Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:18:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Giving African Artists Their Nameshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=giving-african-artists-their-names http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:18:28 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140219 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Apr 19 2015 (IPS)

Quick now, can you name a famous African sculptor from the 1800s or even the early 20th century?

Anyone able to answer positively is part of a select minority – most museum-goers have become used to seeing traditional African carvings without knowing the name of the artist.

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

But some experts are taking steps to change this, with the most extensive exhibition devoted to identifying Africa’s expert sculptors now on in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum – a venue devoted to the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas that is sometimes criticised for having “colonial undertones”.

The exhibition, titled ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’, features nearly 330 historical and contemporary works and artefacts, and runs until Jul. 26. It comes at a time when the market for traditional African art is at its highest in decades, with pieces fetching record prices, amid debate about whether these objects should be “returned” to Africa.

The show pays tribute to the remarkable artistry of the sculptors, who were often given the title of “master” in their homeland; and the timeless splendour of some of the objects will help to explain the current collecting craze. But the exhibition may also add fuel to the discussion about who should own works that reflect a region’s cultural heritage.

“Art really has no fatherland,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Eberhard Fischer, an ethnologist and Director Emeritus of the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The interest of the artist might not be the same as the interest of the nation. Museums are responsible to the artist, and should honour them in the right way,” he added. “African art, European art, Indian art should be seen all over the world. We’re in the 21st century.”

He told IPS that what was “special” about the exhibition is the attempt to reveal the creators “behind the masterpieces”, in contrast to the objects being presented in a general context as tribal art created by anonymous makers.“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill” – Notes to the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition

“My aim is to put these masters on a pedestal and to say ‘these were great men’,” Fischer said. “They were never given the same status as Western artists, and it’s time their individual skills were highlighted.”

In the notes to the exhibition, Fischer and co-curator Lorenz Homburger state that “African sculpture has a central place in the history of art”, and they indicate that the identification of traditional artists contributes to the recognition of this role.

“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill,” the curators stress.

The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) was one of the most important regions for African art production, and the exhibition “invites” visitors to discover the different “masters” of the various ethnic groups – artists who were held in “high esteem” by their communities. Some sculptors are designated only by their region, but many others do have names that are now becoming known.

Museum-goers will learn about Sra (“the creator”) who was born circa 1880 and died in 1955. He was the most famous sculptor of western Ivory Coast, according to the curators, creating “prestige objects and masks for many Dan and Mano chieftains in Liberia and for important members of the Dan and We community in Ivory Coast.”

Sra was renowned for his female figures, and visitors can admire these objects as well as his striking mother-and-child depictions. One of his contemporaries, Uopié, came from a different area but was also part of the Dan culture – in north-western Ivory Coast – and produced “bewitchingly beautiful” smiling masks, of the kind known as déanglé.

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Alongside the objects, the curators give verbal snapshots of the artists whom they have been able to name: Tompieme was a “small, rather athletic, cheerful man” who was a successful farmer as well as singer and musician; Si was a hunter and youth instructor who, for many decades “circumcised boys and led the initiation camp … where he showed his initiates the art of carving.”

Then there is Tame (circa 1900 to 1965), a “handsome young man, a successful wrestler and the lover of many women.” He was the nephew of Uopié, who taught him to carve.  While there is no picture to allow visitors to judge Tame’s purported good looks for themselves, the exhibition does provide a photo of Kuakudili, the first Ivory Coast artist to have his “own face” in the show.

A picture of this sculptor is available thanks to Hans Himmelheber, a German anthropologist, art collector and Fischer’s step-father, who met the artist in 1933. The photo shows Kuakudili as a thin, serious man. He carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people, and in his work, visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism.

Away from the exhibition, masks such as these and other objects from “African masters” are currently in great demand on the international art market, especially in Paris, New York and Brussels.

Jean Fritts, director for African and Oceanic Art at the Sotheby’s auction house, says that the median price for African art has doubled over the past decade.

“There has been tremendous growth since 1999,” she told IPS. “Part of this is related to a broader appreciation of African art.”

It is also related to some of the first collectors dying, and their heirs selling the objects, dealers have said. Many pieces have come from former colonialists in Belgium, for instance, and museums as well as private collectors are snapping up the objects that they believe were acquired by “honest” means.

Fritts said that 25 percent of the art on the market is being bought by collectors in the Middle East, with some of the works destined for the Louvre Abu Dhabi as well as the National Museum of Qatar, set to open in 2016.

In Africa, businesspeople such as Congolese entrepreneur Sindika Dokolo have also been buying on the market, with the aim of bringing some of Africa’s art back home. Dokolo had a representative at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Paris, where a coveted mask fetched 3.5 million euros (it went to another bidder).

Regarding the identity of the artists, Fritts and other dealers acknowledged that there is an “issue” because historically there has not been “much data collected about the carver”.

Given that provenance and exhibition history are important for art collectors (along with artistic quality and “rarity”), the Quai Branly show may help to add value to objects identified as being carved by a particular “master”. Fischer, the curator, sees no problem with that.

“A lot of these art pieces are sold as antiques and this is a wrong concept,” he says. “The market wants to keep them in some cloud of anonymity, but why shouldn’t African art fetch the same high prices that collectors pay for Western art? These artists have not been honoured enough.”

He sees the exhibition as the first step for these artists to have a place in prestigious museums such as the Louvre in Paris. Perhaps one day, Sra will be as internationally known as Picasso.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Tribunal Ruling Could Dent “Monster Boat” Trawling in West African Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:35:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140214 Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, The Gambia, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

It was five in the afternoon and Buba Badjie, a boat captain, had just brought his catch to the shore. He had spent twelve hours at sea off Bakau, a major fish landing site in The Gambia.

Inside the trays strewn on the floor bed of his wooden boat were bonga and catfish. Scores of women crowded around, looking to buy his catch.

“This is just enough to cover my expenses,” he tells IPS, indicating the squirming silvery creatures. “I went up to 20-something kilometres and all we could get was bonga.

“I spent more than 2,500 dalasis (60 dollars) on this one trip,” he confessed.

Badjie, 38, is not a native Gambian. Originally from neighbouring Senegal, he came here as a teenager looking for work. But the sea he has been fishing for almost two decades is no longer the same, he says somberly.

“This trade is about win and loss,” he added. “But nowadays, we have more losses. Recently, I went up to 50-something kilometres to another fishing ground but still no catch.

“The problem is the variations in the weather pattern. Also, we encounter huge commercial trawlers in the waters. Sometimes, they threaten to kill us when we confront them. When we spread our nets, they ruin them.”

But Badjie’s plight and that of thousands of other artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better.“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable” – Greenpeace

In an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – the first of its kind by the full tribunal – the body affirmed that “flag States” have a duty of due diligence to ensure that fishing vessels flying their flag comply with relevant laws and regulations concerning marine resources to enable the conservation and management of these resources.

Flag States, ruled the tribunal, must take necessary measures to ensure that these vessels are not engaged in illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the waters of member countries of West Africa’s Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SFRC). Further, they can be held liable for breach of this duty. The ruling specifies that the European Union has the same duty as a state.

West African waters are believed to have the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, representing up to 37 percent of the region’s catch.

“This is a very welcome ruling that could be a real game changer,” World Wildlife Fund International Marine Programme Director John Tanzer was reported as saying. “No longer will we have to try to combat illegal fishing and the ransacking of coastal fisheries globally on a boat by boat basis.”

The SRFC covers the West African countries of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The need for an advisory opinion by the Tribunal emerged in 1993 when the SRFC reported an “over-exploitation of fisheries resources; and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of an ever more alarming magnitude.” Such illegal catches were nearly equal to allowable ones, it said.

Further, “the lost income to national economies caused by IUU fishing in Wet Africa is on the order of 500 million dollars per year.”

The apparent theft of West Africa’s fish stocks has been denounced by various environmental groups including Greenpeace, which described “monster boats” trawling in African waters on a webpage titled ‘Fish Fairly’.

“For decades,” Greenpeace wrote, “the European Union and its member states have allowed their industrial fishing fleet to swell to an unsustainable size… In 2008, the European Commission estimated that parts of the E.U. fishing fleet were able to harvest fish much faster than stocks were able to regenerate.’’

“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable.”

Unofficial sources told IPS that there are forty-seven industrial-sized fishing vessels currently in The Gambia’s waters, thirty-five of which are from foreign fleets.

Meanwhile, artisanal fishers, on whom the population depends for supply, say they are finding it hard to feed the market. Prices have risen phenomenally and shortages in the market are no longer a rarity.

“Our waters are overfished,” said Ousman Bojang, 80, a veteran Gambian fisher.

Bojang learnt the fishing trade from his father when he was young, but later switched gears to become a police officer.

After 20 years, he retired and returned to fishing. Building his first fishing boat in 1978, he became the president of the first-ever association of fishers in the country.

“Fishing improved my livelihood,” he told IPS. “While I was in the service, I could not build a hut for myself. Now, I have built a compound. I’ve sent my children to school and all of them have graduated.

“I transferred my skills to them and they’ve joined me at sea. I have 25 children; 10 boys and 15 girls. All the boys are into fishing. Even the girls, some know how to do hook and line and to repair net.”

Other hopeful trends for the artisanal fishers include the recognition by the Africa Progress Panel, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that illegal fishing is a priority that the continent must address.

Another is the endorsement by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations of guidelines which seek to improve conditions for small-scale fishers.

Nicole Franz, fishery planning analyst at FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department in Rome, told IPS that the small-scale fisheries guidelines provide a framework change in small-scale fisheries. “It is an instrument that looks not only into traditional fisheries rights, such as fisheries management and user rights, but it also takes more integrated approach,” she said.

“It also looks into social conditions, decent employment conditions, climate change, disaster risks issues and a whole range of issues which go beyond what traditional fisheries institutions work with. Only if we have a human rights approach to small-scale fisheries, can we allow the sector to develop sustainably.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Women Farmers Rewrite Their History in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:08:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140197 From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALLE SIMPSON, Chile, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 100 women small farmers from Chile’s southern Patagonia region have joined together in a new association aimed at achieving economic autonomy and empowerment, in an area where machismo and gender inequality are the norm.

Patricia Mancilla, Nancy Millar and Blanca Molina spoke with IPS about the group’s history, and how the land, craft making and working together with other women helped them to overcome depression and situations of abuse, and to learn to trust again.

“We have at last obtained recognition of rural women,” said Mancilla, president of the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia. “Peasant women have learned to appreciate themselves. Each one of our members has a history of pain that she has managed to ease through working and talking together.”

“We have learned to value ourselves as women and to value our work, thanks to which our members have been able to send their children to university,” added Mancilla, the head of the association created in 2005.

Mancilla lives on a small family farm in Río Paloma, 53 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Her house doesn’t have electricity, but thanks to a generator she produces what she most likes to make: homemade cheese from cow’s milk.

She is also exploring the idea of family agrotourism, although thyroid cancer has forced her to slow down.

In her three years as the head of the association, she has worked tirelessly to build it up and organise the collective activities of the nearly 120 members.

Mancilla and the other members are proudly waiting for the inauguration of the Aysén Rural Women’s Management Centre in a house that they are fixing up, which they obtained through a project of the regional government, carried out by the Housing and Urban Development Service.

