Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 23 May 2015 07:31:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Slum-Dwelling Still a Continental Trend in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/slum-dwelling-still-a-continental-trend-in-africa/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 22:47:28 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140782 Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Slums in a Kenyan shanty town. Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, according to UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Photo credit: Colin Crowley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, May 22 2015 (IPS)

Nompumelelo Tshabalala, 41, emerges from her dwarf ‘shack’ made up of rusty metal sheets and falls short of bumping into this reporter as she bends down to avoid knocking her head against the top part of her makeshift door frame.

“This has been my home for the past 16 years and I have lived here with my husband until his death in 2008 and now with my four children still in this two-roomed shack,” she told IPS.

Tshabalala lives in Diepkloof township in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a densely populated informal settlement – a euphemism for slums, where an estimated 15 million of the country’s approximately 52 million people live, according to UN-Habitat, the U.N. agency for human settlements.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe has an estimated 835,000 people living in informal settlements, according to Homeless International, a British non-governmental organisation focusing on urban poverty issues. “Local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs” – Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust

“Slum-dwelling here in Africa has become normal, a trend to live with, which is difficult to combat owing to numerous factors ranging from political corruption to economic inequalities necessitated by the growing gap between the rich and the poor,” Gilbert Nyaningwe, an independent development expert from Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Overall, out of an estimated population of 1.1 billion people, Africa has more than 570 million slum-dwellers, reports UN-Habitat, with over half of the urban population (61.7 percent) living in slums. Worldwide, notes the U.N. agency, the number of slum-dwellers now stands at 863 million and is set to shoot up to 889 million by 2020.

Development agencies in Africa say slum-dwelling remains a continental trend despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goals targets compelling all countries globally to achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

According to the United Nations, that 100 million target “was met well in advance of the 2020 deadline”, and in African countries such as Egypt, Libya and Morocco the total number of urban slum dwellers has almost been halved, Tunisia has eradicated them completely, and Ghana, Senegal and Uganda have made steady progress, reducing their slum populations by up to 20 percent.

However, sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest rate of “slum incidence” of any major world region, with millions of people living in settlements characterised by some combination of overcrowding, tenuous dwelling structures, and poor or no access to adequate water and sanitation facilities.

Hector Mutharika, a retired economist in late Malawian President Kamuzu Banda’s government, blamed poor service delivery for the increase in slums in Africa.

“The increasing numbers of slum dwellers in Africa is due to poor service delivery here by local authorities which more often than not worry most about filling their pockets from local authorities’ coffers instead of channelling proper housing facilities to poor people, which then pushes homeless individuals into building slum settlements anywhere,” Mutharika told IPS.

For Rwandan civil society activist Otapiya Gundurama, the roots of the problem go far back in time. “Shanty homes in Africa are a result of the continent’s urban infrastructure set up during colonial rule at which time housing and economic diversification were limited, with everything related to urban governance centralised, while towns and cities were established to enhance the lifestyles and interests of a minority,” Gundurama told IPS.

Some opposition politicians in Africa, like Gilbert Dzikiti, president of Zimbabwe’s opposition Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (DARE), see the trend of growing slums here as a result of government failure. “The perpetual rise of slum settlements in Africa testifies to persistent failure by governments here to invest in both rural and urban development,” Dzikiti told IPS.

African civil society leaders blame rising unemployment on the continent for the continuing rise in the number of slums. “Be it in cities or remote areas, slums in Africa are a result of huge numbers of jobless people who hardly have the means to upgrade their own dwellings,” Precious Shumba, director of the Harare Residents Trust in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

In order to reverse the trend of growing slums across the continent, Shumba said, “local authorities in African countries should strike a balance in developing both rural and urban areas, creating employment so that people stop flocking to cities in huge numbers in search of jobs.”

African slum-dwellers like South Africa’s Tshabalala accuse city authorities of ignoring the mushrooming of informal settlements for selfish reasons.

“Slums here are sources of cheap labour that keeps the wheels of industry turning, which is why local authorities are not concerned about our living standards because they [local authorities] are getting more and more revenue from firms thriving on our sweat,” Tshabalala told IPS.

Meanwhile, rising slum settlements in Africa are also having a knock-on effect for other development goals in the education and health sectors for example.

“The United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal attainment of primary education for all by the end of this year is certainly set to be missed by a number of countries here in Africa, especially as many of these sprouting slum settlements have no schools to help the children growing in the communities get any education,” a senior official in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

At the same time, “there are often no toilets, no water and no clinics in most slum-dwelling areas here, exposing people to diseases, consequently derailing the MDG of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in informal settlements,” Owen Dliwayo of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read other articles in the series here.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Ethiopia’s First Film at Cannes Gives Moving View of Childhood, Genderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ethiopias-first-film-at-cannes-gives-moving-view-of-childhood-gender/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 18:11:45 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140769 A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape – the three stars of 'Lamb', Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival, a film which subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

By A. D. McKenzie
CANNES, May 22 2015 (IPS)

A boy, a sheep and a stunning mountain landscape. These are the three stars of Lamb, a poignant film directed by 36-year-old Yared Zeleke and Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.

The film was warmly received at its premiere this week, with the director and cast receiving applause. It is slated for general French release later this year, Zeleke said.“I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother ... I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me” – Yared Zeleke, director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first film at Cannes

Shot in the highlands and forests of northern and central Ethiopia, Lamb tells the story of nine-year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare) and his beloved pet, a sheep named Chuni. The animal follows Ephraim around like a devoted dog, and plays the role of best friend, albeit one who can only say “ba-ah”.

When the film begins, we learn that Ephraim has lost his mother in an ongoing famine and, in order to survive, his father has decided to take him to stay with relatives in a remote but greener region of their homeland, an area of intense beauty but increasing poverty. Ephraim will have to stay there while his father seeks work in the city, not knowing when he can return.

The relatives are an intriguing bunch. There’s the strict farmer uncle who thinks Ephraim is too girly (the boy likes to cook), his wife who’s overworked and worried about her small, sick child, a matriarchal great aunt who tries to keep the family in line with a whip, and an older girl cousin – Tsion – who spends her time reading and with whom Ephraim eventually bonds.

Soon after arriving in their midst, Ephraim is told by his uncle that he will have to learn what boys do: he will have to slaughter his pet sheep for an upcoming traditional feast.

The news pushes Ephraim to start devising ways to save Chuni, and that forms the bulk of the storyline, while the film subtly highlights gender issues, the ravages of drought and the isolation that comes from the feeling of not belonging. Throughout it all, the magnificent rolling hills are there, watching.

We learn in passing that Ephraim is half-Jewish through his mother, whom the relatives refer to as “Falasha people”; but Zeleke says that this is not at all meant to signal division, because Ethiopians generally do not identify themselves by religious affiliation. In fact, the Christian relatives all seem to have admired the mother.

They attribute Ephraim’s skill at cooking to her teaching, and some of the most moving moments are centred on food – feeding and being fed by a loved one.

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of Lamb, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

Yared Zeleke, 36-year-old director of ‘Lamb’, Ethiopia’s first entry in France’s prestigious Cannes International Film Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Slum Kid Films

The film is dedicated to the director’s grandmother, and another striking element is how sympathetically women are portrayed, although Zeleke told IPS that this was probably done more “semi-consciously” than on purpose.

“A lot of the writing process for me is intuitive,” he said in an interview. “But I was raised by strong and beautiful Ethiopian women, such as my grandmother whom I’m named after and who was known for her great storytelling. I think that’s what made me a filmmaker … It’s an homage to these beautiful Ethiopian women that shaped me.”

In Lamb, Tsion – played by the smouldering Kidist Siyum – is shown as smart and knowledgeable, but her love of reading is considered useless by the family because it does not get the back-breaking household chores done. Ephraim’s ability to cook and sell samosas on the market is seen as more helpful, drawing attention to some of the burdens of childhood in poor countries.

Tsion is eventually pushed to make a sad choice, leaving Ephraim more alone than ever, but the film ends on an upbeat note, with the possibility of acceptance. A simple and unforeseen act of kindness towards Ephraim by Tsion’s abandoned suitor might trigger most viewers’ tears.

As a first feature, Lamb is a glowing success for Zeleke, who grew up in central Addis Ababa and went on to study film-making at New York University, after a first degree in natural resource management and an attempt at a Master’s in agri-economics at a Norwegian university.

“I always wanted to work with Ethiopian farmers, and to tackle the biggest issue facing our country, but in the end, I made up a film about them instead,” he told IPS.

With his credible story and the feel of authenticity, the director shows that he knows his culture and people, while the loving attention to the landscape and the tight focus on his characters also reveals confidence and vision.

Members of the cast equally turn in a fine performance.  Amare Rediat is affecting and sincere as Ephraim, with his huge expressive eyes, and Siyum has a coiled energy that conveys the frustration of a bright girl expected to marry and “breed” quickly because that is her only fate.

Produced by Slum Kid Films – an Ethiopia-based company that Zeleke co-founded with Ghanaian producer Ama Ampadu and which works to support the country’s film sector – Lamb was shown in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard category. This section highlights daring, innovative, off-beat works, and Zeleke’s film certainly fits the bill.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*   This article is published in association with Southern World Arts News (SWAN).

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Novelists, Directors Respond as ‘Water Wars’ Loomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/novelists-directors-respond-as-water-wars-loom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=novelists-directors-respond-as-water-wars-loom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/novelists-directors-respond-as-water-wars-loom/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 13:50:51 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140767 Paolo Bacigalupi. Credit: JT Thomas Photography

Paolo Bacigalupi. Credit: JT Thomas Photography

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, May 22 2015 (IPS)

Item: In a recent blog post at the New Yorker magazine, staff writer Dana Goodyear surveys the current drought impacting California and writes: “It’s hard to escape the feeling we are living a cli-fi novel’s Chapter One.”

Item: Edward L. Rubin, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, surveys the ongoing California drought in an oped at Salon magazine, writing: “As the California drought enters its fourth year, it is threatening to strangle the splendid irrigation system that transformed the previously desolate Central Valley into some of the world’s most productive farmland and the scruffy Los Angeles Basin into one of the world’s great cities.”

