands of the gangs that roamed the countryside of Nicaragua, or of teenage boys on the streets of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa. Other weapons were shipped to guerrilla or paramilitary groups, as well as drug cartels in Colombia, ready to destroy yet more lives.“Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons”

We had walked into a new era of peace, but the weapons of the past were shackles at our feet.

As I watched this happen in my region, I also learned that the international trade in arms, free from any regulations whatsoever, was feeding unnecessary violence like this all over the world.

Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons, even when those weapons are being sold to dictators or other violators of human rights, or placed directly into the hands of child soldiers.

So, in 1997, I began my call for a treaty to regulate the trade of arms. I was quickly joined by fellow Nobel Peace laureates, and then by friends and allies all over the world. On Christmas Eve 2014, the International Arms Trade Treaty finally took effect. And now, in Cancún, Mexico, between Aug. 24 and 27, the first-ever Conference of Parties to the Treaty is being held so that its implementation can move forward.

I never thought I would see this day; I am delighted that I have. I am also filled with new determination to make sure that the treaty lives up to its potential.

For the treaty is a powerful tool, but it will only protect our children if we give it teeth. It will only protect our children if we implement it fully. It will only protect our children if we ensure that consensus is not used as an excuse for inaction.

I urge the 72 nations that have ratified the treaty to define an alternative to consensus so that one party cannot paralyse implementation. The perfect is the enemy of the good – and in this case, with human lives depending on our swift resolution of pending issues, inaction would be anything but perfect. It would be a travesty.

We must also continue to raise our voices in the face of tremendous opposition from groups that continue to oppose the treaty, arguing that it infringes upon national sovereignty. Quite the opposite is true: no sane definition of national sovereignty includes the right to sell arms for the violation of human rights in other countries. A nation willing to carry out such an act is not defending itself, but rather infringing upon the sovereignty of other nations that only want to live in peace.

We must also avoid using the danger and terrorism in the world today as an excuse for lack of regulation. Cicero’s famous phrase “silent enimleges inter armas” – among arms, laws are silent – has often been used to support the mind-set that the law does not apply during times of war.

But it is at times of war that the law must speak most bravely. When weapons are circulating freely into the worst possible hands, the law must speak. When the lives of the innocent are placed in danger by an absence of regulation, the law must speak.

And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Saharahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:45:12 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142109 Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences” – Spanish journalist Luís de Vega
This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Climate Change Shrinking Uganda’s Lakes and Fishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:04:31 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142100 Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is reducing the size of several species of fish on lakes in Uganda and its neighbouring East African countries, with a negative impact on the livelihoods of millions people who depend on fishing for food and income.

Studies conducted on inland lakes in Uganda, including Lake Victoria which is shared by three East African countries, indicate that indigenous fish species have shrunk in size due to an increase in temperatures in the water bodies.

“What we are seeing in Lake Victoria and other lakes is a shift in the composition of fish. In the past, we had a dominance of bigger fish but now we are seeing the fish stocks dominated by small fish. This means they are the ones which are adapting well to the changed conditions,” said Dr Jackson Efitre, a lecturer in fisheries management and aquatic sciences at Uganda’s Makerere University.

“So if that condition goes on, he added, “the question is would we want to see our fish population dominated by small fish with little value?”

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive … If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death” – Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO)
In Uganda, the fisheries sector accounts for 2.5 percent of the national budget and 12.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It employs 1.2 million people, generates over 100 million dollars in exports and provides about 50 percent of the dietary proteins of Ugandans.

Efitre was one of the researchers for a study on ‘Application of policies to address the influence of climate change on inland aquatic and riparian ecosystems, fisheries and livelihoods”, which examined the influence of climate variability and change on fisheries resources and livelihoods using lakes Wamala and Kawi in the Victoria and Kyoga lake basins as case studies.

It also looked at the extent to which existing policies can be applied to address the impacts of and any challenges associated with climate change.

The study’s findings showed that temperatures around the two lakes had always varied but had increased consistently by 0.02-0.03oC annually since the 1980s, and that rainfall had deviated from historical averages and on Lake Wamala – although not Lake Kawi – had generally been above average since the 1980s.

According to the study, these findings are consistent with those reported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and 2014 for the East African region.

Mark Olokotum, one of the study’s researchers, climate changes have affected the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

“These are fishers who depend on the environment. You either increase on the number of times you fish to get more fish or get more fishing gear to catch more fish. And once that happens, you spend more time fishing, earn much less although the price is high, and there are no fish so people have resorted to eating what is available,” he said.

Olokotum told IPS that the water balance of most aquatic systems in Uganda is determined by rainfall and temperature through evaporation.

He said that about 80 percent of the water gain in Lake Wamala was through rainfall while 86 percent of the loss was through evaporation, resulting in a negative water balance and the failure of the lake to retain its historical water levels.

“Therefore, although rainfall in the East African region is expected to increase as a result of climate change, this gain may be offset by increased evaporation associated with increases in temperature unless the increases in rainfall outweigh the loss through evaporation,” Olokotum explained.

These changes have made life more difficult for people like Clement Opedum and his eight sons who have traditionally depended on lakes as a source of food and income.

Opedum’s living has always come from the waters of Lake Wamala. In the past, sales of tilapia fish from the lake to neighbouring districts were brisk; and some would be bought by traders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, sustaining his family and other fishermen.

Those days are now gone. Over the years, the lake has steadily retreated from its former shores, leaving Opedum and his neighbours high and dry, and faced with the prospect that the lake could vanish entirely.

Charles Lugambwa, another fisherman in the same area, has been obliged to turn to farming, and he now grows yams, sweet potatoes and beans on land that was previously under the waters of the lake.

Lugambwa told IPS that apart from tilapia fish, other species have started disappearing from the lake in 30 or so years he has lived there.  “In 1994, the lake dried up completely but came back in 1998 following heavy rains,” he told IPS. “We used to catch very big tilapia but now they are quite tiny even though they are adult fish.”

