Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 24 May 2017 22:39:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Q&A: “It’s a Crime” that 35 Million Latin Americans Still Suffer from Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/qa-its-a-crime-that-35-million-latin-americans-still-suffer-from-hunger/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 22:33:10 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150579 Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, in his office in Santiago. Credit: Maximiliano Valencia/FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 24 2017 (IPS)

The fight against hunger has been “remarkably successful” in Latin America and the Caribbean, but “it is a crime” that 35 million people still go to bed hungry every day, FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué told IPS.

Berdegué, who is also assistant director-general of FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), with decades of experience in matters related to rural development, said during his first interview as the new regional representative that the biggest challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean is inequality, which “is present in every action and contributes to many other problems.”

In the FAO regional office in Santiago, Berdegué, from Mexico, discussed with IPS issues such as obesity, “in which we are losing the fight,” the weakness of rural institutions, which facilitates corruption, or the weakness of the social fabric, which drug trafficking mafias in many countries depend on, as well as the need to address the question of water scarcity which is here to stay due to climate change, and where the key is the transformation of agriculture, which uses 70 per cent of all water consumed.

IPS: What do you consider are the greatest debts of the region in the agri-food sector?

JULIO BERDEGUÉ: We unfortunately still have very high levels of rural poverty. Nearly 50 per cent of the rural population is still living in poverty conditions and almost 30 per cent in extreme poverty. There are 58 million rural poor and 35 million living in conditions of indigence, who are not even able to feed themselves adequately.

IPS: This is happening in the region that has been the most successful in reducing poverty and hunger in this century…

JB: We have a problem with malnutrition and hunger, which even though they have been notably reduced, still stand at 5.5 per cent, which in human terms means that 35 million Latin Americans are still going to bed hungry every day, and six million children are chronically undernourished… Which is a crime. And of these, 700,000 children suffer from acute and chronic undernutrition… that is terrible.

IPS: In that context, which will be the priorities of your administration?

JB: The main thrust has been continuity, and I want to adhere to that. FAO’s mission and strategic objectives are clearly defined in a medium-term work plan discussed and approved in May in Rome (at FAO’s global headquarters).

The first objective has to do with hunger…undernourishment and malnutrition will continue to have a central role in the agenda. The second has to do with greater sustainability of agriculture, contributing to global food security, in a sustainable manner.

The issues of rural poverty, where unfortunately family agriculture is included, beyond what people might think, are not yet lost, but we still have a long way to go. Also the importance of food systems, which have experienced in the past 25 to 30 years a radical shift in their depth and speed, and the importance of resilience in the face of climate change.

IPS: And what are the regional assets available to carry out these tasks?

JB: We must not lose sight of the fact that Latin America is a great contributor to global food security. What our region does in this matter is very important, and we must take advantage of this strength.

This is also a region with enormous biodiversity. In terms of biodiversity the region is a player of global importance and whatever we do well or badly affects each person on this planet.

IPS: Has there been progress in the political and social spheres?

JB: The question of peace in the region is another asset. What has happened in Colombia (with the peace agreements that came into force in late 2016) is exciting for all of us, and is of utmost importance. In the last 20 years there has also been heavy spending in rural areas, on roads, electrification, telecommunications, and access to basic services, education and health. The educational levels of our rural people under 35 are far higher than that of their parents. These are assets that we need to mobilise.

IPS: And what are the weaknesses you perceive in these same fields?
JB: In rural areas, government institutions are very weak, in most countries in the region… The exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand… and they are weak because they are outdated, because there is much corruption, patronage, use of public budgets for particular interests, and that weakens the government and public action for the benefit of society as a whole. It makes our job difficult.

IPS: Apart from that difficulty, what other challenges does the region face?

JB: The rural social fabric has been weakening in some countries. The penetration of drug trafficking, of violence, which often goes hand in hand with corruption, makes life very hard for the inhabitants of those rural areas and makes it very difficult to bring political solutions that would increase their opportunities and well-being. The situation in some Central American countries is extremely concerning. In my own country, Mexico, the situation worries all Mexicans. The levels of violence in Venezuela… There are countries where the weakening of the social fabric is a warning sign.

IPS: Latin Americans are facing a new and growing problem, obesity, without yet having solved that of chronic malnutrition…

JB: Malnutrition is a crime. The fact that more than half of the rural children in Guatemala suffer from chronic undernutrition is unacceptable in the 21st century, but obesity is killing us. Not long ago, Mexico’s minister of health, Dr. José Navarro, who until recently was the provost of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reminded us that obesity kills more people than organised crime in Mexico. Obesity is definitely killing us.

IPS: Do malnutrition and obesity have anything in common?

JB: First, let me say in what they differ. We have greatly reduced undernutrition. In this, Latin America has been remarkably successful, even at a global level. We are the only region that has met its Millennium Development Goals. But in terms of obesity we are losing the fight badly. Every day there are more overweight and obese people.

What they have in common, from FAO’s perspective, is a radical change in Latin America’s food systems. The world in which we had local markets and people ate locally produced food, where many people went home to eat, has disappeared forever.

Today our food systems are globalised, the bulk of the distribution of food products is through supermarket chains, most of what we eat are ultra-processed foods. Even our farmers eat mostly purchased food: processed and ultra-processed.

IPS: But this is a global phenomenon, as you say, not only regional…

JB: The point is not the transformation of the agri-food systems. That transformation can also be observed in Norway, Canada or New Zealand. They have the same patterns of urbanisation, of eating outside the home, purchasing in supermarkets, ultra-processed foods, etc. The difference is that in those places there are public policies. Ours is a transformation that responded to market forces without public policies. The market achieves important things… today food products are much cheaper, but with enormous consequences, one being obesity and the erosion of public health in all aspects that have to do with what and how we eat.

IPS: So, what public policies are needed in the region to tackle obesity?

JB: What has to be done is to ‘redirect’ these transformation processes of the food systems, bearing in mind that we have public objectives. Redirecting means setting certain limits. For example, what is being done in Chile and to some extent in Mexico with sugary beverages, and labeling. There are healthy and unhealthy foods, and consumers have to know this.

Redirecting also means putting greater emphasis on public education with regard to healthy eating. It means that if there are places with less access to a more varied diet, to fresh fruit and vegetables, we cannot leave it to be solved by the market.

IPS: Another problem that is creating conflicts is water, its scarcity and its uses. What should be done from the agri-food sector?

JB: We have a terrible problem here, which is that agriculture is consuming 70 per cent of our planet’s fresh water. This is not sustainable and has no future. If I were president of a given country in 30 or 50 years, and they told me: ‘To produce potatoes you are using 70 per cent of the water and people have no water in the cities because of climate change,’ as president I would say: ‘well, we will import potatoes, and stop growing them.’

Between giving water to the people or producing potatoes, lettuce or asparagus… we are going to lose that fight. Our farmers fight, they organise to get more water, and it is good that they do that. We make dams and reservoirs, that’s great. But we have to start thinking how we can practice agriculture using less water, how we can produce the same amount of food without using 70 per cent of the water, and using half of that instead. We cannot talk about ‘zero water’ agriculture, but it should be much less than 70 per cent, and this is something that we are not thinking about.

We are used to using water almost without restrictions, and climate change is putting an end to that. We will not be able to go rapidly from 70 to 35 per cent water use in agriculture, but we better start now because otherwise climate change will win the race.

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Nutrition Key to Developing Africa’s “Grey Matter Infrastructure”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/nutrition-key-to-developing-africas-grey-matter-infrastructure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nutrition-key-to-developing-africas-grey-matter-infrastructure http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/nutrition-key-to-developing-africas-grey-matter-infrastructure/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 21:56:57 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150577 AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina adressing delegates at the nutrition event while Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize Foundation, listens. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina adressing delegates at the nutrition event while Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, World Food Prize Foundation, listens. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
AHMEDABAD, India, May 24 2017 (IPS)

Developing Africa’s ‘grey matter infrastructure’ through multi-sector investments in nutrition has been identified as a game changer for Africa’s sustainable development.

Experts here at the 2017 African Development Bank’s Annual Meetings say investing in physical infrastructure alone cannot help Africa to move forward without building brainpower.“We can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted.” --Muhammad Ali Pate

“We can repair a bridge, we know how to do that, we can fix a port, we know how to do it, we can fix a rail, we know how to do that, but we don’t know how to fix brain cells once they are gone, that’s why we need to change our approach to dealing with nutrition matters in Africa,” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, pointing out that stunting alone costs Africa 25 billion dollars annually.

Malnutrition – the cause of half of child deaths worldwide – continues to rob generations of Africans of the chance to grow to their full physical and cognitive potential, hugely impacting not only health outcomes, but also economic development.

Malnutrition is unacceptably high on the continent, with 58 million or 36 percent of children under the age of five chronically undernourished (suffering from stunting)—and in some countries, as many as one out of every two children suffer from stunting. The effects of stunting are irreversible, impacting the ability of children’s bodies and brains to grow to their full potential.

On a panel discussion Developing Africa’s Grey Matter Infrastructure: Addressing Africa’s Nutrition Challenges” moderated by IFPRI’s Rajul Pandya-Lorch, experts highlighted the importance of urgently fighting the scourge of malnutrition.

Laura Landis of the World Food Programme (WFP) said the cost of inaction is dramatic. “We have to make an economic argument on why we need action,” she said. “The WFP is helping, in cooperation with the African Union and the AfDB, to collect the data that gets not just the Health Minister moving, but also Heads of State or Ministers of Finance.”

The idea is to get everyone involved and not leave nutrition to agriculture and/or health ministries alone. And panelists established that there is indeed a direct link between productivity and growth of the agriculture sector and improved nutrition.

Baffour Agyeman of the John Kuffuor Foundation puts it simply: “It has become evident that it is the quality of food and not the quantity thereof that is more important,” calling for awareness not to end at high level conferences but get to the grassroots.

Assisting African governments to build strong and robust economies is accordingly a key priority for the AfDB. But recognizing the potential that exists in the continent’s vast human capital, the bank included nutrition as a focus area under its five operational priorities – the High 5s.

And to mobilise support at the highest level, the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative was launched last year, bringing together Heads of State committed to ending malnutrition in their countries.

As a key partner of this initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation foresees improved accountability with such an initiative in place. “ALN is a way to make the fight against malnutrition a central development issue that Ministers of Finance and Heads of State take seriously and hold all sectors accountable for,” said Shawn Baker, Nutrition Director at the Foundation.

However, African Ministers of Finance want to see better coordination and for governments to play a leading role in such initiatives to achieve desired results. “Cooperation and coordination are key between government and development partners,” said Sierra Leone’s Finance and Economic Development Minister Momodu Kargbo. “Development partners disregard government systems when implementing programmes whereas they should align and carefully regard existing government institutions and ways of working.”

Notwithstanding the overarching theme of Africa rising, Muhammad Ali Pate, CEO of Big Win Philanthropy, says, “We can’t say Africa is rising when half of our children are stunted.” He pointed out the need to close the mismatch between the continent’s sustained GDP growth and improved livelihood of its people.

With the agreed global SDG agenda, Gerda Verburg, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement Coordinator sees nutrition as a core of achieving the goals. “Without better nutrition you will not end poverty, without better nutrition you will not end gender inequality, without better nutrition you will not improve health, find innovative approaches, or peace and stability, better nutrition is the core,” she says.

Therefore, developing Grey Matter Infrastructure is key to improving the quality of life for the people of Africa. But it won’t happen without leadership to encourage investments in agriculture and nutrition, and more importantly, resource mobilization for this purpose.

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The Ocean Conference: An Integrated Vision that must be Deliveredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-ocean-conference-an-integrated-vision-that-must-be-delivered/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-ocean-conference-an-integrated-vision-that-must-be-delivered http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-ocean-conference-an-integrated-vision-that-must-be-delivered/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 16:23:09 +0000 Jan Kellet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150572 Jan Kellet is Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Risk Management, UNDP]]>

Jan Kellet is Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Risk Management, UNDP

By Jan Kellet
UNITED NATIONS, May 24 2017 (IPS)

In March 2015 at the Sendai World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, the then President of Kirbati, Anote Tong, made it very clear how vulnerable his country was to climate and disaster risk, when he informed the room (which was sadly less than half full) that his country had purchased land in Fiji.

