Inter Press Service » Featured News and Views from the Global South Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:33:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Two years on, Peña Nieto cannot brush off Ayotzinapa stain Mon, 26 Sep 2016 14:15:56 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas 43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

There are certain events that mark a turning point in a country. The way a government decides to handle them defines the way they will go down in the history books.

This week marks two years since 43 students from a rural school in southern Mexico were forcibly disappeared after a brutal confrontation with security forces.

The unresolved tragedy has become such a stain for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto that it is now shorthand for the Mexican authorities’ reckless approach to human rights in the country – where those responsible for crimes such as torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are rarely brought before the courts.

The catalogue of failures in the way the Ayotzinapa case has been handled is so long, it beggars belief.

Six months after the students were forcibly disappeared, Peña Nieto’s then Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam came out publicly with an official explanation of what they believed had happened. In a press conference, he said the students had been killed by a powerful local drug gang and that their bodies had been burned in a dumpster.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

He called it the “historic truth”.

His speech caused such havoc and indignation – particularly after a team of international forensic experts said the explanation was scientifically impossible – that Murillo Karam was effectively forced to resign. But still, neither he nor the government ever retracted his theory.

A few months later and in a bid to show action was being taken to shed some light onto the tragedy, the Mexican government agreed to allow a team of world renowned experts appointed by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights to look into the case.

But a year into their investigation, and after two damning reports pointing at a catalogue of failures by the authorities in the way the investigations had been handled, they were invited to leave the country.

The Peña Nieto administration had been embarrassed internationally and it did not like it.

Authorities promised they would take the inquiries forward, they promised justice. They said international help was no longer needed, that Mexico could take on the task of determining the students’ fate and whereabouts.

Few believed them.

And they were right not to.

As was expected, in a country with an atrocious human rights record, progress on the Ayotzinapa investigation has reached a standstill.

As international pressure decreased and the world’s attention moved on, pressure lifted on the Peña Nieto administration.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

The scandalous revelation by the group of experts that Tomas Zerón de Lucio, a public official who had been in charge of the investigation, tampered the crime scene in a bid to show a piece of bone belonging to one of the students had been found in the banks of a local river in late October 2014 has also gone unpunished. A shallow investigation into the accusation has not led to any concrete results and Zerón was moved from the Attorney General’s Office to a higher position in the Council of National Security.

The Peña Nieto administration’s barefaced denial of what happened to the Ayotzinapa students is so deep-seated the president no longer dares to utter the word in public.

And the disappearance of these 43 young men is emblematic of everything that is wrong in Mexico. Human rights are nothing but an illusion for the thousands of men, women and children who are tortured, murdered and disappeared every year and will continue to be so as long as the authorities insist on saying everything is fine.

The stories of the 43 Ayotzinapa students are a reminder of the more than 28,000 men, women and children who have vanished across Mexico over the last decade – most since Peña Nieto took office in 2012.

They are a reminder of the extent to which people are routinely tortured into “confessing” crimes they did not commit in a vile attempt to show the government is actually taking action against the brutal criminal gangs terrorizing the country.

Time and time again we have heard the stories of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of those who have simply “vanished into thin air” and have no one to turn to in their desperate search for truth and justice.

On 29 July 2016, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights approved a mechanism to follow up on the findings and recommendations of the group of experts, with the aim of determining the whereabouts of the students

But without any real support from the Mexican authorities, there is no mechanism that will shed any light onto these crimes or ensure that those responsible will face justice.

The Peña Nieto administration seems to be relying on Mexico’s short-term memory; it hopes people will forget about the 43 students and many other human rights violations this country has seen over the decades have been forgotten.

What they are not counting on is the millions across this country, and around the world, who have had enough of empty promises. We will continue to fight, side by side, with all the brave human rights defenders and organizations who are not giving up hope to hold the Mexican authorities accountable and to ensure they fulfill their international obligations to protect human rights.

The time for political maneuvers is over. The relatives of the 43 young men of Ayotzinapa will never give up their fight until truth and justice for their children is achieved.

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Global South Address Sustainable Development Challenges Sun, 25 Sep 2016 03:04:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Presentation by Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-o-cha Thailand's pledged contribution to Eduardo Praselj, President of the Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for South-South Cooperation (PGTF). Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Presentation by Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-o-cha Thailand's pledged contribution to Eduardo Praselj, President of the Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for South-South Cooperation (PGTF). Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

On Friday, a group of 134 developing nations, known as the Group of 77 (G77), came together for a meeting to address challenges and solutions in achieving sustainable development. In attendance were G-77 Foreign Ministers, the President of the General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General and other UN senior officials.

During the 40th Annual Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, whose country is currently Chair of the group, highlighted the need to translate the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into concrete action in line with developing nations’ needs and interests.

“There is no one size fits all approach for development,” he told delegates.

Prime Minister Chan-o-cha pointed to several resources to ensure the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including human resources.

“Human beings are full of potential and are the source of innovation and creativity. The challenge is how to tap that potential,” he said. Prime Minister Chan-o-cha looked to education and the improvement of quality of life as ways to build human capacity.

“The Global South’s cause is a universal cause for all mankind,” -- Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Guillaume Long.

Another key challenge that arose during the meeting was ensuring equal participation of developing nations in discussions and solutions.

Prime Minister Chan-o-cha expressed his delight in being invited for the first time to the recent G20 Summit in China and called it an “opportunity” for the G77 and developing nations to be heard. However, he still stressed the need to build a global partnership within and beyond developing nations.

“Thailand, as a Chair of the Group, is working as a bridge-builder among all actors that share the same goal in creating a better world, a world without poverty,” he stated. He added that developed nations should assist G77 countries through short-term assistance and capacity building to pave the way for a long-term outcome with the group’s needs in mind.

During the meeting The Kingdom of Thailand made a contribution of 520,000 US dollars to the Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund (PGTF) for South-South Cooperation. The fund supports economic and technical cooperation among developing countries.

President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly (GA) Peter Thomson particularly underlined the importance of cooperation within the Global South.

“South-South cooperation represents the best expression of solidarity and interdependence among developing countries, and will be pivotal in complementing North-South, public and private SDG-implementation initiatives,” he told delegates in his opening address.

Thomson was Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the UN, making him the first GA President from the Pacific Islands. Fiji is also a member of the G77.

Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Guillaume Long told delegates that there needs to be a “re-founding” of the multilateral system in order to increase solidarity.

“We need a UN with more voices and fewer vetoes,” he stated.

“The Global South’s cause is a universal cause for all mankind,” Long continued.

Ecuador is next in line for chairmanship of the G77 in January 2017, which marks the first time the country will assume the position.

The G77, which began with 77 nations, has since grown to include 134 member states from around the world. It has become the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the UN, allowing the Global South to express their needs and promote cooperation for development.

Both Thomson and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that the G77 is an “indispensable” and “invaluable” partner of the UN.

Thailand will continue as chair of the G77 until the end of December 2016.

During the meeting Prime Minister Chan-o-cha also presented an award to G77Executive Secretary Mourad Ahmia to express appreciation for his leadership andsupport provided by the G77 Secretariat team to the Kingdom of Thailand as Chair country and to all the Member States.

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Governments Band Together to Address Antibiotic Resistance Sat, 24 Sep 2016 17:06:08 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 The Right to Development at 30 Years Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:04:40 +0000 Martin Khor Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, based in Geneva]]>

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, based in Geneva

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

It’s had a very useful if sometimes controversial past and it will have great relevance for many more years ahead. That’s the sense one has about the Declaration on the Right to Development as it is commemorated 30 years after its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986.

Three decades ago, the Declaration “broke new ground in the struggle for greater freedom, equality and justice,” remarked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at a session of the Human Rights Council on 15 June, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Declaration.

The right to development has had great resonance among people all over the world, especially in developing countries. Even the term itself “the right to development” carries a great sense and weight of meaning and of hope.

In the past three decades it has been invoked numerous times in international negotiations. The right to development is a major component of the Rio Principles endorsed by the 1992 Earth Summit, and most recently it was included in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change of 2015.

It is fitting to recall some of the important elements of this right to development. It is human and people centered. It is an inalienable human right , where every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy development in which all rights and freedoms can be fully realized . The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of development.

It gives responsibility to each state to get its act together to take measures to get its people’s right to development fulfilled. But it also places great importance to the international arena, giving a responsibility to all countries to cooperate internationally and especially to assist the developing countries.

The right to development is also practical. The Declaration makes it a duty for governments to work towards the realisation of the right to development. It recognises that there are national and international obstacles to the realisation of this right and calls on all parties to eliminate these obstacles.

It is thus useful to identify some of the present key global issues that have relevance to the right to development, or that constitute obstacles to its realisation, and to take steps to address them.

Firstly is the crisis in the global economy. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies, with lower commodity prices and falling export earnings affecting their economic and social development.. Many economies face the havoc of volatility in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital, and fluctuations in their currency levels due to the lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Several countries are facing or are on the brink of another external debt crisis. There is for them an absence of an international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, and countries that undertake their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

All these problems make it difficult for developing countries to maintain their development momentum, and constitute obstacles to realising the right to development.

Second is the challenge of formulating and implementing appropriate development strategies. This includes getting policies right in boosting agricultural production, farmers’ incomes and food security; and climbing the ladder from labour intensive to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap. There is also the imperative to provide social services such as healthcare, education, water supply, lighting and transport, and developing financial and commercial services.

For many countries, development policy-making has been made more difficult due to premature liberalisation resulting from loan conditionality and trade and investment agreements which severely constrain their policy space. Policies used by other countries when they were developing may no longer be available due to conditionality or international agreements.

