Inter Press Service » Featured Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:37:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Q&A: ‘We Need to do Development Differently in the Post-2015 Era’ Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:29:29 +0000 Ramesh Jaura
Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes of Guyana was elected the Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) at the 100th Session of the Group’s Council of Ministers, held at ACP Headquarters in Brussels on Dec.10, 2014.]]>
ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the
UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

By Ramesh Jaura
BRUSSELS, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sep. 25, reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena, says the 79-nation bloc’s head Dr Patrick Gomes.

These domains include: rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development, he said in an email interview with IPS, adding that South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs the Group’s approach to all these domains.

Following is the full text of the interview:

IPS: The ACP Group is composed of 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific. How far has it been possible for the ACP Group to evolve a joint strategy?

Dr Gomes: From the outset, the Committee of African, Caribbean and Pacific Ambassadors in Brussels recognised the importance of the post-2015 development agenda as a platform for global action to address the enormous needs of developing countries.

In 2014 the ACP Group set up an ad-hoc Ambassadorial Working Group to focus solely on crafting a joint position on the matter, highlighting key areas which are important to our Member States – climate change, financing for development, technology transfer, for example. At the heart of it all, is the desire to create conditions for our countries to succeed in development and industrialise in a sustainable manner, in order to raise the standards of living of our peoples.

This work fed into the joint declaration with the European Union on the post-2015 agenda, which was adopted by the ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers in June 2014. That was a true milestone and it highlighted very clearly our joint interests while providing a guide for our future cooperation.

The ACP Group of States also more recently agreed on a position on the U.N.’s international conference on Financing for Development in July, and we are working on one for the Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris in December. Through a number of different platforms, the ACP Group has been able to articulate a common position on issues of direct relevance in our countries’ prospects for sustainable development.

IPS: How far do the 17 SDGs address, in your view, the problems and aspirations of such a diverse group as the ACP?

Dr Gomes: The ACP Group is indeed a diverse group. All are developing, but each has specific conditions – amongst the membership, there are 40 Least Developed Countries, 37 Small Island Developing States (some are both), and 15 landlocked developing states. This is also captured at the regional level, whereby the ACP is organised in six regions (East, West, Southern and Central Africa, as well as the Caribbean and Pacific). The concept of national ownership and country-driven policies becomes very important.

Furthermore, the ACP Group has called for the establishment of a vulnerability index that takes into consideration the specific challenges that affect a country’s ability to develop. This doesn’t mean that member states cannot stand together on common issues, or support each other’s causes in the name of solidarity. We also follow a principle of subsidiarity and complementarity.

The SDGs reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena. These domains include rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development. South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs our approach to all these domains.

IPS: The Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference in July, the Sustainable Development Summit and the Paris Climate Change Conference end of November through December have the semblance of a triumvirate determining the fate of the world in the coming years. At its core lies financing. How do you expect the financing problem to be solved? Does the European Development Fund provide adequate framework? Does it suffice?

Dr Gomes: We need to do development differently in the post-2015 era. It is clear that traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) is, quantitatively, simply not enough to address the development demands of our countries. In fact, ODA now accounts for far less than Foreign Direct Investment, equity participation and remittances from diasporic communities investing in their countries of origin. In terms of long-term sustainable financing, we must look at mobilising domestic resources in our own developing countries. This means refining our tax laws, tackling tax evasion and curbing corruption in order to curtail the billions of dollars haemorrhaging through illicit financial flows.

To add to that, private funding to finance investments, improved public debt management, boosting trade – all these avenues need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. The ACP Group also takes particular interest in South-South and Triangular Cooperation to complement the traditional North-South models of development finance.

Notwithstanding, ODA will remain an essential part of post-2015 development finance. Developed countries must still honour their previous pledges to allocate 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to development aid. So far, only a few European countries have achieved and surpassed this level of ODA – imagine if all the industrialised countries did so. Moreover, since developed nations recommitted to the 0.7 percent GNI goal for ODA in Addis Ababa in July, we have to look now at implementing this in the ACP-EU framework.

The European Development Fund for ACP countries is significant, but obviously not enough to achieve the SDGs. However, what is unique about the EDF is that it is part of a legally binding agreement between two sets of sovereign states. In the framework of our partnership, the EU provides a predictable source of finance and the ACP Group co-manages the funds. At the same time, issues of flexibility in the EDF regulations and better planning in ACP countries, mean that actual absorption rates by ACP countries can still be improved.

IPS: How far does the Sustainable Development Summit mark a watershed in global development cooperation? Do you expect it to turn out more of a success than its precursor, the MDG?

Dr Gomes: The attainment of SDG’s will be as successful as we make it. That is, these goals need have sufficient resources for work to be implemented and results delivered. Contrary to the momentum and hope generated by enormous pledges made by developed countries in international fora, the reality is that the state of financing for development is currently handicapped. In fact, amongst the challenges faced by the MDGs, were the inadequate implementation of commitments listed in Goal 8 (Global Partnership for Development), the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as issues of mutual accountability.

However, I remain positive. There is a growing awareness across the globe about development issues. There is also an interest in reviewing current systems to better deliver on development goals, as seen in the reforms currently being pursued at the UN and ACP Group. There is no doubt that the resources and means to achieve the Post-2015 Development Agenda do exist – it is a matter of collective will to wield them in the right direction. (END)

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10 Million at Risk of Hunger Due to Climate Change and El Niño, Oxfam Warns Fri, 02 Oct 2015 21:37:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. -

The 1997–98 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. -

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

At least ten million of the poorest people face food insecurity in 2015 and 2016 due to extreme weather conditions and the onset of El Niño, Oxfam has reported.

In Oxfam’s new report called Entering Uncharted Waters, erratic weather patterns were noted including high temperatures and droughts, disrupting farming seasons around the world.

Countries are already facing a “major emergency,” said Oxfam, including Ethiopia where 4.5 million people are in need of food assistance due to a drought this year.

Almost three million face hunger in Malawi as a result of erratic rains followed by drought. These conditions have caused a stifling in food production and a rise in food prices.

Christian Aid reported that the production of maize, Malawi’s staple food, has dropped by 30 percent in 2014, while maize prices have risen between 50 and 100 percent.

Central American farmers have been coping with a drought for almost two years, also disrupting its maize production and decreasing access to sufficient food.

Oxfam warns that conditions will worsen due to the incoming El Niño, which could be the “most powerful” since 1997

El Niño is a weather phenomenon where there is periodic, but prolonged warming of the Pacific Ocean. This can last between 9 months to 2 years, producing below-average rains and high temperatures.

El Niño has already reduced the Asian monsoon over India, potentially triggering a prolonged drought and food insecurity in the Eastern region of the continent.

The warming of the oceans, exacerbated by climate change, may double the frequency of the most powerful El Niños, Oxfam says.

The charity urged for preemptive action, pointing to the consequences of failure of response, such as the death of 260,000 during the food crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011.

Christian Aid has also reported funding deficits in Malawi of over 130 million dollars, hindering support to the worst-affected communities.

“If governments and agencies take immediate action, as some are doing, then major humanitarian emergencies next year can be averted,” Oxfam said in its report.

“Prevention is better than cure,” they continued.

The Oxfam report comes a week after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes commitments to eradicating hunger and addressing climate change.