Scientists and researchers argue that the causes of lake shrinking include water evaporation, increased cultivation on banks, cutting down of trees and destruction of wetlands, while the reduction in the size of tilapia has been linked to increased lake water temperature as a result of global warming.

Dr Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, senior research officer at the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFFIRI) told IPS that the response to the impacts of climate change in Uganda had been concentrated on crops, livestock and forestry with almost no concern for the fisheries sector.

“It is high time government took the bold step to bring aquatic ecosystems and fisheries fully on board in its climate change responses,” he said.

According to Ogutu-Ohwayo, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the East African Community Policy on Climate Change commit states to building capacity, generating knowledge, and identifying adaptation and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change, however these have barely been implemented.

Ogutu-Ohwayo who was part of the lake study research team, told IPS that Uganda has a water policy which provides for protection and management of water resources, and “we must apply these policies to manage the water resources of lakes Wamala, Kawi and other lakes through integrated approaches such as protecting wetlands, lake shores and river banks and controlling water extraction.”

Like other East African nations, Uganda has relied heavily on capture fisheries, or wild fisheries, with a tendency to marginalise aquaculture as far as resource allocation and manpower development is concerned.

With climate change leading to a decline in the size and stocks of wild fish and capture fisheries, fisheries experts are saying wild fish and capture fisheries from lakes alone can no longer meet the demand for fish, both for local consumption and export.

Fish processing plants around Lake Victoria, for example, are now operating at less than 50 percent capacity, while some have closed down.

Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), told IPS that aquaculture could be used as one of the adaptation measures to help communities that have depended on fish to supplement capture fisheries.

He noted, however, that the development of aquaculture in most Eastern African countries is constrained by low adoption of appropriate technologies, inadequate investment in research and inadequate aquaculture extension services.

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive and that is why we are asking government to invest in aquaculture,” said Rutaisire. ”If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death,” he warned.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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China’s Economy Has Sounded the Alert; Will Latin America Listen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 23:00:08 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142093 Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

For years, Latin America has exported its raw materials to China’s voracious factories, fuelling economic growth. But now that the Asian giant is putting a priority on domestic consumption over industrial production, how will this region react?

China’s dizzying growth gave a boost to the economies of Latin America, and in exchange, this region received manufactured products, credits, and heavy investment in infrastructure.

Given the slowdown in China’s growth, the countries of Latin America have two options: move toward a more value-added economy or lose relevance with an obsolete economic model inherited from the 20th century, said several experts consulted by IPS.

“Over the last five years, the relationship between Latin America and China has been dominated by Latin America sending China a few raw materials and China sending Latin America manufactured goods,” U.S. academic Rebecca Ray told IPS.“In simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.” -- Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros

“But this may be about to change,” added the research fellow at the Boston University Global Economic Governance Initiative, where she coordinates the Working Group on Development and the Environment in the Americas’ China in Latin America project and coauthors the China-Latin America Economic Bulletin.

According to Ray, China’s leaders are shifting toward a development strategy with an emphasis on slower but steady growth, which prioritises internal consumption over factory production, thus opening up opportunities for importing manufactured goods from other countries.

The path toward that future was one of the central focuses of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) meeting in the Costa Rican capital from Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Friday, Aug. 21, which brought together foreign ministers and other senior officials from 36 countries under the theme “Two Regions, One Vision”.

The experts who spoke to IPS all agreed that given China’s slowdown, decision-makers in Latin America must take the initiative and propose economic alternatives based on more value added.

But the region has been slow to make the leap. Just five commodities – soy, iron, oil and unrefined and refined copper – account for 75 percent of exports to China, only a tiny share of which are manufactured goods.

But the other major economic flow between China and Latin America, investment in infrastructure, could paradoxically benefit from the slowdown and the shift in direction of the Chinese economy, the experts said.

The deceleration in the engine of the global economy since 2014, when China’s growth stood at 7.4 percent, the lowest level in 24 years, “May hurt Latin American economies that have become dependent on exporting those few commodities. In contrast, China’s infrastructure investments can help all industries do well,” Ray said.

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Well-administered, she said, Chinese-financed projects could close the region’s historic gap in infrastructure and serve as a platform for the development of other industries that would benefit from investment in transport and energy, two main areas of interest for China.

“Hopefully, policy makers will make use of this opportunity to spur development in non-traditional industries,” Ray said.

Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros, with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) International Trade and Integration Division, concurred.

“To the extent that these projects are aligned with the priorities of countries in the region, a greater Chinese presence could help gradually close Latin America’s infrastructure gap, thus strengthening regional integration and improving the region’s international competitiveness,” they stated in a joint analysis for IPS.

One of the aims of China’s investments in infrastructure in Latin America, they noted, is for that country’s to invest people’s savings.

But the direction taken by the growing links between Latin America and China do not leave much room for optimism.

Up to now, the region’s exports to China “Support fewer jobs, generate more net greenhouse gas emissions, and use more water than other LAC (Latin American and Caribbean) exports,” according to a study by GEGI.

China, meanwhile, has been promoting and financing controversial megaprojects in the region, like the “great inter-oceanic canal” in Nicaragua, to be built by the Chinese consortium Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN-Group) at an estimated cost of 50 billion dollars, and the projected 5,000-km Transcontinental Railway, which would connect Brazil and Peru.

Chinese investment has also fuelled trade ties based on raw materials. According to ECLAC, between 2010 and 2013 nearly 90 percent of China’s investment in the region went into the extractive industry, mainly mining and fossil fuels.

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big sign on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big banner on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

“From that perspective, China’s high level of demand for raw materials at a global level has effectively consolidated and reinforced the specialisation of these processes, also known as ‘re-primarisation’ of the economy,” Enrique Dussel, director of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

But Dussel said emphatically that the countries of Latin America will have to respond, given the signals. “It is Latin America and the Caribbean that have the responsibility – and need – to make a decision, not China,” he stated.

This refocusing of the economies of the region on the production of primary commodities for export happened when Latin America was seduced by last decade’s high commodities prices and prioritised exports of raw materials over exports of greater added value.