The centre will serve as a meeting place, where the women can share their experiences, learn and receive training, and as a store where they can display and sell their products. The members of the association hold a weekly fair on Wednesdays, where they sell what they produce.

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sustainable production in untamed Patagonia

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least densely populated in Chile, home to just 105,000 of the country’s 17.5 million people. It is a wilderness area of great biodiversity, cold, snowy winters, swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, fertile land and abundant marine resources.

Patagonia covers 1.06 million square kilometres at the southern tip of the Americas; 75 percent of it is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

It is a region of diverse ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which have not yet even been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered “huemul” or south Andean deer.

And according to environmental experts it is one of the planet’s biggest freshwater reserves.

Behind its stunning landscapes, Aysén, whose capital is located 1,629 km south of Santiago, conceals one of the country’s poorest areas, where 10 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

Patagonian activists are seeking to make the region a self-sustaining life reserve.

“We want what we have to be taken care of, and for only what is produced in our region to be sold,” said Mancilla. “There are other pretty places, but nothing compares to the nature in our region.

“We still eat free-roaming chickens, natural eggs; all of the vegetables and fruit in our region are natural, grown without chemicals,” she said.

Farmers like Molina grow organic produce, using their own waste as fertiliser. The association is the only organisation of rural women from Chile’s Patagonia region to sell only ecologically sustainable products.

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

“Some say this isn’t good land for planting, but I know it’s fertile,” said Molina. “I’m always innovating, planting things to see how they grow. Thank god that everything grows well in this soil. I’ve found that out for myself and I can demonstrate it,” she said, pointing to her crops.

With her own hands she built four greenhouses that cover a large part of her land in Valle Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique.

She points one by one to the fruits of her labour: pumpkins, artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage and even black-seed squash, not commonly grown in such cold regions.

She said the land fills her with life, and especially now, as she tries to pull out of the deep depression that the death of two of her children plunged her into – a tragedy she prefers not to discuss.

“It’s the land that has pulled her up,” said Mancilla, smiling at Molina standing by her side.

Forced autonomy

Despite the traditional machismo, women in Patagonia have always had to shoulder the burden of growing and managing their family’s food, taking care of the livestock, tending the vegetable garden and fruit trees, chopping wood, running rural tourism activities, and making crafts, besides their childcare and household tasks.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this was an inhospitable territory, but they also managed the social organisation in the new communities that emerged here,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS.

“The men worked with the livestock or timber, and left home twice a year for four or five months at a time. So women got used to managing on their own and not depending on their men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Despite that central role played by women, “when government officials would go to the countryside, they would always talk to the men,” Patricia Mancilla said.

“They didn’t understand that behind them were the women, who were key to the success of production,” she added.

The look on the faces of these three women, all of them married and with children of different ages, changes as they walk around their land, where wonderful aromas arise from their crops in the plots surrounded by the Patagonian hills.

They have known each other since they and another small group of women founded the association over a decade ago, with support from the Programme for the Training of Peasant Women, backed by an agreement between the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women, two government institutions.

The programme, created in 1992, has the aim of supporting women from smallholder families, to help boost their income by means of economic and productive activities in rural areas. So far, 20,000 women have benefited from the programme.

Molina said that with the help of the programme, “women now have more rights and bring in their own incomes to help put food on the table.”

Millar, who makes crafts in wool, leather and wood in Ñirehuao, 80 km from Coyhaique, concurred. “Rural women have been empowered and are learning their rights,” she said.

The three agreed that Aysén is a region where machismo or sexism has historically been very strong. “That’s still true today, but we are gradually conquering it,” Mancilla said.

They said they ran into the strongest resistance to their association, in fact, inside their homes.

“In the great majority of our cases, (our husbands) would quip ‘so you’re leaving the house?’ and when we would return they would say ‘what were you doing? Just wasting time’,” Mancilla said.

But despite the initial resistance, their husbands are now proud of them, because they see what their wives have achieved. “Now they accompany us – especially when we roast a calf,” one of the three women said with a laugh.

The challenge they are now facing “is to have a hectare of our own, for the organisation, to do the training there, and to buy a truck so we can easily go to the local markets and be available when women need a ride, especially the older women,” Mancilla said.

Water woes

But there is a bigger challenge: to gain their own water rights so they don’t have to depend on a company to obtain the water they need.

Chile’s Water Code was put into effect by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It made water private property, giving the state the authority to grant water use rights to companies, free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking use priorities into consideration.

“Why should we pay for water rights if people were born and raised in the countryside and always had access to water?” asked Mancilla. “Why should small farmers pay more taxes?”

The women said that each member throws everything into their products.

“Everything we do, we do with love: if we make cheese, we do it with the greatest of care; you want it to be good because your income depends on it. Nancy’s woven goods, Blanca’s vegetables – we do it all with passion,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Damhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 00:04:11 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140183 Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.

The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August.

Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank.

Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month.

The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations.

The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km.

In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.”

Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”.

Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant.

“The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.”

She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years.

The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities.

Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Rural Women in Latin America Define Their Own Kind of Feminismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:50:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140182 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/feed/ 1 Clean Cookstoves Could Change the Lives of Millions in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/clean-cookstoves-could-change-the-lives-of-millions-in-nepal/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 22:28:18 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140163 In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by indoor air pollution. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
PHARPING, Nepal, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

When 26-year-old Laxmi married into the Archaya household in Chhaimale village, Pharping, south of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, she didn’t think she would be spending half the day in the kitchen inhaling smoke from the stove.

“The smoke made me cough so much I couldn’t breathe. It was difficult to cook,” the young woman tells IPS.

“[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world's most pressing health and environmental problems.” -- Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
At the time, the family was using a rudimentary cookstove, the kind that has been found to be inefficient, unsafe and unhealthy. These stoves release hazardous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter and nitrous oxide, cause burns and sometimes disfigurement and put million of people – particularly women – at risk of severe health problems.

The toxic gases are known to create respiratory problems, pneumonia, blindness, heart diseases, cancer and even low birth rates. Every year 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide are attributed to indoor air pollution.

In Nepal almost 22 million people are affected by it.

Six months ago, Laxmi and her father-in-law realised that the women in their neighbourhood, a village of about 4,000 people, were getting their housework done faster and had free time to do other things.

When Laxmi’s father-in-law went to investigate, he found that they were using improved cookstoves and the family immediately decided to upgrade.

“I wanted to install improved cookstoves before, but I didn’t have an idea of how to go about it, or what organisations I could approach to ask for help,” Damodar Acharya, Laxmi’s father-in-law, tells IPS.

Fortunately for the Acharya family, the U.S.-based organisation Global Peace Foundation (GPF) had been working in the village and helping communities build mud-brick clean stoves with locally available materials.

Unlike traditional stoves, clean cookstoves have airtight chambers that prevent smoke from escaping into cramped kitchens. They also have small chimneys through which poisonous exhausts can exit the house.

“The [organisation] took 500 rupees [about five dollars] from us, but they did everything, including mixing raw materials, building the stove and teaching us how to clean them every few weeks,” Damodar Acharya explains.

According to Khila Ghale, of GPF-Nepal, the five-dollar fee includes “the labour charges of the stove master to build the stove, the cost of bricks, three or four types of rods, and the materials that make up the chimney.”

The entire cost of a two-hole mud brick stove ranges between 12 and 15 dollars. There is no government subsidy on improved cookstoves, so organisations like GPF help financially whenever they can.

However, the amount is still too much for most families in Nepal, where more than 75 percent of the population earns less than 1.25 dollars per day.

Ghale, who works directly with communities in raising awareness about the benefits of improved cookstoves, says in order to make them sustainable, it is important to monitor their use, talk to the communities about the benefits and challenges and make them aware that the stoves have to be properly maintained.

“The stove is sustainable but it has to be cleaned [and] repaired properly for long term use. It is unreasonable to expect it to work forever, but if maintained properly, it can be sustainable,” he says.

“If we can make families aware of the benefits, especially about the health benefits for women and children, the stoves [could] become an essential part of the household.”

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, over 80 percent of Nepali people use solid fuels such as wood and cow dung for cooking. In this country of 28 million, over 75 percent of households cook indoors, and 90 percent cook on open fires.

In January 2013 the government of Nepal announced clean cooking solutions for all by 2017. This initiative is in line with the United Nation Foundation’s Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves project, which aims to adopt clean cooking solutions for 100 million households worldwide by 2020.

The Global Alliance claims, “[Open] fires and traditional cookstoves and fuels is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems.”

Indeed, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that the three billion people worldwide who rely on solid fuels and indoor open fires for cooking suffer severe health impacts from the pollution. More men, women and children die each day as a result of exposure to indoor air pollution than die from malaria and tuberculosis.

A few weeks after the Acharya family built their clean cookstove, Laxmi’s neighbour Durga and her husband decided they also wanted one.

Durga Sharma tells IPS, “I have to cook early in the morning because I have two kids who go to school.” Using an improved cookstove has made her life easier, she says, and is keeping her family healthier.

Nepali women like Durga and Laxmi spend over five hours in the kitchen every day. Today, with improved cookstoves their cooking time is cut in half, and they have to use 50 percent less firewood.

In addition, they are much more environmentally-friendly than burning solid fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) black carbon, which traditional cookstoves produce, is the second biggest climate pollutant after carbon dioxide.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Asia says accounts for 40 percent of black carbon, which is responsible for altering monsoon patterns, adversely impacting agriculture and damaging water supplies. Thus, experts say, implementing cleaner cooking solutions for millions of households worldwide will feed automatically into global goals to reduce carbon emissions.

Back in Chhaimale village, around midday, Laxmi and Durga have already finished their housework for the day, and have even had the time to run errands.

Both women want to use the extra time they have to do what they love: Durga hopes to sell sundried vegetables in the local market and Laxmi is thinking about joining evening classes to complete her Masters degree programme, options they would simply not have had before.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Antigua Draws a Line in the Vanishing Sandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/antigua-draws-a-line-in-the-sand/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:32:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140156 A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A section of Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, that is being eroded by the sea. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Jabberwock beach, located on the northeastern coast of Antigua, features a mile-long white sand beach and is a favourite with locals and visitors alike. 

But Freeston Williams, a resident who frequents the area for exercise and other recreational activities, is worried that the beach is quickly disappearing."We believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.” -- Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne

“I travel around the Jabberwock area on the northern side of the island and I notice the shoreline is coming in closer to the road which means that it’s minimising the area we use for exercise,” Williams told IPS.”I am not sure what exactly is causing all this but sooner or later we will not have any beach left.”

Antigua and Barbuda’s chief environment officer Diann Black-Layne said the sea level is in fact rising and she is mobilising legislators and residents of the small island-nation to become “climate ready” by implementing national activities on climate change.

“In the past 10 years we have experienced three droughts in Antigua. The temperature of the Caribbean Sea will have summer temperatures all the time. This means hurricane season will be all year round,” Black-Layne told IPS.

Pointing to the consequences of a two-degree C increase in global temperatures as outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Black-Layne said there would be disruption of livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

“For persons living in the tropics it will just be too hot, every building will have to be air-conditioned – schools, churches, clinics, prisons,” she said.

“There would also be failure of infrastructure such as roads, seaports, airports and buildings; plants and animals, including humans, would die during periods of extreme heat; there will be a breakdown of agricultural systems resulting in food prices increasing; there will be insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity; and tropical species of fish will move to cooler waters resulting in a reduction of fishing in the Caribbean.”

