Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 30 Jan 2015 22:24:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Glimmer of Hope for Assangehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glimmer-of-hope-for-assange http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:17:00 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138943 Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

There is a window of hope, thanks to a U.N. human rights body, for a solution to the diplomatic asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London for the past two and a half years.

Authorities in Sweden, which is seeking the Australian journalist’s extradition to face allegations of sexual assault, admitted there is a possibility that measures could be taken to jumpstart the stalled legal proceedings against Assange.

The head of Assange’s legal defence team, former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, told IPS that in relation to this case “we have expressed satisfaction that the Swedish state“ has accepted the proposals of several countries.

The prominent Spanish lawyer and international jurist was referring to proposals set forth by Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Slovakia and Uruguay.

The final report by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), adopted Thursday Jan. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, contains indications that a possible understanding among the different countries concerned might be on the horizon.

The UPR is a mechanism of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine the human rights performance of all U.N. member states.

The situation of Assange, a journalist, computer programmer and activist born in Australia in 1971, was introduced in Sweden’s UPR by Ecuador, the country that granted him diplomatic asylum in its embassy in London, and by several European and Latin American nations.

The head of the Swedish delegation to the UPR, Annika Söder, state secretary for political affairs at Sweden’s foreign ministry, told IPS that “This is a very complex matter in which the government can only do a few things.”

Söder said that in Sweden, Assange is “suspected of crimes, rape, sexual molestation in accordance with Swedish law. And that’s why the prosecutor in Sweden wants to conduct the primary investigation.

“We are aware of Mr. Assange’s being in the embassy of Ecuador and we hope that there will be ways to deal with the legal process in one way or the other. But it is up to the legal authorities to respond,” she said.

Assange’s legal defence team complains that Sweden’s public prosecutor’s office is delaying the legal proceedings and refuses to question him by telephone, email, video link or in writing.

Garzón noted that parallel to the lack of action by the Swedish prosecutor’s office, there is a secret U.S. legal process against Assange and other members of Wikileaks, the organisation he created in 2006.

“The origin of the U.S. legal proceedings against Assange was the mass publication by Wikileaks of documents, in many cases sensitive ones, which affected the United States,” said Garzón.

Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other classified U.S. documents revealed practices by Washington that put it in an awkward position with other governments.

Assange sought refuge in the embassy after exhausting options in British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to allegations of rape and sexual molestation, of which he says he is innocent. He has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is worried that if he is extradited to that country he will be sent to the United States, where he is under investigation for releasing secret government documents.

If the legal process in Sweden begins to move forward, there would be a possibility for him to be able to leave the Ecuadorean embassy, where he took refuge on Jun. 19, 2012, and give up the diplomatic asylum he was granted by the government of Rafael Correa on Aug. 16, 2012.

In the UPR report, Sweden promised to examine recommendations made by other countries and to provide a response before the next U.N. Human Rights Council session, which starts Jun. 15.

Garzón has urged the Swedish government to specify a timeframe for the legal action against Assange, as the delegation from Ecuador recommended in the UPR.

“The Human Rights Committee, another specialised U.N. body, stipulates that precise timeframes must be established for putting a detained person at the disposal of a judge,” he pointed out.

Söder told IPS that Sweden’s legal system does not set any deadline for the prosecutor to complete the pretrial examination phase, as reflected in the Assange case.

Garzón is also asking Sweden to introduce, as soon as possible, “measures to ensure that the legal proceedings are carried out in accordance with standards that guarantee the rights of individuals, concretely the right to effective judicial recourse and legal proceedings without undue delays.”

He also called for the adoption of administrative and judicial measures to make investigations before the courts more effective. With respect to this, he mentioned “the practice of measures of inquiry abroad, in line with international cooperation mechanisms.”

In addition, the international jurist demanded measures to ensure that people deprived of their freedom are provided with legal guarantees in accordance with international standards.

The Swedish delegation agreed to study a recommendation by Argentina to “take concrete measures to ensure that guarantees of non-extradition will be given to any person under the control of the Swedish authorities while they are considered refugees by a third country,” in this case Ecuador.

These should include legislative measures, if necessary.

This is important because Assange is facing the threat that the Swedish or British authorities could accept an extradition request from the United States for charges of espionage, which carry heavy penalties.

In his comments to IPS, Garzón said he was “disappointed” that the Swedish state has not accepted one of Ecuador’s recommendations.

He was referring to the request that Sweden streamline international cooperation mechanisms on the part of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office in order to ensure the right to effective legal remedy, specifically in cases where the person is protected by the decision to grant asylum or refuge.

It was stressed in the UPR that the right to asylum or refuge is considered a fundamental right, and must be respected and taken into account, making it compatible with the right to legal defence.

The director-general of legal affairs in Sweden’s foreign ministry, Anders Rönquist, argued that there is no international convention on diplomatic asylum.

The only one referring to that issue is the inter-American convention, he said, adding that the International Court of Justice in The Hague does not require recognition of diplomatic asylum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Dying in Childbirth Still a National Trend in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dying-in-childbirth-still-a-national-trend-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dying-in-childbirth-still-a-national-trend-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dying-in-childbirth-still-a-national-trend-in-zimbabwe/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:15:33 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138935 Zimbabwe struggles to contain maternity deaths. Here in this southern African nation, the number of women dying in childbirth continues to rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Zimbabwe struggles to contain maternity deaths. Here in this southern African nation, the number of women dying in childbirth continues to rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

For 47-year-old Albert Mangwendere from Mutoko, a district 143 kilometres east of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, transporting his three pregnant wives using a wheelbarrow to a local clinic has become routine, with his wives delivering babies one after the other.

But these routines have not always been a source of joy for Mangwendere.

“Over the past twenty years, I have been ferrying my pregnant wives to a local clinic using a wheelbarrow because I have no (full size) scotch cart and we have lost 12 babies in total while traveling to the clinic,” Mangwendere told IPS.

Mangwendere’s case typifies the deepening maternity crisis in this Southern African nation.An estimated 3,000 women die every year in Zimbabwe during childbirth and at least 1.23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost annually due to maternal complications – United Nations issue paper on 'Maternal Mortality in Zimbabwe', 2013

An estimated 3,000 women die every year in Zimbabwe during childbirth and at least 1.23 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is lost annually due to maternal complications, according to Maternal Mortality in Zimbabwe, a United Nations issue paper released in 2013.

In fact, the United Nations found that maternal mortality worsened by 28 percent between 1990 and 2010. The major causes were bacterial infection, uterine rupture (scar from a previous caesarean section tearing during an attempt at birth), renal and cardiac failure, as well as hyperemesis gravidarum (condition characterised by severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss during pregnancy).

This year, the government has allocated 301 million dollars to the health sector for a country of 13.5 million, according to the local NewsDay publication, which concluded: “This is to say that the government intends to spend on average just over 22 dollars on an individual this year. Compare this with 650 dollars for South Africa, 90 dollars for Botswana, 390 dollars for Botswana and 200 dollars for Angola.”

On top of a barely adequate public transportation system, user fees for delivering pregnant women that are charged in healthcare centres are also at fault, say civil society activists.

“In 2012, the government crafted and adopted a policy that saw user fees for maternity services being scrapped,” Catherine Mukwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a grassroots organisation, told IPS.

“But despite this policy, some facilities still charge indirect service fees, which is scaring away many pregnant women from hospitals and clinics, leaving them in the hands of less skilled midwives.”

Zimbabwe’s local authority clinics say they have resisted scrapping maternity fees despite the official directive, claiming that they are not reimbursed as promised by the government.

28-year-old Chipo Shumba pictured here holds her only child after she lost six others while giving birth over the past few years, a crisis health experts in Zimbabwe say is on the rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

28-year-old Chipo Shumba pictured here holds her only child after she lost six others while giving birth over the past few years, a crisis health experts in Zimbabwe say is on the rise. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Council clinics have no choice but to charge the council-subsidised 25 dollars for maternity since they haven’t received money from government,” Harare city director of health services, Stanley Mungofa, told IPS.

The actual cost of providing maternity services in council clinics has been pegged at 152 dollars, Mungofa said. At public hospitals like Parirenyatwa in Harare, the cost of a normal delivery is 150 dollars while a caesarean section costs as much as 450 dollars.

In a bid to lower the high maternity fees of public hospitals and council clinics, a group of donors pledged 435 million dollars for the nation’s health system for the period 2011-2015. The fund – the so-called Health Transition Fund – was led by the health ministry and managed by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Importantly, the Health Transition Fund is helping to retain skilled workers by raising low wages. Underpaid doctors make up a large part of the country’s “brain drain” and there are now just 1.6 doctors for every 10,000 people.

Maternal fees may not apply in Zimbabwe’s countryside, where many like Mangwendere and his wives live, but other obstacles present an equally insurmountable barrier to obtaining care. Clinics and referral hospitals are often far away from people needing help, a major cause of maternity deaths there.

Finally, the tentacles of systemic corruption have reached into the health care systems. According to Transparency International, one local hospital was found to be charging mothers-to-be five dollars every time they screamed while giving birth.

A staggering 62 percent of Zimbabweans reported having paid a bribe in the previous year, the group stated in its 2013 report on global corruption.

Zimbabwe’s health sector was one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, but it nearly collapsed when an economic crisis caused hyper-inflation of more than 230 million percent in 2008. Over the following years, chronic under-investment made a bad situation worse.

The increase in maternal mortality is being witnessed despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for maternal health, under which countries should reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015.

A 2012 status report on the MDGs asserted that Zimbabwe was unlikely to meet its mandate of reducing the maternal mortality ratio to 174 per 100,000 live births.

In research conducted in 2013 to address causes of maternal death, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care blamed excessive bleeding after childbirth and unsafe abortion as the major causes of death, although no information was provided to back the claim.

“Statistics on maternal deaths often leave out sad realities of these similar deaths in unreachable remote areas where pregnant women and infants die daily without these cases being recorded anywhere,” said Helen Watungwa, a midwife at a council clinic in Gweru, the capital of the Midlands province, 222 kilometres outside the capital.

“But in any case, with the limited resources we have as nurses, we are doing all we can to save lives both of delivering mothers and infants,” Watungwa told IPS.

