Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 28 Nov 2014 19:19:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Elections Offer Little Solace to Sri Lanka’s Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:19:49 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137995 Sri Lanka is gripped by election fever, but the impoverished majority fears that the presidential race will not ease their financial hardships. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka is gripped by election fever, but the impoverished majority fears that the presidential race will not ease their financial hardships. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 28 2014 (IPS)

Priyantha Wakvitta is used to seeing his adopted city, Colombo, transform into a landscape of bright sparkling lights and window dressing towards the end of the year.

This year, he says, he is having a double dose of visual stimulation, with publicity materials for the January Presidential Election competing with Christmas décor at every turn.

Though the presidential race could shape up to be a close one, there is no competition over which event will take Colombo by storm: political propaganda is drowning out the festive mood on every street corner.

“[Politicians] are spending millions just to get their faces all over the city, while I am struggling to keep my family fed and my children in school." -- Priyantha Wakvitta, a 50-year-old bread seller in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo
Four days after the elections were announced on Nov. 21, at least 1,800 cutouts of the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had been deployed within the limits of the Colombo Municipality, according to national election monitors with the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE).

Head of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Rajapaksa has enjoyed massive support around the country for his role in decimating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, thus bringing an end to nearly three decades of civil war in 2009.

But as the post-war years revealed themselves as a time of hardship of a very different nature – economic rather than political – his popularity has waned.

His main challenger in the presidential race, Maithripala Sirisena, was until recently the general secretary of Rajapaksa’s own political party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Last week Sirisena stepped out of government and into the role of Rajapaksa’s contender as the common opposition candidate.

The election is turning out to be a keen contest; already there have been eight defections from the ruling coalition’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), while the powerful nationalist party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya, once the government’s staunch ally, has declared its opposition to the Rajapaksas.

The poster campaign around the capital city and throughout the country is a bid to win hearts and minds, but the beaming cutouts of politicians have left people like Wakvitta at best annoyed, at worst disgusted.

“They are spending millions just to get their faces all over the city, while I am struggling to keep my family fed and my children in school,” said the 50-year-old father of two, originally from the southern district of Galle, but self employed in the capital for the last decade.

Wakvitta is an enterprising man. He runs his own small bakery in a Colombo suburb and makes a living by distributing bread to households. He used to make a profit of around 30,000 rupees, or roughly 250 dollars, a month. But that figure has been going down steadily over the last year.

He tried to branch out to a small vegetable business earlier this year, but burnt his hands and lost his 100,000-rupee investment, the equivalent of about 700 dollars, no small sum in a country where the average annual income is about 550,000 rupees or 4,100 dollars.

“People don’t have money, they are finding it hard to make ends meet,” Wakvitta said.

Though Sri Lanka has maintained an impressive economic growth rate of 7.5 percent and the Rajapaksa government has a string of high-profile infrastructure projects under its belt, including a new seaport and airport, low-income earners say they are struggling to survive.

The national poverty rate is 6.7 percent but most rural areas report higher figures. In Wakvitta’s native Galle District it is 9.9 percent, in the south-central district of Moneragala it is 20.8 percent and in Rathnapura, capital of the southwestern Sabaragamuwa Province, it is 10.4 percent, according to government data.

The problems the poor face are multi-faceted; while wages have remained static, basic commodities have quietly increased in price. Most significant among them has been the upward trend in the cost of rice, a dietary staple here.

Fueled by an 11-month drought that has caused a loss of almost a third of the planted area, the 2014 rice harvest is expected to be at least 20 percent less than last year’s four million metric tons, and a six-year low.

Rice prices have risen 33 percent according to the World Food Programme (WFP), and vegetable and fish prices have also shown periodic upward movement primarily due to inclement weather.

Token gestures or sound economic policies?

Cognizant of the hardships faced by the Sri Lankan masses, political parties across the spectrum frequently use the election run-up to promise the earth to the average voter – from subsidies to assistance packages – pledging to make life easier for those who form the majority of the electorate.

But Ajith Dissanayake, who is from the southern Galle District and makes a living from paddy cultivation, says that token gestures will not do.

“Election handouts will not work, there needs to be some kind of concerted plan to help the poor,” he told IPS.

In the northern regions of the country, where the population is still trying to shake off the residual nightmare of nearly 30 years of civil war, the situation is even worse.

The conflict ended in May 2009, and since then the government has injected over three billion dollars into the reconstruction effort in the Northern Province, largely for major infrastructure projects.

But the region is mired in abject poverty. The Mullaithivu District, which witnessed the last bloody battles in the protracted conflict between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE over five years ago, is the poorest in the nation, with a poverty ratio of 28.3 percent.

The adjoining Kilinochchi District has a recorded poverty headcount of 12.7 percent.

“It is very difficult, it is like we are fighting another conflict: this time with poverty,” said Thiyagarasa Chandirakumar, a 38-year-old disabled father of two from Oddusuddan, a small village located deep inside Mullaithivu.

He told IPS that despite new electrification programmes, many in his village are still waiting for the supply to light up their homes.

“Most of us don’t have the money to get new connections, we don’t even have money sometimes to take a bus,” explained Chandirakumar, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a wartime injury.

Both Wakvitta and Chandirakumar have simple requests from the candidates standing for the highest office in the country: “Make sure our lives are better off than they were before,” Wakvitta said.

That request, however, is unlikely to be realised any time soon. News of the snap election, coupled with the surprise announcement this past week of a common opposition candidate, has thrown the country into a period of uncertainly, at least in the short term.

Two days after elections were announced, the Colombo Stock Market took a nose-dive, with the All Share Price Index falling by 2.3 percent on Monday, Nov. 24 – the worst slide since August 2013.

Analysts say that investors are likely to hold off for the time being, with long-term policy measures also taking a back seat to what promises to be a fierce contest.

“Investors – whether local or foreign – like certainty,” Anushka Wijesinha, an economist with the national think-tank the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.

“Policy and political certainty have been established fairly well over the last few years and any disruption to this would no doubt be viewed negatively by investors. So, the recent political developments will be watched closely,” he added.

Wijesinha also said that elections should be more about long term policies than about handouts aimed at wining votes.

“This calls for a shift from the heavy focus on subsidies, welfare payments, and other generous transfers for rural populations – which may help alleviate poverty in the short term – to improving skills, productivity and access to new economic opportunities, which help raise living standards on a more sustained basis,” he said.

Despite the end of the war ushering in renewed hopes of development, income disparities have stubbornly persisted. According to government data, the country’s richest 20 percent still enjoy close to half of the nation’s income, while the poorest 20 percent only share five percent of national wealth among them.

For those like Wakvitta and Chandirakumar, the future looks bleak, with or without elections. Both know for sure that in the short term nothing much will change for the better.

“Hopefully whoever becomes the next president will take the bold steps needed to help people like me,” Wakvitta said as he sped away on his motorbike, looking for his next customer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Indigenous Community Beats Drought and Malnutrition in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/indigenous-community-beats-drought-and-malnutrition-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-community-beats-drought-and-malnutrition-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/indigenous-community-beats-drought-and-malnutrition-in-honduras/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:02:20 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137993 The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PUEBLO NUEVO, Honduras , Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

In the heart of the Pijol mountains in the northern Honduran province of Yoro, the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo has a lot to celebrate: famine is no longer a problem for them, and their youngest children were rescued from the grip of child malnutrition.

The Tolupan indigenous people in Pueblo Nuevo are no longer suffering from the drought that hit much of the country this year, severely affecting the production of staple crops like beans and maize, as a result of climate change and the global El Niño weather phenomenon.

For the last two years, the Tolupan of Pueblo Nuevo have had food reserves that they store in a community warehouse. The “black Junes” are a thing of the past, the villagers told this IPS reporter who spent a day with them.

“From June to August, things were always really hard, we didn’t have enough food, we had to eat roots. It was a time of subsistence, we always said: black June is on its way,” said the leader of the tribe, 27-year-old Tomás Cruz, a schoolteacher.“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage - that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us.” -- Estanisla Reyes

“But today we can smile and say: black June is gone. Now we have food for our children, who had serious malnutrition problems here because there wasn’t enough food,” he added.

The transformation was brought about with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), with funding from Canada. The programme employs proven technologies such as improved crop varieties and low-cost irrigation and drainage systems to bolster food security and nutrition in critical areas.

An assessment by the SPFS identified serious malnutrition problems in 73 of Honduras’ 298 municipalities.

Pueblo Nuevo and six other Tolupan communities in the municipality of Victoria in Yoro were among the villages with severe nutritional and food security problems.

In the seven tribes, as the Tolupan refer to their settlements, 217 cases of malnutrition were detected among children under five. The other six communities are El Comunal, San Juancito, Piedra Blanca, Guanchías, El Portillo and Buenos Aires.

But Pueblo Nuevo was the model community, because in two years it managed to eliminate malnutrition among its children. Pueblo Nuevo, home to 750 people, is a new settlement created after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, claiming 20,000 lives and causing severe damage to infrastructure and the economy.

According to official figures, one out of four children under five in Honduras suffers from chronic malnutrition, equivalent to 240,000 of the over 800,000 children under five in this country of 8.4 million people.

The population of the country is 90 percent mestizo or mixed-race, two percent white, three percent Garifuna and six percent indigenous, according to official statistics.

Becoming a model community

César Alfaro, the SPFS-FAO expert working in the area, told IPS that Pueblo Nuevo’s experience was a success because the tribe understood that they had to change their way of life, implementing good practices in cropping, hygiene and food security.

The villagers, for their part, said Alfaro’s support was key to the community’s transformation.

“When we got here [to Pueblo Nuevo] nobody wanted to come,” Alfaro said. “The teachers said they couldn’t hold a celebration because there was manure everywhere. The indigenous villagers lived in chaos, they slept with the livestock in the middle of all the filth.”

But Pueblo Nuevo is now a clean village, the locals have improved their wattle- and-daub huts, the walls are shiny and white, they divided their living spaces with the animals on one side and the kitchen with ecological stoves on the other, and they even have separate bedrooms.

Located 200 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa, the village is an example of teamwork. Each indigenous hut now has a family garden, a chicken coop, and clean water, purified at a treatment plant run by the community.

The malnourished children were put on good diets, under close medical supervision, and their parents now have basic knowledge and awareness about food, nutrition and the environment, which they are proud to talk about.

One of the mothers, Estanisla Reyes, 37, told IPS that her five-year-old daughter Angeline Nicole, the youngest of her three children, had malnutrition problems in the past.

“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage – that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us,” she said, smiling.

She and her husband built the walls of their new kitchen, which forms part of the house, unlike their old kitchen, working 12 hours a day for 15 days. “My husband made the mix, and I brought the water, and polished the walls – many families worked like that,” she said proudly.

Another mother, Adela Maradiaga, said “our lives changed. I came in as a volunteer because I’m from another tribe. I was surprised when I found out that my daughter was also malnourished. Then the Pueblo Nuevo tribe accepted me, and with the food we grow in our garden, our children are nourished and we are too.” She added that her children no longer have stomach troubles or a cough.

In Pueblo Nuevo they are also proud that they don’t have to hire themselves out to work, or sell their livestock to ranchers or merchants in the area to eat. “We used to pawn our things, but now we sell them maize, beans, fruit and avocados,” said Narciso “Chicho” Garay.

