Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Sep 2014 21:32:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Rare Zambian Tree Faces Exploitation Because of Legal Loopholehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rare-zambian-tree-faces-exploitation-because-of-legal-loophole/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:32:16 +0000 Piliro Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136735 The South Luangwa National Park in North Eastern Zambia. This is one of the areas where the Mukula tree grows. Credit: Alex Berger/CC by 2.0

By Piliro Phiri
RUFUNSA, Zambia, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

Steven Nyambose used to sell charcoal for a living until he discovered that the trees could be more lucrative in another way – through cutting them down and selling the logs to international buyers.

“We used to see this [Mukula] tree and think of it being just like any other, not knowing that it is a gold mine on its own. And now that the buyers are plenty, we have changed the business focus from the usual charcoal burning and hunting to the lucrative business of cutting and selling the Mukula logs,” Nyambose, a resident of Rufunsa, which lies about 200 kilometres east of Zambia’s capital Lusaka, told IPS.

But there is a downside to Nyambose’s business – it is illegal.“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber." -- government forestry officer

Zambia has seen a rise in the demand for its timber, mainly for export. Unfortunately, much of the exploitation of the timber, especially the rare Mukula species, otherwise known by its biological classification, Pterocarpus chrysothrix, is illegal in this southern African nation.

But the trade is flourishing because of a lack of clarity in legislation that protects Zambia’s forests.

Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973 states that one cannot harvest major forest products like trees without a licence. But the act allows local communities to harvest forest produce for domestic use and not export.

The  loophole is apparently being exploited as local communities are contracted to cut the trees by timber dealers who are supplying international consumers, among them the Chinese and Americans.

The Mukula tree is in high demand among the international business communities who are using it in the production of gunstocks and other artefacts.

Locals are paid between five and 10 dollars per log.

“The charcoal business is not only a health risk but it is also not lucrative because of the high number of people in the same business. Trading in Mukula is more profitable because its market is not local like it is with charcoal, we target the Chinese nationals because they seem to be more interested in the logs,”  Nyambose explained.

The popularity of the tree lies in the fact that it has three usable layers, while other trees only have a usable heart or inner layer.

The Mukula tree’s heart wood is used for making rifle butts; the second layer is used in the timber industry for furniture, while the outer part is used for medicinal purposes.

The sudden soaring demand  from the international market for the tree has probably been triggered after the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Mozambique intensified security around the harvesting of the tree.

“We have our bosses who contract us to cut the Mukula trees. These bosses are sometimes our fellow Zambians who are more establish in the timber business or even the foreign businessmen,” Nyambose said.

The tree, which takes more than 90 years to mature, is widely spread in all provinces of Zambia apart from the Copperbelt, North Western and Western provinces.

For a long time, no attention was paid to monitoring how the timber industry operated and how the country’s precious resource was exported. However, illegal loggers and transporters are increasingly being caught.

Recently, cases of trucks laden with logs of the Mukula tree were impounded in different locations across Zambia.

Last month, in Chipata, in the Eastern province, police intercepted a truck laden with Mukula trees enroute to neighbouring Malawi. Over 1,000 Mukula logs, suspected to have been illegally cut in Vubwi District in Eastern province, were being transported to Malawi without clearance.

And in April, a Lands, Natural Resources, and Environmental Protection team impounded a truck laden with Mukula logs in Rufunsa.

According to a government forestry officer based in Lusaka, who spoke to IPS on the condition of anonymity, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

He did point out that there was a significant loophole in Zambia’s Forests Act of 1973.

“The Forest Act number 39 of 1973, Chapter 199, is not effective as it allows harvesting any tree apart from species that bear fruits and those involved in the conservation of water near or around a water table.

“Against such a liberal law, people are free to harvest any species, even endangered ones, because the law allows that they be regarded as timber,” the expert said.

But Lands and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister Mwansa Kapeya said the government intensified patrols and operations in areas where the illegal cutting down of the Mukula tree was rife.

He warned foreign nationals involved in the cutting and exporting of the Mukula tree that they risked going to jail and could be deported from Zambia.

“We are not just watching, we are reviewing policies on forestry and would also put in place a national strategy to address the levels of deforestation and illegal timber business,” Kapeya told reporters recently.

The government forestry officer pointed out that the root of combating the tree’s exploitation lies not in policies but in their implementation.

“Look at the Forestry Department for example; it is present in all the provinces and districts but the tools and equipment required to ensure sustainable forest protection and management including law enforcement are not available.

“We have suitable legislation but if practical application is not available then the policy or Act may not be effective.”

But according to Zambia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) researcher Davison Gumbo, there is the need for local policymakers to boost regulation like the Forests Act of 1973 and administrative capacity if they are to manage their forests and other natural resources sustainably.

“The major point is policy enforcement,” Gumbo agreed.

“When there is no enforcement by government, people do as they see fit. With a higher level of enforcement, government would realise more revenues from the Mukula tree,” he told IPS.

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New Fund to Build on “Unprecedented Convergence” Around Land Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-fund-to-build-on-unprecedented-convergence-around-land-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:53:18 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136732 Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Paraguayan Indians fight to enforce collective ownership of their land at the Inter-American Court. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Starting next year, a new grant-making initiative will aim to fill what organisers say has been a longstanding gap in international coordination and funding around the recognition of community land rights.

The project could provide major financial and technical support to indigenous groups and forest communities struggling to solidify their claims to traditional lands. Proponents say substantive action around land tenure would reduce growing levels of conflict around extractives projects and land development, and provide a potent new tool in the fight against global climate change.“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value. But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

The new body, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, is being spearheaded by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition, though the fund will be an independent institution. The Swedish government is expected to formally announce the project’s initial funding, some 15 million dollars, at next week’s U.N. climate summit in New York.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, said Wednesday.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a prerequisite for much needed sustainable investments.”

As Gornitzka indicates, recent research has found that lands under strong community oversight experience far lower rates of deforestation than those controlled by either government or private sector entities. In turn, intact forests can have a huge dampening effect on spiking emissions of carbon dioxide.

This is a potential that supporters think they can now use to foster broader action on longstanding concerns around land tenure.

Governments claim three-quarters

National governments and international agencies and mechanisms have paid some important attention to tenure-related concerns. But not only have these slowed in recent years, development groups say such efforts have not been adequately comprehensive.

“There is today an unprecedented convergence of demand and support for this issue, from governments, private investors and local people. But there remains no dedicated instrument for supporting community land rights,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“The World Bank, the United Nations and others dabble in this issue, yet there has been no central focus to mobilise, coordinate or facilitate the sharing of lessons. And, importantly, there’s been no entity to dedicate project financing in a strategic manner.”

According to a study released Wednesday by RRI and Tebtebba, an indigenous rights group based in the Philippines, initiatives around land tenure by donors and multilaterals have generally been too narrowly tailored. While the World Bank has been a primary multilateral actor on the issue, for instance, over the past decade the bank’s land tenure programmes have devoted just six percent of funding to establishing community forest rights.

“Much of the historical and existing donor support for securing tenure has focused on individual rights, urban areas, and agricultural lands, and is inadequate to meet the current demand from multiple stakeholders for secure community tenure,” the report states.

“[T]he amount of capital invested in implementing community tenure reform initiatives must be increased, and more targeted and strategic instruments established.”

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet governments continue to administer or claim ownership over nearly three-quarters of the world’s forests, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

From 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests, according to RRI. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those put in place recently have been relatively weaker.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of major action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“Yes, the forests and other non-industrialised land hold value,” Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on indigenous peoples and a member of the advisory group for the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, said in a statement.

“But we must also value the rights of those who inhabit these areas and are stewards of the natural resources they contain. Failure to do so has resulted in much of the local conflict plaguing economic development today.”

Unmapped and contested

Experts say the majority of the world’s rural lands remain both unmapped and contested. Thus, the formalisation of land tenure requires not only political will but also significant funding.

While new technologies have made the painstaking process of mapping community lands cheaper and more accessible, clarifying indigenous rights in India and Indonesia could cost upwards of 500 million dollars each, according to new data.

Until it is fully up and running by the end of 2015, the new International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will operate on the Swedish grant, with funding from other governments in the works. That will allow the group to start up a half-dozen pilot projects, likely in Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Colombia, to begin early next year.

Each of these countries is facing major threats to its forests. Peru, for instance, has leased out nearly two-thirds of its Amazonian forests for oil and gas exploration – concessions that overlap with at least 70 percent of the country’s indigenous communities.