“It is truly a miracle that we continue to survive a series of pregnancies while battling to give birth often on the way to the clinic, bleeding heavily without any skilled persons to attend to us, with only our husband tottering with each one of us to the village healthcare centre using a wheelbarrow,” 28-year-old Mavis Handa, one of Mangwendere’s wives, told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Fighting Hunger from the Pitchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-hunger-from-the-pitch-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-hunger-from-the-pitch-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-hunger-from-the-pitch-2/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:48:41 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138930 By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

A video ad is being screened before every match at the Africa Cup of Nations currently under way in Equatorial Guinea. Part of African Football Against Hunger, a joint initiative by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Confederation of African Football (CAF), it shows a player dribbling a football, taking a shot and scoring – the winning kick is a metaphor for ending hunger in Africa by 2025.

“Football, like no other game, brings people together, within nations and across country lines. It’s exactly this type of coming together we need to reach the goal of zero hunger in Africa,” FAO Director of Communications Mario Lubetkin told IPS in an online interview.

As part of the African Football Against Hunger campaign, a video ad is being featured at matches throughout the 2015 African Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea. Credit: FAO

As part of the African Football Against Hunger campaign, a video ad is being featured at matches throughout the 2015 African Cup of Nations tournament in Equatorial Guinea. Credit: FAO

“Our aim is to harness the popularity of football to raise awareness of the ongoing fight against hunger on the continent, and to rally support for home-grown initiatives that harness Africa’s economic successes to fund projects that help communities in areas struggling with food insecurity and build resilient livelihoods,” he explained.

Last year, African governments came together and undertook to wipe out chronic hunger among their peoples by 2025, in line with the United Nations’ Zero Hunger campaign.

Hunger in Africa is pervasive.  In 2014, some 227 million people across the continent suffered from hunger. According to FAO’s 2014 ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World’ report, one in four people across sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished.“Football, like no other game, brings people together, within nations and across country lines. It’s exactly this type of coming together we need to reach the goal of zero hunger in Africa” – Mario Lubetkin, FAO Director of Communications

And despite its vast fertile lands and a youth bulge, Africa continuous to spend over 40 billion dollars every year on food imports, according to Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture for the African Union Commission (AUC).

“The fact that the continent’s population is growing means that while Africa has made progress in hunger eradication over the last decade, the total number of hungry people on the continent has risen. This brings additional urgency to fund home-grown solutions that allow families and communities to strengthen food security and build resilient livelihoods,” Lubetkin told IPS.

Placing a more direct link between football and the fight against hunger, he said adequate nutrition is essential to both cognitive and physical development and to achieving one’s goals – none of the players in the cup would be able to perform at the level they do without adequate nutrition.

“The human potential that is lost by persistent hunger is still immense. It is in the interest of everybody to join forces to make hunger history. Fighting hunger is a team sport – we need everybody to get involved,” he explained.

It is estimated that over 650 million people worldwide will be watching the African Cup of Nations, which this year sees teams from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, D.R. Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia competing for the trophy from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8.

The initiators of the African Football Against Hunger campaign hope that with the enormous number of people exposed to the campaign, more citizens will become engaged in the struggle against hunger.

“History shows that when citizens are engaged governments are encouraged to allocate funding to hunger eradication,” Lubetkin said. “Citizen engagement also often leads communities to come together to find innovative solutions for shared problems.”

He went on to explain that football events are also being used to spread the message about the work of the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund for Food Security, which was set up by African leaders in 2013, and to encourage countries to become involved in the Fund as donors, project partners and sources of local knowledge.

“The on-the-ground work is done through the Fund, through projects that increase youth employment, improve resource management, make livelihoods more resilient and eradicate hunger by building sustainable food production.”

So far the Fund has leveraged 40 million dollars from African countries to empower communities in 30 countries by building job opportunities for young people, help them use their available resources better and bounce back quicker in situations of crisis.

FAO and the Fund are complementing the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAAADP), a continent-wide initiative to boost agricultural productivity in Africa. Launched by governments 10 years ago, CAADP has been instrumental in bringing agriculture back to the discussion table as a priority sector, according to Komla Bissi, Senior CAADP Advisor at the AUC.

“Our governments are recommitting resources, and it’s time to bring the private sector on board,” he told IPS. He said 43 of Africa’s 54 countries have so far committed to the process; 40 have signed the CAADP compact and 30 of them have developed agriculture sector investment plans.

“The job of eradicating hunger and making food production sustainable is a long-haul game and these ongoing projects – along with future ones – are the seeds of progress in the fight against hunger,” Lubetkin concluded.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Dumped, Abandoned, Abused: Women in India’s Mental Health Institutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/dumped-abandoned-abused-women-in-indias-mental-health-institutions/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:08:44 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138927 Women in India’s mental health institutions often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Women in India’s mental health institutions often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

Following the birth of her third child, Delhi-based entrepreneur Smita* found herself feeling “disconnected and depressed”, often for days at a stretch. “Much later I was told it was severe post-partum depression but at the time it wasn’t properly diagnosed,” she told IPS.

“My marriage was in trouble and after my symptoms showed no signs of going away, my husband was keen on a divorce, which I was resisting.”

“The nurses were unkind and cruel. I remember one time when my entire body was hurting the nurse jabbed me with an injection without even checking what the problem was.” -- Smita, a former resident of an Indian mental health institution
After a therapy session, Smita was diagnosed as bi-polar, a mental disorder characterised by periods of elevated highs and lows. “No one suggested seeking a second opinion and my parents and husband stuck to that label.”

One day after she suffered a particularly severe panic attack, Smita found 10 policemen outside her door. “I was taken to a prominent mental hospital in Delhi where doctors sedated me without examination. When I surfaced after a week I found that my wallet and phone had been taken away.”

All pleas to speak to her husband and parents went unheeded.

It was the beginning of a nightmare that lasted nearly two months, much of it spent in solitary confinement. “The nurses were unkind and cruel. I remember one time when my entire body was hurting the nurse jabbed me with an injection without even checking what the problem was.”

On one occasion, when she stopped eating in protest after she was refused a phone call, she was dragged around the ward. “There were women there who told me they had been abused and molested by the staff.”

Not all the women languishing in these institutions even qualified as having mental health problems; some had simply been put there because they were having affairs, or were embroiled in property disputes with their families.

Days after she was discharged her husband filed for a divorce on the grounds that Smita was mentally unstable.

“I realised then that my husband was building up his case so he would get custody of the kids.”

Isolated and afraid, Smita did not find the strength or support to fight back. Her husband won full custody and left India with the children soon after. “My doctor says I am fine and I am not on any medication but I still carry the stigma. I have no access to my kids and I no longer trust my parents,” she told IPS.

Smita’s story points to the extent of violence women face inside mental health institutions in India. The scale was highlighted in a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, ‘Treated Worse than Animals’, which said women often face systematic abuse that includes detention, neglect and violence.

Ratnaboli Ray, who has been active in the field of mental health rights in the state of West Bengal for nearly 20 years, says on average one in three women are admitted into such institutions for no reason at all. Ray is the founder of Anjali, a group that is active in three mental institutions in the state.

“Under the law all you need is a psychiatrist who is willing to certify someone as mentally ill for the person to be institutionalised,” Ray told IPS. “Many families use this as a ploy to deprive women of money, property or family life. Once they are inside those walls they become citizen-less, they lose their rights.“

Ray points to the story of Neeti who was in her early 20s when she was admitted because she said she heard voices. “When we met her she was close to 40 and fully recovered, but her family did not want her back because there were property interests involved.”

With the help of the NGO Anjali, Neeti fought for and won access to her share of family property and was able to leave the institution.

Those on the inside endure conditions that are inhumane.

“There is hardly any air or light. Unlike the male patients who are allowed some mobility within the premises, women are herded together like cattle,” says Ray. In many hospitals women are not given underclothes or sanitary pads.

Sexual abuse is rampant. “Because it is away from public space and there is an assumed lack of legitimacy in what they say, such complaints are nullified as they are ‘mad’,” adds Ray.

Unwanted pregnancies and forced abortions impact their mental or physical health. They languish for years, uncared for and unattended.

“One can’t help but notice the stark contrast between the male and female wards,” points out Vaishnavi Jaikumar, founder of The Banyan, an NGO that offers support services to the mentally ill in Chennai, capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

“You will find wives and mothers coming to visit male patients with food and fresh sets of clothes, while the women’s wards are empty.” Experts also say discharge rates are much lower when it comes to women.

The indifference towards patients is evident not just in institutions, but also at the policy level, with mental health occupying a low rung on the ladder of India’s public health system.

According to a WHO report the government spends just 0.06 percent of its health budget on mental health. Health ministry figures claim that six to seven percent of Indians suffer from psychosocial disabilities, but there is just one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people.

That ratio falls even further for psychologists, with just one trained professional for every million people in India.

Furthermore, the country has just 43 state-run mental hospitals, representing a massive deficit for a population of 1.2 billion people. With the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) present in just 123 of India’s 650 districts, according to HRW, the forecast for those living with mental conditions is bleak.

“Behind that lack of priority is the story of how policymakers themselves stigmatise,” contends Ray. “The government itself thinks [the cause] is not worthy enough to invest money in. Unless mental health is mainstreamed with the public health system it will remain in a ghetto.”

Depression is twice as common in woman as compared to men and experts say that factors like poverty, gender discrimination and sexual violence make women far more vulnerable to mental health issues and subsequent ill-treatment in poorly run institutions.

Gopikumar of The Banyan advocates for creative solutions that are scientific and humane like Housing First in Canada, which reaches out to both the homeless and mentally ill. The Banyan is presently experimenting with community-based care models funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian government.

“Our model looks at housing and inclusivity as a tool for community integration,” says Gopikumar. “The poorest in the world are people with disabilities and most of them are women. They are victims of poverty on account of both caste and gender discrimination and its time we open our eyes to the problem.”

