Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:29:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Oil Alliance Between China and Costa Rica Comes to Life Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:22:47 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135822 The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

China’s plan to become Costa Rica’s main energy ally through the joint reconstruction of an oil refinery has been revived after the presidents of the two countries agreed to review the conditions of the project during a meeting in the Brazilian capital.

The two countries initially signed a framework accord in 2008, including Chinese participation in oil projects, especially the upgrade and expansion of the Moín refinery on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, with an investment of 1.5 billion dollars.

But criticism from public institutions, political leaders and social organisations brought the initiative to a halt.

The Costa Rican president’s office stated in a communiqué that Beijing had accepted its request to renegotiate the project, with the aim of “resolving inconsistencies in the contract,” in which each country has invested 50 million dollars so far.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a Jul. 22 press conference that “we have no deadline” for that review, which all of the involved institutions will take part in.

President Luis Guillermo Solís participated in the news briefing, although he did not specifically refer to the refinery.

Under the microscope

A year ago, the comptroller general’s office ordered Soresco, the joint venture, not to use the 1.8 million dollar feasibility study due to a conflict of interest, because it was conducted by a subsidiary of the Chinese partner CNPCI.

The study saddled Recope with costs from Soresco, such as land, fuel tanks, environmental damages and the expansion of the oil pier.

The comptroller general’s office ruled that the 16.28 profit margin established could be too high. A second consultancy, the U.S.-based Honeywell, also questioned that figure.

While the agreement creating Soresco stated that each partner would pay its own workers involved in the project, Recope paid half of the wages of the Chinese employees, as well as bonuses and incentives. Recope is seeking to be repaid 12 million dollars.

Solís held a bilateral working meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jul 17 in Brasilia, during a summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with Xi, after the sixth summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping.

The upgrade of the Moín refinery, which belongs to the state oil refinery Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo (Recope), would increase its processing capacity from 18,000 to 60,000 barrels a day of crude. The company controls Costa Rica’s oil imports, and since 2011 it has had to purchase only refined products, because the plant was shut down.

The joint refinery project, or “Chinese refinery” as it is referred to locally, was criticised by politicians and a large part of organised civil society from the start.

“We have always defended the construction of a refinery, whether it was with China, Russia or France,” said Patrick Johnson, a leader of the oil workers’ union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros Químicos y Afines.”We want the confusion to be cleared up…and if the project is beneficial, then it should go ahead because the country needs a refinery,” he told IPS.

In June 2013, the office of the comptroller general brought the initiative to a halt arguing that there were serious problems with a key feasibility study. Since then, the project has been on hold.

The renegotiations should overcome the first real hurdle that China has run into in Costa Rica. In 2007, this country became the first in Central America to establish diplomatic relations with China, in a part of the world that continues to have ties with Taiwan – incompatible with relations with China.

“Having an embassy here makes it easier to deal with matters with Central America,” Patricia Rodríguez, an expert on China who was an official in Costa Rica’s embassy in Beijing from 2008 to 2010, told IPS.

China is now Costa Rica’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States. This country’s sales to the Asian giant climbed from 91 million dollars in 2000 to 1.5 billion in 2011, when a free trade treaty signed in 2010 went into effect.

In strategic terms, the joint refinery between Recope and the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation International (CNPCI) is China’s star project in the country, and the joint venture Sociedad Reconstructora Chino Costarricense (Soresco) was set up in 2009 to carry it out.

The investment is to amount to 1.5 billion dollars, of which Soresco would receive 900 million in loans from the China Development Bank. The rest will come from the partners. The construction and remodeling of the plant will absorb 1.2 billion dollars of that total.

The work was to begin early this year and was to last 42 months. The comptroller general’s office’s decision to put it on hold was due, among other things, to the fact that the feasibility study was carried out by a subsidiary of CNPCI, which it said subverted the evaluation.

The resolution had the effect of “completely paralysing the refinery upgrade process by leaving it without the technical studies necessary for it to continue,” explained Recope in a lawsuit brought against the comptroller general’s office in response to the measure.

Despite the ruling by the comptroller general’s office, the administration of conservative President Laura Chinchilla (2010-May 2014) continued to defend the refinery modernisation project. But the centre-left Solís promised during the election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, because he considered several aspects of the contract negative for the country.

The request to renegotiate the contract had the support of political sectors and in particular of lawmaker Ottón Solís, an economist and university professor who was one of the first to speak out against certain facets of the agreement.

“We have enormous bargaining power here because China is desperate to open up negotiations with Costa Rica and this country has prestige,” Deputy Solís, of the governing Citizen Action Party, told IPS.

“If we insinuate that it’s impossible to negotiate with China because they take advantage of you with unfair contracts, the whole world will be put on the alert and other countries won’t want to negotiate with them,” and that gives Costa Rica bargaining power, he said.

One of the promises made was that the upgrade of the refinery will bring down fuel costs for consumers, who currently pay 41 percent extra in taxes and profit margins for service stations and Recope’s operating costs.

Petrol currently costs 1.48 dollars a litre in Costa Rica, which makes it the most expensive gasoline in Central America. Official figures from 2012 indicate that oil consumption in the country stood at 53,000 barrels per day.

“Fuel is a fundamental element for price stability because there are public services that depend on its price, like public transportation and electricity, and the same is true in the case of the productive apparatus,” the president of Costa Rica’s consumers association, Erick Ulate, told IPS.

During the meeting with President Solís, Xi also agreed to expand the timeframe for carrying out studies for the project of widening the road connecting San José with the Caribbean port of Limón, where 90 percent of the country’s exports are shipped out. The expansion of the road will be financed with a 395 million dollar loan from Beijing.

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Ticking Diplomatic Clock a Cover for Israeli Assaults on Gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 23:19:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135819 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the death toll in Gaza keeps climbing – and charges of alleged war crimes against Israel keep mounting – the most powerful political body at the United Nations remains ineffective, impotent and in a state of near paralysis.

Perhaps by choice.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only body representing the international community armed with legally-binding powers, has failed to adopt a single resolution on the three-week- old conflict in Gaza which continues to result in the merciless killings of Palestinians and widespread destruction of homes and schools.U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

After an unusual midnight meeting, ostensibly meant to display a false sense of urgency, the UNSC agreed Monday to release a so-called presidential statement, dismissed by some diplomats here as a morbid joke.

“Nobody, least of all the warring parties, takes these UNSC statements seriously,” said an Asian diplomat.

A mildly worded draft resolution, co-sponsored by Jordan and the Arab states, has been in circulation for weeks now, but failed to garner enough support to reach the negotiating table.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, an e-zine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, told IPS that from the outset of the latest assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders have been clear that their ability to sustain their attacks is dependent on international support.

“It’s what they call ‘the ticking of the diplomatic clock’, meaning the slaughter can continue with impunity only so long as the West remains prepared to extend it political cover,” he said.

The refusal of the UNSC to send a clear message to Israel that the slaughter must stop and there will be consequences if it doesn’t, therefore in practice extends the grace period allotted to Israel to continue its massive bombardments of the Gaza Strip, said Rabbani, who is also a contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report.

This, of course, primarily reflects the support of permanent members U.S., UK and France – but also other members – for Israel’s actions, he said.

All three Western nations in the UNSC have predictably remained supportive of Israel and would not approve any resolutions either accusing Israel of war crimes, imposing a no-fly zone over Gaza or calling for an international commission of inquiry into civilian killings.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has warned that Israel’s continued military assault on Gaza may amount to war crimes, while criticising Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks”.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay said last week.

The 47-member Human Rights Council last week voted for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict. But Israel has refused to cooperate in implementing the resolution which was opposed by a single country: the United States.

Abba A. Solomon, author of ‘The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech: The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews’, told IPS, “The United States will not act against Israel in the Security Council because of the well-established leverage of the pro-Israel lobby, both in the U.S. Congress and Senate.”

He said the administration of President Barack Obama is working in a situation in which the U.S. House and Senate passed unanimous resolutions of full support for Israeli military action against Gaza earlier in July.

Since the 1940s, he pointed out, American Jewish organisations have cultivated relationships with elected officials, in the process of seeking and giving political and financial support.

“These organisations have accepted that advocacy for Israeli positions is part of their duties,” Solomon said.

In times of crisis, these relationships are golden for the Israeli government, he added.

In this case, customary U.S. deferral to Israel obstructs what would be humanitarian action, a UNSC resolution to protect a besieged civilian population, said Solomon.

Historically, he noted, U.S. assent to U.N. condemnations of offensive Israeli military actions has been argued against because it would “embolden” whatever Arab opponent Israel is contesting with.

In cases where condemnation is unavoidable, “pairing” with condemnation of Arab actions is insisted upon, said Solomon,
who has done years of archival research on the ways that American Zionism has gained and maintained so much power since the 1940s.

Rabbani told IPS at a time when Israeli leaders are explicitly stating their objective is to inflict such massive damage upon the Gaza Strip that the population will turn against Hamas – and killing civilian non-combatants by the bucketful in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure – these states prioritise Israel’s purported right to self-defence above all else.

“To speak of an Israeli right to self-defence under such circumstances, when over 1,000 Palestinian civilian non-combatants have been killed in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate act of mass murder, and when the vast majority of Israeli casualties have been uniformed combatants, is well beyond obscene,” he said.

“It constitutes active support, and therefore direct complicity, in Israeli war crimes – even without taking into consideration the manifold other direct and indirect ways such states are supporting Israel.”

These include massive military, economic and political support, giving settlement products preferential access to their markets, and permitting their citizens to commit war crimes in Israeli uniform, he added.

Rabbani said the role of the UNSC is to preserve and protect international peace and security, and it has once again failed miserably in this task.

And it has done so once again on the question of Palestine, a conflict for whose creation and resolution the U.N. bears a unique responsibility, he added.

“Indeed, this demonstrates once more the incapacity of the UNSC to serve as a meaningful guardian of international peace and security in its current form,” Rabbani said.

Solomon told IPS the U.S. administration has the imperative to avoid accusations in the Senate and House that it has “betrayed” the “most important strategic ally in the Mideast” – Israel.

He said direct Israeli connections with U.S. political figures across the party divide require care in any State Department response to Israeli bombardments of Gaza civilians.

And Republican and Democratic aspiring politicians are taken on Israeli “fact-finding” tours.

He pointed out Palestinian advocacy organisations have not established anything like this degree of ongoing cooperation in the U.S. political scene.

U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

U.S. cooperation with a binding U.N. attempt to rein in Israeli military action would mean a challenge to a long-established system of beneficial relationships in the American political scene, Solomon declared.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Under Water: The EPA’s Struggle to Combat Pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/under-water-the-epas-struggle-to-combat-pollution/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 20:36:11 +0000 Naveena Sadasivam ProPublica http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135816 Water and sediment sampling operations during Enbridge Spill Response on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan from Mudpuppy II, EPA's news research vessel. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen

Water and sediment sampling operations during Enbridge Spill Response on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Michigan from Mudpuppy II, EPA's news research vessel. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Lauren Jorgensen

By Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica
NEW YORK, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution — repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect.

Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA’s powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.In recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.

Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight — developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.

The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms — tributary, floodplain and wetland — and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.

But the EPA’s effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organised and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers’ irrigation ditches, watering ponds and even puddles of rain.

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s president, Bob Stallman, said the proposed rule was the “the biggest federal land grab — in terms of power over land use — that we’ve seen to date.”

In an effort to address the concerns of farmers, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in recent weeks has been touring states in the Midwest.

“There are issues we need to discuss and clarify to get this rule right,” she said. “We have important work to do. All the silly contentions being brought up — that we intend to regulate dry ground or stock ponds or mud puddles after a rain — all that does is get in the way of our being able to have those serious discussions.”

The Clean Water Act of 1972 authorised the EPA to protect the “waters of the United States” from dangerous and or illegal pollution. But that term has been the subject of controversy and dispute virtually from the time the act was signed into law.

Regulators and industry representatives are generally in agreement that the law applies to some of the nation’s larger rivers. At issue, however, are the streams that flow intermittently and the wetlands adjacent to these streams that dry up during the summer.

Legal fights over those streams and wetlands, current and former EPA officials say, have cost the agency time, money and effectiveness in the face of real environmental threats. Indeed, in recent years the EPA has allowed hundreds of cases of water pollution to go unpunished because it currently lacks the confidence that it can prevail in court.

Granta Nakayama, who served as the assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the EPA until 2009, found that between July 2006 and March 2008 the agency had decided not to pursue formal enforcement in 304 cases because of jurisdictional uncertainty.

In 2008, in an internal memo, Nakayama wrote that the uncertainty “results in delays in enforcement and increases the resources needed to bring enforcement cases.”

And so in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Texas, the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require clean up.

Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible — despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation.

“The proposed rule will improve the process for making jurisdictional determinations for the Clean Water Act by minimizing delays and costs, and will improve the predictability and consistency of the permit and enforcement process for landowners,” an EPA spokesperson said.

The EPA expects that improving efficiency in jurisdictional determinations will also save the businesses that they regulate time and money.

“Protecting water is important to the long-term health of the economy,” the EPA spokesperson said. “Streams and wetlands are economic drivers because of their role in fishing, hunting, agriculture, recreation, energy, and manufacturing.”

Two Supreme Court decisions in the last 15 years have been the cause of much of the uncertainty.

In a 5-4 ruling in 2001, the Court held that the Army Corps of Engineers could not require permits for waters based on their use as a habitat by migratory birds. The Court ruling also included language that seemed to assert that only wetlands with a “significant nexus” to traditional navigable waterways would be protected under the Clean Water Act.

The Court did not make clear the meaning of the term “significant nexus.”

And in 2006, the Court, asked to determine whether a wetland needed to be adjacent to a traditional navigable waterway in order to be protected, wound up split, and reached no majority decision.

By the EPA’s own estimates, two million stream miles outside of Alaska are regarded as “intermittent,” and 20 percent of roughly 110 million acres of wetlands are considered “isolated.” As a result of the inability of the government to clarify the EPA’s jurisdiction over the last 15 years, these water bodies are currently unprotected.

“At some level this is a very frustrating debate to be having because water is all connected at some level,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney in the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “What the Supreme Court’s decisions do is throw into significant doubt what is protected.”

As a result, in cases where a polluted waterway isn’t clearly under the EPA’s jurisdiction, the agency has sometimes spent thousands of dollars to model water flow and conduct studies to show that it is hydrologically connected to larger water bodies that are protected.

“It just causes an incredible waste of resources and rewards those who don’t really worry about compliance and punishes those who do,” said Nakayama, now an environmental lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.

In past years, federal legislators have tried to introduce bills that address the ambiguity in the Clean Water Act’s language, but none have passed both the House and Senate.

In 2011, when Congress was considering a bill that made many of the changes that EPA’s current rule would, the American Farm Bureau Federation, as part of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, used a similar media strategy to kill the bill. The Coalition was made up of different industry groups that would be affected by the bill including mining associations and homebuilders.

The New York Times reported than an unnamed member of the Coalition said, “The game plan is to emphasise the scary possibilities. If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards.”

This time around, the pushback by farmers and others — called the “Ditch the Rule” campaign — has mainly taken place online. The Farm Bureau organisation has created a separate website for the campaign and created shareable videos and infographics.

The organisation has also been effective in recruiting state farming associations to join the campaign. It has resulted in a blitz of social media posts and a steady stream of local coverage often favouring the farmers’ point of view.

“The campaign has energised our grassroots to participate,” said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. Although the campaign does not have a large amount of money flowing into it, Parrish said it has really “struck a chord.”

Lisa Garcia, a former administrator of environmental justice at the EPA, said the effort by the federation is chiefly one of misinformation.

“The rule is not adding or expanding the scope of waters historically protected,” said Garcia, who is currently at Earthjustice, an environmental non-profit organization. She said the opposition she has seen fits “this pattern of just completely fighting against any new regulation.”

Parrish disagrees. He said that the tensions that are playing out are because “the EPA is trying to create regulations that do an end run around the Supreme Court and Congress.”

“[The EPA is] really reaching into areas that Congress clearly didn’t want the EPA to regulate. They did not intend to put EPA in the land use business,” he said.

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: How to End the Gaza War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:24:27 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135812 A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the killing and destruction rages on in Gaza, and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership exchange recriminations and threats, key regional and world players must accept a central truism: No peace can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians without including Hamas. The quicker they internalise this fact, the faster the cycle of violence can be broken.

The Gaza wars have failed to liquidate Hamas; on the contrary, Hamas has emerged stronger and better equipped despite the pummeling it frequently receives from Israel.The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

At the same time, Israel’s assault on Gaza reflects Tel Aviv’s concern about the region as a whole, not just about Hamas. Such concerns are driven by the rise of Islamic radicalism in Gaza and across the region, the growing influence of right-wing radical Jewish groups and political movements in Israel, the brutal civil war in Syria, the collapsing state structures in Libya and Yemen, a failing state in Iraq, the marginalisation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership in Ramallah, and the fragile political systems in Lebanon and Jordan.

Israeli worries also stem from a resurgent Iran, a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, and the perceived diminishing influence of the United States across the region. Unable to influence these “seismic shifts” in the region, Israel has resisted any long-term workable accommodation with the Palestinians as well as ending its occupation of Arab lands.

The Obama administration and other governments must work to end the 47-year-old occupation of the West bank and the blockade of Gaza. The Gaza Strip is considered the world’s largest open-air prison, blockaded on three sides by Israel and on one side by Egypt. This economic and political encirclement must be broken if the economic and social conditions of Gazan residents are to improve.

Poverty, unemployment, poor health and hygiene, and a lack of power and clean water have generated anger and hopelessness, which have often resulted in the frequent firing of rockets toward Israel. While mostly ineffective, these rockets have terrorised Israeli residents in the southern part of the country. This too must stop.

The bloody confrontations between West Bank Palestinians and the Israeli forces in Jerusalem at the Kalandia crossing, and between Arabs in Israel and Israeli police demonstrate that the Gaza war has spread to other parts of Palestine. This bodes ill for Israel and neighbouring countries.

Israel’s glee at the Egyptian government and media’s enmity toward Hamas is ephemeral and transitory. The Sisi autocratic regime would be unable to withstand its people and other Arabs’ anger at what they view as Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Having followed this conflict, including the rise of Hamas, for decades, both in academia and in government, and having briefed senior officials on these issues for years, I argue that long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain elusive unless regional and global leaders begin to re-examine their decades-old assumptions about the conflict.

Such a step would be severely criticized by partisans from, and on behalf of, both sides, including many in the U.S. Congress. Therefore, courage, perseverance, and new thinking are needed to empower stakeholders to push the process forward.

Hamas and Israel

Destroying Gaza, killing thousands of innocent civilians, blowing up Hamas tunnels, and liquidating its leaders will not eradicate Hamas or silence its drive against the Israeli blockade. Hamas draws strength not from its religious ideology but from its resistance to the encirclement, which has strangled and impoverished most of the 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

The asymmetry between Israel’s military might and Hamas’ weaponry, which includes homemade and home-upgraded rockets, cannot possibly allow Hamas to pose a credible mortal threat to Israel.

The terrorising of civilians along the Gaza-Israel border is abhorrent and must not be tolerated, but it is also not an existential threat to Israel, nor does it justify Israel’s massive bombardment of residential neighbourhoods, hospitals, and schools in Gaza City and across the strip. Israel could easily destroy the tunnels on both sides of the border without destroying thousands of homes and reducing Gaza to rubble.

The Israeli assault could also be seen as a response to the recent reconciliation between the PA administration in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza and the formation of a Palestinian national unity government of technocrats. The support the U.S. and EU showed for the new Palestinian government concerned Netanyahu deeply, and he proceeded to torpedo it. Netanyahu’s Gaza war belies his claim that he was genuinely looking for a so-called Palestinian “partner.”

Precursor to Hamas’ Tunnels

The Bush administration and the Israeli government supported holding elections in Gaza in January 2006, which Hamas won fairly and convincingly. Both Washington and Tel Aviv were stunned by the results and proceeded to delegitimise the election results and torpedo the new Hamas administration.

Gazans voted for Hamas not because of its religious ideology but because of its community service and resistance to the Israeli blockade. The legendary corruption of the PA administration in Ramallah also underpinned the vote for Hamas.

The morning after the election, a few senior members of the Bush administration advocated giving Hamas a chance to engage Israel on practical issues, including travel permits, the power grid, water, and commerce. If Hamas failed to do so within a couple of months, these officials argued, the United States and Israel would pull the rug from under Hamas.

That argument, which according to media reports at the time, was favoured by President Bush, lasted for one day. The counter argument favouring an immediate isolation of Hamas, which was strongly advocated by neoconservatives in the United States and in Israel, carried the day.

The Gaza wars in 2008-9, 2012, and now are arguably a direct result of the refusal of Israel and the United States to accept the 2006 election results and engage Hamas. Had engagement occurred, the living standards of Gazans would have improved markedly; there would have been no need for a “tunnel economy” or a “tunnel military.”

Unfortunately, Israeli politicians today seem to be viewing Hamas and the continued occupation and encirclement through the same narrow prism of 2006.

The Way Forward

In a recent article I argued the two-state solution was dead and called for new thinking. The same applies to the current conflict.

After 47 years of occupation, nine years of blockading Gaza, two intifadas, and three wars, Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States must accept the fact that war, terrorism, and occupation cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the death of the two-state option, the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River can only be achieved through a new paradigm grounded in justice, human dignity, equality, and tolerance.