The tribe no longer uses the slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, and they now use organic fertiliser and recycle their garbage. They have a community savings fund where they deposit part of their earnings, which has made it possible to have clean drinking water and provisions.

They managed to improve the yield per hectare of beans from 600 to 1,800 kg, and of maize from 900 to 3,000 kg, and now they know that a family of six needs 2,400 to 2,800 kg of maize a year, for example.

Sandro Martínez, the mayor of Victoria, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the changes in Pueblo Nuevo, because he was born and grew up near the Tolupan indigenous people and did not hesitate to ask FAO to bring its food security programme to the native villages.

“A famine in those villages in 2010 prompted me to look for help, and we found it. It wasn’t easy to start working with the Tolupan community; the success lies in respecting their way of government represented by the leader of the tribe, as well as their cosmovision. Now they say they’re rich because they no longer have to work for a boss,” he told IPS.

There are seven indigenous groups in Honduras: the Lenca, Pech, Tolupan, Chorti, Tawahka and Misquito, besides the Garífunas, who are the descendants of slaves intermixed with native populations. The Tolupan number 18,000 divided into 31 tribes, governed by a chief who leads a council that makes the decisions.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Democratising the Fight against Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/democratising-the-fight-against-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democratising-the-fight-against-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/democratising-the-fight-against-malnutrition/#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:07:43 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137956 Women play an important role in guaranteeing sufficient food supply for their families. They are among the stakeholders whose voice needs to be heard in the debate on nutrition. Credit: FIAN International

Women play an important role in guaranteeing sufficient food supply for their families. They are among the stakeholders whose voice needs to be heard in the debate on nutrition. Credit: FIAN International

By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

There is a new dimension to the issue of malnutrition – governments, civil society and the private sector have started to come together around a common nutrition agenda.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the launch of the “Zero Hunger Challenge” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June 2012 opened the way for new stakeholders to work together in tackling malnutrition.

These new stakeholders include civil society organisations and their presence was felt at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) held from Nov. 19 to 21 in Rome."Malnutrition can only be addressed “in the context of vibrant and flourishing local food systems that are deeply ecologically rooted, environmentally sound and culturally and socially appropriate … food sovereignty is a fundamental precondition to ensure food security and guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition” – Declaration of the Civil Society Organisations’ Forum to ICN2

More than half of the world’s population is adversely affected by malnutrition according to FAO. Worldwide, 200 million children suffer from under-nutrition while two billion women and children suffer from anaemia and other types of nutrition deficiencies.

Addressing ICN2, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said that “the time is now for bold action to shoulder the challenge of Zero Hunger and ensure adequate nutrition for all.” More than 20 years after the first Conference on Nutrition (ICN), held in 1992, ICN2 marked “the beginning of our renewed effort,” he added.

But the difference this time was that the private sector and civil society organisations were included in ICN2 and the process leading to it, from web consultations and pre-conference events to roundtables, plenary and side events.

“This civil society meeting is historical,” said Flavio Valente, Secretary-General of FIAN International, an organisation advocating for the right to adequate food. “It is the first time that civil society constituencies have worked with FAO, WHO and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to discuss nutrition.”

This gave the opportunity to social movements, “including a vast array of stakeholders such as peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, pastoralists, landless people and urban poor to have their voices heard and be able to discuss with NGOs, academics and nutritionists,” Valente explained.

According to a Concept Note on the participation of non-State actors in ICN2, evidence shows that encouraging participants enables greater transparency, inclusion and plurality in policy discussion, which leads to a greater sense of ownership and consensus.

As such, “the preparation for the ICN2 was a first step in building alliances between civil society organisations (CSOs)  and social movements involved in working with food, nutrition, health and agriculture,” Valente told IPS.

This means that “governments have already started to listen to our joint demands and proposals, in particular those related to the governance of food and nutrition,” he explained.

A powerful Declaration submitted by the CSO Forum on the final day of ICN2 called for a commitment to “developing a coherent, accountable and participatory governance mechanism, safeguarded against undue corporate influence … based on principles of human rights, social justice, transparency and democracy, and directly engaging civil society, in particular the populations and communities which are most affected by different forms of malnutrition.”

According to Valente, malnutrition is the result of political decisions and public policies that do not guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.

In this context, the CSOs stated that “food is the expression of values, cultures, social relations and people’s self-determination, and … the act of feeding oneself and others embodies our sovereignty, ownership and empowerment.”

Malnutrition, they said, can only be addressed “in the context of vibrant and flourishing local food systems that are deeply ecologically rooted, environmentally sound and culturally and socially appropriate. We are convinced that food sovereignty is a fundamental precondition to ensure food security and guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.”

At a high-level meeting in April last year on the United Nations’ vision for a post-2015 strategy against world hunger, the FAO Director-General said that since the world produces enough food to feed everyone, emphasis needs to be placed on access to food and to adequate nutrition at the local level. “We need food systems to be more efficient and equitable,” he said.

However, Valente told IPS that CSOs believe that one of the main obstacles to making progress in terms of addressing nutrition-related problems “has been the refusal of States to recognise several of the root causes of malnutrition in all its forms.”

“This makes it very difficult to elaborate global and national public policies that effectively tackle the structural issues and therefore could be able to not only treat but also prevent new cases of malnutrition.”

What needs to be addressed, he said, are not only the “symptoms of malnutrition”, but also resource grabbing, the unsustainable dominant food system, the agro-industrial model and bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that significantly limit the policy space of national governments on food and nutrition-related issues.

But, according to Valente, “things are changing” – civil society organisations have organised around food and nutrition issues, the food sovereignty movement has grown in resistance since the 1980s and societies are now demanding action from their governments in an organised way.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Shale Oil Threatens the High Prices Enjoyed by OPEChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/shale-oil-threatens-the-high-prices-enjoyed-by-opec/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shale-oil-threatens-the-high-prices-enjoyed-by-opec http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/shale-oil-threatens-the-high-prices-enjoyed-by-opec/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 21:10:05 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137983 Ranking of recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, which have revolutionised the global map of fossil fuels. Credit: ProfesionalMovil

Ranking of recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, which have revolutionised the global map of fossil fuels. Credit: ProfesionalMovil

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Shale fever and the political chess among major oil producers and consumers have put OPEC in one of the most difficult junctures in its 54 years of history.

“OPEC was spoiled for several years by high prices of around 100 dollars a barrel,” Elie Habalián, a former Venezuelan OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) governor, told IPS. “If it had had the foresight to keep prices down to around 70 dollars a barrel, shale oil would not have begun to pose such stiff competition.”

The 12-member group – made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela – may agree to cut output, which would entail sacrificing markets, during its Nov. 27 ministerial meeting in Vienna – the 166th held since the organisation was founded in September 1960.

Oil prices, which climbed after 2003 to over 140 dollars a barrel in 2008, plunged as a result of the global financial crisis that broke out that year, but recovered this decade and have remained at around 100 dollars a barrel.

In the meantime, the production of unconventional oil and gas began to expand in the United States. Shale, a common type of sedimentary rock made up largely of compacted silt and clay, is an unconventional source of natural gas and oil, which is trapped in shale formations and recovered by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.

“Fracking” involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock to release the natural gas and oil on a massive scale.

With the technology and capital available in the 20th century, these unconventional resources were not recoverable.

Habalián pointed out that after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, “the West and Japan adopted a strategy to achieve a stable market under their control rather than under that of the exporting countries.”

That strategy has run into surprises. For example, 40 years ago no one foresaw that China, along with India and other emerging powers, would become a fast-growing economy with a voracious appetite for fossil fuels, which gave a boost to producers of oil and gas.

“But with the high prices, while the exporters financed geopolitical campaigns, like the conflicts in the Middle East or the influence of Venezuela in Latin America under the presidency of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), the big corporations were investing in technology and new areas of business,” said Habalián.

The shale boom “has merely accelerated the results of that permanent strategy by the West. Shale oil is here to stay, the price will drop as the technology advances, and that will bring down the prices of, and set a cap on, OPEC’s oil,” the expert said.

Map of proven global reserves of conventional oil, where new actors have also reduced OPEC’s grip. Credit: Fastcompany.com

Map of proven global reserves of conventional oil, where new actors have also reduced OPEC’s grip. Credit: Fastcompany.com

Fracking is a costly procedure that requires high crude prices to make it profitable. It is also criticised for its environmental effects, as it involves consumption of enormous amounts of water and the creation of cracks in the rocks deep below the surface, with consequences that have yet to be determined.

Shale oil is already a major actor in the global energy market, with daily output of 3.5 million barrels, mainly in the United States, which recently overtook Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil producer, with more than nine million barrels a day.

For decades Saudi Arabia was the biggest producer and the de facto leader of OPEC, because to its production of nearly 10 million barrels a day is added a spare production capacity of two million barrels which has enabled it to increase or reduce output in periods of market scarcity or abundance.

The market, of some 91 million barrels consumed daily, of which OPEC contributes one-third, is showing signs of being oversupplied because of the rising offer of shale oil, Europe’s fragile economic recovery, and the slowdown of emerging economies, from China to Brazil.

Crude oil is about 30 percent cheaper than one year ago. The European benchmark North Sea Brent stands at 80 dollars a barrel, compared to 110 dollars a barrel at the close of 2013. The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate is trading at 75 dollars a barrel, and Venezuela’s dense cocktail at less than 70 dollars a barrel, down from a high of more than 100 dollars a barrel.

Saudi Arabia “appears determined to respond aggressively in defence of its market share, even if that means lower prices for a few years,” Kenneth Ramírez, a professor of geopolitics and oil at the Central University of Venezuela, told IPS.

The Saudis are thus apparently facing off with Iran, their rival in the Islamic world – and which, like Venezuela, Russia or Nigeria, needs the biggest possible influx of revenue in the short term – and would discourage, with flows of low-cost conventional oil, the development of its big future rival: shale oil.

In addition, according to analyses like those of Habalián and Ramírez, low prices and a market with a greater supply of crude would “punish” nations like Syria or its big supporter, Russia, which is clashing with the West over the conflict centred in Ukraine.

In the immediate future, OPEC could opt for the Saudi proposal of maintaining the status quo and letting oil prices slide to 70 dollars a barrel or lower, with the aim of slowing down the development of shale oil while waiting for a recovery of Europe or China and other emerging economies.

Venezuela has tried to push another option, with an intense tour by Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez to the capitals of oil producing countries, from Mexico City to Moscow through Tehran, but conspicuously avoiding Riyadh. The idea is to cut production to shore up prices, betting that the capacity to extract shale oil will decline in a few years.

One component that contributes to a move in that direction, said Habalián, is the pressure from environmentalists, especially in the United States and Canada, who oppose the extraction of shale oil and gas because of its impact on water sources, the injection of chemicals and the fracturing of rock deep underground.

A third option, said Ramírez, would be to ratify OPEC’s production ceiling of 30 million barrels a day, which would remove a small portion of the partners’ current excess supply “and although it would have a small impact on prices, it would send a signal that the organisation is not on the ropes.”

But in the medium to long term, Habalián observed, a new energy architecture in line with the market stability sought by the West continues to be bolstered, in the face of an OPEC strained by political and budgetary urgencies.