Credit: UN Photos

Credit: UN Photos

The reason was simple: the threat that climate change to every aspect of life and living of his country, and that belief that one day, should the world not change its path on emissions that it might simply disappear under the waves.

At the Ocean Conference (scheduled to take place 5-9 June) in New York, nations will gather to discuss how best to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. This event is critical because it will, for perhaps the first time, focus the international community on how critical our oceans to our life and livelihoods.

Even a glance at the targets and indicators of this goal make that clear: the Ocean SDG is about poverty reduction, economic development, adapting to climate change and protecting the environment, not just the health of the oceans and those who depend on it. Delivering on SDG 13 will help deliver on the other 16 and they in turn will be essential to its delivery.

For Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, this integrated approach is not just important, it is critical. On the one hand their ocean environment provides them with critical needs, with communications, transportation, livelihoods, trade and more. But it also makes them vulnerable in many inter-connected ways.

Logistics, transportation and communications are complex and expensive given these island nations’ distance to other nations and distance between their own islands. Their income is vulnerable, with often middle-income status masking very narrow productive sectors, such as tourism. Often lacking in fossil fuels themselves, they import heavily and in some cases access to energy remains poor. And these vulnerabilities are exacerbated by the increasing disaster and climate risk, the growing threat of cyclones and the seemingly every-rising sea-levels.

We can look across a diverse set of small islands to see this in practice. The Federated States of Micronesia (and its ‘associated states’) has a population of just over a 100,000 consist of 607 separate islands of just over 700 km squared within waters of more than 2,600,000 kms.

Tourism accounts for a very high percentage of GDP for small islands, making these nations very susceptible to climate and disaster risk; in the Maldives, for example, it accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of its foreign exchange receipts. The Solomon Islands and Tuvalu meanwhile, have at times drawn close to half of their entire national income from international development assistance. Palau has been increasing the percentage of its population that have access to energy and has reached nearly 70% but despite significant potential for renewable energy it still relies on almost all of its power generation on the import of fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, climate change is an existential threat, and not only to Kiribati; the Maldives, the Marshall Islands as well as Kiribati all have more than 90% of their population living below five metres above sea level. In these and many other small island nations, sea levels are already eroding land, significantly threatening tourism, making agricultural land untenable, increasingly infiltrating fresh water wells, while storm surges and extremely hide tides are in some cases increasing in both number and severity.

Given the multiplicity of inter-connected vulnerabilities and risks that face SIDS in particular, the ocean conference has the task of delivering a thoroughly integrated vision for not only achieving on the significant ambition of SDG 13; it can and it must ensure a message of integration is at the heart of its deliberations, and especially its solutions to the complex inter-related issues of SIDS.

Tackling economic development, poverty reduction, coastal erosion, agricultural adaptation and more, can only be successful if it is thought of as a single inter-connected problem, to which must be applied integrated solutions.

The Samoa pathway developed by SIDS in 2014 makes such an integrated approach clear when it states that ‘promoting the integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that supports, inter alia, economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration, restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges’ is key to sustainable development.

With Fiji both the co-chair of the Oceans conference and current president of the climate negotiations, there is no better opportunity to deliver on this challenging ambition, an ambition that binds actors together in a vision to deliver on all their global commitments -Sendai, Paris, the SDGs – at the country level. It is here where UNDP works, and here that the commitments to act, integrated, need to be delivered.

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Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanizationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 15:27:58 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150570 125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
NEW YORK, May 24 2017 (IPS)

On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs.

The train station at 125th street and Broadway that sits high above the commotion below on a green arch bridge is the first clue that a passenger has reached Harlem, the gateway portal to the historic New York City neighborhood.

Last week, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and UN-Habitat organized a discussion at the United Nations headquarters that brought together stakeholders from the private sector, the UN system, government, academia and civil society to share ideas for creating and sustaining gateway portals — ultimately emphasizing the need to utilize urbanization as a tool for development.

Whilst many in the room were probably used to such discussions taking the route of creating bustling cities that could accommodate the highest number of urbanites in order to support political, economic and cultural agendas, it was refreshing to instead witness a focus on urban planning through gateway portals that put infrastructure center stage.

A gateway portal is an emblem of a city and can be everything from a bridge, plaza, or historic site that often welcomes one into a city or specific neighborhood. California’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous, linking Marin County to San Francisco in an architectural piece designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1930s.

As one heads east of California, other gateway portals across the United States start popping up such as the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, connecting the southern and northern parts of the Midwest City. Arriving in New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island join the historic Manhattan Bridge as portals to the urban jungle – each depicting an intentional narrative of its own.

Famed architect Santiago Calatrava, a man known for his extraordinary body of work was invited to the discussion last week where he not only shared various projects, but also highlighted the necessity of portals. In his own words he mentioned that, “bridges are important pieces of infrastructure and gateway portals are to a city what infrastructure is to Sustainable Development.”

If this is true then city planners, architects and government officials are now tasked with the challenging job of thinking critically of where and how they place gateway portals. Instead of just creating entrances that mark an area and alert taxi drivers to charge toll fees, planners now have the opportunity to address issues of sustainability by utilizing smart, inclusive design that goes beyond just a pretty facade.

In 2013, author Charles Montgomery published a book called ‘Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design’, an anthropological text on what it meant to create sustainable spaces that were not only focused on developing a city, but also on underscoring the temperament of its citizens in relation to that development. If people were generally happy and continued to live happy lives within urban bustling communities, then was it possible that their surroundings would eventually be transformed socially, economically and politically?

“Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to live the complex problem of people living close together, and they are more than an embodiment of the creative tensions between competing ideas,” he wrote. “They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people. They apportion the benefits of urban life. They express who has power and who does not. In doing so, they shape the mind and soul of the city,” he concluded.

Citizen Driven Planning

The premise of the conversation last week was straightforward: development cannot succeed without conscious urbanization. This, meaning that urbanization for development needed to include a citizen driven approach to planning and design that accounted for inclusion, health, resiliency and equality.

According UN Habitat, it is estimated that around 54% of people now live in urban areas and as this number steadily grows, the question of how to sustainably house, provide and protect a large population in such dense spaces has become a top priority for both the UN system and government officials.

A timely discussion as Habitat III concluded last year in Quito, Ecuador with the goal of adopting a new urban agenda that would offer a set of action oriented global standards that would guide the way in which we designed and sustained our cities – citizen driven urbanization would need to prioritize these global standards when building or reshaping gateway portals.

Additionally, such plans would also need to uphold the fact that gateway portals established the economic and political power of the city, and to be citizen driven would essentially mean that the portals were of service to the people who used them daily, and not the other way around.

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem.  Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

What’s In A Narrative?

During the 5th and 6th centuries, grandiose gates and high towering walls that circled a city – sometimes serving as a safety barrier in the chance of attack – illustrated the gateway portal. The narrative of a powerful gate or great wall such as the one in China laid forth the cities ambitions and easily communicated its priorities.

In 2017 with more and more people moving into urban areas, we are forced to ask ourselves what sort of narrative we’d like to have. When one arrives in Harlem, what narrative is being shared once you’ve crossed the threshold of the gateway portal on 125th street and begin your descent into the colorful street below?

New York City Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora spoke during the panel last week about the plans that the De Blasio administration drawn up towards creating sustainable, healthy public spaces with the agenda of changing the narrative of its city.

“We often say that we want to create spaces that work for everyone – diversity is key,” he said, continuing, “We must design to invite, and design to delight.”

This – NYC’s actual design mantra – when applied to redefining gateway portals is to simply put the citizen at the center of the vision. Yes, happiness is key, sustainability is key but city planners must also focus on creating spaces that encourage openness.

In the end, it cannot be disputed: gateway portals emphasize the importance of a city. They provide a first impression and a lasting one if curated with intent. It is with this measure that city planners and government officials must consider portals as the ‘opening line’ of their cities narrative.

Sustainable urbanization can most certainly be an effective tool for development, but must not be approached with naiveté. As the Executive Director of UN Habitat Dr. Clos put during his remarks last week, “when you address one problem, you generate two more.”

Addressing one gateway portal at a time, a city’s quest for sustainable urbanization becomes an actual possibility rather than just a city plan.

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Mideast: Growing Urbanisation Worsens Water Scarcity, Food Importshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mideast-growing-urbanisation-worsens-water-scarcity-food-imports/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-growing-urbanisation-worsens-water-scarcity-food-imports http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mideast-growing-urbanisation-worsens-water-scarcity-food-imports/#comments Wed, 24 May 2017 13:47:29 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150566 Egyptian countryside south of Luxor, Egypt. In the background: the village of Al Bayadiyah. Photo: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR). Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Egyptian countryside south of Luxor, Egypt. In the background: the village of Al Bayadiyah. Photo: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR). Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 24 2017 (IPS)

Conflict and insecurity remain the key barriers to development progress in the Middle East and North Africa. In Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, about half the population—around 40 million people—require humanitarian assistance. Across the region, countries depend heavily on food imports. As their populations urbanise and grow, the need for imports will increase.

These are some of the Middle East and North of Africa related key findings of the 2017 Global Food Policy Report, which was issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on 24 May at an international experts meeting in Cairo.

Dealing with the major challenges facing the Middle East and North of Africa (MENA) social and economic development, the Cairo international experts seminar focused on food import dependency in a region rife with population growth, urbanisation and conflict.

Organised by IFPRI and the Faculty of Economics and Political Science of Cairo University under the theme “Rapid Urbanisation Challenges Food Security in Egypt” the meeting examined the situation in Egypt, where “the combination of high domestic population growth and swelling refugee and migrant populations is adding stress to an already vulnerable food system,” according to Shenggen Fan, IFPRI’s director general.

Clemens Breisinger

Clemens Breisinger

In an interview to IPS, Clemens Breisinger, economist and senior research fellow based in IFPRI’s Cairo office, said that rapidly growing populations and the related increase in food consumption are likely to increase MENA countries’ dependence on food imports.

Countries with sizable agriculture sectors, such as Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia, generally have a low food import dependency ratio of between 10 and 20 per cent—that is, food imports account for 10 to 20 per cent of food consumption, he said.

Food Imports Dependency

Nevertheless, the food imports dependency ratio of all other MENA countries exceeds 30 per cent, with Iraq, Mauritania, Oman, and Yemen reaching about 50 per cent, and Gulf countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates reaching up to 70 per cent, said Breisinger.

According to the researcher, scope remains for increasing agricultural output in the region—but additional land and water resources for crop production are limited; climate change is expected to reduce crop yields; and fast-growing cities are encroaching on (often fertile) agricultural land.

“To ensure future food security, MENA countries should be prepared to import more food from international markets in the near future.”

Asked about the growing water challenges in the region, Breisinger said to IPS that water scarcity is projected to get much more severe in MENA, but there are technical and policy options to avoid disaster.

The food security challenges place an added burden on the available water sources over and above the higher demand brought about by population increases, he said, while informing that by 2050, projections show that global per capita renewable water resources will fall by 25 per cent.

“These pressures vary greatly across different regions of the world. In the Middle East and North Africa, further declines, estimated from 778 m3 to 506 m3 per capita per year, are expected to severely constrain livelihoods and economic development.”

According to Breisinger, possible solutions to mitigate climate change impact on water scarcity include: increasing water use efficiency, and investing in alternative sources of water.

The former can be achieved through investing in improved irrigation schemes and improving wastewater reuse, while the latter includes investing more in desalination technology, water harvesting, groundwater extraction, he explained.

Breisinger added that the share of people living in urban areas is projected to overtake the share living in rural areas in most MENA countries by 2030—with the notable exceptions of Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

“In combination with population growth and rising incomes, urbanisation can be expected to increase the demand for processed foods. This likely trend provides an opportunity for agroindustry-led economic transformation in the MENA region to generate employment opportunities, improve food security, and reduce poverty.”

