Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 02 Sep 2014 16:52:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Civil Society Calls For Impartial Inquiry on Air Crash and Catastrophe in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:30:09 +0000 Alice Slater http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136453 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

By Alice Slater
NEW YORK, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

It is ironic that at this moment in history when so many people and nations around the world are acknowledging the 100th anniversary of our planet’s hapless stumble into World War I, great powers and their allies are once again provoking new dangers where governments appear to be sleepwalking towards a restoration of old Cold War battles.

A barrage of conflicting information is broadcast in the various national and nationalistic media with alternative versions of reality that provoke and stoke new enmities and rivalries across national borders.

Moreover, NATO’s new disturbing saber-rattling, with its chief, Anders Rasmussen, announcing that NATO will deploy its troops for the first time in Eastern Europe since the Cold War ended, building a “readiness action plan”, boosting Ukraine’s military capacity so that, “ In the future you will see a more visible NATO presence in the east”, while disinviting Russia from the upcoming NATO meeting in Wales, opens new possibilities for endless war and hostilities.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds [...].
With the U.S. and Russia in possession of over 15,000 of the world’s 16,400 nuclear weapons, humanity can ill-afford to stand by and permit these conflicting views of history and opposing assessments of the facts on the ground lead to a 21st Century military confrontation between the great powers and their allies.

While sadly acknowledging the trauma suffered by the countries of Eastern Europe from years of Soviet occupation, and understanding their desire for the protection of the NATO military alliance, we must remember that Russia lost 20 million people during WWII to the Nazi onslaught and are understandably wary of NATO expansion to their borders in a hostile environment.

This despite a promise to Gorbachev, when the wall came down peacefully and the Soviet Union ended its post-WWII occupation of Eastern Europe, that NATO would not be expanded eastward, beyond the incorporation of East Germany into that rusty Cold War alliance.

Russia has lost the protection of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. abandoned in 2001, and warily observes missile bases metastasizing ever closer to its borders, in new NATO member states, while the U.S. rejects repeated Russian efforts for negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space, or Russia’s prior application for membership in NATO.

Why do we still have NATO anyway? This Cold War relic is being used to fire up new hostilities and divisions between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Civil Society demands that an independent international inquiry be commissioned to review events in Ukraine leading up to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and of the procedures being used to review the catastrophic aftermath, including this latest outbreak of hostile actions from NATO.

Indeed, Russia has already called for an investigation of the facts surrounding the Malaysian airplane crash. The international investigation should factually determine the cause of the accident and hold responsible parties accountable to the families of the victims and the citizens of the world who fervently desire peace and peaceful settlements of any existing conflicts.

More importantly, it should include a fair and balanced presentation of what led to the deterioration of U.S.–Russian relations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new hostile and polarized posture that the U.S. and Russia with their allies find themselves in today with NATO now threatening greater militarisation and provocations against Russia in Eastern Europe.

The United Nations Security Council, with U.S. and Russian agreement, has already passed Resolution 2166 addressing the Malaysian jet crash, demanding accountability, full access to the site and a halt to military activity, which has been painfully disregarded at various times since the incident.

One of the provisions of Resolution 2166 notes that the Council “[s]upports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines.”

Further, the 1909 revised Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes adopted at the 1899 Hague International Peace Conference has been used successfully to resolve issues between states so that war was avoided in the past.

Regardless of the forum where the evidence is gathered and fairly evaluated, all the facts and circumstances should be made known to the world as to how we got to this unfortunate state of affairs on our planet today and what might be the solutions.

All the members of NATO together with Russia and Ukraine are urged to end the endless arms race, which only feeds the military-industrial complex that U.S. President Eisenhower warned against.

They must engage in diplomacy and negotiations, not war and hostile alienating actions.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds and thinking, and the abundance of resources mindlessly diverted to war to be made available for the challenges confronting us to create a livable future for life on earth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:38:21 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136447 Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
LOTOFAGA VILLAGE, Samoa, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water." -- Laisene Nafatali, a resident of Lotofaga Village
“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.

Most people in Lotofaga are subsistence farmers and are unable save a sufficient cash income to purchase a water tank, which costs roughly 2,700 tala (some 1,158 dollars). What little money they do have rapidly disappears in paying for transport to procure a supply from elsewhere.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water,” she continued.

Capturing maximum rainfall is vital to long-term water security in Samoa, where 65 percent of the country’s supply is derived from surface water and 35 percent from groundwater.

The Samoa Water Authority, which services 85 percent of the population, provides water treatment plants for existing water sources in rural areas. About 18 percent of the rural population, or more than 32,000 people in 54 villages, participate in independent water schemes, which are owned and managed at the local level.

Sulutumu Sasa Milo, president of the Independent Water Schemes Association, pointed out that, while infrastructure is 40-50 years old and in need of upgrading, the scheme is vital to sustaining many rural communities.

The scheme’s gravity-fed infrastructure comprises pipes that carry water from a natural source, such as a river or spring, to villages with water tanks provided for storage. Individual households then arrange their own piped connections.

A spokesperson for the Water Resources Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in the capital, Apia, said the country receives an adequate amount of annual rainfall, approximately 8,400 mm3 per year.

The challenge, according to the official, is small and steep water catchments with limited storage capacity, pressures on water resources from increasing development and observed changes in the pattern of the wet season over the past five years.

The wet season has habitually started in October and lasted six months, but now, he said, it tends to commence earlier and lasts half the predicted period, about three months.

“The difference now is that our rainfall is concentrated within a shorter period of time and it is more difficult to capture. In 2011, we received 80 percent of our annual rainfall within three months and this was mostly lost through runoff,” the spokesman stated.

Upolu Island is home to 70 percent of Samoa’s population of 190,372, as well as the capital city, and there are enormous demands for water use as a result of expanding urban development, hydropower stations, agriculture and tourism.

An MNRE environmental report last year identified the issue of forests within watershed areas, which help protect the quantity and quality of fresh water, being largely felled for agriculture, and commercial and residential development on the island. The impact of natural disasters, such as the Samoan earthquake and tsunami in 2009, and Cyclone Evan in 2012, has further degraded catchments and water infrastructure.

When droughts occurred in Samoa in 2011 and 2012, many villages, particularly on the south coast of Upolu, were left with no water as streams and catchments dried up.

Water security varies across the Pacific Islands. Kiribati and Tuvalu in the central Pacific Ocean are without any significant fresh water resources, while Papua New Guinea in the southwest has renewable water resources of 801,000 mm3 per year, in contrast to Samoa with 1,328 mm3 per year.

Common water management challenges in the region include aquatic pollution and procuring the financial, technical and human resources needed for large infrastructure projects and expanding safe water provision to isolated, widely scattered island-based populations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that water resources on Upolu Island are facing ecological stress due to about 85 percent of vegetation being cleared, and waste contamination.

Samoa is on track to achieve three of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but increasing water storage capacity and managing environmental threats are crucial to improving the rate of access to safe drinking water in Samoa, which is currently an estimated 40 percent.

Six of 14 Pacific Island Forum states, namely Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu, are on track to improve access to safe water and sanitation, deemed essential to achieving better health outcomes and sustainable development across the region.

*Water, sanitation and waste management are key issues being discussed at the United Nations’ Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hosted in Samoa from Sept. 1-4, 2014.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Arab Region Has World’s Fastest Growing HIV Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:21:29 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136439 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

At a time when HIV rates have stabilised or declined elsewhere, the epidemic is still advancing in the Arab world, exacerbated by factors such as political unrest, conflict, poverty and lack of awareness due to social taboos.

According to UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), an estimated 270,000 people were living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2012.

“It is true that the Arab region has a low prevalence of infection, however it has the fastest growing epidemic in the world,“ warns Dr Khadija Moalla, an independent consultant on human rights/gender/civil society/HIV-AIDS.With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the [HIV] epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users

The United Nations estimates that there were 31,000 new cases and 16,500 new deaths in 2012 alone. “Infections grew by 74 percent between 2001 and 2012 while AIDS-related deaths almost tripled,” says Dr Matta Matta, an infection specialist based at the Bellevue Hospital in Lebanon.

However, both Moalla and Matta explain that figures can be often misleading in the region, due to under-reporting and the absence of consistent and accurate surveys.

With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users.

In Libya, for example, 90 percent of those in the latter category also live with HIV, notes Matta. Furthermore, adds Moalla, most Arab countries do not have programmes allowing for exchange of syringes.

The legal framework criminalising such activities in most Arab countries means that it is difficult to reach out to specific groups.  With the exception of Tunisia, which recognises legalised sex work, female sex workers who work clandestinely in other countries are not safeguarded by law and thus cannot force their clients to use protection, which allows for the spread of disease.

Lack of awareness, the absence of voluntary testing and of sexual education, social taboos, as well as poverty, are among the factors driving HIV in the region. “Arab governments and societies deny the epidemic and the absence of voluntary testing means that for every infected person we have ten others that we do not know about,” stresses Moalla.

People living with HIV or those at risk face discrimination and stigma.  “More than half of the people living with HIV in Egypt have been denied treatment in healthcare facilities,” explains Matta.

This bleak scenario is compounded by the security challenges prevailing in the region which not only make it difficult to deliver prevention and other programmes, but also restrict access to services by those on treatment and cause displacement and loss of follow-up according to the UNAIDS report.

The war in Iraq that began in 2003, for example, led to the destruction of most of the country’s programmes and facilities under the National AIDS Programme and, according to Moalla, the national aids centre in Libya was recently burnt down.

In addition, in some countries, conflict has significantly increased the vulnerability of women. By 2012, for example, only eight percent of the estimated number of pregnant women living with HIV in the MENA region received appropriate treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission according to the UNAIDS report.

Meanwhile, only a few governments have worked on effective programmes to fight the epidemic, although there are signs of the emergence of NGOs tackling the problem with people living with HIV and providing them with support.

“North African countries and Lebanon have generally done better than others, while Gulf countries are doing the least,” says Moalla, adding that less than one in five people living with HIV are receiving the medicines they need in the Arab region.

While some efforts have been made with the UNDP HIV Regional Programme pioneering legal reform in several countries, as well as drafting an Arab convention on protection of the rights of people living with HIV in partnership with the League of Arab States, these are not enough.

“The Arab world attitude taking the high moral ground on the issue of HIV is no barrier for the epidemic,” says Matta. “The region’s governments need to address a growing problem that is only worsened by the general upheaval.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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New Technology Boosts Fisherfolk Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 04:50:08 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136426 Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
NAGAPATTINAM, India, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations gears up to launch its newest set of poverty-reduction targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the words ‘sustainable development’ have been on the lips of policymakers the world over.

In southern India, home to over a million fisherfolk, efforts to strengthen disaster resilience and simultaneously improve livelihoods for impoverished fishing communities are proving to be successful examples of sustainable development.

Here in the Kollam district of the south-western Kerala state,multimedia outreach programmes, using nationwide ocean forecasts, are bringing much-needed change into the lives of fisherfolk, who in southern India are extremely vulnerable to disasters.

“Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen [...]." -- John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon
A fishing family earns on average some 21,000 rupees (about 346 dollars) per month but most of these earnings are eaten up by fuel expenses, repayment of boat loans and interest payments.

Savings are an impossible dream, and fisherfolk have neither alternate livelihood options nor any kind of resilience against disasters.