Recently, there has been a crisis of legitimacy over investment agreements that contain the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, which enable foreign investors to take cases against host governments, taking advantage of imbalanced provisions and shortcomings in the arbitration system. The cases taken up not only cost countries a lot in monetary compensation payments but also put a chill on the formulation of policies and regulations. A review of these conditionalities and trade and investmemt agreements, taking account of their effects on the right to development, would be useful.

Thirdly, climate change has become an existential problem for the human race. It is an outstanding example of environmental constraints to development and the right to development.

In 2014 the Assestment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that the world has to limit its release of Greenhouse Gases to only release another 1,000 billion tonnes if there is to be a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of 2 degree Celsius, and anything above that level would cause a devastating disaster. Global emissions are running at 50 billion tonnes a year. Within two decades the atmospheric space would be filled up. Therefore there is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 was a success in multilateral deal making. But it is not environmentally ambitious enough, nor did it generate any confidence that the commitment for transfers of finance and technology to developing countries will be met. There is a danger of that the burdens of adjustment will be passed on to the developing and poor countries. How to equitably share the costs of urgent environmental action which should also be economically feasible is the major climate change challenge that will impact seriously on the right to development.

Fourthly is another existential problem — the crisis of anti-microbial resistance and the dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials. Some strains of bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics and a few have become pan resistant – resistant to all antibiotics. The WHO Director General has warned that every anitibiotic ever developed is at risk of becoming useless. She added that: “A post-antibiotic era means in effect an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

Actions are needed to reduce the over-use and wrong use of antibiotics including control over unethical marketing of drugs, control of the use of antibiotics in livestock, to educate the public and discover new antibiotics. The World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2015 adopted a global plan of action to address anti-microbial resistance but the challenge is in the implementation. Developing countries require funds to enforce the measures as well as technology such as microscopes and diagnostic tools; they also need to have access to existing and new antibiotics at affordable prices; and people worldwide need to be protected from anti-microbial resistance if life expectancy is to be maintained.

Finally there are major challenges in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs include very ambitious and idealistic goals and targets, but there are obstacles to fulfilling them.

For example, Goal 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” One of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it. But this will remain an unfulfilled noble aim unless governments address the controversial issue of how to finance public health measures..

The problem is compounded when medicines are priced beyond the reach of the poor and the middle class. The treatment for HIV AIDS became more widespread and affordable only when generics were made available at cheaper prices, for example $60 a patient a year today, compared to the prices of original drugs of $10,000, and millions of lives have been saved.

Some of the new medicines, for example for Hepatitis C and cancers, are unaffordable even in rich countries and thus not provided through their national health service. They will certainly be out of the reach of patients in developing countries unless generic versions are made available through the use of flexibilities in the global patent regime, such as the non-granting of patents and compulsory licenses.

The interconnecting issues of patents, over pricing of original drugs, and the need to make generic drugs more available, are relevant to the implementation of SDGs, universal health coverage, and the realisation of the right to health and the right to development.

The examples above of pressing global problems show there is a long way to go before we make progress on social and economic development, while protecting the environment. The principles and instruments associated with the Right to Development can shine a bright light on the way forward. The Declaration adopted 30 years ago continues to have great relevance, if only we make full use of it.

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Mexico City’s Expansion Creates Tension between Residents and Authorities Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:09:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

People living in neighborhoods affected by the expansion of urban construction suffer a “double displacement”, with changes in their habitat and the driving up of prices in the area, in a process in which “we are not taken into account,” said Natalia Lara, a member of an assembly of local residents in the south of Mexico City.

Lara, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policies at the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso), told IPS that in her neighborhood people are outraged because of the irrational way the construction has been carried out there.

The member of the assembly of local residents of Santa Úrsula Coapa, a lower middle-class neighborhood, complains that urban decision-makers build more houses and buildings but “don’t think about how to provide services. They make arbitrary land-use changes.”

Lara lives near the Mexico City asphalt plant owned by the city’s Ministry of Public Works, which has been operating since 1956 and has become asource of conflict between the residents of the southern neighbourhoods and the administration of leftist Mayor Miguel Mancera of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has governed the capital since 1997.“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems.” -- Elias García

In mid-2014, Mancera’s government announced its intention to donate the asphalt plant’s land to Mexico City’s Investment Promotion Agency, which would build the Coyoacán Economic and Social Development Area there.

In response, local residents organised and formed, in September of that year, the Coordination of Assemblies of Pedregales, which brings together residents of five neighborhoods in the Coyoacánborough, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided.

But the transfer of ownership of the land took place in December 2014, to create a development area including the construction of an industrial park and residential and office tower blocks.

To appease local residents, Mancera proposed modifying the initial plan and turning the area into an ecological park, despite the fact that the soil is polluted and will take many years to recover.

Last May, the mayor announced the final closure of the asphalt plant and its reconversion into an environmental site, although the decree for the donation to the city investment promotion agency was never revoked, and there is no reconversion plan.

This conflict shows the struggles for the city, for how the public space is defined and used, one of the central topics to be addressed at the Oct. 17-20 third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.

In the upcoming summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, member states will assume commitments with regard to the right to the city, how to finance the New Urban Agenda that will result from Quito, and sustainable urban development, among other issues.

Cities like the Mexican capital, home to 21 million people, are plagued with similar problems.

Elías García, president of the non-governmental Ecoactivistas, knows this well, having worked for three decades as an environmental activist in the borough of Iztacalco, in the east of the capital.

“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems,” he told IPS.

The activist and other local residents have witnessed how in Iztacalco a concert hall, a race track for F1 international motor races, and more recently, a baseball stadium were built one after another.

In the process, some 3,000 trees were cut down and many green spaces and local sports fields disappeared.

The last measure taken was Macera’s 2015 decision to revoke the declaration of the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex’s environmental value, which had protected the facilities for nine year, in order to build a baseball stadium in its place. Local residents filed an appeal for legal protection, but lost the suit last June.

Luisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the public Doctor José María Luís Mora Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Center for Metropolitan Studies, told IPS that where people live determines their enjoyment of rights, such as to the city, a clean environment and housing.

“The exercise of citizenship is connected to the idea of the city. When a severely fragmented city is built, based on a model that only benefits the few, participation in social institutions like education and healthcare is only partial. Geographical location determines the exercise of those rights,” she said.

There are a number of open conflicts between organised local communities and the government of Mexico City. One high-profile flashpoint flared up in 2015 when the city government intended to build the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor in the west of the city, next to the woods of the same name, the biggest “green lung” that remains in this polluted megalopolis.

In a public consultation last December, the residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough, where Chapultepec is located, voted against the public-private project, which intended to build an elevated promenade for pedestrians, lined with shops, gardens and trees, above the traffic down below.

Instead, the city government is building an Intermodal Transfer Station (known as CETRAMs) at a cost of 300 million dollars, whose first stage is to be completed in 2018. Besides the transport hub, it will include a 50-floor hotel and a shopping center.

The Economic and Social Development Zones (ZODES), which originally were to be built in five areas in the capital, have apparently failed to improve the quality of urban life.

“In spite of the benefits these micro-cities are supposed to offer, the negative aspects of evicting the people currently living in these areas have not been assessed, and they run counter to the concepts of sustainability and strategic management that the government claims to support,” wrote city planner Daniela Jay in the specialised journal “Arquine”.

The last draft of the final declaration of Habitat III, agreed upon in July, makes no reference to the process of building a city based on inclusion and the active participation of citizens, although it does refer to exercising the right to the city and the importance of such participation.

Activists see both positives and negatives in the approach taken by Habitat III. The conference “will reinforce urban laws that focus on building cities, displacing the perspective of native people and local communities. There is no trend towards inclusion,” said Lara.

Activist García demanded that the local people be heard. “They have to listen to the people who are committed to protecting the environment,” he said.

According to Rodríguez, Habitat III offers an opportunity to address urban emergencies. “There are high expectations for governments to start focusing on building cities thinking about the inhabitants instead of the buildings,” she told IPS.

But with or without the conference, the battles for the city in urban centres like Mexico’s capital will continue.

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The Lost Kids at Rome’s Termini Station: Child Migrants Exploited Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:42:21 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney2 Young migrants spend their days at Rome's Termini's station. Credit: Rose Delaney/IPS

Young migrants spend their days at Rome's Termini's station. Credit: Rose Delaney/IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr and Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

Rome ….. Termini station, 2:00 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Five young boys are standing next to the escalators, constantly shifting, dispersing, meeting up again. They are laughing, typing on their phones, chatting, smoking. They seem like average teenagers with fancy hairstyles and smart clothes. But every once in a while, they nervously glance over to the security personnel circling Termini station. Or carefully examine older men walking by.

Some of these kids are Egyptian, and landed in Italy by boat. “They let in minors”, Ahmed says. He came when he was 14 years old, on his own. His family remained in Egypt. Today he is 18 years old, and he is the oldest in the group.

A man with grey hair and a baseball cap appears, talks to Ahmed, and moves away. Ahmed whispers to another boy in the group, 17-year old Hasani whose dark hair and sparkling blue eyes make him the most attractive in the group. Later, when we approach him by asking for a cigarette, he assures us that he would not only offer us a cigarette, but buy us a whole pack of them, if only he had the money.

We watch Hasani going down the escalators, the man in the baseball cap follows at a 20 meter distance. They make their way through crowds of tourists, pass by coffee bars and shops, always maintaining the 20 meter distance, never looking back. They merge with the stream of people rushing down towards the metro station, then take a quick turn, and Hasani disappears into what at first glance resembles a maintenance room. The man in the baseball cap follows. It turns out to be a public toilet, hidden away in one of Termini’s many underground corridors, out of sight from the people waiting for their trains, and from the eyes of the security guards. “Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and
those who employ them”

Five minutes later, both of them reappear, open the door and hastily take off in different directions. Hasani goes back to join Ahmed next to the escalators. And they continue to chat, laugh, smoke, type on their phones, as if nothing had happened.