Item: Indian film director Shekhar Kapur is currently in pre-production for a climate-themed movie about future ”water wars” in New Delhi and titled “Paani,” a Hindi word for ”water.”

Item: Adam Trexler in the introduction to “Anthropocene Fictions,” his newly-released academic study of 150 climate change novels, by authors in Germany, Finland and Canada over the past 50 years, writes: “Perhaps prompted by [the] coinage of “cli-fi,” [media] reported that the global warming has spurred the creation of a whole new genre of fiction.”

Welcome to the 21st century, where water issues combined with climate change and global warming threaten to turn the future into something that is difficult for most of us to imagine.

But that is where novelists and film directors come in, for they can toy with ideas and scenarios and try to make sense of where we stand now and where are headed.

Meet Paolo Bacigalupi, a fifth-generation Italian American and a prose writer with a sterling literary pedigree.

While he once wrote novels that were marketed as science fiction, his new novel, titled “The Water Knife,” is pure cli-fi. The story he tells seems almost ripped from daily newspaper headlines about heat waves, droughts, water shortages and, well, “water wars.”

A Colorado native married to a woman from India, Bacigalupi has in the past written environmentally-themed sci-fi novels. ”The Water Knife,” released this month, leaves science fiction behind and ventures deep into the mushrooming cli-fi genre.

Now in his forties, Bacigalupi writes like few people can today, prose that sings, ideas that flow, musings that ponder who we are and what we are doing on – and to – this planet Earth.

He is famous for saying that one of the classic questions that resonates with him as an author is: “If this goes on, what will the world look like?”

”The Water Knife” is set in America’s near future, and it’s about “water wars” between two major western cities: Las Vegas and Phoenix. The title comes from the starring role that so-called “water
knives” – a term the author coined for his story – play in the climate-themed story.

As master storyteller Bacigalupi frames it, “water knives” are eco-terrorists, hired thugs who become major players in a near future water war in the American Southwest that he imagines and delves into.

At a recent appearance at the annual American Library Association convention in Chicago, Bacigalupi introduced his new novel this way:

“You want a drought? I’ll give you a drought!”

And that’s what ”The Water Knife” is all about: a major drought that impacts the West.

Sound familiar? This book has legs, and it is likely to make a major impact of its own upon publication.
Translations are sure to appear in at least 12 editions outside the U.S., from Brazil to Spain.

Bacigalupi has a good track record as a novelist and short story writer, and he has fans worldwide now.

An earlier novel, ”The Windup Girl,” was a major genre hit, and ”The Water Knife” appears poised to go mainstream with an even bigger impact.

“Mad Max,” “The Hunger Games,” “Waterworld,” “The Walking Dead” and innumerable other books, movies and television series portray futures where the world has been devastated by disasters.

Do we really want to assign blame to global warming?

In the famous words of the American cartoonist Walt Kelly who created the Pogo character, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Bacigalupi knows this better than most people.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A Chimera in Growing Cooperation Between China and Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/a-chimera-in-growing-cooperation-between-china-and-brazil/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 22:31:02 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140757 Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang with his host, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, during the ceremony for the signing of agreements that ended the Chinese leader’s two-day visit to Brasilia, on May 19. Credit: EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 21 2015 (IPS)

A total of 35 agreements and contracts were signed during Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Brazil, as part of the growing ties between the two countries. But there is one project that drew all the attention: the Transcontinental Railway.

The railroad will stretch over 5,000 km from the port of Açú, 300 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, to a port in Peru. The Peruvian port will be selected after feasibility studies are carried out to determine the viability of specific sites, according to the memorandum of understanding signed by Brazil, China and Peru.

“It’s crazy,” said Newton Rabello, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro who specialises in transportation systems. “The 4,000-metre barrier of the Andes mountains and the high costs make the project unviable from the start,” he told IPS.

“Railroads don’t like rugged terrain; all of the ones laid in the Andes mountains were closed down and the so-called bullet train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo didn’t work because of the absurd costs,” explained Rabello, an engineer with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He argued that other railways proposed for creating a connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans won’t work, for the same reasons – including the ones that cross the areas of greatest economic density such as South America’s Southern Cone region, where the only thing needed is to build stretches to complement already existing railways.

Other accords signed by President Dilma Rousseff and Li, or by some of the 120 businesspersons who accompanied the Chinese leader, are more concrete and opportune for the Brazilian government, which is facing a fiscal adjustment and does not have the resources to carry out necessary infrastructure projects and revive the stagnant economy.

The accords involve a total investment by China of 53 billion dollars – a figure mentioned by the Brazilian government without confirmation from China or a detailed breakdown because it covers initiatives in different stages – some still on paper, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, and others which will go out to bid.

But the participation of Chinese companies and capital will make it possible to jumpstart many infrastructure projects that have been delayed or stalled, such as railroads for the exportation of the soy grown in Brazil’s Midwest and Northeast regions.

A 50 billion dollar fund will be established toward that end by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Brazil’s Caixa Econômica Federal.

Industry, meanwhile, will be the prime focus of the government’s Bilateral Productive Cooperation fund. China will provide 20 to 30 billion dollars and Brazil will later decide what its quota will be.

The industrialisation of Latin America is one aim of China’s development finance, Li said in Brasilia, in response to complaints about the asymmetry of trade relations, with Latin America’s exports practically limited to commodities.

Li’s visit to Brazil represented the first part of his first Latin America tour, which is taking him to Colombia, Peru and Chile until his return home on May 26.

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Ponta da Madeira bridge in Northeast Brazil, which will be connected with iron ore mines by means of a new railroad that will transport the mineral to the ships that set out from this region for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The agreements signed in Brasilia for financial cooperation accentuate the much-criticised asymmetry. Chinese banks granted seven billion dollars in new loans to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras, which come on top of earlier credits that guarantee oil supplies to China.

Another beneficiary of the agreements is Brazil’s mining giant Vale, included in a four billion dollar credit line for the purchase of ships to transport 400,000 tons of iron ore.

Oil and iron ore make up nearly 80 percent of Brazil’s exports to China. Hence China’s interest in improving this country’s transport infrastructure, to reduce the cost of Brazil’s exports, besides providing work for China’s construction companies now that domestic demand is waning.

Another agreement opens up the Chinese market to exports of cattle on the hoof from Brazil.

Brazil has exported some industrial products to China, mainly from the aeronautics industry. The sale of 22 planes from the Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica (Embraer) to a Chinese company was finalised during Li’s visit. A prior accord had established the sale of a total of 60.

Bilateral trade amounted to 77.9 billion dollars in 2014, with a trade surplus for Brazil, although it is shrinking due to the fall in commodity prices. The goal is to reach 100 billion dollars in trade in the near future, according to the Chinese prime minister.

The stronger relations, especially the increase in Chinese investment, “could be positive for Brazil, but we have to control our enthusiasm over the closer ties,” said Luis Afonso Lima, president of the Brazilian Society of Transnational Corporations and Economic Globalisation.

“China may have more to gain than us in this process: they are seeking suppliers (of raw materials) throughout Latin America, but without any urgency because their economy has slowed down; they can think things through strategically, with a view to the long term,” the economist told IPS.

“With more experience built up in their ancient culture, they know what they want – they are seeking more global power, and alliances with emerging countries from other regions, like Brazil, expand their influence,” he said.

With nearly four trillion dollars in foreign reserves, they can finance the development of any country, he said.

Meanwhile, Brazil, “which is in an emergency situation and in need of short-term financing, is merely reacting, without any strategy,” he said. “That is why the enthusiasm over Chinese investment worries me; we could end up frustrated, and worse, it could expose us to manipulation, like what happened with Argentina.”

Lima said Brazil had already been frustrated once: when Brazil officially recognised China as a market economy in 2004, offering it better trade conditions, China failed to live up to its commitment of 10 billion dollars in investment in industry in this country.

Another disappointment was the promise to install in Brazil a 12 billion dollar plant by the Chinese company Foxconn, to produce electronic devices. In the end the investment amounted to less than one-tenth of what was promised when the deal was announced in 2011.

But today’s circumstances favour greater economic complementation between the two countries and more balanced bilateral trade.

“China stopped putting a priority on exports and is stimulating domestic consumption, while Brazil is in the opposite situation, with a reduction in internal demand and a greater export effort, which opens up a possibility of synergy between the two countries,” Lima said.

But clear goals are needed to take advantage of this opportunity, he said, “along with long-term planning with clearly defined priorities, the necessary reforms, and productive investment in manufacturing….but the Brazilian government seems to be lost.”

The Transcontinental Railway is designed “to prioritise exports of soy and minerals” to Asia, mainly China, he said.

“Historically railroads led to a major reduction in costs for land transport, replacing draft animals and carts,” said Rabello. “Costs fell from six to one, and even lower in some cases, and that stuck in the minds of people who still see trains as a solution, because they have no idea of today’s costs.”

As a result, several parallel railroads are being built in Brazil, running towards the centre of the country, where agricultural production, especially of soy, is on the rise. Where there was only one precarious railway for carrying exports they now want to offer three or four alternatives, or even more, such as the interoceanic rail corridor, which is “excessive,” the professor said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Germany’s Asylum Seekers – You Can’t Evict a Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/germanys-asylum-seekers-you-cant-evict-a-movement/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:16:23 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140745 Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

Refugees in Berlin defied a municipal eviction order in June 2014 with a nine-day hunger strike on the rooftop of a vacant school building using the slogan “You Can’t Evict a Movement” which today has become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement in Germany. Credit: Denise Garcia Bergt

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, May 21 2015 (IPS)

In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe’s ongoing debate on migration, Germany’s asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: “You Can’t Evict a Movement!”.

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

“We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal,” Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling."In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime. Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom" – Adam Bahar, Sudanese blogger and campaigner for Germany’s refugee movement

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin’s Oranienplatz square, known here as the O’Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

“That was a very sad moment for us,” said Napuli. “Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility,” she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O’Platz “protest camp”, which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a “lager” reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

“When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders,” Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany’s refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other “lagers”, starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany’s enforced residence policy, or “Residenzpflicht”, a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O’Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district’s Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school’s rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan “You can’t evict a movement”, which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees’ movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  “The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century,” said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

Angela Davis (Flickr)

During her May 2015 visit to Berlin, Angela Davis brought a message of support to members of the German refugee movement outside an occupied school building in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

“The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well,” Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement’s magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy “working” schedule.