In Jul. 2008, 75 Tamil-speaking fisherfolk from the district of Kanyakumari in the southern state of Tamil Nadu perished during Cyclone Phyan, caught unawares out at sea. The costal radio broadcasts, warning of the coming storm, did not deter the fishers from heading out as usual, because they could not understand the local language of the marine forecasts.

Earlier this year, on Jul. 22, 600 fisherfolk sailing on about 40 trawlers went missing off the coast of Kolkata during a cyclone and were stranded on an island near the coast of Bangladesh. Only 16 fishers were rescued.

The incident revived awareness on the need for better communication technologies for the most vulnerable communities.

The Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) is leading the charge, by uploading satellite telemetry inputs to its server, which are then interpreted and disseminated as advisories by NGOs like the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Radio Monsoon.

Best known for its state-of-the-art tsunami early warning forecasts, INCOIS offers its surplus bandwidth for allied ocean advisory services like marine weather forecasts, windspeeds, eddies, and ocean state forecasts (including potential fishing zones) aimed at fisherfolk welfare and mariners’ safety.

“Oceanographers in INCOIS interpret the data on ocean winds, temperature, salinity, ocean currents, sea levels [and] wave patterns, to advise how these factors affect vulnerable populations,” INCOIS Director Dr. Satheesh Shenoi told IPS.

“These could be marine weather forecasts, advisories on potential fishing grounds, or early warnings of tsunamis. INCOIS generates and provides such information to fishers, [the] maritime industry, coastal population [and] disaster management agencies regularly,” he added.

This new system works hand in hand with community-based information dissemination initiaitves that shares forecasts with the intended audience.

John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon, told IPS, “Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen either on radio, TV or print media.”

Radio Monsoon and the MSSRF multimedia outreach initiatives are the first such interventions aimed at fisherfolk safety and welfare in India.

Radio Monsoon, an initiative of an Indian climate researcher at the University of Sussex, Maxmillan Martin, ‘narrowcasts’ the state of the ocean forecasts on loudspeakers in fisherfolk villages, asking for fishers’ feedback, uploading narrowcasts online and using SMS technology for dissemination.

“As our tagline says: it is all about fishers talking weather, wind and waves with forecasters and scientists. It contributes to better reach of forecasts, real-time feedback and in turn reliable forecasts,” Martin told IPS. Information is passed on to fishers via three-minutes bulletins in Malayalam, the local language.

Ultimately all this contributes to enhanced safety and security for fisherfolk.

According to S. Velvizhi, the officer in charge of the information education and communications division at the MSSRF, “The advisories from INCOIS are disseminated through text and voice messages through cell phones with an exclusive ‘app’ [a cellphone application] called ‘Fisher Friend Mobile Application’.

“We also broadcast on FM radio in a few locations, we have a dedicated 24-hour helpline support system for fishers and a GSM-based Public Address system,” she added.

“More than 25,000 fishers in 592 fishing villages in 29 coastal districts in five states (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Odisha, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh), are receiving the forecast services daily,” Velvizhi claims.

On the tsunami battered coasts of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, fisherfolk have become traumatised by anxiety, a depleting fish catch, changes in coastal geography and bathymetry, increase in loan interests, threats to their food and livelihood security and loss of fishing gear and craft.

In this context, MSSRF’s community radio initiative using affordable communication technologies for livelihood security has become a game changer.

The information dissemination services undertaken by MSSRF include – apart from ocean state forecasts –“counsel to fisher women, crop and craft-related content, micro finance, health tips, awareness against alcoholism [and] the need for formal education for fishers’ children all disseminated through text and voice messages” according to S. Velvezhi.

Summing up the cumulative effect of the initiatives, 55-year-old Pichakanna in MGR Thittu, who survived the tsunami in Tamil Nadu’s Pichavaram mangroves on Dec. 26, 2004, told IPS, “Thanks to MSSRF interventions on community radio we have learnt new livelihood skills like fishing whereas before the tsunami we were hunter-gatherers or daily-wage agricultural labourers.

“Our children are now getting formal education, we have awareness about better health and hygiene and alcoholism has decreased noticeably; this has helped [eliminate] unwarranted expenditure on alcohol and improved our health, livelihood and food security for all,” he added.

“We also understand the significance of micro-finance, water, sanitation, health and hygiene, and most importantly, alcoholism is declining.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe’s Two-Time Turnabout on Syria/Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 22:33:30 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136434 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?

On August 15, the foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels and decided that each would henceforth be free to supply arms to Kurdish rebels fighting Sunni extremists of the Islamic State in the north of Iraq. Even Germany which in the past had been unwilling to furnish military supplies to warring parties  in ‘conflict zones’, is now ready to provide armoured vehicles and other hardware to the Kurds opposing the Islamic State’s advance.

The decision of Europe’s foreign ministers may surprise some because, barely a year and four months ago, in April 2013, the European Union had lifted a previously instituted ban on all imports of Syrian oil.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Moreover, the lifting of this boycott was quite explicitly intended to facilitate the flow of oil from areas in the north-east of Syria, where Sunni extremist rebel organisations had established a strong foothold, if not overall predominance over the region’s oil fields.

The Islamic State was not the only Sunni extremist organisation disputing control over Syrian oil fields. Yet there is little doubt that the fateful decision that the European Union took last year helped the Islamic State consolidate its hold over Syrian oil resources and prepare for a sweeping advance into areas with oil wells in the north of Iraq.

The outcome of the recent Brussels’ meeting thus appears to overturn a disastrous previous decision. To underline the point it is useful to briefly describe the extent to which Sunni extremist rebels have meanwhile established control over oil extraction and production in both Syria and Iraq.“Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?”

The Syrian oil fields are basically concentrated in Deir-ez-Zor, a province bordering on Iraq. Whereas oil extraction in Syria has always been very limited in size if measured as a percentage of world supplies, control over the Syrian oil wells plus its refinery has become crucial for the financing of the Islamic State’s war efforts.

In neighbouring Iraq, oil reserves are not concentrated in one single geographic region as they are in Syria. The bulk of the oil wells are to be found in the country’s south, at great distance from the Islamic State’s war theatre in the north. Only one-seventh of Iraq’s oil resources are said to be located in areas controlled by the Islamic State on the one hand, and Kurdish fighters on the other. Nevertheless, recent reports indicate that the Islamic State controls at least seven major oil wells in Iraq alone.

Using expertise gathered after it established control over wells in Syria, the Sunni extremist organisation is able to draw huge profits from the smuggling and sale of oil. It is the Islamic State’s oil-backed armed strength amassed in two adjacent civil wars that has now sent shivers throughout the Western world.

If the European Union’s April 2013 decision appears to have helped trigger the Islamic State’s current success, the situation created is historically novel. To my knowledge, never before has a rebel force fighting a civil war in the global South been able to base its war aspirations on control over oil.

True, in most of the civil wars that have rocked Africa over the last thirty years, access to raw materials has been fundamental. Witness the cases of Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo (DRC) and Sudan. It is also true that oil exports have been a specific mode of war financing, for instance in Angola and the Sudan.

Yet, in those cases, the state remained in command of the oil wealth. In Angola, the right-wing rebel movement UNITA relied heavily on smuggling rough diamonds towards financing its war, while the country’s oil fields were located at great distance UNITA’s war theatre.

In Sudan, oil fields are concentrated in the country’s south, that is, close to and in the region which was disputed by the rebel movement. But the regime of Omar Al-Bashir pursued an inhuman policy of depopulation through aerial bombardments, massacring hapless villagers and forcing survivors to flee. In the self-same process the rebels were deprived of access to people and oil.

Hence, strictly speaking there is no precedent for the oil-fuelled civil wars waged by Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq.

Now – in turning from de facto supporters to opponents of the Islamic State – Europe’s foreign ministers have followed the U.S. lead, because the United States had just started bombardments of Islamic State positions in Iraq’s north.

Though loudly defended on the grounds of the Islamic State’s relentless persecution of minorities, the renewed U.S. military intervention is not devoid of self-interest. Uppermost in the minds of Pentagon officials is the nexus between oil and arms.

Shortly after President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Iraq in October 2011, the United States clinched a huge deal for the sale of F-16 fighter planes and other armaments to Iraq’s military, valued at 12 billion dollars. At least four in five of the top U.S. military corporations are beneficiaries of Iraqi purchases.

Coincidentally, around the time when the U.S.-Iraq agreement on arms’ sales was sealed, the extraction of Iraqi crude was back to old levels, crossing the threshold of three million barrels per day in 2012. As the Iraqi government’s income from oil extraction and exports rose exponentially, U.S. and competing Russian arms’ manufacturers both lined up to bag the orders.

And there is robust confidence that the oil-and-arms nexus can be sustained – according to euphoric projections of the International Energy Agency (IAE), the body of Western oil consumer nations, Iraq holds the key to future increases in world production of crude!

Western policy-makers are feverishly espousing the cause of Muslim Shias, Christians and Yezidis, who are persecuted in areas of Iraq controlled by the Islamic State and, yes, there is no doubt that the Sunni extremist force is guided by a Salafi ideology that severely discriminates against religious minorities, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

But at what point in the past have Western states consistently defended religious minority rights in the Middle East? The idea seems to have emerged as an afterthought of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And are Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel, Muslim Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – to name just some of the groups mistreated by the West’s close allies – likely to be charmed by the West’s resolve to save the Yezidis of Iraq?

In any case, it is high time that the policy reversals in Brussels be questioned.

To recap: a turnabout in relation to the twin civil wars in Syria/Iraq was staged twiceFirst, in September 2011, a general prohibition on investments in and exports of oil from Syria was imposed, affecting both Assad’s government and Syria’s opposition. Then, in 2013, the European Union shifted de facto towards a position favourable to Syria’s Sunni extremist rebels.

Although the European Union’s foreign ministers now appear to have realised their sin, the damage can no longer be repaired without a complete overhaul of E.U. policy-making towards the Middle East.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Will Climate Change Denialism Help the Russian Economy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:00:49 +0000 Mikhail Matveev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136429 July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

The recent call from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “tightening belts” has convinced even optimists that something is deeply wrong with the Russian economy.

No doubt the planned tax increases (introduction of a sales tax and increases in VAT and income tax) will inflict severe damage on most businesses and their employees, if last year’s example of what happened when taxes were raised for individual entrepreneurs is anything to go by – 650,000 of them were forced to close their businesses.

Nevertheless, it looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the “belt-tightening” but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain.

“In October [2013], Vladimir Putin signed a bill under which oil extraction at sea deposits will be exempt from severance tax. Moreover, VAT will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation and utilisation of the oil extracted from the sea shelf,” noted Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra.“It looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the ‘belt-tightening’ but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain”

Some continental oil projects were alsoblessedby the “Tsar’s generosity”: “For four Russian deposits with hard-to-recover oils [shale oil, etc.] – Bazhenovskaya [in Western Siberia] and Abalakskaya in Eastern Siberia, Khadumskaya in the Caucasus, and Domanikovaya in the Ural region – severance taxes do not need to be paid. Other deposits had their severance tax rates reduced by 20-80%.”

In fact, the line of thinking adopted by Russian officials responsible for tax policy is very simple. Faced with the predicament of an economy dependent on oil and gas (half of the state budget comes from oil and gas revenue, while two-thirds of exports come from the fossil fuel industry), they decided to act as usual – by stimulating more drilling and charging the rest of the economy with the additional tax burden.