Including Hamas in talks for an enduring end to the conflict could be done through a joint Palestinian delegation comprised of the PA, Hamas, and other factions. For this approach to succeed, however, it must include an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Once the two peoples living together embark on this path, they will reject the logic of occupation and terrorism and focus on building a more hopeful future.

For its part, the United States should jettison all futile attempts to push for a so-called peace process. Rather, we should begin serious efforts to help the two peoples operationalise the new paradigm.

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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Gas and Sun Light the Way for Energy Industry in El Salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gas-and-sun-light-the-way-for-energy-industry-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:17:12 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135810 Carolina Baiza, coordinator of environmental projects at the Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego, standing on the roof of the family business in San Salvador, in front of the hotel’s solar water heater.  Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Carolina Baiza, coordinator of environmental projects at the Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego, standing on the roof of the family business in San Salvador, in front of the hotel’s solar water heater. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

El Salvador is making steady progress towards diversifying its energy sources, with a plan to bolster the use of cleaner sources and achieve a substantial change in its energy mix by 2018.

Projects involving clean energy, such as solar, are just getting underway in this Central American country. But they are gaining momentum and the first changes in the industry, until now heavily dependent on fossil fuels, are beginning to be seen.

El Salvador has traditionally depended on fuel oil and diesel, which account for 41 percent of power generation. But fluctuations in the cost of oil on the international market cause instability in prices.

Thermal energy produced by diesel and fuel oil is followed by hydroelectricity (31 percent of the total), geothermal energy (25 percent) and biomass (three percent), which is being developed by sugar mills that use bagasse or sugarcane residue that is burned for fuel in the mills’ steam boilers.

“The current energy mix is not in our best interests, as it is not diversified, and when oil prices go up, energy rates for consumers also rise,” said Carlos Nájera, director of development of renewable resources at the National Energy Council (CNE) – the government energy authority – in an interview with Tierramérica.

In 2011, the CNE established a new model for energy sales and purchases, which requires power companies to acquire 75 percent of the energy they distribute by means of long-term contracts, in order to reduce large swings in electricity rates.“The current energy mix is not in our best interests, as it is not diversified, and when oil prices go up, energy rates for consumers also rise.” -- Carlos Nájera

That has brought down the cost for consumers by three cents of a dollar, to an average of 17 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In this small Central American country of 6.2 million people, electricity production was 5,544 gigawatt hours in 2009, and is projected to reach 6,787 gigawatt hours in 2015.

Currently, 97.8 percent of the urban population and 85.6 percent of the rural population have electricity, according to figures from the Economy Ministry.

Since 2009, when the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebel group-turned-political party began to govern the country, the CNE has been leading the government effort to modify the energy mix, incorporating new technologies that are more efficient and cleaner.

The administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who took office in June, will keep in place a plan launched by his predecessor that set a target for just 15 percent of all power generation to come from fossil fuels by 2018, 26 percent less than today.

According to the plan, hydropower will make up 26 percent of the total, geothermal power 20 percent, and biomass two percent.

But the most novel aspect is that 35 percent of power generation is to come from natural gas, two percent from solar energy, and one percent from wind power.

“We are moving in the right direction to meet those targets,” Nájera said.

The most recent advance came in June, when an international consortium made up of the companies UDP Neoen-Almaval, UDP Proyecto La Trinidad and Solar Reserve Development were awarded contracts to supply 94 MW of solar energy.

With an investment of around 300 million dollars, the companies are to install solar plants to begin operating in October 2016, and run them for 20 years.

The tender was sponsored by the private power company Distribuidora de Electricidad DelSur and was audited by the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones (Siget).

A total of 26 companies from France, Germany, Mexico, Spain and other countries took part in the public tender.

“We had a very good response from the companies that made bids, which means there is trust and confidence, as well as a capacity for supply,” Ingrid Chávez, manager of commercial planning in DelSur, told Tierramérica.

Small-scale solar power projects already underway in El Salvador provide electricity to rural schools or small farming families. But the contract granted last month is the first large-scale solar energy initiative in El Salvador.

New smaller-scale projects are also in the pipeline.

One is the installation of the Planta Fotovoltaica 15 de Septiembre, a 14.2 MW solar power plant – the first of its kind, which is now being put up for tender. A similar 12 MW plant is also in the planning stage.

The aim is for 200 MW of solar energy to be produced by 2018, in order to meet the goal of two percent of the country’s electricity to come from solar power.

The June tender also included 40 MW of wind energy, but the two companies that offered bids charged more per MW than the price – 123 dollars – set by Siget, so no contract was granted.

In November 2013 a contract was awarded to a consortium formed by the local companies Quantum-Glu, to generate 355 MW using natural gas. The investment will amount to 900 million dollars.

The natural gas, which the companies will import, will alter the energy mix dominated by oil, and according to Siget will put this country at the forefront of cleaner energy generation in Central America.

And since it is less expensive to generate electricity using natural gas, the cost for consumers will be lower.

The change in the country’s energy mix is just one of several aspects outlined in the National Energy Policy designed by the CNE and aimed at coming up with more sustainable forms of electricity production in order to ease the country’s energy problems.

Another important element is the promotion of a culture of energy efficiency and savings.

In April, the CNE awarded prizes to several companies, large and small, and to government institutions that offered the best initiatives in energy efficiency, with a focus on environmental sustainability.

The Eco Hotel Árbol de Fuego was one of the winners.

The 19-room hotel, a family business, was paying a 1,300-dollar a month electric bill when it opened in 2001. But it later became involved in a project for saving electricity, water and gas, and began to work towards becoming more efficient and sustainable.

A solar water heater was installed, and the transformer and air conditioning systems were modified.

The hotel’s power bill has gone down 60 percent and the owners are making an effort to increase their savings, until reaching the recommended minimum usage, when they plan to install solar panels.

“We can’t go on to the photovoltaic energy stage until we’ve reached the maximum savings, but we’re moving in that direction,” the coordinator of the hotel’s environmental projects, Carolina Baiza, told Tierramérica.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

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In Turbulent Iraq, Children Bear the Brunt of War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/in-turbulent-iraq-children-bear-the-brunt-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-turbulent-iraq-children-bear-the-brunt-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/in-turbulent-iraq-children-bear-the-brunt-of-war/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 22:45:38 +0000 Chau Ngo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135800 In January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

In January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Chau Ngo
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

As the ambulance stopped in Iraq’s northern city of Kirkuk, people rushed in to help. They unloaded six children, from several months to 11 years old, all injured allegedly by an air attack in the neighbouring town of Tuz Khurmatu.

“The situation in Iraq is grave,” said Tirana Hassan, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, recalling a scene she witnessed during a recent research trip there.“Families, including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price." -- Tirana Hassan

“Families, including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price,” she told IPS.

Nearly two months since the outbreak of violence between Islamist militants and Iraqi government forces, civilian casualties have surged. In June alone, 1,500 people were killed, the highest in a month since 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said.

“In all conflict-affected areas, child casualties due to indiscriminate or systematic attacks by armed groups and by government shelling on populated areas have been on the rise,” said UNAMI.

Activists have also reported child casualties caused by government airstrikes against fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

“We documented multiple cases of barrel bombs being used in Fallujah that had killed children and women,” Hassan said. “Using indiscriminate weapons in areas where children and their families are living is a violation of international law.”

Iraq has now become one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child. UNAMI said it has also documented “systematic and egregious violations” by the Islamic State against children, including sexual violence and rape, killing and physical violence, forced recruitment.

The newly reported violence and casualties are the continuation of children’s suffering in Iraq in the past decade. More than 7,800 civilians were killed last year, the highest since the U.N. started a systematic count of civilian casualties in the country in 2008, according to a U.N. report.

Among these casualties, 248 were children, which were caused by the Islamic State and Al-Qaida in Iraq, the U.N. said. According to the Iraqi government, the number could be even higher, with 335 children killed and 1,300 injured.

By early June, at least 1.2 million Iraqis had fled their homes because of the violence, most seeking refuge in temporary housing, internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps or with local host families, according to the U.N.

“A large number of IDP children are in dire need of assistance,” Alec Wargo, programme officer at the Office of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told IPS.

He added that there have been reports of children who have been recruited by the insurgents and armed groups being killed or injured in fighting. The U.N. and the Iraqi government have been working to deal with the situation, he said.

So far there has been no official report about the situation of the children in areas under the Islamic State’s control, but Wargo said it “does not look good.” In the areas controlled by the government, the U.N. has said it is seriously concerned over the government’s inadequate attention to the impact of the conflict on children.

According to the U.N., violence against children in Iraq could be underreported, especially abduction cases, due to the difficulties in collecting information and the families’ reluctance to report to the police.

There are no official statistics on the number of children recruited as soldiers, but UNAMI said it has received reports of children being recruited by all sides of the conflict, including by government-affiliated forces. They have been used as informants, in some cases as suicide bombers, for manning checkpoints and for fighting, it said.

“Even though the government of Iraq does not have control over some of the country, it still has a prime responsibility to respect and protect the rights of children, and prevent their unlawful military recruitment and use,” Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International, told IPS.

The London-based organisation works to prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers and support their rehabilitation.

“The government must take all necessary legal, policy and practical measures to end and prevent child recruitment by the forces under its control and should seek the assistance of international organizations to achieve this,” Clarke said.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at ngocchau4009@gmail.com

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Human Development – Latin America Less Than Halfway There http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-latin-america-less-than-halfway-there/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-development-latin-america-less-than-halfway-there http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-latin-america-less-than-halfway-there/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:13:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135798 Leobardo Gómez tries to eke out a living playing the harmonica on the streets of Mexico City, because injuries caused by a workplace accident have kept him from returning to construction work. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Leobardo Gómez tries to eke out a living playing the harmonica on the streets of Mexico City, because injuries caused by a workplace accident have kept him from returning to construction work. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Construction worker Leobardo Gómez has been out of work for nine months since he slipped and fell to the street on a construction site in the Mexican capital in October.

“I broke two ribs and I still can’t work,” the 44-year-old, who came to Mexico City from the southern state of Puebla, told IPS. “The doctor told me I have to rest, and my social security coverage has run out. My body is still in pain.”

Gómez, who has worked from a very young age, said that while he is recovering, he goes around to cafés and restaurants playing the ten songs he knows on the harmonica, for spare change.

For people like Gómez, who fall through the cracks, Latin America and the Caribbean should push to achieve universal access to social services and policies to boost formal employment in order to make faster progress towards human development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and experts recommend, while pointing to the improvement in human development indicators made in recent years.

In its 2014 Human Development Report “Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience”, published Jul. 24, the UNDP notes that Latin America is the developing region with the highest level of human development.