Migrant minors who enter Italy are supposed to be taken in by “Case Famiglie”, foster homes sponsored by the Italian government. There, they would receive meals and a place to sleep, education and integration programmes made available to them. The foster homes receive money from the state to provide the migrant minors with these basic services, and most importantly, to keep them safe.

Yet, many of them end up in conditions of forced labour. They work in warehouses, as porters in markets, at petrol stations – or they prostitute themselves at Termini station.

“Even when we place these kids in foster centres, nobody checks whether they are going to school. We believe that there is a connection between those who traffic the children to Italy and those who employ them”, Mariella Chiaramonte, chief of the police station in Tivoli, near Rome, said in an interview with The Guardian.

Upon their arrival in Italy, the children often find themselves indebted to the people who trafficked them here. Because they are being threatened that harm will be inflicted on their families back home if they do not repay the money for their trip, often they become vulnerable targets for sex work recruiters and drug dealers. For the migrant children, however, this type of clandestine work becomes a quick way to make larger amounts of money in order to repay their debt.

Ahmed and Hasani spend the entire day at the train station. As soon as he turned 18, Ahmed explains, he left the foster home. Now, he shares a small apartment with other migrants from Egypt. How can he afford to pay the rent? “I work at a car wash”, he says. But not convinced by his own words, he breaks into a bout of nervous laughter. He cannot look at us. They are only here to meet friends, he explains, to “hang out”.

There is a sudden downpour outside. Bangladeshi street hawkers appear at the station’s entrance, trying to sell umbrellas. As one of them approaches us, he tells us that we should not get involved with the Egyptian boys. “They steal from people waiting for their train and they sell drugs”, he says, and when asked if he knows what other business the boys have here, his expression turns cold. “We never mix with them. They are dangerous.”

The man in the baseball cap reappears, keeping his distance but staring at us while we talk with the boys. He does not seem to be a customer anymore. He appears to be supervising the boys, keeping them in line. He is nervous about them having established contact with people from the “outside”. We realize we have overstayed our welcome and it is time to leave.

Following the “Drug Dealing and Prostitution of Minors” report produced by Mediaset in March 2016, the authors who write on migrant issues spent time in Rome’s Termini station observing the lives of migrant children.

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Population Growth Extremes: Doublers and Decliners Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:06:28 +0000 Joseph Chamie City view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Asia-Pacific region is urbanizing rapidly. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

City view of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Asia-Pacific region is urbanizing rapidly. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

While the world’s population of 7.4 billion is growing at 1.1 percent per year – about half the peak level of the late 1960s – enormous differences in demographic growth among countries are increasingly evident and of mounting concern to countries and the international community.

Few of the decliners are prepared to accept large-scale immigration, particularly from doubler countries, to address labor force shortages and population aging concerns.
At one extreme are the doublers: 29 countries whose populations are expected to at least double by the middle of the 21st century. At the other extreme in striking contrast are the decliners: 38 countries whose populations are expected to be smaller by the middle of the 21st century.

The doublers are all located in sub-Saharan Africa except for Iraq and the State of Palestine. The largest countries among the doublers are Nigeria (187 million), followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (80 million) and Tanzania (55 million).

Today the doublers together account for 10 percent of the world’s population. By 2050, however, due to the doublers’ rapid rates of demographic growth that proportion is expected to increase to 18 percent of the world’s projected population of nearly 10 billion people.

Among the doublers the country with the most rapid increase is Niger, whose population of 21 million is expected to double by the year 2034 and to experience a 250 percent increase by mid-century, more than tripling its population to 72 million. Other countries with substantial increases of 150 percent or more are Zambia, Angola, Uganda and Mali (Figure 1).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

The largest doubler population, Nigeria, is expected to increase by 112 percent, reaching just under 400 million by 2050 and thereby displacing the United States as the world’s third largest country after India and China. Another sizeable population increase is the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose population of 80 million is projected to increase by 145 percent, or an additional 116 million people, bringing its total midcentury population to nearly 200 million.

While not a single country’s population at the close of the 20th century was smaller than in 1950, this demographic trend is not expected to continue over the next several decades. The decliners, a group of 38 countries both developed and developing, are expected to experience population decline by the middle of the 21st century. Together the decliner’s proportion of the world’s population is projected to fall from close to 30 percent today to nearly 20 percent by the year 2050.

The top ten countries with the projected population declines of no less than 15 percent are all located in Eastern Europe (Figure 2). The country with the most rapid decline among the decliners is Bulgaria (27 percent), followed by Romania (22 percent), Ukraine (21 percent) and Moldova (20 percent).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

The largest decliner population, China, is expected to decrease by more than 2 percent by 2050, with the Chinese population peaking in less than a decade. Other large populations projected to experience demographic declines by midcentury are Japan (15 percent), Russia (10 percent), Germany (8 percent) and Italy (5 percent). Moreover, some of the decliners have already experienced population decline for a number of years in the recent past, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

The population projections for the decliners assume some immigration in the future. For some decliner countries, such as Italy, Japan, Germany, Hungary, Spain and Russia, immigration lessens the expected declines in their future populations. For example, while Italy’s population with assumed immigration is projected to decline by 5 percent by mid-century, without immigration Italy’s projected population would fall to 13 percent.

Noteworthy differences exist in both mortality and migration levels between doublers and decliners. Doubler countries have markedly higher mortality rates than decliners. In addition, doublers are generally migrant-sending countries, while many of the decliners are migrant-receiving countries.

The sizeable differences in rates of future population growth, however, are primarily due to the level of fertility. The median fertility rate among the 29 doubler countries is 5.3 births per woman, ranging from a low of 4.4 in Kenya to a high of 7.6 in Niger. In contrast, fertility levels among the 38 decliner countries all fall below the replacement level of about two children, with the median fertility rate being 1.5 births per woman. Countries that are approximately a half child below the replacement level include China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia and Spain.

The comparatively high and low population growth rates pose formidable, but differing challenges for doubler and decliner countries. Doublers face serious development challenges in meeting the basic needs of their rapidly growing and very young populations. The median ages of the doubler countries are all below 20 years, with the youngest being Niger (15 years), Uganda (16), Chad (16), Angola (16), Mali (16) and Somali (16).

Many doubler countries, such as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Niger and Uganda, are now facing food shortages. Providing sufficient foods for their rapidly growing populations is expected to be considerably more difficult in the years ahead.

Other key areas that pose serious challenges are housing, education, health care, employment, personal security and governance, especially as nearly half of the doubler countries are among high alert failing or fragile states. Given the onerous living conditions for most of the populations in doubler countries, growing numbers of young adults are turning to both legal and illegal migration to wealthier developed countries, many of which are also decliner countries.

Among their attempts to address their high rates of population growth, doubler governments have established programs for reproductive health services to assist families to have the number of children they desire, which is generally fewer than current levels. With widespread education, especially for girls, and improved employment opportunities, the doubler governments are aiming to reduce their high fertility levels and accelerate their demographic transitions to low death and birth rates.

While decliners have by and large met the basic needs of their populations, they are confronting increasingly the pervasive consequences of population decline and aging. Contractions in the size of their labor forces coupled with increases in the proportion elderly are exerting stresses and strains on the economies and budgets of decliner countries.

Many of the decliners have already passed through the historic reversal, or the demographic point where the number of elderly aged 65 and older exceeds the number of children below age 15 years. The median ages for half of the decliners are above 40 years, with the oldest being Japan, Germany and Italy at 46 years.

With the proportion of elderly increasing and more of them living longer, often many years beyond retirement, governments of the decliner countries are particularly concerned about escalating costs for social security, pensions, health and care giving. Options to address those fiscal issues include raising official retirement ages, increasing taxes, redirecting government revenues and reducing benefits.

Few of the decliners are prepared to accept large-scale immigration, particularly from doubler countries, to address labor force shortages and population aging concerns. As is being increasingly reported, some decliners are erecting barriers, fences and walls to deter unauthorized immigration, while others remain resolutely averse to a sizeable foreign population taking hold within their borders.

Many decliner countries, including China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain, are attempting to alter their projected demographic futures by raising their low fertility levels in hopes of mitigating population decline and perhaps even achieving near population stabilization. Moving to replacement level fertility by encouraging women to have additional children, however, has proved to be difficult and generally not successful.

It is often said that opposites attract. Perhaps in romance, friendships and the movies, people are attracted to those who are viewed different from them. That appears not to be the case for doubler and decliner countries, at least for the present. However, as has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout world demographic history, rapidly growing populations are not easily confined to within borders, eventually traversing deserts, mountains, rivers and seas and spreading out across continents.

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Starting Line Draws Nearer for Global Climate Agreement Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:14:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The Paris Climate Agreement is on the verge of coming into force after 31 nations officially deposited their instruments of ratification here Wednesday, more than doubling the number of countries which have joined so far to reach 60.

However the treaty will not yet enter into force, since these 60 countries represent only 48 percent of global carbon emissions. The Paris Agreement requires at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in order for the deal to take effect.

Convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the High Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change brought world leaders together to act upon commitments made to reduce global greenhouse emissions last year.

“What once seemed impossible now seems inevitable. When this year ends, I hope we can all look back with pride knowing that we seized the opportunity to protect our common home,” said Ban to delegates.

Director of Strategy and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Alden Meyer pointed out the significance of the event to IPS, stating: “Political leaders see this as an important issue for their public.”

Similarly, Greenpeace International’s Climate and Energy Policy Advisor Kaisa Kosonen said how “inspiring” it was to see so many countries ratifying the agreement so soon.

