Inter Press Service » Featured Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 09 Oct 2015 22:54:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.N. Upholds Human Rights, World Bank Dismisses Them Fri, 09 Oct 2015 21:00:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The United Nations has always remained one of the most vociferous and passionate advocates of human rights – exemplified in the creation in 2006 of a 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva to uphold its mandate.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.  Credit: OECD

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Credit: OECD

But, in its own political yard, a member of its extended family, namely the World Bank, is apparently working at cross-purposes.

Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, has lambasted the World Bank for either marginalizing or ignoring human rights in its policies.

For most purposes, he said, “the World Bank is currently a human rights-free zone.”

In its operational policies, in particular, “it treats human rights more like an infectious disease than universal values and obligations,” says Alston in a new report published online.

The report, which will be officially presented to the U.N. General Assembly on Oct. 23, points out that the biggest single obstacle to better integrate human rights into the work of the World Bank is “the anachronistic and inconsistent interpretation of the ‘political prohibition’ contained in the Bank’s Articles of Agreement.”

“They invoke the Articles of Agreement, which were adopted in 1945, and argue that this clause, not to interfere in States’ political affairs, effectively prohibits the Bank from engaging with issues of human rights,” Ashton says.

However, he stresses, “these Articles were written more than 70 years ago, when there was no international catalogue of human rights, no specific treaty obligations upon States, and not a single international institution addressing these issues.”

Meanwhile, in a submission to the World Bank, which began its annual meeting in Peru Oct. 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Bank’s draft social and environmental safeguard policies fail to enforce the Bank’s responsibility to protect the human rights of vulnerable communities affected by projects it finances.

“Two words – ‘human rights’ – are missing from the safeguards’ requirements and should be a priority during this week’s meetings,” said Jessica Evans, senior advocate and researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch.

“It is astounding and disappointing that the Bank can put forward policies that purport to ‘safeguard’ poor and vulnerable communities without committing to respect their human rights,” she added.

Asked about the contradictory roles of the United Nations and the World Bank, Sarah Saadoun of Human Rights Watch told IPS the Bank has made a habit recently of responding to calls to ensure its projects respect human rights by saying that it is not a human rights tribunal.

But as an international organisation and a specialised U.N. agency, it has a responsibility, derived not least from the U.N. Charter, to respect human rights, in addition to the human rights obligations flowing from its member states, she said.

In any event, Saadoun said, the World Bank, as part of the U.N. family, should be working to strengthen and promote the international human rights system. Instead, it scrupulously avoids reference to human rights standards in its existing and draft safeguard policies.

She also said the Bank has been trying to overcome its history of sometimes supporting projects with devastating impacts on poor and vulnerable communities, such as by adopting and now reforming its safeguard policies.

“But it still refuses to commit to respect human rights.”

Twenty years ago, then-president of the World Bank James Wolfensohn took on what was known as the “c-word” – corruption – previously a taboo topic at the Bank due to misguided claims that addressing corruption would conflict with the its non-political mandate, Saadoun said.

“It’s high time President Jim Kim do the same for the ‘r-word’: human rights,” she declared.

In his report, Alston says that – despite their legal arguments – the World Bank’s real reason to avoid dealing with human rights is clearly political.

“Western countries, cheered on by Western civil society, have often pushed the Bank to sanction developing countries with a poor human rights record by delaying or withholding development loans to those countries.”

Countries that borrow money from the Bank, or member states that are critical of human rights, don’t want the World Bank to turn into a ‘human rights cop’ that meddles in their internal affairs,” says Ashton.

All these approaches are misguided, he says. “World Bank member States from all parts of the world are to blame.”

He adds: “The use of the human rights framework makes an enormous difference, which is exactly why the Bank is so resistant to using it. Even more importantly, the language of rights recognizes the dignity and agency of all individuals.”

“It is striking how little thought has been given to what a World Bank human rights policy might look like in practice. It is now time for World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to take the initiative,” Alston says in his report.

“But World Bank member states also have a responsibility: they should begin to grapple seriously with what a World Bank human rights policy should look like, and they should start doing that today.”

In a statement released Oct. 8, HRW said the Bank’s rejection of the human rights framework and the suggestion that human rights are merely aspirational, undermines decades of progress in setting international standards that the governments of nearly all World Bank member countries have agreed to respect.

It also runs counter to its poverty-alleviation mandate. Development scholars and practitioners, including World Bank researchers, have long made the case that respect for human rights is critical to achieving inclusive sustained development, HRW said.

The World Bank has claimed that the draft “goes as far or further than any other multilateral development bank in protecting the vulnerable and the marginalized.”

This is not true, Human Rights Watch said.

Other multilateral development banks and international agencies, recognizing that respect for human rights improves development outcomes, have incorporated human rights commitments and standards into their safeguard policies.

The writer can be contacted at

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Analysis: India’s Challenge on the SDGs Thu, 08 Oct 2015 21:13:35 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

India’s stance on sustainable development goals is evolving as there are differing voices on what should be done. Over the next 15 years, the global development agenda will be preoccupied with the ambitious challenge of achieving 17 SDGs and 169 targets. The SDGs follow the Millennium Development Goals which were conceptualized as a set of eight goals on diverse development dimensions including poverty alleviation, gender equality, health and environmental sustainability. The buzz in the development community is that as the relative success of MDGs is a result of China’s super-rapid growth, the relative success of the SDGs will be because of India.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, for its part, appears confident in meeting these development goals. Prime Minister Modi told the UN General Assembly that many of the SDGs – which form the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – are already being implemented through flagship programmes of the government such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (for better sanitation), Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Smart Cities and Jan Dhan Yojana (banking the unbanked). He even mentioned his focus on the Blue Revolution, which includes the prosperity and sustainable use of marine wealth and blue skies. India’s development agenda thus is mirrored in the SDGs.

However, Mrs Sindhushree Khullar, CEO of NITI Aayog, a successor to the Planning Commission that has been tasked with the implementation of SDGs, candidly indicated some challenges facing the country in this regard. She argued that while they are indeed formidable in achieving 169 targets, in the 12th five-year plan (2012-17) there were only 25 indicators, many of which could not be updated due to data problems. At a consultation with stakeholders on SDGs, organised by the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in New Delhi, she wondered whether the country could do all 169.

Between now and 2030, at the mid-point of 2022, India would be celebrating 75 years of independence when the objective of providing health, nutrition, housing, education and drinking water for all, along with road and digital connectivity, would hopefully be fulfilled. The sceptical voice of NITI Aayog’s CEO ought to be heeded as it is well recognized that the country has had a mixed track-record in implementing MDGs or even hitting the modest domestic socio-economic targets set in the 12th five-year plan. Mrs Khullar knows what she talking about as NITI Aayog has already undertaken the mid-term appraisal of this plan.

In sharp contrast, a growth-can-fix-SDGs stand was outlined by the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, Dr Arvind Panagariya. Speaking at an event organised by RIS and Permanent Mission of India in New York ahead of the special session of UN General Assembly, he argued that “We simply cannot overstate the importance of robust economic growth, which in turn depends on well-functioning infrastructure and policies that enhance productivity. Without it, none of our objectives, be it eradication of poverty, empowerment of women, provision of basic services or even protection of environment and reversing climate change, would be possible by 2030.”

India’s success in sustaining high growth and therefore poverty alleviation will contribute in substantial measure to the success of the SDGs, added Dr Panagariya. Improving the lives of 1.4 billion Indians would make a major dent in the goal of improving the lives of all humanity. Besides the example of fast-growing China in reducing poverty and achieving MDGs, other erstwhile developing countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore also relied on faster growth to eliminate poverty within a single generation. Social programs and social spending in these countries came later in terms of sequencing of development strategy.

If achieving SDGs through growth is India’s policy stance, it appears to be on fragile foundations. The latest IMF data show the country overtaking China with 7.5 per cent growth in 2016-17. The big assumption is of a Modi-dividend on growth. In other words, the formation of a majority government in India in May 2014 is expected to result in crucial policy reforms that can revive investor sentiment and boost growth. But this reforms-driven spurt in growth hasn’t materialised until now and there is little or no basis to infer that India will continue to grow by 7.5 per cent indefinitely. Extrapolating from the past to the future is only the stuff of statistical dreams.

India experienced 8 per cent growth over a full decade but that did not help in achieving MDGs. The country is on track for meeting the target of poverty reduction, reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and reducing gender disparity in primary education, but lags behind on reduction in hunger, universal primary education, reduction in under-5 mortality rates, reduction in maternal mortality rates, reduction in the spread of malaria and other diseases and basic provision of safe water and sanitation, according to India Country Report 2015 on MDGs brought out by the Ministry of Statistics and Policy Implementation.

Robust economic growth will not help in hitting the SDGs either. For all the talk of flagship programmes doing the needful, the NDA government has savagely cut back on social sector spending in its latest union budget for 2015-16. Public spending on health is only 1 per cent of GDP. The provision of accessible, affordable and effective health services to all is difficult to deliver under these circumstances. The swingeing spending cuts affect universal primary education, especially schooling the girl child in various states of the country. Despite slower economic growth, Bangladesh has done a lot more in this regard.

A conscious policy focus on women will help India realise the first seven SDGs that complete the unfinished agenda on MDGs. More than growth per se a focus on redistribution will ensure meeting other goals such as 8, 9 and 10 that cover aspects such as inclusiveness and jobs, infrastructure and industrialization and distribution. The final seven goals lay down the framework for sustainability spanning urbanization, consumption and production, climate change, resources and environment, peace and justice and means of implementation and global partnership for it. Growth is not the magic bullet for achieving these goals either.


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U.N. Launches Probe Amidst Charges of Bribery and Corruption Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:48:10 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

After initial hesitation, the United Nations has decided to probe allegations of bribery and corruption extending to the office of a past President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the highest policy-making body in the 70-year old Organisation.

John Ashe, President of the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, addresses the opening of an event on Apr. 22, 2014 Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

John Ashe, President of the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, addresses the opening of an event on Apr. 22, 2014
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, who has been accused of receiving over 1.3 million dollars in “bribes” from a Chinese company, was the President of UNGA during 2013-2014.

The investigations will also focus on a donation of about 1.5 million dollars to the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation (OSSC) from the Sun Kian Ip Group of China and one of its affiliates, Global Sustainability Foundation.

The head of the Group, a Chinese businessman Ng Lap Seng, and several of his colleagues are under arrest on charges of bribery and tax evasion.

The U.S. federal authorities have charged Ashe with tax fraud – primarily for not declaring his income in his annual tax returns – which carry penalties that include heavy fines and/or jail sentences.

“In light of the recent accusations announced by U.S. federal authorities, the Secretary-General is requesting that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) launch an audit of the interaction between the United Nations and the Global Sustainability Foundation and the Sun Kian Ip Group, and the use of any funds received from these entities,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Oct. 8.

The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) is concerned about the serious nature of the allegations, which go to the heart of the work of the United Nations and its Member States, he said.

Ban also reaffirmed there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations or in the name of the world body.

He is committed to ensuring that funds received from such private entities were handled properly according to relevant U.N. rules and regulations, Dujarric said.

Earlier, the U.N. took the position that it did not have the power or mandate “to investigate individuals or entities that weren’t considered staff or part of the official U.N. umbrella.”

The president of the General Assembly is elected annually by member states and is not considered a U.N. official, nor is he on the U.N. payroll.

The Chinese funds were also earmarked for a proposed U.N. conference center in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, currently under the administrative jurisdiction of China.