They described the unfolding crisis as the “first test” for world leaders who will be meeting in December for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for them to agree a global deal to tackle climate change,” said Oxfam Great Britain’s Chief Executive Mark Goldring.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2014 was the hottest year on record. However, global data currently reveal that 2015 may surpass last year in record high temperatures. (END)

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Brazil’s Expanded Climate Targets Frustrate Environmentalists Fri, 02 Oct 2015 21:05:26 +0000 Mario Osava Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme, hailed as bold, has nevertheless left environmentalists frustrated at its lack of ambition in key aspects.

“The decision to present absolute reduction targets is praiseworthy, but they could be better and more ambitious, to the benefit of the country itself and of the global climate change talks,” said André Ferretti, general coordinator of the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian network of 37 environmental groups.

On Sep. 27, President Dilma Rousseff announced at the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York that Brazil’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37 percent by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030, with a base year of 2005.“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question. It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.” -- André Ferretti

This is Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius this century, the ceiling set by experts to ward off a climate catastrophe.

Each country had until Oct. 1 to submit its INDC, to be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

In order for Brazil to meet these goals, at least 45 percent of its total energy mix is to be made up of renewable sources, including hydropower, by 2030. The global average is just 13 percent, the Brazilian president pointed out.

Alternative sources like wind, solar, biomass and ethanol will account for 23 percent of the country’s electricity output, up from nine percent today.

In addition, the country will attempt to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and pledged to offset emissions from regulated deforestation.

Reforesting 12 million hectares and recovering 15 million hectares of degraded grasslands are other goals announced by Rousseff, who noted that Brazil is one of the first countries of the developing South to assume absolute reduction targets for cutting GHG emissions, with goals even higher than those set by many industrialised countries.

Other countries offer reductions with respect to projected future emissions, based on current rates of production, consumption and economic growth. At the COP15, held in 2009 in Copenhagen, Brazil promised to reduce its GHG emissions by 36 to 39 percent below its projected emissions for 2020.

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

But the country’s INDC goals “are still lower than what the country could achieve, and add very little to what has already been done,” Ferreti told IPS.

In 2012, GHG emissions had already been cut 41 percent with respect to 2005, basically due to a lower rate of deforestation in the Amazon, although they rose later because of greater use of fossil fuels.

Currently Brazil, Latin America’s biggest GHG emitter, releases nearly 1.48 billion tons a year of emissions into the atmosphere.

The target for net emissions for 2030 does not differ much from the 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released in 2012, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question,” said Ferretti, who is also manager of conservation strategies in the Boticario Group Foundation for Nature Protection. “It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.”

“In legal terms, it is contradictory to set such a lengthy timeframe to combat an illegal activity,” former lawmaker Liszt Vieira, who directed Rio de Janeiro’s botanical garden for 10 years, told IPS.

Furthermore, the targets only refer to the Amazon, leaving out other ecosystems, such as the Cerrado, the savannah that covers 203.6 million hectares, or 24 percent of the national territory, and is suffering heavy and growing deforestation, said Ferretti.

“All of this reflects the Brazilian government’s weak commitment on this issue,” said Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment. “Brazil could assume a zero deforestation goal for 2030, which would be feasible because this country has learned a lot about the issue, has the necessary technology, and has land that has already been deforested, for the expansion of agriculture.

“Besides, it would be in the best interests of the country, which depends heavily on rainfall for agriculture and energy,” he said in an interview with IPS. “Its vulnerability to drought has been revealed by the current water and energy crisis, especially in the state of São Paulo, after scarce rainfall for the last two years.”

“That’s why a good climate accord in Paris would be good for Brazil,” to prevent extreme events like drought, he said.

An ambitious goal, like zero deforestation nationwide, would give Brazil a certain leadership role in the climate conference, to encourage contributions from other countries and the reaching of agreements that would make it possible to limit climate change to less disastrous levels, said both Barreto and Vieira.

Furthermore, the role that forests play in regulating rainfall, especially the Amazon jungle in South America, is understood better today.

Brazil could also present more ambitious goals with respect to energy from alternative sources, expanding investment in wind and solar energy, said Vieira. In energy, the country is going against the current, he said, increasing generation of thermal power with fossil fuels and putting a priority on producing oil from the pre-salt deposits discovered beneath a two-kilometre-thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water in the Atlantic.

Vieira believes Brazil has lost the leadership role it had in environment and the climate for nearly two decades, since it hosted the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. In his view, it is the big players in the issue – China, the United States and Europe – that will decide the future of the global climate.

But despite the limitations of the government’s national climate programme, the environmentalists consulted by IPS admitted that Rousseff’s announcement was a happy surprise.

“We expected something worse from a development-oriented government that has treated environmentalism as an obstacle to development and economic growth,” said Vieira, who formed part of the current administration until 2013, as president of the botanical garden, a position of trust in the Environment Ministry.

“The presentation of the targets was both a relief and a frustration,” said Ferretti. “It was bad because it could have been better, both in the forest question and in energy, with more attention to biomass and solar energy.”

“And it was good because, besides some good measures, such as the recovery of degraded land, goals were set for 2025 and 2030, indicating that they would be revised every five years and could be expanded, opening a door to negotiation with and emulation by other countries,” he added.

It was also positive, he said, because Brazil abandoned its stance of inflexibly defending “common but differentiated responsibilities” exempting developing countries from meeting the same kinds of targets, as they are not equally responsible for the problem of global warming.

That separation between the two blocs boosted the “Third World” leadership by some countries like Brazil, but hindered negotiations, Ferretti argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Continues Condemnation of Civilian Casualties in Yemen Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:37:40 +0000 Thalif Deen yemen_

By Thalif Deen

The Saudi coalition, which continues its air strikes against rebels in strife-torn Yemen, is fast gaining notoriety as “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” – largely because of its misses than its hits.

Last month, the coalition is reported to have targeted a bomb-making factory – and ended up killing some 36 civilians working at a water-bottling plant in northern Yemen.

And this week, the Saudi coalition unleashed an air attack on a wedding party in Yemen triggering outrage from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A statement released here said the Secretary-General condemned the air strikes that reportedly struck a wedding party in Wahijah village, outside of the Red Sea port city of Mokha in Yemen, killing as many as 135 people.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and a swift recovery to those injured,” he said.

Ted Lieu, Democratic Congressman from California, has urged the United States to “cease aiding coalition air strikes in Yemen until the coalition demonstrates they will institute proper safeguards to prevent civilian deaths.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Lieu said it was unclear whether the coalition “was grossly negligent or intentionally targeting civilians.”

“There is clearly no military value in a wedding party,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

Relenting to Saudi objections Wednesday, the Western group of countries, have withdrawn a proposal for an international inquiry into civilian casualties in Yemen – by both the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels – during the current session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The proposal for such an inquiry was being strongly supported by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who submitted a report to the HRC last month detailing the heavy civilian casualties in the conflict in Yemen.

A new resolution may opt for a national commission of inquiry, instead of an international commission.

After the airstrike in the bottling factory, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the military spokesman for the coalition, reportedly told Reuters the plant had been used by the Houthi rebels to make explosive devices and was not, in fact, a bottling factory.

But all of the individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the plant was being used to bottle water and was not being used for any military purposes.