Tourism is the mainstay of the economy of Antigua and Barbuda and is the leading sector in terms of providing employment and creating foreign exchange. But the outlook for reefs in this tourism-dependent nation is also grim.

At around 1.5 degrees C, about 89 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching; at two degrees C, up to 100 percent of coral reefs are projected to experience severe bleaching by the 2050s; and around four degrees C, virtually all coral reefs would be subjected to severe bleaching events annually.

Signing the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, world leaders agreed to keep temperature increases resulting from heat-trapping emissions to less than two degrees C, a target aimed at limiting dangerously disruptive climate impacts.

A policy target informed by science, two degrees C is the formally codified benchmark, the line in the sand by which nations have agreed to measure collective success in providing  generations to come with a secure climate future.

The IPCC said global average surface temperatures have risen about 0.85 degrees C since 1900 and cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. It finds that having a greater than 66 percent probability of keeping warming caused by CO2 emissions alone to below two degrees C requires limiting total further emissions to between 370-540 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC).

At current rates of CO2 emissions (about 9.5 GtC per year), the world will hurtle past the two C carbon budget in less than 50 years. And this conservatively assumes that emissions rates don’t continue on their current upward trajectory of 3 percent per year.

In a bid to increase awareness of climate change here, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is spearheading a two-day workshop Apr. 14-15 under its Rallying the Region to Action on Climate Change (RRACC) project, an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

An OECS official said participants are being updated on the current awareness levels on the island and will brainstorm to determine ways to increase the nation’s consciousness. Participants are drawn from the sectors most affected by climate change.

“It will specifically seek to discuss the climate ready campaign which is currently ongoing, including results of a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey on climate change awareness in the OECS,” OECS Communication Specialist Tecla Fontenard told IPS.

“We have data that shows what levels of awareness people already have and where the gaps are and we also have data from Antigua. The workshop will also determine priorities for a communication action plan for Antigua that considers critical climate change issues in four major sectors – agriculture, tourism, marine and coastal as well as the water sector.”

Antigua and other countries in the OECS have a heightened vulnerability to many of the economic and environmental pressures that are emerging globally. This vulnerability, coupled with fragile natural and cultural assets and inherent social challenges, presents a special urgency to the sustainable development goals of the region.

Climate change, one of the most significant ongoing challenges to countries in the OECS, is forecast to have devastating environmental, social and economic consequences on OECS countries and Black-Layne said the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne will have to develop adaptation strategies, during the next two terms, in order to address several issues including sea level rise and salt water intruding below the island to affect all wells.

“A significant 100 percent of potable water will have to come from desalination, the conch industry will be damaged because of ocean acidification and fisher folk will have to adapt and move into other areas of work,” she said.

But Black-Layne said all is not lost.

“From the Environment Division perspective, when you hear the pronouncements and the predicted impacts of climate change on our country it’s not very encouraging. In fact it’s very depressing and the temptation would be to say what’s the point of doing what we’re doing,” she said.

“But we believe that there is always a point of redemption and I don’t think we’ve gone beyond that point.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Acid Attacks Still a Burning Issue in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 04:32:46 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140150 Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Vinita Panikker, 26, considers herself “the world’s most unfortunate woman”.

Three years ago, a jealous husband, who suspected her of having an affair with her boss at a software company, poured a whole bottle of hydrochloric acid on her face while she was asleep. The fiery liquid seared her flesh, blighting her face almost entirely while blinding her in one eye.

"It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most." -- Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor and founder of the Palash Foundation
What remains today of a once pretty visage is a disfigured and taut stretch of burnt skin with nose, lips, and eyelids flattened out almost completely. Despite spending 10,000 dollars on 12 reconstructive surgeries and two eye operations, the acid attack survivor is still partially blind.

From earning a five-figure salary as a software professional, Panikker today ekes out a living as a cook at a local non-profit. “My life has taken a 180-degree turn,” she tells IPS. “From a successful career woman, I’m now a social reject with neither resources nor family to call my own.”

Acid attacks in India have ravaged the lives of thousands of young women whose only fault was that they repudiated marriage proposals, rejected sexual advances from men they didn’t fancy, or were caught in the crossfire of domestic disputes.

In India’s patriarchal society, men who take umbrage at being spurned turn to acid as a retributive weapon.

“Acid attacks severely damage and burn skin tissue, often exposing and even dissolving the bones,” explains Rohit Bhargava, senior consultant dermatologist with Max Hospital in Noida, a suburban district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where 185 out of 309 acid attacks reported in 2014 took place.

“Long-term consequences include blindness, permanent scarring of the face and body, disability and lifelong physical disfigurement,” the doctor tells IPS.

But some survivors, whose appearance changes overnight, say the psychological scars are the ones that take longest to heal. There are social ramifications too, as the attacks usually leave victims disabled in some way, thereby increasing their dependence on family members for even the most basic daily activities.

Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor who launched the Palash Foundation to address social reintegration and livelihood alternatives for people with disfigurement, says social exclusion is far more painful than any physical injury inflicted on an acid attack victim. “It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most,” she tells IPS.

In 1998, Juwaley’s husband doused her with acid after she sought a divorce. Despite several police complaints, he still roams free, while Juwaley has had to painfully piece her life back together again.

Today she has a busy schedule, and travels the world addressing conferences and symposia on the social, financial and psychological impact of acid burns. Her organisation also studies the social exclusion of people who live with altered bodies.

Slow progress on legal deterrents

The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a London-based charity, tentatively estimates that some 1,000 acid attacks occur every year in India. However, in the absence of official statistics, campaigners put the true figure even higher: at roughly 400 every month.

“The fear of reprisals inhibits many women from coming forward to report their ordeal,” explains Ashish Shukla, a coordinator at Stop Acid Attacks, a Delhi-based non-profit that has rehabilitated and empowered over 100 acid attack victims since its inception in 2013.

“In India, acid attacks are even worse than rape as the victims, who are usually female, are subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Most of the women are shunned and ostracised […],” explains Shukla.

The activist adds that public and government apathy results in a double victimisation of the survivors. “They are forced to repeatedly appear in court, recount their trauma, and [visit] doctors even as they grapple with their personal tragedy of physical disfigurement, loss of employment and social discrimination,” elaborates the activist.

As per the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, a person convicted of carrying out an acid attack in India can be sentenced to anything from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The Supreme Court ruled on Jul. 16, 2013, that all states regulate the sale of easily available substances like hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acids – common choices among perpetrators – adding that buyers must provide a photo identity card to any retailer, who in turn should record each customer’s name and address.

However, most retailers IPS spoke to demonstrated complete ignorance of the law. “This is the first time I’m hearing about this ruling,” Suresh Gupta, owner of Gupta Stores, a small, family-owned outfit in Noida, tells IPS.

Campaigners say that this horrific form of gender-based violence will not end until the government makes it much harder for offenders to procure their weapon of choice; currently, one-litre bottles of acid can be purchased over the counter without a prescription for as little as 33 cents.

The Supreme Court has condemned the Centre for failing to formulate a strong enough policy to curb acid sales. In early April, the Court directed private hospitals to treat acid attack survivors free of cost, and additionally ruled that states must take action against medical facilities that fail to comply with this directive.

Experts say India should take a leaf out of the books of neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh by firming up implementation of existing laws. In Bangladesh, acid assaults have plummeted from 492 cases in 2002 to 75 last year, according to ASTI, since the government introduced the death penalty for acid attacks.

Stiffer legislation in Pakistan has resulted in a 300-percent rise in the number of women coming forward to report the crime.

Progress in India has been slower, although the state governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have set a good precedent by funding the entire cost of medical treatment for some acid attack survivors.

Ritu Saa is one such example. The 20-year-old who had to give up her studies following an acid attack in 2012 by her cousin is today a financially independent woman. She works at the Cafe Sheroes’ Hangout, an initiative launched by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, which employs several survivors.

“The campaign and the government have really helped me a lot,” Saa tells IPS. “Today, I have a job, a decent salary, good food, accommodation and am standing on my own feet.”

While acid attacks have traditionally been perceived as a problem involving male perpetrators and female victims, advocates say that attacks on men are also surging, with a third of all cases reported each year involving males embroiled in property or financial disputes.

Rights activists and campaigners contend that until the government formulates and enforces a multi-pronged approach to ending this grisly practice, scores of people in this country of 1.2 billion remain at risk of suffering a fate that some say is worse than death.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cyclone Pam Worsens Hardship in Port Vila’s Urban Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cyclone-pam-worsens-hardship-in-port-vilas-urban-settlements/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 16:06:34 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140133 Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Port Vila's informal settlements, characterised by vulnerable housing, were destroyed by Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on Mar. 13, 2015. Credit: International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which swept through the South Pacific Island state of Vanuatu in mid-March, has deepened hardships faced by people living in the informal settlements of the capital, Port Vila. Winds of up to 340 kph and torrential rain shattered precarious homes, cut off fragile public services and flooded communities with unsealed roads, poor drainage and sanitation.

“Eighty percent of my community has been affected by the cyclone,” Joel, a Port Vila resident, told IPS, describing that his house was damaged by gale force winds. “We have enough food, but the quality of the water has been very bad.”

“Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge." -- Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office
Other city residents saw their homes completely destroyed. In the last week, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) found 50 people still sheltering in a shed-like structure in the informal settlements a month after the cyclone. They are in need of food, water and sanitation as they wait for assistance to rebuild their homes.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands and an estimated 265,000 people located northeast of Australia. Sixty-three percent of the population, or close to 166,000 people, were affected by Cyclone Pam, which counted a death toll of 11 and is thought to be the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

The main urban centre of Port Vila, situated on the southwest coast of Efate Island, is very exposed to severe weather and sea surges. An estimated 30-40 percent of its 44,000 residents live in informal settlements, such as Freswota and Seaside. Here, sub-standard housing, inadequate basic services and overcrowding all contribute to a poverty rate of 18 percent in Port Vila, in contrast to 10 percent in rural areas.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam, Peter Korisa, operations manager at Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office, said, “Most of the displaced in urban and peri-urban areas have been highly devastated and are vulnerable to future shocks. The scale of devastation to homes and infrastructure is huge. Bridges and roads have also been damaged and that will definitely be a high cost in the recovery effort.”

Frido Herinckx, head of the International Red Cross support team in Vanuatu, told IPS that he had witnessed serious damage in the urban settlements. “During the first week after the cyclone there were 43 evacuation centres in Port Vila supporting 4,000-5,000 people,” he said.

United Nations Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said this past Friday that only 36 percent of the U.N.’s ‘flash appeal’ for 30 million dollars has so far been pledged. He called attention to the fact that 111,000 people have no access to safe drinking water, and warned that the destruction of 90 percent of the country’s crops spelled danger for those who rely on agriculture for a livelihood.

While most people live in rural areas, urbanisation, driven by people seeking jobs and services, is happening at a rapid rate of four percent in Vanuatu, exceeding the state’s capacity to scale up urban planning. One quarter of the national population is now urban and that is predicted to increase to 53 percent by 2050.

Situated on the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and in a tropical climate zone south of the equator, with a cyclone season from November to April, the developing island state is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones and tsunamis.