But it also warns that progress has slowed down in the last five years in comparison with the 2000-2008 period, and that vulnerabilities threaten to revert the progress made.

High and medium HDI

On the UNDP Human Development Index, Chile is the highest ranking Latin American country, listed 41st of the 187 countries studied – having moved one place up between 2012 and 2013.

In the category of high human development it is followed by Cuba (44, the same ranking as in 2012), Argentina (49, same ranking), Uruguay (50, two places up), Panama (65, two places up), Venezuela (67, one down), Costa Rica (68, one down), Mexico (71, one down), Brazil (79, one down), Peru (82, one up), Colombia (98, same ranking), Ecuador (98, same) and the Dominican Republic (102, same).

The ranking of the Latin American countries in the level of medium human development remained unchanged between 2012 and 2013: Paraguay (111), Bolivia (113), El Salvador (115), Guatemala (125), Honduras (129) and Nicaragua (132).

The only country that classified as having low human development was Haiti, which continued to rank 168 out of 187.

“Inequality is the main problem,” Emilia Reyes, an expert on inequality issues, told IPS. “Equality has an inherent link to the structure of the state, which has depended on the elites for so long, with the idea that there is an invisible hand that has actually never existed, and without any recognition that people have value.”

Reyes, in charge of policies and public budgets with a gender focus in the non-governmental organisation Gender Equity: Citizenship, Work and Family, said “It’s time for a structural reading of development that takes into account the social and environmental impacts of the concentration of wealth.

“In Latin America we don’t have a focus on sustainable development,” she added.

The Human Development Index scores range from 0 (the lowest) to 1 (the highest). The Index is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education levels and incomes. The HDI of Latin America as a whole increased from 0.73 in 2010 to 0.74 in 2013. Chile is in top place, with an HDI of 0.82, followed by Cuba and Argentina (0.81), with Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras bringing up the rear.

School attendance and dropout rates remained basically the same between 2010 and 2013. But per capita income did grow: from 12,926 to 13,767 dollars.

The UNDP warns that Latin America’s progress in human development slowed down 25 percent since 2008. It also stresses that, despite experiencing the largest fall in inequality, this region remains the most unequal in terms of income.

Inequality declined in Latin America and the Caribbean, in part due to the expansion in education and public transfers to the poor, says the report.

The study states that inequality declined in 14 nations in the region between 1990 and 2012, while it grew in only four. In two others, there was no clear trend.

In 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries, nearly seven percent of the population experiences multidimensional poverty, while an additional 9.5 percent is at risk of falling into this kind of poverty, marked by multiple deprivations in education, health and living standards.

Liliana Rendón, a professor in the economy department of the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, said “progress and growth in the indicators should be treated cautiously, because it is only reflected in a small part of the population, which experienced an increase in wellbeing.”

Rendón pointed out that the rise in human development occurred concomitantly with growing income inequality in several countries. “The poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration,” she said.

Despite the strong growth in productivity, real wages in the world have remained stagnant. But in the region, they rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2011.

Vulnerable employment also declined in the region, from nearly 36 percent in 2010 to 31.5 percent in 2012, while the proportion of the workforce living on less than 1.25 dollars a day was also reduced in that period.

The UNDP recommends universal provision of basic social services, stronger social protection policies, and full employment, as a means to promote and secure progress in human development.

These elements would also reduce vulnerabilities, whose triggers include financial shocks, food price fluctuations, natural disasters and violent crime.

One of the novelties in the report is the inclusion of the Gender Inequality Index, where Latin America and the Caribbean is in first place among developing regions.

Argentina, Barbados and Uruguay are among the 16 countries in the world where female HDI values are equal to or higher than those for males.

“The state cannot generate economic, social and cultural development for just 49 percent of the population, males, because women face insurmountable barriers in access to those spheres. That means reducing discrimination, expanding opportunities and recognising obstacles to social protection,” Reyes said.

The UNDP also recommends the creation of a Latin American Monetary Fund to complement global funds and to build up reserves, help stabilise exchange rates, provide short-term funds to members and offer oversight.

The region already has a Latin American Reserve Fund (FLAR), created in 1976 and made up of Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, which have provided total capital of 2.37 billion dollars.

“Inequality hinders development, so public policies should focus on achieving a more equal society,” Rendón said. “Public policies should focus on more and better spending in the fight against poverty, with better redistributive effects.”

In her view, “This can be achieved with sustained economic growth that allows universal investment in health and education, and by guaranteeing the quality of such services.”

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Antigua Weighs High Cost of Fossil Fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/antigua-weighs-high-cost-of-fossil-fuels/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:47:47 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135794 The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Petrotrin Oil Refinery in Trinidad and Tobago which has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Caught between its quest to grow the economy, create jobs and cut electricity costs, and the negative impacts associated with building an oil refinery, the Antigua and Barbuda government is looking to a mix of clean energy and fossil fuels to address its energy needs.

Venezuela’s ambassador to Antigua, Carlos Perez, announced last week that Caracas was at an advanced stage of negotiations with the government in St. John’s to build an oil refinery on the tiny 108-square-mile island.“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many." -- Chante Codrington

“The pending negotiations for the oil refinery I believe are well advanced and we’re hoping with this new administration of Prime Minister [Gaston] Browne we will advance to conclude that project that will be beneficial for Antigua and for Venezuela too,” Perez said.

Browne’s Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won General Elections on Jun. 12 after 10 years in opposition.

Environmentalists, including Dominican Arthurton Martin, oppose the move and say it’s the worst possible time to make an announcement like this.

“The United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released its 2014 report presenting evidence that not only can we expect a two degree centigrade rise in global temperatures but [possibly] a four degree centigrade rise, which will result in significant increases in coastal damage from sea level rise for countries like Antigua that are relatively flat,” Martin told IPS.

“This will in fact result in significant extension of periods of drought as a result of fluctuations in temperature. This is also happening at a time when there are so many options that could deal with part of the energy challenge,” he added.

Martin said the refinery was a bad choice not only because of the global movement to avert catastrophic climate change, but because cleaner alternatives are readily available.

He suggested instead that government look into sources like biofuel, solar and wind energy to reduce reliance on crude oil. These sources of energy have already been developed and financing exists to explore these options.

“These technologies are off the shelf. You can purchase them right now. You don’t even have to do R&D to develop them,” he said.

“This is the first time in the history of the international financial community that they have in fact made grants and concessionary loan financing available to actually reduce the dependence on fossil fuel for energy.”

Environmentalists stress that oil refineries are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Oil refineries also emit methane and nitrous oxide, which are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, as well as several other air contaminants that pose risks to human health and the environment such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds.

Chante Codrington, director of Wadadli Industrial Renewable Energy Ltd, who is in negotiations with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to build a wind farm here, is of the view that wind energy is the most efficient and affordable energy source for the island.

“No good can come from the oil refinery. The environmental concerns associated with the burning of fossil fuel in a country whose main industry is tourism are many,” he told IPS.

“There is an odor that comes from the oil refinery, air pollution, water contamination concerns, fire, explosions, noise pollution, health effects – these are all the disadvantages.”

Clean energy advocate John Burke agrees with Codrington, telling IPS it would benefit the island’s poor more if the country goes green.

“The price of oil is going to go up. The last time I heard the price of sun and wind had not gone up. Currently, every kilowatt hour we’re generating we’re spending about 80 or 90 cents EC on fuel. If they put together a programme to finance and install solar systems for the poor and the middle class that would in effect be financed by the amount of money we save from importing oil.”

According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), energy demand in the region is expected to double in the next 20 years, at a 3.7 per cent average annual rate of increase.

Currently, most Caribbean countries are heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels, their energy consumption being based almost solely on oil products, which account for more than 97 per cent of the energy mix.

Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Barbados cover part of their fuel requirements from their own reserves of oil and natural gas. Nevertheless, only Trinidad and Tobago has significant, proven fossil fuel reserves.

Several Caribbean countries spend 15 to 30 percent of their export earnings, inclusive of revenues from tourism, on oil products. This results in electricity prices of between 20 and 35 cents per kWh, much higher than in the United States or Europe.

Peter Lewis, managing director of the Bermuda-based Carib Energy Solutions, said the government should consider the environmental factors associated with an oil refinery.

“If the global trend of a mixed-bag approach is the best option for the pursuit of an energy agenda…you would be able to attract more entrepreneurs to the business sector and get the economy going,” he told IPS.

Martin also agrees with the mixed-bag approach.

“No single source of power should be allowed to deal with your entire energy bill. That is a bad thing to do,” he said.

“We had our banana experience in Dominica when we placed all our bets on one crop. My advice is no country should place all its bets on any one source of power. Even Venezuela is understanding that right now.

“So if solar can contribute three per cent, if wind can give you 15 per cent, if biomass conversion can give you 20 per cent, what you are doing is effectively reducing your dependence on the dirtiest form of energy which is fossil fuel driven energy,” Martin added.

In early 2007, the government of Dominica announced plans for Venezuela to construct an oil refinery on the island but after a barrage of objections was raised by environmentalists, plans for the plant were placed on hold in 2008.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/outlawing-polygamy-to-combat-gender-inequalities-domestic-violence-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 14:07:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135791 The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The PNG Government has recently introduced legislation to outlaw polygamy and increase the country's rate of official marriage and birth registrations. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

New legislation recently passed in the southwest Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea (PNG) outlawing polygamy has been welcomed by experts in the country as an initial step forward in the battle against high rates of domestic violence, gender inequality and the spread of AIDS.

“If polygamy remained acceptable, wives would never speak for their rights and they and their children would continue to be silent victims of violence,” Dora Kegemo and Dixie Hoffman of the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Programme in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, told IPS. “So banning polygamy under this new law will help to empower women.”

The Civil Registration Amendment Bill makes it compulsory to register all marriages, including customary ones. Marriages involving more than one spouse, however, will not be recognised. The government believes this move will also help to increase the registration of births in a country where an estimated 90 percent of the population do not have birth certificates.

Formal identification of children is urgently needed to begin improving a range of human rights and child protection issues in PNG, such as child labour and trafficking. It is estimated that children make up about 19 percent of the labour force here. Two years ago, a study in the capital, Port Moresby, by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), revealed that 43 percent of children surveyed were engaged in commercial sexual exploitation.

Until the law was passed, customary marriages, including polygamous ones, which are common in rural areas, were not officially recorded. Polygamy is particularly prevalent in the mountainous highlands region where men have traditionally taken up to five or six wives in order to increase agricultural productivity and better manage the domestic responsibilities of large extended families. Studies over the past decade suggest that an estimated 25 percent of unions in the highlands are polygamous.

But Jack Urame, director of the Melanesian Institute in the Eastern Highlands, who personally supports the government’s move to ban polygamy, says that its practice today has changed under the influence of the cash economy and western notions of commodity wealth.