“There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours,” Ulu told IPS.

“We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest.”

Germany’s problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement’s campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

“In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime,” he said. ”Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media’s often empty slogans of justice and freedom.”

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin’s Humboldt University, “colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry.”

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. “Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation’s wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world.”

Meanwhile, the refugee movement’s unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin’s local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of “immigration” for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in “asylum-worthy” categories. “In Germany there are three categories of refugees,” Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

“The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere.”

“This is unfair,” he said. “Human tragedy should not be classified.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Climate Change: Some Companies Reject ‘Business as Usual’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/climate-change-some-companies-reject-business-as-usual/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-some-companies-reject-business-as-usual http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/climate-change-some-companies-reject-business-as-usual/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 16:06:33 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140742 Demonstrators protesting at the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, May 20. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Demonstrators protesting at the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, May 20. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to climate change, business as usual is simply “not an option”.

That was the view of Eldar Saetre, CEO of Norwegian multinational Statoil, as international industry leaders met in Paris for a two-day Business & Climate Summit, six months ahead of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21 ) that will also be held in the French capital.

Subtitled “Working together to build a better economy”, the May 20-21 summit brought together some 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest retail and energy concerns, including  companies that NGOs have criticized as being among the worst environmental offenders.

At the end, business leaders proclaimed that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wanted to see this happen at COP 21.

Throughout the conference, participants stressed that businesses will have to change, not only to protect the environment, but for their own survival. “Taking climate action simply makes good business sense. However, business solutions on climate are not being scaled up fast enough,” declared the summit organizers.

They pledged to lead the “global transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy.”

Saetre, for example, said his company wanted to achieve “low-carbon oil and gas production” and that it had embarked on renewables in the form of offshore wind energy. But he said that fossil fuels would still be needed in the future, alongside the various forms of renewable energy.

Acknowledging the widespread scepticism about multinational companies’ commitment, business leaders said that they could not “go it alone”, and called for support from governments as well as consumers.

Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at British retailer Marks & Spencer, told IPS in an interview that global commitment was important in the drive to transform industry to have more environmentally friendly practices.

“Collective action can bring about real change,” he said. “We’re here today because we believe that climate change is happening and it’s going to have a significant impact on our business in the future and our success.

“Our customers would expect us to take the lead on this, and we want governments to take this seriously as well in the run-up to COP 21 [the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11].”

He said that Marks & Spencer and other companies in a network called the Consumer Goods Forum wanted to “stand shoulder to shoulder with government to say ‘this matters and we’re here to help’.”

But government consensus on how to address climate change has proved difficult, and even French President Francois Hollande, who opened the summit, conceded that it would require a miracle for a real agreement to be reached at COP 21.

“We must have a consensus. It’s already not easy in our own countries, so with 196 countries, a miracle is needed,” he said at the Business & Climate Summit, expressing the conviction, however, that agreement will be reached through negotiation and “responsibility”.

Hollande and other officials said the involvement of businesses was essential, and France, with its huge oil and electricity companies, evidently has a big role to play.

However, demonstrators outside the summit, held at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), slammed big business.

“These multinationals (and the banks that finance their activities) are in fact directly at the origin of climate change,” read a statement from organisations including Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth, France) and the civil disobedience group J.E.D.I. for Climate.

Saying that it was ironic to have fossil-fuel companies represented at the summit, the groups asked: “Can one imagine for a second that the tobacco industry would be associated with policies to combat smoking aimed at ending the production of cigarettes? No, that would be the best way to ensure that the world continued to chain-smoke.”

The protesters added that if Hollande and his ministers wanted to show a real commitment to the environment, they should make it clear that “the climate is not a business”.

“The fight against climate change is not the business of fossil-fuel multinationals: they belong to our past,” the groups said in a joint release, handed out on the street.

At the summit, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that businesses should not be “demonised” and she called for collaboration rather than confrontation.

“We all start with a carbon footprint,” she said. “It is not a question of demonising anyone but realizing that we’re all here … This is not about confrontation. This is about collaboration. If you’re thinking about confrontation, forget it. Because we’re not going to get there.”

The summit – co-hosted by Entreprises Pour l’Environnement, an association of some 40 French and large international companies, and UN Global Compact France, a policy initiative for businesses – also addressed the vulnerability of island states in the face of climate change.

Tony de Brum, the Marshall Islands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that island states in the Pacific and elsewhere had an interest in keeping pressure on carbon emitters because their populations’ survival was at stake.

Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also highlighted the threat to vulnerable countries, saying that for them, climate change is not about protecting the environment for future generations, but “it’s about how long the water will take to overcome the land.”

Gurría said that greater reductions in carbon emissions were required than has so far been proposed by states, and he stressed that countries over time needed to “develop a pathway to net zero emissions globally” by the second half of the century.

“Governments at COP 21 need to send a clear directional signal that will drive action for decades to come,” he said. “We are on a collision course with nature, and unless we seize this opportunity, we face an increasing risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible climate impact.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Pakistan’s Streets Kids Drop the Begging Bowl, Opt for Pencils Insteadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:45:53 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140739 In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

Khalil Ahmed’s life story sounds like it could have come straight out of the plot of a Bollywood flick, but it didn’t. And that makes it all the more inspiring.

Residents of the sleepy town of Gambat, 500 km from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where Ahmed was an all too familiar face, may not recognise the 12-year-old today.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.” -- Khalil Ahmed, a Pakistani street kid turned star student
Wearing a clean, pressed uniform and polished shoes, his hair oiled and neatly combed, and his fingernails immaculately trimmed, he is a far cry from the scrawny, dirty, bedraggled young boy of eight who, just four years ago, could be seen clutching his grandmother’s hand, pleading for alms from passersby.

Sometimes he would even beg outside the Behram Rustomji Campus – the school where he is now enrolled as a pupil.

Currently in the fourth grade, his teachers say he is one of the brightest kids in his class of 20 students, 13 of whom are girls.

Located in Pipri village, where over 95 percent of the roughly 1,000 households earn their living by begging on the streets, this humble institution has given Ahmed a rare chance to receive an education, in a country where 42 percent of the population aged 10 years and older is illiterate.

In this remote village, 45 km away from Sukkur city, the third largest in the Sindh Province, Ahmed and scores of other children like him are moving gradually away from the begging bowl and closer to pencils and schoolbooks, implements far more suited to young children with any hope of a decent future.

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

With a recent Oxfam study revealing that 82 percent of the richest children in Pakistan attend school while 50 percent of the poorest do not, it is plain that a kind of ‘educational apartheid’ exists in this South Asian country.

Indeed, Pakistan’s slow progress towards the U.N.’s Education for All (EFA) initiative has skewed figures for the entire region: a 2015 study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents globally live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

While lauding the efforts of independent civil society groups to change this terrible reality, experts here nevertheless insist that nothing short of massive government intervention can turn the tide.

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who heads Alif Ailaan, a campaign that strives to put education at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan, despite “heroic efforts that consistently produce remarkable stories […], the sum is not equaling or exceeding the parts.”

“The state keeps failing children,” he told IPS, “and keeps failing those making an effort for the children.” Until the government fulfils its duty of providing an enabling environment, “even the brightest lights will not shine to their full potential.”

To his mind the government’s entire schooling system needs to be overhauled.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent educationist, goes a step further. While agreeing that those who complete 10th grade have a far higher chance of succeeding in life than those without basic literacy, he believes this is “only one step towards closing the enormous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

To him, securing a decent life often depends on factors “unconnected to learning and competence”, such as pre-existing family wealth and property, connections to powerful individuals or groups in society, ethnicity, sect, religion and gender.

This daunting catalogue in many ways represents a to-do list for the government, revealing the social, political and economic issues it must tackle in order to create a more equal Pakistan.
The school is run by a non-profit organisation called The Citizens Foundation (TCF), created in 1995 by a group of ordinary citizens who were appalled at the dismal state of Pakistan’s education system.

True to its pledge, TCF today runs 1,060 ‘purpose-built’ schools all across the country dedicated to serving the most marginalised communities and to removing class barriers that hinder opportunities for the poor, who comprise 22 percent of this country’s population of 180 million people.

Prior to enrolling at the Behram Rustomji Campus, Ahmed was both the product and the image of the vast inequalities that plague Pakistani society, hindering its efforts to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose deadline expires later this year.

Poverty and illiteracy are among the most severe challenges to Pakistan’s development, and although some progress has been made to level the playing field and give all citizens a fighting chance, huge gaps still need to be closed.

For instance, according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published in collaboration with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an estimated 6.7 million children are currently out of school, the majority (62 percent) of whom are girls.

Of the roughly 21.4 million primary-school-aged children currently enrolled in schools, only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, the UNESCO report predicts, while 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

The situation is worse for street children, who in order to help their destitute families make ends meet, are forced to wander for hours eliciting spare change.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) believes there are about 1.5 million children living and working on Pakistan’s streets.

Few will ever see the inside of a school, or find decent work. Most are simply condemned to a life of poverty among the ranks of the 22 million people here who earn less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.

Experts are agreed that absent a decent education, children born to low-income families are far less likely to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Tackling inequality in the classroom

Luckily, TCF schools are helping to turn this tide by offering a “pay as you can” option for families who cannot afford school fees.

“Our minimum fee is ten rupees (about 0.09 dollars) per month, and the rationale for this is that people value a service that has some monetary cost attached to it,” Ayesha Khatib, content manager at TCF’s marketing department, explained to IPS, adding that the average monthly expense borne by a family amounts to no more than 30 rupees (0.29 dollars).

While this amount is not negligible to those living on the brink of starvation, to kids like Ahmed it is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity it allows.

“I didn’t like what I was doing,” he confessed to IPS. “I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.”

With Ahmed now spending most of his time studying, his mother has joined his father on the streets to make up for lost income. Between them they earn a few dollars a day, money that generally goes immediately on buying food for the family.

And they are not alone in their woes.