It has been hit by at least 20 damaging cyclones in the past 25 years and only one year has passed since Cyclone Lusi impacted 20,000 people across northern and central provinces, destroying villages and crops, in 2014. According to the United Nations, Vanuatu has the most exposed population to natural disasters in the world, at 63.6 percent.

The vulnerability of the urban population is heightened by the makeshift state of 27 percent of houses in the capital. Constructing a strong, resilient house is too expensive and financial credit is unaffordable for many residents who live on low wages.

In the Freswota settlement area, home to 7,000-8,000 people, Chief Kalanga Sawia explained, “The government’s objective is to provide housing for the people, but they can only provide the land. The government doesn’t have the financial resources to build houses as well.”

Therefore, people have turned to building improvised dwellings as best they can with salvaged or cheaply bought materials, such as timber, corrugated iron, tin and fabric.

While power, water and communication services were all crippled by the disaster, Herinckx said, “[B]asic services are now back to the state they were before the cyclone, which is not optimal.”

Residents of the Freswota 2 sub-settlement, for instance, usually have access to a water supply, but only half have electricity. Across the country, only 28 percent of people have access to electricity and 64 percent to sanitation.

Recognising the threat disasters pose to lives, development efforts and the economy, the Vanuatu Government has worked to strengthen the nation’s disaster preparedness.

Nine years ago, it became the first Pacific Island country to integrate disaster risk management into national planning and, in 2013, a new state-of-the-art disaster warning centre capable of monitoring volcanic, seismic, and tsunami activity, operating 24/7, opened in Port Vila.

As Cyclone Pam approached, new technology was used to issue warnings and advice to people via text messages, reaching more than 80 percent of the population.

However, as one of the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Vanuatu has minimal capacity to cope with the relentless destructive toll of catastrophes year upon year. Korisa, of the National Disaster Management Office, claims that post-disaster recovery in Port Vila’s settlements will be very slow and hindered by land tenure issues, finance and resource constraints.

Currently the Red Cross is helping people in the settlements to build back better after the cyclone “by advising people on simple methods of building homes so they are more stress resistant,” Herinckx said.

But looking to the future, Korisa emphasised that more investment is needed in urban disaster risk reduction measures.

“For instance, the building code needs to be applied and enforced in all dwellings, including private, commercial and public buildings, and land use planning policy needs to be improved and implemented.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Warns of Growing Divide Between Nuclear Haves and Have-Notshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-warns-of-growing-divide-between-nuclear-haves-and-have-nots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-warns-of-growing-divide-between-nuclear-haves-and-have-nots http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-warns-of-growing-divide-between-nuclear-haves-and-have-nots/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 11:45:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140129 Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the 2013 session of the Conference on Disarmament. Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the 2013 session of the Conference on Disarmament. Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2015 (IPS)

As she prepared to leave office after more than three years, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane painted a dismal picture of a conflicted world: it is “not the best of times for disarmament.”

The warning comes against the backdrop of a new Cold War on the nuclear horizon and spreading military conflicts in the politically–volatile Middle East, including in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen."The return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage." -- Jayantha Dhanapala

“The prospects for further nuclear arms reductions are dim and we may even be witnessing a roll-back of the hard-won disarmament gains of the last 25 years,” she told the Disarmament Commission last week.

In one of her final speeches before the world body, the outgoing U.N. under-secretary-general said, “I have never seen a wider divide between nuclear-haves and nuclear have-nots over the scale and pace of nuclear disarmament.”

Kane’s warning is a realistic assessment of the current impasse – even as bilateral nuclear arms reductions between the United States and Russia have virtually ground to a standstill, according to anti-nuclear activists.

There are signs even of reversal of gains already made, for example, with respect to the longstanding U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

No multilateral negotiations on reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals are in sight, and all arsenals are being modernised over the next decades.

And contrary to the promise made by the 2010 NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, a proposed international conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East never got off the ground.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LNCP), told IPS: “As the world heads into the NPT Review Conference, Apr. 27-May 22, is nuclear disarmament therefore doomed or at least indefinitely suspended?”

Not necessarily, he said.

The tensions – with nuclear dimensions – arising out of the Ukraine crisis may yet spark some sober rethinking of current trends, said Burroughs, who is also director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

After all, he pointed out, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis served to stimulate subsequent agreements, among them the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco establishing the Latin American nuclear weapons free zone, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the 1972 US-Russian strategic arms limitation agreement and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said the “Thirteen Steps” agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference and the 64-point Action Programme, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal and the conceptual breakthrough on recognising the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, augured well for the strengthened review process.

“And yet the report cards meticulously maintained by civil society on actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage,” he added.

Unless the upcoming NPT Review Conference reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT, Dhanapala warned.

A stocktaking exercise is relevant, he added.

In 1995, he said, “We had five nuclear weapon states and one outside the NPT. Today, we have nine nuclear weapon armed states – four of them outside the NPT.

“In 1970, when the NPT entered into force, we had a total of 38,153 nuclear warheads. Today, over four decades later, we have 16,300 – just 21,853 less – with over 4,000 on deployed status and the promise by the two main nuclear weapon states to reduce their deployed arsenals by 30 percent to 1550 each within seven years of the new START entering into force.”

Another NPT nuclear weapon state, the UK is on the verge of renewing its Trident nuclear weapon programme, he pointed out.

Turning to the issue of conventional weapons, Kane said: “We are flooded daily with images of the brutal and internecine regional conflicts bedevilling the globe – conflicts fuelled by unregulated and illegal arms flows.”

It is estimated that more than 740,000 men, women, and children die each year as a result of armed violence.

“However, in the midst of these dark clouds, I have seen some genuine bright spots during my tenure as high representative,” Kane said.

The bitter conflict in Syria will not, in the words of the secretary-general, be brought to a close without an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, but Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, facilitated by the Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons agreed upon between the Russian Federation and the United States of America, has been one positive outcome from this bloody conflict, she added.

“We have seen the complete removal of all declared chemicals from Syria and the commencement of a process to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities.”

Emerging from the so-called ‘disarmament malaise’, the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, supported by a clear majority of states – as illustrated by the 155 states that supported New Zealand’s statement in the First Committee – has continued to gather momentum, Kane told delegates.

“This is not a distraction from the so-called ‘realist’ politics of nuclear disarmament. Rather, it is an approach that seeks to underscore the devastating human impact of nuclear weapons and ground them in international humanitarian law,” she said.

“This movement is supported by almost 80 percent of U.N. member states. The numbers cannot be ignored.”

One of the international community’s major achievements in the last year has been to bring the Arms Trade Treaty into force only a year and a half after it was negotiated.

This truly historic treaty will play a critical role in ensuring that all actors involved in the arms trade must be held accountable and must be expected to comply with internationally agreed standards, Kane said.

This is possible, she pointed out, by ensuring that their arms exports are not going to be used to violate arms embargoes or to fuel conflict and by exercising better control over arms and ammunition imports in order to prevent diversion or re-transfers to unauthorised users.

“To my mind, these achievements all highlight the possibility of achieving breakthroughs in disarmament and non-proliferation even in the most trying of international climates,” Kane declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Nepal: A Trailblazer in Biodiversity Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nepal-a-trailblazer-in-biodiversity-conservation/#comments Sat, 11 Apr 2015 04:01:35 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140118 Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal’s Chitwan National Park has become one of Asia's success stories in wildlife conservation. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
CHITWAN, Nepal, Apr 11 2015 (IPS)

At dusk, when the early evening sun casts its rays over the lush landscape, the Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 200 km south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a place of the utmost tranquility.

As a flock of the endangered lesser adjutant stork flies over the historic Narayani River, a left bank tributary of the Ganges in India, this correspondent’s 65-year-old forest guide Jiyana Mahato asks for complete silence: this is the time of day when wild animals gather near the water. Not far away, a swamp deer takes its bath at the river’s edge.

“A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.” -- Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC)
“The sight of humans drives them away,” explains Mahato, a member of the Tharu indigenous ethnic group who play a key role in supporting the government’s wildlife conservation efforts here.

“We need to return now,” he tells IPS. The evening is not a safe time for humans to be wandering around these parts, especially now that the country’s once-dwindling tiger and rhinoceros populations are on the rise.

Mahato is the ideal guide. He has been around to witness the progress that has been made since the national park was first established in 1963, providing safe haven to 56 species of mammals.

Today, Chitwan is at the forefront of Nepal’s efforts to conserve its unique biodiversity. Earlier this year, it became the first country in the world to implement a new conservation tool, created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), known as the Conservation Assured | Tiger Standard (CA|TS).

Established to encourage effective management and monitoring of critically endangered species and their habitats, CA|TS has received endorsement from the likes of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Global Tiger Forum, who intend to deploy the tool worldwide as a means of achieving global conservation targets set out in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Experts say that the other 12 Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) should follow Nepal’s example. This South Asian nation of 27 million people had a declining tiger population – just 121 creatures – in 2009, but intense conservation efforts have yielded an increase to 198 wild tigers in 2013, according to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020.

Indeed, Nepal is leading the way on numerous conservation fronts, both in the region and worldwide. With 20 protected zones covering over 34,000 square km – or 23 percent of Nepal’s total landmass – it now ranks second in Asia for the percentage of protected surface area relative to land size. Globally it ranks among the world’s top 20 nations with the highest percentage of protected land.

In just eight years, between 2002 and 2010, Nepal added over 6,000 square km to its portfolio of protected territories, which include 10 national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, six conservation areas and over 5,600 hectares of ‘buffer zone’ areas that surround nine of its national parks.

These steps are crucial to maintaining Nepal’s 118 unique ecosystems, as well as endangered species like the one-horned rhinoceros whose numbers have risen from 354 in 2006 to 534 in 2011 according to the CBD.

Collaboration key to conservation

Sher Singh Thagunna, development officer for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), tells IPS, “A lot of our success was due to our close collaboration with local communities who depend on biodiversity conservation for their livelihoods.”

 

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Nepal has classified over 34,000 square km – roughly 23 percent of its landmass – into a range of protected areas. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Those like Mahato, for whom conservation is not an option but a way of life, have partnered with the government on a range of initiatives including efforts to prevent poaching. Some 3,500 youths from local communities have been enlisted in anti-poaching activities throughout the national parks, tasked with patrolling tens of thousands of square km.

Collaborative conservation has taken major strides in the last decade. In 2006, the government passed over management of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in eastern Nepal to a local management council, marking the first time a protected area has been placed in the hands of a local committee.

According to Nepal’s latest national biodiversity strategy, by 2012 all of the country’s declared buffer zones, which cover 27 districts and 83 village development committees (VDCs), were being collectively managed by about 700,000 local people organised into 143 ‘buffer zone user committees’ and 4,088 ‘buffer zone user groups’.

Other initiatives, like the implementation of community forestry programmes – which as of 2013 “involved 18,133 forest user groups representing 2.2 million households managing 1.7 million hectares of forestland”, according to the study – have helped turn the tide on deforestation and promote the sustainable use of forest resources by locals.

Since 2004 the department of forests has created 20 collaborative forests spread out over 56,000 hectares in 10 districts of the Terai, a rich belt of marshes and grasslands located on the outer foothills of the Himalayas.

In addition, a leasehold forestry programme rolled out in 39 districts has combined conservation with poverty alleviation, providing a livelihood to over 7,400 poor households by involving them in the sustainable management and harvesting of selected forest-related products, while simultaneously protecting over 42,000 hectares of forested land.