There have been many warnings from well-known economists about the “resource curse” [the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources] – and its potential consequences for the countries affected: from having weak industries and agriculture to being prone to dictatorships and corruption.

For a long time, however, economists have been keen on separating the economic and social impacts of fossil fuel dependency from the environmental and climate-related problems. But now, these problems are closely interconnected, and Russia might be the first to feel the strength of their combination in the near future.

Medvedev may not have read much about the “resource curse” but he should at least be familiar with the official position of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), whose Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst possible climate scenario.

One should at least expect this amount of knowledge from Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and it will be interesting to note whether the Russian delegation attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23 will be ready to explain why, instead of limiting fossil fuel extraction, the whole country’s economic and tax policy is now aimed at encouraging as much drilling as possible.

However, it is not just the United Nations that has been warning against the burning of fossil fuels due to the related high climate risks. In 2005, Russia’s own meteorology service Roshydromet issued its prognosis of climate change and the consequences for Russia, stating that the rate of climate change in Russia is two times faster than the world’s average.

Roshydromet predicted a rapid increase in both the frequency and strength of extreme climate events – including floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The number of such events has almost doubled during the last 15 years, and represent not only an economic threat but also a real threat to humans’ lives and their well-being,

Consider this summary of climate disasters in Russia during an ordinary July week (not including any of the large natural disasters such as the floods in Altai, Khabarovsk, and Krymsk, or the forest fires around Moscow in 2010):

“Following the weather incidents in the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk District where snow fell last weekend, a natural anomaly occurred in Novosibirsk, resulting in human casualties … Two three-year-old twin sisters died after a tree fell on them during a strong wind storm in the town of Berdsk, Novosibirsk District.”

“The flood in Yakutia lasted a week and resulted in the submersion of Ozhulun village in Churapchinsky district last Saturday. Due to the rise of the Tatta River, 57 house went under.”

“Flooding in Tuapse [on the coast of the Black Sea] occurred on July 8, 2014 … [and] has left 236 citizens homeless.”

ar swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Cars swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Is it not worrisome that so many climate disasters have to occur before Russian officials start to realise that climatologists are not lying? Or perhaps they are simply not inclined to take the climatologists’ warnings seriously.

Another significant problem could arise for Russia if oil consumers start taking U.N. climate warnings seriously – and there is evidence that this is happening.

The European Union (still the main consumer of Russian oil and gas) has announced an ambitious “20/20/20 programme” – increasing shares from renewables to 20 percent, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and decreasing carbon emissions by 20 percent. The United States has decided to decrease carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. These are only first steps – but even these steps can help decrease fossil fuel consumption.

Fossil fuel use has only very slowly been increasing in the United States and decreasing in Europe in the last five years. On the other hand, demand for oil has continued to rise in China and Southeast Asia, and it is perhaps this – rather than the recent “sanctions” against Russia over Ukraine – that inspired President Vladimir Putin’s recent “turn to the East”.

But there are serious doubts that Asia’s greed for oil will continue into the future. China recently admitted that it will soon be taking measures to limit carbon emissions – for the first time in its history. China has already turned to green energy andled the rest of the worldin renewable energy investment in 2013.

Will other Asian countries follow suit? Perhaps – because they certainly have a very strong incentive. According to Erin McCarthy writing in the Wall Street Journal, South and Southeast Asia’s losses due to global warming may be huge, and its GDP may be reduced by 6 percent by 2060, despite the measures taken to curb its emissions.

What does this mean for Russia?

Well, if the oil-consuming countries meet their carbon emission targets, we can expect a 10-20 percent decrease in oil demand in the next ten years, maybe more. Any decrease in demand usually induces a decrease in price – but not always proportionally. Sometimes, especially if the market is overheated, even a small decrease in demand can trigger a drastic falls in price. Economists call such a situation a “bursting bubble”.

Today, the situation in the oil (and, in general, fossil fuel) market is often called a “carbon bubble”. Because of high oil prices, investors are motivated to make investments in oil drilling in the hopes of earning a stable and long-term income.

But once the world starts taking climate issues seriously and realises that most of the oil needs to be left in the ground, oil assets will fall in value. Investors will try to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel sector, and, facing a crisis, oil companies will be forced to decrease both production and prices.

If the “carbon bubble” bursts, Russia will be left with sustainable businesses (that are being choked by the nation’s own tax politics) and with a perfect network of shelf platforms, oil rigs, and pipelines (which will be completely unprofitable and useless). Thus, by making fossil fuels the core of its economy, Russia is taking twice the number of risks.

First, it risks ruining the climate, and second, it risks ruining its own economy. It looks like Russia will lose at any rate: if the leading energy consumers are unable to decrease their oil consumption, the climate will be ruined everywhere, including Russia. If they manage to decrease their dependence on fossil fuel, the Russian economy will be ruined.

This certainly is not looking pleasant, especially if we add in the high probability of a major disaster like the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill happening in the Arctic, as well as countless minor leaks possibly occurring along the Russian pipelines.

But maybe Russia just has no other alternative to an economy dependent on fossil fuels?

In that case, perhaps it is worth mentioning a recent article by Russian financier Andrei Movchan in the Russian Forbes magazine. Movchan convincingly shows that the Achilles’ heel of the modern Russian economy is its extremely underdeveloped small and medium-sized businesses. And it looks like the current tax plans would literally exterminate them.

If Russia were able to reverse this tax policy and make small businesses play as big of a role in the economy as they do in the United States or Europe, there could be economic growth comparable to the growth expected from oil and gas – without all the frightful side effects of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

Sounds like a dream, but the first step to making it a reality can be simple: get rid of big oil lobbying in the government and try to reform the taxation system to suit the interests of Russian citizens instead of the interests of the big oil corporations.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Mikhail Matveev is 350.org Communications Coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia

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Ban on Nuke Tests OK, But Where’s the Ban on Nuke Weapons?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 11:50:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136423 A nuclear test tower belonging to the United States in Bikini Atoll. Credit: public domain

A nuclear test tower belonging to the United States in Bikini Atoll. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations commemorated the International Day Against Nuclear Tests this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lamented the fact that in a world threatened by some 17,000 nuclear weapons, not a single one has been destroyed so far.

Instead, he said, countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-range plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals."While nations still see a strong role for military options, including deterrence by force, then those with nuclear weapons will not be willing to relinquish them." -- Alyn Ware

Ban noted that more than half of the world’s total population – over 3.5 billion out of more than seven billion people – still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances.

“As of 2014, not one nuclear weapon has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway,” he said.

There are still eight countries – China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States – yet to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), whose ratification is required for the treaty’s entry into force.

Alyn Ware, founder and international coordinator of the network, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), told IPS, “Although I support the Aug. 29 commemoration of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, I would place greater priority on the issue of nuclear abolition than on full ratification of the CTBT.”

He said there is now a customary norm against nuclear tests (the nuclear detonation type) and only one country (North Korea) that occasionally violates that norm.

“The other holdouts are unlikely to resume nuclear tests, unless the political situation deteriorates markedly, elevating the role of nuclear weapons considerably more than at the moment,” Ware said.

The CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation) is working very effectively on implementation, verification and other aspects even though the CTBT has not entered into force, he added.

Ware also pointed out the issue of nuclear abolition is more closely related to current tensions and conflicts.

“While nations still see a strong role for military options, including deterrence by force, then those with nuclear weapons will not be willing to relinquish them, and we face the risk of nuclear conflict by accident, miscalculation or even design,” warned Ware, a New Zealand-based anti-nuclear activist who co-founded the international network, Abolition 2000.

Kazakhstan was one of the few countries to close down its nuclear test site, Semipalatinsk, back in 1991, and voluntarily give up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, permanent representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, told IPS his country’s decision to withdraw from membership of the “nuclear club” was more a question of political will because “Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.”

In 1949, Ban pointed out, the then Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, followed by another 455 nuclear tests over succeeding decades, with a terrible effect on the local population and environment.

“These tests and the hundreds more that followed in other countries became hallmarks of a nuclear arms race, in which human survival depended on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, known by its fitting acronym, MAD,” he noted.

“As secretary-general, I have had many opportunities to meet with some of the courageous survivors of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Semipalatinsk.”

Their resolve and dedication “should continue to guide our work for a world without nuclear weapons,” he added.

He stressed that achieving global nuclear disarmament has been one of the oldest goals of the United Nations and was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution as far back as 1946.

“The doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies,” Ban said.

This is so despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war, he added.

Currently, there are five nuclear weapon states, namely the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China, whose status is recognised by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

All five are veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (P5), the only body empowered to declare war or peace.

The three other nuclear weapon states are India, Pakistan (which have formally declared that they possess nuclear weapons) and Israel, the undeclared nuclear weapon state.

North Korea has conducted nuclear tests but the possession of weapons is still in lingering doubt.

Ware told IPS the health and environmental consequences of nuclear tests gives an indication of the even greater catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

This is what has spurred countries like Kazakhstan to establish the International Day Against Nuclear Tests as a platform to promote a nuclear-weapon-free world, he said.

“And it has spurred Marshall Islands to take this incredibly David-versus-Goliath case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ),” he added.

This has also given rise to the humanitarian consequences dimension, which has gained some traction and will be discussed at the third conference coming up in December.

But without increased confidence in the capacity to resolve conflicts without the threat or use of massive force, countries will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence, even if they do not intend to use the weapons, Ware said.

Thus, UNFOLD ZERO, which is promoting the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, is also advancing cooperative security approaches through the United Nations to resolve conflicts and security threats, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Large Dams “Highly Correlated” with Poor Water Qualityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:34:45 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136401 Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Large-scale dams are likely having a detrimental impact on water quality and biodiversity around the world, according to a new study that tracks and correlates data from thousands of projects.

Focusing on the 50 most substantial river basins, researchers with International Rivers, a watchdog group, compiled and compared available data from some 6,000 of the world’s estimated 50,000 large dams. Eighty percent of the time, they found, the presence of large dams, typically those over 15 metres high, came along with findings of poor water quality, including high levels of mercury and trapped sedimentation.“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins." -- Jason Rainey

While the investigators are careful to note that the correlations do not necessarily indicate causal relationships, the say the data suggest a clear, global pattern. They are now calling for an intergovernmental panel of experts tasked with coming up with a systemic method by which to assess and monitor the health of the world’s river basins.

“[R]iver fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity,” International Rivers said Tuesday in unveiling the State of the World’s Rivers, an online database detailing the findings. “Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline.”

The group points to the Tigris-Euphrates basin, today home to 39 dams and one of the systems that has been most “fragmented” as a result. The effect appears to have been a vast decrease in the region’s traditional marshes, including the salt-tolerant flora that helped sustain the coastal areas, as well as a drop in soil fertility.

The State of the World project tracks the spread of dam-building alongside data on biodiversity and water-quality metrics in the river basins affected. While the project is using only previously published data, organisers say the effort is the first time that these disparate data sets have been overlaid in order to find broader trends.

“By and large most governments, particularly in the developing world, do not have the capacity to track this type of data, so in that sense they’re flying blind in setting policy around dam construction,” Zachary Hurwitz, the project’s coordinator, told IPS.

“We can do a much better job at observing [dam-affected] resettled populations, but most governments don’t have the capacity to do continuous biodiversity monitoring. Yet from our perspective, those data are what you really need in order to have a conversation around energy planning.”

Dam-building boom

Today, four of the five most fragmented river systems are in South and East Asia, according to the new data. But four others in the top 10 are in Europe and North America, home to some of the most extensive dam systems, especially the United States.