Editedo by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Internal Ruling Party Wrangles Stall Development in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/internal-ruling-party-wrangles-stall-development-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:39:32 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137970 Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

With the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front party in Zimbabwe seized with internal conflicts, attention to key development areas here have shifted despite the imminent end of December 2015 deadline for global attainment of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The eight MDGs targeted to be achieved by 31 December 2015 form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions.“Every development area is at a standstill here as ZANU-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline” – Agrippa Chiwawa, an independent development expert

But, caught up in the succession fight among ruling party politicians as the country’s 90-year old President Robert Mugabe – who has ruled this Southern African nation for the last 34 years – reportedly  battles ill health ahead of the party’s elective congress in December, development experts say the Zimbabwean government has apparently shifted attention from development to party politics.

“Every development area is at a standstill here as Zanu-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline,” independent development expert Agrippa Chiwawa told IPS.

The battle to succeed Mugabe pits Justice Minister Emerson Mnangagwa and the country’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is currently receiving a battering from the former’s faction which has won sympathy from the country’s first family, with First Lady Grace Mugabe venomously calling for the immediate resignation of Mujuru before the ZANU-PF congress.

Chiwawa told IPS that despite the government having contained recent strikes by medical doctors here through appeasing them by reviewing their salaries, the public health sector is in a state of decay amid acute shortages of treatment drugs.

Elmond Bandauko, an independent political analyst, agrees with Chiwawa. “Internal fights within the ZANU-PF party are stumbling blocks to national, social and economic prosperity; the ZANU-PF government is concentrating on its party succession battles as the economy is on its knees and there is no projected solution to the economic woes the country faces at the moment,” he told IPS.

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Policy makers from the ZANU-PF government, who are supposed to be holding debates and parliamentary sessions and special meetings on how to move the country forward, are wasting time on political tiffs that do not save the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans,” Bandauko added.

Even the country’s education system has not been spared by the ruling party political milieu, according to educationists here.

“Nobody is talking about revamping the education system here as government officials responsible are busy consolidating their powers in the ruling party while national examinations are fast losing credibility amid leakages of exam papers before they are written, subsequently tarnishing the image of our country’s quality of education,” a top government official in the Ministry of Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation.

Even the country’s ordinary subsistence farmers, like Edson Ngulube from Masvingo Province in Mwenezi district, are feeling the pinch of the failure of politicians. “We can’t beat hunger and poverty without support from government with farming inputs,” Ngulube told IPS.

Yet for many Zimbabweans like Ngulube, reaching the MDGs offers the means to a better life – a life with access to adequate food and income.

Burdened with over half of its population starving, based on one of the U.N. MDGs, Zimbabwe nevertheless committed itself to eradicating hunger by 2015. But, with the Zanu-PF government deeply engrossed in tense power wrangles to succeed Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be way off the mark for reaching this target.

In addition, in September, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri went on record as saying that Zimbabwe could fail to meet the target to eradicating hunger by 2015 owing to conflict and natural disasters.

Zimbabwe’s 2012 National Census showed that more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people live in rural areas and, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), this year about 25 percent of them need food aid or they will starve, and between now and 2015, 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food support.

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is, however, confident the country is set to end hunger before the 2015 deadline. “We have land and we have hardworking people utilising land and for us there is no reason to doubt that by 2015 we would have eradicated hunger,” Made told IPS.

Claris Madhuku, director for the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, perceive things rather differently.

“What actuates Zimbabwe’s failure to attaining MDGs is the on-going governance crisis, a result of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s internal wars to succeed the party’s nonagenarian President, which have not made development any easier,” Madhuku told IPS.

According to the PYD leader, in order for Zimbabwe to experience magnificent development, “the ruling party has to try and get its politics right.”

But with Zimbabwean President Mugabe apparently clinging to the helm of the country’s ruling party with renewed tenacity, it remains to be seen whether or not real development will ever touch the country’s soils.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Women on the Edge of Land and Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:36:05 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137977 In the Indian Sundarbans, impoverished women band together to fight against hunger, economic insecurity and climate change. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In the Indian Sundarbans, impoverished women band together to fight against hunger, economic insecurity and climate change. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

November is the cruelest month for landless families in the Indian Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world lying primarily in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

There is little agricultural wage-work to be found, and the village moneylender’s loan remains unpaid, its interest mounting. The paddy harvest is a month away, pushing rice prices to an annual high.

For those like Namita Bera, tasked with procuring 120 kg of rice per month to feed her eight-member family, there is seldom any peace of mind.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more." -- Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans
That is, until she came together with 12 other women from the poorest households in the Dakshin Shibpur village of the Patharpratima administrative division of West Bengal to insure their families against acute hunger.

Humble women with scant means at their disposal to withstand savage weather changes and national food price fluctuations, they did the only thing that made sense: set up a grain bank under the aegis of their small-savings, self-help group (SHG) known as Mamatamoyi Mahila Dal.

The system is simple: whenever she can afford it, each woman buys 50 kg of low-priced paddy and deposits it into the ‘bank’, explains Chandrani Das of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), the Kolkata-based non-profit that matches the quantity of grain in a given number of community-based banks.

In this way, “At least one-third of the 75-day lean period becomes manageable,” Shyamali Bera, a 35-year-old mother of three, whose husband works as a potato loader at a warehouse in the state’s capital, Kolkata, told IPS.

For impoverished families, the bank represents significant savings of their meagre income. “Earlier, the only spare cash we had on us was about 10 to 25 rupees (0.16  to 0.40 dollars),” she added. “Now we have about 100 rupees (1.6 dollars). We buy pencils and notebooks for our children to take to school.”

The women’s ingenuity has benefited the men as well. Namita’s husband, a migrant worker employed by a local rice mill, borrowed 10,000 rupees (about 160 dollars) from the SHG last winter and the family reaped good returns from investing in vegetables, seeds and chemical fertilisers.

The scheme is putting village moneylenders out of business. Their five-percent monthly interest rates, amounting to debt-traps of some 60 percent annually, cannot compete with the SHG’s two-percent rates.

But their problems do not end there.

Battling climate change

Designated a World Heritage Site for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, the Sundarbans are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and intense storms.

Half of the region’s mass of 9,630 square km is intersected by an intricate network of interconnecting waterways, which are vulnerable to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Roughly 52 of the 102 islands that dot this delta are inhabited, comprising a population of some 4.5 million people. Having lost much of their mangrove cover to deforestation, these coastal-dwelling communities are exposed to the vagaries of the sea and tidal rivers, protected only by 3,500 km of earthen embankments.

Most of the islands lie lower than the 3.5-metre average of surrounding rivers.

Using data from India’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the West Bengal government’s latest Human Development Report warns that sea-level rise over the last 70 years has already claimed 220 sq km of forests in the Sundarbans.

Increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms due to global warming poses a further, more immediate threat to human lives and livelihood, the report added.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF), analyses of 120 years’ worth of data show a 26-percent rise in the frequency of high-intensity cyclones.

Nearly 90 percent of people here live in mud and thatched-roof homes. Paddy is the primary crop, grown only during monsoon from mid-June to mid-September.

Forests and fisheries, including harvesting of shrimps, provide the only other source of income, but with a population density of 1,100 persons per square km, compared to the national average of 382 per square km, poverty among island households is twice as high as national rates.

The issue of food security coupled with the damage caused by natural disasters presents itself as an enourmous twin challenge to women here who by and large see to the needs of their families.

Resilient as the forests around them, they, however, are not giving up.

Fuel, fodder, food

At low tide, the river Gobadia flows just 100 metres away from the Ramganga village embankment, where members of the Nibedita self-help group gather to talk to IPS.

Typically, landless agricultural labourers who comprise some 50 percent of the Sundarbans’ population live in villages like this one, totaling no more than 7,500 people, because natural resources are close at hand.

Population density is high here.

The members tell IPS that four fairly severe storms from May to December are the norm now. Rain spells continue for a week instead of the earlier two days.

When 100 km-per-hour winds coincide with the two daily high tides, storm surges are likely to breach embankments, cause saline flash floods, devastate both homes and low farmlands, and leave the area water-logged for up to four months.

“The local village government kept promising that it would stone-face the embankment’s river flank and brick-pave the embankment road, which becomes too slippery [during the rains] to cycle or even walk,” group members told IPS.

When these promises failed to materialize, the women took matters into their own hands. Using money from their communal savings, they leased out part of the land along the embankment and planted 960 trees over 40,000 square feet of the sloping property, hoping this would arrest erosion.

“For the nursery they chose 16 varieties that would provide firewood, fodder to their goats, and trees whose flowers and [fruits] are edible,” said Animesh Bera of the local NGO Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which guides this particular SHG.

Nothing is wasted. All the forestry by-products find their way into the community’s skilful hands. The mature trees fetch money in auctions.

Coaxing nutrition from unyielding soil

A 2013 DRCSC baseline survey found that three-quarters of households in Patharpratima block live below the poverty line. Financial indebtedness is widespread. Fragmentation of landholdings through generations has left many families with only homesteads of approximately 0.09 hectares apiece.

Maximizing land is the only option.

In Indraprastha village, women are growing organic food on their tiny 70-square-foot plots, adapting to local soil, water and climate challenges by planting an array of seasonal vegetables, from leafy greens and beans, to tubers and bananas.

These miniature gardens are now ensuring both food and economic security, pulling in a steady income from the sale of organic seeds.

Tomatoes are trained to grow vertically, ginger sprouts from re-used plastic cement bags packed with low-saline soil, while bitter gourds spread outwards on plastic net trellises.

Multi-tier arrangements of plants to maximize sunlight in the garden, the use of cattle and poultry litter as bio-fertilizer, and recycling water are all steps women here take to coax a little nutrition from a land that seems to be increasingly turning away from them.

While NGOs praise the women of the Sundarbans for their ingenuity in the face of extreme hardships, others blame the government of West Bengal for failing to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more,” Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans, told IPS at his Kolkata residence.

“It needs to urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for Sundarbans’ development anchored on a reliable database and make one agency responsible for all development work,” added the head of the non-profit Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD).

Until such time as the government takes development into its own hands, self-help groups like those budding all over the Sundarbans – comprising thousands of members – will be the only chance poor communities stand against poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Filipino Farmers Protest Government Research on Genetically Modified Ricehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:13:49 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137948 Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila, plants a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his main crop, rice, is under threat. He claims that approval by the Philippine government of the genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that is fortified with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, could ruin his livelihood.

Sarmiento, who is also the sustainable agriculture programme officer of PAKISAMA, a national movement of farmers’ organisations, told IPS, “Genetically modified rice will not address the lack of vitamin A, as there are already many other sources of this nutrient. It will worsen hunger. It will also kill diversification and contaminate other crops.”

Sarmiento aired his sentiments during a protest activity last week in front of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an office under the Department of Agriculture, during which farmers unfurled a huge canvas depicting a three-dimensional illustration of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in the northern part of the Philippines.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’." -- Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila
Considered by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world, the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces represent the country’s rich rice heritage, which some say will be at stake once the golden rice is approved.

The protesting farmers also delivered to the BPI, which is responsible for the development of plant industries and crop production and protection, an ‘extraordinary opposition’ petition against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new bio-safety permit for further field testing, feeding trials or commercialisation of golden rice.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’,” Sarmiento said, echoing the theme of a national advocacy campaign aimed at cultivating rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

Currently, this Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people is the eighth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8 percent of global rice production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

But it was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, largely because the Philippines’ area of harvested rice is very small compared with other major rice-producing countries in Asia.