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Missing Students Case Also Highlights Racism in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:16:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138922 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/feed/ 0 Marine Resources in High Seas Should be Shared Equitablyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marine-resources-in-high-seas-should-be-shared-equitably/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 19:07:38 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138914 An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

An unknown medusa-like plankton viewed from a submersible in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration’s Operation Deep Scope 2005. With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents on them are being filed annually. Credit: Dr. Mikhail Matz/public domain

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

After almost 10 years of often frustrating negotiations, the U.N. ad hoc committee on BBNJ decided, by consensus, to set in motion a process that will result in work commencing on a legally binding international instrument on the conservation and sustainable use, including benefit sharing, of Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction.

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Dr. Palitha Kohona. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

As a consequence, the General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution in the summer of 2015 establishing a preparatory committee to begin work in 2016 which will be mandated to propose the elements of a treaty in 2017, to be adopted by an intergovernmental conference.

The Ad Hoc Working Group, established in 2006, has been meeting regularly since then. In 2010, for the first time, it adopted a set of recommendations which were elaborated methodically until the momentous decision on Saturday.

This decision will impact significantly on the biggest source of biodiversity on the globe.

The political commitment of the global community on BBNJ was clearly stated in the 2012 Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”, largely at the insistence of a small group of countries which included Argentina, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the European Union (EU).

It recognised the importance of an appropriate global mechanism to sustainably manage marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

In 2013, GA resolution A/69/L.29 mandated the UN Ad Hoc Working Group to make recommendations on the scope, parameters and feasibility of an international instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to the 69th Session of the GA.While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

During the past few years our understanding of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction has advanced exponentially. The critical need to conserve and sustainably use this vast and invaluable resource base is now widely acknowledged.

The water surface covers 70 percent of the earth. This marine environment constitutes over 90 percent of the volume of the earth’s biosphere, nurturing many complex ecosystems important to sustain life and livelihoods on land. Two thirds of this environment is located in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The contribution of oceans to the global economy is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

While there are hundreds of thousands of known marine life forms, some scientists suggest that there could actually be millions of others which we will never know. These, including the genetic resources, could bring enormous benefits to humanity, including in the development of vital drugs.

With the increase in the research into and exploitation of marine genetic resources, more and more patents based on them are being filed annually.

The value of these patents is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is increasingly obvious that mankind must conserve the resources of the oceans and the associated ecosystems and use them sustainably, including for the development of new substances.

At the same time, unprecedented challenges confront the marine environment and ecosystems. Overfishing, pollution, climate change, ocean warming, coral bleach and ocean acidification, to name a few, pose a severe threat to marine biological resources. Many communities and livelihoods dependent on them are at risk.

While 2.8 percent of the world’s oceans are designated as marine protected areas, only 0.79 percent of such areas are located beyond national jurisdiction. In recent times, these protected areas have become a major asset in global efforts to conserve endangered species, habitats and ecosystems.

While the management of areas within national jurisdictions is a matter primarily for states, the areas beyond are the focus of the challenge that confronted the U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group.

Developing countries have insisted that benefits, including financial benefits, from products developed using marine genetic resources extracted from areas beyond national jurisdiction must be shared equitably.

The concept that underpinned this proposition could be said to be an evolution of the common heritage of mankind concept incorporated in UNCLOS.

The Ad-Hoc Working Group acknowledged that UNCLOS, sometimes described as the constitution of the oceans, served as the overarching legal framework for the oceans and seas. Obviously, there was much about the oceans that the world did not know in 1982 when the UNCLOS was concluded.

Given humanity’s considerably better understanding of the oceans at present, especially on the areas beyond national jurisdiction, the majority of participants in the Ad Hoc Working Group pushed for a new legally binding instrument to address the issue of BBNJ.

Last Saturday’s decision underlined that the mandates of existing global and regional instruments and frameworks not be undermined; that duplication be avoided and consistency with UNCLOS maintained.

The challenge before the international community as it approaches the next stage is to identify with care the areas that will be covered by the proposed instrument in order to optimize the goal of conservation of marine biodiversity. It should contribute to building ocean resilience, provide comprehensive protection for ecologically and biologically significant areas, and enable ecosystems time to adapt.

The framework for sharing the benefits of research and developments relating to marine organisms needs to be crafted sensitively. Private corporations which are investing heavily in this area prefer legal certainty and clear workable rules.

An international instrument must establish a framework which includes an overall strategic vision that encompasses the aspirations of both developed and developing countries, particularly in the area of benefit sharing.

Facilitating the exchange of information between States will be essential to achieve the highest standards in conserving and sustainably using marine biodiversity, particularly for developing countries. They will need continued capacity building so that they can contribute effectively to the goal of sustainable use of such resources and benefit from scientific and technological developments.

To address the effects of these complex dynamics, the proposed instrument must adopt a global approach, involving both developed and developing countries.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Good Harvest Fails to Dent Rising Hunger in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/good-harvest-fails-to-dent-rising-hunger-in-zimbabwe/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 18:41:39 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138912 Markets are critical to the success of Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Markets are critical to the success of Zimbabwe’s smallholder farmers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

With agriculture as one of the drivers of economic growth, Zimbabwe needs to invest in the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who keep the country fed, experts say.

Agriculture currently contributes nearly 20 percent to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP), due largely to export earnings from tobacco production. More than 80,000 farmers have registered to grow the plant this season.

But, even as tobacco harvests expand, food shortages continue to plague Zimbabwe, most dramatically since 2000 when agricultural production missed targets following a controversial land reform that took land from white farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans.Food shortages continue to plague Zimbabwe, most dramatically since 2000 when agricultural production missed targets following a controversial land reform that took land from white farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans

Depressed production has been blamed on droughts, but poor support to farmers has also contributed to food deficits and the need to import the staple maize grain annually.

Last year, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that “hunger is at a five-year high in Zimbabwe with one-quarter of the rural population, equivalent to 2.2 million people, estimated to be facing food shortages …”

The report was dismissed by Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, Paddington Zhanda, who said that “the numbers [of those in need] are exaggerated. There is no crisis. If there was a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

WFP had planned to reach 1.8 million people out of the 2.2 million hungry people during the current period, but funding shortages meant that only 1.2 million were helped.

Last year, the government stepped in with maize bought from neighbouring countries. That year, Zimbabwe topped the list of maize meal importers, with imports from South Africa at 482 metric tons between July and September 2014. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo imported more maize meal during that time.

Agricultural economist Peter Gambara, who spoke with IPS, estimated that over one billion dollars is required to reach a target of two million hectares planted with maize.

“It costs about 800 dollars to produce a hectare of maize, so two million hectares will require about 1.6 billion dollars,” he said.

“However, the government only sponsors part of the inputs required, through the Presidential Inputs Scheme, the rest of the inputs come from private contractors, the farmers themselves, as well as from remittances from children and relatives in towns and in the diaspora.”

These inputs include fertilizer and maize seed. Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said he was worried that many farmers could fail to purchase inputs on the open market due to liquidity problems. Totally free inputs were ended in 2013.

Linking agriculture to the reduction of poverty was one of the first Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with a target of cutting poverty in half by 2015. In fact, all MDGs have direct or indirect linkages with agriculture. Agriculture contributes to the first MDG through agriculture-led economic growth and through improved nutrition.

In low-income countries economic growth, which enables increased employment and rising wages, is the only means by which the poor will be able to satisfy their needs sustainably.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe need adequate and appropriate input to improve their productivity. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe need adequate and appropriate inputs to improve their productivity. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“Government should invest in irrigation, infrastructure like roads and storage facilities,” Gambara told IPS. “By supplying inputs through the Presidential Inputs Scheme, Government has done more than it should for small-scale farmers. This scheme resulted in the country achieving a surplus 1.4 million tonnes of maize last year.”

The surplus was linked, explained Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, to good rainfall.

Marketing of their produce is the biggest challenge facing farmers, said Gambara, who recommended the regulation of public produce markets like Mbare Musika in Harare through the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA).

Gambara maintains that the government should provide free inputs to the elderly, orphaned and other disadvantaged in society and consider loaning the rest of the small-scale farmers inputs that they will repay after marketing their crops.

“That will help the country rebuild the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR), managed by the Grain Marketing Board,” he said. “However, the government has not been able to pay farmers on time for delivered produce and this is an area that it should improve on. It does not make sense to make farmers produce maize if those farmers fail to sell the maize.”

In the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa of 2003, African heads of state and governments pledged to improve agricultural and rural development through investments. The Maputo Declaration contained several important decisions regarding agriculture, but prominent among them was the “commitment to the allocation of at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years”.

Only a few of the 54 African Union (AU) member states have made this investment in the last 10 years. These include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Malawi and Senegal.

According to Gambara, as a signatory to the Maputo Declaration, Zimbabwe should have done more to channel resources to agriculture since 2000 when the country embarked on the second phase of land reform.

“Most of these (new) black farmers did not have the resources and knowledge to farm like the previous white farmers and such a scenario would demand that the government invests in research and extension to impart knowledge to the new farmers as well as provide schemes that empower these farmers, for example through farm mechanisation and provision of inputs,” he said.

Everson Ndlovu, development researcher with the Institute of Development Studies at Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology, told IPS that government should invest in dam construction, research in water harvesting technologies, livestock development, education and training, land audits and restoration of infrastructure.

Ndlovu said there were signs that European and other international financial institutions were ready to assist Zimbabwe but a poor political and economic environment has kept many at a distance.

“The political environment has to change to facilitate proper business transactions, we need to create a conducive environment for business to play its part,” said Ndlovu. “Government should give farmers title deeds if farmers are to unlock resources and funding from local banks.”

Economic analyst John Robertson asked why the government should finance farmers which would be unnecessary if it had allowed land to have a market value and ordinary people to be land owners in order to use their land as bank security to finance themselves.

“Ever since the land reform, we have had to import most of our food,” Robertson told IPS. “Government should be spending money on infrastructural development that would help agriculture and other industries.”

Before the land reform, continued Robertson, Zimbabwe had nearly one million communal farmers, a number that increased by about 150,000 under Land Reform A1 and A2 allocations.

‘A1’ farms handed out about 150,000 plots of six hectares to smallholders by dividing up large white farms, while the ‘A2’ component sought to create large black commercial farms by handing over much larger areas of land to about 23,000 farmers.

“Only a few farms are being run on a scale that would encompass larger hectarage and that is basically because the farmers cannot employ the labour needed if they cannot borrow money,” Robertson said.