For all the debate in development circles in recent years about dam-building in developing countries, the new data suggests that two of the world’s poorest continents, Africa and South America, remain relatively less affected by large-scale damming than other parts of the world.

Of course, both Africa and South America have enormous hydropower potential and increasingly problematic power crunches, and many of the countries in these continents are moving quickly to capitalise on their river energy.

According to estimates from International Rivers, Brazil alone is currently planning to build more than 650 dams of all sizes. The country is also home to some of the highest numbers of species that would be threatened by such moves.

Not only are Brazil, China and India busy building dams at home, but companies from these countries are also increasingly selling such services to other developing countries.

“Precisely those basins that are least fragmented are currently being targeted for a great expansion of dam-building,” Hurwitz says. “But if we look at the experience and data from areas of high historical dam-building – the Mississippi basin the United States, the Danube basin in Europe – those worrying trends are likely to be repeated in the least-fragmented basins if this proliferation of dam-building continues.”

Advocates are expressing particularly concern over the confluence of the new strengthened focus on dam-building and the potential impact of climate change on freshwater biodiversity. International Rivers is calling for an intergovernmental panel to assess the state of the world’s river basins, aimed at developing metrics for systemic assessment and best practices for river preservation.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” Jason Rainey, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Economic burden

Particularly for increasingly energy-starved developing countries, concerns around large-scale dam-building go beyond environmental or even social considerations.

Energy access remains a central consideration in any set of development metrics, and lack of energy is an inherent drag on issues as disparate as education and industry. Further, concerns around climate change have re-energised what had been flagging interest in large dam projects, epitomised by last year’s decision by the World Bank to refocus on such projects.

Yet there remains fervent debate around whether this is the best way to go, particularly for developing countries. Large dams typically cost several billion dollars and require extensive planning to complete, and in the past these plans have been blamed for overwhelming fragile economies.

A new touchstone in this debate came out earlier this year, in a widely cited study from researchers at Oxford University. Looking at nearly 250 large dams dating back as far as the 1920s, they found pervasive cost and time overruns.

“We find overwhelming evidence that budgets are systematically biased below actual costs of large hydropower dams,” the authors wrote in the paper’s abstract.

“The outside view suggests that in most countries large hydropower dams will be too costly … and take too long to build to deliver a positive risk-adjusted return unless suitable risk management measures … can be affordably provided.”

Instead, the researchers encouraged policymakers in developing countries to focus on “agile energy alternatives” that can be built more quickly.

On the other side of this debate, the findings were attacked by the International Commission on Large Dams, a Paris-based NGO, for focusing on an unrepresentative set of extremely large dams. The group’s president, Adama Nombre, also questioned the climate impact of the researchers’ preferred alternative options.

“What would be those alternatives?” Nombre asked. “Fossil fuel plants consuming coal or gas. Without explicitly saying it, the authors use a purely financial reasoning to bring us toward a carbon-emitting electric system.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Wind Parks May Violate OECD Ruleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-wind-parks-may-violate-oecd-rules/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:38:06 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136392 Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

Communities in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca complain that the wind parks being built in their territory violate their human rights. Credit: Courtesy of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defence of Land and Territory

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

Four wind farm projects in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, operated or financed by European investors, could violate Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules, say activists.

Three of the parks are being developed by Electricité de France (EDF) and the fourth is financed by public funds from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Benjamin Cokelet, founder and executive director of the Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER), said the wind farms have committed several violations of human rights, which should be examined by the OECD – made up of the nations of the industrialised North and two Latin American countries, Chile and Mexico.

“EDF’s three wind farm projects claim that the community consultations took place, but we have not seen any evidence that these permits were obtained,” the head of PODER, which is based in New York and Mexico City, told IPS.

The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises contain recommendations for responsible business conduct in areas such as human rights, employment and industrial relations, environment, combating bribery and extortion, consumer interests, and taxation.

With respect to the environment, it says businesses should “provide the public and workers with adequate, measurable and verifiable…and timely information on the potential environment, health and safety impacts of the activities of the enterprise”.

Windy isthmus

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has the strongest potential for wind power in Mexico. Currently more than 1,900 MW are generated by 26 wind parks in the country, where Spanish companies have taken the lead.

In this oil-producing country, renewable energies account for nearly seven percent of total supply, without including large hydroelectric dams. But the government has set a target for renewable energy sources to represent 23 percent of consumption in 2018, 25 percent in 2024 and 26 percent in 2027.

Wind energy is projected to produce 15,000 MW by the start of the next decade.

It also says companies should “engage in adequate and timely communication and consultation with the communities directly affected by the environmental, health and safety policies of the enterprise and by their implementation.”

EDF, through its subsidiary EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDF EN), owns the Mata-La Ventosa wind farms. Another subsidiary is co-owner of the Bii Stinu park, while a third operates the Santo Domingo wind farm.

The three projects are in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is the shortest distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

The Mata-La Ventosa farm generates 67.5 MW, Bii Stinu 164 and Santo Domingo 160.

The other project that has been questioned is Mareña Renovables, with a generating capacity of 396 MW, in the Oaxaca coastal community of San Dionisio del Mar, on the Pacific Ocean.

This project is currently at a standstill because of legal action brought by members of the community whose land it is being built on.

According to PODER statistics, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is 200 km wide and has a surface area of 30,000 square kilometers, there are at least 20 wind park projects, controlled by 16 different companies.

The isthmus is also home to 1,230 agrarian communities, mainly indigenous “ejidos” or communal lands. Of the five indigenous people on the isthmus, the largest groups are the Zapotecs and Ikoots.

Reports from PODER indicate that conditions are favourable to business and negative for the local communities.

“The irregularities show collusion between public and private actors,” the organisation says.

The result is asymmetrical relationships and abusive leasing arrangements, characterised by the concealment of the permanent damage that the wind parks cause to farmland, the lack of fair compensation for damage, and extremely low rental payments for the land.

One problem was the lack of translators and interpreters for the local indigenous languages in the negotiations between the companies and the communities.

The right of local and indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent is enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But this right has not been respected by the companies building the wind farms in the isthmus, PODER says.

Cokelet said the companies have thus failed to comply with international social and environmental standards.

In December 2013 the EDF EN joined the United Nations Global Compact, a set of 10 voluntary, non-binding principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption for public or private signatories. In December this year, the EDF EN must present its report on compliance with these principles.

Construction of the Mareña Renovables wind farm complex was brought to a halt in 2013 by court rulings favourable to the affected communities.

The project consists of two wind parks that would produce a total of 396 MW, with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. The project is partly owned by PGGM, the Netherlands’ largest pension management company.

The project also has nearly 75 million dollars in financing from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and a 20 million dollar loan for the electricity purchaser from Denmark’s official Export Credit Agency (EKF).

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM).

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. The panel is now preparing the investigation of the case, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

EDF’s Mata-La Ventosa also received a 189 million dollar loan from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group. In addition, the IFC channeled another 15 million dollars from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).

Roberto Albisetti, IFC manager for Mexico and Central America, acknowledged to IPS the risk of complaints against the wind farms in Oaxaca, although he said the IFC’s independent grievance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), had not received any up to now.

“The handling of the communities has been very serious,” he said. “We invested a lot of money in the consultation processes, because it is better to prevent than to face complaints later.”

In 2010, the IFC disbursed 375 million dollars for the construction of Eurus, another wind park in Oaxaca, which generates 250 MW.

Mareña Renovables, PGGM’s project, is also exposed to international legal action, on another flank.

Fomento Económico Mexicano (Femsa), Coca Cola’s bottler in Mexico, would be the biggest consumer of the electricity generated by the wind park. Femsa is the second-largest shareholder in the Dutch brewing company Heineken International.

Femsa also signed the U.N. Global Compact, in May 2005, and is to present its compliance report in March 2015. Heineken, meanwhile, joined in January 2006 and handed in its report in July.

Cokelet said Denmark’s EKF export credit agency, which also signed the Global Compact, could face legal action before the OECD for violating its principles to promote sustainable lending in the provision of official export credits to low-income countries.

Heineken and PGGM, which could also face complaints of violating OECD guidelines and principles, are in the same position, he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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South Sudan’s Hip Hop Artists call for Peace and Reconciliation Through the Unhip Practice of Farminghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudans-hip-hop-artists-call-for-peace-and-reconciliation-through-the-unhip-practice-of-farming/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:47:48 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136384 Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Men and women planting vegetable seeds in a nursery bed in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Adam Bemma
JUBA, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

“What is the benefit when children are crying and people are dying due to hunger? There is no need to cry when you have the potential to dig,” sings Juba-based dancehall reggae group, the Jay Family, in their latest single “Stakal Shedit,” which means “Work Hard” in Arabic.

In the Stakal Shedit video, the three members, Jay Boi, Jonio Jay and Yuppie Jay, are seen sporting denim overalls and rubber boots with garden hoes slung over their shoulders. The objective is to motivate youth to engage in agriculture as a means to fight food insecurity in South Sudan.

“Agriculture is the backbone of this country,” 23-year-old Jay Boi told IPS. “The land in South Sudan is fertile. If you look around all you see are trucks bringing in food from outside of the country.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states three-and-a-half million, or almost one in three South Sudanese, are facing a severe food crisis as the conflict-ridden nation is on the brink of starvation.

The Jay Family comes from Yei, South Sudan, 100 kms southwest of the capital, Juba. The group formed in 2010 with the objective to spread South Sudanese music to all parts of East Africa and beyond.

“Our music is influenced by hip hop, reggae and afro-dance music,” 23-year-old Yuppie Jay told IPS. “I’m also a farmer. I learned from my uncle who grows many different crops.”

The Stakal Shedit music video was shot at the Rajaf Prison farm outside of the capital, Juba. Prisoners are seen farming in the video.

“We learned from the prisoners how to distribute seeds. In the video we were cultivating maize, okra, tomatoes, carrot and cassava,” Jay Family’s manager, Stephen Lubang, told IPS.

A scene depicts a group of young men sitting at a table playing a game of cards while drinking alcohol. It then cuts to the Jay Family singing in the prison’s farm.  The song continues, “Don’t blame the government when you can do something. Cultivate!”

The group calls on South Sudanese youth to consider agriculture and agri-business, instead of violence, as a way to combat unemployment and generate income. In the song the group addresses how poor infrastructure, like roads, can frustrate people starting small business.

“The major activity for youth in this country is to sit and cry that there are no jobs. If you want the government to help you, start farming,” Lubang said. “Then you can go to the government and ask for assistance.”

Last May, a group of 12 South Sudanese artists united in calls for peace when news of British explorer and journalist Levison Wood’s 6,000 km trek along the Nile River reached Juba. “Let’s Stand Together” was recorded by South Sudan All Stars. The song urges political leaders to reconcile at the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia peace talks.

Silver X is a 26-year-old South Sudanese musician who wrote the song “Let’s Stand Together.” He was displaced from his home in Torrit, South Sudan with his family in 2000. Four years ago he returned to his birthplace from a refugee camp in Uganda to launch his music career and help jumpstart South Sudan’s burgeoning music industry.

“When the recent fighting started it affected us all in different ways. I decided to write a song with artists from different tribes,” he told IPS. “If leaders could see the youth of this country crying for peace, I thought things might start to change.”