In its statement, HRW also said a group of international journalists travelled to the site of the blast two days after it was hit and could not find evidence of any military targets in the area.

“They carefully examined the site and could not find any evidence that the factory was being used for military purposes, and took photo and video evidence of piles of scorched plastic bottles melted together from the heat of the explosion,” HRW said.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday: “Our humanitarian colleagues (in Yemen) inform us that the number of deaths and injuries caused by explosive weapons in Yemen is the world’s highest.”

He said some 4,500 civilians were killed or wounded by explosive weapons in Yemen during the first seven months of 2015.

This is more than in any other country, according to a recently-released report done by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the NGO Action on Armed Violence.

Ninety-five per cent of people killed or injured by explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians. More than half of the reported civilian toll was recorded in Sana’a and surrounding districts.

The United Nations, meanwhile, has repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians.

Asked if the attacks were deliberate or due to shoddy human and military intelligence, Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at the London-based Amnesty International (AI) told IPS these recent attacks are unfortunately not isolated incidents but very much part of an increasingly entrenched pattern in the conduct of Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces over the past six months.

She said AI had addressed this issue its last report and in the document titled ‘Nowhere safe for civilians’

Rovera said coalition strikes, which killed and injured civilians and destroyed civilian property and infrastructure – and investigated by Amnesty International – have been found to be “frequently disproportionate or indiscriminate.”

In some instances, Amnesty International found that strikes appeared to have apparently directly targeted civilians or civilian objects.

She pointed out that international humanitarian law prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and attacks which do not discriminate between civilians/civilian objects and combatants/military objectives, or which cause disproportionate harm to civilians/civilian objects in relation to the anticipated military advantage which may be gained by such attack.

“Such attacks constitute war crimes,” she noted.

The pattern of attacks, which since the beginning of the coalition air bombardment campaign on March 25, 2015 have continued to cause civilian casualties, and the lack of investigations to date into such incidents raise serious concerns about an apparent disregard for civilian life and for fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, not only by those planning and executing the strikes but also by the exiled Yemeni government, at whose behest Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces are acting, Rovera declared.

The Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) said the United States, which is providing intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, should condition its support on adherence to international humanitarian law (IHL) and adoption of policies to minimize civilian harm by its allies.

Federico Borello, executive director of CIVIC, said: “The US has developed policies and tactics for preventing civilian harm from its own combat operations. These should be shared as a key element of any ongoing support to the coalition.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Honduran Fishing Village Says Adios to Candles and Dirty Energy Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:28:07 +0000 Thelma Mejia View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

View from the Caribbean sea of the village of Plan Grande in the northern Honduran department of Colón. The isolated fishing community, which can only be reached after a 20-minute motorboat ride, is a 10-hour drive on difficult roads away from Tegucigalpa, and has become an example of sustainable energy management. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PLAN GRANDE, Honduras, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

A small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras has become an example to be followed in renewable energies, after replacing candles and dirty costly energy based on fossil fuels with hydropower from a mini-dam, while reforesting the river basin.

They now have round-the-clock electric power, compared to just three hours a week in the past.

The community, Plan Grande, is in the municipality of Santa Fe in the northern department of Colón, and can only be reached by sea, after a 10-hour, 400-km drive from Tegucigalpa on difficult roads to the village of Río Coco on the Caribbean coast.

From Río Coco you take a motorboat the next morning, which takes 20 minutes to reach Plan Grande.

It’s 6:00 AM and the sun has started to come up. The sea is calm and the conditions are good, say the motorboat operators, who add that manatees used to be found in these waters but have since disappeared, which they blame on the damage caused to the environment.

Plan Grande, a village of 500 people, is at the foot of steep slopes, along the Caribbean coast.

On the boat ride to the village, seagulls can be seen flying in the distance as the fishermen return in their cayucos (dugout canoes) and small boats after fishing all night at sea. Others take jobs on larger fishing boats, which keeps them away from home for eight months at a stretch.

Fishing and farming are the only sources of work in the village, which makes electricity all the more important: in the past, because they couldn’t refrigerate their catch, they had to sell it quickly, at low prices.

“There was very little room for negotiating prices, and we would lose out,” community leader Óscar Padilla, the driving force behind the changes in Plan Grande, told IPS.

The village finally got electricity for the first time in 2004, thanks to development aid from Spain. But it was thermal energy, and for just three hours a week of public lighting they paid between 13 and 17 dollars a month per dwelling.

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Óscar Padilla, a community leader in Plan Grande who was the main driving force behind the initiative that finally brought round-the-clock energy to the village, in the 21st century. Sustainable management of renewable energy, based on a plan marked by solidarity, has transformed this fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“We couldn’t afford anything more than street lamps – no electricity for TV and no refrigerator, because the costs would skyrocket. We couldn’t keep things on ice for long, and our dairy products and meat would spoil,” said Padilla, 65.

But in 2011 the people of Plan Grande opted for hydropower after a visit by technicians from the Small Grants Programme (SGP), implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who suggested a small community-owned hydroelectric plant.

The entire community got involved and designed their own project for renewable energy and sustainability. With 30,000 dollars from the SGP and aid from Germany’s International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA), a round-the-clock power supply became possible and Plan Grande left candles and dirty energy based on fossil fuels in the past.

“Our lives have changed – we now have electricity 24 hours a day and we can have a refrigerator, a freezer, a fan, and even a TV set – although we have to use the energy rationally and respect the limits and controls that we set for ourselves,” another local resident, Edgardo Padilla, told IPS.

“If we’re not careful, demand for power will soar, which would create problems for us again,” said the 33-year-old fisherman, who is responsible for running the energy supply from the micro-hydroelectric power station.

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Edgardo Padilla, who administers the use of the small hydroelectric dam, explains how the process works and the rules the community has established to ensure rational use and distribution of electricity in Plan Grande, a fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rules and schedules set by the villagers to optimise and ration energy use include specific times for watching soap operas, turn on freezers, or use fans. For example, freezers are turned on from 10 PM to 6 AM, which is the time of lowest consumption, he said.

“For now, air conditioning is not allowed because it uses so much electricity, and light bulbs and freezers have to be the energy efficient kind,” said Edgardo Padilla, who added that they also focus on transparency and accountability in their energy policy.

The change in the source of energy has brought huge advantages. “We used to pay 360 lempiras (17 dollars) for three hours a week; now we pay 100 lempiras (four dollars) for a round-the-clock power supply,” he said.

The villagers also set a sliding pay scale. Families who have a refrigerator, fan, TV set, computer and freezer pay 11 dollars a month; those who have only a fan and a TV set pay six dollars; and families who just have light bulbs or lamps pay just four dollars.

The Plan Grande mini dam is 2.5 km from the centre of the village, along footpaths through a 300-hectare forest that runs along the Matías river, which provides them with electricity. The plant generates 16.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The villagers also developed a conservation plan to preserve their water sources and installed cameras to monitor illegal logging and to identify the local fauna.

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García is in charge of the Plan Grande nursery, where seedlings are grown to reforest the Matías river basin, which provides hydropower for the village, and to grow fruit and timber trees to generate incomes for this isolated fishing village in Honduras’ northern Caribbean region. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Belkys García runs a nursery created a year ago to grow trees such as pine, which can be used for timber, in order to reforest and keep the area green. She organises maintenance and reforestation crews, which all villagers take part in.