In the past, “only the big men or the leaders and those who had the economic strength to take care of the women would have many wives,” he explained. But now the practice is prone to greater abuse when men use cash to acquire multiple wives as a means of displaying monetary wealth.

These marriages do not last, Urame said, and when they break down children are affected. “Many children who come from such broken marriages are disadvantaged and this contributes to the many social problems [we face].”

Domestic and gender violence affects up to 75 percent of women and children in this island state and is associated with adultery, financial problems, alcohol abuse and polygamy. Many cases involve the abuse and neglect of wives, as well as children, when a husband enters into further relationships.

Following a visit to the country in 2012, Rashida Manjoo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, reported that “the practice of polygamy also creates tension between women within the same family and has led to cases of violence, sometimes resulting in murder of the husband or additional wife or girlfriend.”

Urame believes that banning polygamy will help to combat family violence and gender inequality, while Kegemo says wider laws preventing violence against women are needed as well.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of polygamy on the spread of HIV/AIDS. While no specific study has been conducted on connections between polygamy and the disease, Peter Bire, director of the National AIDS Council, highlighted that high-risk behaviours could not be ignored.

“What we know is that multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships, in a context of low and inconsistent condom use, are important contributing factors,” he told IPS.

Another factor is that “sex outside of polygamous marriages is common and, because of the gender inequality problem in PNG, it is usually the husbands who can be blamed for being unfaithful,” he stated, adding that promiscuity puts wives at a high risk of contracting the virus.

The national HIV prevalence in people aged 15-49 years is estimated at 0.8 percent of the population, rising to 0.91 percent in the highlands region. HIV-positive cases in the country increased from 3,446 to 31,609 in the decade to 2010 with men comprising 37 percent and women 61 percent.

Bire said that, while the country’s HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act criminalises the intentional transmission of HIV, more comprehensive human rights laws, especially ones to better protect women, are needed to help fight the disease.

But “as with many laws and policies in PNG, implementation remains a challenge,” he continued.

In rural areas, where more than 80 percent of the population live, geographical barriers, such as dense rainforest and rugged mountains, as well as wider corruption, are factors in the limited development of the country’s infrastructure and outreach of government services, including law enforcement.

Despite these hurdles, many are hopeful that small steps like the recent polygamy law will eventually bring a better deal for women.

(END)

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Drought and Misuse Behind Lebanon’s Water Scarcity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/drought-and-misuse-behind-lebanons-water-scarcity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=drought-and-misuse-behind-lebanons-water-scarcity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/drought-and-misuse-behind-lebanons-water-scarcity/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 08:55:54 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135775 Tank trucks being filled with water in front of Osman Bin Affan Mosque in Beirut. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Tank trucks being filled with water in front of Osman Bin Affan Mosque in Beirut. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

In front of Osman Bin Affan Mosque, in a central but narrow street of Beirut, several tank trucks are being filled with large amounts of water. The mosque has its own well, which allows it to pump water directly from the aquifers that cross the Lebanese underground. Once filled, the trucks will start going through the city to supply hundreds of homes and shops.

In a normal year, the water trucks do not appear until September, but this year they have started working even before summer because of the severe drought currently affecting Lebanon.

This comes on top of the increased pressure on the existing water supply due to the presence of more than one million Syrian refugees fleeing the war, exacerbating a situation which may lead to food insecurity and public health problems.“The more we deplete our groundwater reserves, the less we can rely on them in the coming season. If next year we have below average rainfalls, the water conditions will be much worse than today” – Nadim Farajalla of the Issam Fares Institute (IFI)

Rains were scarce last winter. While the annual average in recent decades was above 800 mm, this year it was around 400 mm, making it one of the worst rainfall seasons in the last sixty years.

The paradox is that Lebanon should not suffer from water scarcity. Annual precipitation is about 8,600 million cubic metres while normal water demand ranges between 1,473 and 1,530 million cubic metres per year, according to the Impact of Population Growth and Climate Change on Water Scarcity, Agricultural Output and Food Security report published  in April by the Issam Fares Institute (IFI) at the American University of Beirut.

However, as Nadim Farajalla, Research Director of IFI’s Climate Change and Environment in the Arab World Programme, explains, the country’s inability to store water efficiently, water pollution and its misuse both in agriculture and for domestic purposes, have put great pressure on the resource.

According to Bruno Minjauw, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative ad interim in the country as well as Resilience Officer, Lebanon “has always been a very wet country. Therefore, the production system has never looked so much at the problem of water.”

Referring to the figures for rainfall, Minjauw says that “what we are seeing is definitely an issue of climate change. Over the years, drought or seasons of scarcity have become more frequent”. In his opinion, the current drought must be taken as a warning: “It is time to manage water in a better way.”

However, he continues, “the good news is that this country is not exploiting its full potential in terms of sustainable water consumption, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.”

Meanwhile, water has become an issue, with scarcity hitting particularly hard the agricultural sector, which accounts for 60 percent of the water consumed despite the sector’s limited impact on the Lebanese economy (agriculture contributed to 5.9% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011).

“Some municipalities are limiting what farmers can plant,” explains Gabriel Bayram, an agricultural advisor with KDS, a local development consultancy.

Minjauw believes that there is a real danger “in terms of food insecurity because we have more people [like refugees] coming while production is diminishing.” Nevertheless, he points out that the current crisis has increased the interest of government and farmers in “increase the quantity of land using improved irrigation systems, such as the drip irrigation system, which consume much less water.” Drip irrigation saves water – and fertiliser – by allowing water to drip slowly through a network of  tubes that deliver water directly to the base of the plant.

FAO is also working to promote the newest technologies in agriculture within the framework of a 4-year plan to improve food security and stabilise rural livelihoods in Lebanon.

Sheik Osama Chehab, in charge of the Osman Bin Affan Mosque, explains that, 20 years ago, water could be found three metres under the ground surface. “Yesterday,” he told IPS, “we dug 120 metres and did not find a drop.”

Digging wells has long been the main alternative to insufficient public water supplies in Lebanon and, according to the National Water Sector Strategy, there are about 42,000 wells throughout the country, half of which are unlicensed.

However, notes Farajalla “this has led to a drop in the water table and along the coast most [aquifers] are experiencing sea water intrusion, thus contaminating these aquifers for generations to come. The more we deplete our groundwater reserves, the less we can rely on them in the coming season. If next year we have below average rainfalls, the water conditions will be much worse than today.”

Besides, he cautions, “most of these wells have not passed quality tests. Therefore there are also risks that water use could trigger diseases among the population.”

The drought is also exacerbating tensions between host communities and Syrian refugees.

The rural municipality of Barouk, for example, whose springs and river supply water to big areas in Lebanon, today can count on only 30 percent of the usual quantity of water available. However, consumption needs have risen by around 25 percent as a result of the presence of 2,000 refugees and Barouk’s deputy mayor Dr. Marwan Mahmoud explains that this has generated complaints against newcomers.

However, Minjauw believes that “within that worrisome context, there is the possibility to mitigate the conflict and turn it into a win-win situation, employing both host and refugee communities in building long-term solutions for water management and conservation as well as forest maintenance and management. This would be beneficial for Lebanese farmers in the long term while enhancing the livelihoods of suffering people.”

For Farajalla, part of the problem related to water is that “there is a general lack of awareness and knowledge among decision-makers” in Lebanon, and he argues that it is up to civil society to lead the process, pressuring the government for “more transparency and better governance and accountability” in water management.

He claims that “the government failed with this drought by not looking at it earlier.” So far, a cabinet in continuous political crisis has promoted few and ineffective measures to alleviate the drought. One of the most recent ideas was to import water from Turkey, with prohibitive costs.

“Soon, you will also hear about projects to desalinate sea water,” says Farajalla. “Both ideas are silly because in Lebanon we can improve a lot of things before resorting to these drastic measures.”

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A Carrot Is a Carrot – or Is It? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/a-carrot-is-a-carrot-or-is-it/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 07:09:54 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135770 Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell

Permaculture enthusiasts with their harvested produce. Credit: Graham Bell

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Food security is often thought of as a question of diversifying supply and being able to move food through areas plagued by local scarcity, relying on the global economic system – including trade and transport – as the basis for operations.

But there is a growing current of opinion that the answer lies much closer to home, by creating locally resilient food supplies which are less dependent on global systems and therefore on the political and economic crises that afflict these systems.

While both approaches have their place, one issue that they have in common is the goal of improving diets and raising levels of nutrition.

At the global level, this goal will take centre stage at the international conference on nutrition that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) are jointly organising in Rome from November 19 to 21 this year.“Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal” – Bruce Darrel, food security expert

The organisers will be seeking political commitment for funding improved nutrition programmes as well as including nutrition-enhancing food systems in national development policies. They are also likely to attempt to give the Zero Hunger Challenge in the post-2015 United Nations development agenda fresh momentum.

In the meantime, one task that many say still remain is how to address nutrition in a holistic way, ranging from soil health to plant and animal health as well as to education about food storage and preparation methods that maximise nutrition.

Canadian food security expert Bruce Darrell believes that there are currently few examples of holistic approaches to nutrient management that incorporate strategies for nutrient levels and develop efficient nutrient cycling. “Perhaps this is not surprising when dealing with something that is essentially invisible and which has no generally recognised name as a concept,” he argues.

In his daily work, Darrell examines the role of mineral nutrients in soil, how they are depleted by farming practices, and their implications for healthy food.

According to Darrell’s accumulated knowledge, a single carrot can be more than twice as high in nutrients as that of another carrot grown in poor quality soil, which contains less than half the amount of sugars, vitamins and minerals.

A lack of knowledge about these things needs to be overcome, says Darrell: “Farmers and nutritionists rarely discuss the nutritional quality of a carrot and how it could be improved through farming practices. Farmers are more concerned with yield and appearance while nutritionists typically assume that all carrots are created equal.”

While the carrot is only one example of a whole range of food and nutrition issues, it is becoming clearer that the knowledge gap can be and is gradually being overcome.

Increasingly, individuals and small grassroots organisations are getting together to develop whole-systems approaches to nutrition. There are also more and more networks emerging globally to understand food.

“Not all of us have the luxury to decide exactly how we feed ourselves,” Ágnes Repka, a raw food expert from Hungary and one of the coordinators of the Future of Food European Learning Partnership, told IPS. “But many of us can make a choice on how to prepare the ingredients we have. Keeping as much of our food in their natural, raw form is one of the best ways to maintain its nutrients.”

The Partnership aims to bring sustainable food initiatives from different parts of Europe to one place and learn from each other, bringing the insights regarding sustainable agriculture and healthy food to a new level of understanding.

Repka stressed that when the members of the Partnership think about the healthiest possible food, “we mean what is healthy for our body, for our mind, for our communities and our planet.”

In order to communicate the new-found gains in the world of nutrition and to promote awareness in food education, Ireland’s Truefood Academy comes just at the right time.