Forest loss and degradation is a major concern for the government, with a 2014 country report to the CBD noting that 55 species of mammals and 149 species of birds – as well as numerous plant varieties – are under threat.

Given that Nepal is home to 3.2 percent of the world’s flora, these trends are worrying, but if the government keeps up its track record of looping locals into conservation efforts, it will soon be able to reverse any negative trends.

Of course, none of these efforts on the ground would be possible without the right attitude at the “top”, experts say.

“There is a high [degree] of political commitment at the top government level,” Ghanashyam Gurung, senior conservation programme director for WWF-Nepal, tells IPS. This, in turn, has created a strong mechanism to curb the menace of poaching.

With security forces now actively involved in the fight against poaching, Nepal is bucking the global trend, defying a powerful, 213-billion-dollar annual industry by going two years without a single reported incident of poaching, DPNWC officials say.

Although other threats remain – including burning issues like an increasing population that suggests an urgent need for better urban planning, as well as the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters like glacial lake outburst floods and landslides that spell danger for its mountain ecosystems – Nepal is blazing a trail that other nations would do well to follow.

“Conservation is a long process and Nepal’s efforts have shown that good planning works […],” Janita Gurung, biodiversity conservation and management specialist for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Plunging Oil Prices Won’t Kill Vaca Muertahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/plunging-oil-prices-wont-kill-vaca-muerta/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:42:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140111 The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Loma Campana camp where YPF and Chevron produce shale oil in the southwest Argentine province of Neuquén. So far, the plunging of oil prices has not modified the costely development of this unconventional fuel. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

Despite the precipitous fall in global oil prices, Argentina has continued to follow its strategy of producing unconventional shale oil, although in the short term there could be problems attracting the foreign investment needed to exploit the Vaca Muerta shale deposit.

The uncertainty has come on the heels of the initial euphoria over the exploitation of shale oil and gas, of which Argentina has some of the world’s largest reserves.

Is the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in intensive care, now that the price of a barrel of oil has plummeted from 110 dollars to under 50 in just seven months? That is the question repeated by financial and oil industry experts.

Argentina’s energy trade deficit climbed to almost seven billion dollars in 2014, partly due to the decline in the country’s conventional oil reserves.

Eliminating that deficit depends on the development of Vaca Muerta, a major shale oil and gas deposit in the Neuquén basin in southwest Argentina. At least 10 billion dollars a year in investment are needed over the next few years to tap into this source of energy.“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so.” -- Víctor Bronstein

“In the short term, it would be best to import, rather than exploit the shale resources,” Víctor Bronstein, the director of the Centre of Studies on Energy, Policy and Society, told IPS.

“But taking a more strategic view, investment in and development of these resources must be kept up, since oil prices are going to start climbing again in the near future and we have to have the capacity to produce our own resources when that happens,” he added.

That is how President Cristina Fernández saw things, he said, when she set a domestic price of 72 dollars a barrel – “40 percent above its international value” – among other production incentives that were adopted to shore up Vaca Muerta.

According to the state oil company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Vaca Muerta multiplied Argentina’s oil reserves by a factor of 10 and its gas reserves by a factor of 40, which will enable this country not only to be self-sufficient in energy but also to become a net exporter of oil and gas.

YPF has been assigned 12,000 of the 30,000 sq km of the shale oil and gas deposit in the province of Neuquén.

The company admits that to exploit the deposit, it will need to partner with transnational corporations capable of providing capital. It has already done so with the U.S.-based Chevron in the Loma Campana deposit, where it had projected a price of 80 dollars a barrel this year.

“Who is going to invest in unconventional oil and gas at the current prices?” the vice president of the Grupo Moreno, Gustavo Calleja, commented to IPS.

“We have to hold on to Vaca Muerta and continue studying its deposits in just a few pilot wells, to see how deep they are and what kind of drilling is necessary to keep down costs and curb the environmental impacts,” said Calleja, who was the government’s undersecretary of fuel in the 1980s.

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

YPF technicians working on one of the shale oil drilling rigs in the Loma Campana shale gas field in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to extract shale oil and gas, involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and chemical additives into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

Besides being very costly, fracking poses environmental risks, as it requires huge volumes of water, pollutes aquifers, and can cause earthquakes.

The shale boom that began in the United States in 2008 was driven, among other factors, by high oil prices, which provided a profit margin.

“At the current prices only those who have cutting-edge technology can develop their shale reserves,” said Calleja.

The cost of producing a barrel of shale oil is based on variables such as extraction, exploration, investment amortization and the payment of taxes and royalties. In the United States, the cost is calculated at between 40 and 70 dollars.

That fact, explained Bronstein, led to an over 30 percent reduction in drilling activity since prices fell, “which will bring down production over the next few months.”

In Argentina, shale development is just starting, which means costs are high “due to a question of scale and problems of logistics and infrastructure,” said the expert.

In the United States, “developing a shale well, including fracking, costs around three million dollars,” while in Argentina “it costs more than twice that,” he said.

“The cost of extracting conventional oil in Argentina ranges between 20 and 30 dollars a barrel, while it costs around 90 dollars to extract a barrel of shale oil, although that will gradually go down as Vaca Muerta is developed,” he said.

Argentina does not yet produce shale gas on a commercial scale, as it still has large reserves of conventional gas. YPF’s shale oil production represents 10 percent of the company’s total output, and between three and four percent of the oil extracted by all operating companies in the country.

Canada and China produce unconventional oil on a commercial scale. But due to their geologic and operative characteristics, the United States and Argentina are seen as having the greatest potential in terms of future production of shale oil and gas.

YPF argues that with the gradual reduction in production costs, a rise in output, and higher domestic oil prices, Vaca Muerta is still profitable.

The industry is waiting for the collapse in prices to bring down the costs of international inputs and services, thus reducing the high domestic industrial costs.

YPF has also signed agreements for the joint exploitation of shale deposits with Malaysia’s Petronas and Dow Chemical of the United States, while other transnational corporations have announced their intention to invest in Vaca Muerta.

Bronstein believes the investments will continue to flow in because they were planned with an eye to “significant production in five years.”

“This means investors don’t take the current price of crude oil into account as much as the future price. And virtually all analysts agree that oil prices will rally within a few years,” he said.

“Conventional oil production has peaked, so to meet the rise in demand it will be necessary to develop unconventional sources. And Argentina is one of the best-placed countries to do so,” Bronstein added.

Cristian Folgar, who was undersecretary of fuels last decade, said “any snapshot of the market today would be distorted because the costs of different oil industry services have not yet settled.”

“YPF will continue to forge ahead and will not slow down investments that depend on its decision because the company currently channels its entire flow of investment into Argentina,” he told IPS.

In his view, international corporations will reduce their investments at a global level, which means “YPF is not at all likely to reach new joint venture agreements with other oil companies until the situation stabilises.”

But “those who have already started to invest are not going to back out,” he added.

“Argentina continues to pay for crude and gas at the same prices as before the start of this downward price trend,” Folgar said. “Since a change of government lies just ahead, new developments will probably wait for the next government to send signals indicating what its plans are in the energy sector.”

Calleja is worried that Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, and the country that according to experts is pulling the strings of the current price collapse in order to – among other goals – push shale out of the market, “may drive prices even further down.”

In the face of what he describes as a global “war of interests”, he believes it is a good time to start looking to energy sources other than fossil fuels.

Calleja argues in favour of hydroelectricity and nuclear energy, which currently represent just 14 percent of Argentina’s energy mix, but have “lower economic and environmental costs.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Moment of Truth for the Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-moment-of-truth-for-the-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 05:22:23 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140067

In this column, Norwegian lawyer Fredrik S. Heffermehl* and Swedish civil servant Tomas Magnusson* argue that in recent years the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have not reflected the hope of the award’s founder – Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) – that the world be freed of weapons, warriors and war, or promoted the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson
OSLO, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

The Nobel Peace Prize is about to bow out to critics. As of Jan. 1, the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects the winners has a new secretary, Olav Njølstad, who announced that “changes loom” in a recent interview.

However, Njølstad added, the changes “will not be dramatic”, making it unlikely that they will satisfy the full makeover demanded by The Nobel Peace Prize Watch, a newly-formed advocacy group wishing to reverse and undo international militarism.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In a letter sent in February to the Nobel Prize awarders, the group pointed to the purpose Alfred Nobel actually had in mind and presented a selection of candidates among the 276 nominated for the 2015 prize who are actually qualified to win. The Nobel Prize awarders have promised to respond to the letter, which, along with the valid candidates, is posted on the group´s website.

The group has chosen to ignore the wishes of the Nobel Committee that has a policy of strict secrecy around candidates and the selection process. By publishing, for the first time, the full nominations of the 25 “valid candidates”, the group has made it possible for everyone to see what types of peace work Nobel actually intended the prize to promote and its “imperative urgency” in the current period.

For over one hundred years, the secrecy rule has shielded the awarders from being held responsible for its neglect of the true Nobel “champions of peace” and they have been able to get away with assertions that the winners Nobel had in mind no longer exist.

According to the group this is untrue. It says that the committee ignores the simple, indisputable – and never disputed – evidence showing that when he designated his prize to the “champions of peace”, Nobel “meant the movement and the persons who work for a demilitarised world, for law to replace power in international politics, and for all nations to commit to cooperating on the elimination of all weapons instead of competing for military superiority.”

Tomas Magnusson

Tomas Magnusson

To make the prize comply with its actual purpose will require a dramatic change of the award policy. The Nobel Peace Prize Watch therefore doubts that the impending changes, described as “undramatic”, will be sufficient to satisfy the legislation on wills and foundations and the decisions of two public agencies in Sweden tasked with overseeing that foundations spend their funds in accordance with the law.

Even if the nominations are secret, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch was able to identify 24 names properly nominated for the 2015 prize. The list of valid candidates for 2015 is dominated by Americans and by people involved is nuclear disarmament, with nominees like Japanese hibakusha (nuclear survivors) Samiteru Taniguchi and Setsuko Thurlow; U.S. lawyer Peter Weiss and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), David Krieger and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Further candidates are David Swanson, the U.S. activist for full disarmament; whistleblowers Kathryn Bolkovac, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, all from the United States; veteran organisers of a law-based world order, such as lawyers Benjamin Ferencz and Richard Falk, also from the United States; and the Womens´ International League for Peace and Freedom, formed during the First World War.

It seems as if Norwegian politicians, imbued in Western militarism and loyalty to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), are unable to understand Nobel´s idea of peace: to liberate the nations of the world from weapons, warriors and war. The idea to be supported by his will was that all nations must cooperate on disarmament.

Laureates like U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 and the European Union in 2012 both believe in military means and clearly are not the type of winners to whom Nobel dedicated his award.

If the world succeeded in realising the Nobel peace plan, this would release enormous funds to cater to human needs. It would cost only a tiny fraction of the world´s military expenditure to secure everyone access to food, clean water, housing, education, health care. It would become possible to secure decent circumstances for all people, all over the globe, poor and rich, East and West, North and South – and make them more secure in the bargain.

To a realist it must be obvious that a world filled with weapons and warriors, even nuclear weapons, is inherently an unsafe world.