Ng, described as a real estate mogul, was based in Macau and hosted a conference there in August, in which several U.N. officials and diplomats participated.

Ashe was reportedly paid to also promote Ng’s business interests in the Caribbean, specifically in Antigua and Barbuda.

The 1.5 million dollars donated to the Office of South-South Cooperation were reportedly used to fund several U.N. conferences and panel discussions, plus for an upcoming conference of the 134-member Group of 77 developing countries.

Asked if the money will be returned if corruption and bribery charges are proved, Dujarric said it is up to the OSSC to make that decision.

Responding to a question, he also said the United Nations does not provide funds involving travels by Assembly Presidents – all of whom have been known to be globe-trotters and their visits hosted by foreign governments.

Protocol-wise, the President of the General Assembly, not the U.N. Secretary-General, ranks as head of state at all international conferences.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is leading the investigations, has also charged five others, including Ambassador Francis Lorenzo of the Dominican Republic.

Striking a note of sarcasm, Bharara told reporters: “We will be asking: Is bribery business-as-usual at the U.N.?”

But Dujarric was quick to refute those charges when he told reporters: “First of all, corruption is not business as usual at the U.N.”

“Second of all, we have…we had not been informed of the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Our Office for Legal Affairs and other senior officials were not aware of the case until it was read about in the press. Obviously, if we’re contacted by the relevant U.S. authorities, we will cooperate with them,” he added.

Asked to confirm or deny the existence of a U.N. document relating to a proposed conference centre in Macau, Dujarric initially said the U.N. had not been able to find that document.

But said subsequently the document had been found, which is a standard letter from a Permanent Representative to the Secretary-General asking him to circulate it as an official document of the General Assembly: document A/66/748.]

The current President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark told reporters corruption has no place at the United Nations or anywhere else.

“I am deeply shocked regarding the news today concerning the President of 68th session of the UN General Assembly. It means, like the Secretary-General said this morning, that this is a very hard attack on the integrity of the United Nations.”

Lykketoft said neither he, nor his Office has been contacted by U.S. authorities. “Of course, we stand ready to engage with all concerned as necessary,” he added.

“I think the United Nations and its representatives should be held to the highest standards of transparency and ethics,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Healthy Oceans Key to Fighting Hunger Thu, 08 Oct 2015 17:06:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressing the second international Our Ocean conference, held in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Sitting next to him are Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz and President Michelle Bachelet. Credit: Foreign Ministry of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
VALPARAÍSO, Chile, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

Seafood offers a large amount of animal protein in diets around the world, and the livelihoods of 12 percent of the global population depend directly or indirectly on fisheries and aquaculture.

However, the impacts of climate change, plastic waste pollution, illegal fishing, and acidification threaten the oceans and their biodiversity, said experts at the second international Our Ocean conference, held Oct. 5-6 in the Chilean port of Valparaíso, 120 km northwest of Santiago.

The more than 500 participants from 56 countries taking part in the gathering committed to some 80 marine conservation and protection initiatives for over 2.1 billion dollars, covering more than 1.9 billion km of ocean, said Chile’s foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz.

Muñoz and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, hosted the conference, whose first edition took place in 2014 in Washington, D.C.

In one of the keynote speeches, the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, said keeping the oceans healthy and productive was key to eradicating hunger and reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the international community during a Sept. 25-27 U.N. summit in New York.

“We cannot continue to use water resources as if they were infinite,” said Graziano da Silva, who pointed out that nearly one-third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished.

The U.N. official said oceans do not have an infinite capacity to withstand the threats they face: over-exploitation of marine resources, climate change, pollution and loss of habitat.

“The health of our own planet and our food security depends on how we treat the blue world,” he stated.

FAO emphasises that fish is a highly nutritious complement to diets lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.

According to FAO, about one billion people – largely in developing countries – rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. And in 2010, “fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with almost 20 percent of their intake of animal protein, and 4.3 billion people with about 15 percent of such protein.”

And in some countries, especially small island states, fish accounts for over 25 percent of animal protein intake, the U.N. agency reports.

Besides offering a staple element in diets worldwide, fishing and aquaculture provide jobs and incomes to millions of people across the planet.

“Fishing is part of the oldest, most remote history of the American continent,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “In the interior of the continent as well as along the coasts and rivers it provided sustenance for dozens of native peoples, especially groups whose nomadic way of life depended on the sea.”

And that is still true: 12 percent of the global population – or 875,000,000 people – depend directly or indirectly on fishing and aquaculture.

“The sea is so important for us because it not only feeds us, but gives us life,” said Petero Edmunds, mayor of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, located 3,700 km off the coast of Chile in the Pacific ocean.

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Oceans cover over 70 percent of the planet’s surface and 97 percent of all water on earth is salty, but only one percent is protected. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“For Polynesians, the sea is our source of life,” he said in an interview with IPS. “It is so important that in our mythology we have Tangaloa, the God of the Sea, and in Rapa Nui’s ancient traditions, when a baby is born, the first thing the father must do is dip it into the sea, to return it to its natural state.”

In Latin America and the Caribbean there are over two million small-scale fisherpersons who generate some three billion dollars a year in revenues, according to the Latin American Organisation for Fisheries Development (OLDEPESCA).

Three of the world’s large marine ecosystems are found along South America’s coasts.

The main one is the Humboldt Current, in the Pacific ocean. It flows north along the west coast of South America, from the southern tip of Chile, past Ecuador, to northern Peru, creating one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems with approximately 20 percent of the world’s fish catch, according to FAO.

Other important ecosystems in the region, in the Atlantic ocean, are the Patagonian Shelf along the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and the South Brazil Shelf.

But these ecosystems are in serious danger: Around eight million tons of plastic bottles, bags, toys and other plastic waste is dumped into the oceans every year, killing innumerable marine animals and sea birds.

In addition, nearly one-third of global fish stocks are overfished.

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved at the late September global summit in New York, number 14 is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.”

But the interdependence of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the vital role played by oceans which, for example, absorb more than 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, mean the SDGs are impossible to achieve without healthy and resilient oceans.

“Today we know there is a much closer relationship between oceans and climate change,” EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella told IPS.

He added that the protection of oceans should be a central focus of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

Foreign Minister Muñoz, meanwhile, said the government leaders taking part in the conference in Chile, who will also attend COP21, “have promised that protection of the oceans will be included in the documents and commitments that emerge from the summit.”

Muñoz stressed the importance of the announcements made by a number of countries at the Valparaíso conference.

He emphasised Chile’s pledge to protect more than one million sq km of sea, which will be one of the largest protected marine areas in the world.

As part of that initiative, the country announced the creation of 720,000 sq km of protected areas in Rapa Nui, as demanded by the island’s slightly over 5,000 inhabitants, who are seeking to protect the biodiversity of the surrounding waters, which are home to 142 endemic species, 27 of which are endangered or threatened.

The measure will also make it possible for them to continue their ancestral practice of subsistence fishing in the island’s 50 nautical mile zone.

“Artisanal fishing is still practiced according to our ancestral traditions in Rapa Nui,” Edmunds said. “Rocks are used as weights for the hooks, so we can catch tuna or other big fish.”

He said the creation of the marine protected area, announced by President Michelle Bachelet at the opening of the conference, would help combat illegal fishing in the waters surrounding the island.

“For decades we have seen ‘ghost’ ships that appear in the early hours of morning as lights on the horizon, which take our fish,” the mayor said.

“With the help of NGOs (non-governmental organisations), it has been shown that an average of 20 illegal vessels a day fish in our waters, which are taking our resources, and we don’t want them to be exhausted,” he added.

Bachelet also announced the creation of the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park covering 297,518 sq km, which will be the biggest such protected area in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Rise in Large Scale Refugees Triggers New International Population Order Wed, 07 Oct 2015 19:50:08 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As the unprecedented flow of hundreds and thousands of migrants and refugees continues from war-ravaged countries to Europe, a new study warns that large-scale migration from poorer to rich nations will be a permanent feature of the global economy for decades.

The joint study by the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), released Oct. 7, says the world is undergoing a major population shift that will reshape economic development for decades.

And, while this poses challenges, it also offers a path to ending extreme poverty and shared prosperity if the right evidence-based policies are put in place nationally and internationally.

Joseph Chamie, an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS that in contrast to the recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the WB/IMF report does not ignore population growth, but rightly acknowledges its vital role in the global economy and development efforts.

He said rapid rates of population growth in some regions, population decline in others, population aging, increased longevity, urbanization, international migration including increasing refugee flows and other critical demographic trends are ushering in a “new international population order.”

According to U.N. officials, the United Nations at onetime battled with two such concepts: a new International Economic Order and a new World Information and Communication Order.

“This new population order is increasingly affecting social and economic conditions, political representation and influence and international relations. Yet, politicians and their policy advisors by and large disregard those dynamics except when a crisis emerges, such as the recent refugee flows from the Middle East,” Chamie pointed out.

There is not a single development concern – including poverty, hunger, housing, education, employment, health and environment – that would not benefit from reducing high rates of population growth, predicted Chamie.

In a new twist to the migrant and refugee flows, the Wall Street Journal says the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State) is wooing doctors, teachers and skilled workers and preventing them from fleeing to Europe because the militant organisation is urgently in need of these workers.

“Islamic State’s pre-occupation with the migrant crisis reflects its increasing worry over a brain drain in its territory, which stretches across parts of Iraq and Syria,” said the Journal in a report published Oct. 7.

The Journal quotes one Mosul resident as saying: “They’re telling people that this migration is a conspiracy against Islamic State and that the same European countries that humiliated you long ago are trying to enslave you again.”

The WB/IMF report says the share of global population that is working age has peaked at 66 percent and is now on the decline.

World population growth is expected to slow to 1.0 percent from more than 2.0 percent in the 1960s. The share of the elderly is anticipated to almost double to 16 percent by 2050, while the global count of children is stabilizing at 2.0 billion.

The direction and pace of this global demographic transition varies dramatically from country to country, with differing implications depending on where a nation stands on the spectrum of aging and economic development. Regardless of this diversity, countries at all stages of development can harness demographic transition as a tremendous development opportunity, the report says.

“With the right set of policies, this era of demographic change can be an engine of economic growth,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“If countries with ageing populations can create a path for refugees and migrants to participate in the economy, everyone benefits, Most of the evidence suggests that migrants will work hard and contribute more in taxes than they consume in social services.”

According to the study, more than 90 percent of global poverty is concentrated in lower-income countries with young, fast-growing populations that can expect to see their working-age populations grow significantly.

At the same time, more than three-quarters of global growth is generated in higher-income countries with much-lower fertility rates, fewer people of working age, and rising numbers of the elderly.

Chamie told IPS that due to the substantial differences in rates of demographic growth, the population of the least developed countries (LDCs) is expected to surpass the population of the more developed countries by 2030.

Another clear future trend acknowledged by the WB/IMF report, he said, is large-scale international migration flows, including refugees and illegal migration from poor countries to richer regions.

“It is evident, as noted in the WB/IMF report, that demographic developments pose fundamental challenges for policy makers in the years ahead. However, it is not at all clear – and perhaps even doubtful – that political leaders will be effective in addressing those challenges, especially if they continue discounting critical demographic trends and disregarding the new international population order,” he declared.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde was quoted as saying: “The demographic developments analyzed in the report will pose fundamental challenges for policy-makers across the world in the years ahead.”