“If someone doesn’t come on the day they were scheduled to do clean-up and maintenance of the nursery or the streets and paths that lead to the dam, they have to pay for that day of missed work,” García, 27, told IPS while watering seedlings.

“We organise ourselves, and using the nursery we also want to become entrepreneurs in other income-generating areas, such as growing rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum),” said García.

The local population is of mixed-race heritage. The municipality of Santa Fe is mainly Garifuna – descendants of African slaves who intermarried with members of the indigenous Carib tribe. The mayor of Santa Fe, Noel Ruíz of the Garifuna community, is proud of the village. “It is a model at the national level for the good use of clean energy,” he told IPS.

“It’s worth investing here; this is a committed community and its leaders know about accountability, believe in transparency and love nature, three things that you can’t find easily,” said the 44-year-old mayor, who was reelected to a second term.

“These people are happy because while the country has energy problems, they don’t; they have understood that there is a correlation between conservation of nature and well-being for the community,” added Ruíz, an agronomist.

Energy demand in this country of 8.8 million people is estimated at 1,375 MW. Sixty percent of that is generated by the national power utility, ENEE, and the rest comes from private companies or is imported by means of interconnection with other Central American nations.

Energy in Honduras comes from four sources: thermal, hydropower, wind and biomass. In 2010, 70 percent came from thermal power stations, and 30 percent from renewable sources. But since 2013, that has changed, and thermal energy now represents 51 percent of the total, while the rest comes from renewables.

The village of Plan Grande is now an example of the rational use and conservation of renewable energy.

Thanks to the new power supply this isolated community now has its own bakery.

“As a little girl I would imagine that one day I would trade my candle for a lamp. Things have really changed for us!” a 55-year-old local resident, Julia Baños, told IPS.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Palestine President Abbas Warns of ‘Grave Dangers’ in Jerusalem Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:14:33 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“I come before you today…compelled to sound the alarm about the grave dangers of what is happening in Jerusalem,” said Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 30.

In his speech, Abbas pointed to the renewed wave of violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque, accusing Israel of “repeated, systematic incursions aimed at imposing a new reality.”

Al-Aqsa, also known as Temple Mount to Jews, is one of the holiest sites for Islam and Judaism.

Located in East Jerusalem, the site has long been the source of religious and political tension since the establishment of the State of Israel.

New clashes have erupted in September.

On Sep. 27, on the eve of Jewish festival of Sukkot, Palestinians reportedly barricaded themselves inside the East Jerusalem mosque to prevent Jews from entering. They threw rocks and fireworks at police while Israeli forces retaliated with rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.

Confrontations continued into the early hours of Monday morning.

Violence has been fuelled by restrictions on Palestinians from entering the site and suspicion that the Israeli government plans to take over or divide the compound.

Abbas described it as an “illegal scheme” where Israeli forces and Parliament members were allowing Jews to enter while preventing Muslim worshippers from entering and “exercising their religious rights”, violating the status quo.

According to a 50-year old agreement, Jews and people of other religions are allowed to enter the mosque between 7 and 11AM, but may not pray there.

However, Palestinians have reported that far-right Jews have been entering the compound to pray.

Tensions came to an all-time high when Israel’s defence minister outlawed two Muslim groups from the mosque. The groups, Mourabitat and Mourabitoun, are known to protect and defend the compound.

The ruling on Sep. 9 incited clashes, which have now spread across the West Bank.

In response to the violence, United Nations Middle East Peace Envoy Nickolay Mladenov stated: “I urge all to do their part in ensuring that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.”

During his speech, President Abbas called on the Israeli government to cease force to prevent the political conflict from turning into a religious one.

He continued to describe the current situation with Israel as “unsustainable” and with Palestinian patience “at an end.” He declared that Palestine can no longer be “bound by” the Oslo Agreement for as long as Israel does not commit to agreements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Abbas during his statement to the General Assembly on Oct. 1, accusing him of “spreading lies about Israel’s alleged intentions on the Temple Mount.”

Netanyahu stated that Israel is dedicated to maintaining the status quo at the holy site.

The Israeli Prime Minister also reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a two-state solution, stating: “I am prepared to immediately resume direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any pre-conditions whatsoever.”

The Palestinian President gave his speech on the day that Palestine’s flag was raised at the U.N. for the first time.

While marking the historic moment, Abbas said: “The day is not far when we will raise the flag of Palestine in East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine.”

“Our people need genuine hope and need to see credible efforts for ending this conflict, ending their misery and achieving their rights,” Abbas continued.

As many as 200 Palestinians have been arrested since the latest series of confrontations over Al-Aqsa Mosque began, including the director of the holy site. (END)

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As the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Endures, International Morality Ebbs Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:02:35 +0000 Arlene Chang Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

By Arlene Chang
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

As the world suffers its biggest upheaval of human mobility, with 60 million people forced to desert their homes or countries due to persecution, armed conflicts, starvation and hunger that are a veritable danger to their lives, the response from the international community has been rather laggard.

Rolling disasters like in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the 40-year old war in Somalia and the ethno-religious infighting in the Central African Republic, have all added push to the global migration crisis. These huge transient flows of humanity have been a challenge some politicians have met and others have disregarded, aggravating the crisis.

Some central and Eastern Europe countries have even gone ahead to say, “They will take everybody ‘as long as they are Christians’”.

Earlier this week, Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Development said, “Refugees under the 1951 Convention have particular rights… (However) ‘economic migrants’ is now a description that’s being commonly used.”

He pointed out that many migrants could be escaping for reasons of starvation, economic catastrophe or the collapse of a feeding system. “Are we not going to have a more nuanced expression of where we stand morally in terms of our values than saying, we’re going to send them home?” he asked.

Director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William L. Swing, agreed. “There is greater anti-migrant sentiment than at any time in memory and it’s very widespread and increasing. We’re also in a period in which there is a vacuum of leadership, political courage. There is a serious erosion of international moral authority.”

Sutherland reminded hostile countries to bear in mind that the Mediterranean migration crisis is an international responsibility. “We’ve had it before…Ironically…we’ve had it in regard to 1956 in Hungary – and 200,000 people being accommodated within jig time,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland and Swing were addressing an audience attending ‘A Global Response to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’, an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the latest plan, only 120,000 migrants will be resettled, much less than the total number of people seeking asylum. Member states like Hungary and Croatia are building fences to stop travelers, demonstrating division within the EU on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The divide threatens to “undermine Europe’s tradition of open borders and free movement of people,” Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, said.

Hungary, a gateway to many prosperous European countries, sealed its border with Serbia on Sep. 15, in a bid to keep refugees out, prompting even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over its handling of the refugee influx in a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Sep. 26.

“Why should Greece and Italy carry the enormous burden because they happen to be the place where the migrants and refugees land? Is there some sort of new world of international morality, which defines proximity as creating responsibility? Why should Turkey have 1.7 million? Or why should Lebanon have one quarter of its entire population? Or Jordan? Why should they carry it all?” Sutherland asked.

Even as the world today has 60 million migrants in flux, the United Nations is not witnessing a loosening of purse strings. This prompted Secretary General Ban to comment on the poor state of empathy in the world.