Credit: IFPRI

Credit: IFPRI

The Double Burden of Malnutrition

Asked about the “the double burden of malnutrition” in MENA, i.e. “over-and-under-nutrition,” he said this has been particularly prevalent in middle-income countries and especially those in the region.

“Egypt faces relatively more pronounced instances of the double burden of malnutrition than other developing countries. For instance, almost every third Egyptian child under five years of age is chronically undernourished, while 78 per cent of all (non-pregnant) ever-married women 15–49 years of age are overweight.”

According to the researcher, addressing these challenges through the reform of existing policies and programs can be expected to make a critical contribution to accelerating the country’s economic and social development.

Economic and Social Safety Net Reforms in Egypt

Many of the economic challenges that Egypt is facing today have for decades been deeply rooted in the country, he said. “To tackle these longstanding issues, such as slow progress in economic diversification and persistently high levels of unemployment and poverty, Egypt recently embarked on a historic economic reform process.”

The year 2016 witnessed several of these reforms, including the imposition of a value-added tax (in August 2016), the floatation of the Egyptian pound (in November 2016), and further reductions in energy subsidies (in November 2016, following the 2014 partial removal of the subsidy,) explained Breisinger.

The Egyptian government estimates current population growth rate of 2.4 per cent, which is double the average of other developing countries. Much of that growth is concentrated in urban areas, with the Cairo metropolitan area expected to grow by half a million people by the end of 2017, more than any other city in the world.

In addition, armed conflict and drought in the region are exacerbating the challenges high growth and urbanisation bring, by adding displaced migrants and refugees to some of the country’s most vulnerable populations, according to the report.

To meet the challenges of feeding these ballooning populations, IFPRI’s director general stressed the importance of connecting rural and urban areas.

“Improving rural-urban linkages can decrease hunger and malnutrition, and bring growth and prosperity in both rural and urban areas,” he said.

“Connecting farmers to cities provides farmers access to large markets where they can sell higher-value crops, and can provide city dwellers with access to more healthy and nutritious foods.”

IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyse alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups. It is member of CGIAR, a worldwide partnership engaged in agricultural research for development.

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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What does it Take to Solve a Statelessness Crisis?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/what-does-it-take-to-solve-a-statelessness-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-does-it-take-to-solve-a-statelessness-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/what-does-it-take-to-solve-a-statelessness-crisis/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 19:11:44 +0000 Robin Guittard http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150554 Credit: Amnesty International

Credit: Amnesty International

By Robin Guittard
MEXICO CITY, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Three years ago today, authorities in the Dominican Republic passed a law seeking to address a statelessness crisis that has effectively stripped thousands of people off their Dominican nationality and with it,  denied them a range of human rights.

The crisis exploded in 2013, after a ruling by the Dominican Republic’s top Court that retroactively applied to anyone born after 1929 to undocumented foreign parents. In practice, it disproportionately affected Dominicans of Haitian descent in a context of an island shared by two nations: Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The largest statelessness crisis ever seen in the Americas was unleashed, with four generations of people being legally erased from the map and turned into ghost citizens, with no rights and no future – unable to enroll in school, apply for regular jobs or facing difficulty in seeing a doctor. An international outcry followed.

Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

Robin Guittard, Campaigner on the Caribbean at Amnesty International

In response, in 2014, Congress passed Law 169-14 that divided people in various categories.

Group A included around 55,000 people born in the Dominican Republic and whose births were registered in the civil registry, but were arbitrarily deprived of their nationality by the Court’s ruling.

According to the latest available data, 12,000 of them have been so far able to re-access their Dominican identity documents. However, there have been reports that the original birth certificates of some of them are being cancelled and their cases moved to a separate civil registry, which is creating chaos and fear of possible discriminatory practices in the future.

Group B includes those born in the Dominican Republic but whose births were never registered. A so-called Naturalization Plan was put in place between July 2014 and February 2015 to give this group a path to naturalization.

According to the government, only 8,755 individuals were able to register out of an official estimate of 53,000 potential people who belong to this group. According to the 2014 Law, they had to wait two years for the naturalization process to start. The deadline is coming to an end soon and we still don’t know how many of them have had their files approved, neither what process will be followed. The ordinary naturalization process as it currently stands requires that a passport and a birth certificate from the origin country to be produced, and it is not clear if and how their nationality will be restored. No need to say that stateless people don’t have such documents and the authorities have failed to provide any solution for this.

For the 84% of people from group B who couldn’t register, the situation is dramatic. Many of them remain stateless, which means they’re unable to move forward with their lives. They’re limited in their education, they face huge obstacles to access healthcare services, and they can’t work legally nor travel freely inside and outside their country.

For the 84% of people from group B who couldn’t register, the situation is dramatic. Many of them remain stateless, which means they’re unable to move forward with their lives. They’re limited in their education, they face huge obstacles to access healthcare services, and they can’t work legally nor travel freely inside and outside their country.
Today, they have no available avenues to get their Dominican nationality back.

In 2014, President Medina showed courage and great political will by putting forward the Naturalization Law. But the plan fell short of solving this urgent crisis and did not comply with the Dominican Republic’s obligations under international law. Last year Medina was re-elected for a new four-year mandate, which provides a renewed opportunity to put an end to the largest statelessness crisis of this continent.

The roadmap to resolve such a complex situation may not be easy, but every day that authorities continue to turn a blind eye to it, and more children of stateless people are born  into “ghost citizens” in the country, the more intricate the situation becomes.

As a matter of urgency, the authorities in the Dominican Republic must deliver identity documents to all individuals in group A, immediately facilitate the restoration of nationality of the 8,755 people of group B through an expedited process and provide a clear and simple path to restore the nationality of all those who were unable to enroll in the Naturalization Plan and were previously identified with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

An independent mechanism should also be established, with the participation of Dominican human rights organizations, tasked with oversighting this processes. By the end of this year, the mechanism should be able to produce a first independent evaluation of the initiatives carried out since 2013 to address the statelessness crisis, including specific recommendations to the authorities to restore the nationality of those affected and prevent any future arbitrary restrictions to the right to nationality.

The statelessness crisis that has shaken the Dominican Republic since 2013 has shown the tremendous impacts of discriminatory policies on people’s lives and rights. The country that was once seen by many as a tropical paradise has become the home of the largest stateless population of the Americas.

Why are the Dominican Republic’s authorities insisting in denying its youth from going to university and integrate in society, and to deny the right to receive adequate medical care for those in need? Why do they insist in trapping in endless poverty those already excluded and marginalized and for all the stateless to be able to realize themselves as individuals and help their country to advance towards progress?

Three years after Law 169 was passed, much more needs to be done to solve the statelessness crisis that still affects thousands of people in the Dominican Republic.  Dominican political leaders and all sectors of Dominican society must be ready to act now. The above mentioned roadmap can be the first steps towards ending this crisis and ensuring the rights of everyone in the country.

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International Finance Governance Undemocratichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/international-finance-governance-undemocratic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-finance-governance-undemocratic http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/international-finance-governance-undemocratic/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 17:01:51 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150548 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired. Credit: IPS

Current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Why is it so difficult to achieve meaningful coordination when everybody agrees that it is desirable, if not necessary? President Richard Nixon’s withdrawal of the US from and hence termination of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 confirmed the end of the post-war Golden Age. This led to slower growth, greater volatility, more instability, and reduced progress in raising economic welfare, among other consequences.

Multilateral governance compromised
The Bretton Woods institutions (BWIs) — World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — were initially conceived as part of a post-war system of multilateral governance to ensure the conditions for peace, growth, development, employment and prosperity. Today, however, their governance arrangements are very different from those of rest of the UN system, despite all its variety, and this is part of the problem. In New York, the UN is governed by ‘one country, one vote’, at least at the General Assembly.

The role of the BWIs and their relationship with the rest of the UN system have also changed significantly over time. Europe is over-weighted in the BWIs while developing countries are under-weighted by the formula for determining voting weights. These governance arrangements have created a sense of exclusion as developing countries feel they have not been fairly represented, especially after decades of dilution of the weight of the ‘basic vote’.

For example, in the mid-1940s, there were 44 members, with the weight of their collective ‘basic votes’ totaling 11.4 per cent. Today, there are 189 members, so if the weight of the basic vote remained the same, the total weight of the members would be just under half (189/44 x 11.4%). A few years ago, total basic votes only accounted for 2.2 per cent, or less than 5% of what they should have been!

Governance vacuum

While the IMF is undoubtedly influential in various matters under its jurisdiction, there is no overall governance mechanism for finance comparable to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for trade. Through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), it has been the WTO which has been facilitating, without supervising, financial services liberalization.

Besides the WTO, the Bank of International Settlements, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the Financial Stability Board and other international organizations have limited jurisdiction in other cross-border financial matters. Meanwhile, important UN initiatives, e.g., the Financing for Development (FfD) conferences, have been largely stymied and ignored in various discussions on international financial reform as the governments of OECD economies prefer the grossly undemocratic decision making arrangements in the Bretton Woods institutions to those of the rest of the UN system.

North Atlantic divide

Such governance issues inevitably undermine legitimacy, and thus constrain more effective global coordination, but of course, there are other problems as well. For many years, there have been some important differences across the Atlantic, arguably since the 1960s.

During the recent crisis, the European approach initially relied on long-standing ‘automatic stabilizers’, arguing that Europe did not need the big fiscal stimuli which the US and the UK – untypically — advocated in 2009. Later, the European Central Bank warned incessantly of the threat of inflation, while the IMF inconsistently shared the view of the rest of the UN system, that the bigger threat was that of deflation and stagnation.

Instead of providing a desperately needed, coordinated, counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus to the world economy, under the leadership of the then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the G-20 committed to a huge capital infusion for the IMF. It would have been better if the G-20 had provided this capital boost on condition that the IMF reforms itself to pro-actively revive and sustain global economic growth and to better serve developing countries. Without sufficiently reforming itself, the IMF has continued to suffer from legitimacy and credibility problems, undermining its ability to provide more effective leadership.

From G-7 to G-20
Although current international coordination leaves a lot to be desired, there have been some modest and generally unsuccessful efforts to improve the situation. For instance, there were some efforts to improve coordination by the G-7 as well as in Europe at the annual IMF-World Bank meetings in October 2008 and soon afterwards as well, but these efforts did not achieve much.

Meanwhile, then President Sarkozy of France initiated an unprecedented G-20 summit to be held at the UN with Secretary-General Ban. US President George W Bush later insisted on hosting the summit in mid-November 2008 in Washington DC. (The G-20 group of Finance Ministers had been meeting for a decade after it was created by then US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin after the 1997-1998 Asian crisis.) In the following month, the G-20 heads of government met for the very first time, and have continued to meet since with limited consequence after 2009.

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Community Seed Banks: Securing Diversity for Climate Change Adaptationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/community-seed-banks-securing-diversity-for-climate-change-adaptation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-seed-banks-securing-diversity-for-climate-change-adaptation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/community-seed-banks-securing-diversity-for-climate-change-adaptation/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 16:13:30 +0000 Elena Pasquini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150552 The author is Editor in Chief Degrees of Latitude]]> latitude__

By Elena L. Pasquini
ROME, May 23 2017 (IPS)

For thousands of years, farmers have used genetic diversity to cope with weather variability and changing climate conditions. They have stored, planted, selected and improved seeds to continue producing food in a dynamic environment.

Community seed banks are mostly informal collections of seeds maintained by local communities and managed with their traditional knowledge, whose primary function is to conserve seeds for local use. They can play a major role in climate change adaptation, according to a recent article published by Bioversity International’s researchers Ronnie Vernooy, Bhuwon Sthapit, Gloria Otieno, Pitambar Shrestha and Arnab Gupta.

Based on various countries’ experiences, the article argues that, ‘community seed banks can enhance the resilience of farmers’ by securing ‘access to, and availability of, diverse, locally adapted crops and varieties’.