“If we don’t address this issue we’ll continue to bump into conflicts every time we want to extract resources or develop land,” RRI’s White says.

“This has been a problem simmering on the back burner for decades, but now it’s reached the point that the penetration of global capital into remote rural areas to secure the commodities we all need has reached a point where conflict is breaking out all over.”

The private sector will also play an important role in the International land and Forest Tenure Facility, with key multinational companies sitting on its advisory board. But at the outset, corporate money will not be funding the operation.

Rather, White says, companies will help in the shaping of new business models.

“The private sector is driving much of this damage today, but these companies are also facing tremendous reputational and financial risks if they invest in places with poor land rights,” he says.

“That growing recognition by private investors is one of the most important shifts taking place today. Companies cannot meet their own growth projections as well as their social and environmental pledges if they don’t proactively engage around clarifying local land rights.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136721 Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, the 44-year-old daughter of another deceased Committee founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Uganda’s Youth Discover the Beauty in Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:28:39 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136714 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/ugandas-youth-discover-the-beauty-in-farming/feed/ 0 OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning Afterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:14:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136715 Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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OPINION: Sleepwalking Towards Nuclear Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-sleepwalking-towards-nuclear-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sleepwalking-towards-nuclear-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-sleepwalking-towards-nuclear-war/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 11:27:35 +0000 Helge Luras http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136711

In this column, Helge Luras, founder and director of the Centre for International and Strategic Analysis (SISA) based in Oslo, Norway, argues that up until now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and has thus survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

By Helge Luras
OSLO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

New military measures to deter what NATO perceives to be a direct threat from Russia were adopted at the alliance’s Heads of State meeting in Wales (Sep. 4-5). A few days earlier, President Barack Obama made promises in Estonia that the three tiny Baltic NATO member states would “never stand alone”. 

Since early 2014, Russia has done practically all that Western leaders have warned President Vladimir Putin in advance not to do. Crimea was occupied and annexed. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were encouraged and given practical support. Later, Russian personnel and equipment came more and more openly into conflict with Ukrainian forces.

Helge Luras

Helge Luras

But the West’s warnings to Russia did not stop there. Already several months ago, establishment figures and the media began to associate events in Ukraine directly with the situation in the Baltics and in Poland. NATO has responded to the Russian offensive against Ukraine, a non-NATO country, by shifting military resources towards the areas of NATO that it claims, but only by conjecture, are threatened by Russia.

But did anyone at the NATO summit warn that the alliance might create a self-fulfilling prophecy? Did anyone have the foresight to consider how tensions between Russian speakers and Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians might increase as a result of the hyperbole of the Russian threat? One should not assume hostile intentions in today’s ethnically-charged world without good reason.

That some Western minds consider themselves, and by extension NATO, to be an idealistic force for peace, human rights and democracy, is beyond dispute. But the reality is that NATO countries – that is, the West – represent the world’s most powerful military force, both conventional and nuclear.

Up to now, NATO has not challenged another nuclear armed entity and therefore has survived its own political-military escalation tendency. But in the case of Russia, the erroneous Western perception of self could cause a catastrophic and total war.

Since the Cold War, the West has swallowed up a large area formerly under the influence, if not outright control, of Soviet Russia. The hegemonic mind saw this as just natural and of no business to an anachronism like Russia.“The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time”

The future of humanity when expansion started in the 1990s was a Western future: liberal, democratic and free-market. Spheres of influence were the hallmark of others, exemplified by “reactionary” and authoritarian forces like Russia under Putin. Western influence is in another category – it is natural if not God-given.

In Russia, there is a clear and evolving bias in news reporting which the West characterises as “propaganda”. In the West, there is less need to instruct the media directly, there is a reverse bias due to cultural indoctrination. Evidently the West is a keeper of the right values. There is no cause and effect. Evil just pops up. All things Russian are bad, deceitful, not to be trusted. But in Russia this feeds an undeniable paranoia in the psyche.

The West has retained one “acceptable” bogeyman in the atmosphere of religious tolerance that creates such cognitive dissonance as it struggles to come to grips with core tenets of original (radical) Islam. The Western “liberal mind” has at least one cultural object left to legitimately hate: Russian political culture and the strong man it produces.

The problem is that Russian and NATO leaders are not drunken poets pathetically fighting with untrained fists at a literary reception. They may act so, but are in fact front men of substantive and institutional systems that can wipe out all human civilisation in a short time.

Western leaders undoubtedly perceive that their power is waning. No more state-building in faraway countries for us. The end of omnipotence, indeed of paradigm, is obviously traumatic and difficult to consider with a cool mind. But the diminution of Western political power occurs with no corresponding weakness in pure military muscle.

This leaves the temptation of a “Mad Man Doctrine”. If you can convince your opponent that you are willing to react disproportionately to what is at stake for you, he will fear you beyond the otherwise sensible. Everyone treats a mad man with caution.

In Ukraine, there is more at stake for Russia than for the West. Therefore Russia, as it has also shown, will not give up or allow itself or its allies to lose. In the Baltic countries, there is also more at stake for Russia than for the United States and for most other NATO countries as well.

For, in the post-Cold War, Russia has no ideology beyond nationalism. Its most ambitious claims, even if unopposed, would come to a halt at the geographical outer limits of the ethnic Russian nation.

This is not to say that Russian nationalism could not become a factor of instability beyond Ukraine. Trouble is latent. The partly Russian-populated Baltic countries are now in NATO, and NATO is an institutionalised form of the Mad Man Doctrine. The danger of miscalculating the reaction for NATO as well as for Russia is therefore significant.

Little suggests that the West understand how risky the games in progress really are. NATO and Russia are nuclear powers. Sensible leaders on both sides understood as much during the Cold War. Nuclear powers must not go to war with each other. If at all, the conflicts must remain by proxy. Such insights must be rediscovered today.

NATO should concentrate on finding a way to downplay the conflict with Russia, compromise on Ukraine, and not follow what the United States seem intent on doing; escalating, increasing defence spending across the bloc, sending more troops to the Baltic countries. Appeasement, if the starting point is dumb-headed NATO-expansionism, can be a virtue as well as a vice.

Military means are already at play in the conflict between NATO and Russia. Some call for even more. Before pushing Russia further in the direction they claim not to want – ethnic expansionism – politicians in the West must remember that nuclear arms are the last weapons in the arsenal of both.

Luckily, Putin seems quite sane, with superior rationality to many of his Western counterparts. The irresponsible comparison between Putin and Hitler is therefore wrong in many respects, but not least because Hitler never had the bomb. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Latin America at a Climate Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-america-at-a-climate-crossroads/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:41:36 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136697 Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Turbines at WindWatt Nevis Limited. In most countries of the region, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit during the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 23 will have a crucial opportunity to mobilise political will and advance solutions to climate change.

They will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms.Cities need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 12 percent, according to U.N. figures, it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, according a World Bank Report.

For the Caribbean region in particular, reliance on imported fuels challenges balance of payments stability and increases the vulnerability of key ecosystems that underpin important productive sectors, including tourism.

And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, as per capita income rises and countries become increasingly industrialised—and urban.

Although the region has a clean electricity matrix, with nearly 60 percent generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.

Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing GHG emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark.

Importantly, 68 million Latin Americans continue using firewood for cooking, which leads to severe health problems especially for women and their young children, entrenching cycles of poverty and contributing to local environmental degradation, including deforestation.

Cities also need to be at the heart of the solution. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanised developing region on the planet.

Urbanisation rates have jumped from 68 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2012. By 2050, 90 percent of the population will be living in cities. This brings about a different set of energy challenges, in particular related to transport and public services.

Therefore, the question is whether the region will tap its vast potential of renewable resources to meet this demand or will turn towards increased fossil fuel generation.

In this context, energy policies that focus not only on the economic growth but also on the long-term social and environmental benefits will be essential to shape the region’s future.

Consequently, in addition to reduced CO2 emissions, the region should favour renewables. Why? Latin America and the Caribbean are a biodiversity superpower, according to a UNDP report.

On the one hand, this vast natural capital can be severely affected by climate change. Climate variability also destabilises agricultural systems and production that are key to supporting economic growth in the region.

But on the other hand, if properly managed, it could actually help adapt to climate change and increase resilience.

Also, in most countries, the abundance of renewable resources creates an opportunity to increase reliance on domestic energy sources rather than imported oil and gas, thereby decreasing vulnerability to foreign exchange shocks linked to prices changes in world markets.

In this context, countries have already been spearheading innovative policies. Several countries in the region produce biofuel in a sustainable way. For example, Brazil’s ethanol programme for automobiles is considered one of the most effective in the world.