“It truly tells you that times have changed. If one compares the process we had at Copenhagen and you think about where we are today when the agreement is looking likely to enter into force…it is giving the agreement a very good start,” she told IPS.

“Getting an agreement on climate change was one of the most difficult tasks the world has ever faced" -- Nick Nuttall, UNFCCC.

During the UN Climate Change Conference in 2009 (COP15) in Denmark, global leaders failed to commit to concrete actions to reduce emissions. The Paris Agreement now obligates governments to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Many believe that the treaty will be ratified by the end of the year, less than a year since the agreement was signed, which would make it the speediest agreement to enter into force.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Spokesperson for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Nick Nuttall to IPS after noting the breakneck speed in which the treaty would come into force.

“Getting an agreement on climate change was one of the most difficult tasks the world has ever faced…that’s a strong political signal that all governments are on board to actually make good on their pledges in Paris.”

Of the countries that have joined are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions including China and the United States, which together account for over one third of global emissions.

However many of the countries which joined the agreement early, were small island states many of which see climate change as an existential threat. Although these states face increased natural disasters and rising sea levels, their own carbon emissions barely make a dent on a global scale.

China, which represents just over 20 percent of global emissions, has ambitiously committed to reduce carbon dioxide levels by 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The East Asian nation also aims to expand energy consumption coming from non-fossil energy to 20 percent by then. The U.S. meanwhile plans to cut up to 28 percent of the country’s emissions below 2005 levels by 2025.

Meyer commented on the importance of the move by the U.S., stating: “The United States is very wealthy but is obviously not immune as we’ve seen from Superstorm Sandy, the recent flooding in Louisiana, the droughts and heat waves in the West…no country, no community is immune.”

More countries are expected to ratify the agreement by the end of this year including Australia, Canada and the 28 members of the European Union (EU).

If these promises are fulfilled, the agreement will pass the second threshold and go into effect within 30 days.

But this is just the beginning, Nuttall stated. “The Paris Agreement is a framework agreement to combat climate change but it needs some nuts and bolts put in.”

Meyer echoed similar sentiments, telling IPS: “Having the agreement in place is only meaningful if countries implement [the agreement]. It is really actions on the ground that make a difference and the jury is still out on that.”

Nuttall highlighted the need for a “rule book” for member states to put the climate treaty into action, which many hope will be achieved during the upcoming Climate Conference (COP22) in Morocco.

Meyer particularly pointed to the challenge of achieving the two degree Celsius goal, telling IPS that the pledges by themselves do not add up to meet the temperature target. But even if the international community achieves this goal, the impacts of climate change will drastically increase which will require further action.

“The other side of this discussion has to be how we increase resilience to climate impacts and how we help countries and communities that are facing impacts cope with those impacts,” Meyer told IPS.

“This is a moment which we should celebrate, hoist a glass of champagne but get back to work in the morning because there’s still a lot of work to do,” he continued.

Already obstacles are arising as trade policies continue to clash with climate action.

“It’s clear that all policies that still favor fossil fuels or prevent countries from prioritizing renewable clean energy are harmful and should not be supported,” Kosonen said, referring to a new controversial global trade deal Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa).

According to leaked documents, the trade deal under negotiation between the EU and 22 countries may threaten the expansion of clean, renewable energy which could undermine the achievement of the Paris Agreement.

Meyer told IPS it was important for heads of State to engage and ensure that trade deals are “climate compatible.”

However, the world is waiting for the final ratification of the Paris Agreement as it is still uncertain where, how far and how fast it will go.

“The direction is clear, the commitment is clear but…can a family of nations working with the private sector and being supported by cities and regions rev up the action sufficiently quickly that we have a good chance of peaking these emissions very soon? That we will have to wait and see,” Nuttall stated.

Kosonen noted there is no room for complacency.

“Time is not on our side on this. This is the moment when we come together and decide this is what we want to do,” she concluded.

In December 2015, the international community descended on the French Capital of Paris to sign an agreement to reduce global warming. Over 180 countries have signed the agreement.

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UN Refugee Summits Fall Short for Children Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:46:49 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite 0 Jobs Are Crucial for Peace, Stem Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kenya Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:22:30 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee Ambassador Amina Mohamed (@AMB_A_Mohammed) is the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Siddharth Chatterjee (@sidchat1) is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. ]]> Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

Under Vision 2030, the agriculture sector is to be made more innovative, commercially oriented and modern. Photo Credit: WikiMedia

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

Today 21 September 2016 is the International Day of Peace.

Kenya has the largest number of jobless youth in East Africa, putting a strain on the economy’s growth and also threatening peace and security when hopeless youth gravitate towards violent extremist groups.

Today, youth form two-thirds of Kenya’s population, many of them unemployed, with the ratio of youth unemployment to overall adult unemployment standing at 46 percent, according to the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census. At the same time, there are eight dependents for every ten working Kenyans, meaning that the average worker will very often have little left to save or invest for growth.

While this youth bulge may seem like a disaster in the making, investing in the sectors with highest potential can turn it into a gateway to rapid economic growth and development as we have seen among Asian Tigers like Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia.

By all projections, agriculture presents this opportunity.

While the African Union has recognised agriculture as the driving force of social and economic transformation, the youth often feel that agriculture lacks the glamour, sophistication and allure of the professions they seek.

This is regrettable. Africa not only has the largest percentage of arable land in the globe, and untapped potential for irrigated agro-pastoralism on its vast arid and semi-arid lands, but it also has the highest ratio of young people with the necessary knowledge, innovative skills and physical strength.

Of particular interest are youth in hard to reach areas, such as the arid and semi-arid lands, who are increasingly disgruntled by dim prospects of good jobs and increasingly prone to the temptations of extremist groups. These groups sway them with blandishments and exploit their feelings of exclusion and hopelessness.

In northern Kenya, which has borne the brunt of extremism in the country, traditional livestock farming methods can be targeted for transformation into a quality-driven, export-targeting industry. This calls for investment in education, rural transport and electricity, and smart business and trade policies.

In these areas, formal education should provide young people with basic numeracy and literacy, managerial and business skills, and introduce them to agro-pastoralism. It has been shown that education is key to overcoming development challenges in rural areas, and that improved access to education also improves rural children’s food security.

The power of the internet also offers a great opportunity for attracting youth in far-flung areas to agriculture. Packaging and disseminating information on agri-business to the youth through social media platforms like blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook has proven effective in Kenya. Much more can be achieved with increased access to the internet especially in the remote parts of the country.

There is a great potential pay-off for the continent: according to the World Bank, African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. Clearly, this is the low hanging fruit that Kenya should aim to invest in to solve the myriad problems associated with youth unemployment.

Agro-pastoralism has great potential to improve livelihoods for youth and women and reduce food insecurity, create incomes and generally help youth to feel engaged and involved with the national development agenda. Those promoting entrepreneurship must therefore include agribusiness as a priority area of focus, particularly at the county level.

Acting on this, President Uhuru Kenyatta during this year’s African Green Revolution Forum held in Nairobi, announced that the government would invest US$200 million to enable 150,000 young agricultural entrepreneurs to gain access to markets, finance and insurance.

With their dynamism, enthusiasm and innovativeness, the youth are our greatest asset and a force for improving the productivity and growth of all sectors in Kenya.

To reap the dividends, Kenya’s priority focus needs to be on growth in sectors that can absorb them, particularly agriculture.

Policies must also ensure that women and girls, who do most of the actual work in farms across Africa, can achieve their potential. Lack of collateral and financial literacy often make them ineligible for financial assistance while cultural norms deny them land inheritance rights and, at times, restrict their movement and access to markets for their produce.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 aims to turn the country into an industrialized, middle-income country and provide a high quality life in a safe and secure environment to all its citizens by 2030.

It is only when the current large group of youth has been given education and skills demanded by the sectors of greatest potential that we will turn the youth bulge into a force for good and transform Kenya into a peaceful and prosperous nation.

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Argentina at Risk of an Educational System Serving the Market Wed, 21 Sep 2016 03:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet “Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

“Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, teachers, students and trade unionists are protesting against mass redundancies in education, which they say are part of a process of undermining public education and a move towards a new model based on market needs.

“An educational model is emerging that is no longer focused on social rights for the population as a whole but instead focuses on the creation of a socioeconomic model that follows the logic of the entrepreneur, a logic of the self-made person,” Myriam Feldfeber told IPS.

The expert on education from the University of Buenos Aires took part in a “hug” around the Ministry of Education in the Argentine capital on Aug. 31, held to protest a new wave of 200 layoffs, and setbacks with regard to “the construction of free, universal and egalitarian education.”“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education - business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector.” – Myriam Feldfeber

Most of the people laid off now were temporary or contract workers, and the dismissals came on top of another 1,100 who lost their jobs in education since centre-right Mauricio Macri became president on Dec. 10, 2015.

Since then, 10,662 civil servants have been fired from 23 ministries and government agencies.

“I worked in the Teacher Training Institute for over six years, in an area of policy implementation related to research development in teacher training institutes throughout the country,” Laura Pico told IPS.

“On Friday (Aug. 26) I received a call from an unknown number notifying me that I was being dismissed by the ministry and that on Monday I shouldn’t return to work,” she said.

The mass layoffs are part of a broader process of downsizing and the elimination of several education policies, many of them implemented during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015).

The State Employees’ Association (ATE) complains of an underutilization of the budget for education and the dismantling of areas of teachers’ training, human rights, adult education, statistics, children’s and youth choirs, among others.

We note with great concern that our dismissals – besides being a target of protests by our union – undermine educational policies and reflect a withdrawal of the state from the territories,” ATE delegate Lautaro Pedot told IPS.

Fernanda Saforcada, an expert on education and the academic director of the Buenos Aires-based Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), lamented the dismissals, which apart from being a human and social problem, “entail the loss of cumulative experience.”