According to Ronnie Vernooy, genetic resources policy specialist at Bioversity International, ‘mostly because of climate change, there’s a stronger interest in establishing and supporting community seed banks’. However, many of them ‘are still quite fragile, organizationally and in terms of technical management’, he added.

Bioversity International, which is working in several countries on informal seed systems, has designed a project for community seedbanks Platform and is currently looking for donors interested in its implementation. The Platform aims at reinforcing farmers’ seed systems by supporting existing community seed banks as well as national or regional community seedbank networks around the world, scaling out their activities and contributing to their sustainability. It should have four key functions, covering documentation and analysis to practical experiences, capacity building, research agenda coordination and digitalization andmanagement of data.

But why do community seed banks matter?

Tools for adaptation

Seeds are stored in diverse types of collections, ranging from international and national genebanks, or ex situ collections where seeds remain often for years or decades, to small seed banks managed locally by farmers. ‘In the ex-situ collections … seeds are like frozen in time … That means there’s no chance [for them] to adapt in the field to changing conditions’, Ronnie Vernooy, explained to Degrees of Latitude.

In community banks, seeds usually remain for shorter terms, ‘ sometimes for one year’, Vernooy specified, to be then distributed to farmers: ‘Those plants are in the field and in the real conditions, so they are adapting themselves to changing circumstances. Then farmers usually select the best seeds of any given crop in the field. Part of those seeds goes back to the community seed banks and the next year the cycle continues’. Moreover, genebanks focus more on the major food crops, while community banks tend to conserve all the diversity farmers have on field, including minor crops, neglected varieties, medicinal plants, wild relatives and even trees.

Community banks not only conserve genetic diversity, they ‘have the potential … to become seed producers and it’s happening … but it requires support’, Vernooy said. Compared to the formal seed sector – which includes research institutions, genebanks, governmental bodies and private companies – the informal seed bank offers several advantages to small farmers, according to Vernooy. It provides not only ‘broader [genetic] diversity’, but seeds that are better adapted to farming systems that ‘tend to be diverse, [located] in marginal, very dry or mountainous areas, etc.’, he explained. ‘[Seeds from the formal sector] tend to require high level of inputs – fertilizers, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides … – and the price is often high’.

However, ‘it’s not a black and white system’, he stressed. The formal sector can help building farmers’ capacities. In fact, ‘in many countries we are trying to breach the gap between the formal and the informal systems with activities like participatory plant breeding, but also with the community seed banks … We try to bring the national genebanks work together with the community seed banks’, he said. In an ‘ideal world community seed banks could be part of what’s called a national conservation system. Right now, governments channel money into national genebanks … Our argument is why not also put a small amount of money into each of the community seed banks that exists or into the new ones that can be established?’, Vernooy said.

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An enabling legal environment
Strengthening community seed banks requires not only technical and financial support but also an enabling policy and legal environment. In many countries, apart from a few like Bhutan, Nepal, Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, “there is no or little recognition of and support for community seed banks …, [and] farmers are not allowed to sell farm-saved seed. In others, legislation to protect farmers’ genetic resources is lacking’, Vernooy’s article reports.

Laws and regulations that can conflict ‘on what community seed banks are trying to do, [for instance] the intellectual property rights policies …’ are also often in place, Vernooy explained. Community seed banks are ‘like collective enterprises’ managed cooperatively: ‘Laws that prohibit or restrain these collective uses are in contradiction to what community seeds banks do’, Vernooy explained.

From an international perspective, the Convention of Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture have been ‘quite supporting’, according to Vernooy. A study out of the Norwegian Development Fund, suggests that community seed banks can also contribute to the implementation of farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds. Those rights are recognized by ITPGRFA, which is legally-binding for 143 countries. The Treaty demands contracting parties not only to promote or support ‘farmers and local communities’ efforts to manage and conserve on-farm their plant genetic resources for food and agriculture’ but also ‘in situ conservation of wild crop relatives and wild plants for food production’.

‘ITPGRFA has the farmers’ rights and in principle the text is very much in support of community seed banks, but then it goes back to the national governments to implement those international agreements. So, we are back to the same situation’, Vernooy said.

However, the direction seems clear: ‘There’s quite a strong international movement of people working on these issues and the international treaty itself is quite interested in advancing on this’, he said.

Photo credits: Bioversity International – Bioversity International/C.Fadda – Seeds for Needs, Ethiopia

This story was originally published by Degrees of Latitude

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“Horrific” Increase in Worldwide Displacementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 15:04:43 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150545 Saidi Olivier, a displaced farmer in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with his family in an IDP camp. Credit: IDMC

Saidi Olivier, a displaced farmer in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with his family in an IDP camp. Credit: IDMC

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Over 30 million people were newly internally displaced in 2016 by conflict and disasters, according to a new report.

In examining trends around the world for its annual Global Report on Internal Displacement, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found “horrific” and high levels of new displacement.

“Since we started this conversation, hundreds of families have been or are in the process of being displaced today,” said Secretary-General of NRC and former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jan Egeland during a press briefing.

In 125 countries, a total of 31.1 million new displacements were recorded, representing an increase of over 3 million from 2015 and translating to one person displaced every second.

“When a family is pushed out of their home, often for years, it is a sign that something is horrifically wrong in a nation, in a locality, and also in international relations,” Egeland added.

Of the total, nearly 7 million were newly displaced by conflict alone in 2016. To everyone’s surprise, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) surpassed Syria and Iraq in having the most new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world.

“Our eyes and our focus were very much on the Middle East,” IDMC’s Director Alexandra Bilak told IPS.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has been consistently affected by internal displacement over the years, but we just weren’t expecting that spike in the DRC and we certainly weren’t expecting higher numbers there than in Syria,” she continued.

DRC has been marred by insecurity since the 1990s when the Rwandan genocide and an influx of refugees plunged the country into the deadliest conflict in African history, killing almost 5 million civilians.

Though the country declared peace in 2003, there has been a resurgence in violence between armed groups which has led to more than 900,000 new displacements over the course of 2016.

Egeland recalled his experience working in the DRC as Under-Secretary-General between 2003 and 2006, stating, “We were supposed to end that [conflict] a decade ago.”

He noted that DRC saw dwindling humanitarian resources over the years and fading attention.

“It fell off the top of the agenda and that was dangerous—that was a major mistake,” Egeland continued.

Bilak told IPS that the displacement figures found for the DRC in the report are “clearly an underestimate” as over 1 million have been newly displaced in the Central African country since the beginning of 2017.

The organizations also found that disasters displaced three times more people than conflict, documenting over 24 million new displacements in 118 countries.

Over 68 percent of all new disaster-related displacement took place in East Asia and the Pacific, including China and the Philippines, which saw the highest numbers of displacements due to heavy floods and typhoons. The effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will only further increase such displacement, the report noted.

And it is vulnerable small island states that will and continue to suffer disproportionately, Bilak said.

Haiti, which is still reeling from the impacts of the 2010 earthquake and most recently Hurricane Matthew, is among the top countries with the largest per capita disaster displacements. The Caribbean nation not only faces a high risk of disasters, but also a low capacity to respond and cope.

“This is another sad demonstration of the recurrent shocks to the system that these types of events represent and how difficult it is for certain countries to recover from them,” Bilak stated.

However, despite the fact that IDPs outnumber all refugees by two to one, much of the world’s attention and concern has been focused on refugees and migrants rather than the issue of internal displacement. For instance, more money was spent resettling refugees in donor countries than on the crises in countries of origin that forced people to flee in the first place.

“By only looking at refugees and migrants, you are essentially only really looking at the endpoint of a crisis—you are looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Bilak told IPS.

“It’s incredibly short-sighted and unstrategic to focus all political and financial attention on the symptoms of the problem rather than on the causes,” she continued.

Egeland echoed similar sentiments, stating that though there are high numbers of refugees in the world today, it is a “total myth” that people are “overflooding” Europe.

There are some links between IDPs and refugees as unresolved internal displacement can sometimes lead to cross-border movements. Countries that often have high numbers of IDPs also tend to produce many of the world’s refugees such as South Sudan and Syria.

However, it is necessary to look at the full migration and displacement picture and to acknowledge that internal displacement is an integral part of that picture, Bilak said.

Understanding patterns of displacement and movements allow for efficient and effective work on prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.

Both Bilak and Egeland called on renewed and redirected political and financial investments in this often overshadowed issue.

“The report is a tool for policymakers to help them prioritize where they should allocate their resources, both political resources and their financial resources,” Bilak told IPS.

This includes an increase in development assistance in order to reduce existing vulnerabilities and future risk, helping mitigate the long-term impacts of internal displacement and preventing cyclical crises from continuing in the future.

“Until the structural drivers of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment are addressed, conflict and human rights violations will continue to cause displacement and impede solutions,” the report concludes.

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Truth or Delusion?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/truth-or-delusion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=truth-or-delusion http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/truth-or-delusion/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 07:11:22 +0000 Robert Burrowes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150538 The author has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?']]> Toddler in fright (looks just as if, but it is by chance; photo with symbolic impact). Credit: ηeonZERO. public domain.

Toddler in fright (looks just as if, but it is by chance; photo with symbolic impact). Credit: ηeonZERO. public domain.

By Robert J. Burrowes
DAYLESFORD, Australia, May 23 2017 (IPS)

One inevitable outcome of the phenomenal violence we all suffer as children is that most of us live in a state of delusion throughout our lives.

This makes it extraordinarily difficult for accurate information, including vital information about the endangered state of our world and how to respond appropriately, to penetrate the typical human mind.

‘Phenomenal violence?’ you might ask. ‘All of us?’ you wonder. Yes, although, tragically, most of this violence goes unrecognised because it is not usually identified as such.

Robert J. Burrowes

Robert J. Burrowes

For most people, it is a straightforward task to identify the ‘visible’ violence that they have suffered and, perhaps, still suffer.

However, virtually no-one is able to identify the profoundly more damaging impact of the ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence that is inflicted on us mercilessly from the day we are born.

So what is this ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence?.

‘Invisible’ violence is the ‘little things’ that adults do to children every day, partly because they are just ‘too busy’. For example, when adults do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal communication system.

When adults do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).

When adults blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, they both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others).

However, parents, teachers, religious figures and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings. In brief, this means that the child now lives in a state of delusion.

And because this state was caused by terrorizing the child, the child is unable to perceive the series of delusions in which they now live.

Moreover, unless the child (or, later, adult) consciously feels their fear and terror, it will be extraordinarily difficult for them to perceive anything beyond the delusions that they acquired during childhood.

This is simply because the various elements of the child’s delusional state (the ‘values’, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, biases) were the ones approved by the key adults – parents, teachers, religious figures – in the child’s life.

Needless to say, living in a delusional state has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for nature because the individual will now behave on the basis of their delusions rather than in response to an accurate assessment of all available information through appropriate sensory, emotional, intellectual and conscientious scrutiny. For a full explanation of this process, see ‘Why Violence?‘ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

In essence then, the typical human being lives in a delusional state and this state is held in place by enormous, but unconscious, terror: the unfelt and hence unreleased childhood terror of being endlessly threatened and punished (for not complying with parental or other adult ‘authority’ throughout childhood).

And if you have ever tried to persuade someone, by argument of an intellectual nature, that a belief they hold is inaccurate and wondered why you couldn’t get anywhere, it is because you have run into their unconscious terror. And sheer terror beats the best argument in the world ‘hands down’.

So when you listen to people like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, or ponder those politicians and military generals who conduct endless wars, or watch those people on the street protesting against Muslims and refugees, or watch police beating up another indigenous or black person, or hear someone else deny the climate science, remember that you are witness to a person or people living in a terrified and delusional state that prevents them from perceiving and responding intelligently to reality.

And that, in the case of political and corporate leaders, they only have the support to do what they do because a great many other delusional individuals (including voters and employees) enable them.

Equally importantly, however, it is also necessary to recognise that a delusional state afflicts many of those we like to regard as ‘on our side’. It is just that their delusions work differently, perhaps, for example, by making them believe that only token ‘make it up as you go along’ responses (rather than comprehensive strategies) are necessary if we are to work our way out of the multifaceted crisis in which human society now finds itself.