Investing in access to energy is transformational. It means lighting for schools, functioning health clinics, pumps for water and sanitation, cleaner indoor air, faster food processing and more income-generating opportunities.

It also entails liberating women and girls from time-consuming tasks, such as collecting fuel, pounding grain and hauling water, freeing time for education and paid work.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) is working with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to boost access to sustainable energy and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

In Nicaragua, for example, nearly 50,000 people from eight rural communities gained access to electricity following the inauguration of a new 300 kilowatt micro-hydropower plant in 2012.

This was a joint partnership between national and local governments, UNDP and the Swiss and Norwegian governments, which improved lives and transformed the energy sector.

In addition to spurring a new legislation to promote electricity generation based on renewable resources, micro enterprises have been emerging and jobs have been created—for both men and women.

Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030—and Latin America and the Caribbean are already moving towards that direction. This will encourage development and transform lives.

In a Nicaraguan community that is no longer in the dark, Maribel Ubeda, a mother of three, said her children are the ones most benefitting from the recent access to energy: “Now they can use the internet and discover the world beyond our community.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Pushes Climate-Smart Agriculture – But Are the Farmers Willing to Change?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-pushes-climate-smart-agriculture-but-are-the-farmers-willing-to-change/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:09:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136702 In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In India, most farmers are smallholders or landless peasants who will need to adapt to 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' in order to survive changing weather patterns. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
KARNAL, India, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to make a strong pitch to world political leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23 to accept new emissions targets and their timelines.

Launching the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) represents yet another concerted attempt to meet the world’s 60-percent higher food requirement over the next 35 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Alliance will come not a day too soon. The latest Asian Development Bank report says that if no action is taken to prevent the earth heating up by two degree Celsius by 2030, South Asia – one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change and home to 1.5 billion people, a third of whom still live in poverty – will see its annual economy shrink by up to 1.8 percent every year by 2050 and up to 8.8 percent by 2100.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest.” -- Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village in Haryana state
The CSA alliance aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture, thereby increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, strengthening the resilience of food systems and farmers’ livelihoods and curbing the emission of greenhouse gases related to agriculture.

India, home to one of the largest populations of food insecure people in the world, recognises the impending challenge, and the need to adapt. The national budget of July 2014 set up the farmers’ ‘National Adaptation Fund’, worth 16.5 million dollars.

Given that 49 percent of India’s total farmland is irrigated, experts fear the ripple of effects of climate change on the vast, hungry rural population.

Spurred on by organisations and government incentives to switch to a different mode of agriculture, some rural communities are already inventing a workable mix of traditional and modern farming methods, including reviving local seeds, multi-cropping and smart water usage.

Various agriculture research organisations have also been urging farmer communities to move into CSA.

CSA: Embraced by some, shunned by others

In Taraori village in the Karnal district of India’s northern Haryana state, 42-year-old Manoj Kumar Munjal, farming 20 hectares, is a convert to climate-smart techniques. And he has good reason.

Scientists project that average temperatures in this northern belt are expected to increase by as much as five degrees Celsius by 2080.

The main crops in Haryana are wheat, rice and maize, with many farmers also dedicated to dairy and vegetables. Of these, wheat is particularly vulnerable to heat stress at critical stages of its growth.

A recent study projects that climate change could reduce wheat yields in India by between six and 23 percent by 2050, and between 15 and 25 percent by 2080.

Haryana has been sliding in food grain production and ranked 6th among Indian states in 2012-13. This bodes badly for the entire country’s food security, as Haryana’s wheat comprises a major part of India’s Public Distribution System (PDS), which allocates highly subsidised grain to the poor.

Some 25 million people live in the state of Haryana alone. Of the 16.5 million who dwell in rural areas, 11.64 percent live below the poverty line.

Munjal, a university graduate, had to take over the farm with his brother when his father suffered a paralytic stroke, but has since changed the way his father grew crops.

Farming the climate-smart way, Munjal’s crop mix includes four acres of maize that need only a fifth of the water that rice consumes.

He opts for direct seeding instead of sapling transplantation, which involves high labour costs and a week of standing water to survive, in addition to being vulnerable to floods and strong winds due to a weak root system.

Munjal’s new methods, moreover, give shorter-cycle harvests and vegetables are grown as a third annual crop, translating into higher income for the farmer.

Trained by CGIAR’s Research Programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Munjal also uses technology like the laser land leveler, which produces exceptionally flat farmland, and thus ensures equitable distribution and lower consumption of water.

Other tools like the Leaf Colour Chart and GreenSeeker help Munjal assess the exact fertiliser needs of his crops. Text and voice messages received on his mobile phone about weather forecasts help him to time sowing and irrigation to perfection.

Around 10,000 farmers have adopted climate smart practices in 27 villages in Karnal, according to M L Jat, a cropping systems agronomist with CIMMYT.

They, however, account for a low 20-40 percent of total farmers here.

Making the global local

As global policy negotiations pick up with the upcoming Climate Summit and the 20th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 20) in Lima, Peru, scheduled for December 2014, there appears to be a growing gap between negotiators’ sense of urgency and actual on-the-ground implementation of CSA.

In Taraori village, home to over 1,000 farmers, where climate-smart agriculture was introduced over four years ago, conversion is slow with only 900 acres, out of a total of 2,400 acres of farmland, utilising such practices.

Forty-year-old Vinod Kumar Choudhary tells IPS that “the challenge in inducting farmers” into new models of agriculture, is that the older generation has no faith in the new system, preferring “to stick to tried and tested methods practiced for generations.”

“Any technology introduction must be [accompanied by] a behaviour change, which is slow,” adds Surabhi Mittal, an agricultural economist with CIMMYT.

While water and labour are still available, albeit for an increasingly high price, traditional farmers here say they will continue on as they have before.

The younger crowd believes this mindset needs to change.

“Today climate holds nine out of ten cards determining whether all your labour will come to naught or whether a farmer will reap some harvest,” says 48-year-old Iswar Dayal, a farmer in Birnarayana village, also in Haryana state, which is a major producer of India’s scented Basmati rice, exported mostly to the Middle East.

“Climate change and international dollar swings [are] the two most unpredictable entities deciding our fate in recent years,” Dayal tells IPS.

Therefore Dayal runs two buses, in addition to overseeing seven hectares of farmland that he owns jointly with his brother. Of his two high-school-aged sons, he plans to include the older one, Kusal, in the farm’s management while the younger one, he hopes, will get admission into a foreign university.

“If he gets into one, our life is made,” Dayal says.

From among the 60 families in Dayal’s village of Birnarayana, “only 15 percent of the younger generation are agreeable to continuing with agriculture as their main livelihood,” Dayal tells IPS. “The rest wish to migrate in search of white-collar jobs with assured income.”

India is one of the largest agrarian economies in the world. The farm sector contributed approximately 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) during 2012-2013.

Even though seven out of 10 people – or 833 million of a population of 1.21 billion – depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for a livelihood, the growth rate for the sector was just 1.7 percent in 2012-2013. In comparison, the service sector grew at a rate of 6.6 percent, according to the ministry of agriculture.

The 2011 census found that the number of cultivators across India fell significant over the last decade, from 127 million in 2001 to 118 million at the time of the census. The number of agricultural labourers, however, rose rapidly between 2001 and 2011, from 106 million to 144 million.

The number of small and marginal farmers, who own on average 0.38 to 1.40 hectares of land and constitute 85 percent of Indian farmers – also rose by two percent between 2005 and 2010.

Unless binding international agreements on carbon emissions come into effect almost immediately, India will be saddled with a disaster of almost unimaginable proportions, as the millions of people who eke out a living on tiny plots of earth find their lifeline slipping away from them.

And in the meantime, the country will need to scale up its efforts to ensure that climate-smart agriculture becomes more than just a modernity embraced by the youth and takes root in farming communities all over this vast nation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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As Uganda Heats Up, Pests and Disease Flourish to Attack its Top Export Crophttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/as-uganda-heats-up-pests-and-disease-flourish-to-attack-its-top-export-crop/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-uganda-heats-up-pests-and-disease-flourish-to-attack-its-top-export-crop http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/as-uganda-heats-up-pests-and-disease-flourish-to-attack-its-top-export-crop/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 18:34:38 +0000 Prossy Nandudu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136687 Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Farmer Sera Nafungo picking coffee berries in Bukalasi, eastern Uganda. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Prossy Nandudu
KAMPALA, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

When Abudu Zikusoka was a small boy his father would bring people to their home in Ndesse village in Central Uganda’s Mukono district. He would watch as they packed the family’s harvested coffee into sacks and then loaded it onto their bicycles.