Moro Lokombu is a radio journalist and host of The Beat, a music programme highlighting South Sudanese music, at Juba’s United Nations-run Radio Miraya.

“We need to promote peace through local music by first exposing South Sudanese to it,” Lokombu told IPS. “I play Stakal Shedit and Let’s Stand Together on my radio show because they are songs with a powerful message.”

On Jun 16, the Jay Family, along with Silver X, launched a national campaign called “Music Against Hunger” at the Juba Regency Hotel. Dates are now set in September for performances in the southern cities of Nimule and Yei with more to come.

“We are starting with free concerts in two states, but we hope to travel to all 10 states to perform,” Lubang said. “Let’s work hard to stop war and develop our country. The future of South Sudan relies on its youth. Hunger is something we can fight.”

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The Gambia’s Democratic Space ‘Constricted, Restricted and Shrinking’ Ahead of 2016 Polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:25:41 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136381 Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

With the approach of the Gambia’s 2016 presidential elections, which will see President Yahya Jammeh seek re-election for a fifth, five-year tenure, more than a dozen opposition activists have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the past eight months.

The leader of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, told IPS, “the democratic space, instead of being expanded is constricted, restricted and shrinking.”

Just in the past eight months, 15 of Darboe’s party members have appeared before a court of law. Twelve members of the party’s youth wing were arrested in February for “an unlawful gathering” but where later acquitted by the court in March.

“The security forces have been scuttling our efforts by arresting my party supporters and I believe this is done with the full encouragement of the ruling party,” Darboe said.

Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the secretary general of youth wing of the UDP, was also acquitted in March on a charge of giving false information when obtaining a permit from the police to hold a social gathering for his party in Tujerang village, which lies some 40 km from Banjul. According to the state, Sandeng held a political rally instead of a social gathering.  Before his acquittal, Sanneh was originally sentenced in December 2013 to five years in jail after initially being found guilty of sedition.

Lasana Jobarteh, an audio visual expert attending the event, was not as lucky.  Jobarteh, 59, was charged with broadcasting without a license for providing live coverage of the UDP’s political gathering for online Gambian radio stations via skype. In July Jobarteh was found guilty and issued with a fine of 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars).

“I shocked by the judgment,” Darboe said of Jobarteh’s conviction.

“I don’t want to say more because we’ve filed an appeal. But I just have to repeat that I am thoroughly shocked. You don’t have to have any legal mind to know it’s not right. This is common sense.”

The case of Bai Mass Kah, from the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party, is the most recent one.“My party will never boycott the elections. The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.” -- Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party

On Sept. 9 Kah will appear before a court in Banjul, the country’s capital, to face judgement on a charge of sedition. Sedition has a broad definition in the Gambia – it means saying anything that tarnishes the image of the country, the government or the president. Kah’s crime was telling a ruling party supporter not to paste a photo of Jammeh on his car.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to two years imprisonment or face a fine of between 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars) and 250,000 dalasis (about 6,300 dollars), or both.

“The election is not an event but a process and the stage we’re in is very crucial,” political analyst Bakary Touray told IPS.

“If this stage [the pre-election period] is ignored, an unfair election could be declared fair by even international election observers [who are only present to witness the elections themselves and not the run-up process] as we have seen it happen in many elections across Africa.”

However, Touray says the current oppressive political environment is not unfamiliar.

“What we have seen in recent months — the arrest and prosecution — is a tactic by the ruling regime to weaken the opposition. Technically, the election has begun.”

Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP), told IPS that the current “political landscape is bad.”

“People are being arrested and detained beyond the 72-hour limit and the president is making utterances that violate the constitution. This is not a good situation for the country.”

Besides facing arrest and prosecution, the opposition claimed that they are being denied permits by the police to hold political rallies, which they are required to apply for according to the Public Order Act.

“We wanted to tour the country, meet the people and discuss with them our political agenda. Unfortunately, the Inspector General of Police has for the second time in May refused us a permit,” Bah said.

Bah said the reasons for refusing the permit “were not genuine.”

“In a letter dated Mar. 11, he [the Inspector General of Police] said there were programmes scheduled ahead of our programme, but he did not specify. In our second attempt, he said in a letter dated May 22, they were preoccupied with a women’s advancement forum, which was taking in Banjul, not in Upper River Region where we requested to go to for our rally. Absolutely, they [the reasons for refusal] were baseless.”

Darboe said that after the 2011 presidential elections, which Jammeh won in a landslide, there had been an unequivocal promise from the Independent Electoral Commission to ensure electoral reforms. However, the opposition overwhelmingly boycotted the parliamentary and local government elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively, after their demands for electoral reforms were unmet.

According to Darboe, if the playing field for multi-party elections is not levelled, his party may not participate in the upcoming presidential elections.

“We might as well call it quits. There’ll be no use in contesting an election that will not be fair. You don’t just want to go through the motions of electioneering when in fact [it is a] farce and mock election.”

Bah, the leader of NRP, however, holds a different view. When the opposition boycotted the parliamentary election, he contested. Even though his party managed to win only one seat in the parliamentary elections, and none in the local government election, Bah is undeterred.

“My party will never boycott the elections,” he said. “The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.”

Despite their apparent division, the opposition believe that political reforms are needed in Gambia.

“We need a comprehensive electoral reform and the institution that has the moral courage to ensure that the electoral laws as reformed will be implemented,” Darboe said.

“You can reform electoral laws but if you have a rogue institution [implementing them], the usefulness of reform will be questionable. And we need men of integrity to be in charge.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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India: A Race to the Bottom with Antibiotic Overusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-a-race-to-the-bottom-with-antibiotic-overuse/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 06:35:27 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136322 With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010. Credit: Bigstock

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, India, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned: “Combat Drug Resistance – No Action Today, No Cure Tomorrow.” The slogan was coined in honour of World Health Day, urging governments to ensure responsible use of antibiotics in order to prevent drug-resistant viruses and bacteria, or ‘super bugs’.

The warning is even more salient in 2014, particularly in India, a country of 1.2 billion people that recently earned the dubious distinction of being the worst country in terms of antibiotic overuse in the world.

With the average Indian taking some 11 antibiotic pills a year, the country consumed about 12.9 billion units in 2010, up from eight billion units in 2001.

"It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use." -- Ashok J. Tamhankar, national coordinator for the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR)
An analysis of national pharmaceutical sales data published in ‘The Lancet Infectious Diseases’ last month found that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa accounted for 76 percent of the increase in antibiotic use around the world.

Western countries are now waking up to the alarming impact of over-consumption of antibiotics, which results in drug resistance. In Europe alone, drug-resistant strains of bacteria are responsible for 25,000 deaths a year.

In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the world could be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” due to deadly bacteria eventually developing resistance to drugs through mutation, and as a result of “market failure” to develop new classes of antibiotics over the last 25 years.

In developing countries like India, changing lifestyles are contributing to the casual and careless use of drugs.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, research scholar and lecturer at Princeton University, told IPS the reason behind the proliferation of antibiotics in this country is “a combination of increasing income and affordability, easy access without a prescription, willingness of physicians to prescribe antibiotics freely, and a high background of infections that should ideally be contained by better sanitation and vaccination.”

People forget, he said, that “antibiotics do have side effects and […] they are less likely to work for you when you really need them.”

According to the Lancet’s report, the largest absolute increases in consumption between 2000 and 2010 were observed for cephalosporins, broad-spectrum penicillins and fluoroquinolones.

The authors cautioned, “Many broad-spectrum antibiotic drugs (cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, and carbapenems) are sold over the counter without [the] presence of a documented clinical need.”

Moreover, added Kolkata-based physician Surajit Ghosh of the Indian Public Health Association, some patients choose to refill their own prescriptions without consulting a proper physician, in a bid to reduce the burden of doctor’s fees.

For a country like India with limited healthcare facilities and a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor to every 1,700 people, as well as 29 percent of the population languishing below the poverty line, the emergence of super bugs could be disastrous, experts say.

“With our high background rate of infections, we rely on antibiotics more than developed countries do,” stated Laxminarayan.

“Therefore, the impact of super bugs is likely to be much greater for many in our country who cannot afford the newer, more powerful antibiotics. Think of it as the price of fuel or kerosene going up. The rich will manage wherever they are, but the poor will be hit hard.”

He predicts that the most common diseases to be affected by antibiotic overuse will likely be “hospital infections, particularly those causing sepsis, pneumonia and urinary tract infection.”

Wary of this possible development, many are shifting to alternative medicines, via the Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (ISM&H), which includes Ayurveda, siddha, unani, homoeopathy and therapies such as yoga and naturopathy.

Currently, there are over 680,000 registered ISM&H practitioners in the country, most of who work in the private sector.

Swati Biswas* tells IPS, “My husband was ailing for sometime and an operation was advised. But he contracted an infection in the nursing home and his operation was postponed.

“He never recovered after coming home and expired after two months. I spent thousands of rupees on medication for him to no avail. Now I go to a doctor of homeopathy for my problems. I’ve had enough of Western doctors and hospitals,” she added.

Meanwhile, a network known as the Indian Initiative for Management of Antibiotic Resistance (IIMAR) has been formed to promote awareness on this issue.

Asked about the need for such an organisation, Ashok J. Tamhankar, IIMAR’s national coordinator, told IPS, “In a scientific meeting in Bangalore in 2008 many of the participants realised that antibiotic resistance is increasing in India. This is happening because there’s no awareness about it among the stakeholders.

“The ignorance and callousness are at every level of the society – from care providers like doctors, to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers and [even] the consumers. So a platform was created to spread awareness through a blog.”

The initial group had only a handful of people, but now, he claims, it has more than 1,000 active members and many more passive ones from different walks of life.

“Only passing laws is not a solution,” Tamhankar stated.

“It’s the people who have to solve their problems with the help of the law. This is particularly important in the case of antibiotics. It’s a delicate, personal, ethical, medical issue. We can’t live without antibiotics. What is needed is prudent use,” he added.

People also hint at an unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies and doctors that results in over-prescription of antibiotics for ailments that could easily be treated without them.

Back in 2012, IIMAR reported that the Medical Council of India (MCI) had received 702 complaints of such over-prescription in 2011-12, of which 343 were referred to state medical councils.

“In 2010-11, MCI received 824 such complaints, following which it cancelled the registration of 10 doctors and warned four others,” IIMAR reported.

“Chemist and [drug] associations are not interested in curbing their volume of business and the [pharmaceutical] industry is also silent for the sake of their profit,” says Ghosh.

According to the consulting firm Deloitte, pharmaceutical sales in India stood at 22.6 billion dollars in 2012, with a predicted rise to 23.6 billion in 2013. Sales are expected to touch 27 billion by 2016.

Ghosh feels there should be “antibiotic protocols for all hospital, clinics and dispensaries and this should be displayed in each healthcare-providing agency [and] institution. There should be statutory warnings on each pack of antibiotics, highlighting the hazards of misuse.”

“Time has come to raise [our] voices against the irrational use of antibiotics,” he concluded.

*Not her real name

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Brazil to Monitor Improvement of Water Quality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazil-to-monitor-improvement-of-water-quality-in-latin-america/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:25:32 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136376 A technician from the State Environmental Institute of Rio de Janeiro monitors water quality in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in this Brazilian city. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

A technician from the State Environmental Institute of Rio de Janeiro monitors water quality in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in this Brazilian city. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Problems in access to quality drinking water, supply shortages and inadequate sanitation are challenges facing development and the fight against poverty in Latin America. A new regional centre based in Brazil will monitor water to improve its management.