“Loans are needed to pay staff for the many months that work is needed but the farm has no income, so most smallholders work to the limits of their families’ labour input. That keeps them small and relatively poor.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris   

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Kurdish Civil Society Against Use of Arms to Gain Autonomyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:21:29 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138898 Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

A rupture inside the movement for the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan has given new impetus to the voices of those condemning the use of weapons as the way to autonomy.

The 40 million Kurds represent the world’s largest ethnic group without a permanent nation state or rights guaranteed under a constitution.

“We are the only nationality with a great population without land,” Murat Aba, a member and one of the founders of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), told IPS. “We’ve been split since after the First World War and we’ve never been allowed to rule ourselves. We are not a minority, we’re a huge number of people and we defend the independence of the four Kurdish groups living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.”“The peace talks between the PKK and the [Turkish] government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence” - Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, lawyer for human right causes involving Kurds.

PAK, which was formally launched towards the end of 2014, is the first legally recognised party in Turkey to include the word ‘Kurdistan’ in its name which, until recently, was forbidden for political parties in the country. According to its leader Mustafa Ozcelik, PAK will pursue independence for Kurds ”through political and legal means”.

This distinction is intended to differentiate it clearly from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – the armed group created in the 1970s to fight for self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey and considered illegal by the Turkish government. So far, the armed struggle for independence has killed over 40,000 people.

Today, around 20,000 PKK soldiers are being trained In the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, 1,000 kilometres from Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurds in Turkey. Many of them are now fighting against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

The financial resources to maintain PKK operations come illegally from Kurds living in Europe, Hatip Dicle of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) admitted to IPS. The DTK is a political party which also includes members who are sympathetic to PKK ideology.

The Turkish government “does not allow us to collect donations by legal means,” Dicle continued. “There are over two million Kurds in Europe and all donations are sent secretly.” Dicle said that even it is a pro-democracy movement PKK does not give up the armed solution.

However, in recent years, the PKK has been involved in secret “peace talks” with the Turkish government. Through senior members of his cabinet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been negotiating with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader in jail since 1999 on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara.

The DTK gained strength when the peace process between Turkish authorities and  Öcalan began and, now, “we want this conflict to be over and we wish to achieve a common solution,” Dicle told IPS.

Nevertheless, the secrecy surrounding the peace talks with Öcalan and the PKK is being strongly criticised by those who call for an open process.

“The peace talks between PKK and government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence”, said Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, a lawyer advocating for human right causes involving Kurds.

According to Avukat, deep-rooted reform of the Civil Constitution in Turkey is needed. “We want to follow the path of democracy and not violence. Our fight is totally addressed to achieving our own autonomy in a peaceful way. We wish to have our rights included in the Civil Constitution”, he argued.

For Mohammed Akar, the general secretary and founder of a new Kurd cultural entity called Komeleya Şêx Seîd, an organisation dedicated to cultural and educational activities for the Kurdish community and based in Diyarbakir, the road to autonomy in Turkey should not include armed violence.

“We don’t want to use violence to achieve our independence. It may even spoil our claim for democracy”, said Akar, the grandson of Şêx Seîd.  Also known as Sheikh Said,  Şêx Seîd was a former Kurdish sheikh of the Sunni order and leader of the Kurdish rebellion in 1925 during Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s nationalist regime (1923-38).

Şêx Seîd’s name and image had been banned since then until recently, and this is the first time that a civil society entity has been authorised to use his name.

Famous Kurdish writer and political scientist Îbrahîm Guçlu also criticises the way in which the PKK is promoting its political view. He denounces drug trafficking, forced recruitment and coercion of young Kurds by the outlawed group.

“The PKK is an illegal formation whose leader is in jail and tries to manage his entire community from inside prison. We are different and we promote open discussion within society”, says Guçlu.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:19:53 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138896 In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
KOKRAJHAR, India, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

The tarpaulin sheet, when stretched and tied to bamboo poles, is about the length and breadth of a large SUV. Yet, about 25 women and children have been sleeping beneath these makeshift shelters at several relief camps across Kokrajhar, a district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

The inhabitants of these camps – about 240,000 of them across three other districts of Assam – fled from their homes after 81 people were killed in what now seems like a well-planned attack.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights says the situation is reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis, representing one of the largest conflict-related waves of displacement in India.

It has turned a mirror on India’s inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and suggests that continued violence across the country will pose a major challenge to meeting the basic development needs of a massive population.

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Appalling conditions

On the evening of Dec. 23, several villages inhabited by the Adivasi community were allegedly attacked by the armed Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been seeking an independent state for the Bodo people in Assam.

The attacks took place in areas already marked out as Bodoland Territorial Authority Districts (BTAD), governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

But the Adivasi community that resides here comprises several indigenous groups who came to Assam from central India, back in 150 AD, while hundreds were also forcibly brought to the state by the British to work in tea gardens.

Clashes between the Adivasi and Bodo communities in 1996 and 1998 – during which an estimated 100 to 200 people were killed – still bring up nightmares for those who survived.

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

It explains why the majority of those displaced and taking shelter in some 118 camps are unwilling to return to their homes.

But while the tent cities might seem like a safer option in the short term, conditions here are deplorable, and the government is keen to relocate the temporary refugees to a more permanent location soon.

The relief camp set up at Serfanguri village in Kokrajhar lacks all basic water and sanitation facilities deemed necessary for survival. A single tent in such a camp houses 25 women and children.

“The men sleep in another tent, or stay awake at night in turns, to guard us. It is only because of the cold that we somehow manage to pull through the night in such a crowded space,” explains Maino Soren from Ulghutu village, where four houses were burned to the ground, forcing residents to run for their lives carrying whatever they could on their backs.

Now, she tells IPS, there is a serious lack of basic necessities like blankets to help them weather the winter.

Missing MDG targets

In a country that is home to 1.2 billion people, accounting for 17 percent of the world’s population, recurring violence and subsequent displacement put a huge strain on limited state resources.

Time after time both the local and the central government find themselves confronted with refugee populations that point to gaping holes in the country’s development track record.

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Outside their hastily erected tents in Kokrajhar, underweight and visibly undernourished children trade biscuits for balls of ‘jaggery’ (palm sugar) and rice.

Girls as young as seven years old carry pots of water on their heads from tube wells to their camps, staggering under the weight of the containers. Others lend a hand to their mothers washing pots and pans.

The scenes testify to India’s stunted progress towards meeting the MDGs, a set of poverty eradication targets set by the United Nations, whose timeframe expires this year.

One of the goals – that India would reduce its portion of underweight children to 26 percent by 2015 – is unlikely to be reached. The most recent available data, gathered in 2005-2006, found the number of underweight children to be 40 percent of the child population.

Similarly, while the District Information System on Education (DISE) data shows that the country has achieved nearly 100 percent primary education for children aged six to ten years, events like the ones in Assam prevent children from continuing education, even if they might be enrolled in schools.

According to Anjuman Ara Begum, a social activist who has studied conditions in relief camps all across the country and contributed to reports by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Children from relief camps are allowed to take new admission into nearby public schools, but there is no provision to feed the extra mouths during the mid-day meals. So children drop out from schools altogether and their education is impacted.”

Furthermore, in the Balagaon and Jolaisuri villages, where camps have been set up to provide relief to Adivasi and Bodo people respectively, there were reports of the deaths of a few infants upon arrival.

Most people attributed their deaths to the cold, but it was clear upon visiting the camps that no special nutritional care for lactating mothers and pregnant women was available.

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Bleak forecast for maternal and child health

Such a scenario is not specific to Assam. All over India, violence and conflict seriously compromise maternal and child health, issues that are high on the agenda of the MDGs.

In central and eastern India alone, some 22 million women reside in conflict-prone areas, where access to health facilities is compounded by the presence of armed groups and security personnel.

This is turn complicates India’s efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births to its target of 100 deaths per 100,000 births.

It also means that India is likely to miss the target of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) by 13 points, and the under-five mortality rate by five points by 2015.

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

According to a recent report by Save the Children, ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2014’, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, reporting the world’s highest number of under-five deaths in 2012, and counting some 1.4 million deaths of under-five children.

Nutrition plays a major role in the mortality rate, a fact that gets thrown into high relief at times of violence and displacement.

IDPs from the latest wave of conflict in Assam are struggling to make do with the minimal provisions offered to them by the state.

“While only rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt are provided, there is no provision for firewood or utensils, and hence the burden of keeping the family alive falls on the woman,” says Begum, adding that women often face multiple hurdles in situations of displacement.

With an average of just four small structures with black tarpaulin sheets erected as toilets in the periphery of relief camps that house hundreds of people, the basic act of relieving oneself becomes a matter of great concern for the women.

“Men can go anywhere, any time, with just a mug of water. But for us women, it means that we have to plan ahead when we have to relieve ourselves,” said one woman at a camp in Lalachor village.

It is a microcosmic reflection of the troubles faced by 636 million people across India who lack access to toilets, despite numerous commitments on paper to improve the sanitation situation in the country.

As the international community moves towards an era of sustainable development, India will need to lay plans for tackling ethnic violence that threatens to destabilize its hard-won development gains.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Teenage Girls in Argentina – Invisible Victims of Femicidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:11:55 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138894 On average, 21 adolescent girls in Argentina are victims of femicides every year, a growing phenomenon linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

On average, 21 adolescent girls in Argentina are victims of femicides every year, a growing phenomenon linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

The murder of a young Argentine girl on a beach in neighbouring Uruguay shook both countries and drew attention to a kind of violence that goes almost unnoticed as a cause of death among Argentine adolescents: femicide.

In most Latin American countries, the lack of broken-down official data on femicides – a term coined to refer to the killing of females because of their gender – makes it difficult to identify the victims by their ages.

But in the case of Argentina, some independent reports, such as one by the local non-governmental organisation La Casa del Encuentro, have begun to make it clear that not only are there more gender-motivated killings, but the number of victims under 18 is increasing.

“Between 2008 and 2014 we saw the number gradually rising, and this has to do with gender violence among young unmarried couples or sexual abuse followed by death,” the NGO’s executive director, Fabiana Túñez, told IPS.