“I used to see one of them giving daddy money from which he took out some coins to give my sister,” Zikusoka tells IPS.

“When my brother started going to school, daddy continued with the practice until one day I asked my sister where she was taking the money,” he remembers. 

His sister explained that the money was meant for school fees that had to be paid at the beginning of each term. This is why Zikusoka decided to embrace coffee farming after his father gave him a half hectare piece of land when he married in 2005 — he wanted to be able to support his family too.

On his piece of land, also in Ndesse village, Zikusoka was able to plant coffee trees and crops such as bananas, cassava and maize which became the main source of income for his family. Thanks to the profit from his farming Zikusoka was also able to buy an additional hectare of land.

Coffee is Uganda’s single-largest export earner. This East African nation is the largest exporter of coffee on the continent as Ethiopia consumes more than half of what it produces.

The Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) estimates that 85 percent of all coffee produced in Uganda is mostly from smallholder farmers, the majority of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people.

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

A Ugandan coffee grower poses beside his crop. Coffee is grown by at least half a million smallholder farmers, 90 percent of whom own fields ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 hectares. The sector employs 3.5 million people. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

But now it seems as if the good times are at risk from a changing climate.

“The yields are so poor, they are affected by diseases and pests almost all the time and when the rain takes a long to come, it becomes hard… The worst is that we were hit by the coffee wilt last year and I lost everything,” Zikusoka says in frustration.

“I haven’t been able to harvest much coffee like it was in 2006 when I had just started focusing on coffee as a commercial crop,” Zikusoka explains.

He is one of the many farmers who have recently been affected the black coffee twig borer and coffee wilt diseases in Mukono district, one of Uganda’s commercial coffee-growing districts. Wilt first attacked Uganda’s Robusta coffee in 1993 and has destroyed over 12 million plants since then. However, it is believed this figure is underreported.

“Before the coffee wilt attacked my crop, I used to earn between 700 to 1,000 dollars in a good season but the remaining trees [not affected by the wilt] have earned me only 250 dollars, and now I don’t know if I will be able to earn more,” he adds.

Zikusoka has come to the National Coffee Research Institute (NaCORI) in Kituuza, Mukono district, to find out if he can access the improved varieties developed here that are resistant coffee diseases, which have now become tolerant to high temperatures.

Last month, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, scientists noted that incidences of pests and diseases have appeared to have increased here because of climate change.

According to Dr. Africano Kangire from NaCORI, it appears that the warmer than usual weather is creating a breeding ground for pests and disease. The report attributes the rise in temperature to increased global warming, fuelled mainly by human activities such as clearing forests for settlement and charcoal burning, among others, which has seen increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“High temperatures provide favourable conditions for the breeding of pests and diseases, which are affecting coffee production. We have seen incidences where diseases like malaria are now rampant in the highlands which weren’t the case before, although this is for the medical professional to elucidate,” says Kangire.

According to Kangire, Uganda’s temperatures have been erratic and increasing over the years. He says if temperatures hit the two degrees Celsius level, as predicted, it could render Robusta coffee cultivation in Uganda’s lowlands very difficult while limiting it to few locations in the much cooler highlands.

He further explains that coffee leaf rust disease, which has long been known to affect coffee at altitudes lower than 1,400m above sea level, has now surfaced at 1,800m above sea level. This, he explains, is evidence of rising temperatures in the country, since logic shows that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

Coffee beans, freshly picked and ready for drying near Paidha town, Zombo District in northern Uganda. The country is Africa’s biggest producer of coffee, ahead of Ethiopia. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

He adds that the coffee berry disease, which is known to affect Arabica coffee, has also shifted to higher altitudes to attack crop cultivated 1,800m above sea level — it previously only appeared at 1,600m above sea level.

Dr. Revocatus Twinomuhangi, is one of the scientists who contributed to the IPCC report and is also the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) country engagement leader and a lecturer at Makerere University Centre for Climate Change Research and Innovations.

“We are witnessing a shift in production of crops such as coffee, tea, maize for example coffee was mainly for highland areas but because people have cut down trees and cleared part of the highlands for cultivation the crop failing and if the temperature could rise to even 1.5 degrees Celsius there will be dramatic shift from highlands to low lands like the central regions in Uganda,” he tells IPS.

However, the latest UCDA report shows that Uganda’s July coffee exports earned the country revenue of 37.9 million dollars up from June’s value of 31.04 million.

According to the managing director of UDCA, Henry Ngabirano, the authority has succeeded in recording some profits from the coffee sector despite the presence of coffee wilt diseases.

“We are getting clonal coffee varieties resistant to the wilt because these were the most-affected while Arabic coffee, which was less affected, has remained at 10 percent production.

“So the 10 percent Arabic and the other percentage of clonal coffee are keeping us in the market but we are confident that since researchers ad government have taken it up, we shall be able to adjust to effects of climate change,” Ngabirano tells IPS.

While scientists at NaCORI are breeding improved coffee varieties, which include those resistant to coffee wilt, Paul Isabirye, assistant commissioner from the Department of Meteorology cautions that temperatures could have risen since the IPCC report was issued.

He points out that rain is now falling at the wrong times, and the coffee beans have less time to mature.

“If the coffee beans face a lot of sunshine and less rain, the beans will continue to be smaller and of lower yields,” he tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

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U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:07:45 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136688 Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Organic Farmers Cultivate Rural Success in Samoahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/organic-farmers-cultivate-rural-success-in-samoa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organic-farmers-cultivate-rural-success-in-samoa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/organic-farmers-cultivate-rural-success-in-samoa/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:20:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136649 Coconut oil producers in Samoa are benefitting from a scheme to connect local organic farmers with the international market. Credit: Matias Dutto/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Coconut oil producers in Samoa are benefitting from a scheme to connect local organic farmers with the international market. Credit: Matias Dutto/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Catherine Wilson
SALELOLOGA, Samoa , Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

Rural farming families in Samoa, a small island developing state in the central South Pacific Ocean, are reaping the rewards of supplying produce to the international organic market with the help of a local women’s business organisation.

“In Samoa, we are a very blessed nation, most people have their own piece of land and we have the sea,” Kalais-Jade Stanley, programme manager for Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI), a Samoan non-government organisation dedicated to developing village economies, told IPS.

With the resources to grow food and the social safety net provided by traditional kinship obligations, people rarely go hungry. According to the World Bank, Samoa has one of the lowest food hardship rates in the region at 1.1 percent, compared to 4.5 percent in Fiji and 26.5 percent in Papua New Guinea.

Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) is working with 1,200 farming families and 600 certified organic farmers across the country, generating local incomes totalling more than 253,800 dollars per year.
But Stanley says many rural families experience a lack of economic opportunity, such as “not being able to access markets” and being “unaware of what they could potentially access” to make their livelihoods more resilient.

In Gataivai, a village of 1,400 people on Savaii, the largest island in Samoa, Faaolasa Toilolo Sione has worked the land for 40 years. Here approximately one quarter of the country’s population of 190,372 support themselves mainly by subsistence and smallholder agriculture.

In the island’s rich volcanic soil Sione grows taro, yams, bananas, cocoa and coconuts. He sells these crops at a market in the nearby town of Salelologa and from a stall located on the roadside in front of his home.

But his livelihood significantly prospered after he began working with WIBDI in 2012 to produce certified organic virgin coconut oil for international buyers.

Now Sione employs four to five workers in the organic oil-processing site on his farm, which is adding value to his coconut harvest. He produces 80 buckets, each 19 litres, of coconut oil per month, which brings in a monthly income of about 12,000 tala (5,076 dollars).

“Organic farming is not easy, but there are a lot of benefits,” Sione said. “I have more knowledge about good farming practices and a regular weekly income, which helps send the children to school and support my extended family.”

He has also purchased water tanks for the family and a new truck to transport produce. Transportation can be a major challenge for farmers. Those who don’t own vehicles frequently rely on public bus services to take their wares to buyers across the island or in the capital.

An estimated 68 percent of Samoan households are engaged in agriculture and WIBDI, which understands rural vulnerability to environmental extremes and economic barriers in the Pacific Islands, wants to see many more achieve Sione’s success.

Samoa’s economy is limited by the geographical challenges of being a small island state situated far from main markets. Located in a tropical climate zone and near the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country is also highly exposed to natural disasters.