One example of water management problems in the region is the biggest city in Latin America and the fourth biggest in the world: the southern Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo, which is experiencing its worst water crisis in history due to a prolonged drought that has left it without its usual water supplies – a phenomenon that experts link to climate change.

To prevent such problems, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Brazil’s national water agency (ANA) signed a memorandum of understanding, making the institution the hub for water quality monitoring in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Access to good quality water is one of the key issues for eliminating poverty and is also one of the main problems faced by developing countries. This has serious consequences for the health of the population and the environment.“ -- Marcelo Pires

ANA will also promote regional cooperation to strengthen monitoring and oversight.

“Brazil will be a hub for the region and will act as a coordinator for training programmes carried out together with other countries,” Marcelo Pires, an expert on water resources in the strategic management of ANA, told Tierramérica.

“Monitoring, sample collection methods and data analysis are very useful for decision-makers” when it comes to water management, he said.

The regional hub will also play a strong role in the establishment of national centres in each country.

“We don’t yet have a precise assessment of the situation, but we know there are advanced monitoring centres in Argentina, Chile and Colombia,” Pires said.

ANA will also be the nexus with UNEP to disseminate information on the quality of water resources, according to the parameters set by the U.N. Global Environment Monitoring System (GEMS) Water Programme.

That programme has created a global network of more than 4,000 research stations with data collected in some 100 countries.

Since 2010, Brazil’s water agency has been implementing a national water quality programme in the country’s 26 states and federal district, inspired by GEMS.

Pires said access to clean water, as well as the provision of sanitation to the entire population, is a basic condition for the country’s development.

The northern Brazilian city of Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon river, dumps a large part of its waste in the area around the port. The lack of sanitation means the river is highly polluted. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The northern Brazilian city of Santarém, on the banks of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon river, dumps a large part of its waste in the area around the port. The lack of sanitation means the river is highly polluted. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

“Access to good quality water is one of the key issues for eliminating poverty and is also one of the main problems faced by developing countries. This has serious consequences for the health of the population and the environment,” the expert said.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the inefficient management of water resources and international cooperation among countries of the developing South were “fundamental steps” for the sustainable use of water.

“Guaranteeing infrastructure for water and sanitation is a basic condition for economic development. This challenge is made even more complex as a result of the impacts of climate change. All of this reinforces the need to adapt to the global reality,” Steiner said, announcing the agreement with ANA.

The memorandum of understanding between the two institutions was made known this month, although it was signed in July during a visit by Steiner to Brazil. It will initially be in effect until late 2018, when it could be extended.

A study carried out by ANA found that over 3,000 towns and cities are in danger of experiencing water shortages in Brazil starting next year. That is equivalent to 55 percent of the country’s municipalities.

Water shortages are a frequent aspect of life in Latin America, as is unequal distribution of water. In addition, the quality of both water and sanitation is precarious.

“Our outlook is not very different from that of our neighbours,” Pires said.

To illustrate, he noted that only 46 percent of the sewage from Brazilian households is collected, and of that portion only one-third is treated, according to the latest survey on basic sanitation.

“Brazil has a sanitation deficit. People coexist on a day-to-day level with polluted rivers. That is reflected in public health and even in the treatment of water to supply households,” Pires said.

Climate change, another variable

Climate change-related impacts also make greater integration in terms of water management necessary among the countries of Latin America, because it means episodes of drought are more frequent and more pronounced, which results in lower water levels in reservoirs.

In Latin America, 94 percent of the population has access to clean water – the highest proportion in the developing South – according to a May report by the World Health Organisation (WHO). But 20 percent of Latin Americans lack basic sanitation services.

There is also a high level of inequality in access to clean water and sanitation, between rural and urban areas.

The World Bank, for its part, notes that climate change generates a context of uncertainty and risks for water management, because it will increase water variability and lead to more intense floods and droughts.

The consequence will be situations like the one in greater São Paulo, where one-third of the population of 21 million now face water shortages, while incentives are provided to people who manage to cut water consumption by 20 percent.

Different São Paulo neighbourhoods have been rationing water supplies to residents since February.

Alceu Bittencourt, president of the Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering in São Paulo, told Tierramérica that this is the worst water crisis in the history of the city and is evidence of climate variability.

He added that most cities and towns in Latin America have not put in place a response to these changes in the climate.

“It will take two or three years to get back to normal. This exceptional situation indicates that climate change is changing the rainfall patterns,” he commented, referring to the worst drought in southern Brazil in 50 years.

Since Jul. 12, the water that has reached the taps of at least nine million residents of São Paulo comes from the “dead volume” of the Cantareira system of dams, built in the 1970s, which collects the water from three rivers. The dead volume is a reserve located below the level of the sluices, and is only used in emergencies.

According to official projections, the reserve will be exhausted in October if the drought does not end, which would further aggravate the crisis that is already affecting every category of water consumer, Bittencourt explained.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:16:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136373 Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops."This is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons [and] more intense hurricanes." -- Natalie Boodram of WACDEP

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Civil Society Condemns Immunity for Sitting African Leaders Accused of Serious Crimeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:37:14 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136369 Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Mary Wacu lived in the Rift Valley region for 10 years prior to the 2007/08 post-election violence that rocked Kenya after a disputed general election.

“My husband was shot with a poisoned arrow, and my children hacked to death. Everything was burnt to ashes, I barely escaped with my life,” she tells IPS.

According to human rights organisations, the violence in this East African nation left an estimated 1,500 people dead and resulted in the rape of 3,000 women and the displacement of 300,000 people.

From her shanty in the sprawling Kibera slums, in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Wacu follows the proceedings of the cases for crimes against humanity levelled against President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

But here in Kenya, like many who bore the brunt of the unprecedented violence, justice remains beyond Wacu’s reach. It is a scenario that is all too familiar in Africa’s conflict-prone countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Against this backdrop, civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa as well as international ones working on the continent, have opposed the recently-adopted Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights by the African Union (AU) member heads of states in June.

The protocol extends criminal jurisdiction to the African Court, and offers immunity to serving heads of states and all senior government officials during their term of office for serious crimes. The African Court was established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

A source from Malawi attending the just-concluded meeting to promote ratification of AU treaties, which was held in Nairobi by the AU Office of the Legal Counsel on the 25 and 26 of August, explains to IPS that the amendments include an immunity provision for heads of states or governments and certain senior state officials for serious crimes against humanity.

The contentious article 46A categorically states that no charges shall be commenced or continued against any serving AU head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity.

“Lifting immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes committed is an assurance to African leaders that they are above the law,” the source says.

AU officials at the meeting, however, refused to comment to IPS on the protocol.

Malawi has taken the lead in mobilising other CSOs across Africa to tell their governments that the immunity provision is a blatant disrespect for human rights.

The source says that with a number of African leaders already under the radar of the ICC, “an immunity provision is offering African leaders the licence to abuse their people. It will further entrench dictatorship since many leaders will be afraid of being indicted when their term ends.”

The civil society community says that the African Court was moving in the right direction, until now.

Edigah Kavulavu, of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, tells IPS that the adopted protocol is the first legal instrument to extend a regional court’s authority to criminal jurisdiction “regional courts often deal with human rights issues, which are matters of a civil nature.”

He says that the African Court can now try cases of a criminal nature, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

He points out that the main bone of contention with the protocol is the immunity provision. Article 46A, Kavulavu says, is in breach of the principles that govern human rights.

“Through ICC and other regional courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, these courts complement each other so that they can bridge the impunity gap,” he explains.

James Gondi of the Kenyans For Peace With Truth and Justice, a coalition of over 30 Kenyan and East African legal, human rights, and governance organisations, tells IPS that international criminal law and international justice demand that “those bearing greatest responsibility are often head of states, heads of military and high level elites who plan, finance and coordinate criminal acts [be held to account]. The amendment is meant to serve the interests of these three categories of people.”

The human rights lawyer further says that immunity negates the principles of transparency and accountability, respect for the rule of law and for humanity.

He says that the immunity provision is a display that African leaders are immune to the criminal justice system.

Gondi says that the objective of the criminal justice of which the African Court now has mandate is and should be to “deter future atrocities and to end impunity.”

The lawyer says that the regime of law has developed such that immunity for heads of state is lifted in many national and international laws where crimes committed are so heinous that the law cannot turn a blind eye.

African countries with national laws that rule out immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes include Benin, Kenya, Burkina Faso the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

Gondi says that while the general principle of the law is that “we cannot give immunity for crimes against humanity because they are so grave. The law is an issue of politics and politics are defined by impunity and political will.”

Moving forward, Gondi says that there must be a concerted international and regional effort to end impunity and the political will to drive these efforts, “citizens must also demand for accountability from their leaders.”

The Malawi source urged CSOs to lobby, protest and campaign to have their governments reject the adoption and continue with sustained campaigns.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Amid Crisis, Puerto Rico’s Retirees Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:02:49 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136354 Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

A feeling of insecurity has overtaken broad sectors of Puerto Rican society as the economy worsens, public sector debt spirals out of control, and the island’s creditworthiness is put in doubt.

To tackle this economic crisis, the administration of governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla has adopted a number of measures that have been extremely unpopular with civil society and labour unions."Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it's worse because it is a colony of the United States." -- Retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz

Retirees have been particularly affected. In 2013, the government passed Law 160, which drastically changed the retirement system of public employees. It puts an end to the previous retirement system, established by Law 447 of 1951, under which every public sector worker was entitled to a full pension after 30 years of service, regardless of age.

But Law 160 changes that. The size of monthly pension payments is no longer guaranteed, and employees must work more years in order to get full benefits.

“The retirement system has been compromised,” said labour attorney Cesar Rosado-Ramos in a position paper for the Working People’s Party (PPT).

“It is unheard of, abusive and unjust that people with 30 years of service now have to keep working for four, five, 10 or even 15 additional years in order to receive a full pension. This means the working class will have to spend a lifetime working and if you survive you get a miserable retirement plan.”

The PPT was formed in 2009 by current and former members of the Movement Toward Socialism and the Socialist Front. Its first electoral participation was in the 2012 general elections but it did not get enough votes to elect any candidate.

Public school teachers were spared from Law 160. They sued and last April the PR Supreme Court ruled key parts of the law unconstitutional because they violated teachers’ contracts. Thus the teachers’ retirement was saved, but the court ruling upheld other parts of the law that reduce their Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

“The retirement age of public employees has been raised and their [retirement] benefits have been reduced to poverty level,” economist Martha Quiñones told IPS.

Ramón Marrero, an emergency doctor who works in the city of Cayey, was forced to continue working just when he was due for retirement. He was going to retire after 18 years of work, but with the new law he has to stay on for three more years to get a full pension.

“One has life projects for when retirement comes. When all of a sudden the date for retirement is postponed, all of these projects and plans are turned upside down,” said Marrero, who commutes to work from the nearby town of Cidra.

Quiñones, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, pointed out that private sector workers and pensioners are also in for a raw deal. “Many of those private pensions are tied to Puerto Rico government bonds, which have recently been downgraded by Moody’s and Standard and Poor. When the value of these bonds is affected, pensions are reduced.”

Many public sector retirees are politically active, not only defending their benefits and pension plans from the ever present threat of privatisation, but also protesting the government’s neoliberal austerity policies, which affect all of society.