Rabail Abbas Phulpoto, the school’s 25-year-old principal, told IPS that 85 percent of her students come from families who beg for a living and were thus reluctant to lose their breadwinners to the blackboard.

“I started engaging with the community about three years ago,” Phulpoto explained. “There was resistance at first but after eight months of persistent dialogue, I found [parents] relenting. A few sent their boys, but not their girls, and I found out that even those kids were continuing to beg after school.”

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Today, 235 of the 350 students in the school are former street children. “The importance of education has finally sunk in,” she said, “and each [child’s] story is more inspiring than the last.”

None of them has reverted back to begging. Those who are required to contribute to the family kitty do odd jobs like working at corner stores for a few hours after school, the principal said.

Ahmed, for instance, worked for a mobile phone company for a while. Now he has learnt how to fix phones, and wants to use his education to become a computer engineer when he grows up.

Perhaps most importantly, the social barriers between the well-off students and their less fortunate peers are slowly breaking down. Whereas once the more privileged kids had avoided even sitting next to children from beggar families, now there is more fluidity, and more understanding, Phulpoto said.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Centre for Education and Consciousness (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, or ITA) and coordinator of the South Asia Forum For Education Development (SAFED), referred to this initiative as transformative, both for the children and their families.

“I am sure each day they bring home newfangled ideas […],” she told IPS. “They are learning to do everyday mathematics, so they can help parents keep daily accounts.”

She hopes eventually discussions on earning options beyond beggary will ensue.

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

“I wish I’d grow up fast,” he told IPS, “so that my parents don’t have to work at all.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Burundi Leader, Stifling Attempted Coup, Cracks Down on Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/burundi-leader-stifling-attempted-coup-cracks-down-on-media/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 21:06:38 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140732 A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

A UN officer receiving Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Credit: UN photo

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 20 2015 (IPS)

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkuruziza, who narrowly avoided his removal from office by a citizen-backed military coup, has turned against the media that closely reported the day to day protests.

Nkuruziza was out of the country in Tanzania at a meeting of East African leaders when he learned that hundreds of Burundians were cheering his overthrow and thousands were fleeing into exile. Upon his return he quickly regrouped, dismissing the defence and foreign ministers and attacking news outlets.

A press release from the Committee to Protect Journalists recapped: “In recent days, at least five radio stations were attacked during violence over an attempted coup in the capital, Bujumbura, and threats were made against a newspaper which caused it to stop publishing, according to reports.”

“We call on the authorities and the citizens of Burundi to respect the role of journalists and the media during these uncertain times, when a consistent flow of information is vital,” said Sue Valentine, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator. “Attacking news outlets is never a solution, especially when citizens need to know what is happening around them and those in power should be listening to what their people are saying.”

Last Thursday, unidentified individuals fired grenades into the compounds of privately owned stations Bonesha FM, Renaissance Radio and Television, Radio Isanganiro, and the privately owned Burundian station African Public Radio, according to reports. Another report on Thursday said that the offices of African Public Radio had been burned down, with a report saying that it had been hit by a rocket. None of the stations are currently operating.

In Burundi, where Internet penetration was only 1.3 per cent in 2013 according to the International Telecommunications Union, radio is the primary source of news.

Meanwhile, elections are going forward next month despite an outcry from citizens that the president was seeking a third term in office in violation of the constitution.

Requests that the elections be postponed were most recently received from Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Previous requests came from the Burundi’s Catholic hierarchy and the U.S. State Department, among others.

President Nkuruziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, in his first public address, thanked loyalist forces for crushing the attempted coup. He warned demonstrators to end weeks of protests against his bid for a third consecutive term in office.

Nkuruziza, who uses Twitter, then sent the following tweet: “I ask all Burundians to keep calm. The situation is under control.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Minorities Threatened More by Governments than Terrorist Groups, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 19:52:59 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140729 Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

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

In the conflict-ridden Middle East, minority groups continue to be threatened, attacked and expelled from their home countries by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Still, a new study released Wednesday by the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says populations in the region were more at risk from their own governments.Threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - increased significantly both last year and this year.

The minorities under attack include Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, ethnic Kurds, and both Coptic and Assyrian Christians.

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s executive director, told IPS the threat to minorities around the world from terrorism is very real, “but it is generally not as great as the threat from their own governments.”

From Sudan to Myanmar to the Russian Federation, he pointed out, minorities have suffered systematic attacks from the governments that are supposed to protect them.

In Syria, while many minorities now live in government-held enclaves, the civilian death toll as a whole is highest from attacks by the government side, he added.

With over 200,000 people now dead in the conflict, and up to half of the population forced from their homes, the crisis in Syria continues to worsen.

For the first time, the Syrian crisis tops the annual ‘Peoples under Threat’ table.

Extreme sectarianism has now infected much of the country, with nearly all the remaining Christian communities living in enclaves in government-held areas, the report noted.

Only in the Kurdish-held regions of the north has there been a serious attempt at establishing an inclusive democracy, says MRG.

According to the report, threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan- increased significantly both last year and this year.

Asked what the United Nations can do to protect minority rights, Lattimer told IPS thousands of U.N. staffers around the world work hard to protect minority communities.

But the U.N. as a whole often takes a reactive approach, only taking notice once violations of minority rights become extreme.

Enormous improvements could be made if minorities were routinely included in development projects, if minorities were able to participate fully in public life and if minority communities were represented around the table at peace talks, he added.

Iraq headed the table when the Peoples under Threat index was first published in 2006 and it has never been far from the top of the index in the intervening years.

Over 14,000 civilians were killed in 2014, many of them in massacres perpetrated by ISIS as it expelled minority communities, including Yezidis, Shabak, Chaldo-Assyrians and Turkmen, from Mosul, Sinjar and the Ninewa plain.

Thousands of Yezidi women and girls remain in ISIS captivity, and the risk remains acute for Shi’a communities threatened by ISIS and Sunnis at risk of retaliation from Iraqi Security Forces and allied Shi’a militias, according to MRG.

Conflict in the Central African Republic, which has risen four places this year, to occupy number 10 in the ranking, continued between the largely Muslim former Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka militias comprised mainly of Christians.

Upwards of 850,000 people – nearly one-fifth of the country’s population – were refugees or internally displaced at the end of 2014, and many tens of thousands more fled their homes in the first months of 2015.

A controversial peace agreement was signed in April 2015 between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka leaders in Nairobi.

Egypt rose another three places in the index this year, according to the study.

Ongoing fighting and toughening security measures have affected the lives of Sinai Bedouin, who have long suffered political and economic marginalisation.

Human rights activists also continued to criticise the government for doing too little to provide security for Coptic and other Christian communities, especially in Upper Egypt, where individuals, their homes and places of worship regularly came under attack.

In China, which has risen a dramatic 15 places in the table, there was a severe escalation in the tactics used by Uighur militants seeking independence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Over 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks, hundreds detained in mass arrests and dozens of death sentences handed down.

Little has been done, says MRG, to address the legacy of under-development and exclusion of Uighur communities that lies behind the unrest, and the government’s strategy of labelling Uighur human rights activists as terrorists has forestalled attempts to improve the situation.

The return of a more autocratic style of government in the Russian Federation, which occupies position 16 in the table, has coincided with rising xenophobia in Russian society against migrants, whether from abroad or from the Caucasus, says MRG.

But the threat is greatest in the North Caucasus itself, where regular clashes continue between Russian forces and Islamist separatists in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and, particularly, Dagestan, adds MRG.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Lessons from an Indian Tribe on How to Manage the Food-Forest Nexushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 15:08:06 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140706 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/lessons-from-an-indian-tribe-on-how-to-manage-the-food-forest-nexus/feed/ 0 U.N., World Bank Set 2030 Deadline for Sustainable Energy for Allhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-world-bank-set-2030-deadline-for-sustainable-energy-for-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-world-bank-set-2030-deadline-for-sustainable-energy-for-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-world-bank-set-2030-deadline-for-sustainable-energy-for-all/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 12:21:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140703 Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Mules carry a solar energy system to a remote region in the Himalayan desert region of Ladakh. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 19 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, an unrelenting advocate of sustainable energy for all (SE4All), once dramatised the need for modern conveniences by holding up his cell phone before an audience in the Norwegian capital of Oslo and asking: “What would we do without them?”

“We are all dependent on phones, light, heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration,” but still there are billions of people in the world who do not have the benefit of most of these modern energy services, he added."We must move much faster to reach the billions who have been left behind.” -- Martin Krause

According to World Bank estimates, about 1.1 billion people don’t have access to electricity, and over 3.0 billion people still rely on polluting fuels such as kerosene, wood or other biomass to cook and, at times, heat their homes.

The world is heading in the right direction to achieve universal access to sustainable energy by 2030 – but must move faster, says a new World Bank report that tracks the progress of the SE4All initiative.

Besides achieving renewable energy goals, the United Nations is also vowing to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by the 2030 deadline.

Martin Krause, head of the Global Energy Policy Team at the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS the goal to achieve universal access to sustainable energy is very much attainable, “but indeed we must move much faster to reach the billions who have been left behind.”

For the 1.1 billion without electricity, he said, a targeted and decentralised approach (i.e. mini-grids, solar home systems, micro-hydro plants) is needed to reach the predominately rural poor.

“And for the 3.0 billion who cook and heat with wood and dung, new technologies, better awareness and low-cost financing is needed to shift usage away from harmful fuels towards cleaner, and sustainable technologies and fuel sources,” said Krause.

In both of these cases, he pointed out, public and private financial resources will be necessary for success.

“For our part, UNDP has just released a new publication, the EnergyPlus Guidelines, which has been prepared to support our country partners in addressing some of these issues.”

Beginning Monday, the United Nations is hosting its second annual SE4all Forum, which is scheduled to conclude May 21.

According to the United Nations, leaders from government, business and civil society will announce new commitments and drive action to end energy poverty and fight climate change.

“They will present ways to catalyze finance and investment at the scale required to meet the targets of the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative on energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Over 1,000 practitioners will share and advance innovative energy solutions, according to a press release.

The Forum is expected to build momentum on energy issues ahead of both the September U..N Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda, and the December Climate Conference in Paris, and contribute to shaping the direction of energy policy for the crucial decades to come.