“We are talking about technical teams that carried out an activity, have ties at work, networks that have been built up. All this represents a major loss. Expertise, history, knowledge and relations are lost,” she said.

This dismantling is more apparent in areas like the National Institute of Teachers’ Training and the National Institute of Technological Education, as well as in programmes on socio-educational matters, digital inclusion, human rights, comprehensive sex education, arts education, and education for young people and adults.

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Other programmes that were reduced or eliminated include university scholarships, promotion of gender equality, and provision of computers to students with special needs or as an incentive to finish high school.

“I think that now the intention is to aim for an education system opposed to one of inclusion and of ensuring the right to education,” said Pico.

According to Feldfeber, who is also the coordinator of Red Estrado (Latin American Network of Studies on the Work of Teachers) and of CLACSO research groups, “what basically disappears is the idea of education as a right, on the public policy horizon.”

As an example of the strategy of inclusion that was being implemented, she mentioned the creation of 14 national universities, “especially in places where segments of the population traditionally excluded from the system are starting to have access to education,” which are now being called into question.

“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education – business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector,” Feldfeber stressed.

“One of the highest-ranking positions is held by a former Philip Morris CEO (Ezequiel Newbery, now assistant secretary for socio-educational programmes) who says he isn’t familiar with education, doesn’t understand what a socio-educational policy is, and that he comes to the ministry to bring order,” she told IPS.

“’Bringing order’ means what we are witnessing now: firing workers and dismantling teams,” she said.

The government argues that it is “modernising” the public administration and restructuring the ministries.

Education Minister Esteban Bulrich advocates an “educational revolution”, which he defines as “giving any Argentine, no matter where he was born, the possibility of having the same quality education.”

According to Bulrich, “inclusion by itself, without quality, is no good, it only goes halfway, inclusion by itself is a fraud, and to improve quality you have to begin with the real agents of change: teachers.”

“The idea is to provide (teachers) with more tools, in order for them to have a modern, 21st century perspective of the skills and abilities that the children in our educational system need to become autonomous beings,” he said in a ceremony in June.

Fernanda Saforcada said the private sector is being strengthened “in the context of a process of transforming the role of the state.”

“The state is taking on a new role in search of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), foundations and business sectors,” she said.

“Many of these NGOs are connected to business sectors, which shows how the public sphere has been undermined, giving a new content to educational management,” she told IPS.

“And when we refer to the private sector, beyond the public-private dichotomy, we’re talking about the interests of some sectors prevailing over the common good.”

ATE complained about an attempt to “privatise” programmes such as Connect Equality, aimed at promoting digital inclusion, inherited from the previous government, which this year “experienced the influx of international companies such as Microsoft and Google.”

The intention, ATE said, is to replace locally-produced open-source software, such as Huayra, with these commercial operational programmes in the laptops distributed free to students.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) highlighted progress made in the Argentine educational system in the last decade, following the goals established in the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.

The report pointed out that public expenditure on education in this South American country was among the highest in Latin America, representing 6.26 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, 99.1 percent of Argentine children are in primary school, which makes it the country with the highest coverage in the region, along with Uruguay.

With regard to secondary school, the net enrolment ratio is one of the highest in Latin America: 89.06 per cent in 2012, although drop-out rates remain a cause for concern.

Argentina, with a population of 43 million, has also reduced the illiteracy rates from 2.6 to 1.9 percent of people older than 15.

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Towards Safe Migration and Decent Work for Women in Nepal Tue, 20 Sep 2016 13:27:38 +0000 UN Women Dawa Dolma Tamang migrated from rural Nepal to Abu Dhabi because she wanted to improve her livelihood and support her family. She ended up paying seven times more than what was required to the recruiting agency and was wrongfully denied work on medical grounds. With the help of Pourakhi, an organization working to protect migrant women’s rights, she was able to seek legal assistance and recover some of her money. Today, Tamang is working as a mason and will soon start taking the vocational and entrepreneurship skills training provided by a UN Women programme that’s advancing women’s economic empowerment in Nepal.]]> Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities.  Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang (right) visits the Pourakhi office regularly to learn about upcoming training opportunities. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

In August it’s blazing hot in Kathmandu. Dawa Dolma Tamang, 32, sits on a chair at Pourakhi’s office—an organization that works with migrant women workers—staring out of the window. “I want to send my children to a better school and support my husband to make a decent living. I want to make my family whole again,” she says.

Tamang’s story started in April 2016 when she left her remote Maheshwari village in Eastern Nepal to work in Abu Dhabi, only to find herself declared medically unfit for work upon arrival and returned to Nepal, penniless.

“I migrated because I wanted to earn an income and change my life,” she shares. Tamang’s husband was alcoholic, she had two children to support, and she saw migration as the only way out of the clutches of poverty. According to the latest report [1] on foreign migration launched by the Department of Foreign Employment in Nepal, an estimated 21,421 Nepali women are legally working overseas as of 2014-2015, mostly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A recruiting agent offered Tamang a job as a cleaner in Abu Dhabi and promised her a salary that she couldn’t imagine earning in Nepal. She left her children in the care of her sister-in-law and went to Kathmandu to get her visa. “I was completely unaware that the recruiting company in Abu Dhabi was paying for my visa and tickets…the agent in Nepal charged me seven times more than what was required. I had to give him NRS 70,000 ($700)!”

Soon after arriving in Abu Dhabi, Tamang was taken to a one-room apartment shared by eight other women. As part of the recruitment process, a doctor visited her on the third day for a medical examination, which included a tuberculosis test. Although she tested positive for latent tuberculosis (TB), she was not given any information about her medical condition. After 45 days, she was taken to a hospital, where she tested positive again. The doctors at the hospital finally told Tamang that she was suffering from latent TB and treated her. When Tamang was discharged from the hospital after 25 days and declared medically fit to work, the recruitment company refused to employ her. She was given a ticket and forced to leave Abu Dhabi the next day.

“I came home with no money and a strange illness for which I had to still take medicines,” she recalls. For the next one month, Tamang stayed at her sister’s house in Kathmandu trying to claim compensation from the recruiting agency, to no avail, as she didn’t have all the receipts and couldn’t prove that the agency had over-charged her.

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Dawa Dolma Tamang. Credit: Pradeep Shakya/UN Women

Tamang’s story is dismally common among Nepali women migrants, explains Manju Gurung of Pourakhi (which means self-reliant in Nepali language), a non-governmental organization which is supported by UN Women and works to protect the rights of female migrant workers. “Nepali migrant workers lack protection, are victims of non-payment of wages, retrenchment without notice or compensation, as well as unsatisfactory occupational health and safety conditions,” says Gurung. The problem has been exacerbated by recruiters, who do not share the risks involved and by employers who take advantage of the women’s vulnerability as they cannot access the legal system in the host country.

“What we urgently need, is to effectively implement the Foreign Employment Act and its regulations, as this would not only end discrimination based on gender, but also adopt special measures to guarantee women’s security and rights when seeking jobs overseas, by holding employers and recruiters accountable,” says Mio Yokota, UN Women Programme Specialist in Nepal.

According to the law, a returnee migrant is eligible to claim full compensation for the money she paid to the recruiting agency if she was declared medically fit to work and still returned on medical grounds by the recruiter. With legal assistance with Pourakhi, Tamang was able to recover 60 per cent of the money that she had paid to the agency. “If I had all the receipts for the amount I paid, I would have been compensated 100 per cent. This has been a hard lesson for me.”

Today, as she gets her strength back, Dolma Tamang is planning for a better future. She is working as a mason and saving to pay back the loans she took to migrate. She will be enrolling in the upcoming vocational and entrepreneurship skills training as part of UN Women’s Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment programme in Nepal, funded by the Government of Finland. The programme aims to support 2,000 women, including returnee migrant workers, provide business start-up and employment placement assistance and linkages to financial and private sector institutions.

[1] Department of Foreign Employment, Ministry of Labour and Employment (2016) Labour Migration for Employment – Status Report 2014/15, Pg. 7.

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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UN Refugee Summit: “No Cause for Comfort” Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:50:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 No One Is Indispensable in a Democracy Tue, 20 Sep 2016 03:15:54 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

Former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSÉ, Sep 20 2016 (IPS)

I have put a great deal of thought into whether or not to return to politics. Groups from different political parties, and without party affiliation, have expressed their concern over the current situation in the country and have offered me their support. And the opinion polls indicate that I would have a chance at a third presidential term.

The support of so many people fills me with gratitude. There is no greater reward for me than feeling the confidence and trust of the Costa Rican people, because it is based on deeds and actions, on knowing me for over 45 years, and knowing that, with all my defects, I always say what I think and do what I say.

The approval of my first two administrations is a reflection of what we managed to do together. In the 1980s, we brought peace to a region crushed by war, and we thus put Costa Rica on the world map.

Ten years ago, we inserted our small country in the international economy, and we put it on the map again when the United Nations approved the Arms Trade Treaty, Costa Rica’s biggest contribution to humanity in its entire history.

For many months I have weighed the contribution that I can still make, serving Costa Rica once again, against the need to give a boost to the emergence of a new generation of Costa Rican leaders. And I’m not thinking about the next four years. I’m thinking about the next 40. I have enough strength and enough ideas to serve them again. But I also know I’m not indispensable. No one is indispensable in a democracy.

This is something I have said many times: one of the main obligations of a political leader is to foster new leadership. The future of a country depends on the continuous emergence of new cadres willing to take up the baton. Only tyrants cling to power.

Democrats, of whom I am one, understand the importance of stepping aside. I believe the next generations must be given space, and this is the main reason for not running again for president.