“The local ruling class seeks to reverse the gains and livelihoods of workers to what they used to be in a bygone era,” said labour activist Jose Rivera-Rivera, president of the retirees chapter of the UTIER labour union.

“In order for the neoliberal system to establish its superiority it must erase the last two centuries of labor struggle and solidarity. It’s the new stage of capitalism, they want us to start from zero.”

“Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it’s worse because it is a colony of the United States,” retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz told IPS. “Here the exploiters can experiment in ways they cannot do in a sovereign country.”

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements.

The Puerto Rico Telephone Company was public until it was privatised by then governor Pedro Rosselló in 1998. Privatisation opponents paralysed the island in a two-day general strike in July of that year, but to no avail.

“For the rich there is no crisis,” said De La Paz. “I mean, we’ve got [billionaire] Henry Paulson urging rich people to come here to avoid taxes.”

Rivera-Rivera believes that in order to get Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis and protect retirement benefits, the government could start by taxing the rich.

“Our government is supposedly in crisis because it cannot pay its debt, but the previous administration [Governor Luis Fortuño, 2009-2012] practically eliminated the fiscal responsibility of major corporations and rich people in its 2009 tax reform. It wasn’t justified, they were already enjoying major tax breaks.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nepal Landslide Leaves Women and Children Vulnerablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:50:55 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136342 Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
DABI, Nepal, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Living in a makeshift tarpaulin shelter, which barely protects her family from the torrential rainfall or scorching heat of this remote village in southern Nepal, 36-year-old Kamala Pari is under immense stress, worrying about her financial security and children’s safety.

The family’s only house and tiny plot of farmland were completely destroyed by the massive landslide on Jul. 2 that struck the village of Dabi, part of the Dhusun Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sindhupalchok district, nearly 100 km south of the capital Kathmandu.

Dhusun was one of the four VDCs including Mankha, Tekanpur and Ramche severely affected by the disaster, which killed 156 and displaced 478 persons, according to the ministry of home affairs.

This was Nepal’s worst landslide in terms of human fatalities, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society, the country’s largest disaster relief NGO.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling." -- Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School
Though the government is still assessing long-term damages from that fateful day, officials here tell IPS the worst victims are likely to be women and children from these impoverished rural areas, whose houses and farms are erected on land that is highly vulnerable to natural catastrophes.

Left homeless and further impoverished, Pari is worried about the toll this will take on her children, who are now living with the reality of having lost their home and many of their friends.

“We’re not just living in fear of another disaster but have to worry about our future as there is nothing left for us to survive on,” Pari told IPS, adding that their monthly income fell from 100 dollars to 50 dollars after the landslide.

Her 50 neighbours, living in tarpaulin tents in a makeshift camp on top of a hill in this remote village, are also preparing for hard times ahead.

“We lost everything and now we run this shop to survive,” 15-year-old Elina Shrestha, a displaced teenager, told IPS, gesturing at the small grocery shop that she and her friends have cobbled together.

Their customers include tourists from Kathmandu and nearby towns who are flocking to destroyed villages to see with their own eyes the landslide-scarred hills and the lake created by the overflow of water from the nearby Sunkoshi river.

Protecting the vulnerable

Relief workers and protection specialists from government and aid agencies told IPS they are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children.

An estimated 50 children were killed in the landslide, according to the ministry of women, children and social welfare.

“In any disaster, children and women seem to be more impacted than others,” Sunita Kayastha, chief of the emergency unit of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told IPS, adding that they are most vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster, according to a report by Plan International, which found adolescent girls to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the aftermath of a natural hazard.

Senior psychosocial experts recently visited the affected areas and specifically reported that children and women were under immense psychological stress.

“The children need a lot of counseling [and] healing them is our top priority right now,” Women Development Officer Anju Dhungana, point-person for affected women and children in the Sindhupalchok district, told IPS.

Dhungana is concerned about the gap in professional psychosocial counseling at the local level and has requested help from government and international aid agencies based in Kathmandu.

Schools are gradually being resumed, with the help of aid agencies who are identifying safe locations for the children whose classrooms have been destroyed.

One school was totally destroyed, killing 33 children, and the remaining 142 children are now studying in temporary learning centres built by Save the Children and the District Education Office, officials told IPS.

A further 1,952 children who attend schools built close to the river are also at risk, experts say.

Trauma is quite widespread, the sight of the hollowed-out mountainside and large dam created close to the river still causing panic among children and their parents, as well as their teachers.

“I lost 28 of my students and now I have [the] job of healing hundreds of their school friends,” Balaram Timilsina, principal of Bansagu School in Mankha VDC, told IPS.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling,” added Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School of Khadichaur, a small town near Mankha.

International agencies Save the Children, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are helping the government’s efforts to restore normal life in the villages, but it has been challenging.

“We need to help children get back to school by ensuring a safe environment for them,” Sudarshan Shrestha, communications director of Save the Children, told IPS.

The international NGO has been setting up temporary learning centres for hundreds of students who lost their schools.

High risk for adolescent girls

Shrestha’s concern is not just for the children but also the young women who are often vulnerable in post-disaster situations to sexual violence and trafficking.

“The risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking is always high among the families impoverished by disaster, and during such situations, girls are often hoaxed and tricked by traffickers,” explained Shrestha.

Sindhupalchok, one of Nepal’s most impoverished districts, is notorious for being a source of young girls who are trafficked to Kathmandu and Indian cities, according to NGOs; a recent report by Child Reach International identified the district as a major trafficking centre.

“Whenever disaster strikes, the protection of adolescent girls should be highly prioritised and our role is to make sure this crucial issue is included in the disaster response,” UNFPA’s country representative Guilia Vallese told IPS, explaining that protection agencies need to be highly vigilant.

Government officials said that although there have been no cases of sexual or domestic violence and trafficking, they remain concerned.

“There are also a lot of young girls displaced [and living] with their relatives and after our assessment, we found that they need more protection,” explained officer Dhungana.

She said that many of them live in the camps or in school buildings in villages that are remote, with little or no government presence.

The government has formed a committee on protection measures and will be assessing the situation of vulnerability soon to ensure that children and women are living in a secure environment.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World Bank Urged to Rethink Reforms to Business-Friendliness Reporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/world-bank-urged-to-rethink-reforms-to-business-friendliness-report/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:20:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136361 Workers arrive early in the morning at the One World Apparel factory in Port-au-Prince to assemble garments for export from Haiti. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

Workers arrive early in the morning at the One World Apparel factory in Port-au-Prince to assemble garments for export from Haiti. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups from several continents are stepping up a campaign urging the World Bank to strengthen a series of changes currently being made to a major annual report on countries’ business-friendliness.

The World Bank is in the final stages of a years-long update to its Doing Business report, one of the Washington-based development institution’s most influential analyses yet one that has also become increasingly controversial. Critics now say the first round of changes, slated to go into effect in October, don’t go far enough."It’s a public relations exercise but with reasonably solid metrics behind it, and it’s the joining of these two things that makes Doing Business valuable in the policy world.” -- Scott Morris of the Center for Global Development

On Monday, a coalition of 18 development groups, watchdog organisations and trade unions called on the World Bank Group to take “urgent action” to implement “significant changes” to the Doing Business reforms. In particular, they are asking the bank to adhere more closely to detailed recommendations made last year by a bank-commissioned external review panel chaired by Trevor Manuel, a former planning and finance minister for South Africa.

“It looks like the flaws found by the Independent Panel chaired by Trevor Manuel will be ignored and its recommendations are nowhere close to being implemented,” Aldo Caliari, director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Catholic think tank here, told IPS. “This is in spite of a wide chorus of civil society organisations and shareholders that supported them.”

While the World Bank’s mission is to fight global poverty, Caliari and others dispute whether the Doing Business report’s metrics are pertinent to poor communities. Others say they can be outright detrimental.

Both civil society investigations and the Manuel commission have suggested “how little relevance the areas and indicators have to the reforms that matter to small and medium companies in developing countries,” Caliari says. “They seem far more oriented to support operations of large transnationals in those countries.”

Such concerns stem from the outsized influence that the Doing Business report has built up, particularly in the developing world, since it was introduced in 2003. Reportedly, the report is used by some 85 percent of global policymakers.

The core of the report remains a simple aggregated ranking of countries, known as the Ease of Doing Business index. While based on a complex series of business-friendliness metrics, the high profile of the index results has inevitably led governments to compete among one another to raise their country’s ranking and, hopefully, strengthen foreign investment.

Yet a direct effect of this competition, critics say, is governments being pushed to adhere to a uniform set of policy recommendations. These include lowering taxes and wages and weakening overall industry regulation, thus potentially endangering the poor.

“[T]he report’s role is to inform policy, not to outline a normative position, which the rankings do,” the 18 groups wrote to World Bank Group President Jim Kim at the end of July. “Doing Business needs to become better aligned with moves towards greater country-owned and led development and an appreciation of the importance of a country’s circumstances, stage of development and political choices.”

In its report last June, the Manuel commission likewise urged the bank to drop the ranking system entirely, noting that this constituted “the most important decision the Bank faces with regard to the Doing Business report.”

Maintained but reformed

In response, the bank is reforming the methodology behind its ranking calculations. In part, this includes broadening its analysis to use data from two cities in most countries, rather than just one.

More broadly, the new calculations will constitute an effort simultaneously to continue to offer a relative score for each country but also to decrease the importance of the specific ranking.

“This approach will provide users with additional information by showing the relative distances between economies in the ranking tables,” an announcement on the changes stated in April. (The bank was unable to provide additional comment by this story’s deadline.)

“By highlighting where economies’ scores are close, the new approach will reduce the importance of difference in rankings,” the announcement continues. “And by revealing where distances between scores are relatively greater, it will give credit to governments that are reforming but not yet seeing changes in rankings.”

Some development scholars have pushed against the Manuel commission’s recommendations on the index, defending the need for the bank to maintain its aggregate rankings in some form.

“The Doing Business report isn’t a research exercise – it’s a policymaking tool. Because of the rankings it has a unique value, particularly for those countries that have a long way to go on economic reform,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS after the Manuel commission’s report was published.

“Internally, it gives government officials something simple and targeted to latch onto, much more than a 500-page report would do. It’s a public relations exercise but with reasonably solid metrics behind it, and it’s the joining of these two things that makes Doing Business valuable in the policy world.”

Decent jobs created?

Yet others warn that the rankings themselves continue to be problematic, even in their new form.

The reforms are “not satisfactory, as the rankings will continue to influence the policy agenda of many developing countries despite their methodological flaws,” Tiago Stichelmans, a policy and networking analyst at the European Network on Debt and Development, told IPS in an e-mail.

“The problem of the rankings is the fact that they are based on regulatory measures in a single city (which is due to become two cities) for every country and are therefore irrelevant to many communities. The rankings also have a bias in favour of deregulatory measures that have limited impact on development.”

Of course, many would support the idea of tracking country-by-country policies aimed at encouraging industry to help bolster development metrics. But Stichelmans says this would require major changes, including a move away from the report’s current focus on reforms to the business environment.

“A shift from promoting low tax rates and labour deregulation to taxes paid, decent jobs created and [small and medium enterprises] supported would be a step in the right direction,” he says.

Ideas from NGOs have included indicators on corruption and human rights due diligence, Stichelmans continues, “but this must be accompanied by a drastic overhaul.”