Fossil fuels, described as finite, include crude oil, natural gas and coal, which are expected to run out over the next few decades.

The renewable sources of energy include wind and solar power, hydroelectric and geothermal, amongst others.

According to the U.N. Industrial Organisation (UNIDO), universal access to renewable energy sources can be achieved at a cost of about 48 billion dollars per year and 960 billion dollars over a 20-year period.

In its report titled “Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015″ released Monday, the World Bank said it is monitoring the world’s progress toward SE4All’s three goals: universal energy access; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix – all to be met by 2030.

While the first edition of the report, released in 2013, measured progress between 1990 and 2010, the current edition focuses on 2010 to 2012.

In that two-year period, the number of people without access to electricity declined from 1.2 billion to 1.1 billion, a rate of progress much faster than the 1990-2010 period. In total 222 million people gained access to electricity during this period, higher than the population increase of 138 million people.

These gains, the report said, were concentrated in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and mainly in urban areas. The global electrification rate increased from 83 percent in 2010 to 85 percent in 2012.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Latin America Must Address Its Caregiving Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-america-must-address-its-caregiving-crisis/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 07:40:42 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140692 A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A caregiver assists her elderly employer on a residential street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 19 2015 (IPS)

As in the rest of the world, the care of children, the elderly and the disabled in Latin America has traditionally fallen to women, who add it to their numerous domestic and workplace tasks. A debate is now emerging in the region on the public policies that governments should adopt to give them a hand, while also helping their countries grow.

The challenges women face are reflected by the life of body therapist Alicia, from Argentina, who preferred not to give her last name. After raising three children and deciding to concentrate on her long-postponed dream of becoming a writer, she now finds herself caring for her nearly 99-year-old mother.

The elderly woman is in good health for her age, with almost no cognitive or motor difficulties. But time is implacable, and Alicia is starting to wonder how she will be able to afford a full-time nurse or caregiver.“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis. As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.” -- Gimena de León

“I can see things changing in my mother’s condition. She can still get around pretty much on her own – she can take a bath, she moves around, but it’s getting harder and harder for her. And she’s becoming more and more forgetful,” said Alicia, who up to now has managed to juggle her work and job-related travelling thanks to the help of a cousin and a woman she pays as back-up support.

“But soon I’ll have to find another way to manage,” she added. “I won’t be able to leave her alone, like I do now, for a few hours. I have no idea how I’ll handle this. Time is running out and soon I’ll have to figure something out, if I want to be able to continue with my own life.”

According to Argentina’s national statistics and census institute, INEC, women dedicate twice as much time as men to caregiving: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours. Among women who work outside the home, the average is 5.8 hours.

But given the new demographic makeup of the region, the situation could get worse, according to Gimena de León, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Inclusive Development analyst.

“In Latin America we’re facing what has been called the caregiving crisis,” she told IPS. “As life expectancy has improved, the population is ageing, which means there are more people in need of care.”
“At the same time the proportion of the population able to provide care has shrunk, basically because of the massive influx of women in the labour market. That’s where the bottleneck occurs, between the caregiving needs presented by the current population structure and this drop in family caregiving capacity,” she added.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that 53 percent of working-age women in the region are in the labour market, and 70 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40.

It also estimates that in 2050 the elderly will make up nearly one-fourth of the population of Latin America, due to an ageing process that is a new demographic phenomenon in this region of 600 million people.

Changes that according to René Mauricio Valdés, the UNDP resident representative in Argentina, “leave a kind of empty space,” which is more visible in the political agenda because up to now it was taken for granted that families – and women in particular – were in charge of caregiving.

The UNDP and organisations like the ILO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are promoting a regional debate on the need for governments to design public policies aimed at achieving greater gender equality.

According to the UNDP, caregiving is the range of activities and relationships aimed at meeting the physical and emotional requirements of the segments of the population who are not self-sufficient – children, dependent older adults and people with disabilities.

In the region, the greatest progress has been made in Costa Rica, especially with respect to the care of children, and in Uruguay, where a “national caregiving system” has begun to be built for children between the ages of 0 and 3, people with disabilities and the elderly, with the additional aim of improving the working conditions of paid caregivers.

Other countries like Chile and Ecuador have also made progress, but with more piecemeal measures.

In Argentina the national programme of home-based care providers offers training to paid caregivers and provides home-based care services to poor families, through the public health system. But the waiting lists are long.

“The current policies don’t suffice to ease the burden of caregiving for families, and for women in particular, who are the ones doing the caregiving work to a much greater extent than men,” said De León.

“The distribution of time and resources is clearly unfair to women, and the state has to take a hand in this,” she said.

Solutions should emerge according to the specific characteristics of each country. Measures that are called for include longer maternity and paternity leave, more caregiving services for the elderly, more daycare centres for small children, flexibility to allow people to work from home, and more flexible work schedules.

But caregiving is still a relatively new issue in terms of public debate, and has been largely invisible for decision-makers, according to Fabián Repetto of the Argentine Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth.

“The different things that would fit under the umbrella of a policy on caregiving were never given priority in the political sphere,” she told IPS.

Repetto believes the issue will begin to draw the interest of the political leadership “when it becomes more visible.”

The “economic argument” of those promoting this debate, the UNDP explains, is “the need to incorporate the female workforce in order to improve the productivity of countries and give households a better chance to pull out of poverty.”

In addition, it is necessary to improve “the human capital” of children, “whose educational levels will be strengthened with comprehensive care policies in stimulating settings.”

“What does that mean? That those children who receive early childhood development today, and who we give a boost with a caregiving policy, will be much more productive. And being much more productive as a society makes the country grow, and makes it possible to have better policies for older adults as well,” Repetto said.

Alicia prefers a “human” rather than economic argument.

“The idea is to respect the life of an elderly person, which sometimes for different reasons is hard to maintain. Respect for the dignity of the other, so they can live the best they can up to the last moment. For them to be cared for, and that doesn’t just mean changing their diapers, but that they are cared for as a human being.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The U.N. at 70: A 60-Year Journey with Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-60-year-journey-with-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-60-year-journey-with-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-60-year-journey-with-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 14:56:17 +0000 Subinay Nandy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140689

Subinay Nandy is the U.N. Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Sri Lanka. He tweets at @SubinayNandyUN. More information about U.N. in Sri Lanka please visit www.un.lk

By Subinay Nandy
COLOMBO, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 marks an important milestone in Sri Lanka’s relationship with the United Nations. It is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and also the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s entry into the U.N. system.

Photo courtesy of UNDP

Photo courtesy of UNDP

For 60 years of its 70-year existence, Sri Lanka and the U.N. have been engaged in a mutually beneficial and reinforcing partnership contributing to the growth and evolution of each other.

This strong partnership is an affirmation of the common values and the shared vision that unite Sri Lanka and the United Nations System in supporting not only the people of Sri Lanka but also those around the world.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has contributed to the U.N. system in multiple ways including its norm setting process. Sri Lanka has produced important U.N. professionals, including three Under-Secretary Generals and a Vice President of the International Court of Justice, to name a few.

These and other high level officials have played a vital role in international development by influencing global policy and thought-leadership in diverse areas, ranging from the law of the sea to disarmament, children in armed conflict, and climate change.

Thousands of Sri Lankan citizens have contributed, and continue to provide their noble services, to U.N. peacekeeping efforts around the world. At present, over 1,000 troops are deployed to important missions in Haiti, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.Many of the development priorities for Sri Lanka are well reflected in the SDGs, for example, focus on environmental issues together with specific goals on inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and good governance.

Sri Lankan policies adopted by successive Sri Lankan governments over the years have also served as a catalyst in promoting human development in many parts of the world.

I recall the year 1987 being declared by the U.N. as the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, recognising Sri Lanka’s housing programme at the time.

Significantly, Sri Lankan welfare policies relating to free education and free health services have influenced global policy making over the past 60 years. Such policies continue to leave a marked impression in the international development sphere, especially in light of Sri Lanka’s achievements towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

For much of its contemporary history, Sri Lanka has been confronted with a plethora of challenges stemming from armed rebellions both in the North and the South, recurrent natural disasters and a deadly Tsunami of 2004, challenges associated with its progression towards higher levels of socio-economic development and integration to the globalised world.

Sri Lanka has shown remarkable resilience in facing these challenges and the United Nations is proud to have walked together with Sri Lanka in overcoming them.

Over the past years, the different U.N. agencies working on the ground have assisted Sri Lanka to deal with massive levels of human displacement induced both by man-made and natural disasters.

Our assistance has been at all levels of the displacement cycle from providing immediate humanitarian relief to recovery and long term rehabilitation of displaced persons. A special focus was also placed on restoring livelihoods and community and economic infrastructure in war-torn regions.

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support Sri Lanka advance towards the high level of human development that it currently sees today.

We have focused on reducing income poverty across regions and sectors, ensuring food security, addressing high levels of malnutrition and minimising regional and gender disparities in educational and health attainments.

As an island nation and being in a region prone to natural disasters, the U.N. agencies have also assisted Sri Lanka address the issue of climate change and build resilience to the threat of natural disasters.

The latest MDG Country Report, jointly launched by the U.N. and the Government of Sri Lanka this year, demonstrates how well Sri Lanka has progressed in achieving the seven out of the eight relevant development goals that were agreed by the world leaders fifteen years ago.

With few setbacks in reducing malnutrition and ensuring environmental sustainability, Sri Lanka has achieved or is on track to achieve all other goals relating to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.

In September this year, the global community will agree on a new development agenda to guide and inform much of its work post-2015.  Subject to the outcome of the inter-governmental negotiations, a new set of development goals i.e. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the MDGs, whilst carrying on the focus areas of the MDGs, bringing in a greater emphasis on other areas.

Many of the development priorities for Sri Lanka are well reflected in the SDGs for example, focus on environmental issues together with specific goals on inclusivity, women’s empowerment, peace and good governance. The Secretary-General believes strongly that we have the opportunity to build on this existing foundation to further strengthen the partnership between Sri Lanka and the United Nations.

Needless to say that in this journey of 60 years, the benefits have not been one-sided: the United Nations system too has gained immensely from this partnership.