In addition to lacking sufficient land resources to produce its total rice requirement, the Philippines is devastated by at least 20 typhoons every year that destroy crops, the FAO said.

However, insufficient output is not the only thing driving research and development on rice.

A far greater concern for scientists and policy-makers is turning the staple food into a greater source of nutrition for the population. The government and independent research institutes are particularly concerned about nutrition deficiencies that cause malnutrition, especially among poorer communities.

According to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), “Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the country, affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women.”

The vast majority of those affected live in remote areas, cut off from access to government nutrition programmes. The IRRI estimates that guaranteeing these isolated communities sufficient doses of vitamin A could reduce child mortality here by 23-34 percent.

Such thinking has provided the impetus for continued research and development on genetically modified rice, despite numerous protests including a highly publicised incident in August last year in which hundreds of activists entered a government test field and uprooted saplings of the controversial golden rice crop.

While scientists forge ahead with their tests, protests appear to be heating up, spurred on by a growing global movement against GMOs.

Last week’s public action – which received support from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and included farmers’ groups, organic traders and consumers, mothers and environmentalists – denounced the government’s continuing research on golden rice and field testing, as well as the distribution and cropping of genetically-modified corn and eggplant.

Monica Geaga, another protesting farmer who is from the group SARILAYA, an organisation of female organic farmers from the rice-producing provinces in the main island of Luzon, said women suffer multiple burdens when crops are subjected to genetic modification.

“It is a form of harassment and violence against women who are not just farmers but are also consumers and mothers who manage households and the health and nutrition of their families,” she told IPS.

Geaga said she believes that if plants are altered from their natural state, they release toxins that are harmful to human health.

Protestors urged the government to shield the country’s rice varieties from contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and instead channel the money for rice research into protecting the country’s biodiversity and rich cultural heritage while ensuring ecological agricultural balance.

Though there is a dearth of hard data on how much the Philippine government has spent on GMO research, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines estimates that the government and its multinational partner companies have spent an estimated 2.6 million dollars developing GM corn alone.

Furthermore, activists and scientists say GMOs violate the National Organic Law that supports the propagation of rice varieties that already possess multi-nutrients such as carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, and potassium, according to the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The NNC also said other rice varieties traditionally produced in the Philippines such as brown, red, and purple rice contain these nutrients.

Danilo Ocampo, ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the “flawed regulatory system” in the BPI, the sole government agency in charge of GMO approvals, “has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard to their long-term impact on the environment and human health.”

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens. It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Ocampo.

“It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” he asserted.

Greenpeace explained in statements released to the media that aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

Greenpeace Philippines said genetically modified crops such as corn or rice contain built-in pesticides that can be toxic, and their ability to cross-breed and cross-pollinate other natural crops can happen in an open environment, which cannot be contained.

Last week saw farmer activists in other cities in the Philippines stage protest actions that called on the government to protect the country’s diverse varieties of rice and crops and stop GMO research and field-testing.

In Davao City south of Manila, stakeholders held the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress. In Cebu City, also south of Manila, farmers protested the contamination of corn, their second staple food, and gathered petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of golden rice.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Laying the Foundations of a World Citizens Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:25:17 +0000 Anthony George http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137958 In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

By Anthony George
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Has organised civil society, bound up in internal bureaucracy, in slow, tired processes and donor accountability, become simply another layer of a global system that perpetuates injustice and inequality?

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

This kind of introspective reflection was at the heart of a process of engagement among CSOs from around the world that gathered in Johannesburg from Nov. 19 to 21 for the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference.

Organised byDEEEP, a project within the European civil society umbrella organisation CONCORD which builds capacity among CSOs and carries out advocacy around global citizenship and global citizenship education, the conference brought together 200 participants.“It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens” – Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform

Key partners were CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is one of the largest and most diverse global civil society networks) and GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

The three-day gathering was part of a larger series of conferences and activities that were arranged to coincide during the 2014 International Civil Society Week organised by CIVICUS, which closed Nov. 24.

Global citizenship is a concept that is gaining currency within the United Nations system, to the delight of people like Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform and a key advocate for global citizenship education.

At the heart of this concept is people’s empowerment, explains Lappalainen. “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens.”

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg.

The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

This new spirit of inquiry and engagement, very much evident in the creative, interactive format of this year’s conference, is encapsulated in an aphorism introduced by thought-leader Bayo Akomolafe from Nigeria: “The time is very urgent – let us slow down”.

Akomolafe’s keynote address explored the need for a shift in process: “We are realising our theories of change need to change,” he said. “We must slow down today because running faster in a dark maze will not help us find our way out.”

“We must slow down today,” he continued, “because if we have to travel far, we must find comfort in each other – in all the glorious ambiguity that being in community brings … We must slow down because that is the only way we will see … the contours of new possibilities urgently seeking to open to us.”

A key opportunity for mutual learning and questioning was provided on the second day by a panel on ‘Challenging World Views’.

Prof Rob O’Donoghue from the Environmental Learning Research Centre at South Africa’s Rhodes University explored the philosophy of ubuntu, Brazilian activist and community organiser Eduardo Rombauer spoke about the principles of horizontal organising, and Hiro Sakurai, representative of the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations in New York, discussed the network’s core philosophy of soka, or value creation.

A female activist from Bhutan who was to join the panel was unable to do so because of difficulties in acquiring a visa – a situation that highlighted a troubling observation made by Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS, about the ways in which the space for CSOs to work is being shrunk around the world.

The absence of women on the panel was noted as problematic. How is it possible to effectively question a global system that is so deeply patriarchal without the voices of women, asked a male participant. This prompted the spontaneous inclusion of a female member of the audience.

In the spirit of embracing not-knowing, the panellists were asked to pose the questions they think we should be asking. How do we understand and access our power? How do we foster people’s engagement and break out of our own particular interests to engage in more systems-based thinking? How can multiple worldviews meet and share a moral compass?

Ubuntu philosophy, explained O’Donoghue, can be defined by the statement: “A person is a person through other people.”

The implications of this perspective for the issues at hand are that answers to the problems affecting people on the margins cannot be pre-defined from the outside, but must be worked out through solidarity and through a process of struggle. You cannot come with answers; you can only come into the company of others and share the problems, so that solutions begin to emerge from the margins.

The core perspective of soka philosophy is that each person has the innate ability to create value – to create a positive change – in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Millions of people, Sakurai pointed out, are proving the validity of this idea in their own contexts. This is the essence of the Soka movement.

His point was echoed the following evening in the address of Graca Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a CIVICUS reception, in which she spoke of the profound challenges confronting civil society as poverty and inequality deepen and global leaders seem increasingly dismissive of the voices of the people.

Then, toward the end of her speech, she softly recalled “my friend Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) in the final years of his life, and his consistent message at that time that things are now in our hands.

What he showed us by his example, she said, is that each person has immense resources of good within them. Our task is to draw these out each day and exercise them in the world, wherever we are and in whatever ways we can.

Those listening to Machel saw Mandela’s message as a sign of encouragement in their efforts to create the World Citizens Movement of tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Riskshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/survivors-of-sexual-violence-face-increased-risks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137954 Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Civil Society Freedoms Merit Role in Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:45:58 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137944

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, reports that civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development. He calls on civil society around the world to remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.

Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian woman activist, is in prison for protesting against a public assembly law declared by United Nations experts to be in breach of international law.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to support the formation of `gay clubs and institutions’.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In Bangladesh, civil society groups are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their project objectives with a view to discourage documentation of serious human rights abuses.

In Honduras, activists exposing the nexus between big business owners and local officials to circumvent rules operate under serious threat to their lives.

In South Sudan, a draft law is in the making that requires civil society groups to align their work with the government-dictated national development plan.

With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development.

Back in 2010, when the United Nations organised a major summit to take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a number of civil society groups lamented that“too little partnership and too little space” was marring the achievement of MDG targets.“With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development”

They pointed out that, in a large number of countries, legal and practical limitations were preventing civil society groups from being set up, engaging in legitimate undertakings and accessing resources, impeding both the service delivery and watchdog functions of the sector, thereby negatively affecting development activities.

Since then, there has been greater recognition at multilateral levels about the challenges faced by civil society. In 2011, at a high-level forum on aid and development effectiveness, 159 national governments and the European Union resolved to create an “enabling environment” for civil society organisations to maximise their contributions to development.

In 2013, the U.N. Secretary General’s expert High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that a separate goal on good governance and effective institutions should be created. The experts suggested that this goal should include targets to measure freedoms of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information, which are integral to a flourishing civil society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also emphasised the importance of ‘partnership with civil society’ in the post-2015 agenda. Even as restrictions on civil society activities have multiplied around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council has passed resolutions calling for the protection of civic space.

Senior U.N. officials and experts, including the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have spoken out against state-sanctioned reprisals against activists highlighting human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, despite the progress, civic space appears to be shrinking. The State of Civil Society Report 2014 issued by CIVICUS points out that following the upheavals of the Arab Spring, many governments have felt threatened and targeted activists advocating for civil and political freedoms.

In Ethiopia, bloggers and journalists speaking out against restrictions on speech and assembly have been targeted under counter-terrorism legislation for “inciting” disaffection.

Additionally, the near total dominance of free market economic policies has created a tight overlap between the economic and political elite, putting at risk environmental and land rights activists challenging the rise of politically well-connected mining, construction and agricultural firms.

Global Witness has pointed out that there has been a surge in the killing of environmental activists over the last decade.

Notably, abundant political conflicts and cultural clashes are spurring religious fundamentalism and intolerant attitudes towards women’s equality and the rights of sexual minorities, putting progressive civil society groups at serious risk from both physical attacks as well as politically motivated prosecutions.

In Uganda, concerns have been expressed about the promotion of homophobia by right-wing religious groups.

In Pakistan, indiscriminate attacks on women’s rights activists are seriously impairing their work.

Countering these regressive developments will require greater efforts from the international community to entrench notions of civic space in both developmental as well as human rights forums.

A critical mass of leading civil society organisations has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urging him to ensure that the post-2015 agenda focuses on the full spectrum of human rights, with clear targets on civil and political rights that sit alongside economic, social and cultural rights.

It is being argued that explicit inclusion of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which underpin a vibrant and able civil society should be goals in themselves in the new global development agenda.

It is equally vital to make parallel progress on the human rights front. Many governments that restrict civic freedoms are taking cover under the overbroad provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

They argue that the provisions of the ICCPR on freedom of association and assembly, which are short on detail, are open to multiple interpretations on issues such as the right to operate an organisation without formal registration or to spontaneously organise a public demonstration.

The global discourse on civil society rights would be greatly strengthened if the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the expert body of jurists responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, could comprehensively articulate the scope of these freedoms.

This would complement progress made at the U.N. Human Rights Council and support implementation of comprehensive best practice guidelines issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

For now, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against civil society groups fighting for economic, social and political justice. Many powerful governments do not subscribe to democratic values and are fundamentally opposed to the notion of an independent sector. And many democracies have themselves encroached on civic space in the face of perceived security and strategic interests.

Civil society around the world must remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected. We have come too far to let those with vested interests encroach on the space for citizens and civil society to thrive. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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Nuclear Weapons as Bargaining Chips in Global Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:23:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137941 Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Has the world reached a stage where nuclear weapons may be used as bargaining chips in international politics?

So it seems, judging by the North Korean threat last week to conduct another nuclear test – if and when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution aimed at referring the hermit kingdom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights abuses.