In the letter requesting changes, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch refers to basic rules of law regarding wills and foundations and furthermore invokes decisions passed by two Swedish public agencies during the last few years.

The authorities expect the purpose of the Nobel testament to be respected and also that the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm will keep its Norwegian sub-committee for the peace prize under strict and effective supervision and also refrain from paying the prize amount to a winner outside the purpose Nobel actually had in mind.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, elected by the Parliament of Norway, now has until Apr. 17 to decide whether it will serve the great mandate that Nobel entrusted to it, to illuminate and promote the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel in his will called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

Governments and citizens all over the world should unite in demanding that Norwegian parliamentarians respect Nobel and help liberate us all from the very dangerous common enemy called militarism. (END/IPS 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. 

* Fredrik S. Heffermehl is a Norwegian lawyer, former Vice President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and author of Peace is Possible and The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. Tomas Magnusson is a Swedish civil servant in immigration and integration issues, and former president of the International Peace Bureau (IPB). The two are founding members of the Lay Down Your Arms Association and organisers of The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

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In Bangladesh, Gender Equality Comes on the Airwaveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-bangladesh-gender-equality-comes-on-the-airwaves/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 23:14:03 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140088 Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Community radio stations in Bangladesh provide newscasters the opportunity to discuss topics of relevance to rural women. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

Judging by how often they make headlines, one might be tempted to believe that women in Bangladesh don’t play a major role in this country’s affairs.

A recent media monitoring survey by the non-governmental organisation Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) revealed that out of 3,361 news items studied over a two-month period, “Only 16 percent of newspaper stories, 14 percent of television news [items], and 20 percent of radio news [items] considered women as subjects or interviewed them.”

“Most of our audience are poor and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular." -- Sharmin Sultana, a news anchor for Radio Pollikontho in northeastern Bangladesh
Fewer than eight percent of all the stories had women as the central focus. Of the few women who actually made an appearance on the TV screen, 97 percent were reading out the news, while just three percent fell into the category of ‘reporters’.

Only 0.03 percent of all bylined stories studied during that period carried a woman’s name.

The monitoring report found that even though more women appeared in photographs than men, they were quoted far fewer times, proving the old proverb that, in this country of 157 million people, women are still “seen and not heard.”

While these statistics might seem daunting, women across the country who are not content to sit by and wait for the situation to change have taken matters into their own hands. They are doing so by getting on the airwaves and using the radio as a tool to raise the voices of women and bring rural issues into the limelight.

Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Like the vast majority of people here they are concentrated in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population – live.

Their distance from policy-making urban centres casts a double cloak of invisibility over women: according to data gleaned from the BNPS study, a mere 12 percent of newspaper articles, seven percent of TV news items and just five percent of radio stories focused on rural or remote areas – even though urban areas cover just eight percent of this vast country’s landmass, and host just 28 percent of the population.

The absence of women and women’s issues in the media is a dangerous trend in a country that ranked 142nd out of 187 states in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s most recent Gender Inequality Index (GII), making Bangladesh one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yet, even this is not mentioned in the news: the BNPS study showed that less than one percent of over 3,000 news items surveyed made any mention of gender inequality, while only 11 news stories challenged prevailing gender stereotypes.

Given that Bangladesh has an extremely low literacy rate of 59 percent compared to the global average of 84.3 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the importance of radio cannot be underestimated.

Even in a nation where 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, radio is a widespread, relatively affordable means of plugging into the world, and is extremely popular among the millions of rural families that comprise the bulk of this country.

Lifting the voices of rural women

Momena Ferdousi, a 24-year-old student hailing from Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapai Nawabganj District, is one of the country’s up-and-coming radio professionals.

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

More and more women in Bangladesh are turning to community radio as a means of spreading awareness on women’s issues. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

She is the senior programme producer for Radio Mahananda, a community radio station launched in 2011 that caters primarily to the thousands of farming families in this agricultural region that comprises part of the 7,780-square-km Barind Tract.

She tells IPS she would not be where she is today without the support and training she, and scores of other aspiring female radio workers, received from the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC).

Fellowships and capacity-building initiatives sponsored by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 14 regional community radio stations around the country.

“The road to my employment was challenging,” Ferdousi explains, “but BNNRC saw the potential in me and [other] female journalists and I believe we have made substantial changes by addressing gaps in women’s right to information.”

Miles away, the confident voice of Sharmin Sultana on Radio Pollikontho, broadcast in the northeastern district of Moulvibazar, reaches roughly 400,000 people spread over a 17-km radius.

With five hours of daily programming that focus largely on issues relevant to rural women, Radio Pollikontho has filled a huge gap in this community.

“It is an amazing feeling to conduct a programme, interact live with guests and respond to our audience’s requests to discuss health, women’s rights, social injustice, education and agriculture,” Sultana tells IPS. “When we began we had only one programme on women’s issues, now we run five programmes weekly, exclusively dedicated to women.”

“Most of our audience are poor,” she explains, “and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular and the demand for interactive live programmes is increasing by the day.”

The difficulties facing women here in Bangladesh are legion.

Only 16.8 million women are employed in the formal sector, with the vast majority of them performing unpaid domestic labour on top of their duties in the farm or field.

A lack of financial independence makes them extremely vulnerable to domestic violence: a recent study by the deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that 87 percent of currently married women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands, while 98 percent say they have been sexually ‘violated’ by their spouses at some point during marriage.

The survey also revealed that one-third of all married women faced ‘economic abuse’ – the forcible withholding of a partner’s financial assets for the purpose of maintaining financial dependence on the perpetrator of violence.

In 2011, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence.

Other issues, like child marriage, also make pressing news bulletins for community radio stations directed at women: according to United Nations data, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthday.

The situation is bleak, but experts say that as women become educated and aware of their rights, the tide will inevitable turn for the better.

BNNRC Chief Executive Officer A H M Bazlur Rahman, who pioneered rural radio broadcasting efforts around the country, tells IPS, “Issues like budget allocation, lack of appropriate sanitation, violence against women, fighting corruption, [and] education for girls are [often] neglected by policy makers. But if we can give women a voice, these problems [will] gradually disappear.”

It remains to be seen whether or not more women’s voices on the air will uplift the half of Bangladesh’s population in need of empowerment. But every time a woman’s voice crackles to life on a radio show, it means one more woman out there is hearing her story, learning her rights and moving closer to equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Cli-fi’ to Heat Up Literature Course in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/cli-fi-to-heat-up-literature-course-in-india/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 19:53:43 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140083 Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Devastating floods in the northeastern Indian state of Assam in 2014 prompted the government to erect bamboo bridges. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

University lecture halls in North America are no strangers to the ”cli-fi” genre of climate-themed novels and movies, but now India is getting into the act as well, thanks to the pioneering work of Professor T. Ravichandran of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK) in Uttar Pradesh.

Dr. Ravichandran’s course, titled “Cli-fi and Cli-flicks,” is set to begin in late July and consists of 15 modules covering such topics as eco-fiction, eco-fabulism, and representations of climate change issues in feature films and documentaries."How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?" -- Professor T. Ravichandran

Aimed at undergraduate students at IITK, the course will be the first of its kind in all of India, Dr. Ravichandran told me in a recent email.

“In India, climate change awareness is not as acutely felt as in the U.S. or the U.K,” he said. ”My recent research on ‘Literature, Technology and Environment: Global and Pedagogical Perspectives,’ sponsored by the Fulbright-Nehru Professional and Academic fellowship from USIEF, India, and hosted at Duke University in North Carolina, was a turning point in my career.”

Dr. Ravichandran said he experienced a paradigm shift in his thinking about the way in which he connects to the natural environment during his fellowship in North Carolina.

When I asked him what he meant, he replied: “It made me to think seriously of my role as a teacher of literature to engineering students. How long will I continue to teach Shakespeare and Shelley and make them aesthetically love the beauty of daffodils or skylarks when in reality they would soon become endangered if climate change goes unchecked?”

To answer his own question, Professor Ravichandran added: “In order to make myself relevant to my existence on this Earth, I thought at least I should cause awareness on climate change in the minds of my students. So that’s how I started working on the course. In India, I hope to make this course a successful and effective one.”

Since the predominating global concern today is climate change, which obliterates geopolitical boundaries and connects humans in search of common solutions, Dr. Ravichandran is appropriating an inter-disciplinary approach for his course, he told me.

“Climate fiction (‘cli-fi’) and climate films (‘cli-flicks’) offer an inter-disciplinary study of a looming phenomenon that the humans in the Anthropocene age witness helplessly as if trapped on a sinking ship,” he said.

“The real question to be addressed is not, as posed by climate change sceptics, whether this catastrophe is so alarming that humans need to act on it immediately, but how long can humankind afford to remain impervious to something that is so glaring?” he added.

Dr. Ravichandran said that he hopes that having his students focus on novels and films in the ‘cli-fi’ genre will foster a change in mind-set that can open them up to thinking about the sustainable use of scarce resources and ensuring the symbiotic sustenance of the human and the nonhuman on Earth.

Students in the pioneering IITK course will be reading such novels as “Year of the Flood,” “A Friend of the Earth,” and “Flight Behavior.”

In additon, movies such as “Interstellar,” “Snowpiercer” and “The Day after Tomorrow” will be screened and discussed, Dr. Ravichandran said.

As a reporter from North America who has been closely following the rise of the cli-fi genre in the West, I am glad to see IITK in India offering a course like this to its engineering students. Call it a meme, a motif, a cultural prism, a buzzword, a PR tool, or a marketing term, ”cli-fi” is here to stay and India has just joined the club.

In fact, with this course, the first of its kind in India, the professor and his students will be making history, and I hope the media in Uttar Pradesh and beyond will pick up this story as a news story in English and Hindi.

Professor Ravichandran’s novel course could very well become a role model for other academics in India to follow.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Land Seizures Speeding Up, Leaving Africans Homeless and Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/land-seizures-speeding-up-leaving-africans-homeless-and-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-seizures-speeding-up-leaving-africans-homeless-and-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/land-seizures-speeding-up-leaving-africans-homeless-and-landless/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 12:54:23 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140077 An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

An unidentified woman from Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province at Manzou Farm packs her tobacco with the help of her children as they prepare to leave following an eviction order. “Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean rights activist. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Apr 8 2015 (IPS)

There is a new scramble for Africa, with ordinary people facing displacement by the affluent and the powerful as huge tracts of land on the continent are grabbed by a minority, rights activists here say.

“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Civil society activist Owen Dliwayo, who is programme officer for the Youth Dialogue Action Network, another lobby group here, said multinational companies were to blame in most African countries for land seizures.“Our forefathers cried foul during colonialism when their land was grabbed by colonialists more than a century ago, but today history repeats itself, with our own political leaders and wealthy countrymen looting land” - Claris Madhuku, Zimbabwe’s Platform for Youth Development (PYD)

“I can give you an example of the Chisumbanje ethanol fuel project here in Chipinge. The project resulted in thousands of villagers being displaced to pave way for a sugar plantation so that thousands of hectares of land space could be created for the ethanol-producing project, consequently displacing poor villagers,” Dliwayo told IPS.

The 40,000 hectare sugar cane plantation which started in 2008 left more than 1,754 households displaced, according to PYD.

Fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe embarked on a controversial land reform programme to address colonial land-ownership imbalances, but activists have dismissed the move as disastrous for this Southern African nation.