This complementarity between the local and the global is indeed a renewed moment in our relationship with Sri Lanka with opportunities for greater collaboration and strengthened partnerships. I have no doubt that our ties will emerge even stronger in the years to come.

Before I conclude, let me quote the opening preamble of the U.N. Charter: “We the people of the United Nations…” This clearly shows that people are at the heart of the United Nations, and I must note that Sri Lankan people, in particular, are and have been at the centre of the 60 year SL-UN partnership that we celebrate this year.

To recognise and acknowledge the Sri Lankan people who have contributed to the system nationally, regionally, and globally, the U.N. in Sri Lanka, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is delivering a year-long trilingual outreach campaign: ‘Our UN. Apey UN. Engal UN.’

Through this campaign, we reflect and celebrate our long-standing and mutually-beneficial 60 year journey with Sri Lanka and its people, affirming our commitment to a continued partnership.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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African Women Mayors Join Forces to Fight for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/african-women-mayors-join-forces-to-fight-for-clean-energy/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:45:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140678 Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo with African women mayors who are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 18 2015 (IPS)

When some 40,000 delegates, including dozens of heads of state, descend on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference later this year, a group of African women mayors plan to be there and make their voices heard on a range of issues, including electrification.

The mayors, representing both small and big towns on the continent, are calling for greater attention to communities without electricity, given the inextricable link between climate change and energy.

“In my commune, only one-fifth of the people have access to electricity, and this of course hampers development,” Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal in Cameroon, told a recent meeting of women mayors in Paris.“As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope” – Marie Pascale Mbock Mioumnde, mayor of Nguibassal, Cameroon

Mbock Mioumnde was one of 18 women mayors at last month’s meeting, hosted by Paris mayor Anne Hildalgo and France’s former environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who now heads the Fondation Énergies pour l’Afrique (Energy for Africa Foundation).

Organisers said the meeting was called to highlight Africa’s energy challenges in the run-up to COP 21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and which has the French political class scrambling to show its environmental credentials.

Mbock Mioumnde told IPS in an interview that clean, renewable energy was a priority for Africa, and that political leaders were looking at various means of electrification including hydropower and photovoltaic energy and, but not necessarily, wind power – a feature in many parts of France.

“We plan to maintain this contact and this network of women mayors to see what we can accomplish,” said Mbock Mioumnde. “As mayors we’re closer to the population, and when we work together, there’s hope.”

Hidalgo, the first woman to hold the office of Paris mayor, said she wanted to support the African representatives’ appeal for “sustainable electrification”, considering that two-thirds of Africa’s population, “particularly the most vulnerable, don’t have access to electricity.”

Currently president of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), Hidalgo said it was essential to find ways to speed up electrification in Africa, using clean technology that respects the environment and the health of citizens.

The mayors meeting in Paris in April also called for the creation of an “African agency devoted to this issue” that would be in charge of implementing the complete electrification of the continent by 2025.

Present at the conference were several representatives of France’s big energy companies such as GDF Suez – an indication that France sees a continued business angle for itself – but the gathering also attracted NGOs which have been working independently to set up solar-power installations in various African countries.

“I’m happy that women are organising on this issue. We need solidarity,” said Hidalgo, who has been urging Paris residents to become involved in climate action, in a city that has come late to environmental awareness, especially compared with many German and Swiss towns.

“The Climate Change Conference is a decisive summit for the planet’s leaders and decision-makers to reach an agreement,” Hidalgo stressed.

Climate change issues have an undeniable gender component because women are especially affected by lack of access to clean sources of energy.

Ethiopian-born, Kenya-based scientist Dr Segenet Kelemu, who was a winner of the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science, spoke for example of growing up in a rural village in Ethiopia with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing.

“I went out to collect firewood, to fetch water and to take farm produce to market. Somehow, all the back-breaking tasks in Africa are reserved for women and children,” she told a reporter.

This gender component was also raised at a meeting May 7-8 in Addis Ababa, where leaders of a dozen African countries agreed on 12 recommendations to improve the regional response to climate change.

The recommendations included increasing local technological research and development; reinforcing infrastructure for renewable energy, transportation and water; and “mainstreaming gender-responsive climate change actions”.

The meeting was part of a series of ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF)’ workshops being convened though June 2015 in Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East. The CVF was established to offer a South-South cooperation platform for vulnerable countries to deal with issues of climate change.

In Paris, Hidalgo’s approach includes gathering as many stakeholders as possible together to reach consensus before the U.N. summit. With Ignazio Marino, the mayor of Rome, Italy, she also invited mayors of the “capitals and big towns” of the 28 member states of the European Union to a gathering in March.

The mayors, representing some 60 million inhabitants, stressed that the “fight against climate change is a priority for our towns and the well-being of our citizens.”

Hidalgo’s office is now working on a project to have 1,000 mayors from around the world present at COP 21, a spokesperson told IPS. The stakes are high because the French government wants the summit to be a success, with a new global agreement on combating climate change.

Borloo, who was environment minister in the administration of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, used to advocate for France’s “climate justice” proposal, aimed at giving financial aid to poor countries to combat climate change.

Calling for a “climate justice plan” to allow poor countries to “adapt, achieve growth, get out of poverty and have access to energy,” Borloo was a key French player at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, but that conference ended in disarray. The question now is: will a greater involvement of women leaders and mayors make COP 21 a success?

Edited by Phil Harris    

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“Megaprojects” Can Destroy Reputations in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/megaprojects-can-destroy-reputations-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 07:04:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140652 Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Scale model of one of the offshore oil platforms exploiting Brazil’s “presalt” reserves, on exhibit in the research centre of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil company, in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

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

Megaprojects are high-risk bets. They can shore up the government that brought them to fruition, but they can also ruin its image and undermine its power – and in the case of Brazil the balance is leaning dangerously towards the latter.

As the scandal over kickbacks in the state oil company Petrobras, which broke out in 2014, grows, it is hurting the image of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, both of whom belong to the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

In its 2014 balance sheet, the company wrote off 6.2 billion reais (2.1 billion dollars) due to alleged graft and another 44.6 billion reais for overvalued assets, including refineries.

But the real magnitude of the losses will never be known. The company lost credibility on an international level, its image has been badly stained, and as a result many of its business plans will be stalled or cancelled.

The numbers involved in the corruption scandal are based on testimony from those accused in the operation codenamed “Lava-jato” (Car Wash) and in investigations by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, which indicated that the bribes represented an estimated three percent of Petrobras’ contracts with 27 companies between 2004 and 2012.

The biggest losses can be blamed on poor decision-making, bad planning and mismanagement. But the corruption had stronger repercussions among the population and the consequences are still incalculable.

It will also be difficult to gauge the influence that corruption had on administrative blunders, which are also political, and vice versa.

Two-thirds of the devaluation of the assets was concentrated in Petrobras’ two biggest projects, the Abreu e Lima Refinery in the Northeast, which is almost finished, and the Rio de Janeiro Petrochemical Complex (COMPERJ), both of which began to be built when Lula was president.

Petrobras informed investors that COMPERJ, a 21.6-billion-dollar megaproject, abandoned the petrochemical portion of its activities in 2014 as they were considered unprofitable, after three years of waffling, and was downsized to a refinery to process 165,000 barrels a day of oil.

It will be difficult for Petrobras, now under-capitalised, to invest millions of dollars more to finish the refinery, where the company estimates that the work is 82 percent complete. But failing to finish the project would bring much bigger losses.

Thousands of workers laid off, economic and social depression in Itaboraí, where the complex is located, 60 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro, purchased equipment that is no longer needed, which costs millions of dollars a year to store, and suppliers that have gone broke are some of the effects of the modification and delays in the project.

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Santo Antônio hydroelectric plant on the Madeira river, in the northwest Brazilian state of Rondônia, during its construction in 2010. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Petrobras crisis is also a result of the crash in international oil prices and of years of government fuel subsidies that kept prices artificially low to help control inflation.

It also endangers the naval industry, which expanded to address demand from the oil company.

Shipyards may dismiss as many as 40,000 people if the crisis drags on, according to industry statistics.

The industry was revived in Brazil as a result of orders for drills, rigs and other equipment to enable Petrobras to extract the so-called presalt oil reserves that lie below a two-kilometre- thick salt layer under rock and sand, in deep water in the Atlantic ocean.

The Abreu e Lima Refinery, which can process 230,000 barrels a day, has had better luck because the first stage is already complete and it began to operate in late 2014. But the cost was eight times the original estimate.

One of the reasons for that was the projected partnership with Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, which Lula had agreed with that country’s late president, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013).

PDVSA never made good on its commitment to provide 40 percent of the capital needed to build the plant. But the agreement influenced the design and purchase of equipment suited to processing Venezuela’s heavy crude. The project had to be modified along the way.

Plans to build two other big refineries, in the Northeast states of Ceará and Maranhão, were ruled out by Petrobras as non-cost-effective. But that was after nearly 900,000 dollars had already been invested in purchasing and preparing the terrain.

The disaster in the oil industry has stayed in the headlines because of the scandal and the amounts and sectors involved, which include four refineries, dozens of shipyards and major construction companies that provided services to Petrobras and have been accused of paying bribes.

But many other large energy and logistical infrastructure projects have suffered major delays. These megaprojects mushroomed around the country, impelled by the high economic growth during Lula’s eight years in office and incentives from the government’s Growth Acceleration Programme.

Railways, ports, the expansion and paving of roads and highways, power plants of all kinds, and biofuels – all large-scale projects – put to the test the productive capacity of Brazilians, and especially of the country’s construction firms, which also expanded their activities abroad.

The majority of the projects are several years behind schedule. The diversion of the São Francisco river through the construction of over 700 km of canals, aqueducts, tunnels and pipes, and a number of dams, to increase the supply of water in the semi-arid Northeast, was initially to be completed in 2010, at the end of Lula’s second term.

But while the cost has nearly doubled, it is not even clear that the smaller of the two large canals will be operating by the end of this year, as President Rousseff promised.

Private projects, like the Transnordestina and Oeste-Leste railways, also in the Northeast, have dragged on as well.