“Whether it be the implications of steadily ageing populations, the actions needed to benefit from a demographic dividend, the handling of migration flows – these issues will be at the center of national policy debates and of the international dialogue on how best to cooperate in handling these pressures,” she said.

The writer can be contacted at

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TPP is “Worst Trade Agreement” for Medicine Access, Says Doctors Without Borders Wed, 07 Oct 2015 19:28:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“The TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] will…go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries,” said Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in a statement following the signing of the TPP trade deal.

The controversial agreement is the largest trade deal in a generation, bringing together 12 countries around the world including the United States to govern 40 percent of the world’s economy.

Negotiations on the TPP deal, initiated in 2008, finally came to a conclusion on Oct. 5 in the southern US city of Atlanta. It includes a range of economic policies including lowered tariffs as well as standards for labor law, environmental regulation, and international investments.

“This partnership levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products,” said US President Barack Obama in a statement following the end of negotiations. He also noted that the deal has the “strongest” commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.

Though the deal has yet to be formally adopted by the signatories’ legislative bodies, it has already received criticism from numerous civil society members, including MSF, whose main concern arises from the deal’s provisions on data protection for biologic drugs.

Biologic drugs include any therapy from a biological source including vaccines, anti-toxins and monoclonal antibodies for diseases including cancer and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Brookings Institution, a US-based think tank, biologics are larger and structurally more complex than other drugs, making them more difficult and costly to develop. On average, biologics cost 22 times more than nonbiologics.

Due to these high costs, companies utilize data from the original drug creator to develop “biosimilars,” cheaper, generic versions of biologics. MSF has stated that this competition is the “best way to reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment.”

For instance, MSF treats almost 300,000 people with HIV/AIDS in 21 countries with generic drugs. These drugs have reduced the organization’s cost of treatment from US$10,000 per patient per year to US$140 per patient per year.

However, in the US, biologics creators have 12 years of data exclusivity. During this period, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot approve a biosimilar that utilizes original biologic data.

Data protection rules vary in other countries, while Peru, Chile and Mexico do not have any biologics data rules at all.

As part of the TPP negotiations, the U.S. sought to include the 12-year protection rule. Trade ministers went back and forth on the rule, finally settling on a mandatory minimum of five to eight years of data protection.

As a result, biosimilars will not be able to enter the market in countries that previously had no restrictions. According to MSF, this will lead to high, sustained drug prices by pharmaceutical companies, preventing individuals and health providers from acquiring affordable and essential medicines.

MSF predicts that at least half a billion people will be unable to access medicines once the TPP takes effect.

“The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries,” MSF said in its statement.

The organization urged governments and its legislatures to consider the consequences.

“The negative impact of the TPP on public health will be enormous, be felt for years to come, and will not be limited to the current 12 TPP countries, as it is a dangerous blueprint for future agreements,” MSF warned.


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Analysis: Is the Miracle of Microfinance Illusory? Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:58:08 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By S. Kulkami and Raghav Gaiha

Mohammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, transformed the lives of millions of poor women through unsecured micro loans or micro credit to self-help groups. Microcredit evolved into microfinance that also includes savings and basic forms of insurance and transfer mechanisms. Within a few years, microfinance became a global phenomenon. Although microfinance continues to grow, the enthusiasm for it shows signs of waning.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of scepticism regarding the “miracle” of microfinance. Critics have questioned whether the rhetoric has moved far ahead of the evidence, with some even suggesting that microfinance can spell the death of local economies. Meanwhile, its defenders present robust evidence to substantiate their claims that microfinance delivers enormous benefits. We argue that the miracle is largely intact but needs strengthening.

According to data from MIX, which tracks microfinance institutions (MFIs), there is a solid and growing base of microfinance providers, with a global loan portfolio amounting to US$ 81.5 billion in 2012 with an outreach of 91.4 million low income clients. Women make up 80 per cent of the clients of the world’s largest 34 microlenders. Yet half of the world’s adults still do not have accounts in financial institutions and 76 per cent of the poor are unbanked. When you add all this up, the case for vigorous expansion of financial inclusion in the SDGs is patently obvious.

Recent shift of the focus to financial sustainability raises serious concerns about dilution of the outreach of microfinance [for example, the number (breadth) and socioeconomic level (depth) of the clients served by MFIs.] That the trade-off exists is undeniable but little is known about its extent. It is often emphasised that large-scale outreach to the poor on a long term basis cannot be guaranteed if MFIs are not financially sustainable. Consequently, donors, policy makers, and other financiers of microfinance have shifted from subsidising MFIs towards financial sustainability and efficiency of these institutions.

Analysis of a large cross-section of countries reveals that MFIs providing mainly individual loans are more profitable, but the fraction of poor borrowers and of women in the loan portfolio is lower than in institutions that concentrate on group lending. Moreover, MFIs that provide individual loans increasingly focus on wealthier clients, a phenomenon that is often referred to as “mission drift,” while this is less so for the group-based MFIs. So the importance of institutional design in reducing the trade-off cannot be overlooked. Besides, sustainability is feasible without mission drift by reducing costs and gaining efficiency through innovative use of information and communication technology.

Research has documented that social networks help the diffusion of microfinance. A survey in Guatemala demonstrated that individuals imitate the choices made by other members of the same network – in this case a household’s access to credit was closely related to membership in a church network. In another example, a majority of representatives of financial institutions in India concurred that self-help groups (SHGs) were more likely to be successful in villages with a high density of social networks and associations.

Not only do SHGs benefit from the presence of networks, they themselves also contribute to trust, reciprocity and associational capital (such as through strengthening of local institutions). Moreover, presence of successful SHGs induces quicker formation of other SHGs at a much cheaper cost and the self-reinforcing process gathers momentum over time.

Group lending not only reduces transaction costs of small loans but also ensures high repayment rates. However, group liability may also impose a “cost.”

The incentive for group participants is to reduce the risk taken by their fellow members, since participants do not benefit from the upside of any risky investment, but are liable for the downside. As a result, members of a group may impose excessive risk aversion. Our analysis of selected Asian countries – especially India – offers insights.

Drawing upon Indian evidence, assortative matching into poor and rich groups was reported by about 71 per cent of members of SHGs.

Few believed that the poor were excluded because of high interest rates and/or stringency of financial discipline. However, remoteness of villages, absence of functioning local institutions and lack of awareness of benefits of group lending were identified as major impediments in covering larger segments of the poor – especially by representatives of financial institutions.

A cross-country analysis establishes robustly that gross loan portfolio (GLP) of MFIs benefits not just the poor but also the poorest. In other words, GLP of MFIs is negatively associated with the incidence, depth, and severity of poverty. Hence sustained flows to MFIs may help avert accentuation of poverty as a consequence of the slow and faltering recovery of the global economy.

Much of micro evidence (such as that which is gathered at the household level) on poverty reduction is mixed. A striking case is that of Bangladesh, where the impact in some studies is positive and large, while in others the impact has been insignificant or weak. In Peru, it is the “better-off” rather than the core poor who benefit most from microfinance. By contrast, there is a substantial positive effect on a multi-dimensional welfare indicator in India. In China, while microfinance is welfare enhancing, the main beneficiaries are the non-poor. Experimental evidence for Thailand, the Philippines and India (Hyderabad slums) suggests that the (relatively) affluent benefit more.

An important insight for Bangladesh and elsewhere is that the exit from poverty requires longer-term participation. Household entrepreneurs require time to achieve productive efficiency or to earn higher returns from self-employment activities. Since existing members of microcredit generally obtain larger amounts, MFIs should be encouraged to offer larger loans sooner rather than later.

Before the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka, access to microfinance helped income convergence among the borrowers – a process that was disrupted by this natural disaster. However, microfinance loans after the Tsunami helped in reducing the income gap between those who were hit by it and others who were not. This process of recovery was fast. There is thus strong evidence for the effectiveness of microfinance as a recovery tool.

Women in higher loan cycles of Kashf’s microfinance programme in Pakistan experienced a significant increase in empowerment compared to their counterparts in the first loan cycle. Being in a higher loan cycle affects the ability of a female borrower to decide how to use the loan. Microlending thus leads to higher financial empowerment. Besides, there was social empowerment as mobility restrictions were much fewer among them.

A detailed analysis for India has a much broader focus on women’s empowerment and offers a positive role of microfinance. A large majority of SHG participants themselves reported that they had gained self-confidence, greater respect within the family, a more assertive role in family decision-making, a more important role in children’s health and education and that there was a reduction in domestic violence. In the broader community sphere, however, a considerably lower share of respondents gave a positive response.

But these indices of empowerment do not reveal the “costs.” Higher incomes and a broadening of spheres of activities entailed greater responsibilities for women and extra hours of work. In the absence of reallocation of domestic responsibilities, some of the welfare gains from extra incomes earned were partly offset by longer hours of work.

In conclusion, while the miracle of microfinance has eroded somewhat with financial sustainability overriding social goals, there are ample grounds for optimism about recreating it.


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Opinion: International Tax Cooperation Crucial for Development Wed, 07 Oct 2015 16:25:40 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 7 2015 (IPS)

It has become clear that the South, including the least developed countries, has little reason to expect any real progress to the almost half century old commitment to transfer 0.7 percent of developed countries’ income to developing countries. But to add insult to injury, developing countries have, once again, been denied full participation in inter-governmental discussions to enhance overall as well as national tax capacities.

The ability to pursue development policies depends crucially on available fiscal space, which relies mostly on domestic revenues, especially taxes. However, tax revenues in most low- and lower middle-income developing countries are low. The average tax-GDP ratios in low-income and lower-middle income countries are around 15 and 19 per cent respectively, compared to the OECD average of around 34 per cent.

Although non-tax revenues may add significantly to total revenues in some countries, these ratios are typically low even in countries with considerable non-petroleum mineral resource extraction activity. Therefore, low- and lower-middle-income countries should take steps to increase their revenues after considering various options for doing so.
This is necessary because the main approach in recent decades has been to increase tax rates only if unavoidable. It was presumed that lower rates would ensure better compliance with tax laws, and thus raise revenue.

The prevailing tax wisdom also favoured broadening the tax base, even when taxation capacities are modest. Thus, indirect taxation has tended to increase while direct taxation of corporations and individuals has tended to decline. The latter was supposed to be good for investment and growth although the empirical support for this presumption is dubious.

In the vast majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the tax to GDP ratio has actually stagnated or declined, as international trade taxes accounted for the largest share of tax revenue. As tariffs and export duties declined with trade liberalization, the share of trade taxes has fallen.

Unfortunately, other taxes have not grown to compensate for the lower trade taxes. There is an urgent need to reverse this trend, with greater commitment to revenue generation in order to improve social protection, create employment and otherwise contribute to sustained economic recovery.

For many developing countries, total tax revenues were mainly from three sources: domestic taxes on goods and services (general sales tax, excises), foreign trade taxes (mostly import duties) and direct taxes (mostly from corporations, rather than individuals). Wealth and property taxes as well as social security contributions continue to make modest contributions.

For rich countries, however, income taxes (mostly from individuals) make the largest contribution (around 34 per cent), with consumption taxes at the around the same level, with social insurance contributions accounting for 26 per cent of total tax revenue and trade taxes quite insignificant.

With their different economic circumstances, it does not make sense for developing countries to simply emulate developed economies in trying to generate revenue. Even among developing countries, no one size fits all.

And certainly not for all time, as tax systems must evolve with changing economic circumstances. A key question is: which taxes are most likely to meet the requirements of effective collection, buoyancy and stability?