The second reason arises from the political ungovernability in Costa Rica. The opposition doesn’t bother me; on the contrary, I have always believed that in a democracy if there is no opposition, it has to be created. I believe a good government requires someone on the other side of the sidewalk, reminding it of its commitments and holding it accountable.

Unfortunately, there is a segment of the opposition in our country which, instead of demanding that the government in office make good on its promises, uses any tool to keep it from doing so. Rather than allowing it to implement the government plan that voters supported at the polls, they spend four years carrying out a continuous election campaign, standing in the way of progress in the direction that the people said they wanted.

On May 8, 2006, when my second government took office, I made the following appeal to Costa Ricans, which continues to apply today:

“I hope that we learn that no party or social segment has a monopoly on honesty, patriotism, good intentions and love for Costa Rica. I hope that we can understand that the responsible use of political power is much more than pointing things out, complaining, and hindering, and consists above all of engaging in dialogue, working together and building.

“I hope we will be able to tell the difference between adversaries and enemies; understand that willingness to compromise is not a sign of weakness, just as intransigence is not a sign of strength. I hope we can do away with the pettiness of our political debate, raise up our heads, look forward and think big.”

The third and last reason that pushes me to make this decision is that I think there are many ways to work for the people of Costa Rica. They say that someone who is only good at being president is not even good at that. That is, if you can only exert influence from the presidential seat, it will not be a strong influence.

I don’t plan to retire. I will continue to express my opinions about the way things are going in the country, and I will continue to support the causes I believe in: I always defended what I consider is best for our people, and above all, for the less fortunate.

I will continue to tirelessly advocate the need for Costa Rica to approve educational reforms that make it possible to boost the quality of education in our primary and secondary schools and our universities, such as dual education, evaluation of teachers and ensuring that our young people receive the skills needed to compete in today’s world.

I will continue to insist on the need for Costa Rica to modernise its economy, invest in infrastructure, insert itself even more in the global markets, significantly bolster its competitiveness and rev up its engines of productivity, the best instrument to reduce inequalities. And I will continue defending democracy, peace and disarmament, because the small size of our country should never be the measure of its moral authority.

I have decided not to run for a third presidential term because I believe that the main problem we are facing is medium- to long-term. If we don’t manage to elevate the quality of politics and increase interest in public service, if we fail to get the most capable, educated and honest people to participate in political life, the sustainability itself of our democratic system is at stake.

To preserve this way of life that we have enjoyed for years, we have to encourage young people to lay their hands on the helm of history.

This is a country of young people. It’s the new generations that have to fight for, and exercise, power. If they don’t like the direction the country is moving in, they should change it. You can do a lot of good outside of politics, but a country where everyone is outside politics is a country adrift.

Arnold Toynbee, the great British historian, said “The greatest punishment for those who are not interested in politics, is that they are governed by people who are.”

Young people must occupy their rightful place in decision-making. They should take the helm of this ship we call fatherland; it will go in the direction of their commitment, or their indifference. I hope the Costa Rica of the future will not be the fruit of their omission, but of the most determined transformative action!

My profound gratitude to everyone who has supported me. Thank you so much for your affection and your trust. Thanks so much for the people of Costa Rica, who continue to move me, to inspire me, and to give me reasons to believe that politics is an instrument for doing good, for achieving peace, for doing justice; that politics is the workshop of dreams where perhaps they can become more realistic, more precise, more concrete, but also the place where dreams can come true.

The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Muslims in Europe: Can There Be Social Harmony ? Mon, 19 Sep 2016 18:46:15 +0000 Rose Delaney2 The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

The Geneva Centre held a panel discussion on the theme “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony” today, 19 September.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Although 20 million Muslims reside in Western Europe, establishing social harmony between the Muslim community and their European counterparts has proved exceedingly challenging.Much to the dismay of international humanitarian agencies and anti-racism activists,the language of exclusion and prejudice persists.

Since the turn of the century, Muslims, the world over, have been subjected to harsh discrimination and harassment. This was triggered by the 2001 terror attacks which rapidly spread anti-Islamic sentiments across the US.The fear surrounding Muslims and the “brute terror” they are widely thought to inflict, has now resulted in the widespread diffusion of religious racism across Europe.

According to Dr.Zidane Meriboute, author of the book “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”, prior to the extremist-led terror attacks, there was a relative lack of concern for minority groups in Europe. Now, the growth in animosity directed at the Muslim community is increasing at a robust rate.

The modern phenomenon of Islamophobia can be related to leading literary critic, Edward Said’s, theory of “orientalism” wherein Arabs and other Muslims were traditionally labeled as the “other.” In other words, what Dr.Zidane describes as being “the scapegoat for Western society’s ills”. This also draws back to the 19th-century theorist, Arthur de Gobineau’s, description of an age-old “reciprocal repulsion” between Muslims and Europeans.Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination.

Nowadays, we can see these “archaic” racist doctrines emerge and re-establish themselves in a modern context ,through sustained racism against Arabs and Muslims which may be characterized as Dr.Zidane explains, none other than “Contemporary European Phobic Discourse”.

In France, the 20th-century writings of political theorist Charles Maurras are still prevalent today. Maurras was instrumental in setting up the movement “Action Française”, whose primary objective was the restoration of the French nation through the presence of a strong monarchy powered by Catholicism.

Maurras xenophobic rhetoric targeted Jews and Mediterranean foreigners amongst a host of other minorities. His writings have acted as a major “intellectual” influence of contemporary Far-right movements including the French “National Front.”

The rise of Far-right movements in France is particularly perilous to the Muslim community, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Muslims become the targets of these political movements, subjected to discrimination, assumed to be affiliated with extremist groups due to media manipulation and fear-mongering.

The anti-Islamic prejudice, accentuated by a series of terror attacks, was brought to light this August when the French State Council attempted to ban the wearing of the “burkini”. Although the ban has been suspended, Dr.Zidane believes that the mindset that created an environment conducive to such an extreme measure indicates a deep societal divide between Muslims and Westerners.

According to Dr.Zidane’s study on “Muslims in Europe”, in Italy, the Muslim population now surpasses 1.5 million. In spite of this vast number and a wider acceptance of secularism , both the Italian state and society remain committed to Catholicism and thus far, a move towards the recognition of Islam has not been made. In addition, there is a range of far-right political parties which are deeply opposed to Islam.

In both France and Italy, racism is commonplace. Discriminatory acts against Muslims are encouraged by the phobic discourse of Far-right parties. In France, for example, 756 anti-Muslim aggressions were enumerated in 2014. There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by police in both countries.

Even in Germany, which Dr.Zidane describes as a “model of tolerance”, there are now stirrings of extreme right-wing movements which run counter to the mainstream. The UK, home to some 3 million Muslims, remains the European country where Muslims are best protected by the law and the activities of the police. In spite of this, there has been a rise in Islamophobia triggered by right-wing movements such as the British National Party.

Across Europe, Muslims continue to be the victims of ethnic profiling, violence, and discrimination. Today, 19 of September, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights and Global Dialogue Advancement and Global Dialogue hosted the conference “Muslims in Europe: the road to social harmony” which aims to establish the illegality of racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance against Muslims. The Geneva Centre advocates for a prohibition on the incitement of religious hatred and violence and the recognition that Islamophobia should specifically be the object of sanctions under international law.

In the opening of today’s “Muslims in Europe” conference , Chairman of the Geneva Centre, Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, remarked that the meeting was called as an expression of solidarity with all victims of blind terrorism which targets Muslims and Westerners alike.

Dr. Al Qassim emphasised that all world religions encourage peace and harmony, but distorting their message in order to use them as instruments of conflict is a sham. Muslim communities are today being caught between a hammer of the imminent danger of terrorist groups and the anvil of growing Islamophobia and the emergence of xenophobic populism in some European countries.

He concluded by stating that the meeting should act as an opportunity to discuss the path towards social harmony in Europe for Muslims, whilst keeping with the Geneva Centre’s key objective of fostering interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

According to the former head of a United Nations agency, Algerian diplomat and Secretary General of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, “social harmony begins at school.”Jazairy emphasised that teaching our children about the benefits of social harmony lies at the heart of the European Enlightenment.

The French philosopher Voltaire once said that while you may not necessarily agree with what someone has to say, you must “fight to the death” for them to have the right to say it. Jazairy encourages us to apply Voltaire’s philosophy in the context of rising Islamophobia.

In this way, future generations will practice the belief that, in spite of religious or ethnic differences, everyone has the right to live in a globalised world free from the setbacks of racism and prejudice.

Source: Dr.Zidane Meriboute, “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”. The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue & Z.Meriboute, 2015.

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Microsensor-Fitted Locust Swarms? Sci-fi Meets Conservation Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:23:08 +0000 Manipadma Jena The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The hi-tech radio room that works with Google Earth maps at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya where some of the 1,000 rangers of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) trained in GPS use lead anti-poaching surveillance. Photo takes May 2016. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

Every November, India’s Gahirmatha beach in the Indian Ocean region develops a brownish-grey rash for 60 to 80 days. Half-a-million female Olive Ridley turtles emerge out of the waves to lay their eggs, over a hundred each. For the sheer numbers, this arrival is hard to miss.

However, knowledge about this IUCN’s endangered species’ exact migration route across oceans has remained fragmentary for conservationists seeking to protect its globally declining population owing to destruction of habitat, global warming and trawl fishing.Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses - diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza.

As pressures from climate change, ecosystem loss and wild life crime threaten biodiversity and wildlife around the globe, scientists are responding by harnessing the power of sophisticated space technologies.

Migrating songbirds, beetles and dragonflies can soon be hooked up to space satellites helping to predict natural disasters and the spread of zoonoses – diseases that jump from animals to humans like swine flu and avian influenza. Radars will help locate poachers through infrared, detect through an elephant’s agitated movements, its imminent poaching. Cameras orbiting in space can capture the presence of crop diseases and invasive species in remote locations. The realm of science fiction has already stepped into the real world.