Resistance from indigenous communities and some environmental authorities, along with labour strikes and protests – which sometimes involved the destruction of equipment, workers’ housing and installations – aggravated the delays caused by mismanagement and other problems.

The wave of megaprojects that began in the past decade was explained by the lack of investment in infrastructure suffered by Brazil, and Latin America in general, during the two “lost decades” – the 1980s and 1990s.

After 1980, oil refineries were not built in Brazil. The success of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline postponed the need. The country became an exporter of gasoline and importer of diesel fuel, until the skyrocketing number of cars and industrial consumption of fuel made an expansion of refinery capacity urgently necessary.

Nor were major hydropower dams built after 1984, when the country’s two largest plants were inaugurated: Itaipú on the border with Paraguay and Tucuruí in the northern Amazon rainforest.

The energy crisis broke out in 2001, when power rationing measures were put in place for eight months, which hurt the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

The return of economic growth during the Lula administration accentuated the deficiencies and the need to make up for lost time. The wishful thinking that sometimes drives developmentalists led to a mushrooming of megaprojects, with the now known consequences, including, probably, the new escalation of corruption.

Not to mention the political impact on the Rousseff administration and the PT and the risk of instability for Latin America’s giant.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Murders of Gays Raise the Question of Hate Crimes in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:16:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140666 “Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 16 2015 (IPS)

During the events surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba, it emerged that a young transsexual had recently been killed in the city of Pinar del Río near the western tip of this Caribbean island nation.

While efforts to combat discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) are stepped up in Cuba, this segment of the population remains vulnerable to harassment and violence – and even death.

The Apr. 26 murder of Yosvani Muñoz, 24, which is under investigation, as the legal advice office of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) confirmed to IPS, raised questions about a sensitive and little-known issue in Cuba: hate crimes.

IPS asked experts and members of the LBGT community about the causes of killings of “men who have sex with men” (MSM), of which no official statistics have been published, but which have been reported periodically since 2013 by word of mouth, or in blogs or alternative media outlets.

Hate crimes include verbal abuse, threats, physical assaults and homicides motivated by prejudice based on questions like sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic group or religion.

“We are fighting hate crimes together with the Interior Ministry (which the police answers to),” CENESEX director Mariela Castro said in exclusive comments to IPS. Castro is the most visible face of the national campaign in favour of freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A thorough expert analysis is needed to determine what kind of killing it was because not all crimes involving LGBT persons as victims are motivated by hatred,” Castro, a sexologist, explained during the May 5-16 events surrounding the Day Against Homophobia.

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In Havana and the eastern province of Las Tunas, this year’s activities, focused on the right to work, had the support for the first time of Cuba’s trade union federation Central de Trabajadores de Cuba and the blessing of protestant pastors for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples.

The activities involved a festive conga line and demonstration with signs and banners, video clips, and debates on the rights of LGBT persons to information, freedom of thought, access to justice, personal safety, and violence-free lives.

The situation in Latin America

In Latin America only Uruguay specifically mentions hate crimes in its legislation, while Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have laws against discrimination that take into account aggravating circumstances in certain crimes, and some Brazilian states have anti-discrimination clauses in their local constitutions.

Because of the lack of official figures, non-governmental organisations compile information that is not systematised.

The Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua documented some 300 hate crimes against the LGBT population, especially trans women, in Central America from 2009 to 2013. In Mexico and Brazil the number of crimes targeting this population group is high.

In Cuba, the Ibero-American and African Masculinity Network is the only organisation that has published the results of investigations, without explaining the methods used to compile the information. It reported that in 2013 it heard about “more than 40 murders of homosexuals” killed in the same circumstances as the cultural figures Velázquez and Díaz.

They preceded the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is observed on May 17 because on that date in 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) general assembly removed homosexuality from the global body’s list of mental disorders.

Castro said “theft and common crime are more frequent aspects in murders of homosexuals, according to the data presented to us by the DGICO (criminal investigation bureau),” which receives advice from and collaborates with CENESEX.

“There might be a hate crime murder once in a while, but they are very few,” she said.

The sexologist added, however, that “the number of hate crimes is not completely clear because of the lack of a specialised institution dedicated to classifying them….and this classification is important because the old term ‘crime of passion’ hides gender violence, violence between men, and violence between couples.”

Violent crime is generally surrounded by silence in this island nation of 11.2 million people, and killings of LGBT individuals are no exception. The 1987 penal code does not specifically recognise hate crimes, or sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in murders.

The law provides for sentences of 15 to 30 years in cases of homicide, and the death penalty is still on the books, although it has not been applied since 2003.

“MSM are at greater risk of being killed than women,” Castro said, citing the results of DGICO investigations regarding a category of men that includes gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

“Part of the gay population does not perceive the danger when they irresponsibly choose sexual partners, without information,” she said. “They seek out young men who work as prostitutes, some of whom are criminals and try to rob them, and even kill when they defend themselves.”

Along with its work raising awareness to prevent HIV/AIDS, CENESEX warns of other risks posed by irresponsible sexual practices in gay meeting and recreational places or community social networks.

Oneida Paz, a 59-year-old manager, has not heard of murders or rapes of lesbians, a population group she belongs to. “Violence among women can exist, but it’s not common,” she said. “I do have friends who have been injured, because they were married to men who beat them when they got into a relationship with another woman.”

CENESEX said the number of murders of MSM in 2013 and 2014 was high. At that time the issue came to the forefront because of the deaths of two high-profile openly gay cultural figures, who died in strange circumstances, according to activists.

The local media, which is entirely state-owned, gave ample coverage to the violent deaths of choreographer Alfredo Velázquez, 44, in September 2013 in the eastern city of Guantánamo, and theatre director Tony Díaz, 69, found dead in his Havana home in January 2014. But they only mentioned their careers in the arts.

“I haven’t seen statistics and I’m no expert, but the murders I know about were ruthless. We’re killed for some reason, like theft or vengeance, but also because we’re gay,” said Leonel Bárzaga, a 33-year-old chemical engineer who told IPS about the murder of his friend Marcel Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, a 28-year-old gay professional, was stabbed 12 times on Jan. 6 in his central Havana home. “The police haven’t shared the results of their investigation yet,” said Bárzaga, who preferred not to discuss the specific motives for the murder.

Veterinarian Manuel Hernández, 41, said “I haven’t heard of murders of gays. But verbal attacks are definitely common in small towns, and in the workplace there’s a lot of discrimination,” above all in the rural town where he lives, Quivicán, 45 km south of Havana.

“It wouldn’t be crazy to talk about ‘hate crimes’ against LGBT persons in Cuba,” said Jorge Carrasco, a journalist who investigated gay gathering places in the capital in 2013. “That’s a term used by the Cuban police, in fact, and it’s not a product of paranoia. But I know as little about them as any other Cuban.”

Based on his interviews conducted in lonely outlying parts of the city, like the Playa del Chivo, a beach frequented by MSM to talk, arrange meetings and have sex with strangers, Carrasco explained by email that “many criminals go to those places to steal, and there have been murders. That’s why the police patrol them.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) Requires a Mindset Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:02:53 +0000 Prerna Sodhi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140665 CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

By Prerna Sodhi
NEW DELHI, May 16 2015 (IPS)

“Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, is a slogan that most Indians today associate with the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his first nation-wide campaign launched soon after taking office in 2014.

The call has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter. In fact, it is commonplace to find people calling out “Swachh Bharat” as they toss garbage onto the street.

However, while the campaign may not have brought about the change it was aimed to usher in, a dialogue has started and it is a watershed moment for all those working in this area to capitalise on its momentum.The call for “Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter

The idea of cleaning India up is not new, and neither is the term “Swachh Bharat” which has been used by many in the past and has now been “patented” by Modi. For decades, there has been concern with instilling an awareness of the need for cleanliness among citizens, many of whom even defecate in the open.

The current initiative by the government may address the issue of cleanliness at citizens’ level, but activists in the field of sustainable development argue that it should also cover issues related to water, energy and sewage disposal cleanliness.

Access to clean water is one of the main problems that the country faces. According to a report by UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Agency) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), every year around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases.

The problem does not appear to lie in the lack of availability of water treatment methods, but rather in the unwillingness of people to adopt these methods.

“From the field, we observed that the lack of adoption of water purification techniques is not due to low awareness levels and it was not even illiteracy, as is often assumed,” said Kavneet Kaur, field manager for Development Alternatives (DA), a social enterprise set up in 1982 to tackle the serious impact of climate change on society and the environment.

“There was an evident lack of effort and prioritisation of safety among people to undertake one or more options consistently that made drinking water safe,” she added.

Most slum dwellers, for example, “opted for methods that did not cost their pocket a penny. Those who did have access to cheaper methods of treatment, like chlorination and solar water disinfection (SODIS), avoided adopting these methods because they were time consuming.”

For the last 30 years, DA, which works primarily in Bundelkhand in central India, has been addressing the behaviour change necessary for people to adopt water treatment methods.

According to Dr K. Vijaya Lakshmi, DA Vice President, out of the three interrelated components of water, sanitation and hygiene, “hygiene behaviour has been shown to have the biggest impact on community health.”

However, she notes, “despite its merit as the most cost effective public health intervention, ironically there was no global target to improve hygiene during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era. It has become evident that the MDG framework has fallen short of addressing quality, sustainability and equity issues.”

To date, DA has reached out to 50,000 households and 26 schools through intensive advocacy campaigns in urban villages, offering training on how to adopt safe water treatment methods such as SODIS, boiling, chlorination and sieving, despite meeting strong resistance from the local population.

For example, storing water in a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle exposed to sunlight can kill up to 99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an “innovation” that uses nothing but natural ultraviolet (UV) light to provide safe drinking water for consumption. Water can also be purified by sieving boiled water.

Apart from advocating the adoption of these simple water purification methods, DA has also come up with innovations like the Jal-TARA Water Filter, which removes arsenic, pathogenic bacteria and excess iron from contaminated water, TARA Aqua+ (a sodium hypochlorite solution for purifying water), and TARA Aquacheck Vial, a device that tests for the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

Nevertheless, these innovations are not destined to go very far unless there is a major change in the mindset of the Indian people, and this extends to the “Swachh Bharat” campaign, not just in terms of clean water but also of a cleaner environment.