“To say African nations like Zimbabwe addressed the land problem is untrue because land which African governments like Zimbabwe grabbed from white farmers was parcelled out to political elites at the expense of hordes of peasants here,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean rights activist, told IPS.

“Land grabs in Africa have helped to perpetuate economic inequalities similar to the colonial era economic imbalances,” he added.

In 2010, ZimOnline, a Zimbabwean news service, reported that about 2,200 well-connected black Zimbabwean elites controlled nearly 40 percent of the 14 million hectares of land seized from white farmers, with each farm ranging in size from 250 to 4,000 hectares, with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his family said to own 14 farms spanning at least 16,000 hectares.

Further up in East Africa, according to a 2011 presentation by Uganda’s Joshua Zake titled ‘Land Grabbing; silent pain for smallholder farmers in Uganda’, key characters of land grabbing in that country are also a few wealthy or powerful individuals against many vulnerable individuals or communities.

Zake is Senior Programme Officer Environment and Natural Resources and Coordinator of the Uganda Forestry Working Group at Environmental Alert.

According to Zake, land grabbing in Africa, particularly in Uganda, is promoted by the suspected presence of oil and other mineral resources beneath the land, such as in Uganda’s Amuru and Bulisa districts.

Zake’s remarks fit well with Zimbabwe’s situation, where more than 800 families were displaced by government from Chiadzwa in Manicaland Province after the discovery of diamonds there in 2005.

But land grabs in Africa may also be rampant in towns and cities, according to private land developers here.

“There is high demand of land for the construction of homes in towns and cities across Africa owing to the sharp rural-to-urban migration,” Etuna Nujoma, a private land developer based in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, told IPS.

“The wealthy and the powerful as well as the corrupt politicians are taking advantage of the land demand and therefore often parcelling out urban land amongst themselves for resale at exorbitant prices at the expense of the poor.”

Last year, irked by corrupt local authorities appearing to be dishing out land among themselves for resale, a group of informal settlement dwellers outside Namibia’s coastal holiday town of Swakopmund occupied municipal land with the intention of settling there.

With land grabs at their peak in Zimbabwe, members of the ruling Zanu-PF party are measuring out land pieces which they then give to people who pay in the range of 10 to 20 dollars for 30 to 50 square metres, depending on the areas in which they want to obtain housing stands, according to Andrew Nyanyadzi of Zanu-PF.

“We don’t need permission from local authorities for us to have access to the land which our liberation war leaders fought for. It’s our land and we are therefore selling at affordable prices to ruling party loyalists,” Nyanyadzi told IPS.

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Houses that once sheltered farmworkers stand empty as lands are reallocated for commercial farming and other profit-making purposes in Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Consequently, lobby groups in Zimbabwe say havoc rules supreme in the country’s towns and cities.

“In Harare, land belonging to the city has been taken over by known militant groups of people with links to Zanu-PF, whom police here are even afraid to apprehend,” Precious Shumba, the director of Harare Residents Trust, told IPS.

“This is exactly what happened to Harare’s urban land in Hatcliff high density area, where housing cooperatives belonging to the ruling Zanu-PF leaders have grabbed council land using their political power,” Shumba said.

However, like other countries across Africa, Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit individuals or organisations from selling land that does not legally belong to them.

Meanwhile, in Mozambique, the poor are losing out to foreign investors on land rights there despite the state being the sole owner of land.

Under the country’s constitution, there is no private land ownership – land and its associated resources are the property of the state – although the country’s Land Law grants private persons the right to use and benefit from the land whether or not they have a formal title. However, loopholes have emerged in the law.

A survey last year by Mozambique’s National Farmers’ Union showed that there was a colonial-era style land grab there, with politically-connected companies in the former Portuguese colony seizing hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland from peasants.

According to GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, peasants in northern Mozambique have difficulties keeping their lands as foreign companies set up large-scale agribusinesses there.

The NGO says Mozambicans are being told that these projects will bring them benefits, but this is not how Caesar Guebuza and other Mozambican peasants see it.

“Agricultural investments by foreign companies have not benefitted us, but rather we have lost land to these companies investing here and we are being treated as aliens in our own land,” Guebuza told IPS.

Economists blame the Mozambican government for favouring foreign investors, who now possess large swathes of state land.

“The Mozambican government is known for siding with foreign investors who now occupy huge tracts of land for their own use as local peasants lose out on land, which is their birth right,” Kingston Nyakurukwa, a Zimbabwean independent economist, told IPS.

With foreign investors acquiring huge tracts of land ahead of locals in Africa, ActionAid Tanzania earlier this year said that through the European Union, United States and several European countries, the European Union’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition plans to invest 7.57 billion euros in agricultural development and food security across Africa.

However, said Nyakurukwa, these will be business ventures that will strip Africans of their hard-earned money as they buy agricultural produce.

Similarly, in Nigeria, Mozambique and Tanzania, smallholder farmers are being moved off their land, paving the way for sugarcane, rice and other export crop-growing projects backed by New Alliance money, according to ActionAid Tanzania’s findings.

For Africans in Tanzania, big money might be gradually rendering them landless.

“Money from investors seem to be elbowing us out of our native lands here in Tanzania as no one has been offered the choice of whether to be resettled or not as we are being forcibly offered money or land for resettlement,” Moses Malunguja, a disgruntled peasant from Tanzania, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Women Still Struggling to Gain Equal Foothold in Nepalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-still-struggling-to-gain-equal-foothold-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 17:31:28 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140071 A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman remains pensive during a support group meeting for families of missing persons in the south-eastern Nepali town of Biratnagar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

Kali Sunar, 25, a resident of the Dumpada village in the remote Humla District in Far-West Nepal, lives a life that mirrors millions of her contemporaries.

From the minute she rises early in the morning until she finally rests her head at night, this rural woman’s chief concern is how to meet her family’s basic, daily needs.

"Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference." -- Usha Kala Rai, a leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist)
Her small plot of arable land scarcely produces enough food to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. With few other options open to them, her husband and her brother travel to neighbouring India to work as labourers, like scores of others in this landlocked country of 27.5 million people.

“The money they send is not enough because more than half of it is spent on their travel back and forth,” Sunar tells IPS. “If only I could get some kind of work, it would be a huge relief.”

Roughly 23 million people, accounting for 85 percent of Nepal’s population, live in rural areas. Some 7.4 million of them are women of reproductive age. Many are uneducated – the female literacy rate is 57.4 percent, compared to 75 percent for men – and while this represents progress, experts say that until women in Nepal gain equal footing with their male counterparts, the lives of women like Sunar will remain stuck in a rut.

Nepal has signed a string of international treaties that promise gender parity – but many of these pledges have remained confined to the paper on which they were written.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Nepal ratified in 1991, specifies for instance that states parties must take all necessary steps to prevent the exclusion of, or violence towards, women; sadly, this has not been a reality.

According to the Kathmandu-based Violence Against Women (VAW) Hackathon, an initiative to provide support to victims of abuse, gender-based violence is the leading cause of death among Nepali women aged 19 to 44 years – more than war, cancer or car accidents.

The organisation further estimates: “22 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence at least once since age 15; 43 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace; [and] between 5,000 and 12,000 girls and women are trafficked every year.”

Some 75 percent of these girls are under 18; the majority of them are sold into forced prostitution.

Rights activists say that the country also routinely flouts its commitment to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, in legal matters, and in numerous other civic, economic and social spheres.

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Twenty-five-year-old Kali Sunar barely grows enough on her small plot of arable land to feed her family of six for three months out of the year. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Not only international treaties but domestic mechanisms, too, have failed to pull the brakes on sex discrimination and gender-based inequities.

A 2007 Interim Constitution, designed to ease Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic, made provisions for women – as well as for other marginalised groups like Dalits (lower caste communities) Adivasis (indigenous and tribal groups), Madhesis (residents of the southern plains) and poor farmers and labourers – to be active political participants based on the principle of proportional inclusive representation.

These were all steps in the right direction, bolstered by the 2008 election of the Constituent Assembly (CA), which saw women occupying 33 percent of all seats in the 601-member parliament.

However, that number fell to 30 percent in the second election, held in 2013, the first after the CA failed to draft a new constitution. With only 11.53 percent of women in the cabinet, experts say there is an urgent need to increase the number of women at the decision-making level.

According to a monitoring report by the non-governmental organisation Saathi, which tracked progress on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) relating to women, peace and security, women’s participation in Nepal’s judiciary stands at an average of 2.3 percent, with 5.6 percent of women in the Supreme Court, 3.7 percent in the appellate courts, none in the special courts and 0.89 in the district courts.

Women’s representation in security agencies is even more worrisome, according to a 2012 study entitled ‘Changes in Nepalese Civil Services after the Adoption of Inclusive Policy and Reform Measures’: there are only 1.6 percent women in Nepal’s army, 3.7 percent in the armed police force and 5.7 percent in the regular police force.

Dismal numbers of female civil servants across a broad spectrum of service groups also spell trouble: women account for just 9.3 percent of civil servants in the education sector, 4.4 percent in the economic planning and statistics division, 4.9 percent in agricultural affairs, 2.2 percent in engineering and two percent in forestry.

Only in the health sector do women come anywhere close to their male counterparts, with 4,887 out of 13,936 positions, roughly 36 percent, occupied by women.

Still, even this number is low, considering the health indicators for women that could be improved by boosting women’s representation at higher levels of politics and government: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nepal has a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births. Only 15 percent of Nepali women have access to healthcare facilities.

Data from Nepal’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) indicate that only 19.71 percent of all families exercise female ownership of land or housing, another reason why women continue to languish on the lowest rung of the social ladder with little ability to exercise their own independence.

Although Nepal’s female labour force participation rate is higher than many of its South Asian neighbours – 80 percent, compared to 36 percent in Bangladesh, 27 percent in India, 32 percent in Sri Lanka and 24 percent in Pakistan, according to the International Labour Oragnisation (ILO) – working women are burdened by social attitudes, which dictate that women undertake domestic labour as well as their other jobs.

“This makes it difficult for women to perform [in their chosen field] and have an impact,” explains Mahalaxmi Aryal, a member of the CA from the Nepali Congress.

Usha Kala Rai, a prominent women’s rights activist and politician, admits that the country has many legal grounds on which to address women’s issues, but says they are seldom utilised to their best effect.

“We completely lack the political will and the commitment to implement these legal provisions,” says Rai, a former member of the Constituent Assembly and leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist).

She calls for increased numbers of women in decision-making roles, but acknowledges that those who make it to the top generally come from the elite class, with the added privilege of having received a good education – thus they are not necessarily representative of women across the socio-economic spectrum.

She tells IPS she favours a system of proportional representation for all state bodies on the basis of the female share of Nepal’s population – 52 percent.

“Women leaders have to rise above party lines if they really want to make a difference,” she explains, citing the creation of the 2008 Women’s Caucus, comprised of all 197 women in the Constituent Assembly representing every major political party, to stand together for women’s rights irrespective of ideology.

However, pressure from male leaders meant that the second Constituent Assembly was unable to revive the Caucus, with the result that women no longer have a unified platform on which to voice their collective demands.

“Women politicians have been handpicked by their parties under the proportional representation (PR) [system], which makes them vulnerable to partisan politics,” political science professor Mukta Singh Lama tells IPS.