This is why many ‘leaders’ of liberation struggles as well as activist movements concerned with ending war(s) and the climate catastrophe, for example, are so unable to articulate appropriately visionary and functional strategies. But the problem afflicts many other ‘progressive’ social movements as well, which limp along making only occasional or marginal impact, if they have any impact at all.

So what are we to do? Well, the most important thing you can do is to never consciously participate in a delusion, whether your own or that of anyone else. I say ‘consciously’ of course because unless you identify the delusion, you will not be able to avoid participating in it.

And there are probably few humans in history who have avoided all of the delusions their culture threw at them. If they did, they were probably outcast or killed. Christ, Gandhi and King are reasonably good examples of people in this latter category.

But, historically speaking, many activists have been killed for refusing to participate in elite-promoted delusions. And many others have been marginalised, one way or another, depending on the culture.

The value of not participating in a delusion, whether someone’s personal delusion or a widespread social one, arises from the impact you have on those around you: some of these people will have the courage to reflect on your behaviour and reconsider their own.

If you believe you are relatively free of delusion and are committed to taking serious steps to tackle one or more aspects of our multifaceted global crisis, then you are welcome to consider making ‘My Promise to Children‘, and to consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth‘, signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World‘ and/or considering using the strategic framework on one or the other of these two websites for your campaign or liberation struggle: Nonviolent Campaign Strategy and Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy.

Living the truth on a daily basis is a tough road. And it will never come without cost. But living in the comfort of delusion, rather than taking action, is the path of cowards.

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World to Cut Emissions With or Without Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 22:45:32 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150534 Officials say future climate action will require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board.

Officials say future climate action will require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board. Credit: Bigstock

By Zofeen Ebrahim
BERLIN, May 22 2017 (IPS)

In a last-ditch effort, Germany and China are trying to influence the United States not to walk away from the Paris climate change accord it signed along with 194 nations.

In December 2015, nearly every country committed to take action to reduce planet-warming emissions."The US may try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Other countries have to be very clear that they are defending the integrity of the accord and would not accept reduced US commitments." --Lutz Weischer

“We are trying to influence the US through different channels and people, at the foreign ministry level to the EPA and even the Chancellor [Angela Merkel] has repeatedly called up President [Donald] Trump to remain in this landmark agreement,” said German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks at the two-day 8th Petersberg Climate Dialogue being held in Berlin.

Terming the Paris Agreement a “hard-won milestone”, the Chinese special envoy Xie Zhenhua said his country was “true to word and resolute in deed”. Like his German counterpart, he too reiterated that all signatories should “stick to it” and “not retreat”. China is resolute in its commitment, he said and added the need for transparency to “build mutual trust and confidence” was also paramount.

At the same time, both countries gave a positive signal of what they were doing to reduce carbon emissions, with Hendricks emphasizing on the need to work on the “ecological technologies of the future” in the sectors of transport, infrastructure development and grids. They talked about the advances made in the renewable energy sector, the dire need for phasing out coal and the baby steps made towards electric cars.

Hendricks said future climate action would require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board. “We do not have a blueprint as yet” but countries are ready to ride the wave of enthusiasm although with some reservations but all for “prosperity in the long term”.

She also said it was prudent to mainstream climate action in all economic, fiscal even health policies. “The ball is in the court of national governments,” she said adding: “Actions should speak louder than words.”

But despite so much commitment, the air of uncertainty continues to loom heavy over all climate talks as President Trump mulls over his “big decision”.

Dr Ralph Bodle, a senior fellow and coordinator of Ecologic, a Berlin based think tank on environment, was recently in Bonn helping ministers and diplomats from nearly 200 countries to hammer out a “rule book” to say who should do what, by when, how and with what financial support, thereby putting the Paris Climate Agreement into practice.

He, too, conceded that there was concern over Trump’s decision during the 11-day intersessional climate talks. Bodle believed the Paris Accord “will live or fail with political will”.

It is expected the US president will announce a final decision after his return from Taormina, in Sicily, where he will attend the 43rd G7 Summit and where he will be pressured by other countries to give in.

In March, Trump had threatened to pull out of the accord and roll back the widely- supported climate policies of former president Barack Obama, whose administration set a target of a 26-28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025, based in 2005 levels. He had declared an end to the “war on coal”, signed an executive order that removed several restrictions on fossil fuel production and removed barriers to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Before leaving office, Obama had transferred one billion dollars to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund and pledged billions more to the fund through the Paris deal, which has not been taken well by Trump.

He has said the US was “paying disproportionately” and that they “got taken to the cleaners financially”. It is unclear whether Trump will honour those financial commitments.

In addition, he has gathered around him climate deniers. Take Scott Pruitt, the environment chief, for instance, who has gone on record saying global warming is not caused by emissions from fossil fuels.

Not everyone is sure whether it’s better to have Trump in or out.

“If Trump poses conditions for the US staying in the Paris Agreement, depending on the conditions, they could cause damage to the accord,” said Lutz Weischer from Germanwatch. He suspects the “US may try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Other countries have to be very clear that they are defending the integrity of the accord and would not accept reduced US commitments.”

There are others who also say that the withdrawal may have implications for the US-China relationship. President Xi Jinping has publicly hinted at his desire for the US to remain in it despite a tweet by Trump saying climate change was a Chinese conspiracy.

During the campaign, he claimed on Twitter that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

According to Weischer, there are three important gaps that China is looking at — climate diplomacy, emissions and financing.”It knows it cannot fill the void all by itself and without the US on its side.” But if things take a turn for the worse, China will forge alliances with the EU and Canada. As for the financing gap, Weischer said “even that loss can be assuaged if all other countries stick to their commitments, at least for the next four years.”

But even if the US decides to pull out there are other countries who have reaffirmed their commitment which could, in fact be, a “reaction to the US”, said Weischer, who heads international climate policy at Germanwatch. He said it was more important to keep that momentum with actions being taken on the ground.

Even within the US, there are several states and even big corporations who want the US to have the seat at the table. “And even within the White House there are various camps on the issue,” he noted.

The next Conference of Parties to the climate framework (COP23), to be held this November, will be organized by Fiji, but hosted by Bonn.

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The ‘Public’ in Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-public-in-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-public-in-public-health/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 22:08:43 +0000 Vani Kulkarni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150532 Vani S. Kulkarni teaches Sociology at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia]]> hospital2

By Vani S. Kulkarni
PHILADELPHIA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

 

The discourse must move beyond a top-down approach to listen to the people and formulate best insurance practices

Much ink has been spilled in documenting the inadequacy of budgetary allocations for public health insurance, specifically for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the world’s largest publicly-funded health insurance (PFHI) scheme. Though the 2017-18 budget allocation has marginally increased from last year’s revised estimates, it has declined relative to last year’s budgeted amount by about ₹500 crore. However, higher budgetary allocation can only constitute a small part of the solution to the scheme’s mixed, if not lacklustre, performance.

Vani S. Kulkarni

Vani S. Kulkarni

Under the scheme, a Below Poverty Line (BPL) family of five is entitled to more than 700 treatments and procedures at government-set prices, for an annual enrolment fee of ₹30. However, even nine years after its implementation, it has failed to cover a large number of targeted families — almost three-fifths of them. Their exclusion has been due to factors like the prevalent discrimination against disadvantaged groups; a lack of mandate on insurance companies to achieve higher enrolment rates; and an absence of oversight by government agencies.

Increase in hospitalisation
True, there has been a substantial increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is unclear if it has enabled people to access the genuinely needed, and hitherto unaffordable, inpatient care. Often, doctors and hospitals have colluded in performing unnecessary surgical procedures on patients to claim insurance money. For instance, hospitals have claimed reimbursements worth millions of rupees for conducting hysterectomies on thousands of unsuspecting, poor women. Indeed, in the absence of regulations and standards, perverse incentives are created for empanelled hospitals to conduct surgeries. It is thus not surprising that there is no robust evidence of an improvement in health outcomes.

Evidence on the financial protection front is conflicting as well. One study revealed that poorer households in districts exposed to the RSBY and other PFHIs recorded an increase in out-of-pocket (OOP) expenditures for hospital care, and a corresponding rise in incidence of catastrophic expenditure. There is near-consensus that the RSBY has resulted in higher OOP expenditures. Though it is a cashless scheme, many users are exploited by unscrupulous hospital staff.

So, what is the solution? There is a need to bring the ‘public’ back into the discourse on public health to highlight its present culture. The conversation needs to move beyond a top-down approach specifying budget allocation and administrative and technical efficiency. It needs to involve listening to the real public to deliberate on various health practices and policies.

My ethnographic study of the RSBY in Kalaburagi and Mysuru districts between 2014 and 2016 brought to light that a top-down approach on allocation and coverage was important but, by itself, did not translate to expected outcomes. What mattered more was the existing culture of health insurance — how it was perceived, practised and experienced in the everyday, local worlds of the enrolled households. Though they valued aspects like the money available and the number of illnesses covered, they were more deeply affected by how other actors — doctors, local officials, neighbours and even relatives — related to health insurance.

Card not accepted
The disillusionment of Savitri, one of the beneficiaries, after obtaining the plastic card said it all: “If public officials only give us the card without telling us how to use it, the card is just plastic material. Sometimes information is also not correct, making us feel that the card is of no real value if we do not know how to use it.” Further, many hospitals refused to acknowledge the card’s value. Shivakumar’s observation summed it well: “We went to the hospital with the card. Not only could it not be used but also the doctors did not even acknowledge us as patients… We just brought the card home and tossed it to the shelf.” Many bemoaned the absence of public debate on health issues and the RSBY card. Deva’s pithy response was illustrative: “If it is not talked about and debated, we can only think that there is no big value that we should pay attention to.”

Households clearly separated the economic value from social ones. A section saw health insurance as a bad omen, one that announced arrival of illness. Ramesh Kumar, among those in his neighbourhood who refused to enrol, explained: “This card is not a solution for illness, it is a cause of it. You see, when you people knock on our doors to give us the card, it feels like an illness is knocking on our doors. The farther away we are from the card, the further we are from health problems.”

Overall, while the discourse on a greater allocation to RSBY and enhancement of cost-effectiveness are important, a shift of emphasis is needed, bringing the ‘public’ back into the sphere of public health.

The oped first appeared in The Hindu.

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Ecuador Focuses on New UN Tax Body to Fight Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 19:29:49 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150523 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long.

Guillaume Long

Guillaume Long

Ecuador, having long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens that often harm developing countries and to create an intergovernmental body to help regulate taxation and financial flows.

In an interview with IPS, Long explains the issues, challenges, and goals in achieving tax justice.

Q: The President of the General Assembly said that SDG financing is going to take 6$ trillion annually and $30 trillion through 2030. Do you think much-needed finances will be made available if the current rate of illicit financial flows is curbed?

A: I think it’s huge what you can get from curbing illicit flows and basically from tax dodging or tax evasion. In the case of Ecuador, we calculated that an approximate amount of $30 billion is held in tax havens. Just so you get a general idea of what that means, Ecuador’s gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly around $100 billion so $30 billion means almost 1/3rd of our GDP. Most countries struggle to grow, but here you’ve got 30 percent of GDP literally being robbed from us in tax havens.

That means less investment, less dynamism in the economy, less creation of jobs and also less taxes—it’s those taxes that are used for public policies to reduce poverty, reduce inequality, and create much needed infrastructure.

There are have been estimates that public infrastructure that is needed right now in the developing world is roughly $1.5 trillion. This includes hospitals, schools—the kind of infrastructure that the developing world needs to reduce huge rates of inequality, poverty, and some of the things we are trying to amend through, for example, the SDGs. And that’s only probably about 15% of illegal assets held abroad in tax havens and various offshore accounts.

[Curbing illicit financial flows] could revolutionize and dramatically transform the story and history of development. And it would certainly be one of the best sources of financing for development which is the big thing. Now that we have come to an agreement on the 2030 Goals and what it is that we want to do, the next question is how do we do this? And we have to do this with resources. Some resources are available to us, but many others aren’t and this is basically through tax dodging.