For now, some of the newly announced changes are expected to be incorporated into the Doing Business report for 2015, slated to be released in late October. Other reforms, including some yet to be announced, will be introduced in future reports.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Threat of Hydropower Dams Still Looms in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/threat-of-hydropower-dams-still-looms-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:09:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136360 The Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness has some of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet thanks to its swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, and lagoons like the one in this picture, located 20 km from Coyhaique, the regional capital. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness has some of the largest freshwater reserves on the planet thanks to its swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, and lagoons like the one in this picture, located 20 km from Coyhaique, the regional capital. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

After its victory in a nearly decade-long struggle against HidroAysén, a project that would have built five large hydroelectric dams on wilderness rivers, Chile’s Patagonia region is gearing up for a new battle: blocking a quiet attempt to build a dam on the Cuervo River.

The dam would be constructed in an unpopulated area near Yulton lake, in Aysén, Chile’s water-rich region in the south. The aim is to ease the energy shortage that has plagued this country for decades and has prompted an accelerated effort to diversify the energy mix and boost the electricity supply.

However, the Cuervo River project is “much less viable than HidroAysén, because of environmental and technical reasons and risks,” Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysén Life Reserve citizen coalition, told Tierramérica, expressing the view widely shared by environmentalists in the region.

The big concern of opponents to the new hydroelectric initiative is that it could be approved as a sort of bargaining chip, after the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled HidroAysén on Jun. 10.

Endorsement of the Cuervo River dam will also be favoured by an Aug. 21 court ruling that gave the project a boost.

The Cuervo Hydroelectric Plant Project is being developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture of the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy. It would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, the capital.

It would generate a total of approximately 640 MW, with the potential to reduce the annual emissions of the Sistema Interconectado Central de Chile (SIC) – the central power grid – by around 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable or an aerial submarine power line.

In 2007, the regional commission on the environment rejected an initial environmental impact study presented by the company.

Two years later, Energía Austral introduced a new environmental impact study, for the construction of a hydropower complex that would include two more dams: a 360-MW plant on the Blanco River and a 54-MW plant on Lake Cóndor, to be built after the Cuervo River plant.

“Cuervo appeared when HidroAysén was at its zenith, and the Cuervo River dam was a second priority for the Patagonia Without Dams campaign,” said Hartmann, who is also the regional director of the National Committee for the Defence of Flora and Fauna (CODEFF).

“In the beginning there was diligent monitoring of the project, from the legal sphere, but we ran out of funds and the entire focus shifted to HidroAysén as the top priority, and not Cuervo,” he added.

According to the experts, the Cuervo River plant would pose more than just an environmental risk, because it would be built on the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

For example, a minor eruption of the Hudson volcano in October 2011 prompted a red alert and mass evacuation of the surrounding areas. Mount Hudson is located “right behind the area where the Blanco River plant would be built,” Hartmann said.

“Energía Austral is doing everything possible not to mention the Hudson volcano, because it knows what it’s getting involved in,” he added.

In response to such concerns, the company has insisted that the plant “will be safe with regard to natural phenomena like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.” It adds that “the presence of geological fault lines is not exclusive to the Cuervo River.”

It also argues that in Chile and around the world many plants have been built on geological fault lines or near volcanoes, and have operated normally even after a seismic event.

The national authorities approved the construction of the Cuervo dam in 2013. But shortly afterwards the Supreme Court accepted a plea presented by environmental and citizen organisations to protect the area where it is to be built, and ordered a thorough study of the risks posed by construction of the plant.

However, on Aug. 21 the Court ratified, in a unanimous ruling, the environmental permits that the authorities had granted for construction of the dam. The verdict paves the way for final approval by the government, which would balance out its rejection of HidroAysén.

“The state is not neutral with respect to energy production; we are interested in seeing projects go forward that would help us overcome our infrastructure deficit,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco said in June.

And in July he stated that “Chile cannot feel comfortable while hydroelectricity makes up such a small share of our energy mix, given that it is a clean source of energy that is abundant in our country.”

Chile has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW, 74 percent in the SIC central grid, 25 percent in the northern grid – the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande – and less than one percent in the medium-sized grids of the Aysén and Magallanes regions in the south.

According to the Energy Ministry, demand for electricity in Chile will climb to 100,000 MW by 2020. An additional 8,000 MW of installed capacity will be needed to meet that demand.
Chile imports 60 percent of the primary energy that it consumes. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations for the rest.

Currently, 62 percent of the new energy plants under construction are thermal power stations. And 92 percent of those will be coal-fired.

Regional Energy Secretary Juan Antonio Bijit told Tierramérica that independently of Aysén’s enormous hydropower potential, “if we analyse the energy mix, it is highly dependent on thermal power, so the most logical thing would appear to be to increase supply in the area of hydroelectricity.”

He said the Aysén region “currently produces around 40 MW of energy, which only covers domestic consumption.”

But, he said, “we have significant potential” in terms of hydroelectricity as well as wind and solar power.

“The region’s capacity for electricity generation is quite strong,” he said. “However, we have to study how we will generate power, and for what uses.”

Bijit said the region’s contribution of energy to the rest of the country “should be analysed together with the community.”

“We can’t do things behind closed doors; we have to talk to the people,” he said. “That was done in a workshop prior to the decision reached on HidroAysén and now we are doing it with the Energía Austral project and others,” he said.

“The idea is that the people should be participants in what is being done or should be done in the field of energy,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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How Midwives on Sierra Leone’s Almost Untouched Turtle Islands are Improving Women’s Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-midwives-on-sierra-leones-almost-untouched-turtle-islands-are-improving-womens-health/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:02:40 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136350 The eight islands that comprise Turtle Islands, Sierra Leone, are remote and practically untouched by modern civilisation. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

The eight islands that comprise Turtle Islands, Sierra Leone, are remote and practically untouched by modern civilisation. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
MATTRU JONG, Sierra Leone, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

Emmanuel is a male midwife.

At the age of 26, he lives and works on one of eight islands off the southwest peninsular of Sierra Leone, an hour by speedboat from Mattru Jong, the capital of Bonthe District.

On a particularly hot Wednesday morning, IPS joins Marie Stopes, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health to go and visit a population on one of the Turtle Islands that is practically untouched by modern civilisation.

Marie Stopes is a British-based non-profit that provides family planning and reproductive health services to over 30 countries around the world. They work as a back-up support system to the government, filling in the gaps in hard-to-reach areas that the government is still working to resource.

On the mainland of Mattru Jong there is a small market, situated on the river Jong which flows into the Atlantic ocean, and crowded with various kiosks boasting fish, vegetables and live chickens tied at their feet in straw baskets.

To reach the islands, one has to travel by boat. But all the islands don’t have landing docks and the boats sometimes stop in knee-deep water. Passengers — and midwives visiting the islands to provide reproductive health and family planning services — have to hoist their belongings and supplies above water, to make their way to the villages.

“Their [midwives] challenge is that they don’t have a boat. If you want to do this effectively, you need a good boat,” Safiatu Foday, a regional family planning coordinator for UNFPA in Sierra Leone, explained to IPS.

For island communities that have very little access to the mainland, basic health information is difficult to come by, therefore the risks — especially those pertaining to pregnancy, become inevitable.

With a population of over six million, where women of childbearing age are between the ages of 15 and 49, this West African country has refocused its health initiatives, working tirelessly to strengthen the capacity and training of skilled midwives — an exceptional tool in reducing maternal and infant mortality.

It Takes a Village

The village is inhabited by about a few hundred people — most of them large families, many of whom have just started utilising the peripheral health unit (PHU) that is onsite.

Emmanuel, one of the first men to undertake the position of midwife in this area, is the person “in-charge,” facilitating prenatal visits, deliveries, antenatal care, attending to illnesses and referring patients to a hospital when needed.  

“There are people who since their birth, have never left the island,” Fadoy said.

Some of the women say they have delivered 13 or 14 children prior to the work of Marie Stopes in their village.

Others recount having no time to “rest” or take care of their other children while being pregnant almost every year.

There are common reasons as to why women become pregnant so consistently.

One woman shares that there is a fear of being “abandoned” by one’s husband. The women say if they do not engage in sexual intercourse during the marriage, their husbands will look elsewhere. Therefore women feel they have no choice but to keep getting pregnant.

There is also the question of approval; many women must obtain permission from their husbands to start using contraceptives.

“We used to get pregnant all the time and our husbands would abandon us, so we had to fight for ourselves to survive. Since Marie Stopes came to the island and we now have access to contraceptives, we are able to take care of ourselves,” Yeanga, 33 tells IPS, adding, “It has created an impact in my life, one, because I now know about spacing births.”

Yeanga is the mother of five children with the oldest aged 25, and the youngest only three years old.

Before going on family planning, Yeanga admits to having difficulties with her husband, which were only heightened when he found out that contraceptives would help her not to get pregnant.

“Even when I wanted to join family planning, my husband was not agreeing, but I talked to him about it and we finally agreed to allow me to start family planning.”

In order to fully meet the demand of women who are in search of family planning and reproductive health services, the government has come up with an interesting strategy: recruit and train traditional birth attendants (TBA’s) to provide quality health care services in the villages.

Because they are from the village, they are both respected and valued, thus their insight, advice and knowledge are taken very seriously.

“Before midwives came to the island, there were just TBA’s doing deliveries in this area – and there were a lot of problems with these births,” Isatu Jalloh, 28, a nurse working in the village, told IPS.

Without skilled birth attendants, many of the women on the island suffered complications like preeclampsia, fistula and even death.

Though Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates, 140 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and 857 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, Jalloh believes that the maternal death rate on the island has reduced due to the advocacy of midwives who travel to the island to promote family planning and reproductive health.

The ability to choose when to have children has allowed women on the island to pursue small economic ventures. They are able to produce an income to not only take care of themselves, but also their children.

The Future is Bright?

As the last few hundred days of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to a close, Sierra Leone stands at an interesting cross section: that of incremental success and challenges to come.

Demand for reproductive health and family planning services is high, the commodities are being supplied through partnerships with UNFPA and Marie Stopes, midwives are being dispatched to different districts, yet obstacles remain.

Most trained midwives deployed to health centres far from their homes don’t want to stay in those areas due to harsh working conditions and unfamiliarity with their surroundings.

And with the outbreak of Ebola, most midwives have been immediately evacuated, leaving patients, many of them pregnant women, without proper care.

Sierra Leone faces an opportunity to scale-up its reproductive health and family planning services by continuing its ability for form essential partnerships, most effectively illustrated in the one with civil society and advocacy group, Health Coalition for All.

“Our focus is on health and health-related issues. The key areas are advocacy and monitory, we work to ensure that services are available, accessible, affordable and that they reach the beneficiary,” Al Hassane B. Kamara, a programme manager for the coalition, shared with IPS.

Based in Makeni, in Northern Province, the Health Coalition for All has played an essential role in ensuring that women have access to healthcare, especially during pregnancy.

By addressing the issues such as lack of trained staff, delivery of commodities and most importantly, the high user fees during clinic visits, the coalition takes a proactive stand to ensure that women do not end up in unqualified hands.

“They pay very high fees to see a qualified doctor, especially for cesarean operations.  As a result they have no options but to work with the TBA or a “quack doctor.”

With programmes such as the Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI) that allows pregnant mothers, lactating mothers and children under the age of five to access services for free, Sierra Leone continues to put its focus on reproductive health.

 Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted through Twitter on: @Erakit

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