Until such a system is replaced with one that prioritises genuine inclusion of women at every level of the state, experts fear that Nepal’s women will not have an equal hand in the shaping of this country.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israeli Forces Target Journalists in West Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/israeli-forces-target-journalists-in-west-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-forces-target-journalists-in-west-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/israeli-forces-target-journalists-in-west-bank/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 10:28:16 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140041 Israeli commander who blocked the writer’s entrance to the village of Kafr Qaddoum – as clashes were taking place – for over two hours. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli commander who blocked the writer’s entrance to the village of Kafr Qaddoum – as clashes were taking place – for over two hours. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
KAFR QADDOUM, West Bank, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

It is becoming increasingly risky to cover clashes and protests between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank as the number of journalists injured, in what appears to be deliberate targeting by Israeli security forces, continues to rise.

During the last 12 months, Israel’s Foreign Press Association (FPA) has issued numerous protests at the manhandling, harassment and shooting of both members of the foreign media and Palestinian journalists.

“The Foreign Press calls on the Israeli border police (a paramilitary unit) to put an immediate end to a wave of attacks on journalists. In just over a week, border police officers have carried out at least four attacks on journalists working for international media organisations, injuring reporters and damaging expensive equipment. These attacks all appear to have been unprovoked,” was one of many statements released by the FPA last year.The rising trend of Israeli security forces using live ammunition against Palestinian protesters has expanded to include journalists as well.

“A change in policy appears to be the reason for unprecedented aggressive behaviour by the authorities against journalists covering demonstrations in Jerusalem,” read another FPA statement.

The assaults have included shooting rubber-coated metal bullets directly at journalists on a regular basis.

Tear gas canisters, which under Israeli law are meant to be shot from a safe distance in an upward arch so as not to endanger life, have also been shot directly at journalists from close range even when the journalists were out of the line of fire.

The rising trend of Israeli security forces using live ammunition against Palestinian protesters has expanded to include journalists as well.

Palestinian journalists and cameramen working for foreign agencies and local media appear to be bearing the brunt of these attacks, because assaulting and abusing Palestinians, males in particular, is an integral part of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

A colleague of IPS, a cameraman from Palestine TV, was shot in the leg several months ago with a 0.22 inch calibre bullet fired from a Ruger rifle by an Israeli sniper as he filmed a clash in the northern West Bank village of Kafr Qaddoum.

Palestinian journalists in the line of fire. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Palestinian journalists in the line of fire. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

On a previous occasion, as he left the village, Israeli soldiers pulled his vehicle over, dragged him out and assaulted him.

Another IPS colleague, a cameraman from Reuters, was shot twice in both legs with a metal bullet with a 0.5 mm rubber coating at one Friday protest. The previous week he had been targeted directly with a tear gas canister.

“We are very concerned about the marked increase in the number of Palestinian journalists being deliberately targeted by the Israeli security forces,” said Reporters Without Borders in a statement  on the increase in violence by Israeli security forces against Palestinian journalists released last year.

“We reiterate our call to the Israeli authorities, especially the military, to respect the physical integrity of journalists covering demonstrations and we remind them that the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 28 March recognising the importance of media coverage of protests and condemning any attacks or violence against the journalists covering them.”

The situation was even worse during the Gaza war from July to August last year, when 17 Palestinian journalists were killed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) even when they were not in the proximity of the fighting.

IPS has witnessed numerous attacks on journalists over the years and has also been harassed by Israeli soldiers when trying to cover clashes.

Last Friday, I was held up for over two hours in the sun by Israeli soldiers as I tried to enter Kafr Qaddoum where major clashes were taking place.

During this time other members of the media, ambulances and other protesters were refused entrance.

With Israeli government press accreditation, an accreditation denied to most Palestinian journalists, I was able to contact the IDF spokesman who coordinated my entrance, but only after several hours of standing in the sun.

I was neither assaulted nor was any of my equipment confiscated from me, another privilege of being white and Western.

Another Palestinian colleague and cameraman came in for very different treatment a month ago when he had had his camera confiscated by an Israeli soldier outside the Jelazon refugee camp, near Ramallah.

When he tried to retrieve his expensive piece of equipment he was warned to back off and knew better than to pursue the issue.

However, when I took the matter up with the commanding officer the camera was returned to its owner after the officer had taken me aside on a charm offensive while ordering the Palestinian journalists to stand back.

On another occasion, I was accompanying a Palestinian ambulance which was trying to reach Jelazon camp to help Palestinian youths injured during clashes with the IDF.

Several military jeeps blocked the roads leading to the camp and refused to move when asked by the ambulance driver.

After I got out and spoke to the soldiers, showing them my credentials yet again, the jeep moved to the side and allowed the ambulance to continue.

The Israelis still appear to be sensitive to a certain degree to how they are portrayed in the Western media.

This has become apparent to me when covering violent clashes. As soon as it has been established that I am Australian, white and a woman, the aggression of the Israeli soldiers has abated and they have tried to get me on side by asking me if I am alright and warning me to take care,

However, I know that I too could easily fall prey to Israeli ammunition if I am not exceedingly careful so, on this basis, I choose to stay well away from the frontlines of clashes.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Taking Child Workers Out of El Salvador’s Sugar Cane Fieldshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/taking-child-workers-out-of-el-salvadors-sugar-cane-fields/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taking-child-workers-out-of-el-salvadors-sugar-cane-fields http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/taking-child-workers-out-of-el-salvadors-sugar-cane-fields/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 17:11:48 +0000 Edgardo Ayala and Claudia Avalos http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140048 Cane cutter Evaristo Pérez, 22, on the La Isla plantation in the municipality of San Juan Opico in El Salvador. He used to be a child worker in the sugar cane fields in El Salvador, where child labour has been practically eradicated thanks to a policy of “zero tolerance” in the sugar industry. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cane cutter Evaristo Pérez, 22, on the La Isla plantation in the municipality of San Juan Opico in El Salvador. He used to be a child worker in the sugar cane fields in El Salvador, where child labour has been practically eradicated thanks to a policy of “zero tolerance” in the sugar industry. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala and Claudia Ávalos
SAN JUAN OPICO, El Salvador , Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

The participation of children and teenagers in the sugar cane harvest, a dangerous agricultural activity, will soon be a thing of the past in El Salvador, where the practice drew international attention 10 years ago.

“Before, when I was a kid, my brothers would take me along to help them cut sugar cane, it wasn’t a problem. But now things have changed,” Evaristo Pérez, a day labourer, told IPS during a break from his work in the sugar cane field under a blistering sun on the La Isla plantation in San Juan Opico, a municipality in the department of La Libertad in western El Salvador.

“I had to turn 18 before I could start working as a cane cutter,” added 22-year-old Pérez, standing next to a group of two dozen other cane cutters covered in dirt and sweat. He admitted that working in the sugar cane fields as a boy was “really tough.”

Child labour in activities described by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as dangerous or unhealthy has long been rife in El Salvador. That includes cutting sugar cane, hazardous because of the sharp machetes used, as well as the practice of burning sugar cane ahead of the harvest to facilitate the work, which produces ashes to which the cutters are exposed.

The sugar industry generates 50,000 direct jobs in El Salvador, although 18,000 of them are seasonal, out of a total of 250,000 people working in the sector, according to industry statistics.

During the 2013-2014 harvest 720,000 tons of sugar was produced, representing 2.28 percent of the country’s 24.3 billion dollar GDP, and 20 percent of agriculture’s share of GDP.

Sugar cane cultivation covers three percent of the country’s farmland. The big sugar mills process only 10 percent of the output; the remaining 90 percent is in the hands of 7,000 independent producers, 4,000 of whom are grouped in cooperatives, in a country where agriculture generates 20 percent of all jobs.

The severe poverty suffered by many rural families kept child labour alive, despite the risky work and heavy, long workdays.

A sugar cane cutter earns around 200 dollars a month, said workers interviewed by IPS.

“At the bottom of this cultural and economic phenomenon lie poverty and the lack of opportunities in the countryside,” said Julio César Arroyo, executive director of the El Salvador sugar industry association (AAES), which groups the six privately owned sugar mills that process the country’s sugar cane.

In this Central American country of 6.3 million people, 38 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where 36 percent of the households are poor, above the national average of 29.6 percent, according to official statistics from 2013.

The problem of child labour in the sugar cane harvest in El Salvador was thrust to the forefront in June 2004 when the Washington-based Human Rights Watch published the report “Turning a Blind Eye: Hazardous Child Labor in El Salvador’s Sugarcane Cultivation”.

The report triggered a strong reaction by human rights groups as well as international buyers of El Salvador’s sugar. Canada, the second-biggest market after the United States, threatened to stop buying sugar from this country.

The position taken by Canada “was worrisome because it could have caused a domino effect,” leaving thousands of rural workers without an income, Arroyo told IPS.

Due to the Human Rights Watch report on child labour and the resulting pressure, sugar cane producers, sugar mills and the government, grouped together in the Salvadoran Sugar Industry Council (CoNSaa), jointly adopted a code of conduct in 2006.

They stepped up the process a year later with the inclusion of a clause declaring “zero tolerance” of child labour.

They also implemented measures to oversee compliance with the clause, by means of ongoing monitoring by the Labour Ministry, inspectors on plantations and a special external auditor.

A significant improvement was seen. According to the AAES, the number of children working on sugar cane plantations fell from 12,000 in 2004 to 3,470 in 2009, a 72 percent drop. During the 2013-2014 harvest, only 700 children under 18 were reported – a 92 percent drop in 10 years.

“We’ll be satisfied once the problem has been fully eradicated, but great progress has definitely been made,” Arroyo said.

Another positive factor has been that poor rural families have gradually understood that it is important to keep children and teenagers out of the sugar cane fields.

Pablo Antonio Merino, the foreman at the La Isla plantation, told IPS that he knows very well that he can’t hire minors to cut sugar cane, even if they ask him for work.

“They’re not going to find a single minor among my workers,” said the 63-year-old Merino. “Sometimes kids come to my house to ask me to do them a favour and hire them, but when I see how young they are, I tell them no, that I don’t want trouble.”

But there is still resistance to the change.

Another worker, David Flores, 53, told IPS that the ban on child labour in the industry causes problems by leaving adolescents with nothing to do, which leads them down “the wrong path” – a reference to the youth gangs that are rife in this country.

El Salvador is caught up in a wave of violent crime. In 2014 the homicide rate was 63 per 100,000 population, compared to a global average homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 population in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Many of the murders are committed by gangs.

“It has hurt the country to take work away from young people, because they end up as vagrants,” Flores argued.

But Ludin Chávez, the director in El Salvador of the international organisation Save the Children, told IPS that child labour must be eradicated because children grow up in an environment where exploitative conditions are seen as normal.

“They see it as natural that other people exploit them, and that they can never defend their rights; we see this as a dangerous vicious circle,” she said.

Other forms of hazardous child labour are shellfish harvesting in the mangroves, the production of fire crackers in sweatshops, and domestic service, she added.

The 2013 household survey found that 144,168 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 were involved in child labour – a nearly 12 percent reduction from 2012.

Since 2009, when the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power, the government outlined a plan to eradicate the worst forms of child labour this year, with a goal to totally eliminate it by 2020, in a joint effort with a wide range of economic and social sectors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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