Raw materials represent more than 60 percent of the region’s exports – the highest proportion seen since the early 1990s, according to ECLAC studies – up from 44 percent at the start of the century.

Manufactured goods like machinery and electronic devices, meanwhile, make up 64 percent of China’s exports to this region, and are less sensitive to price swings.

Between 2000 and 2014, imports from China rose from two to 14 percent of the regional total.

Dussel said China’s growth highlighted the serious problems faced by the region’s exports. In his view, the problems do not necessarily lie in the predominance of raw materials, but in the fact that these industries have “very little value added and technology.”

ECLAC’s Inoue and Herreros say the shift in focus of China’s development presents an opportunity.

They said that “in simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.”

“To the extent that this process has an effect, it should favour the diversification of Latin America’s exports to China,” they said.

They expect sectors like agribusiness and processed food to become more important in the region, although they warn that it could take years for the effects to be felt, and say that in order for that to happen, decision-makers would have to take ambitious steps toward consolidating the region as a trade bloc.

“We must also make more decisive progress towards a truly integrated regional market,” Inoue and Herreros wrote. “That would make Latin America more attractive and increase its bargaining power vis-à-vis China, the rest of Asia and other big global economic actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142089 Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The Future Tastes Like Chocolate for Rural Salvadoran Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-future-tastes-like-chocolate-for-some-rural-salvadoran-women/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 17:30:36 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142066 The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hands of Idalia Ramón care for the cacao beans produced in the town of Caluco in western El Salvador. She and a group of women transform the beans into hand-made chocolate, in an ecological process that is taking off in this Central American country thanks to the national project Alianza Cacao, aimed at reviving the cultivation of cacao and improving the future of 10,000 small farming families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO/MERCEDES UMAÑA, El Salvador, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

Idalia Ramón and 10 other rural Salvadoran women take portions of the freshly ground chocolate paste, weigh it, and make chocolates in the shapes of stars, rectangles or bells before packaging them for sale.

“This is a completely new source of work for us, we didn’t know anything about cacao or chocolate,” Ramón tells IPS. Before this, the 38-year-old widow was barely able to support her three children – ages 11, 13 and 15 – selling corn tortillas, a staple of the Central American and Mexican diet.

She is one of the women taking part in chocolate production in Caluco, a town of 10,000 in the department or province of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, in the context of a project that forms part of a national effort to revive cacao production.

“Now I have extra income; we can see the advantages that cacao brings to our communities,” she said.“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities.” -- María de los Ángeles Escobar

She and the rest of the women work at what they call the “processing centre”, which they put a lot of work into setting up. Here they turn the cacao beans into hand-made organic chocolates.

Since December, the effort to revive cacao production has taken shape in the Alianza Cacao El Salvador cacao alliance, which has brought together cooperatives and farmers from different regions, including these women who have become experts in making artisan chocolate.

The paste that comes out of the grinder is given different shapes, most frequently round bars. Dissolved in boiling water, the chocolate is used to make one of El Salvador’s favorite beverages.

Over the next five years, the Alianza Cacao aims to generate incomes for 10,000 cacao growing families in 87 of the country’s 262 municipalities, with 10,000 hectares planted in the crop. The idea is to generate some 27,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“The project is helping us to overcome the difficult economic situation, and to increase our production, thus improving incomes,” another local farmer, 33-year-old María Alas, tells IPS as she deftly forms hand-made chocolates in different shapes.

The Alianza Cacao has received 25 million dollars – 20 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S.-based Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and the rest from local sources.

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Four of the women who make chocolate in the community processing centre in Caluco, a town in western El Salvador, check the paste that comes out of the grinder before making organic chocolate bars and chocolates of different shapes. They are part of the Alianza Cacao project which is aimed at reviving the production of cacao, once a key element of this country’s history, culture and economy, but which was abandoned. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In the pre-Columbian era, cacao beans were used as currency in Central America and southern Mexico, and later they were used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown.

Although cacao plantations practically disappeared in modern-day El Salvador due to pest and disease outbreaks, hot chocolate remained a popular traditional drink, and for that purpose cacao was imported from neighbouring Honduras and Nicaragua.

“On one hand this is about reviving the age-old cultivation of a product that is rooted in our culture, and on the other it’s about boosting economic and social development in our communities,” María de los Ángeles Escobar, director of the Casa de la Cultura or cultural centre in Caluco, told IPS.

The idea emerged as an alternative to mitigate the impact of coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus, which has affected 21 percent of coffee plants in the country, according to official estimates, and has reduced rural employment and incomes.

In El Salvador, 38 percent of the population of 6.2 million lives in rural areas. And according to the World Bank, 36 percent of rural inhabitants were living in poverty in 2013. This vulnerability was aggravated by the impact of coffee rust and the effects on corn and bean production of drought caused by El Niño – a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world – which has hurt 400,000 small farmers.

Caluco and four other municipalities in Sonsonate – areas in western El Salvador with a large indigenous presence – have joined the project: San Antonio del Monte, Nahuilingo, Izalco and Nahuizalco.

Farmers in the five municipalities – including the women interviewed in Caluco – set up the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cacao cooperative, in order to join forces at each stage of the production chain.

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cacao growers, mainly women, during a training session on how to make organic fertiliser to enrich the soil on their land in San Simón, a village in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña in the eastern Salvadoran department of Usulután. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The cooperative has 111 hectares of cacao trees. Because they need shade to grow, the farmers plant them alongside fruit and timber trees.

In the first few months after it was formed, the Alianza Cacao focused on growing seedlings in nurseries that the members began to plant on their farms. The trees start to bear fruit when they are three or four years old.

But in Caluco local farmers are already making chocolate, because there were cacao producers in the municipality, who used locally-grown cacao along with imported beans to produce chocolate. In fact, Caluco was historically inhabited by Pilpil indigenous people, whose cacao was famous in colonial times.

“We hope that next year our production level will be higher; output today is low, because things are just getting started,” the vice president of the Asociación Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria Cacao Los Izalcos cooperative, Raquel Santos, tells IPS.

When the cooperative’s production peaks, it hopes to produce 500 kg a month of cacao, Artiga said.