Globalization and Tax Evasion

Revenue losses due to globalization need to be addressed. There are three main reasons for revenue losses:

First, capital movements increase opportunities for tax evasion because of the limited capacity that any tax authority has to check the overseas incomes of its residents; evasion is easier as some governments and financial institutions systematically facilitate the concealment of relevant tax information from home tax authorities.

Where dividends, interest, royalties and management fees are not taxed in the country in which they are paid, they more easily escape notice in the countries where the beneficiaries live. There have been large non-resident aliens’ bank deposits in some countries like the US that impose no taxes on interest from such deposits.

Second, avoidance (not evasion) may increase, given international differences in tax rules and rates, because of the choice of tax regime that international-tax-treatment of enterprise income commonly offers. This is more likely for taxation of profits from corporations’ international operations. Transfer pricing for goods, services and resources – moving among branches or subsidiaries of a company – provides opportunities for shifting income to minimize tax liability.

Third, international competition for inward foreign direct investment may lead governments to reduce tax rates and increase concessions for foreign investors. Income tax rates have fallen sharply since the 1980s. The tax rates that governments can impose are thus constrained by international competition. They are reluctant to raise rates or to tax dividend and interest income for fear of capital flight. Yet, it has long been known that direct-tax concessions have little or no effect in diverting international investment, let alone in attracting such flows. Hence, such tax concessions constitute an unnecessary loss of revenue.

Beggar-thy-neighbour policies have led to revenue losses for many developing countries in a race-to-the-bottom also involving labour and environmental standards, which in turn erodes the prospects for balanced, inclusive and sustainable development.

Finance ministries and tax authorities in developing countries need to cooperate among themselves and with their developed economies counterparts in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to learn from one another and to close existing loopholes in their mutual interest. With the huge and growing size of public debts and the real and imagined fiscal constraints to sustained global economic recovery, inclusive international tax cooperation is more urgent than ever.

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Shale Drives Uncertain New Geoeconomics of Oil Wed, 07 Oct 2015 13:04:09 +0000 Emilio Godoy Experts predict that in the long term, shale gas production will not be sustainable in the United States. The photo shows a shale gas well in Montrose, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Experts predict that in the long term, shale gas production will not be sustainable in the United States. The photo shows a shale gas well in Montrose, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 2015 (IPS)

The emergence of fracking has modified the global market for fossil fuels. But the plunge in oil prices has diluted the effect, in a struggle that experts in the United States believe conventional producers could win in the next decade.

The U.S. oil industry had peaked – when the discovery of new deposits and output from existing wells begins to fall – which made the country more dependent on imports. But the equation was turned around thanks to the new technique.“The bubble won’t explode, but it will progressively deflate. At current prices, we would see a relatively quick shrinking of capital availability for the shale sector, because those companies are producing at a loss.” -- David Livingston

The innovative technology of hydraulic fracturing or fracking and the discovery of large deposits of shale gas and oil, along with massive investment flows, led to predictions that the United States would become autonomous in fossil fuels this decade. But these forecasts have been undermined by the drop in prices.

“The world is entering a new era of uncertainty in the geoeconomics of oil,” said David Livingston, an associate in the Energy and Climate Programme of the U.S. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It is far from certain that the notoriously volatile oil market will become less cyclical.”

The analyst told IPS that as a result of domestic U.S. demand, “Companies will lose spare capacity, between what they can produce and what they produce, which is important, because the market is determined by that capacity.”

After 2003 international oil prices climbed, to 140 dollars a barrel in 2008, when the global financial crisis brought them down.

This decade they rallied, to around 100 dollars a barrel. But they have fallen again since late 2014, to about 40 dollars a barrel.

That means U.S. producers, in particular shale gas producers, are facing extremely low prices, overproduction, a lack of infrastructure for storing the surplus and a credit crunch for the industry’s projects, even though prices have gone down.

In addition, China’s economic slowdown and Europe’s stagnation are hindering the recovery in demand for energy.

The development of shale oil and gas has also put the U.S. industry on a collision course with the members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), especially since one of its widely touted objectives is to reduce imports from that bloc.

A warning about the danger of methane emissions in one of the shale gas Wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A warning about the danger of methane emissions in one of the shale gas Wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Since November 2014, OPEC has kept its production quotas stable, as part of a strategy imposed by the bloc’s biggest producer, Saudi Arabia, aimed at keeping prices low and discouraging the development of shale deposits, which are much more costly to tap into than the organisation’s conventional reserves.

In late 2014, the Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy put the cost of producing a barrel of shale oil in the United States at 65 dollars a barrel, which means the industry is operating at a loss. The average cost of extracting a barrel of conventional oil in that country is 13 dollars, compared to five dollars in the Gulf.

For Miriam Grunstein, a professor at the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico, the outlook is very uncertain.

Fracking, public enemy

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas. Environmentalists warn that the chemical additives are harmful to health and the environment.

The process generates large amounts of waste liquids containing dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that require treatment before disposal, as well as emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

This has led to widespread public opposition to fracking in U.S. communities where exploration for shale gas is going on.

“There are doubts for several reasons. First of all, due to the low prices,” she told IPS from Mexico, which has begun to explore its significant reserves of shale gas.

“Although it has forced many companies to improve their operating capacity, reduce investments and achieve greater efficiency, they are in an environment where they have to look for markets, in Europe or Asia. But that requires liquefaction infrastructure, which implies major investments,” she added, referring to the current situation faced by shale gas producers.

In June, the United States produced 9.3 million barrels per day of crude oil, about half of which was shale oil, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The prospects for the industry are beginning to look less promising. In its Drilling Productivity Report published in late August, the EIA projected a fall in shale gas production in September, for the first time this year, to 44.9 billion cubic feet per day.

The agency stressed that output from new wells is not enough to offset the decline in existing wells.

For Livingston, “OPEC as an institution – and Saudi Arabia, its leader – is likely to emerge from this paradigm shift stronger than before in many ways. With its new strategy – one born out of necessity – the kingdom is emphasising market share, rather than price, while also moving to delegate the burden of balancing the world oil market to the U.S. shale industry.”

The United States would become the new “swing producer”, although without achieving the same power as the Gulf producers in influencing the market.

In the long run, total U.S. oil production will tend to drop, according to EIA projections. In 2020, crude oil production is expected to stand at 10.6 million barrels per day; in 2030, 10.04; and 10 years later, 9.43.

In the case of shale gas, projections are favourable, but at higher prices. In 2020, the country should be producing 15.44 trillion cubic feet per day; 10 years later 17.85; and in 2040, 19.58.

In total, the EIA forecasts that the country will produce 28.82 trillion cubic feet per day of natural gas in 2020; 33.01 in 2030; and 35.45 in 2040.

But the average price will go up. This year, the Henry Hub reference price for U.S. natural gas has stood at 2.93 dollars per million British thermal units (Btu), the heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water.

The price should go up to 4.88 dollars per Btu in 2020; to 5.69 in 2030; and to 7.80 in 2040.

“The bubble won’t explode, but it will progressively deflate. At current prices, we would see a relatively quick shrinking of capital availability for the shale sector, because those companies are producing at a loss,” said Livingston.

Grunstein said: “Saudi Arabia’s aim is to keep the United States from becoming a major exporter. The strong markets exert the most pressure. If demand does not recover, the demand-price ratio is awkward. Consumption is needed, and I don’t see where it would come from.”

Livingston said one option is to review the 1970s-era ban on exporting U.S. crude oil, because “If production rises, refineries can’t process it and therefore new markets are needed.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women’s Alliance Plans to Counter Violent Extremism Tue, 06 Oct 2015 20:19:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When the Security Council recently hosted a meeting of world leaders to discuss the growing threats from violent extremism, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any success in battling intolerance will be predicated on a “unified response.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

The most recent U.N. data, he told the summit meeting, shows a 70 per cent increase in foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 countries to regions in conflict. And they not only pose a direct threat to international security, he said, but also “mercilessly target women and girls”, and undermine universal values of peace, justice and human dignity.

Responding to the call for unity, a coalition of over 25 women’s groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has formed a new alliance to counter violent extremism (CVE) and promote peace, rights and pluralism.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder and executive director of the Washington-based International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and a member of the coalition, told IPS: “I think the CVE initiative and summit did open space for a broader conversation about the root causes of extremism.”

By having regional summits and reaching out to young people and civil society and women, she said, they raised awareness about the many positive forces that exist.

There are new initiatives for youth engagement, getting cities to learn from each other, and focus on research. The women’s alliance is among them, she noted.

The Secretary-General, meanwhile, has announced plans to form an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue, and at the same time, present a comprehensive plan of action on preventing violent extremism, to the current session of the General Assembly later this year.

He singled out five key priorities: the need to engage all of society; the need to make a special effort to reach young people; to build truly accountable institutions; respect for international law and human rights; and the importance of not being ruled by fear – or provoked by those who strive to exploit it.

Ban said most of those recruited by violent extremists were young men, although women were also falling under the influence.

Many were frustrated with the few avenues available to them to pursue productive lives and find their place in society. “We must show them another way, a better way. That includes working to end poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity”.

The alliance includes the Philippines Centre for Islam and Democracy, Association of War-Affected Women, Iraqi Al-Firdaws Society, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the Carter Centre and Justice, Human Rights and Gender Civil Association.

The United States is working with its own coalition, which has grown to some 60 nations, including virtually all the Arab countries, plus three new countries: Nigeria, Tunisia and Malaysia.
Additionally, nearly two dozen nations are in some way contributing to the current military campaign against extremist groups, including Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Speaking at the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama said: “Our military and intelligence efforts are not going to succeed alone; they have to be matched by political and economic progress to address the conditions that ISIL has exploited in order to take root.”

ICAN’s Anderlini told IPS the alliance of women’s groups is still taking shape and “we welcome NGOs that uphold the same values and vision, and are active on the ground”.

“We definitely aim to have a strong political voice and presence in the policy arena for a number of reasons.”

First, there is no doubt that women are deliberate and central targets of such groups – and extremists understand the power and influence of women in society.

They are either trying to recruit them or killing those who speak out against them. They are also of course, using young women and girls as commodities.

“We have to have women at the center of decision making so that they are not doubly victimized or ignored by international actors as well,” she added.

Second, the alliance members are working at the frontlines of this struggle. Some are working directly with militias – others are doing broader community based prevention.

They have expertise and a lot to share about what works and what does not – and how to adapt and scale good practices.

Third, they have important perspectives on the root causes as well as the solutions needed from the international community.

“We can’t assume that small grants to local organizations will solve this huge problem. Those organizations can do a great deal but more importantly they can inform and guide what’s needed nationally and internationally in terms of economic, security policies.”

She said the bottom line is: “a lot of what has happened so far, is not working.”

“Our Syrian and Iraqi partners were warning about these issues in 2011 (and even earlier) – if we had heeded their warnings and followed their advice, things could be different now,” Anderlini declared.

Obama said it is necessary to address the political grievances that ISIL exploits.

“I’ve said this before – when human rights are denied and citizens have no opportunity to redress their grievances peacefully, it feeds terrorist propaganda that justifies violence.”

Likewise, when political opponents are treated like terrorists and thrown in jail, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So the real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it is more democracy in terms of free speech, and freedom of religion, rule of law, strong civil societies, he said.

“All that has to play a part in countering violent extremism,” he added.

“And finally, we recognize that our best partners in protecting vulnerable people from succumbing to violent extremist ideologies are the communities themselves – families, friends, neighbors, clerics, faith leaders who love and care for these young.”