Colette McMahon and Casandra Cosgrove of the Academy explain their reasons for putting an educational component in their nutrition-related work: “As nutritional therapists we have found that the practical skills and understanding of basic nutrition is poor and so began to develop and implement an outreach programme in a workshop format.”

The approach has proved successful and beneficial, deepening the understanding of the nutritional impact of traditional food preparation skills, which has demonstrated positive measurable results in the quality of life of the participants.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea in southern Scotland, Graham Bell grows over a metric ton of food on less than a 0.1 hectare garden and envisions permaculture as an apt and wise approach to sustainable and nutritious food harvesting.

“The great opportunity is for people to grow as much of their own food as possible,” says Bell. “The first need is to ensure access to land but a lot can be done on very little as we are proving. The next step is to ensure people have the skills to grow what they need.”

“Good change takes time,” adds Bell. “It is incremental. Permaculture is not a missionary activity. It is about modelling better ways of behaving. Better for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbours – and better for people we don’t know.”

Building durable, sustainable systems is a “one day at a time” approach, according to Bell – not an overnight solution. It involves a lot of sweat, toil and trial, but it is worthwhile, he and other practitioners say.

This summer, a permaculture gathering is taking place in Bulgaria, with the next gathering already scheduled at the Sieben Linden eco-village in Germany. Repka is an avid fan of such meetings and enjoys visiting and learning new things as well as sharing her knowledge.

“Learning how to get the most out of our food is a simple way that we can improve our health,” explained Repka. Uncooked plant based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds in their raw form give our body more vitality, energy and health is Repka’s message.

“These are the simple choices we can make every day,” she added.

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Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:41:54 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135759 The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in multiple protests this past week against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1,049 Palestinians dead and over 6,000 injured since Jul. 8.

Among demonstrators’ many demands was that the U.S. government end its massive flow of aid and arms to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation estimates that the United States has shelled out over 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid since 1949.

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

In 2007, the U.S. government pledged to provide 30 billion dollars worth of weapons to Israel in the decade 2009-2018. This year, according to the FY2015 budget submitted to Congress, the Barack Obama administration set aside three billion dollars for military aid.

The protests also had particular significance for New York City, whose former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced in 2011 his support for a 100-million-dollar partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) that would allow the construction of a state-of-the-art new complex on Roosevelt Island.

 

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

An alliance known as New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) says the Technion is “complicit in Israeli’s violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians”, namely its mandate to develop and design weapons and technologies that are used to enforce the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Among other ‘achievements’, students at Technion were instrumental in creating the remote-controlled Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, the IDF’s weapon of choice in demolishing Palestinian homes; and its Autonomous Systems Program (TASP) was responsible for developing the so-called ‘stealth drone’, capable of carrying two 1,100-pound ‘smart bombs’ for a distance of up to 2,000 miles.

Highly visible at both protests were members of the organisation known as ‘Neturei Karat International: Jews Against Zionism’, who carried signs proclaiming, “Jews reject the Zionist state of Israel and its atrocities”.

A statement prepared by the organisation 'Jews Against Zionism' appeals to world leaders to "stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza." Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

A statement prepared by the organisation ‘Jews Against Zionism’ appeals to world leaders to “stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza.” Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

Others waved placards claiming “New York Jews Say ‘Not in Our Name’.”

Thursday’s action, which brought out over 2,000 people, was part of the National Day of Action for Gaza, endorsed by over 55 U.S.-based human rights groups. The protest followed on the heels of a demonstration by Jewish Voice for Peace on Jul. 22, which saw the arrest of nine Jewish activists for occupying the office of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Manhattan.

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

One of the co-organisers of the march, Adalah-NY, handed out leaflets urging demonstrators to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a non-violent civil society-based campaign modeled on the international boycott movement that was instrumental in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

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OPINION: The Affinity Between Iraqi Sunni Extremists and the Rulers of Saudi Arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:58:06 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135767 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Which story line sounds the more credible – that linking the rebel movement ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) to policies pursued by Iran or that linking the Sunni extremist force to Iran’s adversary Saudi Arabia?

In June this year, fighters belonging to ISIS – a rebel movement that had previously established its foothold in the oil-rich areas of north-eastern Syria – succeeded in capturing Mosul, a city surrounded by oil fields in northern Iraq. Ever since, commentators in the world’s media have been speculating on the origins of the dreaded organisation’s military success.

It is admitted that the occupation of Mosul and vast tracts of the Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq would not have been possible except for the fact that ISIS forged a broad grassroots’ alliance expressing deep discontent by Iraq’s minority Sunnis with the policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Nor would Mosul have fallen but for the dramatic desertion by top-officers of Iraq’s state army.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Yet various observers have meanwhile focused on the political economy behind the advance of ISIS. Some experts from U.S. think tanks have discussed the likely sources of ISIS’ finance, pinpointing private donors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Other writers instead have connected ISIS’ reliance on black market sales of oil in Kurdish territory with Iranian exports of crude, described as “illegal”.

I propose putting the spotlight on the methods of war financing used by ISIS, but first it is necessary to highlight the movement’s complete sectarianism.

Soon after the occupation of Mosul, rebels blew up and bulldozed shrines and mosques in the city belonging to Shia Muslims. Pictures on the demolition of these buildings were circulated widely by the world’s mainstream media. Unfortunately, few Western journalists cared to draw attention to the role which destruction of shrines has played in the history of Islam.

Contrary to Catholicism, the veneration of saints at Sufi and Shia tombs and shrines basically reflects heterodox tendencies within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, Sunni orthodoxy and especially its Saudi variety, Wahhabism, either condemns intercession or, at the least, considers the worshipping of saints at tombs to be unacceptable. Islam’s minority of Shias, and its mystical current of Sufism, freely engage in such worship – and this throughout the Muslim world.“ISIS is … a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority”

ISIS’ work of demolition in Iraq can in no way be equated with practices of Iran’s Shia rulers. Instead, they express the extremist movement’s affinity with policies long championed by Saudi Arabia. Ever since the founding of the Saudi state, numerous Shia and Sufi shrines have been rased to the ground at the behest of this country’s Wahhabi dynasty.

What does the political economy behind ISIS’ military advance in Syria and Iraq tell us about the organisation’s affinities? First, in one sense, the ISIS strategy might be interpreted as rather novel.

Whereas the extraction of raw materials is a war strategy pursued by numerous rebel movements in the global South – see, for example, UNITA’s extraction of diamonds in the context of Angola’s civil war, and the trade in coltan by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo – rarely has a Southern rebel movement succeeded in turning crude oil into its chief source of revenue.

Indeed, whereas ISIS originally relied on private funders in Saudi Arabia to build up a force of trained fighters, the organisation has consciously targeted regions in Syria and Iraq harbouring major oil fields and (in the case of Iraq) oil refineries. By laying siege to the oil refinery at Baiji, responsible for processing one-third of oil consumed in Iraq, ISIS hoped to undermine the state’s control of oil resources.

Further, some 450 million dollars was stolen by ISIS fighters from a subsidiary of Iraq’s central bank after the occupation of Mosul. This reportedly was all income from oil extraction. Some observers put the cash income which ISIS derives from smuggled oil at one million dollars a day!

ISIS is thus a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority.

Yet though ISIS’ methodology of reliance on oil for financing of its war campaigns is novel for a rebel movement, such use of oil is not unique in the context of the Middle East. Ever since the 1970s, most oil-rich countries of the region have squandered a major part of their income from the exports of crude by (indirectly) exchanging their main natural resource against means of destruction – weapon systems bought on the international market.

And while Iran under the Shah was equally enticed into opting for this form of trade in the 1970s, – it is the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia which all the way through from the oil crisis of 1973 onwards and up to today has functioned as the central axe of such a trade mechanism.

Witness, for instance, the 1980s oil-for-arms (!) ‘barter deal’ between the Saudi kingdom and the United Kingdom, the so-called ‘Al Yamamah’ deal, and the 60 billion dollar, largest-ever international arms’ agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States clinched in 2010.

Forward to 2014, and an Iraq desperately struggling to survive. A section of the world’s media has already announced its impending demise, predicting a split of the country into three portions – Sunni, Kurdish and Shia. On the other hand, some commentators have advised that the United States should now change gear and line up with Iran, in order to help the Iraqi government overcome its domestic political crisis.

Yet the United States and its European allies for long, too long, have bent over to service the Wahhabi state. Even as Western politicians loudly proclaimed their allegiance to democracy and secularism, they failed to oppose or counter Saudi Arabia’s oppression of, and utter discrimination against, Shia citizens.

For over 40 years they opted to close their eyes and supply Saudi Arabia with massive quantities of fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry, in exchange for the country’s crude. Playing the role of a wise elderly senior brother, the United States has recently advised Iraq’s prime minister al-Maliki, known for his sectarian approach, that he should be more ‘inclusive’, meaning sensitive towards Iraq’s minority Sunni population.

But has the United States’ prime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia ever been chastised over its systematic discrimination of Shias? Has it ever been put to task for its cruel oppression of heterodox Muslims? And has the United States ever pondered the implications of the trading mechanism of disparate exchange it sponsored – for the future of democracy, food sovereignty and people’s welfare in the Middle East?

 

*  Peter Custers, an academic researcher on Islam and religious tolerance  with field work in South Asia, is also a theoretician on the arms’ trade and extraction of raw materials in the context of conflicts in the global South. He is the author of ‘Questioning Globalized Militarism’. 

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South Stymies North in Global Trade Talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-stymies-north-in-global-trade-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-stymies-north-in-global-trade-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-stymies-north-in-global-trade-talks/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 22:23:04 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135757 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

A group of developing countries brought a tectonic shift at the World Trade Organization on Friday by turning the tables against the industrialised countries, when they offered a positive trade agenda to expeditiously arrive at a permanent solution for food security and other development issues, before adopting the protocol of amendment of the contested Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and India inflicted a huge blow on the dominant actors in global trade by refusing to join consensus on the protocol required for full implementation of the TFA that is being pushed through the WTO with carrots and sticks.

“This is unimaginable, that New Delhi would decide the fate of decisions at the WTO, which has been a preserve of the United States and the European Union for the last 50 years,” said a trade envoy from a Western country.The mismatch, in terms of progress, between the TFA on one side, and lack of credible movement in agriculture and development on the other, especially in arriving at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes, has come into the open at various meeting in Africa and elsewhere

Only seven months ago, the industrialised countries were triumphant at the WTO’s ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, after having succeeded in clinching the TFA. At one go, that agreement would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries. It would offer enhanced market access for companies in the rich and leading developing countries such as China, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

According to former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, the TFA would cut tariffs in developing countries by 10 percent

The developing and poor countries, in return, were offered half-baked outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development, including an interim mechanism for public stockholding for food security with a promise of a permanent solution in four years, an agreement on general services in agriculture, transparency-related improvements in what are called tariff rate quota administration provisions, and most trade-distorting farm export subsidies and export credits.