A report by the “Adriana Marisel Zambrano” Observatory on Femicides documented 295 cases in 2013 in Argentina, a country of 42 million. Between 2008 and 2013 there were 1,236 gender-related murders of women, equivalent to one femicide every 35 hours.

Other Latin American countries

In Mexico, a country of 122 million people, the Network for Children’s Rights (REDIM) reported in December that 315 girls and teenage girls were murdered in 2013.

“Cases of violence against women in Mexico have been on the rise,” reported REDIM, which complained about a lack of actions by the government to prevent domestic violence. “Much of the increase is among girls and adolescents who are victims of violence that in many cases ends in femicide.”

In El Salvador, population 6.2 million, the national police registered 261 femicides in the first 11 months of 2014, 28 of them girls or adolescents 17 or younger.

In Panama, meanwhile, with a population of 3.9 million, three out of 10 victims of femicide are minors, according to the office of the public prosecutor.

From 2009 to 2014, 343 women were killed in Panama, and 226 of the murders were classified as femicides.

According to the Observatory, in that six-year period, 124 adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 18 were victims of femicide – an average of 21 a year – according to statistics gathered from newspaper reports. But the real number could be much higher, because in a number of cases the victim’s age was not reported.

The release of the report coincided with a case that shocked the nation: the murder of 15-year-old Lola Chomnalez, who went missing on Dec. 28 while on vacation in her godmother’s house in a Uruguayan beach town.

“They found the dead body of the Argentine girl who went missing in Uruguay,” feminist activist Verónica Lemi wrote in Facebook under her pseudonym Penélope Popplewell. “They keep killing us and there are still people asking what one of us was doing walking alone on the beach. You hear on TV: the killer saw a pretty young girl and took advantage of the situation.

“If we have to be protected, carry pepper spray or be accompanied just to take a walk on a beach, then women are not free,” she wrote with indignation. “If we act like we have the same rights as men, we increase the risk that we’ll be killed just because we’re women.”

Sometimes the perpetrators stalk their victims on the street: outside of a discotheque, or on their way home from school or university. But in most cases the victims know their killers.

According to Túñez of La Casa del Encuentro, half of all femicides involve sexual abuse followed by murder. The other half are associated with violence among couples, cases that are often referred to by the media as “crimes of passion.”

The local statistics are in line with a global tendency. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that three out of 10 adolescent girls suffer violence at the hands of their boyfriends.

The causes, according to Túñez, are the same as in adults. “The male perpetrator controls, dominates, has jealous fits. And the adolescent girls who are in the first stages of idealising love believe they can change things but they start to get caught up in a big spider web from which they find it impossible to escape later.”

She stressed that it is necessary to raise awareness among adolescent girls to “denaturalise” this kind of behavior.

“It’s not normal for boyfriends to be overly jealous, for girls not to be able to go out on their own, for their boyfriends to control their movements, snoop on their cell-phones, insult them or hit them,” Ada Rico, co-founder of La Casa del Encuentro, told the local media.

On her Facebook page, “Acción Respeto: por una calle sin acoso” (Operation Respect: for harassment-free streets), the 26-year-old Lemi tries to “denaturalise” this “aggressive, sexist culture” whose worst expression is femicide.

“On one hand we have the progress made with respect to women’s rights, but on the other, in terms of idiosyncracies, we are still living in a very ‘machista’ or sexist society in Argentina, where saying something embarrassing to a 15-year-old girl on the street is ok because it means they like you,” the activist told IPS.

“The supposed sexual freedom goes only so far,” she added. “Because every time a girl is abused, the media and commentators say ‘she must have been a little slut’. When a woman exercises her sexual freedom she’s considered a whore.”

Lemi said it is necessary to combat in society “the man-woman relationship where the man is dominant and the woman is submissive, and to counteract the culture of blaming the victim.”

“There is so much violence against women, not just physical, but also in language, at a symbolic level. Violence against women continues to be justified. In that context it is only logical that femicides are committed,” she said.

Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Justice and Gender Team (ELA), said the apparent increase in the number of femicides could be linked to greater media coverage.

“There is greater visibility, which is why we hear about more cases and deaths, when it’s too late to turn to the authorities,” she told IPS.

Argentina is among the Latin American countries where the most progress has been made in raising awareness on gender equality and women’s access to education and decision-making positions.

In 2012, the Argentine legislature passed a law that stiffened the penalties for gender violence, although it does not include the category of femicide, as in the case of legislation passed in other countries in the region.

The Argentine law provides for life in prison when the murderer is the victim’s current or ex husband or boyfriend, or when the woman is killed for gender-related reasons.

“Progress has been made in terms of insertion in the labour market, in education…but that in itself is not enough to change the ‘machista’, patriarchal culture,” Gherardi said.

The director of ELA said there were shortcomings in implementation, oversight and evaluation of public policies such as the Comprehensive Sex Education law, which takes gender aspects into account.

“I would like to see political leaders, women and men, engaging in meaningful discussions about the violence, above and beyond grand gestures, when appalling things happen,” Gherardi said.

She stressed the fundamental role played by the media in the fight against sexist violence, and added that there are media outlets and journalists who send out messages “that counteract gender stereotypes and others that perpetuate them, putting women in humiliating roles.”

“There are an enormous number of situations of subtle day-to-day violence, before things reach the stage of beatings or femicide,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Antiguan Shanty Dwellers Ask if Poverty Will Be the Death of Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:06:04 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138887 Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GREEN BAY, Antigua, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

It was early on a Saturday morning and there was no sign of life in the community. The shacks erected on both sides of the old, narrow road that winds through the area are all surrounded by zinc sheets which rise so high, it’s impossible to see what lies on the other side.

But behind those walls is a story of life on the margins: poverty and fear for women. In spite of noticeable improvements in the overall quality of life in Antigua and Barbuda, inequality and deprivation continue to challenge development, with pockets of extreme poverty in some areas.“Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.” -- Cynthia James

For Cynthia James and other women living in this shoreline community on the outskirts of the capital St. John’s, hope is all but lost.

“A politician came here once and called me a dog,” James said as she stood outside her gate holding her one-year-old grandson. “The politician said all of us in here are dogs and are not used to anything good and we will always be dogs. I will never forget that. When you get hurt you never forget it.”

The two main political parties here hold differing views about the level of poverty and unemployment in the country. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) has consistently placed the poverty level at around 35 per cent but the United Progressive Party (UPP) placed the percentage of the working population living on less than EC$10 a day at 12 per cent, the lowest in the region.

“The highest is in Haiti: 79 percent of the population, that is eight out of 10, live on approximately EC$10 a day. Guyana, 64 percent; Suriname, 45 percent; Jamaica, 43 percent; Dominica, 33 percent; St Vincent & the Grenadines, 33 percent; Grenada, 32 percent; St. Kitts, 31 percent; Trinidad, 21 percent; St. Lucia, 19 percent; Barbados, 14 percent; Antigua, 12 percent,” said former legislator Harold Lovell, citing World Bank figures. Lovell served a minister of finance in the former administration.

James, 53, does not care much for the numbers being debated by politicians. For year now, she and the other women living in this vulnerable area have been watching a drain which runs through the community wreak havoc on their modest dwellings whenever it rains.

James, her 78-year-old mother Gertrude and 28-year-old daughter Terry-Ann Lewis all live on the same street. Their biggest fear now is that the drain which runs through the area will one day cause their deaths.

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“When I was a little girl they would always come and clean out the gutter, they would send the prisoners to clean up the area, but all of that has stopped,” James told IPS. “Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.”

The dozens of families here have thought about moving to safer communities but they say they are just too poor to relocate without assistance.

In 2014, the issue of poor drainage that leads to flooding in this and other communities across the country came into focus with a series of community consultations led by the Environment Division.

Senior Environment Officer Ruleta Camacho said the aim was to establish a sustainable financing mechanism and develop a climate adaptation project that could bring about significant changes to affected communities.

“Due to the impact of climate change we are having exacerbated drought and exacerbated rainfall – we are having large amounts of rain in a short amount of time and what we need to do at this point is to make sure our waterways and drains can handle that volume of water,” she said.

Terryann Lewis is anxiously awaiting the commencement of the promised project. She recalled her brush with death on Oct. 13, 2014 when Tropical Storm Gonzalo passed near Antigua, tearing roofs from people’s homes and knocking down trees.

For several hours, heavy rain and strong winds lashed Antigua, which bore the brunt of the storm as it cut through the northern Leeward Islands. Downed trees blocked many island roads and people lost power or reported that the storm damaged, or in some cases destroyed the roofs of their homes.

“I went to sleep that night and when I woke up, I was in water. I had just come home from work and I was tired so I just went to sleep but when I woke up the whole place was flooded. Everything gone; everything was soaked or washed away. I lost everything and I had to start fresh again,” Lewis told IPS.

“The gutter that runs through this community collects waste from all over the place so everything ends up right here in this community.

“That gutter is going to kill all of us; that is the only thing I can tell you. The gutter is blocked so whenever we have rain the water is not free to run. The drain is clogged up so the water quickly overflows. Whenever it rains this whole area is like a beach,” she added.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, whose administration came to power just seven months ago, said his government will focus on improving human development, putting people first. He has consistently said he intends to make Antigua the region’s economic powerhouse, a Singapore on the Caribbean Sea.

“We will focus on building our human capital into internationally competitive individuals capable of driving the growth and social development of our nation state,” Browne said.

“We will concentrate on youth empowerment, providing our youth with employment, the opportunity to own a piece of the rock under our land for youth programme, a home under our home for youth programme or his/her own business through a dedicated entrepreneurial loan programme, that will commence in 2015 at the Antigua & Barbuda Development Bank.

“Our main focus of human development will be through education and training. No one will be left behind,” Browne added.

The International Monetary Fund anticipates growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in the region of 2.2 percent for 2015. This represents something of a rebound for the region, as growth in 2014 was estimated to be 1.3 percent.

But whether that figure will translate into improved living conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable remains to be seen.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Marginalised Groups Struggle to Access Healthcare in Conflict-Torn East Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:25:19 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138875 Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

With international organisations warning that East Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as its health system collapses, marginalised groups are among those facing the greatest struggle to access even basic health care in the war-torn region.

The conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has affected more than five million people, with 1.4 million classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and human rights bodies as “highly vulnerable” because of displacement, lack of income and a breakdown of essential services, including health care.

Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

A complete lack of vaccines is threatening outbreaks of diseases such as polio and measles, while there are concerns for HIV/AIDS and TB sufferers as supplies of vital medicines dry up and disease monitoring becomes almost impossible.Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

Massive internal displacement because of the conflict – latest U.N. estimates are of 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) with the figure rising by as much as 100,000 per week – has also left hundreds of thousands living in sometimes desperate and unhygienic conditions, creating a further health risk and the chance that infectious diseases, such as TB, will spread.

But while there is a threat to healthcare provision from collapsing resources, some in the region are facing extra barriers to accessing health care.

Ukraine has one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world and the spread of the disease has been fuelled mainly by injection drug use. But, unlike in many Eastern European states, the country has been running for more than a decade an internationally lauded range of harm reduction programmes which have been credited with checking the disease’s spread.

These have included opioid substitution therapy (OST) programmes available to drug users across the country. These are particularly important in East Ukraine because the majority of Ukraine’s injection drug users come from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

But local and international organisations working with drug users say that addicts’ access to life-saving treatment in those areas has come under increasing pressure since the start of the conflict and that it could be cut off entirely within weeks as supplies of methadone and buprenorphine used in the treatment run out and cannot be replaced.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine which runs many OST centres as well as other harm reduction programmes, has said that stocks of antiretroviral drugs, OST and other life-saving treatments will have run out by  February.  More than 300 OST patients in Donetsk and Luhansk have lost access to treatment since the conflict began, while a further 550 patients on methadone will run out of drugs soon if emergency supplies cannot be delivered.

U.N. officials in close contact with international organisations helping drug users as well as doctors in Donetsk have confirmed to IPS that clinics have only a few weeks’ worth of stocks of methadone left.

One doctor in Donetsk working on an OST programme, who asked not to be named, told IPS:  “There are serious problems with medicine supplies. The last shipments came in September last year and some patients have already had to finish their treatments. Many had been on it for a decade and in that time had forged new lives, put their, sometimes criminal, past behind them and had families. It was absolutely tragic for them when they stopped.”

It is unclear what will happen to all those no longer able to access OST treatment. Doctors say some have gone into detoxification, while others have moved to other cities in safer areas of Ukraine in the hope of continuing OST.

But with 60 percent of those receiving OST also being HIV positive, according to the Donetsk doctor, and reports that many are now turning to illicit drugs and needle-sharing again as access to OST is cut off, there are concerns that the disease, along with Hepatitis C which is rife among injection drug users, and tuberculosis, could be spread, and that the lives of many drug users will again be at risk.

OST patient Andriy Klinemko, who was forced to flee Donetsk with his wife when their house was destroyed in bombing last summer and who is now in Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, told IPS: “OST patients in East Ukraine are being forced to move, but not all of them can and even those that make it to other regions may not be able to continue OST because there is no money left to run such programmes. It’s a bad situation and at the moment I really can’t see any way it’s going to get better.”

But drug users are not the only marginalised community struggling to access health care.

Historically, the estimated 400,000-strong Roma community in Ukraine has, like Roma in many other Eastern European states, faced widespread discrimination in society, including in employment and education.

They have also always had limited access to healthcare because many Roma lack official ID documentation which makes it difficult for many to obtain official health care, while widespread poverty also means services and medicines which require any payment are also inaccessible to most. Meanwhile, many Roma settlements are in remote locations, far away from the nearest health centres.

Dr Dorit Nitzan, head of the WHO’s Ukraine Office, told IPS: “Even before the conflict, Roma in Ukraine had limited access to curative and preventive health service. As a result, Roma children have extremely low vaccination coverage. Moreover, rates of tuberculosis and other communicable and non-communicable diseases are higher among Roma than in the general population.”

Discrimination is also a problem. Zola Kondur of the Chiricli Roma rights group in Ukraine, told IPS: “In terms of healthcare, Roma are among the most vulnerable in the country. They are treated badly because of their ethnicity.”

However, the problems for Roma have dramatically worsened since the conflict began. Some human rights groups have said that since the separatist regimes took power in the region, Roma have faced systematic violent and sometimes fatal repression.

According to a report this month of an international mission to monitor human rights

by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Roma living in separatist-controlled areas have been “subjected to open aggression from militants ….[who] have carried out real ethnic cleansing” against them. Many have fled and become IDPs, subsequently facing health struggles.

Dr Nitzan said: “As in every crisis, if not given special attention, marginalised and vulnerable groups are at higher risk. In Ukraine, many Roma lack civil documentation, and thus cannot be registered as internally displaced persons and are not included in the provision of any health services.

“Moreover, their inability to pay ‘out-of-pocket’ limits their ability to procure medication and/or services. Compounding this is that many Roma IDPs are residing at the margins of society, in remote geographical locations, where no services are available. All of these factors make health services inaccessible to Roma.”

Local rights groups say that Roma who have managed to flee to safe areas have often ended up homeless and starving after facing problems accessing aid because of a dismissive attitude from volunteers and staff at social institutions, while their lack of identification documents also prevented them from accessing any official help.

However, even those who have managed to find treatment have sometimes faced further problems.

Kondur told IPS: “In one case a Roma family moved from Kramatorsk to Kharkiv. A little boy had a heart problem brought on by the stress of the fighting and he was taken to hospital. One night, a group of young people broke the window of the boy’s hospital room, shouting ‘Gypsies get out’. The boy had a heart attack.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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When Ignorance Is Deadly: Pacific Women Dying From Lack of Breast Cancer Awarenesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/when-ignorance-is-deadly-pacific-women-dying-from-lack-of-breast-cancer-awareness/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 04:15:08 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138872 Local women's NGO, Vois Blong Mere, campaigns for women's rights in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Local women's NGO, Vois Blong Mere, campaigns for women's rights in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

Women now face a better chance of surviving breast cancer in the Solomon Islands, a developing island state in the southwest Pacific Ocean, following the recent acquisition of the country’s first mammogram machine.

But just a week ahead of World Cancer Day, celebrated globally on Feb. 4, many say that the benefit of having advanced medical technology, in a country where mortality occurs in 59 percent of women diagnosed with cancer, depends on improving the serious knowledge deficit of the disease in the country.

"While cancer is included on the NCD [non-communicable diseases] list, very little attention and resources are specifically addressing women and breast cancer awareness." -- Dr. Sylvia Defensor, senior radiologist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji
“Breast cancer is a health issue that women are concerned about in the Solomon Islands, but adequate awareness of it among women is not really prioritised,” Bernadette Usua, who works for the local non-governmental organisation, Vois Blong Mere (Voice of Women), in the capital, Honiara, told IPS.

Rachel, a young 24-year-old woman living with her two children, aged three and five years, in one of the country’s many rural villages, did not know what breast cancer was when she detected a lump in her breast in August 2013.

But the lump grew larger prompting her to travel to Honiara several months later to see a doctor.

“She went to the central hospital and was advised to have her left breast removed, but due to the little knowledge that she and her husband had about what it would be like, both were afraid of the surgery,” Bernadette Usua, who is Rachel’s cousin, recounted.

“So they just left the hospital without any medication or other assistance, and went home,” she continued.

Rachel tried traditional medicine available in her village, but the cancer and pain became more aggressive. Usua remembers next seeing her cousin in July of last year.

“She was sitting on her bed night and day with extreme pain, unable to lie down and sleep. But she was still brave as she nursed herself, washed herself and cooked for her children. She cried and prayed until she passed away in September,” Usua recalled.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and in the Solomon Islands, where it accounted for 92 of more than 200 diagnosed cases in 2012. But its incidence in the developing world, where 50 percent of cases and 58 percent of fatalities occur, is rapidly rising.

Low survival rates of around 40 percent in low-income countries, compared to more than 80 percent in North America, are due mainly to late discovery of the disease in patients and limited diagnosis and treatment offered by under-resourced health centres.

Last year Annals of Global Health revealed that of 281 cancer cases identified in women in the Solomon Islands in 2012, 165 did not survive, while in Papua New Guinea and Fiji fatalities occurred in 2,889 of 4,457, and 418 of 795 diagnosed cases, respectively.

Insufficient public knowledge about the disease is an issue across the region.

“Currently public health education and promotion is focussing heavily on the control of NCDs [non-communicable diseases] as a whole. While cancer is included on the NCD list, very little attention and resources are specifically addressing women and breast cancer awareness,” said Dr. Sylvia Defensor, senior radiologist at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji, a Pacific Island state home to over 880,000 people.

In the Solomon Islands, mammograms, or x-rays of the breast, will now be free to all female citizens who comprise about 49 percent of the population of more than 550,000. This is after installation of digital mammography equipment, funded by the national First Lady’s Charity, in Honiara’s National Referral Hospital.

Dr. Douglas Pikacha, general surgeon at the hospital, explained that mammograms were vital to early detection of breast disease and the saving of women’s lives through early treatment, such as surgery and chemotherapy.

Mammography is considered the most effective form of breast cancer screening by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with some evidence that it can reduce subsequent loss of life by an estimated 20 percent, especially in women aged 50-70 years.

But with more than 80 percent of the population residing in rural areas and spread over more than 900 different islands, Josephine Teakeni, president of Vois Blong Mere, is deeply concerned about the fate of many women who are located far from the main health facilities in the capital. An estimated 73 percent of doctors and all medical specialists in the country are based at the National Referral Hospital.

She says that reliable breast cancer screening and diagnosis is urgently needed in provincial hospitals if the mortality rate is to be reduced. Most patients must travel an average of 240 kilometres to reach the National Referral Hospital, commonly by ferry or motorised canoe, given the prohibitive expense of internal air services.

There is also a critical shortage of health care workers in the country with 0.21 doctors per 1,000 people and Teakeni claims that “while waiting for an operation the delay can result in full advancement of the cancer and death.”

However, there is a further challenge with almost half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer refusing a mastectomy, which involves the partial or entire surgical removal of affected breasts, even though it may result in the patient’s recovery, the Ministry of Health reports.