Although for now the chocolate they produce is all hand-made, the members of the cooperative plan in the future to make chocolate bars on a more industrial scale. But that will depend on their initial success.

Since the cooperative was founded, the aim has been for women’s participation to be decisive in the local development of cacao production.

The Caluco Local Cacao Committee is made up of 29 male farmers and 25 women who process the beans and produce chocolate. They have a nursery and have built the first collection centre for locally produced cacao.

In the nursery, students from the local school are taught planting techniques and the importance of cacao in their history, culture and, now, economy.

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Miriam Bermúdez, one of the rural women who joined the project to grow cacao in San Simón, a village in the eastern Salvadoran municipality of Mercedes Umaña, outside the Vivero La Colmena, the nursery where the 25,000 cacao seedlings to be planted on 25 hectares belonging to the participants in the initiative are grown. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

On the other side of the country, in the eastern department of Usulután, 52-year-old Miriam Bermúdez is one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Vivero La Colmena community nursery project. She managed to convince other people in her home village, San Simón in the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, to join the Alianza Cacao.

“I used to drink chocolate without even knowing what tree it came from. But now I have learned a lot about the production process,” Bermúdez tells IPS during a break in the training that she and a group of men and women farmers are receiving about producing organic fertiliser.

The pesticide-free fertiliser will nourish the soil where the cacao trees are planted.

There are 25,000 seedlings in the nursery, enough to cover 25 hectares of land on local farms with cacao trees. The project also has an irrigation system, to avoid the effects of periodic drought.

While the seedlings grow big enough to plant, the farmers of Mercedes Umaña are deciding which fruit and timber trees to grow alongside the cacao trees for shade. These trees will also generate incomes, or already do so in some cases.

Bermúdez, on her .7 hectare-farm, has planted plantain and banana trees, as well as a variety of vegetables, to boost her food security.

“When the vegetable truck comes by I never buy anything because I get everything I need from my garden,” she says proudly.

Her 16-year-old granddaughter Esmeralda Bermúdez has decided to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and participates actively in the different tasks involved in cacao production in her community.

“I really like learning new things, like preparing the soil or making organic compost,” she told IPS after the training session.

In Usulután, besides the municipality of Mercedes Umaña, cacao production has extended to the towns of Jiquilisco, San Dionisio, Jucuarán, Jucuapa, California, Alegría, Berlín and Nueva Granada. In each municipality there is a nursery of cacao tree seedlings run by 25 families.

That is another important component of the Alianza Cacao: the final product has to be high-quality and organic, because the goal is to promote sustainable development. Planting cacao trees is an ecological activity in and of itself, because it creates forests, when the cacao trees are full-grown.

“It’s very important for the farmers to know that their plantations can be managed ecologically, for the good of the environment, and also because the product fetches a better price,” Griselda Alvarenga, an adviser to the project, tells IPS.

This article forms part of a reporting series conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Misinformation Hides Real Dimension of Greek “Bailout”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-misinformation-hides-real-dimension-of-greek-bailout/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-misinformation-hides-real-dimension-of-greek-bailout http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-misinformation-hides-real-dimension-of-greek-bailout/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 11:14:47 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142057

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that the purpose of Greece’s third bailout is clear – all but seven percent of the 86 billion euros will go to pay debt with the other European governments, recapitalize Greek banks, pay interest on Greece’s debt and pay the debt of the state with Greek enterprises, while the country’s citizens will see none of it.

By Roberto Savio
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

The long saga on Greece is apparently over – European institutions have given Athens a third bailout of 86 billion euros which, combined with the previous two, makes a grand total of 240 billion euros.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

There is no doubt that the large majority of European citizens are convinced that this is a great example of solidarity, and that if Greece is not now able to walk on its own feet, the responsibility will lie solely with Greek citizens and their government.

But this is only due to the fact that the media system has, by and large, ceased to provide alternative views … and some people even ignore that the bailout is a loan, and therefore increases the country’s debt.

In fact, the productive economy of Greece saw very little of that money because the bailouts were merely financial operations and Greek citizens, not only did not see anything, they have even had to pay a brutal price.

The truth behind the operation has been aptly described by Mujtaba Rahman, the respected chief Eurozone analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group, who said: “The bailout is not really about a growth plan for Greece, but a plan to make sure the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) get paid, and the euro area does not break up.”

And the purpose of this third bailout is clear. Of the famous 86 billion, 36 billion will go to pay the debt with the other European governments (and first of all Germany). Another 25 billion will go to recapitalize the Greek banks, because much capital left the country, heading for safer European banks. Another 18 billion will go to pay interest on the debt which Greece has been piling up. And, finally, seven billion will go to pay the debt of the state with Greek enterprises.“How could any economist, even in the first year of studies, fail to understand that, by cutting consumption and raising taxes you are bound to depress an already depressed economy?”

So, seven will go to the real economy and nothing to the citizens, who will have now to go through several new drastic measures of austerity, which will further depress their standards of living and their ability to spend.

Financially, the bailouts have been a success. All the losses and bad exposure of European institutions have been passed on to Greece. Before the first bailout, French banks were exposed with bad bonds for 63 billion euros, now only for 1.6 billion with no losses. German banks have gone from 45 to five billion.

What is intriguing is that a number of studies show that until the very last moment, when it was widely known that Greece was in deep crisis, European banks and investors continued to buy Greek bonds.

Were they certain that Greece would pay? No, but they were confident that the Greek government would be rescued, and that they would therefore recover their investments, which is exactly what happened.

The financial system has now a life of its own and has nothing to do with real economy, which it dwarfs by being 40 times larger (if we judge by the volumes of daily financial transactions against the production of goods and services). Capital is untouchable and circulates freely in Europe, unlike its citizens. And now there is a great wave of legislation to introduce lower taxation for the richest one percent!

During the negotiations, one frequent accusation levelled against the Greeks was that they were unable to have their rich ship-owners pay their share of taxes. Of course, ship-owners place their money where it cannot be reached.