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Ban Ki-moon told delegates that a 100 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries. But, the U.N.’s need for 20 billion dollars this year dwarfs funding received. The 20 billion dollars requirement is six times the level of funding needed a decade ago.

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria,” he said Monday.

In Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and the U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded. The appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

With the migration crisis and continuing global strife, it is likely that humankind will sustain its oldest poverty reduction strategy, making it unlikely that the situation will abate any time soon.

Swing and Sutherland said that only a reform in international migration policies would help.

“Europe should immediately define new policies. Those new policies should allow for example, humanitarian visas – so should the United States. Humanitarian visas, family reunion visas, short term visas. There are whole other ways that you can facilitate terrible events,” Sutherland said, even as he talked about the handicap of governments to be self-motivated in changing policy.

“The dreadful photograph of the body on the beach brings within days an increase in the number of people that some countries have agreed to take as refugees. A photograph did it. Are they idiots? Do they not know that 3,000 are dying every year, as they have been for years – with may of them children and women. That should have elicited the policy response, not the photograph of a terrible dead body on the beach.”

Swing advocated for migration policies that were more desirable and a change in the “toxic, poisonous” public narrative on migration.

“Most of our Nobel prize winners weren’t born in the U.S. Forty per cent of all patent applications come from people who were not born in the U.S., and many other countries have the same spirit – a tone that is historically, overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got to get back to a historically correct narrative,” he said, adding, “A ‘high road policy’ – multiple entry visas, dual nationalities, portable social security benefits…all kinds of things if we can be little smarter in how we deal with it.”

“The problem in my mind is the fundamental value system we believe in,” Sutherland said. “We have to create countries that value lives equally.” (END)

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Italy and Uganda Bag Right Livelihood Awards Fist Time Ever Thu, 01 Oct 2015 12:53:48 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri award_3

By Valentina Gasbarri
Rome , Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Right Livelihood Awards were announced today in Stockholm at the Swedish Foreign Office International Press Centre by Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director, and Dr Monika Griefahn, Chair of the Board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

Ole von Uexkull said: “This year’s Right Livelihood Laureates stand up for our basic rights –be it the rights of indigenous peoples or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities, or the right of all citizens to live in a world free from the scourges of war and climate chaos.

With their tireless work, on the frontlines and in courts, the Laureates uphold the values that led to the creation of the United Nations seventy years ago.
In this year of global humanitarian crises, they provide an inspiring response to the defining challenges of our time.”

This year’s Award goes to a Pacific island state foreign minister, who has challenged the world’s nuclear powers through unprecedented legal action; to an indigenous leader who fights to protect the Arctic in the face of climate change; to a Ugandan human rights activist working against the discrimination of LGBTI communities in Africa; and an Italian doctor who has saved countless lives in war-torn countries are this year’s Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.

The Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, recognises the most inspiring and remarkable work of those who strive to meet the human challenges of today’s world, such as environmental, health, human rights and/or social justice. The work of those people, teachers, doctors, farmers, or simply, concerned citizens, becomes a holistic response in line with their struggle for a better future.

For the first time in the history of The Right Livelihood Award, the Award goes to Laureates from Italy and Uganda.

Gino Strada and his organization, Emergency, received the award for their “for his great humanity and skill in providing outstanding medical and surgical services to the victims of conflict and injustice, while fearlessly addressing the causes of war.” They contributed to provide medical assistance to the victims of conflict in countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was awarded “for her courage and persistence, despite violence and intimidation, in working for the right of LGBTI people to a life free from prejudice and persecution.”

Tony De Brum, and the People of the Marshall Island, was recognised for “their vision and courage to take legal action against the nuclear powers for failing to honour their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian citizenship-environmental activist, was awarded “for her lifelong work to protect the Inuit of the Arctic and defend their right to maintain their livelihoods and culture, which are acutely threatened by climate change.”

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U.S. 100th Member State to Join Nuke Terrorism Treaty Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:14:29 +0000 Thalif Deen The ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism by the U.S. “is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” says Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

The ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism by the U.S. “is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” says Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

By Thalif Deen

A 1997 movie titled “The Peacemaker” –partly shot outside the United Nations – dramatised the story of a Yugoslav terrorist who acquires a backpack-sized nuclear weapon, gone missing after a train wreck in rural Russia, and brings it to New York to detonate it outside U.N. headquarters.

Was it another Hollywood fantasy? Or a disaster waiting to happen?

Conscious of the remote possibility of a terrorist group arming itself with stolen nuclear weapons, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in April 2005 and entered into force in July 2007.

Currently, there are 99 states parties who have ratified the treaty, including the nuclear powers China, France, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday, the United States became the 100th state party when it handed over the instruments of ratification to the U.N. Treaty Section.

“This is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS.

He said it is useful to recall that it was Russia that initiated this Convention in 2005 and to date there are 115 signatories and 99 states parties.

“Nuclear terrorism has been widely feared especially after 9/11 and it is well know that non-state actors like Al Qaeda and now ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) are engaged in a quest for nuclear materials to make a nuclear weapon, however rudimentary,” said Dhanapala, who has been President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, since 2007.

“And yet we must not delude ourselves into over estimating the significance of this action when more urgent treaties like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) await ratification by the United States and seven other states in order to ensure its entry into force rendering permanent the norm against nuclear weapon testing – an important brake on the development of nuclear weapons,” he added.

As long as 15,850 nuclear warheads are held by nine countries – 93 percent with the United States and Russia – their use in a war, caused by deliberate political intent or by accident and by nation states or non state actors – remain a frightening reality with appalling humanitarian consequences and irreversible ecological and genetic effects, said Dhanapala, who also serves as a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and a governing board member of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

The Nuclear Terrorism Convention is described as part of global efforts to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.

It details offences relating to unlawful and intentional possession and use of radioactive material or radioactive devices, and use or damage of nuclear facilities.

The convention is also designed to promote cooperation among countries through the sharing of information and the provision of assistance for investigations and extraditions.

Dr. M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS: “I would like to take the conversation in a different direction and ask what is nuclear terrorism?”

He said Webster’s dictionary defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

Nuclear weapons can cause massive death and destruction; any population faced with this possibility would be terrorized, he argued.

“Think of the people in any number of countries in the Middle East who are told by the U.S. President or some senior official that ‘all options are on the table’, implying, of course, the use of nuclear weapons.”

Under any fair and just definition of terrorism, anyone who uses a nuclear weapon to threaten another population would be a terrorist. This includes those who use nuclear weapons “just for deterrence,” he declared.

Remember that the ability to credibly project terror is ultimately at the heart of the strategy of deterrence and the safety that it is supposed to derive from deterrence is, as Winston Churchill proclaimed, “the sturdy child of terror.”

“I think the challenge for those seeking peace is to shift the discourse away from “nuclear terrorism by non-state actors” and turn the attention onto nuclear weapon states, which base their policies on the threat of nuclear death and destruction, and the urgency of disarming them,” said Dr Ramana who is author of several publications, including “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.”

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security said last week that when it comes to nuclear terrorism, “we are safer now than we were five years ago, but more remains to be done.”

The United States, she said, will continue to work with international partners to ensure that dangerous nuclear materials are accounted for and secured worldwide.

“Unending vigilance is required if we are to ensure that terrorist groups who may seek to acquire these materials are never able to do so.”