Multiple shocks in the past 20 years, including numerous severe cyclones since the 1990s, an earthquake and tsunami in 2009, the 2008 global financial crisis and the destructive taro leaf blight pest took their toll on the agricultural sector. As a result, its contribution to the economy almost halved from 19 percent to 10 percent in the decade ending in 2009.

According to a government report prepared for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), “Raising the quality of life for all in all sectors of the economy remains the most significant challenge” for the small Polynesian state of Samoa.

WIBDI, which aims to be part of the solution, is working with 1,200 farming families and 600 certified organic farmers across the country, generating local incomes totalling more than 600,000 tala (253,800 dollars) per year.

Their hands-on approach includes providing on-going training every month to fresh produce gardeners and coconut oil producers, and conducting regular farm visits to help growers address any problems in their agricultural practice. The Ministry of Agriculture also supports organic farmers with advice on the best practices of managing land and soil without using chemicals.

WIBDI, which is organically certified by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture in Australia, further acts as a link between small local producers and the global organics market, which has the potential to provide huge benefits: the global organic food market alone is estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

“Our biggest success story would be our work with Body Shop International,” Stanley claimed. “Last year was the first year that we were able to meet demand. We sent just over 30 tonnes [to the Body Shop], which was amazing for our farmers with whom we have a fair trade relationship.”

The Samoan NGO is the international brand’s sole global supplier of certified organic virgin coconut oil, which is used in more than 60 countries and 30 different skincare products. WIBDI also exports organic dried bananas to New Zealand.

International partners are selected carefully to ensure that they are supporting not only the product, but the mission to help local rural families.

“Sharing similar values is very important to us because that helps the process of getting the farmers to where they would like to be,” Stanley said.

In contrast, the domestic market is growing slowly. Working to generate greater local support and interest in the nutritional benefits of organic fruit and vegetables, WIBDI arranges weekly deliveries direct from farmers to local customers, including about 16 local hotels and restaurants.

But for Sione on Savaii Island, in addition to monetary gains, there is also a long-term inter-generational benefit of organic farming, which requires that farming land is free of chemicals and pesticides.

“I will have healthy soil for passing my farm on to the next generation, for the future livelihood of my family,” he emphasised.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World’s Most Unequal Region Sets Example in Fight Against Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 00:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136708 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/worlds-most-unequal-region-sets-example-in-fight-against-hunger/feed/ 1 Against All the Odds: Maternity and Mortality in Afghanistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/against-all-the-odds-maternity-and-mortality-in-afghanistan/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 19:09:10 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136646 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says Afghanistan is “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child”. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Nasrin Mohamadi, a mother of four, has promised herself never to set foot in an Afghan public hospital again. After her first experience in a maternity ward, she has lost all faith in the state’s healthcare system.

“The doctors said that I had not fully dilated yet so they told me to wait in the corridor. I had to sit on the floor with some others as there wasn’t a single chair,” Mohamadi tells IPS, recalling her experience at Mazar-e Sharif hospital, 425 km northwest of Kabul.

“They finally took me into the room where three other women were waiting with their legs wide open while people came in and out. They kept me like that for an hour until I delivered without [an] anaesthetic, and not even a single towel to clean my baby or myself,” adds the 32-year-old.

“Immediately afterwards the doctors told me to leave as there were more women queuing in the corridor.”

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent." -- Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
Even after she left the hospital, Mohamadi’s ordeal was far from over. The doctors told her not to wash herself for ten days after the delivery, and as a result her stitches got infected.

“I paid between 600 and 800 dollars to give birth to my other three children after that; it was money well invested,” she says.

This is a steep price to pay in a country where the average daily income is under three dollars, and 75 percent of the population live in rural areas without easy access to health facilities.

Many women have no other option than to rely on public services, and the result speaks volumes about Afghanistan’s commitment to maternal health: some 460 deaths per 100,000 live births give the country one of the four worst maternal mortality ratios (MMR) in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

While this represents a significant decline from a peak of 1,600 deaths per 100,000 births in 2002, far too many women are still dying during pregnancy and childbirth, according to the United Nations.

In 2013 alone, 4,200 Afghan women lost their lives while giving birth.

The lack of specialised medical attention during pregnancy or delivery for a great bulk of Afghan women is partly responsible. Few have access to health centres because these are only reachable in urban areas. The lack of both security and proper roads forces many women to deliver at home.

This does not bode well for the 6.5 million women of reproductive age around the country, particularly since Afghanistan only has 3,500 midwives, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA)’s latest State of the World’s Midwifery report.

This means that the existing workforce of midwives meets only 23 percent of women’s needs. The situation is poised to worsen: UNFPA estimates that midwifery services in the country “will need to respond to 1.6 million pregnancies per annum by 2030, 73 percent of these in rural settings.”

Even women with access to top-level urban facilities, such as the Kabul-based Malalai Maternity Hospital, are not guaranteed safety and comfort.

For instance, Sultani*, a mother of four, tells IPS she is far from satisfied with her experience.

“I gave birth through caesarean section to my four children in this hospital but the doctors who attended to me were unskilled,” she remarks bluntly. “A majority of them had only completed three years of medical [school].

“On a scale of one to 10, I can only give Malalai a four,” she concludes.

Sultani’s opinion may be specific to her own experience, but it finds echo in various reports and studies of the country’s health system. A 2013 activity report by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) labeled Afghanistan “one of the riskiest places to be a pregnant woman or a young child” due to a lack of skilled female medical staff.

“Private clinics are unaffordable for most Afghans and many public hospitals are understaffed and overburdened,” reports the organisation, which runs four hospitals across the country.

“Many rural health clinics are dysfunctional, as qualified health staff have left the insecure areas, and the supply of reliable drugs and medical materials is irregular or non-existent,” continues the report.

This is a sobering analysis of a country that will need to configure its health system to cover “at least 117.8 million antenatal visits, 20.3 million births and 81.3 million post-partum/postnatal visits between 2012 and 2030”, according to UNFPA.

Given that contraceptive use is still scarce, reaching only 22 percent of reproductive-age women, large families continue to be the norm. Afghan women give birth to an average of six children, a practice fuelled by a cultural obsession with bearing at least one son, who will in turn care for his parents in their old age.

A lack of information about birth spacing means mothers seldom have time to fully recover between deliveries, causing a range of health issues for the mother and a lack of milk for the newborn child.

Findings from a 2013 survey conducted by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health indicate that only 58 percent of children below six months were exclusively breastfed.

Still, this is an improvement from a decade ago and represents small but hopeful changes in the arena of women and children’s health. The same government survey found, for instance, that “stunting among children has decreased by nearly 20 percent from 60.5 percent in 2004 to 40.9 percent in 2013.”

Dr. Nilofar Sultani, who practices at the Malalai Maternity Hospital, tells IPS that medical assistance in Afghanistan has improved “significantly” over the last ten years.

“There are more health centres, and [they are] far better equipped. The number of skilled doctors has also grown,” explains Sultani, a gynaecologist.

But the most important change, she says, has been in women’s attitude towards medical care. “Before, very few women would come to the hospitals but today, the majority of women come forward on their own. They’re slowly losing their fear [of] doctors,” notes Sultani, adding that health centres are among the very few places where Afghan women can feel at ease without the presence of a man.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Free Scotland, Nuclear-Free Scotlandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-free-scotland-nuclear-free-scotland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-free-scotland-nuclear-free-scotland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-free-scotland-nuclear-free-scotland/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:26:21 +0000 Phil Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136655 The blue and white Saltire flag of Scotland flutters next to the Union Jack during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Credit: Vicky Brock/cc by 2.0

The blue and white Saltire flag of Scotland flutters next to the Union Jack during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Credit: Vicky Brock/cc by 2.0

By Phil Harris
ROME, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

After a two-year referendum campaign, Scots are finally voting Thursday on whether their country will regain its independence after more than 300 years of “marriage” with England.

It is still uncertain whether those in favour will win the day, but whichever way the wind blows, things are unlikely to be the same – and not just in terms of political relations between London and Edinburgh.If an independent Scotland were actually to abolish nuclear weapons from its territory, the government of what remains of today’s United Kingdom would be forced to look elsewhere for places in which to host its sea-based nuclear warheads – and this will be no easy task.

One bone of contention between Scots and their “cousins” to the south of Hadrian’s Wall – built by the Romans to protect their conquests in what is now England and, according to Emperor Hadrian’s biographer, “to separate the Romans from the barbarians” to the north – is the presence on Scottish territory of part of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which supports an independent and non-nuclear Scotland, wants Scotland to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union, but rejects nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom currently has four Vanguard class submarines armed with nuclear-tipped Trident missiles based at Gare Loch on the west coast of Scotland, ostensibly there for the purpose of deterrence – but that was back in the days of the Cold War.