But is this not hypocritical when we know that there are at least two trillion euros stashed in fiscal paradises, and that, just to give one example, nobody has got Ryanair to really pay taxes? Not to mention the fact that when he was prime minister of Luxembourg, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker granted secret tax rebates to over a hundred international companies?

Now Agence France Press has circulated a new astonishing study from the German Leibnitz Institute of Economic Research, which says that Germany has profited from the Greek crisis to the tune of 100 billion euros, saving money through lower interest payments on funds the government borrowed amid investor “flights to safety” and “these savings exceed the cost of the crisis – even if Greece were to default on its entire debt.”

Meanwhile, a large number of studies point out how, by having a positive balance of trade with its European partners, Germany is in fact sucking capital from Europe.

Interpreting the third bailout and its conditions of austerity as a mere economic operation would be to commit a great error.

No economist can believe that Greece will be able to pay back and not only because it has always had a fragile economy, with little industry and with tourism as its main source of income (aggravated by decades of mismanagement and the corruption of its traditional parties, the very parties that European leaders would like to see come back).

Greece is already in recession and now the doubling of VAT is going to compress consumption further, also because there will now be further reductions in pensions and public salaries (which have been already cut by 20 percent).  It is widely believed that the Greek debt will now reach 200 percent of its GDP, up from 170 percent prior to the bailout.

How could any economist, even in the first year of studies, fail to understand that, by cutting consumption and raising taxes you are bound to depress an already depressed economy?

Well, it is no coincidence that the IMF, which is the Rotary Club of conservative economists, has refused to join this bailout. The IMF has said it will not put in any money unless European creditors (which is a diplomatic way of saying Germany) accept a restructuring of the Greek debt.

It is clear that the bailout has not been a technical but a political operation. Many European leaders, starting with Juncker himself, intervened in last month’s internal Greek referendum, asking Greeks to vote against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. They indicated clearly and openly, in a campaign that the Wall Street Journal repeated in the United States, that the revolt against austerity and the neoliberal economy should be stopped dead in its tracks to avoid political contagion.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared on German television that she has come to the conclusion that °Tsipras has changed°. This has an air of dejà vu … was it not then British Prime Margaret Thatcher who, intent on destroying the trade unions, launched her famous TINA slogan – There Is No Alternative?

And is there no alternative to this kind of Europe? (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: The Writing on the Western Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:40:57 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142045 Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

The writing on the Western Wall is evident to most Israelis: “דמוגרפיה היא גורל” or “demography is destiny”. Those unwilling to acknowledge the prophetic message are either deceiving themselves or simply ignoring it in order to avoid facing the implications of demography for Israel’s future.

In order to be both a Jewish and democratic state, Israel has adhered to a clear demographic principle:  maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority. During the first few decades following its establishment in 1948, the proportions Jewish among the several million Israelis remained at record highs of nearly 90 percent (Figure 1).In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo.

Since then, even with the large-scale Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Jewish proportion in Israel, while still a sizeable majority, has declined steadily. Today the proportion Jewish among the Israeli population of more than eight million is at an historic low of 75 percent.

Although the country’s Jewish majority will likely continue to decline slightly over the next 20 years, it is expected to remain over 70 percent according to official Israeli population projections. Those projections, however, assume that no significant numbers of non-Jews outside pre-1967 Israel are granted Israeli citizenship. If this assumption is relaxed, very different demographic futures emerge for Israel.

The Israeli population, for example, could be combined with the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to form a single state with universal suffrage, in other words the one-state solution. While the expanded nation would continue to be democratic in principle, it would no longer be a Jewish state because the majority of the enlarged Israeli population would no longer be Jewish.

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

A more likely possibility perhaps would be for the Palestinians in the West Bank to be granted Israeli citizenship. At least during the first couple of decades of such a scenario, Jewish Israelis would retain their majority, being slightly above half of the total population.

However, after several decades, Jewish Israelis would likely turn out to be the minority due to higher rates of demographic growth among their non-Jewish compatriots. Here again, an expanded Israel enfranchising large numbers of non-Jews would continue to be a democracy but would eventually cease to be a predominantly Jewish state.

The current Israeli government does not envisage the establishment of a Palestinian state any time in the foreseeable future. Although some Israeli politicians have called for the creation of a separate Palestinian state in the occupied territories, key Israeli government officials and their pivotal supporters believe that it would be collective suicide for Israel to permit the establishment of a Palestinian state. They prefer to annex West Bank land, or Judea and Samaria using their terminology, which some contend is already the de facto case.

In addition, a majority of the Israeli public view reaching a peace agreement with a two-state solution as a pipedream and many are opposed to a two-state solution. Any support voiced by Israelis for a two-state solution invariably evaporates when the details of a possible peace agreement are spelled out, such as the sharing of Jerusalem, removing Israeli settlements or returning to some pre-1967 borders.

Also, more than 120 government-approved Israeli settlements and 100 unofficial ones have been established in the West Bank. The growing Israeli settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is estimated at approximately 750,000. In the West Bank alone, the number of settlers has more than doubled since 1995 to about 400,000.

It appears highly unlikely that Israel will be able to withdraw its Jewish settlers from the occupied land as it did in 2005 when it withdrew with some difficulty about 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Despite the government’s opposition, public resistance and the ever-expanding demographic facts on the occupied ground, the two-state solution continues to be kept on life support largely through the sponsorship, funds and hopes of the international community, in particular the United States and its Western allies.

The ostensible reason for keeping this all-but-dead diplomatic path alive is to avoid confronting the inevitable alternatives to the failed attempts to establish a separate Palestinian state.

Soon, however, the two-state solution will be given its formal funeral, especially as peace talks have collapsed and the Israeli occupation is approaching its 50th anniversary. When this happens, the options remaining for the Israelis will be limited and difficult with the one-state solution with its eventual Palestinian majority loudly knocking at Israel’s front doorstep.

In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo. The Israeli government will likely continue to enforce its costly and troubling occupation and control over millions of Palestinians, expand and increase Jewish settlements and consolidate its presence and authority throughout Jerusalem. However, those and related acts will in all likelihood only exacerbate an already vexing and volatile situation.