She said the United States is the largest national contributor to the IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency) Nuclear Security Fund, providing more than 70 million dollars since 2010.

These funds support cost-free experts, mission and technical visits to Member States, the development of nuclear security guidance and best practices, and the Incident and Trafficking Database.

She said the State Department’s Counter Nuclear Smuggling Program (CNSP) is also working with key international partners to strengthen capacity to investigate nuclear smuggling networks, secure materials in illegal circulation, and prosecute the criminals who are involved.

Countries such as Georgia and Moldova are to be commended for their recent arrests of criminals attempting to traffic highly enriched uranium (HEU); significant progress has been made in this area. Unfortunately, continued seizures of weapon-usable nuclear materials indicate that these materials are still available on the black market, she pointed out.

According to the United Nations, some of the key provisions of the Convention include: the criminalization of planning, threatening, or carrying out acts of nuclear terrorism; the requirement for States to criminalize these offenses through national legislation and to establish penalties in line with the gravity of such crimes; conditions under which States may establish jurisdiction for offenses; and guidelines for extradition and other measures of punishment.

Additionally, there is the requirement for States to make every effort to adopt appropriate measures to ensure the protection of radioactive material; and the distinction that the Convention does not cover the activities of armed forces during an armed conflict or military exercise and cannot be interpreted as addressing the “legality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by States.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Men Start to Make Women’s Struggles Their Own in Argentina Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:07:57 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The meeting was about gender equality, but for once there were more men than women. It marked a watershed in the struggle in Argentina to make the commitment to equality more than just “a women’s thing.”

The Buenos Aires meeting was organised by the Men for Equality (HxI) network, which emerged a year ago to “generate a space to incorporate all men who promote gender equality and the prevention of violence against women, and achieve the commitment to carry out actions to that end in their areas of influence and/or workplaces.”

Behind the initiative are the United Nations in Argentina and the government’s National Women’s Council, along with two private organisations: the Avon Foundation and the local branch of the French multinational retailer Carrefour.

The president of the National Women’s Council, Mariana Gras, was surprised that women were in the minority at the meeting.“There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.” -- René Mauricio Valdés

“The meetings are always made up of women,” she said in an interview with IPS. “When we talk to different authorities or leaders and say we’re planning a meeting on gender equality, they say: ‘I’ll send the girls’. Men feel uncomfortable, they make jokes, and prefer not to go to these meetings.”

The U.N. resident coordinator in Argentina, René Mauricio Valdés, told IPS: “This has been gaining momentum among a group of us men who often ran into each other at events of this kind, where we shared specific concerns. Almost all the events that we organised on women’s rights were attended virtually by women only.”

Representatives of the government, the judicial system, the business community, academia and social movements took part in the Sep. 22 meeting.

Several participants signed the “commitment to equality” – one of the HxI network’s initiatives.[

The document, whose signatories include Labour Minister Carlos Tomada, states: “I commit to making a daily personal evaluation of my behavior and attitudes, to avoid reproducing the prejudices and stereotypes that sustain systematic discrimination towards women and keep them from enjoying their rights in equal conditions with men.”

Gras said sexist and ‘machista’ stereotypes also affect men in this South American country of 43 million people.

“’Machismo’ is something we all experience in this society, because it forms part of our cultural norms, and marks us all. And it also works the other way: if a man goes to the police station to report that a woman beat him, they tell him ‘don’t be a fag, go and take care of it yourself’,” she told the audience at the meeting.

Valdés said, “There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.”

The challenge is for this commitment to come from a group of influential leaders and intellectuals, and to be reflected in all provinces, in urban and rural areas, in every neighbourhood.

“We aren’t inviting ‘pure’ men to join in; we want everyone to join and to assume a personal commitment so that in the very first place in our own lives we won’t tolerate or permit these things in the places where we live, study, go to church, have fun,” Valdés explained.

This is the aim of organisations like the White Ribbon Campaign in Argentina, which has been organising mixed workshops for young men and women in football clubs in the central province of Córdoba.

Hugo Huberman, the national coordinator of the Campaign, told IPS, “We are working with football club youth teams about how the process of male socialisation and sports, especially football, generates masculine stereotypes normally linked to violence, not respecting others, and other things.”

The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men working to end male violence against women. It emerged in Canada in 1991.

But machismo also manifests itself in simple day-to-day things like visiting the doctor.

“We’re working on men’s health, to carry out small campaigns to get men to go to the doctor more often,” said the activist. “We don’t go to the doctor because of an identity thing: guys who visit the doctor are weak and vulnerable; we don’t follow treatment plans, we don’t watch our diet.”

Carrefour, the French corporation, is also making an effort in its chain of supermarkets in Argentina. For example, it allows men as well as women to take time off for their child’s birthday or to attend important meetings at school.

The company also tries to schedule work meetings in the mornings, or by 4:00 PM at the latest, so employees won’t get home late.

The company’s director of corporate affairs, Leonardo Scarone, told IPS, “It’s true that society today still sees men as breadwinners and that women assume – in quotes – the role of taking care of the family, running the home, etc. If you don’t give men the opportunity to do these things, at the same time you’re taking away the possibility for women to work and develop their career.”

To promote women’s professional development, the company also established the rule that there must be at least one woman on each list of candidates for managerial positions, and the company’s career committees have been instructed to make an effort to promote women.

“At a managerial level we have 20 percent women; the hard thing was breaking through that famous glass ceiling, so women could reach the position of senior managers,” Scarone said.

Today, three years after its diversity programme began to be implemented, the company has six women senior managers – around 15 percent of the total, up from zero.

Gras said, “To combat gender violence, everyone is needed, because if one part of society is affected and we think the solution only lies in those who suffer the problem, first of all what we have is a society absolutely lacking in solidarity, and second, we´re not understanding the effects that ‘the other’ has in our society. We are all actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Learning from Korea’s ‘Saemaul Undong’ to Achieve SDGs Wed, 30 Sep 2015 14:13:08 +0000 Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri UNSG Ban Ki-moon addressing the High level Conference on the New Rural Development Model, from the Experience of Saemaul Undong. Sitting next to him is Korea President Park Geun-hye. Source: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

UNSG Ban Ki-moon addressing the High level Conference on the New Rural Development Model, from the Experience of Saemaul Undong. Sitting next to him is Korea President Park Geun-hye. Source: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri

More than 3.3 billion people live in rural areas around the world. Rural development is therefore of vital significance if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” – is to become reality.

A day after world leaders unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) on Sep. 25 at the UN headquarters in New York, the Development Centre of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) co-hosted a landmark event to discuss ways for reaching SDGs across developing countries.

The focus was on the New Rural Development Paradigm and the Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities Model, which is inspired by the successful Saemaul Undong in Korea.

Ambassador Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korea Mission to the U.N., with UNSG Ban Ki-moon.  Source UN photo/ Mark Garten

Ambassador Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korea Mission to the U.N., with UNSG Ban Ki-moon. Source UN photo/ Mark Garten

Addressing the gathering, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who was the foreign minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006, said: “Leaders have pledged to create a life of dignity for all people. We have promised to leave no one behind, including families in rural areas. There will be no progress on global movement without local development.”