This is also fundamentally a practice that is carried out by elites and therefore it also means that you get greater rates of inequality. In a continent or a region like Latin America—if you do a per capita average then it is the middle class but we know that averages hide huge disparities and Latin America is actually the most unequal region in the world and a lot of that has to do with elites not being a willing part of the social contract. And a major aspect of the social contract is taxation and not participating in tax dodging.

Q: How much does the developing world, particularly Africa, Asia, and Latin America, lose to illicit financial flows?

A: There are huge numbers that are being reported. Oxfam talks of $7.6 trillion in tax dodging—I’m not even talking about illicit financial flows, not even talking about offshore accounts, I’m talking about $7.6 trillion in tax dodging.

This is why Ecuador has taken this issue so seriously. We’ve been talking about tax havens and tax avoidance for years, particularly in this government in the last ten years with the Presidency of Rafael Correa. But after the Panama Papers scandal last year, President Correa really launched this as his priority and as a major crusade. He even launched what he called an “Ethical Pact” which included a referendum in Ecuador to ban civil servants and elected officials from holding assets in tax havens. If you are found to hold assets in tax havens, you can be removed from office automatically.

I really think Ecuador is one of the countries, if not the country in the world, that’s done the most. This referendum, which was successful in terms of its results, is an example to the world. And I think Ecuador has been the most proactive country in the year that’s transpired since the revelations of the Panama Papers in taking concrete and bold steps.

Another major thing that we have been doing on the international front is from our presidency of the G77 which we currently chair. We have pushed for the creation of an intergovernmental body on tax justice. We had a workshop this morning which was co-chaired by Ecuador, India, and South Africa with huge participation exactly on this issue.

There is an opportunity—now that the issue is back at the forefront of the media, it means that we have to maximize that opportunity to try and create mechanisms, particularly inside the United Nations, that fight tax dodging. [This issue] we can deal with if we have the right tools and institutions to fight that.

Q: What are your thoughts on public disclosures on tax havens like the Panama Papers? Is that something that is needed more in order to increase transparency and action on tax havens?

A: Whistleblowing plays an important role. When information is public and people find out about these things, if their politicians have been hiding money and fog them—most politicians have a very patriotic discourse saying they’re going to create jobs and economic activity and bring foreign investment. But surely there is a paradox and a contradiction if you are saying ‘vote for me because I’ll bring loads of foreign investment into the country’ and then on the other hand you’ve got all your personal assets hidden away somewhere without paying taxes. I think when those contradictions and lies, and I would use the world ‘robbery’ especially if you are dodging taxes, are exposed then that’s a good thing. It creates greater consciousness.

I think this is a time of great opportunity because since the Panama Papers scandal, a lot of countries that could be considered to be tax havens are starting to take measures because they are under increasing pressure by people and by countries like Ecuador and other countries to do something about it. The fact that we are having this debate today and the fact that I am talking to you is not necessarily in the tax havens’ interest because it brings the spotlight onto their activities so generally speaking, those kinds of public disclosures are very important part of creating a general awareness that this must stop.

There are a lot of double standards too. On the one hand, developing countries are under pressure for all sorts of things. They’ve got to grow, they’ve got to be good economically, they’ve got to guarantee human rights—all of these things which we absolutely abide by and are very committed to—but surely there is a contradiction with having to do that and then on the other hand, all of these countries that are kind of sermonizing the rest of the world from their civilizational pedestal are reaping the benefits of all the crony and corrupt elites of the developing countries depositing their money in these bank accounts without paying taxes.

So there’s a hypocrisy there that has to be exposed. And if these public disclosures can help to do that, then so be it.

Q: Has there been any progress since the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) adoption of the ‘UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion’?

A: That was a very important step. It was the first piece of important legislation and regulatory result that came out of the Committee of Experts in a long time. So we are seeing progress, though still not enough, but still progress. And that has to do with [it being] back on the agenda.

Now there is a new step, which I think is very important, that the Secretary-General from June onwards is going to be naming the members of the Committee of Experts. So that’s also a positive development because it obviously raises the stakes and gives it more political clout.

Ecuador’s position is that we celebrate that the Committee of Experts was created with largely the fruit of debate that goes back to Monterrey in 2002. But now we think that the Committee of Experts is insufficient and that we need something else. We need something with more clout, with more accountability, with more relation with the United Nations system itself and the governmental nature of this organization.

You have it in other spheres—if you look at trade, the World Trade Organization is a regulatory body at the highest level for trade while the Intellectual Property Organization is a regulatory body for intellectual property at the highest level.

Those institutions exist because it is in the interest of big capital that they should exist. Big capital is in favor of free trade and if a country stands in the way of free trade, then you get reprimanded. But it’s not necessarily in the interest of big capital to have the equivalent in the field of taxation. This is an important concept that we should bear in mind. A lot of the institutions of global governance that we have inherited respond to specific interests and not always to the interests of the most powerless in society. They respond to the interests of the most powerful in society.

And why should trade be more important than taxation? Probably in terms of redistribution, taxation is more important than trade. Although, nobody is saying that trade isn’t important for the overall accumulation of wealth of different countries, but in terms of redistribution and in terms of capacity of the state to work towards the 2030 Agenda, then surely [taxation] plays a huge role.

It is great that we are getting closer but it is frustrating that we are still talking about a fight in order to create an institution that will then dedicate itself to fighting for a greater outcome which is tax justice. We are not even fighting for tax justice, we are fighting for the right to have the corresponding institutions just like you have them in the fields of trade and intellectual property and others.

Q: Are you proposing for a new UN tax body or are you hoping to transform the Committee of Experts into an intergovernmental body that you have proposed?

A: We are looking to transform the Committee of Experts but we are very open to different kinds of formats. We are trying to create consensus and if you are trying to create consensus—I mean, we preside over the G77 which is 134 nations so creating consensus between 134 nations is already a tall order—but at the end of the day, we are actually trying to create consensus between 193 nations of the United Nations and that includes tax havens, countries that have been a little pro-status quo particularly in the OECD, and a lot of countries that are not in the G77.

So we are open to all sorts of different outcomes. We just want to raise the hierarchy, the political clout, the visibility, the strength of the body. There are a number of initiatives. Some people have talked about keeping it within the ECOSOC while others want to elevate it to the General Assembly—there’s a huge debate within the G77 about it. But there is consensus between 134 nations of the G77 that it should be an intergovernmental body. And that’s something that we are trying to, through our presidency, express the will of the nations that are members of our group.

Q: How feasible is the proposal for an intergovernmental body for approval by the General Assembly?

A: I think multilateralism is a slow process always. I think we are getting closer. And I think that the big conference on financing for development in the next few weeks should make significant progress. I think we will find that there is much more consensus than there was in Addis Ababa in 2015.

Most countries from the Global South have these discussions about tax justice and the right to development. But a number of countries from the G20 or OECD or more industrialized countries have also started to be flexible in their position. We are seeing changes. In the workshop we had today, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago, we had loads of tax havens present. Not just tax havens that are blacklisted in the Global South by the Global North but tax havens from Europe and from other parts of the world. And they were there because they want to listen in on the debate which shows that at least they are concerned or interested and some of them actually spoke out and said they are making changes and showing a greater commitment.

There is another major thing which is the securitization of the issue. For some countries, issues of terrorism is a big thing. Where do terrorists hide their money? Well, increasingly in constituencies that enjoy banking secrecy and those tend to be tax havens. If we can all at least agree on the outcome which is greater accountability and greater regulations on that matter, even if it is for different reasons, it’s about consensus building and that’s what multilateralism is about.

Q: So would this proposed UN tax body help bring such international cooperation in tackling illicit financial flows?

A: That’s exactly right. It’s not just about naming and shaming tax havens. If suddenly you have two neighboring countries in a European setting, even if they are developed countries, and they start this kind of taxation war by lowering their taxes in order to try to suck capital and investment out of each other in this kind of race to the bottom, then a [UN tax] body like that should be able to intervene and make at least the right recommendations. Whether those recommendations become compulsory then that’s another debate, but it should be a body like you have in other fields that has the capacity to make clear recommendations.

Q: Have you faced or expect to face opposition for this proposal, especially from the Global North?

A: For sure. The G77 has been facing—basically with the same position I am presenting to you is not a new position, the position has been going on for decades and there has been clear language on behalf of the G77.

It is interesting because within the G77, you actually have tax havens as well. But even those tax havens have accepted that an intergovernmental body, which doesn’t exclude them, is quite a good measure if you want to have a serious debate and discussion between member States on this issue. This has been the position of the G77 which has been resisted for decades. There has been loads of opposition. We saw it in Addis Ababa, particularly members of the G7 or the G20 and lots of opposition from the OECD countries and oppositions from countries that are not always considered to be tax havens in the kind of stereotypical manner.

Countries like the United Kingdom has been opposed to this very much, not only because of its own policies but also because of what is euphemistically called non-autonomous territories. The five biggest tax havens in relative terms of the offshore assets per GDP index are non-autonomous territories and four of the five are British while one is the U.S. They are not sovereign nations and they are not members of the United Nations. That’s an important issue and it’s not surprising that there is opposition when we are trying to move away from this.

The Panama Papers singled out Panama and actually Panama is making quite significant efforts to move away from that image. We are very happy to see them move away from such practices but actually, Panama is not necessarily in the top five in terms of the GDP index. The very people who even write up the black lists are not free of tax malpractice themselves.

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Macron Likely to Diffuse Tensions as Independence Vote Looms in New Caledoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 13:06:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150518 Emmanuel Macron speaking at LeWeb 2014. After New Caledonia’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. Credit: Official LeWeb Photos/ CC BY 2.0

Emmanuel Macron speaking at LeWeb 2014. After New Caledonia’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. Credit: Official LeWeb Photos/ CC BY 2.0

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The political future of New Caledonia, a French South Pacific Island territory of 273,000 people, is a profound question mark as a referendum on independence rapidly approaches next year. Equally, how the newly elected French Government, led by Emmanuel Macron, will perform as arbiter of the challenging process in the months ahead is a relative unknown.

Independence aspirations have risen in New Caledonia since the 1980s when violent unrest signalled growing agitation for political change by the indigenous Kanak peoples who comprise about 40 percent of the population. The territory was reinstated on the United Nations Decolonization List in 1986.Less than 1 percent of France’s population lives in the Pacific territories, but the state’s reluctance to severe ties with its overseas territories is due to ideological and strategic factors.

Michael Forrest, Foreign Affairs Secretary for FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front), proclaimed in a November interview with the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) that Kanaks “want to be free and integrated into the political, social and economic environment of the Pacific.”

“It will be a very complex issue to deal with, but I think that Macron will respect the result of the referendum, whatever it is,” Paul Soyez, Adjunct Professor at France’s Paris IV-Sorbonne University and researcher on international relations at the University of Melbourne, Australia, told IPS.

Thirty-nine-year-old Macron, a former investment banker and Economic Minister in the previous socialist government led by François Hollande, won the second round of voting in presidential elections on May 7 against Marine Le Pen, former leader of the National Front. He galvanised popular support for his centrist independent movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), with a strident call for national revival through economic reform and growth, social unity and strengthening of the European Union.

“Macron will maintain the French state’s conciliatory approach to the referendum, like left-wing politicians have done since 1988. His aim will be to secure a calm referendum for the sake of New Caledonia, and for his own sake. I think that his methods can help to avoid violent tensions in New Caledonia next year,” Soyez predicts.

Yet the territory’s political future was not a key campaign issue as a pressing domestic agenda, including high unemployment and concerns about terrorism and immigration, drove candidates’ rhetoric.

And none of the presidential candidates ventured to New Caledonia during campaigning, where voter abstention of 51 percent was very high. But, after the territory’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. In Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia, 80 percent and 58 percent of voters respectively chose Macron, giving him an overall lead across the French Pacific.

French politicians across the ideological spectrum, including socialist Francois Hollande, centre-right Republican François Fillon, and far-right Marine Le Pen, have stated publicly that, while respecting the referendum process, they prefer that New Caledonia remains part of France.