Attempts to preserve the status quo will lead to the numerous Jewish settlements becoming increasingly entrenched and entangled in the West Bank. The living conditions and disposition of the Palestinians in the occupied territories will worsen and their human rights concerns can be expected to rise to the top of the international community’s political agenda.

Israeli administrative decisions, Knesset bills and judicial pronouncements can neither dismiss nor repeal the laws of demography. No doubt some will choose to challenge the numbers and their significance, contending that under any foreseeable demographic circumstances Israel will remain a democratic and Jewish nation.

Inevitably, however, and likely sooner rather than later the Israeli government will be obliged to acknowledge the writing on the Western Wall and address demography’s decisive implications for the future of Israel.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Native Protest Camp in Argentine Capital Fights for Land and Visibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/feed/ 0 U.N. Marks Humanitarian Day Battling Its Worst Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:42:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142034 Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is commemorating World Humanitarian Day with “inspiring” human interest stories of survival – even as the world body describes the current refugee crisis as the worst for almost a quarter of a century.

The campaign, mostly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is expected to flood social media feeds with stories of both resilience and hope from around the world, along with a musical concert in New York.“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it's simply not enough to meet the growing needs.” -- Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam

“It’s true we live in a moment in history where there’s never been a greater need for humanitarian aid since the United Nations was founded,” says U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

“And every day, I talk about people and I use numbers, and the numbers are numbing, right — 10,000, 50,000,” he laments.

But as U.N. statistics go, the numbers are even more alarming than meets the eye: more than 4.0 million Syrians are now refugees in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon (not including the hundreds who are dying in mid-ocean every week as they try to reach Europe and escape the horrors of war at home).

And more troubling, at least an additional 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria – all of them in need of humanitarian assistance—and over 220,000 have been killed in a military conflict now on its fifth year.

The U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said “with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced around the world, we face a crisis on a scale not seen in generations.”

In early August, O’Brien decided to release some 70 million dollars from a U.N. reserve fund called the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) – primarily for chronically underfunded aid operations.

Besides Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, the humanitarian crisis has also impacted heavily on Sudan, South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, Chad, the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Bangladesh, among others.

Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response at Oxfam International, told IPS the international humanitarian system created decades ago has saved countless lives but today, the humanitarian system is “overwhelmed and underfunded” at a time when natural hazards are projected to increase in both frequency and severity at the same time as the world must respond to unprecedented protracted crises like the conflict in Syria.

“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it’s simply not enough to meet the growing needs,” he said.

The United Nations and the greater humanitarian system, he pointed out, needs to be reformed to be more efficient and to better respond to needs by supporting local leadership and capacity and funding programmes that help communities reduce the impact of disasters before emergencies occur.

Meanwhile, the #ShareHumanity social media campaign, currently underway, hopes to build momentum towards the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in Istanbul next May.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this year’s World Humanitarian Day campaign, beginning Aug. 19, reflects a world where humanitarian needs are far outstripping the aid community’s capacity to help the millions of people affected by natural disasters, conflict, hunger and disease.

Oxfam’s Gottschalk told IPS World Humanitarian Day is an important opportunity to stop and honour the brave women and men who work tirelessly around the world every day to save lives in incredibly difficult circumstances.

He said local humanitarian workers are often the first to respond when a crisis hits and rarely get the recognition, and most importantly, the support they deserve to lead responses in their own countries.

Oxfam has been making a strong push for mandatory contributions from U.N. Member States to fund humanitarian responses, which it says, will provide a more consistent and robust funding stream.

More of that funding should flow directly to the local level, and be allocated more transparently so that donors can track impact and local communities can follow the aid and hold their leaders accountable and demand results, he noted.

Gottschalk said millions of people around the world depend on the global humanitarian system, and this is in no small part due to the committed and compassionate people who are struggling to make the system work despite declining resources and increasing need.

These reforms will make the system more effective and better equip these dedicated humanitarians to save lives and ease suffering, he declared.

The ongoing military conflicts have also claimed the lives of hundreds of health workers, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.

In 2014 alone, WHO said it received reports of 372 attacks in 32 countries on health workers, resulting in 603 deaths and 958 injuries, while similar incidents have been recorded this year.

“WHO is committed to saving lives and reducing suffering in times of crisis. Attacks against health care workers and facilities are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, in a statement released to mark World Humanitarian Day.

She said health workers have an obligation to treat the sick and injured without discrimination. “ All parties to conflict must respect that obligation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Time to Work Out a Plan C for Greecehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/time-to-work-out-a-plan-c-for-greece/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 16:14:04 +0000 Pavlos Georgiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142029 Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

Original illustration courtesy of Stéphane Roux

By Pavlos Georgiadis
ATHENS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Just over a month ago, Greek citizens were asked to go to the polls for a referendum that posed the country with an unprecedented existential dilemma and challenged the EU with the possibility of its collapse.

The question that shook the world was a choice between a Plan A – more of the same, evidently failed austerity policies that made the country lose 25 percent of its GDP in five years – and a Plan B – a poorly designed Grexit, with unpredictable consequences that could mean the country’s sudden death.Instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

It is an indisputable fact that Greece requires major reforms and Greeks know this better than anyone else. These are related, among others, to major existing legislative gaps, the country’s geography which generates huge transaction costs, a cultural gap between cities and rural areas, and the decision making processes in the country.

Such reforms are of systemic nature, something that no politician in Greece seems able to grasp or advocate. The old guard that still rules the country’s affairs, despite being fully aware of its own failure, is still opting for quick and flaky solutions that hardly address the causes of this crisis.

The same goes for Europe’s leaders, who seem to be more cloistered than ever, limited to their national egos and political clientele. They seem to lack the capacity, both morally and intellectually, but above all the vision to steward Europe’s human face, while addressing this crisis.

A project of “unity in diversity” is threatened by its outdated, largely opaque decision making structures that govern its economics. This explains why European leaders, in the past years, instead of solutions have been offering no more than a narrative based on the worst possible stereotypes.