The Secretary-General said more than 5 billion, out of the world’s total population of 7 billion, identify themselves as members of religious communities.

And religious leaders and educators can play an important role in teaching their followers the correct meaning of mutual understanding and respecting the other’s faith.

“We expect our religious leaders to be brave and to teach their followers when they see something morally wrong. I ask you, too, to do more to amplify the voice of the moderate majority so we may drown out those who preach violence and hatred,” Ban added.

The writer can be contacted at

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United Arab Emirates and Cuba Forge Closer Ties Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:10:19 +0000 Patricia Grogg The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shakes hands with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, after raising the UAE flag at the opening of the Emirati embassy in Havana on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shakes hands with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, after raising the UAE flag at the opening of the Emirati embassy in Havana on Oct. 5, 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Oct 6 2015 (IPS)

Cuba and the United Arab Emirates agreed to strengthen diplomatic ties and bilateral cooperation during an official visit to this Caribbean island nation by the UAE minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

During his 24-hour stay, Al Nahyan met on Monday Oct. 5 with Cuban authorities, signed two agreements, and inaugurated his country’s embassy in Havana, which he said was a clear sign of the consolidation of the ties established by the two countries in March 2002.

“I am sure that the next few years will witness the prosperity of our ties,” he added during his official meeting with his Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodríguez, with whom he signed an agreement on air services “between and beyond our territories” which will facilitate the expansion of opportunities for international air transport.

In the meeting, Rodríguez reaffirmed his government’s support for Arab peoples in their struggle to maintain their independence and territorial integrity.

According to official sources, the two foreign ministers concurred that the opening of the UAE embassy is an important step forward in bilateral ties and will permit closer follow-up of questions of mutual interest.

Al Nahyan also met with the first vice president of the councils of state and ministers, Miguel Díaz Canel. The two officials confirmed the good state of bilateral ties and the possibilities for cooperation on the economic, trade and financial fronts, Cuba’s prime-time TV newscast reported.

The foreign ministers of Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, Bruno Rodríguez (left) and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the Oct. 5, 2015 agreement-signing ceremony in Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The foreign ministers of Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, Bruno Rodríguez (left) and Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the Oct. 5, 2015 agreement-signing ceremony in Cuba’s ministry of foreign affairs in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, signed a credit agreement with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, to finance a solar energy farm that will generate 10 MW of electricity.

Al Nahyan first visited Havana on Oct. 1-2, 2009 in response to an official invitation from minister Rodríguez. On that occasion they signed two agreements, one on economic, trade and technical cooperation, and another between the two foreign ministries.

“We have great confidence in Cuba’s leaders and in our capacity to carry out these kinds of projects,” Al Nahyan told the local media on that occasion.

United Arab Emirates, a federation made up of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain – established diplomatic relations with Cuba in March 2002, in an accord signed in Cairo.

The decision to open an embassy in the Cuban capital was reached in a June 2014 cabinet meeting presided over by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice president and prime minister, and the ruler of Dubai.

In late February 2015, Al Maktoum received the letters of credentials for the new ambassador of Cuba in the UAE, Enrique Enríquez, during a ceremony in the Al Mushrif Palace in the Emirati capital.

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayhan, unveils a plaque commemorating the official opening in Havana of the new UAE embassy, together with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed al Nayhan, unveils a plaque commemorating the official opening in Havana of the new UAE embassy, together with his opposite number in Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Later, UAE Assistant Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ahmed al Jarman and Enríquez discussed the state of bilateral relations and agreed to take immediate concrete steps to expand and strengthen ties in different areas.

Enríquez also met with Cubans living in Abu Dhabi with a view to bolstering relations between them and their home country. They agreed on periodic future gatherings.

In May 2014, the UAE and Cuba signed an open skies agreement to allow the airlines of both countries to operate in each other’s territories, as well as opening the door to new plans for flights between the two countries, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) reported.

The accord formed part of a strategy to boost trade with other countries, said Saif Mohammed al Suwaidi, director general of the GCAA, who headed a delegation of officials and representatives of national airlines during a two-day visit to Cuba.

The UAE signed similar agreements with other Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, as part of its effort at closer relations with this region, which is of growing interest to the Gulf country.

Talks have also been announced between the UAE and Russia to build a giant airport in Cuba, which would serve as an international airport hub for Latin America, the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper reported in February.

The proposal is being discussed by the Russian government and the Abu Dhabi state investment fund Mubadala, mandated to diversify the emirate’s economy.

In 2013 and 2014, UAE was named the world’s largest official development aid donor in a report released by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In 2013, the Gulf nation provided five billion dollars in ODA to other countries.

Last year, according to OECD data, the only Gulf country to have a Ministry of International Cooperation and Development spent 1.34 percent of their gross domestic product in development cooperation.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: American Exceptionalism on Child Rights Mon, 05 Oct 2015 22:03:44 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam

Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF

By Kul Chandra Gautam

On 1 October 2015, Somalia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), leaving the United States of America as the only remaining member state of the UN not to embrace this most universally accepted human rights treaty. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reflects the sentiments of all the world’s human rights activists in encouraging the US to join the global community by ratifying this noble treaty.

Kul Chandra Gautam

Kul Chandra Gautam

It baffles the rest of the world, and many thoughtful Americans, as to why the US has chosen to be the odd man out in not embracing this most humanitarian of all human rights treaties that seeks to protect the rights and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable children. It is all the more surprising if one considers that many distinguished American scholars and experts were actively involved in drafting the CRC, and the US government played a leadership role in negotiating and shaping it. But most American citizens remain unaware of this great human rights treaty that their country helped create, but refuses to ratify.

The US reluctance to ratify the CRC seems to be part of a broader phenomena of “American exceptionalism” which holds that while the rest of the world needs to be bound by human rights treaties and conventions, the US need not join them as the US already has a great Constitution and progressive laws that are strong and often superior to what might be contained in such international treaties.

Accordingly, the US is always reluctant and slow in ratifying any international conventions, including those that it may have played an active role in drafting, such as the Rome Statue on International Criminal Court, the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the CRC.

Many American congressmen and senators – particularly from the Republican Party – seem to feel that that such treaties might be necessary and useful for other countries, but not for the US, because they fear these might actually lower the standards contained in the US Constitution or create undesirable international obligations for the US. Such is the sense of self-righteousness among some key and influential American legislators that evidence to the contrary is conveniently ignored or dismissed.

For example, the American Bar Association has done a comparative review of the CRC and the US Constitution and relevant federal laws, and determined that these are either mutually compatible or the CRC’s standards are more in keeping with the emerging human rights norms of the modern world. The experience of all other developed countries that have ratified the Convention also indicates that it is highly relevant and beneficial for all countries – rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

The CRC recognises every child’s right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence; to express his or her views and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future. It reaffirms the primary role of parents and the family in raising children. It seeks to emulate key provisions on child rights and well-being under the US Constitution and laws.

Some opponents of the CRC in America argue that it would impose all kinds of terrible international obligations that maybe harmful to America and its children and families. These range from how possible UN interference might compromise the sovereignty of the US and undermine its Constitution to how the CRC might weaken American families and role of parents in bringing up their children. Others stress how it might bring about a culture of permissiveness, including abortion on demand, and unrestricted access to pornography and how it might empower children to sue their parents and disobey their guidance.

Such concerns are not unique to America. Many groups in other countries have expressed similar fears from time to time. But in 25 years of experience in over a hundred countries, rich and poor, with liberal as well as conservative governments, such concerns have proven to be unfounded, exaggerated and hypothetical.

America is a nation of extraordinary wealth. Most children in this country are beneficiaries of this affluence. They live in comfortable homes and safe neighbourhoods and have a decent standard of living, health, education and social welfare. But there is room for much improvement and some humility.

Studies by the highly respected American NGO the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF and others show that compared to the wealth of the US, a shocking number of children continue to lack the basics of life. Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. The US is towards the bottom of the league in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors in jail.

For many people outside the US, it is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth lets every sixth child live in (relative) poverty, how its laws allow a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families can live without basic health insurance.

Ratifying the CRC will not by itself dramatically change the situation of America’s children. But it would help establish a critical national framework to formulate clear goals and targets which the federal and state governments, private organizations and individuals can use to shape policies and programs to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Internationally, ratification of the CRC would help enhance US standing as a global leader in human rights. As a party to the Convention, the U.S. would be eligible to participate in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the international body that monitors the CRC’s implementation), and work toward strengthening further progress for children in all countries.

Interestingly, while the US has failed to ratify the CRC, it has ratified two Optional Protocols to the CRC – on the sale and trafficking of children, child prostitution and pornography, as well as involvement of children in armed conflict. Also, to be fair, there have been many leaders in the US government, including at the highest level, who have been very supportive of the CRC. I want to recall a very touching episode in this regard.

In January 1995, Jim Grant, the then head of UNICEF, a charismatic leader who was highly respected and admired in the US and around the world, was hospitalised with terminal cancer. From his death-bed he wrote to President Bill Clinton, pleading with him, as an American citizen, that the US government sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He died a few days later.

The following month at a memorial service for Jim Grant at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, the then First Lady Hillary Clinton came with a message from the President. She said that in response to Jim Grant’s last wish, President Clinton had instructed Madeline Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, to sign the Convention. The whole Cathedral erupted in applause at this news, breaking the tradition of an otherwise serene and somber occasion of a memorial service. The following week, Albright signed the Convention.

However, fearing that many conservative Senators would not support it, the Clinton administration did not forward the Convention for ratification to the Senate. When President George W. Bush took over, the new administration made it clear that it had no intention whatsoever to pursue ratification of the Convention.

Even President Obama, whose outlook and vision most closely match the spirit of the Convention, has done nothing tangible towards getting the treaty ratified by the US Senate. This despite the fact that there were and still are many senior officials in his administration who are highly supportive of the CRC, including former Secretary of State and current leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, her successor John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the current US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.

As a Presidential candidate in 2008, Obama acknowledged how embarrassing it was for the US to find itself in the company of a lawless Somalia that had not ratified the CRC. He then promised to review the CRC and other treaties to ensure that the US resumes its global leadership in human rights. Now that Somalia has ratified the CRC, the US remains a lonely leader without any followers or companions in its refusal to embrace the world’s most universally ratified human rights treaty.

Given the current composition of the US Congress and the right-wing tilt of US politics, I see no chance for the US to ratify the CRC in the foreseeable future. However, citing longer-term national interest, President Obama has occasionally shown courage and willingness to propose bold actions, such as normalizing US diplomatic relations with Cuba and the nuclear agreement with Iran, even in the face of some strong domestic opposition.

Many American child rights activists and leaders have suggested that President Obama should exercise a similarly enlightened leadership and immediately order the State Department to undertake a thorough formal review of the CRC, so that it is ready for submission to the Senate for ratification whenever the situation becomes more favourable. Last year, over 100 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organizations and faith-based groups made an impassioned joint appeal to Obama to order such a review (See: The President may now be a lame-duck in many respects, but it is not too late for him to leave a legacy of standing up for the rights of America’s children, and those of the world.

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

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The Global South Will Make Its Contribution to Fighting Climate Change Mon, 05 Oct 2015 17:14:26 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz Deforestation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions by the Global South, such as in this area of Rio Branco in the northern Brazilian state of Acre. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Deforestation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions by the Global South, such as in this area of Rio Branco in the northern Brazilian state of Acre. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 5 2015 (IPS)

Seen for years as passive actors in the fight against global warming, more than 100 countries of the Global South have submitted their national contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonising their economies.