“If North Korea begins a game of nuclear blackmailing,” one anti-nuclear activist predicted, “will Russia not be far behind in what appears to be a new Cold War era?”

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, author of the U.N.-published book ‘Unfinished Business’ on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations, told IPS the larger danger – exemplified also by some of the rhetoric about nuclear weapons bandied around the crisis in Ukraine – is that nuclear weapons are not useful deterrents but are increasingly seen as bargaining chips, with heightened risks that they may be used to “prove” some weak leader’s “point”, with catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

She pointed out North Korea’s recent threat to conduct another nuclear test – its fourth – is unlikely to deter U.N. states from adopting a resolution to charge the regime of Kim Jong-un with crimes against humanity.

“North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling appears to draw from Cold War deterrence theories, but a nuclear test is not a nuclear weapon,” she added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told the Security Council last May North Korea is the only country in the world that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century.

Since 2006, it has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February 2013 – all of them in defiance of the international community and the United Nations.

The resolution on North Korea, which is expected to come up before the U.N.’s highest policy making body in early December, has already been adopted by the U.N. committee dealing with humanitarian issues, known as the Third Committee.

The vote was 111 in favour to 19 against, with 55 abstentions in the 193-member committee. The vote in the General Assembly is only a formality.

Alyn Ware, a member of the World Future Council, told IPS: “Nuclear weapons should not be used as threats or as bargaining chips.”

Their use, after all, would involve massive violations of the right to life and other human rights.

However, he noted, this applies also to the other nuclear-armed states in the region (China, Russia and the United States) and states under extended nuclear deterrence doctrines (South Korea and Japan).

“The nuclear option should be taken off the table by establishing a North East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone,” he said.

And the states leading the human rights charges against North Korea should make it crystal clear that such charges are not an attempt to overthrow the North Korean government, he added.

The tensions between countries in the region, and the fact that the Korean War of the 1950s has never officially ended (only an armistice is in place), makes this a very sensitive issue, said Ware. If the General Assembly adopts the resolution, as expected, it is up to the 15-member Security Council to initiate ICC action on North Korea.

But both Russia and China are most likely to veto any attempts to drag North Korea to The Hague.

In an editorial Sunday, the New York Times said North Korea’s human rights abuses warrant action by the Security Council.

“Given what is in the public record, it is impossible to see how any country can defend Mr Kim and his lieutenants or block their referral to the International Criminal Court,” the paper said.

“As confidence in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) continues to erode, has the time come to ban all nuclear weapons?” asked Dr Johnson.

She said “a comprehensive nuclear ban treaty would dramatically reduce nuclear dangers and provide much stronger international tools than we have today for curbing the acquisition, deployment and spread of nuclear weapons.”

The status some nations attach to nuclear weapons would soon be a thing of the past, nuclear sabre-rattling would become pointless, and anyone threatening to use these weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would automatically face charges under the International Criminal Court, said Dr. Johnson, who is executive director and co-founder of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

“This might not stop nuclear blackmail overnight, but it would make it much harder for North Korea and any others to imagine they could gain benefits by issuing nuclear threats.”

As North Korea withdrew from the NPT over 10 years ago, and has already conducted three nuclear tests, it is unlikely that a threatened fourth test would be an effective deterrent, said Dr Johnson.

The U.N. resolution has been triggered by a report from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea which recommended that leaders of that country be prosecuted by the ICC for grave human rights violations.

The commission was headed by Michael Kirby, a High Court Judge from Australia.

In a statement before the Third Committee last week, the North Korean delegate said the report of the Commission “was based on fabricated testimonies by a handful of defectors who had fled the country after committing crimes.

“The report was a compilation of groundless political allegations and had no credibility as an official U.N. document,” he added.

Ware told IPS, “I have a lot of respect for my colleague Michael Kirby from Australia, who led a year-long U.N. inquiry into human rights abuses which concluded that North Korean security chiefs, and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself, should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

“I find the response of the North Korean authorities to try to discredit his report due to his sexual orientation to be reprehensible,” he added. “Nor do I find credible the North Korean counter-claims that their human rights violations are non-existent, while the real human rights violator is the U.S. government.”

Ware said there are indeed human rights violations in the United States, but they pale in comparison to those in North Korea.

There is a body of U.S. civil rights law and legal institutions that provide protections for U.S. citizens even if it is not fully perfect nor implemented entirely fairly, he pointed out.

But there is a lack of such protection of civil rights in North Korea, with the result that the North Korean administration inflicts incredibly egregious violations of human rights with total impunity, according to Kirby’s report.

“I do not believe that the threat of a nuclear test by North Korea should deter the United Nations from addressing these human rights violations, including the possibility of referral to the International Criminal Court,” Ware declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:50:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137936 Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue." -- Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Water and Sanitation Report Card: Slow Progress, Inadequate Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/water-and-sanitation-report-card-slow-progress-inadequate-funding/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 23:06:32 +0000 Tim Brewer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137930 A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Tim Brewer
LONDON, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The Ebola crisis has thrown into sharp relief the issue of water, sanitation and hygiene in treating and caring for the sick. Dying patients are being taken to hospitals which never had enough water to maintain hygiene, and the epidemic has pushed the system to the breaking point.

Last week’s World Health Organisation report produced by UN Water, the Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS), has provided a sobering picture of water and sanitation services so necessary to healthcare systems around the world.Half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

The annual analysis is a gold mine of data, covering 94 countries and using information from 23 aid agencies. The story it tells this year is of modest progress alongside inadequate funding, poor monitoring and a desperate need for skilled regulators, administrators and engineers to keep services running effectively.

Among GLAAS’s most important findings are how poorly finances intended to address the water and sanitation crisis are targeted.

Urban areas are prioritised over rural regardless of the level of need – nearly three-quarters of aid spending goes to urban areas and more than 60 percent of aid is in the form of loans, which are rarely targeted to the poor. This suggests rural people and the urban poor are being further marginalised.

Nearly three-quarters of the aid targeted at water, sanitation and hygiene programmes is spend on drinking water supplies. Despite these investments in improved supplies, 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s fair to assume that this is linked to the 2.5 billion people still without a basic toilet. Too much money is being invested in finding or making clean water, and not enough in containing the waste that contaminates it.

Addressing these issues effectively requires money, training and monitoring, but these, too, are falling short.

The GLAAS report has found that financing for water and sanitation in 70 percent of responding countries covers less than 80 percent of the costs of operation and maintenance for existing services.

Regulators, administrators and engineers are all in short supply in developing countries. All are of critical importance in the safe, sustainable delivery of water and basic sanitation services, fundamental to good public health and economic growth. Yet it’s rare to see plans or investment to address this. Only one third of countries even have a human resources strategy in place.

Monitoring is also seriously lacking. WaterAid is examining the sanitation transformations that took place in East Asia, and has found that responsive monitoring which actually leads to changes in policy and investment is a crucial driver of sanitation improvements. But very few countries have enough personnel to collect or review data, or enough senior political interest to demand it.

Less than half of countries have a formal rural service provider that reports to a regulatory authority, and effectively monitors its services.

What does this mean? It means that half of the lucky minority of rural poor who have gained access to improved water and sanitation are still using unregulated services which have no way to guarantee safety.

But there is progress. Proposals for the U.N.’s new Sustainable Development Goals, now under negotiation, include goals for water and sanitation services that include schools and healthcare facilities along with households.

This is of huge importance, particularly when we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa – where healthcare systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular were broken in years of conflict and never properly rebuilt – or this year’s cholera outbreak in Ghana, where 20,900 people were infected and 166 died of preventable infection transmitted by water contaminated with human waste.

The GLAAS reports that less than one-third of countries have a plan for drinking water or sanitation in health care facilities and schools that is implemented, funded and reviewed regularly. These targets are long overdue.

The state of water and sanitation is a global health crisis. Some 10 million children have died since 2000 of diarrhoeal illnesses, directly linked to growing up without clean water, basic toilets and hygiene. It is possible to reach everyone, everywhere with water, sanitation and hygiene education, but it will require strong political will, a comprehensive and accelerated approach, and financing.

As the U.N. negotiates the new Sustainable Development Goals, including a strong, dedicated goal on water and sanitation that incorporates water and sanitation targets into goals on healthcare will address many of these shortfalls.

What the present shortlist does not include, but which the GLAAS report has clearly shown, is the need to find and train people to drive this transformation, and keep services running sustainably.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gated Communities on the Water Aggravate Flooding in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/gated-communities-on-the-water-aggravate-flooding-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 21:31:28 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137925 Part of the Nordelta gated community in the Paraná river delta, which led the new trend of building private neighbourhoods on the rivers and canals of Greater Buenos Aires. The community is made up of 11 neighbourhoods and is dubbed a “city-ville”. Credit: Elinmobiliario.com

Part of the Nordelta gated community in the Paraná river delta, which led the new trend of building private neighbourhoods on the rivers and canals of Greater Buenos Aires. The community is made up of 11 neighbourhoods and is dubbed a “city-ville”. Credit: Elinmobiliario.com

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

The construction of gated communities on wetlands and floodplains in Greater Buenos Aires has modified fragile ecosystems and water cycles and has aggravated flooding, especially in poor surrounding neighourhoods.

In the 1990s a high-end property boom led to the construction of private neighbourhoods in vital ecosystems, and the emergence of barriers – actual walls – between social classes in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

In the first week of November, the “sudestada” or strong southeast wind left 19 municipalities in and around Buenos Aires under water.“But in the last five years we have seen a new phenomenon: flooding from rainfall, and it’s no coincidence that it happens mainly in neighbourhoods located next to gated communities built over the last decade.” -- Martín Gianella

The sudestada is a phenomenon that affects the Rio de la Plata basin. It consists of a sudden rotation of cold southern winds to the southeast, bringing strong winds and heavy rain. In the first week of November the wind gusts reached over 70 km an hour and more rain fell in two days than the total forecast for two months. Rivers overflowed their banks, large areas were flooded and cut off, and more than 5,000 people were evacuated.

Jorge Capitanich, President Cristina Fernández’s cabinet chief, attributed the floods to “a combination of sudestada, heavy rains, and the saturation of the water basins.”

But Patricia Pintos of the University de la Plata’s Centre of Geographic Research said this confluence of factors was aggravated by the growing urbanisation and the proliferation of “barrios náuticos” – closed private neighbourhoods built on the water.

These gated communities are built near or on artificial or natural bodies of water, Pintos, a geographer who is co-author of the book ”La privatopía sacrílega. Efectos del urbanismo privado en la cuenca baja del río Luján” (Sacrilegious privatopia: Effects of private urbanism on the lower Luján river basin), told Tierramérica.

Many of these wealthy private neighbourhoods have been built on floodplains and wetlands, ecosystems that are vital to water drainage.

The new urban developments have advanced on areas that play a crucial role in managing floods, she said.

“Wetlands are getting stopped up by housing developments that ironically promote a lifestyle associated with enjoying water and nature,” Laila Robledo, an urban planner at the General Sarmiento National University, told Tierramérica.

Four of the municipalities in the lower stretch of the Luján river basin most affected by the growth of high-end neighbourhoods on floodplains and wetlands are Pilar, Campana, Escobar and Tigre, which cover more than 7,000 hectares.