This idea has also been the driving force behind a youth-led social media campaign known as CLEAN-India ‘The City I Want’, launched by SA and now covering ten Indian cities – Mirzapur, Mohali, Vadodara, Alwar, Ambala, Bharatpur, Indore, Nashik, Mussoorie and Rishikesh.

CLEAN-India (where CLEAN stands for Community Led Environment Action Network) is an environmental assessment, awareness, action and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers. It has so far mobilised 28 NGOs, 300 schools, 800 teachers and over one million students.

The campaign is flanked by a number of other citizens’ groups such as resident welfare associations, parent forums, local business associations and clubs, which are actively participating in activities for environmental improvement.

“Going forward, it is crucial that civil society organisation practitioners interface with academic institutions in evidence gathering and inform policy-makers and investors in order to create enabling conditions where scalable innovation can flourish,” says Lakshmi.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Boatloads of Migrants Could Soon Be ‘Floating Graveyard’ on Southeast Asian Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/boatloads-of-migrants-could-soon-be-floating-graveyard-on-southeast-asian-waters/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 07:05:32 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140663 This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

This photo, taken in 2012, shows desperate Rohingya refugees from Myanmar attempting to get past border patrol guards in Bangladesh. Now, in 2015, a fresh exodus of mainly Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has the international community on edge. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 16 2015 (IPS)

On Thursday, May 14, a group of journalists rented a boat from Ko Lipe, a small island in Thailand’s southwest Satun Province, and headed out into the Andaman Sea – a water body in the northeastern Indian Ocean bounded by Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca.

Ten miles into the journey, they came upon a sight not often spied in these waters: a three-storey, rickety wooden vessel, filled with ragged men, women and children who, upon seeing the boatload of journalists, began crying out for help.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships." -- Leonard Doyle, director of media and communications for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
This ship and its desperate human cargo – hundreds of migrants from the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar and Bangladesh – now symbolizes the plight of a persecuted people, and the harsh migration policies of a handful of Southeast Asian countries that have resulted in a game of ‘maritime Ping-Pong’ played out with human lives.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), smugglers abandoned the ship and its passengers after failing to dock in Thailand as a result of that country’s harsh crackdown on what it calls “illegal” maritime arrivals, but what rights activists say are beleaguered citizens fleeing ethnic persecution and economic hardship in their native lands.

Earlier, the boat made a failed attempt to land in Malaysia, and on Friday Thai authorities moved the vessel further out to sea, claiming that its passengers wanted to carry on with their journey – an unlikely scenario given that the emaciated group of refugees have been out at sea for three months, and have little to no food or water left onboard.

A regional crisis

And they are not the only ones – the IOM estimates that some 6,000 people out of roughly 8,000 who have been out at sea since early March remain marooned off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

These countries, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have taken an uneven approach to the refugee crisis: the IOM says some 1,500 people have managed to disembark in Malaysia and Indonesia, while thousands of others have been turned away, with the navies of each respective country going so far as to tow some of the boats further out to see.

A statement issued through the spokesperson of the United Nations Secretary-General Thursday called on governments in the region to respond to the crisis by upholding international obligations, including the prohibition on ‘refoulement’ – the forcible return of persecuted individuals to their country of origin.

The U.N. chief also asked governments to “facilitate timely disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open in order to help the vulnerable people who are in need.”

However, these requests have so far gone unheeded.

Alarmed by the plight of those stranded out at sea, the IOM on Friday released one million dollars from its Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism, with the aim of expanding relief to refugees on shore and assisting those still on the water.

While the fund will provide potentially life-saving emergency aid to hundreds of people, “it’s really up to countries nearby to respond,” IOM Director of Media and Communications Leonard Doyle told IPS.

He said the emergency funds will be used to provide desperate migrants with whatever they might need, but they have to be brought ashore first.

“We don’t have a flotilla to go out and help them, but there are plenty of countries in the region that do, and plenty of reasons for them to do it – if they don’t, they’ll be dealing with a floating graveyard soon, rather than a flotilla of ships,” he stressed.

At the very least, he said, powerful emerging countries within range of the crisis should use their naval capacity to bring those needing medical attention ashore – it is believed that pregnant women are among the migrants still drifting well within reach of land – but no government has so far demonstrated a willingness to do so.

Risking death to flee their homes

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes that about 25,000 people “departed irregularly by sea” from the Bay of Bengal in the first quarter of 2015 – double the departure rate for the two preceding years.

The U.N. agency also says an estimated 300 people have died out at sea since October 2014, from starvation, dehydration or after being beaten severely by boat crews.

Hailing largely from Bangladesh and Myanmar, passengers pay between 90 and 370 dollars to board these ships, in addition to the thousands of dollars they might pay moneylenders in interest rates, or to immigration officials for their freedom once they land on safer shores.

The sudden spike in departures could be driven by a number of factors, not least of which the harsh conditions in IDP camps in Myanmar where over 140,000 refugees, the majority of whom identify as Rohingya Muslims, have been interned since inter-communal violence in the country’s western Rakhine State displaced them from their homes nearly three years ago.

Other reasons for the exodus include economic hardships, or ethnic persecution, the U.N. says.

That so many are willing to risk death by drowning for a mere chance of a better life speaks volumes of their plight in their home countries.

An IOM statement released Friday explained, “In the past three years, an estimated 160,000 migrants from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh were smuggled by boat to Thailand before being brought overland to Malaysia.”

But the discovery in early May of mass graves in smuggling camps drove a major crackdown on migrants in both countries, resulting in the current regional stalemate.

These and other issues are expected to be the focus of a regional summit scheduled to take place later this month, which U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon called an opportunity “for all leaders of Southeast Asia to intensify individual and collective efforts to address this worrying situation and tackle the root causes, of which the push factors are often human rights violations.”

Others believe that such a settlement, if it comes at all, will come too late.

“These people are not going to last that long,” IOM’s Doyle told IPS. “They need to be rescued now and that’s what we’ve been calling for. As you can imagine, one day out on a boat is enough, but these people have been out there for [months]… This is shocking, really shocking treatment of human beings.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Clean Energy Access, a Major Sustainable Development Goalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-clean-energy-access-a-major-sustainable-development-goal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-clean-energy-access-a-major-sustainable-development-goal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-clean-energy-access-a-major-sustainable-development-goal/#comments Fri, 15 May 2015 18:44:16 +0000 Magdy Martinez-Soliman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140659

Magdy Martinez-Soliman is Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UN Development Programme.

By Magdy Martinez-Soliman
UNITED NATIONS, May 15 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Forum will take place May 18-21 in New York. Success in achieving sustainable development and tackling climate change challenges requires investment in clean energy solutions.

Magdy Martinez-Soliman

Magdy Martinez-Soliman

The Millennium Development Goals were all contingent on having access to energy services. If you want to get more children into school, you need energy. To guarantee food security and manage water, you need energy. To combat HIV/AIDS and reduce maternal mortality, you need energy. The list goes on.

Poverty can be lived and measured, also, as energy poverty. The poor don’t have access, or very bad supply. In fact, about 1.3 billion people globally do not have access to electricity, and nearly three billion use harmful, polluting and unsustainable methods, such as burning wood and charcoal at home for cooking.

Not only are these methods bad for health and the environment, but they eat into time that could be spent in school or at work, limiting people’s potential – especially women’s. Expanding access to energy services therefore goes hand-in-hand with poverty eradication, gender equality and sustainable development.Many countries and cities are already moving towards low carbon, clean energy transformations. Germany, for instance, is undertaking the ‘Energiewende’, an economic watershed that aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050.

Recognising this fact, sustainable energy is already included in the current draft of the Sustainable Development Goals through Goal 7: “Ensure(s) access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.

Harnessing clean, renewable, and more efficient energy solutions will contribute not only to tackling a country’s or community’s energy challenges but also to the target of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. As it is, a significant amount of GHG emissions are generated from energy production, thus tying sustainable energy directly to the climate change negotiations.

Many countries and cities are already moving towards low carbon, clean energy transformations. Germany, for instance, is undertaking the ‘Energiewende’, an economic watershed that aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050; and Vancouver, in Canada, recently announced that it would shift to 100 percent renewable energy.

In both cases these are ambitious but forward-looking plans that weave together sustainable development, economic prosperity, and climate change mitigation.

What this means for the developing world

Are such transformations viable in poorer countries and cities? Energy access, efficiency and sustainability includes actions ranging from technology transfer and skills enhancements, to legal and policy changes that remove barriers and attract investments.

Over the last 20 years UNDP has developed a portfolio of more than 120 sustainable energy projects, amounting to more than 400 million dollars invested and almost one billion in co-financing. We have learned that sustainable energy is a key component in sustainable human development.

In Uruguay, UNDP, together with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), worked with the Government from 2008-2012 to remove regulatory, financial, and technical barriers to the energy market. This addressed issues that had impeded private sector investment and set off a boom in clean energy development.

Working with the National Administration of Power Plants and Energy Transmission (UTE), which manages electricity in the country, UNDP helped to refocus development on wind and renewable energy, and helped to open up a ‘space’ for private sector investors to get involved.

This included a series of ‘energy auctions’ that brought private sector partners into the energy sector, as well as technology transfers, skills training and support to identify areas with high wind-generating capacity. The end result was a strong series of public-private partnerships on renewable energy, with the Government and UTE taking the lead.

The economic case for such shifts is also clear: the 30 million dollars initially invested by the Government and partners has since triggered over two billion dollars in private sector investment. This has resulted in the establishment of 32 wind farms, of which 17 are currently in operation, and an installed capacity of 530 MW.

Once the remaining 15 farms that are under construction become operational, capacity will reach over 1500 MW, supplying over 30 percent of the country’s total electricity demand. Beyond the green-energy shift, this has also created jobs, diversified energy sources (critical when reliant on fossil fuel imports), and helped Uruguay mitigate its carbon emissions.

Supporting innovation and de-risking clean energy investments are critical to success. The SE4ALL Forum next week is a chance for the global community to not only reaffirm the need for sustainable energy (and cement its inclusion in the SDGs) but also a chance to bring together partners around the idea of “leaving no one behind” without energy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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