Less than 1 percent of France’s population lives in the Pacific territories, but the state’s reluctance to severe ties with its overseas territories is due to ideological and strategic factors, according to Soyez.

“Firstly, France constitutes an ‘indivisible’ republic. Therefore, as long as the majority of the population want to remain French, France has the duty to maintain its sovereignty. This is extremely important in the French psyche,” he explained.

As well, “French overseas territories enable France to project its military force all around the world, which is very important when France is leading several operations. France’s presence in the South Pacific provides Paris with the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, many natural resources and influence in its regional institutions.”

Macron also shared his hope for the status quo in an interview with Noumea’s media in May, while advocating that the causes of local grievances be tackled, such as unemployment of 14.9 percent. But Soyez believes that “Macron, like a majority of French citizens, believes that a solution can be found between the status quo and independence, if the local communities want to find a way to compromise.”

While the new President has a long list of domestic issues to progress, disputes over the referendum electoral roll demand resolution as well.

“One of the major challenges for us is to include what we estimate to be between 20,000-25,000 local indigenous Kanak people who are not on the referendum electoral list. This list is the responsibility of the French Government,” Forrest emphasised to local media.

An estimated 84,000 Kanaks and 71,000 non-indigenous citizens are entitled to vote in the referendum.

New Caledonia’s first referendum on Independence was held in 1987, but a major Kanak boycott resulted in a pro-France outcome. Further negotiations with France led to a second referendum being provided for in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which also pledged to address indigenous disparity and the partial devolution of powers.

Two decades later the Kanak population still struggles with hardship and low development outcomes. New Caledonia has a high GDP per capita in the region of 39,391 dollars. But research reveals that the employment gap has changed little since the end of the 1990s. In 2009, the unemployment rate for Kanaks was still high at 26 percent, compared to 7 percent for non-Kanaks.

Anger by indigenous youths during clashes with police near Noumea in recent months is a sign that inequality remains a burning issue.

Yet an opinion poll conducted by New Caledonian television in April points to a loyalist lead with 54 percent of eligible referendum voters opposed to independence, about 25 percent in favour and 21 percent undecided. Concerns about a French ‘exit’ include a possible decline in the economy and living standards. The French government currently injects about 1.1 billion dollars into the island territory every year to fund education and development, social security and the public service.

Another crucial hurdle for the pro-independence lobby is that, after decades of debate about self-determination, there remains a lack of consensus about a vision of nationhood which satisfies people on all sides of the political divide.

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Reflections on 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:38:04 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150497 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

More than 7 billion people live on this planet spread among 7 continents, 194 states of the United Nations (UN) and numerous other non-self-governing territories. The world is made up of a mosaic of people belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds. Our planet has been a cultural melting pot since time immemorial.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

According to the UN, the world population is expected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100. The projected rise of the global population will further reinforce the world’s cultural wealth and the opportunities for dynamic interchange between cultures and civilizations.

The 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an important opportunity to advance the goals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark Convention aims to “protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and to further enhance cultural diversity around the world.

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity likewise reminds us of the importance of moving “from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism” through social inclusion and cultural empowerment enabling social cohesion to flourish. Harmonious relationships between peoples start with cultural interaction and cultural empathy.

While we place great importance in preserving the diversity of cultures as a common heritage of mankind, we fear that the world is on the brink of entering into a phase of fragmentation and irreconcilable division.

The inflow of migrants to Europe has been used as an excuse to justify the rise of right-wing populism. Migrants are often scapegoated for the failures of societies although their contributions to the economic and social development of societies and to cultural diversity are well documented. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This has given rise to discrimination, marginalization, bigotry and social exclusion leaving the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness.

While the flow of migrants and refugees to rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population, they are increasingly resented. Yet it has been difficult to increase development assistance resources from rich economies to help stabilize people on the move who are present in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The latter, while much poorer, have welcomed a much higher, double-digit, percentage of migrants and refugees in relation to their own population.

With a view to proposing an alternative solution to enhance cultural diversity and to reversing this trend, I co-chaired a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights.”

During the deliberations, one of the panellists made a salient remark that captured the essence of the debate. It was emphasized that we should never fear “the stranger, in his or her difference, because he or she will be a source of richness.”

Echoing this view, I believe that in modern societies, progress can be ascribed to the celebration of cultural diversity and to the acceptance of the stranger. The driving force behind the success of the United States of America (USA) was the country’s openness towards migrants aspiring to live the American Dream. It allowed building a prosperous society that leveraged the talent of different people regardless of religious or cultural differences.

Embracing cultural diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance enabled the US to become a symbol of success and prosperity.

Taking inspiration from this example, I would like to emphasize that we need to cultivate a climate where cultural diversity is considered a synonym for progress and development. Exclusion and marginalization of people owing to cultural differences do not belong in an open, tolerant and prosperous society.

Hence the need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about each other, to build mutual bonds and to break down the walls of ignorance that have insulated societies.

The term “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” captures the essence of the 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Let difference beget not division but an urge to celebrate diversity and pluralism.

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A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:20:14 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150510 In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 22 2017 (IPS)

Don’t read this story if you are a parent or have children relatives. It is the bloodcurdling story of over 300,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who are just a small part of millions of children that are innocent, easy prey for smugglers and human traffickers worldwide.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, a new UN report has just found that children account for around 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. And that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims, at the rates of 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. “I’m a child, not a criminal, not a threat, not an outcast” – UNICEF

The new report, issued by the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), also informs that the number of children travelling alone has increased five–fold since 2010, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which was released on May 18, and presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” commented UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

First and foremost, children need protection, the UN agency reminded, while highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.”

One of World’s Deadliest Routes for Children

Few weeks earlier, a senior UNICEF official called the routes from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Europe one of the “world’s deadliest and most dangerous for children and women,” as the UN agency informed that nearly half of the women and children interviewed after making the voyage were raped.

On this, its report A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route, warned that “refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy,”

At the time of the report, which was issued end of February, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including about 54,000 included women and children. “This is a low count with actual numbers at least three times higher.”

The UN agency believes that at least 181,000 people –including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children –used smugglers in 2016 to try to reach Italy. “At the most dangerous portion– from southern Libya to Sicily – one in every 40 people is killed.”

Raped, Exploited, Left in Debt

Here, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women. “The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo


“Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations,” with “widespread and systematic” sexual violence at crossings and checkpoints.

“In addition, about three-quarters of all the children interviewed said that they had “experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults” including beatings, verbal and emotional abuse.”

In Western Libya, women were often held in detention centres were they reported “harsh conditions, such as poor nutrition and sanitation, significant overcrowding and a lack of access to health care and legal assistance,” the UN Children Fund informed.

What the Most Powerful Should – and Can Do

Included in the report is a six-point agenda calling for “safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children.” UNICEF urged the European Union to adopt this agenda ahead of the Summit of the G7 (the group of the 7 most powerful countries) in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May.

The six-point agenda stresses the need to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives, and to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.

It recommends, as well, to keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; to press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Such commitments would obviously be easy to take and implement by the G7 governments. The point is: will the political leaders of the world’s richest countries consider, seriously, this inhuman tragedy?

Are they aware that the number of children left alone has been soaring? UNICEF –which they created to assist millions of European refugee children, victims of their Wold War II– has just reported that 92 per cent of children who arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.

Do these mandatories know that 75 per cent of children who arrived in Italy—the very same country hosting their Summit—have reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay?

Let alone the case of hundreds of children who are abducted to sell their organs, to be recruited by terrorist organisations as child soldiers, or are exploited in harsh “modern” slavery work.

Will these political leaders mostly talk big finance and big business–including the 20 May US-Saudi Arabia weapons deal amounting to 110 billion dollars? Who knows…they might also have some spare time to read US president Donald Trump’s latest tweets.

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Unique Sandbar Coastal Ecosystem in Cuba Calls for Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/unique-sandbar-coastal-ecosystem-in-cuba-calls-for-climate-solutions/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 23:03:49 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150493 Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Local residents of La Playa rest under the shade of a bush on a polluted sandbar or “tibaracón” at the mouth of the Macaguaní River, near the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, May 19 2017 (IPS)

A battered bridge connects the centre of Baracoa, Cuba´s oldest city, with a singular dark-sand sandbar, known as Tibaracón, that forms on one of the banks of the Macaguaní River where it flows into the Caribbean Sea in northeastern Cuba.

Just 13 wooden houses with lightweight roofs shield the few families that still live on one of the six coastal sandbars exclusive to Baracoa, a mountainous coastal municipality with striking nature reserves, whose First City, as it is locally known, was founded 505 years ago by Spanish colonialists.

These long and narrow sandbars between the river mouths and the sea have a name from the language of the Araucan people, the native people who once populated Cuba. The sandbars are the result of a combination of various rare natural conditions: short, steep rivers, narrow coastal plains, heavy seasonal rainfall and the coral reef crest near the coast.

Local experts are calling for special treatment for these sandbars exclusive to islands in the Caribbean, in the current coastal regulation, which is gaining momentum with Tarea Vida (Life Task), Cuba´s first plan to tackle climate change, approved on April 27 by the Council of Ministers.

Baracoa, with a population of 81,700, is among the municipalities prioritised by the new programme due to its elevation. Authorities point out that the plan, with its 11 specific tasks, has a more far-reaching scope than previous policies focused on climate change, and includes gradually increasing investments up to 2100.
“I was born here. I moved away when I got married, and returned seven years ago after I got divorced,” dentist María Teresa Martín, a local resident who belongs to the Popular Council of La Playa, a peri-urban settlement that includes the Macaguaní tibaracón or sandbar, told IPS.

The sandbar is the smallest in Baracoa, the rainiest municipality in Cuba, while the largest – three km in length – is at the mouth of the Duaba River.

“It’s not easy to live here,” said Martín. “The tide goes out and all day long you smell this stench, because the neighbours throw all their garbage and rubble into the river and the sea, onto the sand,” she lamented, while pointing out at the rubbish that covers the dunes and is caught in the roots of coconut palm trees and on stranded fishing boats.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Macaguaní River runs down from the mountains and across the city, along Baracoa bay, which it flows into. It stinks and is clogged up from the trash and human waste dumped into it, one of the causes of the accelerated shrinking of the tibaracón.

“We even used to have a street, and there were many more houses,” said Martín.

The Greater Caribbean launches a project

The 25 members of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) approved on Mar. 8 in Havana a regional project to curb erosion on the sandy coastlines, promote alternatives to control the phenomenon, and drive sustainable tourism.

The initiative, set forth by Cuba during the first ACS Cooperation Conference, in which governments of the bloc participated along with donor agencies and countries, including the Netherlands and South Korea, was incorporated into the ACS´ 2016-2018 Action Plan, which will extend until 2020.

The project, currently in the dissemination phase to raise funds, already has a commitment from the Netherlands to contribute one billion dollars, while South Korea has initially offered three million dollars.

The initiative will at first focus on 10 island countries, althoug others plan to join in, since the problem of erosion of sandy coastlines affects local economies that depend on tourism and fishing.

“We have lost other communication routes with the city. We have to evacuate whenever there is a cyclone or tsunami warning,” said the local resident, who is waiting to be resettled to a safer place in the city.

Local fisherman Abel Estévez, who lives across from Martín, would also like to move inland, but he is worried that he will be offered a house too far from the city. “I live near the sea and live off it. If they send us far from here, how am I going to support my daughter? How will my wife get to her job at the hospital?” he remarked.

Such as is happening with La Playa, the
Coastal regulations establish that municipal authorities must relocate to safer places 21 communities – including La Playa – along the municipality’s 82.5 km of coastline, of which 13.9 are sandy.

“We have exclusive and very vulnerable natural resources, such as the tibaracones,” explained Ricardo Suárez, municipal representative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. “They are a sandy strip between the river and the sea, which makes them fragile ecosystems at risk of being damaged by the river and the sea.”