Traditional houses on stilts in Tigre along the Arias canal in the Paraná river delta. These traditional neighbourhoods have suffered the environmental and social impacts of the construction of gated communities for the wealthy that are built on land prone to flooding. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Traditional houses on stilts in Tigre along the Arias canal in the Paraná river delta. These traditional neighbourhoods have suffered the environmental and social impacts of the construction of gated communities for the wealthy that are built on land prone to flooding. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“The emergence of 65 housing developments of this kind modified the terrain at the mouth of the river and blocked drainage during weather events like the ones we experienced this month,” Pintos said.

These neighbourhoods, which the expert described as “polderised closed housing developments” – a reference to polders or low-lying tracts of land enclosed by dikes – “entail major modifications of the natural topographical characteristics, not only to raise the level of the ground in order to build housing but also to create new bodies of water.”

That involves, for example, excavating to build artificial lakes and using the dirt to fill in low-lying areas.

And because these housing developments are in flood-prone areas, embankments six to 10 metres high are built around them to keep water out.

“They protect these developments but they work as dikes that contribute to flooding in surrounding neighbourhoods…What protects them hurts those who are outside,” Pintos said.

Ten percent of the 350,000 inhabitants of Tigre live in gated communities, which cover half of the municipality’s land area, Martín Gianella, the municipal general secretary, told Tierramérica.

“This is what we call a model of socio-territorial segregation,” he said. “Walls are dividing the territory and society.”

Gianella said that Tigre, on the north side of Greater Buenos Aires, has historically suffered from flooding during the sudestadas.

“But in the last five years we have seen a new phenomenon: flooding from rainfall, and it’s no coincidence that it happens mainly in neighbourhoods located next to gated communities built over the last decade,” he added.

The official urged the municipal government to oversee and regulate the construction of private neighbourhoods “and to levy a special tax on these mega-developments, to invest in the necessary hydrological works.”

Robledo, the urban planner, stressed that changes in the hydrologic regimes don’t only affect the areas near the gated communities, because Buenos Aires was built on a plain crisscrossed by rivers.

“The city is part of an urban metabolism – what happens in one place affects the rest,” she explained. That is why solutions must be “interjurisdictional,” she added.

According to Robledo, the construction of these gated communities “favours the privatisation of the city and real estate speculation, to the detriment of the rest of the population.”

Driven by the profit motive, “the companies buy up historically cheap land prone to flooding, fill it in to make it inhabitable, and earn extraordinary profits,” she said.

Pintos said “this is the result of the growth of a model of urban development followed by municipalities that are prone to favouring big investment flows.”

Pintos and Robledo agreed that while regulations and maps of socio-environmental risks posed by this kind of housing development exist, they are not enforced.

Big real estate entrepreneurs in the province of Buenos Aires, like Gonzalo Monarca, the president of the Grupo Monarca, deny that they are responsible for the problems, which they blame on climate change.

“That’s a fallacious argument,” Robledo said. “Climate change is happening at a global level, but the consequences are stronger or weaker depending on the way cities have been built and inhabited.”

“If we build in a drainage basin that receives overflow when the water level in the river goes up, it’s obvious that the water is going to run off into other areas,” she said.

Robledo stated that if this kind of housing development is not banned or regulated, cities will be flooded more frequently and for longer periods of time, even when the rainfall is not particularly heavy.

Pintos went even further, calling for solutions that are “not very popular” in political terms, and which may be complex and burdensome, but which she said should not be ruled out if the problem continues to grow.

As an example, she cited the relocation of families from the banks of the Mississippi river in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Other intermediate solutions, she said, would be to prohibit the construction of new private neighbourhoods in fragile ecosystems, and a review of the permits already granted.

She also said companies should assume the costs of remediation of environmental problems, although such works would be a “bandaid in the face of a critical situation that could have been avoided if rationality had prevailed.”

Leandro Silva, the head of environment at the Defensoría del Pueblo de la Nación – Argentina’s ombudsperson’s office – pointed out to Tierramérica that in 2010 his office warned the municipalities of Zárate, Campana, Escobar, Tigre and San Fernando about the risks posed by the expansion of gated communities in the ecosystem of the Paraná river delta, and urged them to respect environmental impact studies and to impose strict controls.

“The recurrent flooding and the impact on the most vulnerable segments of society make it necessary to reinforce these mechanisms and proactively exercise prevention, implementing in the watersheds all of the environmental management instruments required by our legislation: environmental impact assessments, citizen participation, environmental zoning and access to public information,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Lessons from Jamaica’s Billion-Dollar Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/lessons-from-jamaicas-billion-dollar-drought/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 14:17:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137917 The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Yallahs River, one of the main water sources for Jamaica's Mona Reservoir, has been dry for months. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
MORANT BAY, Jamaica, Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

As Jamaica struggles under the burden of an ongoing drought, experts say ensuring food security for the most vulnerable groups in society is becoming one of the leading challenges posed by climate change.

“The disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Jamaica means that persons living in poverty, persons living below the poverty line, women heading households with large numbers of children and the elderly are greatly disadvantaged during this period,” Judith Wedderburn, Jamaica project director at the non-profit German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), told IPS."The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices." -- Judith Wedderburn of FES

“The concern is that as the climate change implications are extended for several years that these kinds of situations are going to become more and more extreme, [such as] greater floods with periods of extreme drought.”

Wedderburn, who spoke with IPS on the sidelines of a FES and Panos Caribbean workshop for journalists held here earlier this month, said Caribbean countries – which already have to grapple with a finite amount of space for food production – now have the added challenges of extreme rainfall events or droughts due to climate change.

“In Jamaica, we’ve had several months of drought, which affected the most important food production parishes in the country,” she said, adding that the problem does not end when the drought breaks.

“We are then affected by extremes of rainfall which results in flooding. The farming communities lose their crops during droughts [and] families associated with those farmers are affected. The food production line gets disrupted and the cost of food goes up, so already large numbers of families living in poverty have even greater difficulty in accessing locally grown food at reasonable prices and that contributes to substantial food insecurity – meaning people cannot easily access the food that they need to keep their families well fed.”

One local researcher predicts that things are likely to get even worse. Dale Rankine, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies (UWI), told IPS that climate change modelling suggests that the region will be drier heading towards the middle to the end of the century.

“We are seeing projections that suggest that we could have up to 40 percent decrease in rainfall, particularly in our summer months. This normally coincides with when we have our major rainfall season,” Rankine said.

“This is particularly important because it is going to impact most significantly on food security. We are also seeing suggestions that we could have increasing frequency of droughts and floods, and this high variability is almost certainly going to impact negatively on crop yields.”

He pointed to “an interesting pattern” of increased rainfall over the central regions, but only on the outer extremities, while in the west and east there has been a reduction in rainfall.

“This is quite interesting because the locations that are most important for food security, particularly the parishes of St. Elizabeth [and] Manchester, for example, are seeing on average reduced rainfall and so that has implications for how productive our production areas are going to be,” Rankine said.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced recently that September 2014 was the hottest in 135 years of record keeping. It noted that during September, the globe averaged 60.3 degrees Fahrenheit (15.72 degrees Celsius), which was the fourth monthly record set this year, along with May, June and August.

According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, the first nine months of 2014 had a global average temperature of 58.72 degrees (14.78 degrees Celsius), tying with 1998 for the warmest first nine months on record.

Robert Pickersgill, Jamaica’s water, land, environment and climate change minister, said more than 18,000 small farmers have been affected by the extreme drought that has been plaguing the country for months.

He said the agricultural sector has lost nearly one billion dollars as a result of drought and brush fires caused by extreme heat waves.

Pickersgill said reduced rainfall had significantly limited the inflows from springs and rivers into several of the country’s facilities.

“Preliminary rainfall figures for the month of June indicate that Jamaica received only 30 per cent of its normal rainfall and all parishes, with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54 percent), were in receipt of less than half of their normal rainfall. The southern parishes of St Elizabeth, Manchester, Clarendon, St Catherine, Kingston and St. Andrew and St. Thomas along with St Mary and Portland were hardest hit,” Pickersgill said.

Clarendon, he said, received only two percent of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester with four percent, St. Thomas six percent, St. Mary eight percent, and 12 percent for Kingston and St. Andrew.

Additionally, Pickersgill said that inflows into the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro Rivers are now at 4.8 million gallons per day, which is among the lowest since the construction of the Yallahs pipeline in 1986, while inflows into the Hermitage Dam are currently at six million gallons per day, down from more than 18 million gallons per day during the wet season.

“It is clear to me that the scientific evidence that climate change is a clear and present danger is now even stronger. As such, the need for us to mitigate and adapt to its impacts is even greater, and that is why I often say, with climate change, we must change,” Pickersgill told IPS.

Wedderburn said Jamaica must take immediate steps to adapt to climate change.

“So the challenge for the government is to explore what kinds of adaptation methods can be used to teach farmers how to do more successful water harvesting so that in periods of severe drought their crops can still grow so that they can have food to sell to families at reasonable prices to deal with the food insecurity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Pakistan’s Paraplegics Learning to Stand on their Own Feethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistans-paraplegics-learning-to-stand-on-their-own-feet/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:34:03 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137914 Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Over 2,000 paraplegic women have received treatment and training at the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, enabling them to earn a living despite being confined to a wheelchair. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 24 2014 (IPS)

When a stray bullet fired by Taliban militants became lodged in her spine last August, 22-year-old Shakira Bibi gave up all hopes of ever leading a normal life.

Though her family rushed her to the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, capital city of Pakistan’s northern-most Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, doctors told the young girl that she would be forever bed-ridden.

Bibi fell into a deep depression, convinced that her family would cast her aside due to her disability. Worse, she feared that she would not be able to care for her daughter, particularly since her husband had succumbed to tuberculosis in 2012, making her the sole breadwinner for her family.

“All credit goes to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death." -- 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, a victim of spinal damage
In the end, however, all her worries were for naught.

Today Bibi, a resident of the war-torn North Waziristan Agency, part of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is a successful seamstress and embroiderer, and is skillfully managing the affairs of her small family.

She says it is all thanks to the Paraplegic Centre of Peshawar (PPC), the only one of its kind in Pakistan, where she is currently undergoing intensive physiotherapy. Already Bibi is showing signs of recovery, but this is not the only thing that is making her happy.

“Her real joy is her craft, which she learned here at the Centre,” Bibi’s mother, Zar Lakhta, tells IPS. “We are no longer concerned about her future.”

According to PPC’s chief executive officer, Syed Muhammad Ilyas, the majority of those who suffer injury to their spinal cords remain immobile for life, unable to work and fated to be a burden on loved ones.

“Breaking a bone or two is one thing,” Ilyas tells IPS. “Breaking one’s back or neck is another story altogether.

“Unlike any other bone in our body, the spine, or back bone, not only keeps our body straight and tall, it also protects the delicate nervous tissue called the spinal cord, which serves as a link between our body and the brain,” he asserts.

If this link is severed, a person can literally become a prisoner in their own body, losing bowel and bladder control, as well as the use of their legs. The physical aspect of such an injury alone is enough to plunge a patient into the deepest despair; but there is yet another tragic twist to the story.

“Believe it or not about 80 percent of our patients are the only bread winners of their respective families,” Ilyas explains, “while more then 90 percent live below the poverty line [of less than two dollars a day].”

As a result, finding employment for paraplegics is just as vital as offering physical therapy that might help them regain the use of their lower bodies.