With differing levels of ambition and some targets conditional on international financing, the commitments assumed by developing economies put pressure on the big global emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) and reinforce the ethical stance that the phenomenon of climate change requires contributions by all countries, said experts consulted by IPS.

“We’ve seen a number of strong commitments from Global South countries in spite of their small role in creating this challenge,” said Ellie Johnston, the World Climate Project manager at Climate Interactive, a U.S.-based organisation that helps people see what works to address climate change and related issues.

In their national contributions, developing countries have focused on clean energies, the fight against deforestation, the need for new forms of financing, and the design of climate change adaptation strategies.

A total of 146 governments met the Oct. 1 deadline to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for cutting GHG emissions, while 49 failed to do so.

The INDCs that were presented are not enough to keep the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius with respect to pre-industrial levels – the limit set by experts to avoid climate catastrophe.

The country climate pledges are to be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

An analysis by Climate Interactive found that the national contributions to date would result in expected warming of 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100

Another estimate, by the Climate Action Tracker, predicted that the combination of government climate action plans, if implemented, would bring global warming down to 2.7 degrees Celsius.

The differences in the estimates arise from the different methodologies used, mainly with regard to emissions from China and India after 2030 – the two emerging powers that in the last two decades have become the world’s first and third largest emitters of GHG. The second is the United States, the fourth Russia, and the fifth Japan.

“Our analysis shows that more ambitious contributions are needed across the Global South and Global North to ensure we reach the internationally agreed upon goal of two degrees C, and we hope that the Paris climate talks will create a framework that ensures this can happen,” Climate Interactive’s Johnston told IPS.

Some of the governments presented ambitious targets. And one thing that stood out was clear objectives for adaptation, one of the most important elements for the Global South, a term that refers to the diverse range of developing countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia.

An increase in clean energies and a reduction in fossil fuel use are part of the commitments assumed by the countries of the Global South to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The photo shows a wind farm in the La Paz y Casamata mountains near the capital of Costa Rica. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

An increase in clean energies and a reduction in fossil fuel use are part of the commitments assumed by the countries of the Global South to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The photo shows a wind farm in the La Paz y Casamata mountains near the capital of Costa Rica. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Johnston celebrated the presentation of commitments by the emerging economies, and said that given the disparity between historic responsibility and action-taking capacity, industrialised countries should step up their contributions.

The division between industrialised and developing countries is a basic part of the UNFCCC, because of their different levels of responsibility in generating the phenomenon of climate change.

But after COP20, held in Lima in December 2014, all countries committed to contributing to curbing global warming, by means of the INDCs.

In the crucial Paris conference, negotiators will have to combine the INDCs presented by each country in the new binding climate treaty, which will enter into force in 2020, with the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius by 2100.

“When viewed from an equity and fairness perspective there are quite a few that have gone beyond what we could consider as their fair share, especially among the smaller LDCs (Least Developed Countries) and SIDS (Small Island Developing States), who are least responsible for the causes of climate change,” Tasneem Essop, the head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) delegation to the UNFCCC climate talks, told IPS.

The South African activist said the problem with the INDCs is that in Lima, clear standards were not set for their design.

Costa Rica pledged to limit its per capita emissions to 1.19 tons by 2050, and the hope is that the global average will be no more than two tons per capita. Cameroon is to cut its emissions by 32 percent, with respect to the level it would have in 2035 at the current rate of growth, but like many other countries, it clarified that to reach that goal, it would need international financing.

Papua New Guinea, where the logging industry is powerful, will focus on combating deforestation and on land-use change, its main problem.

Brazil, meanwhile, proposed to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2025, with respect to 2005 levels, and it is one of the few countries of the South to present “absolute targets”.

“The problem we have, and this applies to all the INDCs and not just Global South countries, is that these INDCs have not been developed on a common framework or with common standards. So it makes it very difficult to compare,” said Essop.

The countries that failed to meet the deadline for the submission of INDCs included some with more limited technical capacity to draw them up, and others that the experts considered the least motivated to take action. The list of countries that did not present INDCs includes Bolivia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Venezuela.

Essop stressed that the commitments assumed by the Global South should keep in mind the balance between the three principal elements of climate action and the new treaty – mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation – where internal and external financing play an essential role.

“An important and interesting feature in some Global South countries’ INDCs has been the clarity in terms of what the country can fund domestically and what actions can be enhanced with support,” said Essop.

In 2009, industrialised nations pledged 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to finance the struggle against global warming. But the funds have been slow in coming. “Finance will not be an issue that is resolved until the final night in Paris,” said Kat Watts, Global Climate Policy Advisor for Carbon Market Watch.

Watts told IPS that the old divisions in the climate negotiations – Annex 1 and Annex 2 industrialised countries, and the rest of the countries in a separate group – are crumbling under the weight of the INDCs and other actions.

The British analyst said it was important that the submission of the national climate pledges and the approval of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at a Sep. 25-27 U.N. summit in New York, had happened at the same time.

“The INDC and SDG processes both happening this year means that there is a real opportunity for each country to consider how to make any planned development both low carbon and resistant to predicted climate impacts,” said Watts.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Q&A: ‘We Need to do Development Differently in the Post-2015 Era’ Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:29:29 +0000 Ramesh Jaura
Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes of Guyana was elected the Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) at the 100th Session of the Group’s Council of Ministers, held at ACP Headquarters in Brussels on Dec.10, 2014.]]>
ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the
UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

By Ramesh Jaura
BRUSSELS, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sep. 25, reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena, says the 79-nation bloc’s head Dr Patrick Gomes.

These domains include: rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development, he said in an email interview with IPS, adding that South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs the Group’s approach to all these domains.

Following is the full text of the interview:

IPS: The ACP Group is composed of 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific. How far has it been possible for the ACP Group to evolve a joint strategy?

Dr Gomes: From the outset, the Committee of African, Caribbean and Pacific Ambassadors in Brussels recognised the importance of the post-2015 development agenda as a platform for global action to address the enormous needs of developing countries.

In 2014 the ACP Group set up an ad-hoc Ambassadorial Working Group to focus solely on crafting a joint position on the matter, highlighting key areas which are important to our Member States – climate change, financing for development, technology transfer, for example. At the heart of it all, is the desire to create conditions for our countries to succeed in development and industrialise in a sustainable manner, in order to raise the standards of living of our peoples.

This work fed into the joint declaration with the European Union on the post-2015 agenda, which was adopted by the ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers in June 2014. That was a true milestone and it highlighted very clearly our joint interests while providing a guide for our future cooperation.

The ACP Group of States also more recently agreed on a position on the U.N.’s international conference on Financing for Development in July, and we are working on one for the Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris in December. Through a number of different platforms, the ACP Group has been able to articulate a common position on issues of direct relevance in our countries’ prospects for sustainable development.

IPS: How far do the 17 SDGs address, in your view, the problems and aspirations of such a diverse group as the ACP?

Dr Gomes: The ACP Group is indeed a diverse group. All are developing, but each has specific conditions – amongst the membership, there are 40 Least Developed Countries, 37 Small Island Developing States (some are both), and 15 landlocked developing states. This is also captured at the regional level, whereby the ACP is organised in six regions (East, West, Southern and Central Africa, as well as the Caribbean and Pacific). The concept of national ownership and country-driven policies becomes very important.

Furthermore, the ACP Group has called for the establishment of a vulnerability index that takes into consideration the specific challenges that affect a country’s ability to develop. This doesn’t mean that member states cannot stand together on common issues, or support each other’s causes in the name of solidarity. We also follow a principle of subsidiarity and complementarity.

The SDGs reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena. These domains include rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development. South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs our approach to all these domains.

IPS: The Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference in July, the Sustainable Development Summit and the Paris Climate Change Conference end of November through December have the semblance of a triumvirate determining the fate of the world in the coming years. At its core lies financing. How do you expect the financing problem to be solved? Does the European Development Fund provide adequate framework? Does it suffice?

Dr Gomes: We need to do development differently in the post-2015 era. It is clear that traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) is, quantitatively, simply not enough to address the development demands of our countries. In fact, ODA now accounts for far less than Foreign Direct Investment, equity participation and remittances from diasporic communities investing in their countries of origin. In terms of long-term sustainable financing, we must look at mobilising domestic resources in our own developing countries. This means refining our tax laws, tackling tax evasion and curbing corruption in order to curtail the billions of dollars haemorrhaging through illicit financial flows.

To add to that, private funding to finance investments, improved public debt management, boosting trade – all these avenues need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. The ACP Group also takes particular interest in South-South and Triangular Cooperation to complement the traditional North-South models of development finance.

Notwithstanding, ODA will remain an essential part of post-2015 development finance. Developed countries must still honour their previous pledges to allocate 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to development aid. So far, only a few European countries have achieved and surpassed this level of ODA – imagine if all the industrialised countries did so. Moreover, since developed nations recommitted to the 0.7 percent GNI goal for ODA in Addis Ababa in July, we have to look now at implementing this in the ACP-EU framework.

The European Development Fund for ACP countries is significant, but obviously not enough to achieve the SDGs. However, what is unique about the EDF is that it is part of a legally binding agreement between two sets of sovereign states. In the framework of our partnership, the EU provides a predictable source of finance and the ACP Group co-manages the funds. At the same time, issues of flexibility in the EDF regulations and better planning in ACP countries, mean that actual absorption rates by ACP countries can still be improved.

IPS: How far does the Sustainable Development Summit mark a watershed in global development cooperation? Do you expect it to turn out more of a success than its precursor, the MDG?

Dr Gomes: The attainment of SDG’s will be as successful as we make it. That is, these goals need have sufficient resources for work to be implemented and results delivered. Contrary to the momentum and hope generated by enormous pledges made by developed countries in international fora, the reality is that the state of financing for development is currently handicapped. In fact, amongst the challenges faced by the MDGs, were the inadequate implementation of commitments listed in Goal 8 (Global Partnership for Development), the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as issues of mutual accountability.

However, I remain positive. There is a growing awareness across the globe about development issues. There is also an interest in reviewing current systems to better deliver on development goals, as seen in the reforms currently being pursued at the UN and ACP Group. There is no doubt that the resources and means to achieve the Post-2015 Development Agenda do exist – it is a matter of collective will to wield them in the right direction. (END)

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10 Million at Risk of Hunger Due to Climate Change and El Niño, Oxfam Warns Fri, 02 Oct 2015 21:37:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. -

The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. -

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

At least ten million of the poorest people face food insecurity in 2015 and 2016 due to extreme weather conditions and the onset of El Niño, Oxfam has reported.

In Oxfam’s new report called Entering Uncharted Waters, erratic weather patterns were noted including high temperatures and droughts, disrupting farming seasons around the world.

Countries are already facing a “major emergency,” said Oxfam, including Ethiopia where 4.5 million people are in need of food assistance due to a drought this year.

Almost three million face hunger in Malawi as a result of erratic rains followed by drought. These conditions have caused a stifling in food production and a rise in food prices.

Christian Aid reported that the production of maize, Malawi’s staple food, has dropped by 30 percent in 2014, while maize prices have risen between 50 and 100 percent.

Central American farmers have been coping with a drought for almost two years, also disrupting its maize production and decreasing access to sufficient food.

Oxfam warns that conditions will worsen due to the incoming El Niño, which could be the “most powerful” since 1997

El Niño is a weather phenomenon where there is periodic, but prolonged warming of the Pacific Ocean. This can last between 9 months to 2 years, producing below-average rains and high temperatures.