The disappearance of the tibaracones would change the “coastal dynamics”, explained the geographer. “Where today there is sand, tomorrow there could be a bay, and that brings greater exposure to penetration by the sea, which puts urban areas at risk and salinises the soil and inland waters,” he told IPS.

He said that these sandbars are affected by poor management and human activities, such as sand extraction, pollution and indiscriminate logging, in addition to climate change and the resulting elevation of the sea level. He also pointed out natural causes such as geological changes in the area.

In his opinion, the actions to protect the sandbars are band-aid measures, since they are destined to disappear. He said this can be slowed down unless natural disasters occur, like Hurricane Matthew, which hit the city on Oct. 4-5, 2016.

Suárez is the author of a study that shows the gradual shrinking of the tibaracones located in Baracoa, which serve as “natural barriers protecting the city”. He also showed how the population has been migrating from the sandbars, due to their vulnerability.

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A man fishes on the beach next to the mouth of the Macaguaní River in the Caribbean Sea, on the outskirts of the city of Baracoa in eastern Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In the shrinking community where Martín and Estévez live, between the mouth of the Macaguaní River and the sea, there were 122 houses in 1958. And on the Miel River tibaracón, at the eastern end of the city, there were 45 houses in 1978, while today there are only a few shops and businesses.

The unique Miel River delta used to be 70 metres wide in the middle of the last century, while today the narrowest portion is just 30 metres wide. In Macaguaní, meanwhile, the shrinking has been more abrupt, from 80 metres back then, to just six metres in one segment, the study found.

The expert recommends differentiated treatment for these ecosystems, which are not specifically contemplated under Decree Law 212 for the Management of Coastal Areas, in force since 2000, which is the main legal foundation for the current land-use regulation which requires the removal of buildings that are harmful to the coasts.

Suárez said the removal of structures on sandy soil surrounded by water must be followed with preventive measures to preserve the sand, such as reforestation with native species.

In the study, he notes that the government’s Marine Studies Agency, a subsidiary of the Geocuba company in the neighbouring province of Santiago de Cuba, proposes the construction of a seawall and embankment to protect the Miel River delta. And he emphasised the importance of carrying out similar research in the case of Macaguaní.

Cuba´s Institute of Physical Planning (IPF) inspected the 5,746 km of coastline in the Cuban archipelago, and found 5,167 illegalities committed by individuals, and another 1,482 by legal entities. The institute reported that up to February 2015, 489 of the infractions committed by legal entities had been eradicated.

When the authorities approved the Life Task plan, the IPF assured the official media that the main progress in coastal management has been achieved so far on the 414 Cuban beaches at 36 major tourist areas. Tourism is Cuba´s second-biggest source of foreign exchange, after the export of medical services.

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Agony of Mother Earth (II) World’s Forests Depleted for Fuelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-ii-worlds-forests-depleted-for-fuel/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 11:13:54 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150481 This is the second of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the real lungs of Mother Earth. Part I dealt with the relentless destruction of forests.]]> Forests play a critical role for many countries in their ability to mitigate climate change. Credit: FAO/Rudolf Hahn

Forests play a critical role for many countries in their ability to mitigate climate change. Credit: FAO/Rudolf Hahn

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Humankind is the biggest ever predator of natural resources. Just take the case of forests, the real lungs of Mother Earth, and learn that every 60 seconds humans cut down 15 hectares of trees primarily for food or energy production. And that as much as 45,000 hectares of rainforest are cleared for every million kilos of beef exported from South America.

Should these figures not be enough, Monique Barbut, the executive-secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), also drew world’s attention to the fact that “when we take away the forest it is not just the trees that go… The entire ecosystem begins to fall apart… with dire consequences for us all…”

Barbut, who provided these and other figures on the occasion of this year’s International Day of Forests –marked under the theme “Forestry and Energy”— also reminded that deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for over 17 per cent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

UNCCD’s chief is far from the only expert to sound the alarm–the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that up to seven per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans come from the production and use of fuel-wood and charcoal.

This happens largely due to unsustainable forest management and inefficient charcoal manufacture and fuel-wood combustion, according to The Charcoal Transition report published on the Day (March 21).

Right – but the other relevant fact is that for more than two billion people worldwide, wood fuel means a cooked meal, boiled water for safe drinking, and a warm dwelling, as this specialised body’s director-general José Graziano da Silva timely recalled.

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Forest loss contributes to 1/6 of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: FAO/Joan Manuel Baliellas

Poor People in Rural Areas

This is especially important for poor people in rural areas of developing countries, where wood is often the only energy source available.

Regions with the greatest incidence of poverty, most notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and low income households in Asia, are also the most dependent on fuel-wood: “Nearly 90 per cent of all fuel wood and charcoal use takes place in developing countries, where forests are often the only energy source available to the rural poor,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat.

However, much of the current production of wood fuel is “unsustainable,” contributing significantly to the degradation of forests and soils and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, said Graziano da Silva. “In many regions the conversion to charcoal is often done using rudimentary and polluting methods.”

He urged countries to reverse these negative trends in wood energy production and use. “We need, for instance, to adopt improved technologies for energy conversion.” Currently the organisation he leads while is participating in several programmes to deliver fuel-efficient stoves, especially for poor people in Latin America and Africa.

In conflict and famine-struck South Sudan, the organisation and partners have already distributed more than 30,000 improved stoves.

For his part, Fiji’s president, Jioji Konousi Konrote, stressed, “We need to turn our attention to scaling up the transfer of renewable energy technologies, particularly for forest biomass, in order to ensure that developing countries are making use of these technologies and keep pace with growing energy demands in a sustainable manner.”

The government of Fiji is poised to assume the presidency of the next Conference of Parties of the UN Climate Agreement scheduled to take place in in Bonn, Germany, in November.

1 in 3 People Wood-Fuel Dependent

The challenge is huge knowing that more than 2.4 billion people –about one-third of the world’s population– still rely on the traditional use of wood-fuel for cooking, and many small enterprises use fuel-wood and charcoal as the main energy carriers for various purposes such as baking, tea processing and brickmaking.

Of all the wood used as fuel worldwide, about 17 per cent is converted to charcoal, according to The Charcoal Transition report. The point is when charcoal is produced using inefficient technologies and unsustainable resources, the emission of greenhouse gases can be as high as 9 kg carbon dioxide equivalent per 1 kg charcoal produced.

The report highlights that in the absence of realistic and renewable alternatives to charcoal in the near future, in particular, in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, greening the charcoal value chain and applying sustainable forest management practices are essential for mitigating climate change while maintaining the access of households to renewable energy.

Changing the way wood is sourced and charcoal is made offers a high potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it says, adding that a shift from traditional ovens or stoves to highly efficient modern kilns could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. At the end-use level, a transition from traditional stoves to improved state-of-the-art stoves could reduce emissions by around 60 per cent.

“Wood based energy accounts for 27 per cent of the total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania,” according to FAO estimates.

Forests continue to be under threat from unsustainable use, environmental degradation, rapid urbanisation, population growth, and the impacts of climate change. Between 2010 and 2015, global forest area saw a net decrease of 3.3 million hectares per year.

This is Part II of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the reall lungs of Mother Earth. Read Part I: Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forests.

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Africa and India – Sharing the Development Journeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-and-india-sharing-the-development-journey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-and-india-sharing-the-development-journey http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/africa-and-india-sharing-the-development-journey/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 06:40:13 +0000 Akinwumi Adesina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150475 Akinwumi Adesina, is President of the African Development Bank]]> Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By Akinwumi Adesina
ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire, May 19 2017 (IPS)

Africa, like India, is a continent of rich and compelling diversity. Both continents share a similar landscape, a shared colonial history, and similar economic and demographic challenges. This helps both India and Africa work especially well with each other.

This cooperation is both a mutual privilege and priority. At the end of the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced very substantial credits and grant assistance which benefitted our relationship. In addition to an India-Africa Development Fund, an India-Africa Health Fund and 50,000 scholarships for African students in India were established.

India’s bilateral trade with Africa has risen five-fold in the last decade, from $11.9 billion in 2005-6 to $56.7 billion in 2015-16. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2018. This is attributed largely to initiatives by India’s private sector, and here again we are on the same wave length. We understand and appreciate that the private sector will be the critical element in Africa’s transformation.

African countries are targeted by Indian investors due to their high-growth markets and mineral rich reserves. India is the fifth largest country investing in Africa, with investments over the past 20 years amounting to $54 billion, 19.2% of all its total Foreign Direct Investment.

Akinwumi Adesina

Akinwumi Adesina

At the same time a transformed Africa is taking shape. Despite a tough global economic environment, African countries continue to be resilient. Their economies, on average, grew by 2.2% in 2016, and are expected to rise to 3.4% this year. But the average does not tell the true picture. Indeed, 14 African countries grew by over 5% in 2016 and 18 countries grew between 3-5%. That’s a remarkable performance in a period when the global environment has been impeded by recession.

By 2050, Africa will have roughly the same population as China and India combined today, with high consumer demand from a growing middle class and nearly a billion ambitious and hard-working young people. The cities will be booming, as the populations (and economic expectations) rise exponentially around the continent.

This is the busy and bustling future that Africa and India must shape together in a strategic partnership. And nowhere is this partnership more needed than on the issue of infrastructure.

At the top of the list is power and electricity. Some 645 million Africans do not have access to electricity. It’s why the African Development Bank launched the New Deal on Energy for Africa in 2016. Our goal is to help achieve universal access to electricity within ten years. We will invest $12 billion in the energy sector over the next five years and leverage $45-50 billion from the private sector. We plan to connect 130 million people to the grid system, 75 million people through off grid systems and provide 150 million people with access to clean cooking energy.

India’s bilateral trade with Africa has risen five-fold in the last decade, from $11.9 billion in 2005-6 to $56.7 billion in 2015-16. It is expected to reach $100 billion by 2018.
The African Development Bank is also in the vanguard of renewable energy development and the remarkable “off-grid revolution” in Africa. We host the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, jointly developed with the African Union, which has already attracted $10 billion in investment commitments from G7 countries.

Universal access requires large financial investments. By some estimates, Africa needs $43-$55 billion per year until the 2030s, compared to current energy investments of about $8-$9.2 billion.

We must close this gap. And to do so, the mobilization of domestic resources will play a major role. Pension funds in Africa will reach $1.3 trillion by 2025. Already tax revenues have exceeded $500 billion per year. Sovereign wealth funds in Africa stand at $164 billion.

To attract significant investment by institutional investors, infrastructure should become an asset class. The African Development Bank has launched Africa50, a new infrastructure entity, now capitalized by African countries at over $865 million, to help accelerate infrastructure project development and project finance. Also, later this year, the African Development Bank will be launching the ‘Africa Investment Forum’ to leverage African and global pension and sovereign wealth funds into investments in Africa.

Moreover, the African business environment keeps improving, with easier regulations and more conducive government policies to attract the global investors. In 2015, Africa alone accounted for more than 30% of the business regulatory reforms in the world.

The fact is, we have already started to transform Africa. This is the territory of the High 5s: Light up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industrialize Africa; Integrate Africa; and Improve the Quality of life of Africans.

We can forge winning partnerships investing in power generation, energy, agro-aligned industrialisation and food processing. In doing so we can work on the synergies that exist between infrastructure, regional integration, the regulation of enterprises, employment, health and innovation.

In each of these areas I see the prospect for cooperation and collaboration with Indian partners. For example, we are partnering with the EXIM Bank of India and others to establish the Kukuza, a company based in Mauritius, to help develop and support public-private partnership (PPP) infrastructure project development and finance.

India is already one of the top bidders for Bank projects. This is a reflection of its immense expertise in a diverse range of areas from engineering to education; from ICT to railway development; skills development to regional integration; and from manufacturing to industrialisation.

It is our pleasure to partner with such an inveterate and committed investor in Africa. And may this investment be lucrative and justified, and may our mutual interest and cooperation continue for many years to come.

Dr Akinwumi Adesina is President of the African Development Bank. The 2017 AfDB Annual Meetings will be held in Ahmedabad, India, 22-26 May.

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