“This is why we have employed experts who teach tailoring, computer sills, dress-making, glass painting and embroidery to our patients,” Ilyas says.

Most families travel between 100 and 400 km to reach the Centre, but their efforts are always rewarded. In addition to skills training, the PPC offers individual and group counseling sessions, all part of a holistic treatment programme aimed at helping patients find dignity and self-worth, to be able to function on their own after being discharged from the PPC.

This has certainly been the case for 40-year-old Muhammad Shahid, who suffered a backbone injury in the Swat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province back in 2008.

“I was sent to the PPC, after surgery in a government-run hospital, where I learnt embroidery,” he tells IPS. “Now I am working in my home and earn about 300 dollars a month, which I use to educate and feed my two sons and daughter.”

“All credit goes to the PPC, which enabled me to become a working man. Otherwise, my family would have starved to death,” he tells IPS over the phone from his hometown in the Swat Valley.

The PPC was established in 1979 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide free treatment to those wounded in the 1979-1989 Soviet War in Afghanistan. Later, the KP government took control of the facility, opening it up to locals in the tribal areas.

The Centre has been a godsend for the thousands who have sustained injuries in crossfire between militants and government forces, who since 2001 have been battling for control of Pakistan’s mountainous regions that border Afghanistan.

Director-general of health services for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr. Waheed Burki, says more than 40,000 people, including 5,000 security personnel and 3,500 civilians, have been killed since 2005 alone. A further 10,000 have been injured.

Burki says about 90 percent of those who frequent the PPC were injured in war-related incidents.

But Amirzeb Khan, a physiotherapist at the Centre, says that the patients are not all victims of violence. Some have sustained injuries from road traffic accidents and small firearms, while others suffered spinal cord damage as a result of falls from rooftops, trees and electricity poles.

“The majority of the patients are between 20 and 30 years old, which means they fall into the ‘most productive’ age-group,” Khan tells IPS.

Many of these young people come to the Centre fearing the worst; yet almost all leave as productive members of society, armed with the skills necessary to make a living despite being confined to a wheelchair.

Those with minor injuries have even learned how to walk again.

“About 3,000 of our patients are now prospering,” Khan adds. “Of these, roughly 2,000 are women.”

In a country where the average annual income is 1,250 dollars, according to government data, the cost of treating spinal injuries is far greater than most families can afford. In places like the United States and Europe, experts tell IPS, rehabilitating such a patient could run up a bill touching a million dollars.

By offering their services for free, and developing low-cost technologies and equipment, the PPC has closed a yawning health divide in a vastly unequal country, at least for paraplegics.

An administrator named Ziaur Rehman tells IPS that plans are afoot to turn the PPC into a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for patients with spinal cord injuries from all over the country and the region over the next five years.

The hope is to create a multiplier effect, whereby those who receive training here will take their newly acquired skills and pass them on to their respective communities.

A living example of this is 24-year-old Shaheen Begum, who now runs her own embroidery centre in the Hangu district of KP. Immobilised by a back injury in 2011, she underwent rigorous physical therapy at the Centre, while also learning computer skills and fabric painting.

“Now I am imparting these skills to women in my neighbourhood and my children are in good schools,” she tells IPS happily.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Double Burden of Malnutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-double-burden-of-malnutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-double-burden-of-malnutrition/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 11:26:37 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137900 These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

These Haitian schoolchildren are being supported by a WFP school feeding programme designed to end malnutrition which, for many countries, can be a double burden where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

Not only do 805 million people go to bed hungry every day, with one-third of global food production (1.3 billion tons each year) being wasted, there is another scenario that reflects the nutrition paradox even more starkly: two billion people are affected by micronutrients deficiencies while 500 million individuals suffer from obesity.

The first-ever Global Nutrition Report, a peer-reviewed publication released this month, and figures from the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlight a multifaceted and complex phenomenon behind malnutrition.

“The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country”, according to Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director. “And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition”."The double burden of malnutrition [is] a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country. And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically. These are the countries that are going through the nutrition transition” – Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director

Beside hunger then, governments and development organisations have also been forced to start tackling over-nutrition.

“While under-nutrition still kills almost 1.5 million women and children every year, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are driving rising diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organisation (WHO), explained in a statement.

The solution does not lie in the realm of science, health or agriculture alone. It requires a cross sectorial and multi dimensional approach that includes education, women’s empowerment, market regulation, technological research and, above all, political commitment.

For this reason, representatives of governments, multilateral institutions, civil society and the private sector met in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) that took place at FAO headquarters on Nov. 19-21. Jointly organised by FAO and WHO, the conference came 22 years after its first edition and, unfortunately, addressed the same unsolved problem.

Malnutrition, in all its forms, has repercussions on the capability of people to live a full life, work, care for their children, be productive, generate a positive cycle and improve their living conditions. Figures from the Global Nutrition Report estimate that the cost of malnutrition is around four to five percent of national GDP, suggesting that prevention would be more cost-effective.

With the goal of improving nutrition through the implementation of evidence-based policies and effective international cooperation, ICN2 produced two documents to help governments and stakeholders head in the right direction: the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and a Framework for Action.

The conference also heard a strong call for accountability and for the strengthening of nutrition in the post-2015 development agenda.

Flavio Valente, who represented civil society organisations at ICN2, remarked that “the current hegemonic food system and agro-industrial production model are not only unable to respond to the existing malnutrition problems but have contributed to the creation of different forms of malnutrition and the decrease of the diversity and quality of our diets.”

This position was shared by many speakers, who stressed the negative impact that advertising of unhealthy food has, mainly on children.

According to a participant from Chile, calling obesity a non-communicable disease is misleading, because it spreads through the media system very effectively. He added that Chile currently risks being brought before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by multinational food companies for its commitment to protect public health by regulating the advertising of certain food.

This happens in a country where 60 percent of people suffer from over-nutrition and one obese person dies every hour, according to the permanent representative of Chile at FAO, Luis Fernando Ayala Gonzalez.

In an address to the conference, Queen Letizia of Spain also acknowledged the responsibility of the private sector: “It is necessary to help the economic interests converging towards public health. It is worth remembering that no country in the world has been able to reverse the epidemic of obesity in all age groups. None.”

The outcome of ICN2 brought consensus around a plan of action and some key targets.

Educating children about healthy habits and women who are in charge of feeding the family was recognised as crucial, as was breastfeeding, which should be encouraged (through paid maternity leave and breastfeeding facilities in the workplace), and the need to empower women working in agriculture.

Supporting small and family farming would also give people better opportunities to eat local, fresh and seasonal produce as well as fruit and vegetables, reducing the consumption of packaged, processed food that is often low in nutrients, vitamins and fibres and high in calories, sugar, salt and fats.

However, teaching people how to eat is not enough, if they cannot easily access quality food – hence the need for relevant policies targeting the food chain and distribution.

Initiatives like the Fruit in Schools programme proposed by New Zealand go in the right direction, especially when implemented within a coordinated policy that promotes physical activity and a healthy lifestyle that fights consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Down With Sustainable Development! Long Live Convivial Degrowth!http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 12:10:14 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137893 Detail from the cover of ‘Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era’

Detail from the cover of ‘Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era’

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST/BARCELONA, Nov 22 2014 (IPS)

For anyone who recently attended the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth in Leipzig, Germany, listening in on conference talk, surrounded by the ecologically savvy, one quickly noticed that no one was singing the praises of sustainable development.

Nonetheless, development per se and all that this entails did take centre stage, as a crowd of three thousand participants and speakers debated ongoing trends in the fields of environment, politics, economics and social justice.

Given that it may not be immediately clear why a rallying cry anchored to ecological principles would call for the demise of sustainable development – which in generic terms could be described as the environmentalist programme dating back several decades – it seems that a clarification or two would be in order.

As is the case with social movements, they evolve and go through periods of transformation like anything else does. When the term sustainable development came into use in the 1970s and 1980s, it did support the assumption that general environmental principles and minimum ecological limits should be respected when going about the everyday business of development.From the vantage point of economic realism, development is inextricably connected to economic growth. However, degrowthers carry the deeply-held belief that economic growth simply does not deliver what it promises: increased human welfare

The term sustainable development rapidly gained wide-scale acceptance, with the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development just one of the many (inter)governmental or top-down bodies that have set up in the past three decades to include environmental goals in planning and policy.

However, according to Federico Demaria, author and member of Research & Degrowth in Barcelona, the idea of sustainable development is based on a false consensus. Once this term and its underlying situations are properly deconstructed, Demaria tells IPS, “we discover that sustainable development is still all about development. And that is where the problem lies.”

Development is indeed a dirty word in degrowth circles. From the vantage point of economic realism, development is inextricably connected to economic growth. However, degrowthers carry the deeply-held belief that economic growth simply does not deliver what it promises: increased human welfare.

“Thus we find ourselves at a place where we need to readdress the flaws of sustainable development with a fresh perspective,” says Demaria.

It is with the hopes to do just that in a clear and powerful way that Demaria, along with Giorgos Kallis and Giacomo D’Alisa, have produced the new book Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, which has just been released by Routledge.

This volume includes 50 entries that all touch on specific aspects of degrowth and go a long way towards elucidating the distinguishing factors of degrowth, as well as properly defining concepts ranging from conviviality to bioeconomics, societal metabolism and many others.

The historical development of the degrowth movement is also spelled out. Thus we learn that in the 1970s, at the time of the first phase of the degrowth debate, when The Limits to Growth by Dennis and Donella Meadows and others was published, resource limits was the talk of the town. Yet now, in what can be called the second stage, criticism of the hegemonic idea of sustainable development has come to the forefront.

It was Serge Latouche, an economic anthropologist, who defined sustainable development as an oxymoron in A bas le développement durable! Vive la décroissance conviviale!  (‘Down with sustainable development! Long live convivial degrowth!’) at a conference in Paris in 2002, affiliated with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and concerned with the issues of development.

Latouche and others in the French-speaking world began to give shape to the French movement, which called itself décroissance and eventually spread to other countries, entering Italy as decrescita and Spain as decrecimiento. Eventually, by 2010, degrowth emerged as the English-language term, well suited for universal applicability.

For many of the attendees of the degrowth conference in Leipzig, the set of vocabulary of the degrowth movement and even the very name degrowth begged to be dealt with carefully. There were a few proposals to switch to a name carrying positive connotations, instead of defining a movement based on opposition to something – growth in this case.

But Latouche and Demaria both argue that the word degrowth most concisely defines one chief objective of the movement – the abolition of economic growth as a social objective. Referred to as a missile word, it is disturbing for some, exactly because it intends to be provocative; as such, this has borne fruit.

There are certainly positive concepts to highlight in the degrowth movement. These include voluntary simplicity, conviviality and economy of care. Yet none of these terms are broad enough to be inclusive and representative of the breadth of ideas that make up the entirety of degrowth.

Perhaps Francois Schneider, another of the degrowth pioneers, put it best when he defined degrowth as: “equitable downscaling of production and consumption that will reduce societies’ throughput of energy and raw materials.”

The goal in all of this, according to the authors of the new book, is not simply to have a society that can manage with less, but to have different arrangements and a different quality. That is where the idea of societal metabolism (that is, energy and materials within the economy) comes into place, because it explains how a degrowth society will have different activities, rearranged forms or uses of energy, and significantly different allocations of time between paid and non-paid work.

Taking social relations as well as the time-work relationship a step further, the theory of dépense, also described in the new book, comes in handy. Dépense signifies the collective consumption of ‘surplus’ in a society.