Ban welcomed the Korean model to the U.N. and hoped that its principles could inspire other developing countries. “The Korean countryside went from poverty to prosperity,” said Ban, adding that the Saemaul Undong shares the ultimate targets of the SDGs. Based on the key principles of education, diligence, self-help and mutual cooperation, Saemaul Undong can be the new rural development paradigm for the sustainable prosperity of the world, said the U.N. Secretary-General.

Taking part in the event was also Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, who explained how Korea is now cooperating with the UNDP and OECD to tailor the New Village Movement model in accordance with the specific conditions in other countries.

“Saemaul Undong,” said President Park, “uplifted Korea and has transformed our society. We were among the poorest countries in the world […] Now we are among the top 15 economies globally, and we are in the top ranks of major international aid donors.”

Although most attribute South Korea’s history of development to the country’s booming industry, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of South Korea to the U.N., Ambassador Choonghee Hahn, believes that Saemaul Undong was the critical factor which led to success in the 1970’s, and it is an inspiration for future environmentally sustainable development in today’s era of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

“This movement is needed in order for every person to change their vision from hopeless to hopeful, and from poverty to prosperity,” Hahn told IPS in an interview. “Korea would like to share this development experience with every country in the world.”

Hahn told IPS that the prominent aspects setting Saemaul Undong apart from mainstream development strategies, have been or are in the process of being incorporated into development projects in 30 countries around the world, such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. They include strategies such as promoting a can-do spirit, an enlightening perception of gender equality, and human rights.

Park Chung-hee, the father of current South Korean President Park Geun-hye, initiated the Saemaul Undong movement in 1970 by giving cement and steel to each village, ranking each village according to how well the villagers put the resources to use. The state then gave the top ranking villages more resources, thus creating an incentive as well as a sense of unity to work hard together in order to compete with neighbouring villages.

Consequently, the programme encouraged a sense of unity and belief in citizens that they can be a part of making their community and their country a better place to live. Motivational tools such as flags, songs, and spiritual testimonials raised people’s enthusiasm.

“This is why music is a big part of the development process,” Hahn said. One of the two most popular songs sung by communities were composed by President Park. The song “Jal Sala Boseh” sent a message of being rich and prosperous, and “Saebyuck Jong-i Ulryutneh” said “a new day is beginning, let’s get together to build a new village”, Hahn recalled.

A strong belief in self-reliance, through local agencies, the idea of making the country less dependent on foreign aid, and eventually less dependent on government, were key growth strategies, according to Hahn. They also led to more sustainable projects, which by the early 1980’s, were funded more by community resources and financing instead of the government budget.

The Korean government policy led to the building of Saemaul training centres which linked the central government to local officials and residents implementing projects, which include leadership training for women at provincial and central training institutes. From each village, there would be 12 elected delegates and the government made it mandatory for at least one woman delegate to be included among the 12, leading to empowerment of women.

Mario Pezzini, Director of OECD Development Centre, Source : OECD Dev. Centre

Mario Pezzini, Director of OECD Development Centre, Source : OECD Dev. Centre

Can the Saemaul Undong experience be replicated successfully somewhere else? Yes, says Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre.

92 percent of the global rural population of 3.3 billion lives in developing countries, and it is projected to grow further till 2028. Therefore, using “rural lenses” is indispensable for the implementation and success of the SDGs, Pezzini said in an interview with IPS.

The majority of the poor are concentrated in rural areas, struggling with rising inequalities, and constraint by the inability of urban areas to absorb them.

Because these people face environmental, social and economic instability, they cannot be left behind. “We need to keep in mind that rural development is not synonymous of agriculture nor with decline,” explained Pezzini.

Agriculture represents a crucial part of rural economies. Any increase in agricultural productivity will produce further rural population redundancy, which is not necessarily employed by agriculture, added the OECD Development Centre’s director from Italy.

When discussing rural development, it is important to refer to an economy that is local, which includes agriculture, but it also goes far beyond including non-farming jobs as well, he insisted. Therefore, rural development will not necessarily coincide with agricultural development, nor will it necessarily coincide only with industrial development.

This, in turn, will bring a revolutionary approach to policy-making.

What the new rural paradigm, based on the Saemaul Undong movement, should imply is a new “type of local and regional development, a multi-sectoral, multi-agent and multi-dimensional development, which needs to take into account different activities,” said Pezzini.

New government agendas should concentrate on diverse assets of rural areas, which require different types of designed interventions. When central governments act on general schemes, putting input policies and without taking local population and local knowledge into account, very often they fail, he added.

“One actor cannot make it happen alone. But if the public sector wants to be effective it needs to involve the private sector, unions and citizens. The crucial point here is how to valorise assets that have not yet been used,” declared Pezzini.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

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Opinion: Renewed Optimism or Higgledy-Piggledy Vision? Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:05:51 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By S. Kulkami and Raghav Gaiha
Philadelphia and Boston, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the whopping 169 targets were adopted in the largest ever United Nations Summit, attended by Prime Ministers, Presidents and the Pope, among other luminaries, in New York. These goals encompass world peace, the environment, gender equality, elimination of poverty and hunger and much, much more.

So far, they have evoked mixed reactions ranging from complete dismissal to grudging acceptance and overwhelming euphoria. Much of the scepticism is rooted in the ambitiousness of the SDGs relative to highly varying and, in most cases, limited capacities of developing countries to accomplish them. A comment in The Economist (19 September, 2015) derides them as “higgledy-piggledy, “bloated” and “unwieldy” but acknowledges a shift in development thinking.

While we commend the vision of SDGs for their comprehensiveness, emphasis on their inter-relatedness and inclusiveness, we have drawn upon recent evidence to develop the following key strategic elements in the spirit of enriching the policy debates.

A profound and lasting contribution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that they enhanced awareness of the multiple deprivations that afflicted large majorities of the people in many developing countries and policy challenges that confronted the governments, multilaterals and donors.

The SDGs have not just expanded their vision but also enriched it by focusing on sustainability. As Amartya Sen emphasised in the context of universal health care, it is not so much lack of affordability but a failure to recognise the capacity of poor countries (such as Rwanda), and states (such as Kerala in India) to mobilise and utilise resources effectively.

As global poverty fell, so did the gap between rural and urban poverty. Still, more than three-fourths of the extremely poor live in rural areas. It is clear, then, that global poverty remains a rural problem.

Overemphatic endorsement in recent studies of urbanisation as the main strategy for sustainable development neglects agriculture and the rural non-farm economy (RNFE) as key drivers of growth and reduction of inequality and poverty, as a vast majority of rural people still depend on them for their livelihoods.

Structural changes have occurred in both agriculture and the RNFE. Some features of changes in agriculture include its commercialisation, the emergence of high value food chains associated with demographic changes, urbanisation and growing affluence, and growth of agricultural exports.

Some have questioned the importance assigned to smallholder agriculture as a pathway out of poverty. Specifically, they contest the argument of the World Development Report 2008 that stimulating agricultural growth is “vital for stimulating growth in other parts of the economy,” and that smallholders are at the core of this strategy.

Pervasiveness of smallholder participation in high value food chains in different regions – especially in vegetables and fruits, milk and dairy products, and meat – is much higher than generally expected.

But there are barriers, too: lack of access to technology, credit markets, economies of scale in marketing, and ways of meeting stringent food quality standards. Contract farming is an option. Producers’ associations also contribute to overcoming some of these constraints. Central to this is inculcation of entrepreneurial skills among smallholders – especially young men and women – making sure that land, labour, credit and output markets function more efficiently.