El Niño has already reduced the Asian monsoon over India, potentially triggering a prolonged drought and food insecurity in the Eastern region of the continent.

The warming of the oceans, exacerbated by climate change, may double the frequency of the most powerful El Niños, Oxfam says.

The charity urged for preemptive action, pointing to the consequences of failure of response, such as the death of 260,000 during the food crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011.

Christian Aid has also reported funding deficits in Malawi of over 130 million dollars, hindering support to the worst-affected communities.

“If governments and agencies take immediate action, as some are doing, then major humanitarian emergencies next year can be averted,” Oxfam said in its report.

“Prevention is better than cure,” they continued.

The Oxfam report comes a week after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes commitments to eradicating hunger and addressing climate change.

They described the unfolding crisis as the “first test” for world leaders who will be meeting in December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for them to agree a global deal to tackle climate change,” said Oxfam Great Britain’s Chief Executive Mark Goldring.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2014 was the hottest year on record. However, global data currently reveal that 2015 may surpass last year in record high temperatures. (END)

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Brazil’s Expanded Climate Targets Frustrate Environmentalists Fri, 02 Oct 2015 21:05:26 +0000 Mario Osava Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme, hailed as bold, has nevertheless left environmentalists frustrated at its lack of ambition in key aspects.

“The decision to present absolute reduction targets is praiseworthy, but they could be better and more ambitious, to the benefit of the country itself and of the global climate change talks,” said André Ferretti, general coordinator of the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian network of 37 environmental groups.

On Sep. 27, President Dilma Rousseff announced at the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York that Brazil’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37 percent by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030, with a base year of 2005.“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question. It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.” -- André Ferretti

This is Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius this century, the ceiling set by experts to ward off a climate catastrophe.

Each country had until Oct. 1 to submit its INDC, to be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

In order for Brazil to meet these goals, at least 45 percent of its total energy mix is to be made up of renewable sources, including hydropower, by 2030. The global average is just 13 percent, the Brazilian president pointed out.

Alternative sources like wind, solar, biomass and ethanol will account for 23 percent of the country’s electricity output, up from nine percent today.

In addition, the country will attempt to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and pledged to offset emissions from regulated deforestation.

Reforesting 12 million hectares and recovering 15 million hectares of degraded grasslands are other goals announced by Rousseff, who noted that Brazil is one of the first countries of the developing South to assume absolute reduction targets for cutting GHG emissions, with goals even higher than those set by many industrialised countries.

Other countries offer reductions with respect to projected future emissions, based on current rates of production, consumption and economic growth. At the COP15, held in 2009 in Copenhagen, Brazil promised to reduce its GHG emissions by 36 to 39 percent below its projected emissions for 2020.

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

But the country’s INDC goals “are still lower than what the country could achieve, and add very little to what has already been done,” Ferreti told IPS.

In 2012, GHG emissions had already been cut 41 percent with respect to 2005, basically due to a lower rate of deforestation in the Amazon, although they rose later because of greater use of fossil fuels.

Currently Brazil, Latin America’s biggest GHG emitter, releases nearly 1.48 billion tons a year of emissions into the atmosphere.

The target for net emissions for 2030 does not differ much from the 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released in 2012, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question,” said Ferretti, who is also manager of conservation strategies in the Boticario Group Foundation for Nature Protection. “It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.”

“In legal terms, it is contradictory to set such a lengthy timeframe to combat an illegal activity,” former lawmaker Liszt Vieira, who directed Rio de Janeiro’s botanical garden for 10 years, told IPS.

Furthermore, the targets only refer to the Amazon, leaving out other ecosystems, such as the Cerrado, the savannah that covers 203.6 million hectares, or 24 percent of the national territory, and is suffering heavy and growing deforestation, said Ferretti.

“All of this reflects the Brazilian government’s weak commitment on this issue,” said Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment. “Brazil could assume a zero deforestation goal for 2030, which would be feasible because this country has learned a lot about the issue, has the necessary technology, and has land that has already been deforested, for the expansion of agriculture.

“Besides, it would be in the best interests of the country, which depends heavily on rainfall for agriculture and energy,” he said in an interview with IPS. “Its vulnerability to drought has been revealed by the current water and energy crisis, especially in the state of São Paulo, after scarce rainfall for the last two years.”

“That’s why a good climate accord in Paris would be good for Brazil,” to prevent extreme events like drought, he said.

An ambitious goal, like zero deforestation nationwide, would give Brazil a certain leadership role in the climate conference, to encourage contributions from other countries and the reaching of agreements that would make it possible to limit climate change to less disastrous levels, said both Barreto and Vieira.

Furthermore, the role that forests play in regulating rainfall, especially the Amazon jungle in South America, is understood better today.

Brazil could also present more ambitious goals with respect to energy from alternative sources, expanding investment in wind and solar energy, said Vieira. In energy, the country is going against the current, he said, increasing generation of thermal power with fossil fuels and putting a priority on producing oil from the pre-salt deposits discovered beneath a two-kilometre-thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water in the Atlantic.

Vieira believes Brazil has lost the leadership role it had in environment and the climate for nearly two decades, since it hosted the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. In his view, it is the big players in the issue – China, the United States and Europe – that will decide the future of the global climate.

But despite the limitations of the government’s national climate programme, the environmentalists consulted by IPS admitted that Rousseff’s announcement was a happy surprise.

“We expected something worse from a development-oriented government that has treated environmentalism as an obstacle to development and economic growth,” said Vieira, who formed part of the current administration until 2013, as president of the botanical garden, a position of trust in the Environment Ministry.

“The presentation of the targets was both a relief and a frustration,” said Ferretti. “It was bad because it could have been better, both in the forest question and in energy, with more attention to biomass and solar energy.”

“And it was good because, besides some good measures, such as the recovery of degraded land, goals were set for 2025 and 2030, indicating that they would be revised every five years and could be expanded, opening a door to negotiation with and emulation by other countries,” he added.

It was also positive, he said, because Brazil abandoned its stance of inflexibly defending “common but differentiated responsibilities” exempting developing countries from meeting the same kinds of targets, as they are not equally responsible for the problem of global warming.

That separation between the two blocs boosted the “Third World” leadership by some countries like Brazil, but hindered negotiations, Ferretti argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Continues Condemnation of Civilian Casualties in Yemen Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:37:40 +0000 Thalif Deen yemen_

By Thalif Deen

The Saudi coalition, which continues its air strikes against rebels in strife-torn Yemen, is fast gaining notoriety as “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” – largely because of its misses than its hits.

Last month, the coalition is reported to have targeted a bomb-making factory – and ended up killing some 36 civilians working at a water-bottling plant in northern Yemen.

And this week, the Saudi coalition unleashed an air attack on a wedding party in Yemen triggering outrage from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A statement released here said the Secretary-General condemned the air strikes that reportedly struck a wedding party in Wahijah village, outside of the Red Sea port city of Mokha in Yemen, killing as many as 135 people.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and a swift recovery to those injured,” he said.

Ted Lieu, Democratic Congressman from California, has urged the United States to “cease aiding coalition air strikes in Yemen until the coalition demonstrates they will institute proper safeguards to prevent civilian deaths.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Lieu said it was unclear whether the coalition “was grossly negligent or intentionally targeting civilians.”

“There is clearly no military value in a wedding party,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

Relenting to Saudi objections Wednesday, the Western group of countries, have withdrawn a proposal for an international inquiry into civilian casualties in Yemen – by both the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels – during the current session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The proposal for such an inquiry was being strongly supported by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who submitted a report to the HRC last month detailing the heavy civilian casualties in the conflict in Yemen.

A new resolution may opt for a national commission of inquiry, instead of an international commission.

After the airstrike in the bottling factory, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the military spokesman for the coalition, reportedly told Reuters the plant had been used by the Houthi rebels to make explosive devices and was not, in fact, a bottling factory.

But all of the individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the plant was being used to bottle water and was not being used for any military purposes.

In its statement, HRW also said a group of international journalists travelled to the site of the blast two days after it was hit and could not find evidence of any military targets in the area.

“They carefully examined the site and could not find any evidence that the factory was being used for military purposes, and took photo and video evidence of piles of scorched plastic bottles melted together from the heat of the explosion,” HRW said.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday: “Our humanitarian colleagues (in Yemen) inform us that the number of deaths and injuries caused by explosive weapons in Yemen is the world’s highest.”

He said some 4,500 civilians were killed or wounded by explosive weapons in Yemen during the first seven months of 2015.

This is more than in any other country, according to a recently-released report done by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the NGO Action on Armed Violence.

Ninety-five per cent of people killed or injured by explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians. More than half of the reported civilian toll was recorded in Sana’a and surrounding districts.

The United Nations, meanwhile, has repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians.

Asked if the attacks were deliberate or due to shoddy human and military intelligence, Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at the London-based Amnesty International (AI) told IPS these recent attacks are unfortunately not isolated incidents but very much part of an increasingly entrenched pattern in the conduct of Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces over the past six months.

She said AI had addressed this issue its last report and in the document titled ‘Nowhere safe for civilians’

Rovera said coalition strikes, which killed and injured civilians and destroyed civilian property and infrastructure – and investigated by Amnesty International – have been found to be “frequently disproportionate or indiscriminate.”

In some instances, Amnesty International found that strikes appeared to have apparently directly targeted civilians or civilian objects.

She pointed out that international humanitarian law prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and attacks which do not discriminate between civilians/civilian objects and combatants/military objectives, or which cause disproportionate harm to civilians/civilian objects in relation to the anticipated military advantage which may be gained by such attack.

“Such attacks constitute war crimes,” she noted.

The pattern of attacks, which since the beginning of the coalition air bombardment campaign on March 25, 2015 have continued to cause civilian casualties, and the lack of investigations to date into such incidents raise serious concerns about an apparent disregard for civilian life and for fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, not only by those planning and executing the strikes but also by the exiled Yemeni government, at whose behest Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces are acting, Rovera declared.

The Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) said the United States, which is providing intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, should condition its support on adherence to international humanitarian law (IHL) and adoption of policies to minimize civilian harm by its allies.

Federico Borello, executive director of CIVIC, said: “The US has developed policies and tactics for preventing civilian harm from its own combat operations. These should be shared as a key element of any ongoing support to the coalition.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Honduran Fishing Village Says Adios to Candles and Dirty Energy Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:28:07 +0000 Thelma Mejia View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

A small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras has become an example to be followed in renewable energies, after replacing candles and dirty costly energy based on fossil fuels with hydropower from a mini-dam, while reforesting the river basin.

They now have round-the-clock electric power, compared to just three hours a week in the past.

The community, Plan Grande, is in the municipality of Santa Fe in the northern department of Colón, and can only be reached by sea, after a 10-hour, 400-km drive from Tegucigalpa on difficult roads to the village of Río Coco on the Caribbean coast.

From Río Coco you take a motorboat the next morning, which takes 20 minutes to reach Plan Grande.

It’s 6:00 AM and the sun has started to come up. The sea is calm and the conditions are good, say the motorboat operators, who add that manatees used to be found in these waters but have since disappeared, which they blame on the damage caused to the environment.

Plan Grande, a village of 500 people, is at the foot of steep slopes, along the Caribbean coast.

On the boat ride to the village, seagulls can be seen flying in the distance as the fishermen return in their cayucos (dugout canoes) and small boats after fishing all night at sea. Others take jobs on larger fishing boats, which keeps them away from home for eight months at a stretch.