The International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) project, whose trial phase starts in 2017, is developing solar-powered sensors weighing 1 to 5 grammes which can be attached to migratory songbirds, even dragonflies, beetles. The transmitted data will inform not simply the geo-positions and movements but provide important clues about the body functions or senses of the animal, giving significant indicators about impending natural disasters.

By 2020, ICARUS sensors could be small enough to fit into locusts, possibly even to use the micro-sensors to control the locust flight path to divert the swarm from valuable crops, say its researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Scientists working on ICARUS say battery life is a major limiting factor for tracking small animals since the miniature batteries they can carry do not last long.

However, Russian space agency Roscosmos’s International Space Station, on which ICARUS hardware will be installed, is closer to the Earth than satellites, thus decreasing the amount of power required to upload data. Saving more battery life, the Station will wake the bird-mounted mini transmitter from its energy-saving mode only when it has visual contact to the in-flight bird. It’ll take only a few seconds to transmit all data back to the Station.

The urgency to go beyond manual patrolling to advanced space-based technology to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade comes strongly from the World Wildlife Crime Report 2016.

The report builds on the data platform World WISE (The World Wildlife Seizures) that contains over 164,000 seizures related to wildlife crime involving 7,000 species from 120 countries spanning 2004 to 2015.

Trafficking of wildlife is now recognised as a specialised area of organised crime and a significant threat to many plant and animal species. The focus of the upcoming 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is set to be the illegal wildlife trade. According to a 2016 UN Environment Programme report, the wildlife trade is estimated at 7 to 23 billion dollars annually.

With poachers increasingly using more sophisticated technology, wildlife rangers need to be equipped too. When a poacher moves in for the kill, elephants and rhinos will often behave unusually. Animal sensors help detect such behavior and send alerts to law enforcement, giving them time to act.

Other high-resolution constellations (10 or more) of radar satellites, unlike optical Earth observation satellites, are powerful enough to penetrate dense forest canopies, clouds and cover of darkness that aid poachers from detection. Infrared sensors attached to drones controlled by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can also be used to detect campfires or warm bodies hiding in African bush land, say researchers.

Sophisticated satellites are already monitoring the extent of illegal logging, rate of deforestation and even soil moisture. The launch of hyperspectral imaging satellites that record detailed images in hundreds of electromagnetic wavelengths can assess the extent of disaster, crop growth and diseases, availability of water in remote locations and glacier melts, besides general biodiversity.

Development experts say the role that space tools can play for achieving the SDGs is broad and diverse, specifically Goal 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable management of ecosystems, forests, soil and biodiversity, monitor not just wildlife but assess whether management practices put in place are having the desired effect.

“There are many types of satellites flying in space,” said Werner Balogh, a programme officer at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). “But how are they being used, is there more that can be done? Can we find joint mechanisms to share this data? It’s an exciting field and there’s still lots that needs to be explored.”

There has emerged consistent demand from developing countries who host rich biodiversity that mutual partnerships, free technical assistance, knowledge transfer, adequate resources and capacity building in space-based technologies to developing countries will significantly help achieve the 2030 Agenda.

But the high cost of technology solutions and access to the latest science and knowledge remain major constraints for the global South.

“In India, we use radio-collars to track movement for large animals like tigers and elephants. However, permits costs and taxes add to the already high cost of obtaining wildlife collars; for example, satellite collars to be used on elephants are available for 2,500 dollars each, plus annual subscription costs of 500 dollars,” Shashank Srinivasan, spatial analysis coordinator of World Wildlife Fund, India, told IPS.

The South Asia region, with 40 percent forest cover in Bhutan and Nepal and precious biodiversity, is very vulnerable to illegal traffic and wildlife crimes mainly because there exist easier traffic routes to large markets like China.

“The international community must design low-cost space-based appliances for sharing with developing countries like the solar transmitter chips (ICARUS) Germany is developing. It would be of great conservation value if we could procure it for 50 to 100 dollars,” Saroj Koirala, geospatial technologies expert with the World Wildlife Fund, Nepal, told IPS.

“Even if international commercial companies can provide us with, for example, hyperspectral images as old as of year 2010, this would still help country research. The process to access these are conditional and time-consuming,” Koirala added.

Srinivasan said except for initiatives like that allow for the sharing of conservation-relevant technology, he knew of no other national, regional or international technology sharing or funding.

Experts say awareness of the importance of space-based technologies needs to be created among law makers for need-of-the-hour policies and fund allocation. Koirala said since nature conservation is linked to livelihoods, people themselves will pressurise democratic governments to set aside funds for latest technologies.

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From Where I Stand: Nahimana Fainesi Mon, 19 Sep 2016 10:28:54 +0000 UN Women Nahimana Fainesi [Finess], 30, fled her native Burundi in July 2015 and has since been living in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. She works as a farmer in a UN Women cash-for-work programme there, which is funded by the Government of Japan. Her work is directly related to Sustainable Development Goal 2, which seeks to end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular people in vulnerable situations, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food; and SDG 16, on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. ]]> Nahimana Fainesi in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN Women

Nahimana Fainesi in the Lusenda refugee camp in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: Catianne Tijerina/UN Women

By UN Women
Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

“This is my second time living in communal camps, second time running away from civil war to protect myself. What made me leave [Burundi] was the problem of random people invading others’ homes, attacking those without husbands. They would enter with knives. Before they kill you, they would first rape you. When I saw those attacks, and people dying, I left with my one-year-old son. I didn’t have the chance to get all my children because it was a case of everyone for themselves, running for their lives.

When I got to the Lusenda Camp (in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), I had no hope. UN Women gave me hope, motivation and empowerment. After some time, I was appointed committee member of the women’s group. I found a job [through a cash-for-work programme] and that money helped me cross back to get my children. I have five children—four girls and one boy.

Camp life is another challenge. Two of my children have now matured into young women. When they go walking around, I remain in constant fear, because at any time they could get raped. The food is also insufficient and gets depleted even before the next ration.

I survive by farming to get a little cash. Women farm together, growing several types of crops. Once they are ready to be harvested, we sell the produce. One must always think about how you can get your hands dirty to attain your goals and feed your family. Happiness begins with you.”

This story, part of the “Where I am” editorial series, was replicated from the UN Women website <>. IPS is an official partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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The Public Benefit Organisations Act Will Help Kenya’s March Towards the Sustainable Development Goals Mon, 19 Sep 2016 09:55:18 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya. ]]> Willaim Ruto, Kenya's Deputy President said that, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government."

Willaim Ruto, Kenya's Deputy President said that, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government."

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya was launched on 14 September 2016, Representing President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Devolution and planning Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri, said Kenya was way ahead of implementing the SDGs through its Vision 2030, and the devolved system of Governance

Kenya now needs strategic and creative partnerships with civil society networks to raise public awareness and sustain momentum for the Goals’ diverse set of targets.

The SDG targets presents a challenge that is too big for any one government, and the coming into force of the Public Benefit Organisations Act (PBOs) therefore presents an opportunity to build broad partnerships with civil society groups, an acknowledged force for social justice, human rights and equity.

Stakeholders have now overcome the initial hurdles facing the Act when it was adopted in Parliament in 2013. These included suggestions for putting caps on funds for civil society organisations and other amendments that were considered overly restrictive.

There have been concerns that delays in implementing the Act would have led to an environment of control over civil society, more so in the lead-up to the 2017 elections when civil society is expected to complement the electoral management body’s voter education initiatives and advocate for free, fair and peaceful elections.

With the coming into operation of the Act on 9 September 2016, Kenya now has a legal framework, aligned with the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and that repeals the 1990 NGOs Coordination Act. This framework will, among other things, promote a vibrant civil society space in the country and stimulate continued local-level partnership for development, a key ingredient for the realization of the SDGs.

The decision by Cabinet secretary Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri to bring this Act into use, therefore, is a commendable step and a milestone decision which reaffirms the commitment of the Government of Kenya to its human rights obligations, notably freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, consistent with the vision and values of the Kenyan Constitution.

County governments too stand to benefit as the Act presents an opportunity for Civil Society Organizations to engage with them towards realizing the constitutional promise of devolution and the SDG agenda at the sub-national level. This can only be realized if county governments embrace the new law and prioritize its operationalization at the county level by clearly factoring it in their development policies and plans.

The Government of Kenya and the UN collaboration on what is now a fully operational law has come a long way. After concrete engagements with the government for close to three years, a commitment to the operationalization of the PBO Act included in the Government roadmap that the UN supported following the Universal Periodic Review of Kenya in 2015.

The UN is ever ready to partner with the Government of Kenya and civil society including philanthropy to support a PBO implementation framework which is designed in an inclusive, credible and participatory manner and upholding human rights.

As the UN family, we believe that dynamic partnerships with civil society organizations are essential for generating public awareness and political support for human development priorities, as well as for implementing programmes. Civil society must be at the heart of any development response, and their participation can only give impetus to Kenya’s SDG campaign.

Discussing this on a flight to New York recently, with Kenya’s Deputy President Mr William Ruto, who also chairs the IBEC (Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council) that brings together all levels of Government both at national and county level, he welcomed this development. He said, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government.”

The Act will also facilitate the implementation of Kenya’s strategy on Countering Violent Extremism. This is because civil society provide forums through which youth can engage and participate in the political, economic and social spheres, and it has been an important voice in urging that the protection of human rights be placed at the center of the security response.

The post-2015 development agenda will be most effective only if it results from inclusive and open multi-stakeholder participation.

This means that the vision for the Kenya we want must be informed by the perspectives of her people, especially those living in poverty who are served well by civil society and to ensure that “no one is left behind”.