“Many prefer traditional treatment to mastectomy because they believe it is more womanly to have their breast than to live without it,” Pikacha said.

The high risk of cancer mortality is another factor impacting gender inequality in the Pacific Island state where entrenched cultural attitudes and widespread gender violence, experienced by 64 percent of women and girls, hinders improvement of their social and economic status.

Teakeni believes that an urgent priority is dramatically improving “awareness among women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and even simple tests that women can do themselves, such as checking the breast for lumps while having a shower,” as well as the importance and impact of medical treatment.

Still, the installation of the new mammogram machine gives women on this island something, however small, to celebrate.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138868 Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S.-India Partnership a Step Forward for Low-Carbon Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-india-partnership-a-step-forward-for-low-carbon-growth/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:44:06 +0000 David Waskow and Manish Bapna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138861 President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By David Waskow and Manish Bapna
WASHINGTON, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

India garnered international attention this week for its climate action.

As President Barack Obama visited the country at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation, the two leaders announced a new U.S.-India agreement on clean energy and climate change.With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

The agreement will help turn India’s bold renewable energy targets into reality.

Rather than relying on one major plank, the collaboration is a comprehensive set of actions that, taken together, represent a substantial step in advancing low-carbon development in India while also promoting economic growth and expanding energy access.

This agreement comes just two months after the U.S-China climate agreement.

While expectations for the two agreements were quite different — India’s per capita emissions are a fraction of those from China and the United States, and India is in a very different phase of economic development— Modi’s commitments are significant steps that will help build even further momentum for a new international climate agreement.

Prime Minister Modi’s new government has made a significant commitment to sustainable growth in the past several months, setting a goal of 100 gigawatts (GW) of solar power capacity by 2022 and considering a new target of 60 GW in wind energy capacity.

The Indian government has also created a new initiative to develop 100 “smart cities” across the country, aimed at building more sustainable, livable urban areas.

The U.S.-India collaboration takes a multi-pronged approach to turn these promising pledges into concrete results. For example:

Setting a renewable energy goal

Building on India’s 100 GW solar capacity goal, Modi announced India’s intention to increase the overall share of renewable energy in the nation’s electricity supply.

Setting a percentage of overall energy consumption that will come from renewables can not only help India reduce emissions, it can also play a key role in expanding energy access.

Roughly 300 million Indians—nearly 25 percent of the country’s population—lack access to electricity.

Solar power—which is already cheaper than diesel in some parts of the country and may soon be as cheap as conventional energy—can put affordable, clean power within reach.

Accelerating clean energy finance

Given that the entire world’s installed solar capacity in 2013 was 140 GW, India’s plan to reach 100 GW by 2022 is nothing short of ambitious.

The Modi government estimates that scaling up its 2022 solar target from 20 GW to 100 GW will save 165 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent emissions of about 23 million American households’ annual electricity use.

The U.S.-India announcement reveals a clear commitment from both countries to stimulate the public and private investment needed to achieve this bold target.

Improving air quality

Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution, India houses 13 of them.

The cost of premature deaths from air pollution in the country is already 6 percent of GDP, and it’s poised to worsen as the urban population increases from 380 million to 600 million over the next 15 years.

The U.S.-India plan to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AIR Now-International Program can help cut back on harmful urban air pollution, improve human health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modi’s plan to establish 100 “smart cities” can support this initiative by designing compact and connected rather than sprawled urban areas, which are associated with a heavy transportation-related emissions footprint.

Boosting climate resilience

India is already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change: rising sea level threatens 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half of its 28 states.

The U.S.-India deal builds on both countries’ previous commitment to climate adaptation, outlining a plan to better assess risks, build capacity and engage local communities.

With the U.S.-India partnership, the world’s three-largest emitters—China, the United States and India—have all made strong commitments to curbing climate change and scaling up clean energy.

This action is not only important for reducing emissions in the three nations, but also for building momentum internationally. Obama and Modi have created a direct line of communication, a relationship that will be important for securing a strong international climate agreement in Paris later this year.

Prime Minister Modi made it clear that he sees it as incumbent on all countries to take action on climate change.

Rather than being motivated by international pressure, he said what counts is “the pressure of what kind of legacy we want to leave for our future generations. Global warming is a pressure… We understand this pressure and we are responding to it.”

Modi is tasked with confronting not just global warming, but a number of immediate threats—alleviating poverty, improving air quality, expanding electricity access and enhancing agricultural productivity, just to name a few.

Many of the actions under the U.S.-India agreement will not only reduce emissions, but will also help address these development challenges.

With the new agreement, India is positioning itself as a global leader on pairing climate action with economic development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Developing Nations Write Hopeful New Chapters in a Toxic Legacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/developing-nations-write-hopeful-new-chapters-in-a-toxic-legacy/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:35:56 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138854 Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Remediation crews clean up some of the worst contaminated homes in Dong Mai, Vietnam. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

The village of Dong Mai in Vietnam’s agricultural heartland had a serious problem.

To boost their meager incomes, its residents – former artisans who once produced and sold bronze casts – had taken to cannibalizing old car and truck lead-acid batteries and smelting them by hand in their own backyards. As a result, the 2,600 people living there had some of the highest blood lead levels ever recorded."Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it." -- Stephan Robinson

Dong Mai’s water and soil had become terribly contaminated — 32-36 times higher than the acceptable limits. People were getting sick, including children. One home assessed with an X-ray Florescence (XRF) analyser had lead levels 50 times the higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard.

Local government knew of the problem, but the cost of cleaning it up – expected to run into the millions – was daunting. Then, a collaboration with the Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth found ways to remediate the lead for much less: about 20 dollars a person.

Once major remedial work was completed, in February 2014, lead levels in the population fell by nearly a third in six months.

“Political will takes time to build,” Rich Fuller, Blacksmith’s president, told IPS. “Governments need solid data on the scope of problems, and how to solve them. Most governments are just starting to build their teams for pollution, and those NGOs that provide support, rather than criticism, have really been a huge help.”

Together with Green Cross Switzerland and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP), the Blacksmith Institute released a report Tuesday highlighting cleanup success stories like Dong Mai’s.

Top Ten Countries Turning the Corner on Toxic Pollution notes that pollution kills more than 8.9 million people around the world each year, most of them children, and the vast majority — 8.4 million — in low- and middle-income countries.

To put that figure in perspective, it is 35 percent more than tobacco-related deaths, almost three times more deaths than malaria and 14 times more deaths than HIV/AIDS.

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

Women in Senegal didn’t know their toxic jobs were poisoning themselves and their families. Credit: Blacksmith Institute for a Pure Earth

“Contrary to popular belief, many of the worst pollution problems are not caused by multinational companies but by poorly regulated small-scale operations like artisanal mining, small industrial estates or abandoned factories,” Stephan Robinson of Green Cross Switzerland told IPS.

“However, high-income countries are indirectly contributing by their demand for commodities and consumer goods to the issue as many of these small-scale operations produce the raw or precursor products,” he added. “They thus support many of these smaller industries, adding to the severity of pollution problems in low-income countries.”

Lead, the culprit in Dong Mai, is especially devastating for children. It can damage the brain and nervous system, cause developmental delays, and in cases of extreme exposure, result in death. Children also tend to have higher exposures because they play in dirt and put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

The economic toll of pollutants on poor and middle income countries is high: the costs of air pollution alone range between six and 12 percent of GDP.

Previous Blacksmith reports had focused on the 10 worst toxic hotspots, but this year, the groups chose to look at practical, replicable solutions that don’t require a vast amount of resources to implement.

“There is so much to do,” Fuller said. “Only a few countries have started down the path. We wanted to give them credit, and have them be examples for expanding work on pollution in other countries.”

In the case of Dong Mai, mobilising the active participation of villagers and local officials was key.

Instead of removing the contamined soil and carting it off to landfills, the backyards were capped with sand, a layer of geotextiles, 20 centimetres of compacted clean soil, bricks, and finally, concrete on top, safely sealing away the lead.

After an educational campaign, 50 villagers took on the task of remediating their own yards in this way. What could have cost about 10 million dollars was accomplished for 60,000.

“GAHP members are encouraged to help their neighbours,” Fuller said. “Often, a success in one country can translate into a project in another.  This is certainly true of lead poisoning and e-waste. The GAHP model is collaborative between international agencies, and between countries, all helping each other work out how to solve these awful problems.”

The other success stories in the report were led by Ghana, Senegal, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico, Indonesia, Philippines, the Former Soviet Union and Kyrgyzstan.

In Thiaroye Sur Mer, Senegal, lead battery recycling was replaced with profitable hydroponic gardens.

In Mexico City, a contaminated oil refinery was turned into an urban park with one million visitors a year.

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, informal e-waste recycling by burning electronic scrap that released toxins is now performed safely by machines.

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

Bicentennial Park is located on the site of a former oil refinery in Azcapotzalco, Mexico. Credit: vladimix, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved

“We worked hard to find solutions that would work for the local recyclers,” Kira Traore, Blacksmith’s programme director for Africa, says in the report. “Simply banning burning wouldn’t help them earn an income. Rather, forbidding burning in Agbogbloshie might push the practice elsewhere, thus expanding the pollution and the number of people affected by it.”

Experts note that local sources of pollution – particularly heavy metals like mercury and arsenic – are often very mobile and can have health impacts thousands of kilometres away.

“Mercury from unsafe artisanal gold mining and coal plants travels the globe and is found in our fish which, e.g., we eat as sushi in London,” Robinson said. “DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is found in the body fat of the inhabitants of Greenland, though there was never agriculture in Greenland.

“Contaminated air from China and elsewhere can be measured in other countries. Radionuclides from nuclear disasters, like Chernobyl, have reached other countries in most of Europe,” he noted.

In essence, rich countries have not only a moral obligation but a vested interest in helping poorer nations address pollution.

“Western nations have had success in cleaning up their toxic and legacy pollution over the last 40 years and can transfer technology and know-how to low- and middle-income countries today. Concretely: We know how to change the situation because we have done it,” he said.