Nowadays, surplus time and energy is often re-invested in new production or used in an individualistic manner. This follows the dictum of capitalism whereby there should not be too many wasteful expenses; at the most individuals can employ their own all-too-brief methods to unwind from stressful life in the rat race.

Yet degrowth advocates point to the habits of older civilisations where surplus was dedicated to non-utilitarian purposes, be they festivals or celebrations. Degrowthers prefer to see an application of dépense to community-based uses that place conviviality and happiness-inducing activities above economic factors.

While no one can predict when and how the degrowth transition will take place, Demaria stresses that examples of this transition are already here. “Look no further than the transition town movement in the United Kingdom or Buen Vivir in South America,” says Demaria.

Demaria and others also hope that one specific effect of the Leipzig conference, as well as the brand new volume on degrowth, will be to re-politicise environmentalism. Sustainable development de-politicises real political oppositions and underlying dissonance, contributing to the false imaginary of decoupling: perpetuating development without harming the environment.

“Once we decide that we are not afraid to talk about the full implications of development, be they economic, social or political,” says Demaria, “then we begin to see that it is actually utopian to think that our societies can be based on economic growth for ever. Degrowth, by contrast, really offers the most common sense of all.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Azerbaijan’s Rights Activists on the Brinkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:52:13 +0000 Vugar Gojayev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137890 By Vugar Gojayev
BAKU, Nov 21 2014 (EurasiaNet)

When Azerbaijan served as chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, it scoffed at the spirit and purpose of the organisation and moved vigorously to squash all forms of free speech at home.

Now that Baku no longer holds the top spot, civil society activists are worrying about what Azerbaijani authorities will do next.At the moment, the country’s jails hold at least 90 political prisoners, almost double the number in Belarus and Russia combined. These prisoners of conscience face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and treason.

All civil society actors in Azerbaijan currently are grappling with a daunting dilemma: either stop engaging in rights-related activism or pay a high price, in particular face the prospect of criminal prosecution.

Dozens of activists and independent journalists remain behind bars for no reason other than engaging in rights work or tacitly promoting free speech. At the moment, the country’s jails hold at least 90 political prisoners, almost double the number in Belarus and Russia combined. These prisoners of conscience face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and treason.

Azerbaijan relinquished its Committee of Ministers chairmanship on Nov. 13. Far from softening its repressive behaviour and cleaning up its awful rights record during its six-month tenure, the government stepped up its suppression of internal dissent.

At least 13 activists were arrested and at least 10 others were convicted on politically motivated charges following flawed trials. Authorities rounded up the country’s most senior human rights defenders and other leading activists, including Leyla Yunus, veteran human rights defender and director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and her husband, the political commentator Arif Yunus.

They also detained Rasul Jafarov, chairman of Azerbaijan’s Human Rights Club, Intigam Aliyev, prominent lawyer and chairman of the Legal Education Society, and the famous opposition journalist Seymur Haziyev.

Some of those detained in recent months have serious health conditions. Yet, authorities keep them locked up, even as they fail to provide any information to suggest that pre-trial detention is warranted. They also have not released any credible evidence that would support the charges against these recent detainees.

In addition to politically motivated arrests, dozens of draconian laws regulating the operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been adopted. The offices of several local and international NGOs were recently raided, their bank accounts frozen and staff interrogated. As a result of increasing pressure, many groups have felt compelled to cease operations.

While the Azerbaijani government has been ruthless in its clampdown, it remains sensitive about its public image, a fact underscored by Baku’s efforts to lavish money on PR in Washington and the EU. Baku’s PR acumen needs to be kept in mind by those who mine for signs of its intentions. Some Western partners have lauded President Ilham Aliyev’s government for releasing four political prisoners in mid-October.

The truth is the release does not change anything, and it is certainly not indicative of a softening of the Aliyev administration’s stance on dissent. It is important to note that before the four were pardoned, they were coerced into acknowledging in writing their “crime,” begging for forgiveness, praising Aliyev, objecting to being called “political prisoners” and denouncing the “anti-Azerbaijan or pro-Armenian activities” of international organizations.

Aliyev’s administration has a habit of using a “revolving door” tactic, releasing few and arresting new political prisoners. Since the October amnesty, at least three more activists have been jailed on bogus charges.

Police accused two of them on hooliganism for “swearing in public place,” and the other faces “narcotics” charges. They all have rejected the accusations, insisting their arrests are retaliation for their rights-related work.

During the Azerbaijani chairmanship, the Council of Europe chose mostly to avert its eyes to Baku’s violations or make toothless statements and merely symbolic criticisms. This head-in-the-sand approach has prompted activists in Baku to question the point of the Council of Europe.

Sadly, Azerbaijan’s refusal to release people imprisoned on politically motivated charges and end its abuses has not affected its relationships with the United States and European Union. Western diplomats tend to prefer backroom diplomacy to public pressure, but, in Azerbaijan’s case, there is absolutely no indication that private talks have had any positive effect.

The international community’s inaction means that the end of the Azerbaijan’s independent human rights community is nearing soon. Unless Aliyev’s government understands that there are serious consequences for its abuses, Baku’s free pass on human rights abuses will continue.

Editor’s note:  Vugar Gojayev is an Azerbaijani researcher and freelance journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Why Nuclear Disarmament Could Still Be the Most Important Thing There Ishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/why-nuclear-disarmament-could-still-be-the-most-important-thing-there-is/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-nuclear-disarmament-could-still-be-the-most-important-thing-there-is http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/why-nuclear-disarmament-could-still-be-the-most-important-thing-there-is/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:45:56 +0000 Risto Isomaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137885

In this column, Risto Isomäki, Finnish environmental activist and award-winning writer whose novels have been translated into several languages, describes the practically unimaginable capacity for destruction inherent in the nuclear facilities that currently exist around the world and argues that we have to try the impossible – force nuclear technologies back into the Pandora’s box from which they came.

By Risto Isomaki
HELSINKI, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

At the height of the Cold War the world’s total arsenal of nuclear weapons, counted as explosive potential, may have amounted to three million Hiroshima bombs.  The United States alone possessed 1.6 million Hiroshimas’ worth of destructive capacity.

Since then, much of this arsenal has been dismantled and the uranium in thousands of nuclear bombs has been converted to nuclear power plant fuel.

Risto Isomäki

Risto Isomäki

Future historians are likely to offer some stingy comments on how 20th century governments first used thousands of billions of dollars to laboriously enrich natural uranium to weapons grade uranium with gas centrifuges, and then reversed the process, diluting their weapons grade uranium with natural uranium.

This declining trend has led many people and governments to believe that nuclear disarmament is no longer an important issue.

It is true that the probability of a nuclear war is currently immensely smaller than during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 or during the other hair-raisingly dangerous moments of the Cold War.

In spite of this, it could be a grave mistake to assume that the danger is now over, forever.

We have not really been able to push the evil genie back into the bottle, yet. The remaining U.S. and Russian inventories might still amount to 80,000 Hiroshima bombs. This is approximately forty times less than at the height of Cold War’s nuclear armament race, but still much more than enough to destroy the world as we know it.“The remaining U.S. and Russian [nuclear] inventories might still amount to 80,000 Hiroshima bombs. This is approximately forty times less than at the height of Cold War’s nuclear armament race, but still much more than enough to destroy the world as we know it”

While the world’s nuclear arsenal has become smaller, the remaining nuclear weapons are more accurate and on average smaller than before.  This might, some day, lower the threshold for using them.

Besides, it now seems that we have seriously underestimated the destructive capacity of all kinds of nuclear weapons.

In both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear bombs ignited large firestorms that burned all the people caught inside the fire perimeter to death.  However, U.S. military scientists regarded fire damage as so unpredictable that for fifty years they concentrated only on analysing the impact of the blasts.

The story has been beautifully documented by Lynn Eden, a researcher at Stanford University, in an important book important book entitled Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge & Nuclear Weapons Devastation.

When, in 2002, the United States was afraid of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India, it warned their governments that a nuclear war in South Asia might kill twelve million people.

The figure was absurdly low because it only took the impact of the nuclear blasts into consideration. According to recent research, the fire damage radii of nuclear detonations are from two to five times longer than those determined by the blast effects.  In practice, this means that the area destroyed by the fire is typically 4 to 25 times larger than the area shattered by the blast.

The Second World War firestorms in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Hamburg and Dresden caused very strong rising air currents and hurricane-speed winds blowing towards the fire from the edges of the fire perimeter.

Nuclear detonations in modern cities created even fiercer firestorms because they contain very large quantities of hydrocarbons in the form of asphalt, plastic, oil, gasoline and gas.

According to one study, the firestorm ignited by even a small, Hiroshima-size explosion in Manhattan would produce incredibly strong super-hurricane winds blowing towards the fire at the speed of 600 kilometres per hour. Most skyscrapers have been designed to withstand wind speeds amounting to 230 or 250 kilometres per hour.

The worst-case scenario is a nuclear detonation happening far above the ground.  According to the so-called ‘Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack’ – or EMP Commission for short – of the U.S. Congress, between 70 and 90 percent of the country’s population might die within one year if somebody detonated a megaton-sized nuclear weapon at the height of 160 kilometres above the continental United States.

A nuclear explosion always produces a very strong electromagnetic pulse ­ or, to be more precise, three different electromagnetic pulses, which can fry all unprotected electronic equipment within a line of sight.  From the height of 160 kilometres, everything in the continental United States is within a line of sight. Everything works with electricity and practically nothing has been protected against an EMP.

In other words, a single nuclear weapon could wipe out health care, water supplies, waste-water treatment facilities, agricultural production and the factories and laboratories making pharmaceuticals, vaccines and fertilisers – among many others.

Europe is equally vulnerable and most other countries, including India and China, are doing their utmost to become as vulnerable as the old industrialised countries already are. 

According to the EMP Commission, the cost of electronic equipment would only rise by 3-10 percent if it were hardened against an electromagnetic pulse, and protecting the key 10 percent of everything with electronics would be enough to secure the crucial functions of an organised society. However, in practice, nothing like this has been done, in any country.

We should not forget nuclear disarmament, because it could still be the most important thing there is.

It would probably be wise to utilise the periods of relative calm as efficiently as possible for further reducing our nuclear weapons arsenals and for developing better alternatives for nuclear electricity. Otherwise, tensions between declining and rising great powers may one day again create new nuclear armament races, with potentially disastrous consequences.

The spread of nuclear reactors increases the risks. Every country that acquires the ability to construct a nuclear reactor also acquires the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Nuclear reactors were originally developed for making better raw material for nuclear weapons, and all our reactors are still making plutonium, every second they operate.

The weapons grade uranium used in nuclear bombs is enriched by the same gas centrifuges that produce the fuel for our power-producing nuclear stations.

The stakes will rise higher if we also begin to construct fourth-generation nuclear power plants or breeder reactors.  Breeders need, in one or more parts of the reactor, nuclear fuel in which the percentage of the easily fissile isotopes has been enriched to 15, 20 or 60 percent, or to even higher levels. This kind of fuel can already be used for making crude nuclear weapons, without any further enrichment.

It is often said that when a technology has been developed it can no longer be forced back into the Pandora’s box from which it came.  However, when it comes to nuclear technologies, we just have to try. The long-term survival of our species may depend on this choice. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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