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Caribbean: Rethinking Progress in Sustainable Development Era Mon, 19 Sep 2016 09:20:31 +0000 Jessica Faieta United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.]]>

United Nations Assistant Secretary General and UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

By Jessica Faieta

Caribbean countries make a special case for development. The high and increasing exposure to hazards, combined with very open and trade-dependent economies with limited diversification and competitiveness portray a structurally and environmentally vulnerable region, composed, in the most part, of middle income countries.

As these countries start implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we are calling for a new notion of progress. Our UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report for the Caribbean titled “Multidimensional Progress: human resilience beyond income, launched this week in Barbados with top regional authorities makes the case for a new generation of public policies to boost resilience and increase gains in the economic, social and environmental fronts, including peace and justice.

For the Caribbean this “multidimensional progress” entails not only adapting to shocks. It means breaking through structural obstacles that hinder growth and people’s well-being—beyond the traditional measurements of living above or below a poverty line. Nothing that reduces the rights of people and communities or threatens the environment can be considered progress.

This holistic approach is crucial, especially for the Caribbean.

After decades of persistent and volatile low growth, human vulnerability has increased. Most CARICOM countries’ Human Development Index—our composite measure of income, education and longevity— ranking has dropped over the last five years. Jamaica and Dominica, two extreme cases, have fallen 23 and 10 positions respectively.

When the human development results of the Caribbean are situated in a context of slow, volatile and low economic growth, high unemployment and under-employment especially among youth and women, a clear picture emerges showing the deep interconnectedness between human progress and the challenges of the state to cope, our report shows.

The first challenge is that, despite the very high indebtedness and the fiscal constraints affecting the region, governments should be able to implement combined public policies and interventions that foster inclusive growth: one that leaves no one behind. This also entails preventing setbacks and safeguarding hard won social, economic gains by boosting resilience, particularly among the most vulnerable groups to improve the lives of Caribbean women men and children.

To protect these achievements, economic growth alone is not enough. Our Report shows that social protection throughout people’s life cycle; expansion of systems of care for children, elderly and persons with disabilities; broader access to physical and financial assets (that act as cushions when crisis hit, like a car, a house or savings account); and continuous improvements in job skills – particularly in the case of women and youth– are vital.

In addition, many forms of exclusion transcend income and are associated with unequal treatment, discrimination, violence or stigmatization based on ethnicity, race, skin colour, identity and sexual orientation, gender, physical or mental disability, religion, migrant status or nationality. Being a woman, LGBTI, youth, a person with disabilities, being from an ethnic minority… all of these factors affect people’s life opportunities, the possibility of social and economic mobility and access to services. Closing material gaps is not enough to eradicate these forms of exclusions. A level playing field for citizenship requires implementing protection policies, affirmative action, empowering citizens and recognizing individual and collective rights.

The second challenge is to move towards a new public policy framework that can break sectoral and territorial silos and provide social protection throughout the life cycle. Part of the responsibility lies with States, which should generate and coordinate sustainable financial resources for public policies; but part also lies with the citizens, to the extent that it is necessary to build a culture of resilience and prevention in each household and community.

Like many in Latin America and the Caribbean, we believe that the challenge of sustainable, holistic and universal development are not resolved by crossing a given income threshold. There is no “graduation” from the development challenges unless appropriate answers are provided to the multiple dimensions that allow people to live a life they have reasons to value.

Now more than ever the world needs to rethink the methods for ranking development in the region’s countries that go beyond per capita income, economic growth rates and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Caribbean countries‘ high debt hinders the ability to access finance for sustainable development, also limiting the region’s ability to achieve the SDGs.

In view of the development-financing context in the Caribbean, the report demonstrates how, for the most part, Caribbean countries are ineligible for concessional finance due to their status as middle-income countries. With average national per capita income levels above the international financial eligibility benchmark, the report makes a case for a review of eligibility criteria to access concessional financing.

In line with the SDGs, our report stresses that on the one hand it is crucial to invest in people, environment, sustainable and affordable energy, institutional efficiency, stability and security as these are key factors to boost economic growth. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure that economic growth is inclusive, empowers people, leaves no one behind—and is not achieved at the expense of the environment.

This holistic approach to improving people’s lives while taking care of the planet will help countries in the Caribbean achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, boost climate resilience, end poverty in all its forms and leave no one behind.

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New Government Inherits Conflict over Peru’s Biggest Mine Sat, 17 Sep 2016 01:37:38 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar

Of the 150 socioeconomic conflicts related to the extractive industries that Peru’s new government inherited, one of the highest-profile is the protest by the people living near the biggest mining project in the history of the country: Las Bambas.

The enormous open-pit copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, in the southern department of Apurímac, is operated by the Chinese-Australian company MMG Limited, controlled by China Minmetals Corporation, which invested more than 10 billion dollars in its first project in Latin America.

Peru, where mining is the backbone of the economy, is the third-largest copper producer in the world and the fifth-largest gold producer.

Las Bambas, which started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The conflict reached its peak in September 2015 when three people were killed and 29 wounded in a clash between local residents and the police. The former government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) assembled a working group to address local demands.

The working group’s first meeting since conservative President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28 was held on Aug. 22.

“We don’t want conflicts. But if we give you the mine, we have to set conditions,” Daniel Olivera, a local farmer from the community of Ccayao, told IPS with regard to the neglected demands of people living around the mine, which has reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper, in addition to molybdenum and other minerals.

The working group was set up in February, to address four issues: human rights, environment, sustainable development with public investment, and corporate social responsibility.

The only concrete result achieved so far, according to the representatives of the Quechua communities surrounding the mine, was compensation for the families of the three people killed in the violent clash.

The last session took place Sep. 7-8, but it mainly dealt with technical aspects. The head of the Front for the Defence of the Interests of the Province of Cotatambas, Rodolfo Abarca, told IPS that he expects the next meetings, scheduled for October, to deal with “substantive issues”.

The mine’s three open pits and the processing facilities are located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains, between the Cotabambas and Grau provinces in the Apurímac region.

The Front demands that an independent study be carried out in order to shed light on the origins of the conflict: the changes approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to the environmental impact assessment of the project, without consulting the local population, in spite of the potential impact on the water sources, soil and air.

The most controversial move was made in 2013 when the authorities allowed the transfer of the plant that separates molybdenum from copper, from Tintaya in the neighboring region of Cuzco, to Fuerabamba, in Cotatambas.

 Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The transfer meant new studies were necessary to measure the potential environmental impacts at the new site. But this step was disregarded in the supporting technical report, according to the environmental engineers who went through the more than 1,500 pages of project records with the team from the investigative journalism site Convoca.

While the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the mining company Las Bambas saw these changes as minor and involving insignificant impacts, the experts said they were significant modifications that required a closer analysis.

The supporting technical report is part of a simplification of requirements carried out by Humala’s government in 2013 through decree 054-2013-PCM, aimed at accelerating private investment in the country.

Among the simplifications was a new rule that the local population no longer has to be consulted before allowing changes in environmental impact studies, on the assumption that these changes only affect secondary components of the project or expansions for technological improvements.

Convoca’s journalists told IPS that the environmental engineers informed them that in the case of Las Bambas, the technical supporting report was used to rapidly justify changes, without having to conduct specific studies to prevent potential environmental impacts, and to avoid consulting local communities.

The technical supporting report also made it possible for the minerals to be transported by truck, instead of only through pipelines as in the past. As a result, the trucks have been throwing up clouds of dust since January, a problem that has further fuelled the local protests.

The company told Convoca via email that they use “sealed containers” and that they spray the roads with water before the trucks drive by.

With the removal of the requirement for pipelines went the hopes of people in the 20 farming communities and four small towns in four different districts, who expected to lease or sell the lands crossed by the pipelines that were projected in the initial environmental impact assessment.

The decision “hit us like a bucket of cold water… It’s very sad,” added Olivera, who is from a community where the pipelines were supposed to cross.

The environmental engineers argued that what should have been done was a study of the environmental impact caused by the transport of minerals by truck instead of through a pipeline.

They also said a health impact assessment was needed after the relocation of the filtration plant, “since besides copper, molybdenum is also processed and produced, which is harmful to human health,” causing liver failure and different types of arthritis.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said by email that the relocation of “the molybdenum plant, as well as the filtration area and the concentrate storage facility,” only required a technical supporting report because the management plan approved for the plant was not modified.

Moreover, they said the area of influence of the project was reduced, and argued that a plan approved to recirculate the mining process water was an “improvement.”

The company said that before submitting their report, it “identified and evaluated the impacts that would be generated in each case,” and concluded that “they would not be significant.”

In his inaugural address, President Kuczynski said he would demand compliance with all environmental regulations and would respect the views of every citizen regarding a project’s environmental impact.

But the former vice minister of environmental management, José de Echave, pointed out to IPS that “there is no mechanism for public participation,” even when local residents are not opposed to a project.

According to the ombudsperson’s office there are 221 unresolved social conflicts in Peru, 150 (71 percent) of which are centered on territories where extractive projects are being carried out and have an environmental component.

De Echave said the government should create strategies to monitor social conflicts and deal with them through dialogue with government agencies.

Access to land is another issue behind the social conflict in Las Bambas.

There are 16 families in the village of Taquiruta, on the edge of the town of Fuerabamba, who live very close to the centre of operations of Las Bambas and refuse to leave their homes and parcels of land until the company provides them with fair compensation. The minerals are under the ground where their houses sit.

They are the only ones that until now have not left. Over the last two years, more than 400 families have been relocated to a new settlement, half an hour away from the community, named Nueva Fuerabamba (new Fuerabamba).

De Echave said the government should implement a land-use planning law to anticipate potential conflicts over access to natural resources.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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