A top-down approach that plundered Greece into depression and made Greeks, especially the youth, feel like little hamsters in some sort of sick socio-economic experiment.

The Birth of a New Solidarity Economy

Some impressive civil society projects are already being implemented at the local grassroots level, piloting a parallel solidarity and needs-based economy and participa-tory governance.

Every day, a community kitchen called “The Οther Ηuman” is supplying free meals to hundreds of Greeks in need, and lately to immigrants from Syria and Afghanistan, camping in the parks of Athens.

The Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko near the old Athens airport, a 1.2 hectare plot of prime land on the beachfront of Athens, set to be privatised in a scan-dalous low price, is delivering free medicine, health check ups and preventive treat-ments to citizens with no insurance.

Both initiatives have no legal structure nor bank accounts, basing their operations in a currency that survives the capital controls: solidarity and humanity. Speaking of new ways of transaction, a bartering system is making a comeback in response to the closed banks, especially in rural areas.

Open access technologies are driving this transition, as they always do with initiatives promoting public dialogue, knowledge exchange, political participation and account-ability between citizens and politicians.

Politeia 2.0, a grassroots initiative for citizens’ engagement which is pioneering methods for participatory design of a new constitution and Vouliwatch, an independ-ent parliament watchdog, are just two of them.

With such prototypes launched, tested and operating at different levels, the challenge now is to scale and communicate them in every neighbourhood, village and city of the country.

This crisis never had its crisis manager, exposing the EU’s deficiencies and the distance that splits the politicians’ realities with those of citizens. This is not only evident in the way political leaders handle the Greek case, but other challenges too, such as the TTIP, climate change and immigration.

A new political arena is thus emerging within the EU, that has nothing to do with traditional ideological divides of the left or the right. This new political arena struggles to balance top-down versus bottom-up approaches to our ways of making decisions and planning the future.

Based on this recognition, it is clear that besides a “Plan A” (a politically humiliating and financially unsustainable agreement) and a “Plan B” (the risk of a Grexit), Greece is in dire need of working out a “Plan C”.

A roadmap for advancing towards a real transition back to the Commons, based on civil engagement for participatory mapping and collective management of the assets that influence what is currently under attack: the everyday lives of the people.

Greece needs to put in an unprecedented effort in order to overcome an unprecedented challenge, engaging the best actors in key social fields such as health, food, education and social welfare, just to name a few. At this point, this is absolutely necessary in order to maintain social cohesion and explore systemic solutions during the difficult times to come.

The starting point should probably be in the fields, which a recent study by Endeavor Greece identified as the only dynamic sectors that survive the crisis: agriculture, product manufacturing and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

The food sector, especially, can pave the way since it is already an integral part of the country’s cultural fabric. With around 13 percent of the Greek workforce engaged in agriculture (the EU average is just over 5 percent), a carefully structured plan for a transition towards agroecology can become an extremely powerful vector of change and a drive for Greece’s new economy.

Community gardens like Per.Ka., located inside an abandoned army camp in Thessaloniki, and peer to peer networks like Peliti -Europe’s largest seed-swap community- are already carving out new food system paradigms.

This new process can only be led by the youth of Greece. Highly skilled, socially networked and internationally educated, many of them are looking back to the land to seek ways out of unemployment.

All these years, these young Greeks have been deprived access to bank loans, while others were transferring 250 billion euros outside the country. Should they be connected with food business incubators, seed funding opportunities and open source technologies, they could catalyse this transition towards a quality, climate-friendly agrifood system which connects the land with health, education, tourism, energy, transport and other services.

Of course, this would require the types of reforms against existing institutional barriers and an outdated legal framework in Greece. Unfortunately, in the last five years, such reforms have never been put on the table by successive Greek governments nor their creditors.

Agrifood is only one example of the few sectors that can generate considerable social, economic and environmental benefits which are necessary towards a more resilient future for the country.

Moreover, it is possibly one of the very few ways to create jobs for the youth, who are challenged by a staggering 52.4 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the EU. Citizens are in need of new options and new development indicators need to be considered in rebuilding the country’s economy.

This change needs to start at the local level, leveraging the potential of the aforementioned initiatives and many more that are acting at the grassroots.

The conditions are ripe, as the 2014 municipal elections brought staff with fresh ideas into office in Greek local authorities. The cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, home to half of the country’s population, received the Mayors Challenge and 100 Resilient Cities awards respectively.

Each one offers one million euros to their budgets for delegating, implementing and scaling strategies for civic participation and urban regeneration. It remains to be seen whether the tools and opportunities offered by those grants and networks will be used efficiently, and not from obsolete mismanagement attitudes and the nepotism of the past.

The challenge is also huge for the citizens of the rest of Europe, who are largely misinformed by reporters of mainstream media, landing in Athens with a mandate from their editors to mainly report on horror stories and misery icons.

This is the time to change this agenda of shame, and instead of viewing Greece as a scapegoat, Europe should take this unique opportunity to capitalise on the solutions created by the civil society in the country.

Again, the youth can play a major role in strengthening the vision of a unified Europe, despite the power games that unfold at the political level. After all, we are the first true European generation.

Evidently, Greece was turned into an experiment in suffocating austerity. But what if Greece became the testing ground for visualising, prototyping and scaling a new economic paradigm that is socially inclusive, climate friendly and economically viable?

I am not sure whether the “Plan C” is the right name for this process. It is quite likely that populist politicians in Greece and Europe might abuse the term, like they did with so many others.

But the essence remains: this is a plan of solidarity, collaboration and resilience. And it is time that this dialogue opened all over Europe, if it wants to remain a Union, and maintain its leading role in the world.

Follow Pavlos Georgiadis on  Twitter: @geopavlos

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Presalt Oil Drives Technological Development in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/presalt-oil-drives-technological-development-in-brazil/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:40:34 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142026 The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The third floor of the central building of Petrobras’s R&D centre, CENPES, built in 2010 on University City Island. On the right, a scale model of an oil rig. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The extraction of deepwater oil, the most abundant kind in Brazil, is costly but foments technological and industrial development, requiring increasingly complex production equipment and techniques.