The poorest countries, as part of the “development” dossier, secured a set of best endeavour promises concerning preferential rules of origin for exporting to industrialised countries, preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least-developed countries, and a final monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

The TFA has witnessed perceptible progress since the Bali meeting, while other issues raised by developing and poor countries have taken a back seat at the WTO.  The mismatch, in terms of progress, between the TFA on one side, and lack of credible movement in agriculture and development on the other, especially in arriving at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes, has come into the open at various meeting in Africa and elsewhere.

“Even seven months after Bali, we do not have the required confidence and trust that there will be constructive engagement on issues that impact the livelihood of a very significant part of the global population,” Indian Ambassador Anjali Prasadtold WTO’s General Council, which is the organisation’s highest decision-making body, during the ministerial meetings, on Friday.

Prasad said “the Trade Facilitation Agreement must be implemented on as part of a single undertaking including the permanent solution on food security.” Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela took the same stand as India that all issues in the Bali package have to be implemented on the same and equal footing.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in the Bali package,” India’s trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman told the Financial Times last Friday.

Against this backdrop, India finally pulled the plug at the General Council meeting by saying that “the adoption of the trade facilitation protocol be postponed until a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security is found.”

Without the protocol, it is difficult to undertake rapid liberalisation of customs procedures as set out in the TFA.  Effectively, the Indian stand has put paid to an early adoption of the trade facilitation protocol.

“Today, we are extremely discouraged that a small handful of Members in this organization [WTO] are ready to walk away from their commitments at Bali, to kill the Bali agreement, to kill the power of that good faith and goodwill we all shared, to flip the lights in this building back to dark,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Punke lamented at the General Council meeting.

Trade envoys from Japan, the European Union and a group of 25 industrialised and developing countries slammed India for its move to oppose the TFA until all other issues, particularly, the permanent solution on food security, are resolved.

“But the TFA cannot be divorced from the other issues, including food security, which need to be converted into a binding agreements on a priority basis,” India’s former trade envoy Ambassador Jayant Dasgupta told IPS Saturday.

Dasgupta, who played a major role in providing the rationale for exempting public distribution programmes for food security from WTO disciplines, offered several reasons why food security must trump over the hard core mercantile trade agenda embodying the TFA.

First, he said, ” the debate on food security exposed the insensitivity of trade negotiators of some major industrialised countries (pushed by seven or eight transnational corporations that dominate global food trade) to address food security issues, arising out of static interpretations of trade rules framed many decades ago, when such problems were not conceived.”

Second, the objections raised by the United States, Canada and Australia in addressing food security  are unacceptable because they do not want to concede that there has been more than 650 percent inflation in India since 1986-88.

The WTO agreement on agriculture uses the references prices of 1986-88 for determining domestic support commitments. “Any economist worth his salt would be aghast at the idea that the calculation of subsidies should take place without reference to the current market prices but to market prices which existed twenty six to twenty eight years,” the former Indian trade official argued.

Third, the problem of public procurement and stockholding for food security purposes is resorted to by not only India, but China, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and many other developing countries.

“Because of the way the agreement on agriculture provisions is worded, most of these developing countries could be held to be in violation of the WTO rules,” said Dasgupta, pointing out that “India is articulating not only its own problems but also those of other developing countries.”

And fourth, “by seeking to push India into a corner on this extremely sensitive issue for many developing countries, the United States and its handful of supporters are seriously jeopardising the credibility of the WTO in terms of latter’s ability to correct its mistakes and to be sensitive to the needs of a majority of its developing members.”

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Fish Before Fields to Improve Egypt’s Food Production http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/fish-before-fields-to-improve-egypts-food-production/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 09:07:35 +0000 Cam McGrath http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135752 Fish cages on the Nile River. Experts are calling for a more holistic approach to aquaculture. Credit:  Cam Mcgrath/IPS

Fish cages on the Nile River. Experts are calling for a more holistic approach to aquaculture. Credit: Cam Mcgrath/IPS

By Cam McGrath
CAIRO, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

Less than four percent of Egypt’s land mass is suitable for agriculture, and most of it confined to the densely populated Nile River Valley and Delta. With the nation’s population of 85 million expected to double by 2050, government officials are grappling with ways of ensuring food security and raising nutritional standards.

“With the drive toward increasing food production and efficiency, Egypt is going to have to become smarter in how it uses water and land for food production,” says aquaculture expert Malcolm Beveridge. “It would make sense to bring aquaculture together with agriculture in order to increase food production per unit of land and water.”“Why are we using water first for agriculture then taking the drainage for aquaculture? Surely it should be the opposite – use water first for aquaculture and after that to irrigate fields” – Sherif Sadek, general manager of the Cairo-based Aquaculture Consultant Office

One possibility under study is to adopt integrated aquaculture, a holistic approach to food production in which the wastes of one commercially cultured species are recycled as food or fertiliser for another. Projects typically co-culture several aquatic species, but the synergistic approach also encourages the broader integration of fish production, livestock rearing and agriculture.

“An integrated approach would seem the logical next step for Egypt’s aquaculture industry in that it can significantly reduce water requirements while increasing fish farmers’ revenues,” Beveridge told IPS.

Egypt’s aquaculture sector has witnessed explosive growth in recent decades. Annual production of farmed fish climbed from 50,000 tonnes in the late 1990s to over one million tonnes last year – exceeding the combined output of all other Middle East and African nations.

But fish farming as it is predominantly practised in Egypt – by simply digging a pit and filling it with water and fish – has a major drawback. A decades-old government decree requires that drinking water and crop irrigation be given first call on Nile water, leaving aquaculture projects to operate in downstream filth, contaminating fish and limiting productivity.

“Over 90 percent of the aquaculture in Egypt is based on agricultural drainage water, with plenty of pesticides, sewage and industrial effluents,” says Sherif Sadek, general manager of the Cairo-based Aquaculture Consultant Office.

“Why are we using water first for agriculture then taking the drainage for aquaculture? Surely it should be the opposite – use water first for aquaculture and after that to irrigate fields.”

Integrated aquaculture reverses the water-use paradigm, with tangible benefits to both fish farms and farmers’ crops. While the practice is still in its infancy in Egypt, several projects have demonstrated its commercial viability.

At the El Keram farm in the desert northwest of Cairo, farmers use pumped water for tilapia culture, recycling the water into ponds where catfish are raised. The drainage from the catfish ponds, rich in organic nutrients, is then used to irrigate and fertilise clover fields. Sheep and goats that graze on these fields generate manure that is used to produce biogas to heat the tanks where fish fry are raised, or to warm the fish ponds in the winter.

“The project has demonstrated how farmers who switched to aquaculture after salinity rendered their fields infertile can increase their productivity and profits using the same volume of water,” says Sadek.

Other integrated projects on reclaimed desert land culture marine aquatic species such as sea bass and sea bream, directing the downstream wastewater to pools of red tilapia, a table fish able to tolerate high salinity. According to Sadek, the brine from these ponds can be used to grow salicornia, a halophyte in demand as a biofuel input, livestock fodder and as a gourmet salad ingredient.

“Salicornia can be irrigated with extremely salty water and produces seeds and oil, as well as fodder for camels and sheep,” says Sadek.

According to development experts, integrated aquaculture delivers greater efficiencies, requiring up to 70 percent less water than comparable non-integrated production systems. It is also a cost-effective method of disposing of wastes and saves resource-poor farmers from having to purchase fertilisers.

Beveridge says small-scale Egyptian aquaculture ventures unable to afford the complex closed-loop system employed at El Keram could still benefit from integrated practices that would allow them to harvest commercial food products year-round.

“Egypt’s aquaculture industry has a problem in that the growing season is relatively short,” he notes. “During the months of December to February temperatures are too low to sustain much (fish) growth. And during that period, farmers who try to overwinter their fish often lose substantial numbers to stress and disease.”

Pilot studies have shown that fish farmers are able to capitalise on the nutrients locked up in the mud at the bottom of their earthen fish ponds.

“The idea is that you drain down your ponds in November, harvest your fish, then plant a crop of wheat in your pond bottom that you would harvest in March before flooding the stubble area with water and reintroducing young fish,” Beveridge explains.

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Positive Outlook For Agricultural Prices But Not For World’s Poorest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/positive-outlook-for-agricultural-prices-but-not-for-worlds-poorest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=positive-outlook-for-agricultural-prices-but-not-for-worlds-poorest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/positive-outlook-for-agricultural-prices-but-not-for-worlds-poorest/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:25:19 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135749 By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The official outlook for agriculture up to 2023 carries optimistic forecasts for agricultural productivity and commodity prices but it is unlikely that the benefits will be shared by the world’s poorest.

The mix of good and bad news comes in the 2014-2023 Agricultural Outlook, issued jointly by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) this month.

The OECD/FAO Agricultural Outlook examines trends regarding prices, dietary habits and other influencing factors such as production and demand, in addition to assessing the major policy challenges facing the sector."We still face a challenge with access to food. Higher food prices imposed undeniable hardship on the world’s poorest people, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. They also did more harm than good to poor farmers, who are more often than not net buyers of food staples" – OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

This year’s Agricultural Outlook, which is the 20th of its kind, “looks at the prospects for developing countries under the assumption that average weather patterns and current policies persist”, according to Holger Matthey, an economist at the Trade and Markets Division of FAO and team leader for the Agricultural Outlook.

“It gives an overview of the global market within the next 10 years, assuming that there are no disturbances”, Matthey told IPS

Crop prices are expected to stabilise significantly below recent peaks, although they will likely remain above pre-2008 levels, while meat and dairy prices will have reached record highs in 2013/14.

“We are very positive regarding the agricultural outlook for developing countries because they have the resources to expand production and are also expected to maintain strong growth rates in terms of consumption”, said Matthey.

Under the assumptions of this outlook, he added, it was found that “more than 80% of additional production will originate from developing countries and 50% of both the additional production and consumption over the next decade will take place in Asia.”

But there are still many obstacles in the way of ensuring that everyone can reap the benefits of increased agricultural productivity.

“We still face a challenge with access to food. Higher food prices imposed undeniable hardship on the world’s poorest people, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. They also did more harm than good to poor farmers, who are more often than not net buyers of food staples,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said at the launch of the report.

Among others, he said, there is a need “to extend social protection to cushion the effects of price shocks and help farmers manage risks and continue to invest in agricultural productivity so that farmers can respond effectively to price signals”, but tackling these challenges “in ways that are both inclusive and sustainable is a formidable challenge.”

This year’s Agricultural Outlook focuses on the case of India, the world’s second most populous country and home to the largest number of food-insecure people, for which the report portrays a “relatively optimistic” scenario, saying that the country is “projected to sustain production and consumption growth of food.”