If an independent Scotland were actually to abolish nuclear weapons from its territory, the government of what remains of today’s United Kingdom would be forced to look elsewhere for places in which to host its sea-based nuclear warheads – and this will be no easy task.

The search would be on for another deep-water port or ports, and the UK government has already said that other potential locations in England are unacceptable because they are too close to populated areas – although that has not stopped it from placing some of its nuclear submarines and their deadly cargo  not far from Glasgow since 1969.

In any case, if those in favour of Scottish independence win, just the possibility that Scotland might even begin to consider the abolition of nuclear arms would oblige the UK government to give the nature of its commitment to nuclear weapons a major rethink.

The same would be true even if those in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom win because there would still be a not insignificant number of Scots against nuclear weapons.

Either scenario indicates that Scotland could come to play a significant role in discussions on nuclear disarmament although, clearly, this role would be all the more important as an independent nation participating in NATO, following in the footsteps of NATO member countries like Canada, Lithuania and Norway which do not allow nuclear weapons on their territory.

And what could come of NATO initiatives such as that taken at its summit in Wales earlier this month to create a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics?

As Nobel Peace Laureate Maired Maguire has said, that “is a dangerous path for us all to be forced down, and could well lead to a third world war if not stopped. What is needed now are cool heads and people of wisdom and not more guns, more weapons, more war.”

An independent Scotland could raise its voice in favour of prohibiting nuclear weapons at the global level and add to the lobby against the threats posed by the irresponsible arms brandishing of NATO.

Representatives of the SNP have said that they are ready to take an active part in humanitarian initiatives on nuclear weapons and support negotiations on an international treaty to prohibit – and not just limit the proliferation of – nuclear weapons, even without the participation of states in possession of such weapons.

What justification would then remain for these states?

Meanwhile, as Scots go to vote in their independence referendum, there is another aspect of the nuclear issue that the UK government still has to come to terms with – nuclear energy.

Scotland used to be home to six nuclear power stations. Four were closed between 1990 and 2004, but two still remain – the Hunterston B power station in North Ayrshire and the Torness power station in East Lothian – both of which are run by EDF Energy, a company with its headquarters in London.

A YouGov public opinion poll in 2013 showed that Scots are twice as likely to favour wind power over nuclear or shale gas. Over six in 10 (62 percent) people in Scotland said they would support large-scale wind projects in their local area, well more than double the number who said they would be in favour of shale gas (24 percent) and almost twice as many as for nuclear facilities (32 percent).

Hydropower was the most popular energy source for large-scale projects in Scotland, with an overwhelming majority (80 percent) in favour.

So, with a strong current among Scots in favour of ‘non-nuclear’, whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, London would be well-advised that the “barbarians” to its north could teach a lesson or two in a civilised approach to 21st century coexistence.

Phil Harris is Chief, IPS World Desk (English service). He can be contacted at pharris@ips.org

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Blue Halo: A Conservation Flagship, or Death Knell for Fishermen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blue-halo-a-conservation-flagship-or-death-knell-for-fishermen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=blue-halo-a-conservation-flagship-or-death-knell-for-fishermen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/blue-halo-a-conservation-flagship-or-death-knell-for-fishermen/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 17:54:43 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136652 Gerald Price sees a bleak future for Barbuda's fishermen under the Blue Halo initiative. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Gerald Price sees a bleak future for Barbuda's fishermen under the Blue Halo initiative. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
CODRINGTON, Barbuda, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Local fishermen are singing the blues over a sweeping set of new ocean management regulations, signed into law by the Barbuda Council, to zone their coastal waters, strengthen fisheries management, and establish a network of marine sanctuaries.

Director of the Barbuda Research Complex John Mussington has criticised the Blue Halo initiative, not for its laudable goals, but because he believes it needs a more inclusive approach that takes into account climate change and offers fishermen an alternative.“I have been in places where there is no management, like Jamaica where I spent several years, and I can say from firsthand experience that the fishers there are extraordinarily poor and they are poor because fishing has been so badly managed that there is nothing left to catch.” -- Dr. Nancy Knowlton

“I don’t think you are going to get the cooperation of the Barbuda fishermen,” he cautioned.

“I have been involved directly in conservation efforts in Barbuda since 1983, even more so from 1991, where every single project related to conservation of the resources, particularly related to fishing, I have been involved in, so when I speak concerning this matter I am speaking on that basis,” Mussington told IPS.

The regulations establish five marine sanctuaries, collectively protecting 33 percent (139 km2) of the coastal area, to enable fish populations to rebuild and habitats to recover.

To restore the coral reefs, catching parrotfish and sea urchins has been completely prohibited, as those herbivores are critical to keeping algae levels on reefs low so coral can thrive. Barbuda is the first Caribbean island to put either of these bold and important measures in place.

But Mussington said the regulations and the initiatives which have been signed onto are not likely to work for three reasons.

“One, the science on which the initiative is based is poor and once you have poor science to start off with you cannot expect to get good results,” he said.

“The second reason why it will be challenged has to do with the local government administration which has a track record of not adhering to regulations and a lack of will and capacity with respect to enforcing regulations.

“The third issue on which this initiative is going to likely fail has to do with the engagement of stakeholders. You cannot come into a community and basically engage stakeholders in a manner which essentially results in division and sidelining of persons. Things have not worked that way,” Mussington added.

Chair of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Dr. Nancy Knowlton, disagrees. She cited a recent major report based on 90 different locations around the Caribbean which clearly shows that in places where fishing is properly managed, reefs are much healthier.

“In many of these places a big part of alternative livelihoods is in fact ocean-related tourism, and in order for that to take hold you need to have a healthy ecosystem, so I am much more optimistic about the chances for the Blue Halo to be a kind of flagship for the successful management of reefs in the Caribbean,” she told IPS.

“I have been in places where there is no management, like Jamaica where I spent several years, and I can say from firsthand experience that the fishers there are extraordinarily poor and they are poor because fishing has been so badly managed that there is nothing left to catch.”

The report, which synthesised a three-year study by 90 international experts and was issued by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), had a spot of surprisingly good news.

According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, can help reefs recover and even make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

The study also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish.

These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, “all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing”.

The study is urging other countries to follow suit.

Still, according to the former president of the Antigua and Barbuda Fisherman’s Cooperative, Gerald Price, the future looks “very bleak” for Barbudan fishermen under Blue Halo.

He said the last time he checked the statistics for Barbuda, there were about 43 active fishing vessels, and each one may have three to four fishermen aboard. “What are they going to do and how are they going to make a living?” Price wondered.

“Barbuda is slightly different from Antigua in that in Antigua, our fishermen usually have an alternative. They are either a carpenter or a mason or they get work at a hotel. In Barbuda, as we understand it, they are 100 percent dependent on fishing. It’s going to be bleak, very bleak.”

Creation of the new regulations on Barbuda occurred under the umbrella of the Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative, a collaboration among the Barbuda Council, Government of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbuda Fisheries Division, Codrington Lagoon Park, and the Waitt Institute. The Waitt Institute provided all of the science, mapping, and communications, offered policy recommendations, and coordinated the overall Initiative.

“I enthusiastically applaud the measures put in place in Barbuda, particularly the protection of parrotfish and sea urchins. Protection of these vitally important herbivores is the essential first step toward the recovery of Caribbean reefs from the severe degradation they have undergone in the last 50 years,” said Jeremy Jackson, director of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) at the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Also included in the regulations is a two-year fishing hiatus for Codrington Lagoon, the primary nursery ground for the lobster and finfish fisheries. The lagoon, a Ramsar wetland of international importance, is one the Caribbean’s most extensive and intact mangrove ecosystems, and home to the world’s largest breeding colony of magnificent frigate birds.

But Mussington said having the Codrington Lagoon declared as a sanctuary zone will backfire.

“The cultural significance of that lagoon, the resources which are there and the history on which it is based in terms of providing livelihood and food security for Barbudans — you would understand that making such a declaration is counterproductive,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Panama Turns to Biofortification of Crops to Build Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/panama-turns-to-biofortification-of-crops-to-build-food-security/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 13:40:54 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136650 Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Vicente Castrellón proudly shows his biofortified rice crop. The 69-year-old farmer provides technical advice to other farmers participating in the Agro Nutre programme in the central Panamanian district of Olá. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
PANAMA CITY, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

Panama is the first Latin American country to have adopted a national strategy to combat what is known as hidden hunger, with a plan aimed at eliminating micronutrient deficiencies among the most vulnerable segments of the population by means of biofortification of food crops.