One challenge is the water extracted with the oil, the proportion of which grows with the age of the well, reducing productivity by using up an increasing proportion of the transport and processing capacity of the productive installations.

“Since two years ago we’ve had a separator of oil and water that operates at a depth of 2,000 metres,” said Oscar Chamberlain, head of supplies and biofuels in the Research and Development Centre (CENPES) of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company. “That water, in time, can represent 80 percent of the volume extracted, which is why it has to be separated deep down in order to not overtax the rig.”

Rio de Janeiro has become a centre of know-how and innovation in offshore oil, thanks to CENPES, which has 227 laboratories and a technological park where 52 institutions and companies have set up shop so far, including 12 multinational corporations.“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt - have been overcome.” -- Luiz Felipe Rego

University City Island, widely known as Fundão Island, is the epicentre of that transformation. It is the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), near the international airport of this city that is more famous for its beaches and carnival.

This development has been driven by Petrobras’s 2006 discovery of oil deposits in what is known as the presalt area, under a two-kilometre-thick salt layer more than 5,000 metres below the surface in the Atlantic ocean.

The new reserves brought Brazil new oil wealth as well as new challenges.

The presalt reserves are at least 250 km from the coast of southeast Brazil, which poses logistical difficulties.

“There are no longer any technological barriers to the production of oil in the presalt layer; all of the challenges identified – involving the distance, depth and complexity posed by the layer of salt – have been overcome,” Luiz Felipe Rego, Petrobras general manager of well engineering, told IPS.

As a result, just eight years after they were discovered, the presalt reserves account for 23 percent of Petrobras production in Brazil, which in October climbed to 2.58 million barrels a day of oil-equivalent, including natural gas.

But the constant battle to reduce costs has fuelled the effort to do as much as possible deep below the surface, with underwater systems that require electrification, robots and remote maintenance services in a corrosive, high-pressure atmosphere with wildly varying temperatures, said Chamberlain, a Nicaraguan who has been with Petrobras for 30 years.

Corrosion is a threat at every stage of the process, all the way up to the refinery where the petroleum can damage the equipment if the excess salt is not previously removed.

CENPES was founded in 1963 when Petrobras, a state company created to explore for oil and reduce the imports that Brazil depended on, was 10 years old. Its 1,930 researchers, 36 percent of whom hold masters’ or doctoral degrees, are now carrying out 862 R&D projects.

“Thanks to their work, Petrobras is the Brazilian company that has applied for the most patents in Brazil and abroad,” the executive manager of CENPES, André Cordeiro, told IPS. “In 2013 alone 56 new applications were made.”

Petrobras’s investment in R&D, administered by CENPES, has increased nearly eight-fold so far this century. The annual average, which stood at 160 million dollars from 2001 to 2003, climbed to 1.2 billion dollars in the last three years.

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A circular laboratory and office building in CENPES, built in 1973 on University City Island in Rio de Janeiro. The Maré and Floresta de Tijuca favelas or shantytowns can be seen in the background. CENPES is the R&D arm of Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, whose symbol is BR. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“We currently work with 122 Brazilian universities and research institutes, organised in 49 thematic networks – a model that has fomented partnerships between Petrobras and academia in strategic questions in the area of oil and gas,” Cordeiro said.

The closest partnership began 46 years ago with the UFRJ’s Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute for Graduate Studies and Research in Engineering (COPPE), which is also a technology business incubator.

For example, Ambidados, which emerged there in 2006, provides oil companies with environmental assessments and data. And with just 11 staff members in its office in the UFRJ’s Technological Park, it created its own buoys and devices to monitor wind, tides, ocean currents and rainfall, which affect operations out at sea.

“We also study the ocean bottom relief, the water temperature at different depths, the salinity, and the amount of algae,” oceanographer Leonardo Kuniyoshi told IPS.

There are another 31 small and medium-sized companies in the Technological Park, along with seven laboratories, and R&D centres of global leaders in oil industry services and equipment, such as Schlumberger, FMC Technologies and Halliburton, which recently acquired Baker Hughes, another oilfield services provider with offices on Fundão Island.

The U.S.-based GE opened its new Global Research Centre in the park on Aug. 13, joining other multinationals outside the oil industry, such as France’s L’Oreal cosmetics company and Brazilian beer maker Ambev.

“This coexistence among different industries is fascinating,” said the director of the Technological Park, Mauricio Guedes. “The coming together of knowledge from different areas constitutes the wealth of the Technological Park, which will generate innovations.”

That also requires “bringing companies and the university together in the same place, to generate knowledge that gives rise to products and services, because without business, technology and know-how are lost,” he said.

The park was designed to hold 200 companies in its 350,000-square-metre area at the southeastern tip of the island, which belongs to the UFRJ. The area was flood-prone and had to be filled in before the Technological Park opened in 2003. One hundred thousand truckloads of soil and rubble, dumped over the space of four years, raised the ground level two metres, Guedes said.

After the discovery of the presalt reserves, which meant Brazil could become one of the world’s leading oil producers and exporters, the park began to attract major international firms like the British multinational oil and gas company BG Group or Germany’s Siemens.

The list includes information technology companies that are not limited to oil industry services, such as EMC2, which opened “its first research centre outside of the United States” in the UFRJ park, according to Karin Breitman, the company’s local chief scientist.

The future of the Technological Park and oil industry research is ensured in Brazil. Contracts to exploit the country’s oilfields require that the companies must invest one percent of their revenue in R&D.

That adds up to some 12 billion dollars over the next 10 years. “The combination of technological challenges and resources to tackle them promises success,” said Guedes.

Besides boosting the oil industry’s productivity, the R&D contributes to the development of other sectors, with oceanographic and environmental knowledge and multiple-use technologies.

One example is the hyperbaric chamber, a steel vessel in which atmospheric pressure can be raised or lowered by air compressors, which is being used to generate electric power from waves, in a plant developed by Coppe. New materials, new inputs and energy solutions will emerge from the bottom of the sea, said Guedes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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