In 2013, India adopted a National Food Security Act (NFSA), designed to ensure greater access to adequate and affordable food. The NFSA entitles more than 800 million people to 60 kg of food grain per person each year at prices that are 90 percent more economical than current retail prices.

According to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, the NFSA – the world’s largest right-to-food programme – is something that will have an impact for food security around the globe.

However, the Agricultural Outlook also warns that implementation of the programme will be challenging.

“While there is enough food being produced, the access to food, the distribution of food and the healthy utilisation of food [in terms of adequate diet and access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare] are challenges that remain,” said Peter Kenmore, FAO representative in India.

For example, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 48 percent of children in India are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition, a condition that has long-term physical and mental development consequences, such as weakening the immune system and decreasing productivity in adulthood.

The challenge is also to be more efficient in terms of infrastructure, including storage and transportation as well as means of delivery.

“The circuit of producing, procuring, storing and distributing food to those who lack access, all completed locally, as is accomplished in many places covered by the Zero Hunger Programme in Brazil, is worth pursuing,” Kenmore told IPS.

The Zero Hunger Programme was launched in 2003 by the Brazilian government with the aim of eliminating hunger and poverty.

However, Kenmore warned that “the fact that the price of subsidised food grains is 90 percent cheaper also represents a strong incentive for opportunists to obtain this subsidised food and resell it on the open market.”

“At the moment there are millions that are benefiting from the Public Distribution System that is being expanded under the NFSA but many that are not. Exclusion, discrimination and sub-optimal implementation are key concerns”, he told IPS.

There is a need to improve accountability and grievance mechanisms to allow people to make a complaint in case they cannot access subsidised food to which they would otherwise be entitled and, said Kenmore, these mechanisms “must not merely be notional but also effective.”

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135748 Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135746 Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

(END)

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U.S., Regional Leaders Convene over Migration Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:53:34 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135744 The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

As the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala prepare to meet with President Barack Obama Friday, more than 40 organisations issued a petition urging U.S. lawmakers to meet their “moral and legal obligations” by providing emergency aid to Central American children and families.

The petition, spearheaded by the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), an advocacy group here, insists that “more border security will not help,” and is instead calling for the U.S. to provide children and families with “all due [legal] protections” and “face the root causes of violence at the community level.”“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect.” -- Adam Isacson

In the last nine months, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S. southern border, and the wave shows no signs of abating. Many are now facing deportation.

Less than 24 hours after WOLA released their petition, a separate batch of legal groups accused the U.S. government of violating both international and domestic law, based on its inspection of the New Mexico-based Artesia Family Detention Facility.

After representatives from 22 organisations interviewed families detained at Artesia, the groups concluded that the U.S. government is violating both their moral responsibility to provide the refugees with physical and mental health support, as well as their legal obligation to guarantee them due process.

“Family detention is always an awful and damaging process, but the conditions at the Artesia Family Detention facility in New Mexico should make every American hang their head in shame,” the groups said in a statement.

“The Administration’s intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families – mothers, babies, and children – back despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of US and international law.”

Fixing the roots

While such humanitarian concerns surrounding the Central American migration crisis persist from a variety of sources, top officials from both the U.S. and Central America are considering both long-term and short-term intervention from the top-down.

As a pre-cursor for Friday’s meeting between U.S. President Obama and the Central American presidents, foreign ministers from the three respective nations – collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” – convened on Thursday at the Wilson Center, a think tank here, to discuss the crisis’ roots and debate its solutions.

While all three of the Northern Triangle’s representatives agreed that there was not one cause behind the current crisis, they collectively cited the drug smuggling network, the prevalence of organised crime, and lack of taxpayer dollars as their biggest problems.

As such, the three ministers advocated for “all-encompassing” reform, both to stop the short-term crisis at the border, and to provide economic and educational opportunities- such as universal secondary school coverage- for children and adults alike.

Call for legal protections

While Michelle Brané , director of migrant rights & justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), a New York-based advocacy group that participated in Artesia’s inspection, agrees with the Northern Triangle’s conclusion that such a “holistic response…addressing root causes” is necessary, her central issue is with U.S. justice system.

“The problem is that our court system is woefully under-funded,”Brané told IPS, hopefully adding that “we can create a due process system that works,” even if it takes years.

Clarifying that she is “not saying everyone should stay, [but rather] that everyone should have a fair shot at presenting their case,” Brané believes that providing attorneys to represent these migrants and using alternative detention centres, such as shelters and community support programs,  are both more humane and “cost-effective” solutions than the status quo.

Asked about the desired outcome of Friday’s presidential meeting, Brané informed IPS that she would like to see “[the U.S.] take a leadership role in protection, as opposed to a ‘close the borders’ stance and lack of respect for human rights law.”

“This is more than just something that requires them to stem the flow to stop up the borders,” Brané told IPS. ‘It really requires…strengthening protections systems, as opposed to interception.”

Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at WOLA, echoed Brané’s call for more protections.

“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect,” Isacson told IPS.

While his list of desired protections included “getting police to respect people”, “a much stronger justice system,” and “more emphasis on creating opportunities,” Isacson added that such requests be “combined with Central American presidents’ commitment to raise more taxes from their wealthiest.”

Isacson further agrees with WRC’s Brané in that there is a need for systematic reform of the U.S legal system, calling for “more capacity” and a reduction in the average trial’s wait time, which he believes can be up to two or three years.

Yet others, including the Virginia-based Negative Population Growth (NPG) nonprofits, have expressed different legal concerns.

“Asylum and refugee status is something for specific persecution, and it’s not intended to be a relief measure for general societal strife,” Dave Simcox, senior adviser of NPG, told IPS.

Simcox also told IPS that there is a distinction between being trafficked and being smuggled, and while “a few [migrants] will be able to make the case that they were taken against their will for exploitation,” he ultimately agrees with NPG President Don McCann, who argued in a statement that “granting refugee or temporary protected status on the current wave from Central America would be a disastrous precedent,” and that U.S leaders should instead apply “strong deterrent measures” by “supplementing border forces” with additional personnel and fencing.

But Isacson thinks “judges will get it right much more than border patrol agents on the spot will get it right,” and believes that that providing due process to such migrants is the best way for the U.S. to “enforce its own laws.”

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Social Protection Needed to Reduce Africa’s Inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 20:34:49 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135730 David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

For the last 13 years, Michael Ndah, 37, has worked for three road construction companies in Cameroon, but it is only in the last two years that his current employer has managed to register him with the National Social Insurance Fund (CNPS). 

The CNPS is a pension system for workers in the private sector but they can only join if they are signed up by their employers. Benefits also include medical and surgical care and hospitalisation. But Ndah’s CNPS cover does not provide for his family’s health.

“When my wife goes to the hospital I cannot use my insurance card for treatment and they say I must first pay in cash,” he tells IPS.

The labour code provides that seven percent of a worker’s salary is given to CNPS each month, with the highest salary calculated by the system being 300,000 CFA (about 640 dollars) — even if the person earns above this.

It is a contributive system where 2.8 percent of the payments are covered by the employee, with the remaining contributions covered by the employer. But with 640 dollars being the maximum wage allowed by CNPS, overall pensions are low.

And it’s a huge concern for Ndah.

“I don’t know if, before my retirement, I would have contributed enough to be eligible for a monthly pension payment,” Ndah worries.

The number of working-age people who are members of the CNPS is also low. According to the United Nations, about 53.3 percent of the country’s 21.7 million people are of working age (16 to 64 years). But only about 10 percent of them are insured by the CNPS.

“All workers in the formal sector are supposed to be registered with the social insurance [CNPS] eight days after signing an employment contract but many employers do not implement this law,” John Yewoh Forchu, a general inspector at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, tells IPS.

The high rate of unemployment here – about 30 percent – favours most employers who do not run organised work environments and are not ready to sign any form of contract with employees.

Warda Ndouvatama, a Yaounde-based civil administrator and expert on social security and protection, says that most employers falsely declare the number of workers employed by their organisations to avoid social insurance contributions.

He tells IPS that this phenomenon is not only common in Cameroon but in many African countries where more than 70 percent of the population work in the informal sector and do not have employment contracts.

“This has a big impact on the ability of people to cope with present and future eventualities,” Ndouvatama says.

While countries in Africa are enjoying higher levels of economic growth and well-being, the latest annual Human Development Report by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) says that countries on the continent need to intensify their fight against deprivation.

The report states that by providing an additional and predictable layer of support, social protection programmes help households avoid selling off assets, taking children out of school or postponing necessary medical care, all detrimental to their long term well-being.

“One commonly held misconception is that only wealthy countries can afford social protection or universal basic services. As this report documents, the evidence is to the contrary. Except for societies undergoing violent strife and turmoil, most societies can — and many have — put in place basic services and social protection,” the report states.

Mutale Wakunuma, the Zambia country coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, agrees.

“We all know that there is overwhelming evidence of the role social protection plays in reducing extreme poverty and helping countries recover from crises, but we need these implemented in earnest by governments,” she tells IPS, pointing out that social protection programmes that help reduce poverty are few and far between.

“This failure to implement them in earnest is why the report observes that in spite of the progress, sub-Saharan Africa is the most unequal region in the world,” she adds.

Lisa Simrique Singh, senior economist at UNDP in Yaounde, says in terms of Cameroon and the global and national discussion post 2015, the focus is on “resilience and growth that leaves no-one behind.”

“There is thus a strong need overall for a people centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient,” she tells IPS.

“To this end there is need for a systemic approach which combines macro, sectoral and micro interventions in a meaningful way that responds to the real needs of the poor. And as a policy tool, there is a strong need for social protection to be mainstreamed into the overall growth agenda of the country.

“Social security currently exists but it is only one component of it since it covers and benefits only those in the formal sector, which account for around 10 percent of the population.”

Cameroon, however, is looking to reform the CNSP. Future changes will include increasing the monthly contribution from seven to 13 percent of a person’s salary, creating a security system for informal sectors and universal health coverage that guarantees access to medical treatment even when a patient has no money.

Officials at the fund also acknowledge that if nothing is done to get more people integrated in the fund by 2020, the social security system will be grounded. This is because very few formal sector workers and no informal workers benefit from social security and the existing social security does not cover many risks.

“The social insurance fund scheme of 1974 is old and major reforms have to be done because we have [a larger] ageing population than before the 1990s. In the 1990s, 10 workers were contributing for one retired person but today 10 workers contribute for six retired persons,” Forchu says.

He explained that the system in place is a social solidarity system where those working contribute to help those who are out of activity.

“Fewer people now contribute to retired people. The cost of living and prices has increased without a relative salary increase and workers’ pensions cannot really meet the standards of life today.”

*Additional reporting by Amy Fallon in Kampala, Uganda and Friday Phiri in Lusaka, Zambia.

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