The project began to get underway in 2006 and took full shape in August 2013, when the government launched the Agro Nutre Panamá programme, which coordinates the improvement of food quality among the poor, who are concentrated in rural and indigenous areas, by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, told IPS. Panama has pockets of poverty with high levels of micronutrient deficiencies, he explained.

In 2006 research began here into biofortification of maize; two years later beans were added to the programme; and in 2009 the research incorporated rice and sweet potatoes, as part of a plan that is backed by the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation.“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus." -- Vicente Castrellón

Panama’s Agricultural Research Institute and academic institutions are involved in Agro Nutre, which has the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Brazil’sn governmental agricultural research agency, Embrapa.

Some 4,000 of the country’s 48,000 subsistence level or family farmers are taking part in the current phase, planting biofortified seeds.

Adding micronutrients to staple foods in the Panamanian diet became a state policy in 2009. So far, five varieties of maize, four of rice and two of beans, all of them conventionally improved and with a high protein content, have been produced experimentally and approved for release.

“The project began in rural areas, because that is where the extreme poverty is, and where farmers produce for subsistence,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

She added that in this phase, “the commercialisation of these foods is not being considered – the aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers.”

According to Vergara, the biggest hurdle for the expansion and growth of Agro Nutre is the lack of research infrastructure.

“The project is focused on vulnerable populations. Academic institutions will carry out impact studies, but they haven’t yet begun to do so because the studies are very costly,” said the engineer, who sees the lack of research facilities as the weak point of the project.

According to figures from Agro Nutre, of the 3.5 million people in this Central American country, one million live in rural areas. And of the rural population, half live in poverty and 22 percent in extreme poverty.

But the worst poverty in Panama is found among the 300,000 indigenous people who live in five counties, 90 percent of whom are poor.

Beans and rice in Olá

Isidra González, a 54-year-old small farmer, had never heard of improving the nutritional quality of food with micronutrients until she and her oldest son began five years ago to plant biofortified seeds on their small plot of land in the community of Hijos de Dios in the district of Olá, which is in the central province of Coclé.

Now the 70 families in that village next to the only road in the area produce biofortified crops: beans on small plots climbing tropical lush green hills and rice on nearby floodable land.

“I think these seeds are better and produce more. They grow with just half the amount of water,” González, who has been involved in the project since the experimental phase, told IPS. “People like these crops because they have more flavour and are really good – my kids eat our rice and beans with enthusiasm, you can tell,” she added, laughing.

Vicente Castrellón, a 69-year-old local farmer, plants improved seeds and became a community trainer to help farmers in the district.

“We are producing three harvests a year, I provide technical support for other farmers. For now it’s for family consumption, but some grow more than they need and earn a little money selling the surplus,” he told IPS.

“Life here is very expensive for farmers like us,” Castrellón said in Hijos de Díos, which is 250 km from Panama City, over three hours away by car.

He added that it was not easy for the families in Olá to switch over to biofortified seeds. “It took nearly a year to get them to join Agro Nutre,” he said. “But now people are excited because for every 10 pounds that are planted, they grow 100 to 200 pounds of grains,” he added, proudly pointing to the rice plants on his plot of land.

The inclusion of the fourth crop, sweet potatoes (Imopeas batata), was a strategic move, researcher Arnulfo Gutiérrez explained.

The sweet potato, which had nearly disappeared from the Panamanian diet, is the world’s fifth-largest crop in term of production and FAO is promoting its expansion worldwide. The incorporation of sweet potatoes in Panama has the aim of boosting consumption and in 2015 two or three improved varieties are to be released.

Luis Alberto Pinto, a FAO consultant, forms part of the Agro Nutre administrative committee and is the national technical coordinator in the first two indigenous counties where improved seeds are being used, Gnäbe Bugle and Guna Yala.


“We are working in four pilot communities,” he told IPS. “In Gnäbe Bugle we are working with 129 farmers in Cerro Mosquito and Chichica, and in Guna Yala we are working with 50 farmers on islands along the Caribbean coast.

“We work in accordance with their customs and cultures, incorporating these products in a manner that can be sustained in time,” Pinto said. “Our hope is to expand the project to all of the indigenous counties.”

Besides science and production, the project requires constant lobbying of legislators and government ministries, to keep alive the political commitment to biofortification as a state policy.

Eyra Mojica, WFP representative in Panama, told IPS it now seems normal to her to walk down the corridors of parliament and visit the offices of high-level ministry officials.

“We have worked in advocacy with legislators, directors, ministers and new authorities,” she said. “The issue of food security is so complex. The WFP has become the main support for supplying information on nutrition to the authorities. There is a great deal of ignorance.”

By 2015, the WFP hopes to introduce cassava and summer squash as new biofortified crops.

“We want to have a basket of seven biofortified foods,” Mojica said. “The idea is to move forward by incorporating small groups, of women farmers for example. We are also looking into working with the school lunch programme, starting next year.”

Biofortification of staple foods with micronutrients, to reduce hidden hunger, was developed by HarvestPlus, a programme coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Bank Tribunal Weighs Final Arguments in El Salvador Mining Disputehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/world-bank-tribunal-weighs-final-arguments-in-el-salvador-mining-dispute/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 00:05:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136639 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

A multilateral arbitration panel here began final hearings Monday in a contentious and long-running dispute between an international mining company and the government of El Salvador.

An Australian mining company, OceanaGold, is suing the Salvadoran government for refusing to grant it a gold-mining permit that has been pending for much of the past decade. El Salvador, meanwhile, cites national laws and policies aimed at safeguarding human and environmental health, and says the project would threaten the country’s water supply.“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences." -- Father Eric Lopez

The country also claims that OceanaGold has failed to comply with basic requirements for any gold-mining permitting. Further, in 2012, El Salvador announced that it would continue a moratorium on all mining projects in the country.

Yet using a controversial provision in a free trade agreement, OceanaGold has been able to sue El Salvador for profits – more than 300 million dollars – that the company says it would have made at the goldmine. The case is being heard before the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an obscure tribunal housed in the Washington offices of the World Bank Group.

“The case threatens the sovereignty and self-determination” of El Salvador’s people, Hector Berrios, coordinator of MUFRAS-32, a member of the Salvadoran National Roundtable against Metallic Mining, said Monday in a statement. “The majority of the population has spoken out against this project and [has given its] priority to water.”

The OceanaGold project would involve a leaching process to recover small amounts of gold, using cyanide and, critics say, tremendous amounts of water. Those plans have made local communities anxious: the United Nations has already found that some 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated.

On Monday, a hundred demonstrators rallied in front of the World Bank building, both to show solidarity with El Salvador against OceanaGold and to express their scepticism of the ICSID process more generally. The events coincided with El Salvador’s Independence Day.

“We’re celebrating independence but what we’re really celebrating is dignity and the ability of every person to enjoy a good life, not only a few,” Father Eric Lopez, a Franciscan friar at a Washington-area church that caters to a sizable Salvadoran community, told IPS at the demonstration.

“This mining process would use some really poisonous substances – cyanide, arsenic – that would destroy the environment. Ultimately, the people suffer the consequences: they remain poor, they are sick, women’s pregnancies suffer.”

Provoking unrest?

The case’s jurisdictions are complicated and, for some, underscore the tenuousness of the ICSID’s arbitration process around the Salvador project.

It was another mining company, the Canada-based Pacific Rim, that originally discovered a potentially lucrative minerals deposit along the Lempa River in 2002. The business-friendly Salvadoran government at the time (since voted out of power) reportedly encouraged the company to apply for a permit, though public concern bogged down that process.

Frustrated by this turn of events, Pacific Rim filed a lawsuit against El Salvador under a provision of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) that allowed companies to sue governments for impinging on their profits. While Canada, Pacific Rim’s home country, is not a member of DR-CAFTA, in 2009 the company created a subsidiary in the United States, which is.

In 2012, ICSID ruled that the lawsuit could continue, pointing to a provision in El Salvador’s investment law. The country’s laws have since been altered to prevent companies from circumventing the national judicial system in favour of extra-national arbiters like ICSID.

Last year, OceanaGold purchased Pacific Rim, despite the latter’s primary asset being the El Salvador gold-mining project, which has never been allowed to go forward. Although OceanaGold did not respond to a request for comment for this story, last year the company noted that it would continue with the arbitration case while also seeking “a negotiated resolution to the … permitting impasse”.