Fishing and farming are the only sources of work in the village, which makes electricity all the more important: in the past, because they couldn’t refrigerate their catch, they had to sell it quickly, at low prices.

“There was very little room for negotiating prices, and we would lose out,” community leader Óscar Padilla, the driving force behind the changes in Plan Grande, told IPS.

The village finally got electricity for the first time in 2004, thanks to development aid from Spain. But it was thermal energy, and for just three hours a week of public lighting they paid between 13 and 17 dollars a month per dwelling.

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We couldn’t afford anything more than street lamps – no electricity for TV and no refrigerator, because the costs would skyrocket. We couldn’t keep things on ice for long, and our dairy products and meat would spoil,” said Padilla, 65.

But in 2011 the people of Plan Grande opted for hydropower after a visit by technicians from the Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who suggested a small community-owned hydroelectric plant.

The entire community got involved and designed their own project for renewable energy and sustainability. With 30,000 dollars from the SGP and aid from Germany’s International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA), a round-the-clock power supply became possible and Plan Grande left candles and dirty energy based on fossil fuels in the past.

“Our lives have changed – we now have electricity 24 hours a day and we can have a refrigerator, a freezer, a fan, and even a TV set – although we have to use the energy rationally and respect the limits and controls that we set for ourselves,” another local resident, Edgardo Padilla, told IPS.

“If we’re not careful, demand for power will soar, which would create problems for us again,” said the 33-year-old fisherman, who is responsible for running the energy supply from the micro-hydroelectric power station.

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rules and schedules set by the villagers to optimise and ration energy use include specific times for watching soap operas, turn on freezers, or use fans. For example, freezers are turned on from 10 PM to 6 AM, which is the time of lowest consumption, he said.

“For now, air conditioning is not allowed because it uses so much electricity, and light bulbs and freezers have to be the energy efficient kind,” said Edgardo Padilla, who added that they also focus on transparency and accountability in their energy policy.

The change in the source of energy has brought huge advantages. “We used to pay 360 lempiras (17 dollars) for three hours a week; now we pay 100 lempiras (four dollars) for a round-the-clock power supply,” he said.

The villagers also set a sliding pay scale. Families who have a refrigerator, fan, TV set, computer and freezer pay 11 dollars a month; those who have only a fan and a TV set pay six dollars; and families who just have light bulbs or lamps pay just four dollars.

The Plan Grande mini dam is 2.5 km from the centre of the village, along footpaths through a 300-hectare forest that runs along the Matías river, which provides them with electricity. The plant generates 16.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The villagers also developed a conservation plan to preserve their water sources and installed cameras to monitor illegal logging and to identify the local fauna.

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García runs a nursery created a year ago to grow trees such as pine, which can be used for timber, in order to reforest and keep the area green. She organises maintenance and reforestation crews, which all villagers take part in.

“If someone doesn’t come on the day they were scheduled to do clean-up and maintenance of the nursery or the streets and paths that lead to the dam, they have to pay for that day of missed work,” García, 27, told IPS while watering seedlings.

“We organise ourselves, and using the nursery we also want to become entrepreneurs in other income-generating areas, such as growing rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum),” said García.

The local population is of mixed-race heritage. The municipality of Santa Fe is mainly Garifuna – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe. The mayor of Santa Fe, Noel Ruíz of the Garifuna community, is proud of the village. “It is a model at the national level for the good use of clean energy,” he told IPS.

“It’s worth investing here; this is a committed community and its leaders know about accountability, believe in transparency and love nature, three things that you can’t find easily,” said the 44-year-old mayor, who was reelected to a second term.

“These people are happy because while the country has energy problems, they don’t; they have understood that there is a correlation between conservation of nature and well-being for the community,” added Ruíz, an agronomist.

Energy demand in this country of 8.8 million people is estimated at 1,375 MW. Sixty percent of that is generated by the national power utility, ENEE, and the rest comes from private companies or is imported by means of interconnection with other Central American nations.

Energy in Honduras comes from four sources: thermal, hydropower, wind and biomass. In 2010, 70 percent came from thermal power stations, and 30 percent from renewable sources. But since 2013, that has changed, and thermal energy now represents 51 percent of the total, while the rest comes from renewables.

The village of Plan Grande is now an example of the rational use and conservation of renewable energy.

Thanks to the new power supply this isolated community now has its own bakery.

“As a little girl I would imagine that one day I would trade my candle for a lamp. Things have really changed for us!” a 55-year-old local resident, Julia Baños, told IPS.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Palestine President Abbas Warns of ‘Grave Dangers’ in Jerusalem Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:14:33 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“I come before you today…compelled to sound the alarm about the grave dangers of what is happening in Jerusalem,” said Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 30.

In his speech, Abbas pointed to the renewed wave of violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque, accusing Israel of “repeated, systematic incursions aimed at imposing a new reality.”

Al-Aqsa, also known as Temple Mount to Jews, is one of the holiest sites for Islam and Judaism.

Located in East Jerusalem, the site has long been the source of religious and political tension since the establishment of the State of Israel.

New clashes have erupted in September.

On Sep. 27, on the eve of Jewish festival of Sukkot, Palestinians reportedly barricaded themselves inside the East Jerusalem mosque to prevent Jews from entering. They threw rocks and fireworks at police while Israeli forces retaliated with rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.

Confrontations continued into the early hours of Monday morning.

Violence has been fuelled by restrictions on Palestinians from entering the site and suspicion that the Israeli government plans to take over or divide the compound.

Abbas described it as an “illegal scheme” where Israeli forces and Parliament members were allowing Jews to enter while preventing Muslim worshippers from entering and “exercising their religious rights”, violating the status quo.

According to a 50-year old agreement, Jews and people of other religions are allowed to enter the mosque between 7 and 11AM, but may not pray there.

However, Palestinians have reported that far-right Jews have been entering the compound to pray.

Tensions came to an all-time high when Israel’s defence minister outlawed two Muslim groups from the mosque. The groups, Mourabitat and Mourabitoun, are known to protect and defend the compound.

The ruling on Sep. 9 incited clashes, which have now spread across the West Bank.

In response to the violence, United Nations Middle East Peace Envoy Nickolay Mladenov stated: “I urge all to do their part in ensuring that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.”

During his speech, President Abbas called on the Israeli government to cease force to prevent the political conflict from turning into a religious one.

He continued to describe the current situation with Israel as “unsustainable” and with Palestinian patience “at an end.” He declared that Palestine can no longer be “bound by” the Oslo Agreement for as long as Israel does not commit to agreements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Abbas during his statement to the General Assembly on Oct. 1, accusing him of “spreading lies about Israel’s alleged intentions on the Temple Mount.”

Netanyahu stated that Israel is dedicated to maintaining the status quo at the holy site.

The Israeli Prime Minister also reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a two-state solution, stating: “I am prepared to immediately resume direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any pre-conditions whatsoever.”

The Palestinian President gave his speech on the day that Palestine’s flag was raised at the U.N. for the first time.

While marking the historic moment, Abbas said: “The day is not far when we will raise the flag of Palestine in East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine.”

“Our people need genuine hope and need to see credible efforts for ending this conflict, ending their misery and achieving their rights,” Abbas continued.

As many as 200 Palestinians have been arrested since the latest series of confrontations over Al-Aqsa Mosque began, including the director of the holy site. (END)

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As the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Endures, International Morality Ebbs Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:02:35 +0000 Arlene Chang Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

By Arlene Chang
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

As the world suffers its biggest upheaval of human mobility, with 60 million people forced to desert their homes or countries due to persecution, armed conflicts, starvation and hunger that are a veritable danger to their lives, the response from the international community has been rather laggard.

Rolling disasters like in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the 40-year old war in Somalia and the ethno-religious infighting in the Central African Republic, have all added push to the global migration crisis. These huge transient flows of humanity have been a challenge some politicians have met and others have disregarded, aggravating the crisis.

Some central and Eastern Europe countries have even gone ahead to say, “They will take everybody ‘as long as they are Christians’”.

Earlier this week, Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Development said, “Refugees under the 1951 Convention have particular rights… (However) ‘economic migrants’ is now a description that’s being commonly used.”

He pointed out that many migrants could be escaping for reasons of starvation, economic catastrophe or the collapse of a feeding system. “Are we not going to have a more nuanced expression of where we stand morally in terms of our values than saying, we’re going to send them home?” he asked.

Director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William L. Swing, agreed. “There is greater anti-migrant sentiment than at any time in memory and it’s very widespread and increasing. We’re also in a period in which there is a vacuum of leadership, political courage. There is a serious erosion of international moral authority.”

Sutherland reminded hostile countries to bear in mind that the Mediterranean migration crisis is an international responsibility. “We’ve had it before…Ironically…we’ve had it in regard to 1956 in Hungary – and 200,000 people being accommodated within jig time,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland and Swing were addressing an audience attending ‘A Global Response to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’, an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the latest plan, only 120,000 migrants will be resettled, much less than the total number of people seeking asylum. Member states like Hungary and Croatia are building fences to stop travelers, demonstrating division within the EU on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The divide threatens to “undermine Europe’s tradition of open borders and free movement of people,” Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, said.

Hungary, a gateway to many prosperous European countries, sealed its border with Serbia on Sep. 15, in a bid to keep refugees out, prompting even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over its handling of the refugee influx in a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Sep. 26.

“Why should Greece and Italy carry the enormous burden because they happen to be the place where the migrants and refugees land? Is there some sort of new world of international morality, which defines proximity as creating responsibility? Why should Turkey have 1.7 million? Or why should Lebanon have one quarter of its entire population? Or Jordan? Why should they carry it all?” Sutherland asked.

Even as the world today has 60 million migrants in flux, the United Nations is not witnessing a loosening of purse strings. This prompted Secretary General Ban to comment on the poor state of empathy in the world.

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Ban Ki-moon told delegates that a 100 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries. But, the U.N.’s need for 20 billion dollars this year dwarfs funding received. The 20 billion dollars requirement is six times the level of funding needed a decade ago.

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria,” he said Monday.

In Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and the U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded. The appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

With the migration crisis and continuing global strife, it is likely that humankind will sustain its oldest poverty reduction strategy, making it unlikely that the situation will abate any time soon.

Swing and Sutherland said that only a reform in international migration policies would help.

“Europe should immediately define new policies. Those new policies should allow for example, humanitarian visas – so should the United States. Humanitarian visas, family reunion visas, short term visas. There are whole other ways that you can facilitate terrible events,” Sutherland said, even as he talked about the handicap of governments to be self-motivated in changing policy.

“The dreadful photograph of the body on the beach brings within days an increase in the number of people that some countries have agreed to take as refugees. A photograph did it. Are they idiots? Do they not know that 3,000 are dying every year, as they have been for years – with may of them children and women. That should have elicited the policy response, not the photograph of a terrible dead body on the beach.”

Swing advocated for migration policies that were more desirable and a change in the “toxic, poisonous” public narrative on migration.

“Most of our Nobel prize winners weren’t born in the U.S. Forty per cent of all patent applications come from people who were not born in the U.S., and many other countries have the same spirit – a tone that is historically, overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got to get back to a historically correct narrative,” he said, adding, “A ‘high road policy’ – multiple entry visas, dual nationalities, portable social security benefits…all kinds of things if we can be little smarter in how we deal with it.”

“The problem in my mind is the fundamental value system we believe in,” Sutherland said. “We have to create countries that value lives equally.” (END)

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