“Pollution problems can only be solved by organisations joining forces and bringing in what they are best at…These are stories proving we are on the right track, and moving forward. But we need to do more with industrialisation in full swing around the world.”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:20:34 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138850

In this column, Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, argues that the United States and the European Union are working hand in hand in a takeover of Ukrainian agriculture which – besides being a sign of Western governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict – is of dubious benefit for the country’s agriculture and farmers.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received 350 million dollars in U.S. military aid, coming on top of a one billion dollar aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in March 2014. 

Western governments’ further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a U.S.-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the U.S. government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country.

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports – The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture and Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict – the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector.

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych’s removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union (EU) Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the
EU – an agreement that was tied to a 17 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the president’s departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform programme that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country.“The manoeuvring for control over the country’s [Ukraine’s] agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War”

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the “structural roots” of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country.

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government’s readiness to follow their advice.

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties.

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector – the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat – could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land – the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union.

The manoeuvring for control over the country’s agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years.

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilisers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country.

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested 140 million dollars in building a new seed plant in Ukraine.

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country.

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping.

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a “25% +1 share” in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tons of grain per year. 

All aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain – from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country – are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms.

European institutions and the U.S. government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a “pro-business” reform agenda, as described by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014.

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies” within the country.

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto.

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians.

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers.

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern “pro-Russian” part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country’s ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit.

As for U.S. and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict? (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. 

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Zimbabwe Battles with Energy Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:59:47 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138847 Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

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

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris  

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OPINION: Looking Two Steps Ahead into Saudi Arabia’s Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-looking-two-steps-ahead-into-saudi-arabias-future/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:08:41 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138838 King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

King Abdullah (left) and his younger brother, Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is now king. Credit: Tribes of the World/cc by 2.09

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

Much has been written about King Abdullah’s legacy and what Saudi Arabia accomplished or failed to accomplish during his reign in terms of reform and human rights. Very little has been written about the role that Muhammad bin Nayef, the newly appointed deputy to the crown prince, could play in the new Saudi Arabia under King Salman.

King Salman is 79 years old and has reportedly suffered one stroke in the past that has affected his left arm. The next in succession, Crown Prince Muqrin, is 69 years old.The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family.

Muhammad bin Nayef—or MBN as he is often referred to in some Western capitals—is only 55. As age and ill health incapacitate his elders, MBN could play a pivotal role as a future crown prince and a potential king in the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia, but more importantly in the kingdom’s regional politics.

The uncomfortable truth is that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia maintained a terrible human rights record, undermined the democratic ideals of Arab Spring, and supported dictatorships in Egypt and Bahrain. It also promoted ugly sectarianism, preaching an ideology that gave rise to the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and other terrorist organisations. The kingdom supposedly did all of these things in the name of fighting Iran.

The equally inconvenient truth is that the Obama administration in the past four years has barely objected to Saudi Arabia’s undemocratic, corrupt, and repressive policies. The Saudi noose around the American neck should no longer be tolerated. MBN, two kings down the line after Salman and Muqrin, could reset Saudi Arabia’s domestic and regional policies and free Washington of Riyadh’s burden.

As king, MBN would be the first such monarch of the second generation of al-Saud. As a relatively young ruler, he would be comfortable in entertaining new ideas and communicating credibly to Saudi youth. I base this analysis on interactions I had with him during my government service several years back.

I discerned several characteristics in MBN that could help him as a future king of Saudi Arabia to nudge the country forward and perhaps usher in a period of real reform. He has a sophisticated knowledge of the root causes of terrorism and radicalisation and how to combat them. He also has a pragmatic approach to regional politics, especially Iran’s role as a regional power, and the linkage between regional stability and Saudi security.

Counterterrorism and deradicalisation

According to media reports, MBN started a comprehensive deradicalisation programme in Saudi Arabia with an eye toward persuading Saudi youth to recant radicalism and terrorism. His two-pronged strategy has exposed youth to moderate Islamic teachings and provided them with jobs and financial support to buy a house and get married.

MBN believes that extremist ideology, economic deprivation, and hopelessness drive young people to become radicalised. Despite the relative success of his programme, however, more and more Saudi youth have joined the ranks of radical groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and IS.

MBN must have realised by now that the roots of radical Sunni ideology come from the mosque sermons and religious fatwas of Salafi-Wahhabi Saudi clerics. Even as he receives hundreds of thousands of dollars to get settled in a home as a married man with a job, a young Saudi continues to be exposed to the poisonous ideology spewed by some religious leaders just outside the walls of the deradicalisation “school.”

Lacking a position of national authority beyond his counterterrorism portfolio, MBN could not really address the source of radical ideology without bringing the wrath of the Saudi religious establishment down on his head. As king, however, he might be able to tackle this sensitive issue.

MBN will face huge obstacles if he decides to address this issue—politically, historically, and culturally. Conservative, intolerant radical Sunni ideology has existed in Saudi Arabia for a long time and can be traced back to the 18th-century teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Since then Saudi culture has been imbued with this interpretation of Islam.

However, as a king representing a younger, Western-educated generation of royals and cognizant of the growing desires of Arab youth for freedom, MBN might feel more empowered to face down the religious establishment in the country.

Furthermore, he might feel less bound by the generations-old agreement between the founder of Saudi Arabia and the al-Shaykh family, which gave al-Saud greater leeway to rule and reserved to the Salafi religious establishment the authority to act as the moral guardian of Saudi society.

Domestic and regional politics

Significant segments of the Saudi people want economic and political reform. They have expressed these views in petitions, on social media, and in action. Shia activists have protested systemic regime discrimination for years. The Saudi government has illegally jailed these activists, convicted them in sham trials, tortured them with impunity, and even killed them.

The future King Muhammad also will have to deal with high unemployment among Saudi youth and the massive corruption of the royal family. In order to avoid a “Saudi Spring,” which is destined to erupt if current policies continue, MBN will have to inject large amounts of money into job creation projects.

He will also have to provide a new kind of education, which would allow Saudi job seekers to compete for employment in the technology-driven, 21st-century global economy. Despite the astronomical wealth Saudi Arabia has accumulated in the past half-century, Saudi education still produces school graduates unqualified to compete in the global economy. As a modernising king, MBN will have to change that.

Regionally, MBN realises that Gulf stability is integral to Saudi security. For Gulf security to endure, he will have to accept Iran as a significant Gulf power and search for ways to develop a mutually beneficial partnership with his Persian neighbour. Iran could be a helpful partner in helping settle the conflicts in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other spots in the region.

If the P5+1 bloc concludes a nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States and Iran would embark on a new relationship, with which Saudi Arabia will have to come to terms.

MBN will also realise, for example, that continued conflict in Bahrain will ultimately destabilise the Gulf region, which will harm Saudi interests. As such, he would have to push al-Khalifa to institute genuine political reform in Bahrain, end systemic discrimination against the Shia majority, and include them in the economic and political process. As a first step, he would have to withdraw Saudi troops from Bahrain, where they have failed to quell anti-regime protests.

Will MBN be able to do it?

Based on MBN’s knowledge of the region and of the terrorist threat to his country, the chances of instituting real political and religious reform during his future reign are 60-40 at best. As a prerequisite for success, he will have to consolidate his power vis a vis the conservative and powerful elements within the royal family. Most importantly, he will have to overcome the opposition of the religious establishment.

His success could be historic. But his failure would be catastrophic for the future of Saudi Arabia. Al-Saud and other Gulf ruling families would not be able to maintain control forever over a population that is increasingly alienated, unemployed, and constantly yearning for a more hopeful future.

The United States should also pay close attention to MBN’s chances of success and should tacitly encourage him to move forward with courage. Regardless of the party controlling the White House, Washington can’t remain oblivious to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.

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.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa’s Rural Women Must Count in Water Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:58:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138833 Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

More women’s voices are being heard at international platforms to address the post-2015 water agenda, as witnessed at the recently concluded international U.N International Water Conference held from Jan. 15 to 17 in Zaragoza, Spain.

But experts say that the same cannot be said of water management at the local level and countries like Kenya are already suffering from the impact of poor water management as a result of the exclusion of rural women.

“At the Zaragoza conference, certain positions were taken as far as water is concerned, but the implementers, who are often rural women, are still in the dark,” environment expert Dismas Wangai told IPS.

Wangai gives the example of the five dams built around the Tana River, the biggest in Kenya. “It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices” – Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania

He says that the dams have not been performing optimally due to poor land management as farmers continue to cultivate too close to these dams.

“This is a major cause of concern because about 80 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from these dams, as well as 60 to 70 percent of hydropower,” he says.

According to Wangai, there is extensive soil erosion due to extensive cultivation around the dams and as a result “a lot of soil is settling in these dams and if this trend continues, the dams will produce less and less water and energy.”

Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women rights,  and one of the speakers at the Zaragoza conference, told IPS that women must be involved in water management at all levels.

“It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices,” she said.

According to Rusimbi, across Africa women account for at least 80 percent of farm labourers, and “this means that if they are not taught best farming practices then this will have serious implications for water management.”

Alice Bouman, honorary founding president of Women for Water Partnership, told IPS that a deficit of water for basic needs affect women in particular, “which means that they are best placed to provide valuable information on the challenges they face in accessing water.”

She added that “they are therefore more likely to embrace solutions to poor water management because they suffer from water stresses at a more immediate level.”

According to Bouman, the time has come for global water partners to begin embracing local women as partners and not merely as groups vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

Water partnerships, she said, must build on the social capital of women because “women make connections and strong networks very easily. These networks can become vehicles for creating awareness around water management.” She called for developing a more comprehensive approach to water management through a gender lens.

Noting that rural women may not have their voices heard during international water conferences, “but through networks with civil society organisations (CSOs), they can be heard”, Rusimbi called for an end to the trend of international organisations bringing solutions to the locals.

This must change, she said. “We need to rope the rural women into these discussions while designing these interventions. They have more to say than the rest of us because they interact with water at very different levels – levels that are very crucial to sustainable water management.”

Wangai also says that rural women, who spend many hours looking for water, are usually only associated with household water needs.

“People often say that these women spend hours walking for water and they therefore need water holes to be brought closer to their homes” but, he argues, the discussion on water must be broadened, and proactively and consciously address the need to bring rural women on board in addressing the water challenges that we still face.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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