For its part, the Salvadoran government says it has halted the permitting process not only over environmental and health concerns but also over procedural matters. While these include Pacific Rim’s failure to abide by certain reporting requirements, the company also appears not to have gained important local approvals.

Under Salvadoran law, an extractive company needs to gain titles, or local permission, for any lands it wants to develop. Yet Pacific Rim had such access to just 13 percent of the lands covered by its proposal, according to Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group.

Given this lack of community support in a country with recent history of civil unrest, some warn that an ICSID decision in OceanaGold’s favour could result in violence.

“This mining project was re-opening a lot of the wounds that existed during the civil war, and telling a country that they have to provoke a civil conflict in order to satisfy investors is very troublesome,” Luke Danielson, a researcher and academic who studies social conflict around natural resource development, told IPS.

“The tribunal system exists to allow two interests to express themselves – the national government and the investor. But neither of these speak for communities, and that’s a fundamental problem.”

Wary of litigation

Bilateral and regional investment treaties such as DR-CAFTA have seen massive expansion in recent years. And increasingly, many of these include so-called “investor-state” resolution clauses of the type being used in the El Salvador case.

Currently some 2,700 agreements internationally have such clauses, ICSID reports. Meanwhile, although the tribunal has existed since the 1960s, its relevance has increased dramatically in recent years, mirroring the rise in investor-state clauses.

ISCID itself doesn’t decide on how to resolve such disputes. Rather, it offers a framework under which cases are heard by three external arbiters – one appointed by the investor, one by the state and one by both parties.

Yet outside of the World Bank headquarters on Monday, protesters expressed deep scepticism about the highly opaque ISCID process. Several said that past experience has suggested the tribunal is deeply skewed in favour of investors.

“This is a completely closed-door process, and this has meant that the tribunal can basically do whatever it wants,” Carla Garcia Zendejas director of the People, Land & Resources program at the Center for International Environmental Law, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Thus far, we have no examples of cases in which this body responded in favour of communities or reacted to basic human rights violations or basic environmental and social impact.”

Zendejas says the rise in investor-state lawsuits in recent years has resulted in many governments, particularly in developing countries, choosing to acquiesce in the face of corporate demand. Litigation is not only cumbersome but extremely expensive.

“Governments are increasingly wary of being sued, and therefore are more willing to accept and change polices or to ignore their own policies, even if there’s community opposition,” she says.

“Certain projects have seen resistance, but political pressure often depends on who’s in power. Unfortunately, the incorrect view that the only way for development to take place is through foreign investment is still very engrained in many of the powers that be.”

While there is no public timeframe for ISCID resolution on the El Salvador case, a decision is expected by the end of the year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Declining Majority Still Supports “Active” U.S. Role in World Affairshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 23:40:22 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136636 Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite elite concerns about growing “isolationism” in the U.S. electorate, nearly six in 10 citizens believe Washington should “take an active part in world affairs,” according to the latest in a biennial series of major surveys of U.S. foreign-policy attitudes.

Nonetheless, the number of citizens who believe that the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs” is clearly on the rise, according to the survey, which was conducted in May by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and released here Monday.It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading." -- Chicago Council President Ivo Daalder

Forty-one percent – the highest percentage since World War II — of the more than 2,000 adults polled chose the “stay-out” option, including 40 percent of self-identified Republicans and 48 percent of independents.

“For the first time ever, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the U.S. should stay out of world affairs,” said Dina Smeltz, the Council’s chief pollster and co-author of an accompanying report, “Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment”. She noted that the proportion of Republicans who say they want the U.S. to stay out of world affairs has nearly doubled since 2006.

Nonetheless, her co-author, Council president Ivo Daalder, insisted that the public was not turning away from global engagement. “It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading,” he said.

“They understand that we live in a dangerous world and that our safety and security will at times require a resort to arms. When that clearly is the case, Americans will support using force,” according to Daalder, who served U.S. ambassador to NATO during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Indeed, the survey suggested the public accords a high priority to military power.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they believed current defence spending – which makes up almost 40 percent of the world’s total military expenditures – should remain the same or be increased, and nearly six in 10 (71 percent) said they want to maintain or increase the number of as many long-term U.S. bases overseas as there are now, the highest level ever recorded since the Council first asked the question in 1974.

More than half (52 percent) said “maintaining U.S. superior military power” was a “very important” foreign policy goal – lower than the 68 percent who took that position in 2002, but on a par with the findings of the mid-1990’s.

In addition, 69 percent said they would favour military action, including the use of U.S. troops, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although support for military engagement was considerably less strong (around 45 percent) for other specific cases, such as defending Israel or South Korea against attack or even the Baltic states – despite their NATO membership — against a Russian invasion.

In other findings, the Council’s survey, which has long been considered among the most authoritative on U.S. foreign policy attitudes, found that, by a margin of more than three to one (77 to 23 percent), respondents believe that economic power is more important than military power; and that public support for economic globalisation – particularly among Democrats – has reached a record high.

It also found that that about four in 10 respondents believe China poses a “critical threat” to the U.S. That was down substantially from the mid-50-percent range that prevailed during the 1990s until 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

At the same time, anti-Russian sentiment has returned to Cold-War levels, according to Daalder, who noted the poll was conducted when Russian actions against Crimea dominated the headlines.

The new survey’s release comes amidst renewed concerns here over the threat posed by Islamist extremism, as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose sweep from its stronghold in eastern Syria into central and northern Iraq earlier this summer triggered the first direct intervention by U.S. military forces in Iraq since 2011.

Several major polls released over the last two weeks – and especially following the video-taped beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. reporters — have shown strong public support for U.S. air strikes against ISIS, particularly among Republicans who, as the Council’s survey demonstrated, had previously appeared increasingly divided between its dominant interventionist wing and an ascendant libertarian faction led by Kentucky Sen. Ron Paul.

But the current rallying behind military action may be short-lived, according to Daalder. “It would be a mistake to think that the current public mood will last forever,” he cautioned. “That support [for military action] is highly conditional … on success.”

Nonetheless, the Council’s survey found strong support for air strikes against alleged terrorists already in May when respondents were interviewed.

Seven in 10 respondents said they supported air strikes against terrorist training camps and other facilities, as well as the assassination of terrorist leaders. And 56 percent said they supported attacks by U.S. ground troops against terrorist targets.

The notion that the public has become increasingly isolationist has been stoked by a series of surveys over the past year, notably a Pew Research Center poll from last year that, for the first time, found a majority (52 percent) of respondents who agreed with the proposition that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best then can on their own.”

But that finding was not surprising to Steven Kull, long-time director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), who sees it as an expression of public frustration with a “leadership [that] is more invested in American [global dominance] than most Americans are,” especially in the wake of Washington’s experience in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It may also help explain the sharp rise in the percentage of Republicans who now believe the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs.”

In 2007, 85 percent and 73 percent of Republicans said the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, were worth fighting. Seven years later, the respective percentages have fallen to 34 percent and 40 percent. Independents and Democrats, by contrast, have been consistently more sceptical about both wars.

The Council poll also found a more general convergence in foreign-policy views between members of the two parties, particularly with respect to their approaches to China, Iran, and Syria, although Republicans tended to be more hawkish on the use of force, while Democrats were more likely to favour more U.S. support for the U.N. and peacekeeping activities.

The sharpest partisan differences, on the other hand, were on immigration and U.S. policy in the Middle East, with Republicans consistently showing more support for Israel.

Asked to choose among 18 possible “critical threats” against the U.S., cyber-warfare was cited most often (69 percent), followed by “international terrorism” (63 percent), “the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers” (50 percent), and “Iran’s nuclear program” (58 percent).

Among 15 possible “very important” foreign-policy goals, about three of four respondents cited protecting U.S. jobs, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

“Helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” was the least favoured; only 17 percent of respondents cited that as a “very important goal.” That was half the level recorded in 2002 — after Washington succeeded in ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan and just before its invasion of Iraq.

Asked what circumstances might justify using U.S. troops abroad, 71 percent of respondents cited “to deal with humanitarian crises” and “to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people.” Sixty-nine percent cited “to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Fifty-four percent cited “to ensure the oil supply.”

Strengthening the United Nations has declined as a “very important goal” for U.S. foreign policy from a high of 57 percent in 2002 to 37 percent in this year’s survey. Half of Democrats rated it as a “very important goal,” but only 27 percent of Republicans agreed.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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