While a majority of recent studies are emphatic about low labour productivity in agriculture impeding sustainable agricultural development, it is seldom acknowledged that these are manifestations of “underinvestment” in agriculture and market imperfections (e.g. dominance of local money lenders charging exorbitant interest rates, limited land rental markets, the sharp wedge between farm gate and wholesale prices for smallholders). Size neutrality of new agricultural technology implies an important role for extension services.

As part of the diversification of the rural economy, the RNFE has assumed greater importance in that it comprises a diverse set of activities ranging from pottery to trading and manufacturing with varied returns. Available evidence points to a large “overlap” between smallholders and those engaged in the RNFE using time disposition data. There is also some evidence that more than a small share of those classified as engaged in the RNFE live in rural areas but work in urban areas, raising questions about a sharp rural-urban dichotomy.

Other issues that deserve greater attention include labour tightening and higher wage rates, reduction of vulnerability of agriculture to weather shocks, volatility of prices, and forging of closer linkages with small and secondary towns. Central to expansion of the RNFE is how to make it more attractive for not just those who are engaged in both agriculture and the RNFE but also others who may move out of agriculture in pursuit of more rewarding opportunities elsewhere. Inculcation of managerial skills, more efficient credit and output markets, and improvements in rural infrastructure to enable easier access to output markets could stem the rural-urban migration tide and thereby the rapid growth of slums.

For poverty reduction, some forms of inequality matter more than others. Important ones include inequality in the distribution of assets, especially land, human capital, financial capital and access to public assets such as rural infrastructure. Broadly, a pro-poor agenda should include measures to moderate current income inequality while facilitating access to income-generating assets and the promotion of employment opportunities for the poor.

Much of the cross-country evidence relates to the benefits of financial depth rather than to broad financial inclusion. The Global Financial Development Report 2014 (World Bank, 2014) makes an emphatic case for the latter on the grounds it reflects a growing realization of its potentially transformative power to accelerate development gains through greater access to resources for investing in education, capitalizing on business opportunities, and confronting shocks. Indeed, greater diversification of clientele through financial inclusion is likely to lead to a more resilient and more stable economy.

As more and more economies upgrade to middle-income and institutional quality improves, private capital inflows will become increasingly important. A stable macro-economic environment and incentives for public-private partnerships would promote growth and poverty reduction. Greater transparency of contracts and better enforcement are imperative. Not just national but local institutions matter a great deal in a sustainable rural transformation and poverty reduction.

Institutional responses to risks need to be strengthened by promoting community level institutions; widening and deepening of the reach of financial institutions; and providing social protection to the most vulnerable. When designed well and targeted effectively, these institutions and programmes help poor households build resilience against risks and severe hardships.

Local organizations (e.g water users’ associations, producers’ groups, women’s groups) not only help in equitable use of scarce natural resources in a community but also in facilitating access to credit and other markets.

Indeed, contrary to the deep pessimism, the SDGs reflect a renewed commitment to and optimism about bettering the “nasty, short and brutish lives” of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable in the near future.

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

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Anti-gay Sentiment Arises During the U.N. General Assembly Wed, 30 Sep 2015 12:28:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights during a High-Level Core Group event on Sep. 29, noting his experiences in working with governments to eliminate LGBTI-discriminatory policies.

“Sometimes I am successful and other times I am not but I will continue to fight until all LGBT people can live freely without suffering any intimidation or discrimination,” Ban said.

The politically-sensitive issue also came up during the high-level segment of the General Assembly, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe highlighted the need to respect and uphold human rights while rejecting LGBTI rights.

Speaking during the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly, he pointedly said: “We…reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs.”

“We are not gays,” Mugabe continued.

The statement was met with some laughter and little applause during the General Assembly session whose theme is the “United Nations at 70: The road ahead for peace, security, and human rights.”

Mugabe’s rejection of rights for the LGBTI community remains in line with the country’s policies.

In Zimbabwe, those found guilty of performing any homosexual acts can be imprisoned or fined. For instance, in 2006, the government made it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss.

President Mugabe has been vocal about the country’s anti-LGBT stance, describing LGBTI individuals as “worse than pigs, goats and birds” during a rally on July 23, 2013.

The government of Saudi Arabia also rejected any references to homosexuality during the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit Sep. 25 to 27.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told world leaders that “mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman.”

Similar reservations regarding LGBTI rights were expressed by several member States during the creation of the SDGs.

For instance, in the report of the Open Working Group on SDGs, Cameroon rejected any policies or reporting for SDG 5.6, which “will include or tend to include, explicitly or implicitly, the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex couples.”

Target 5.6 states the need to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, and to ensure reproductive rights.

As a result, Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina Mohammed publicly declared last year that gay rights were “off the table” in the SDG agenda.

The SDGs currently make no mention of sexual orientation or LGBT rights.

However, a joint statement released on Sep. 29 by 12 U.N. entities including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called on States to end violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community.

“International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights,” the statement says.

U.N. agencies specifically urge governments to repeal discriminatory laws, strengthen efforts to prevent, monitor and report violence against LGBTI individuals, and ensure the inclusion of LGBTI individuals in development.

“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them…constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society…and progress towards achievement of the future Sustainable Development Goals,” declared the U.N. agencies.

In Zimbabwe, anti-gay legislation had already hindered LGBTI-related efforts including the eradication of HIV/AIDS under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV rates in the world, with an estimated 15 percent of residents living with HIV.

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Opinion: The Party’s Over for U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals Wed, 30 Sep 2015 11:52:03 +0000 Adriano Campolina

Adriano Campolina, is Chief Executive of ActionAid International

By Adriano Campolina

The Pope has left the U.N. and the traffic in Manhattan is back to normal. The hoard of government delegations, NGOs and civil society representatives are packing up and the press is moving on. The party’s over for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Adriano Campolina

Adriano Campolina

Last week member states of the U.N. agreed goals, which set to end extreme poverty, fight against inequality and fix climate change. The Sustainable Development goals cover almost every aspect of poverty and are targets for every country around the world – developed and developing alike.

For such ambitious goals to be achieved, leaders will need to turn their promises on inequality into policies that will deliver real change. One day after the deal was done, I had a glimpse of how hard it will be to convince the world’s leaders. Attending a meeting on growth as part of the official SDG agenda, I was surprised the narrative of free trade and mega-investments continued to flow unbounded from governments.

Despite having a goal dedicated to ending inequality, the language of false market-based solutions continues – the same solutions which for years have locked people into low paid employment, divested money from public services and helped drive up inequality in almost all countries. The consequences of bad investments on people and the environment – causing environmental degradation, evictions and land grabbing – were blatantly ignored.

But here lies the catch. Corporations are not just stalking the corridors of the U.N. and promoting investments damaging to the poor, they also have a stranglehold on how countries raise tax, which will enable them to pay for the goals.

ActionAid research last month discovered tax incentives given to big corporations in West Africa drain the region of an estimated 9.6 billion dollars a year – money which could be spent on health and education. And globally it is estimated that developing countries lose over 200 billion dollars a year from corporate tax dodging. Yet rich countries continue to block moves for a global body on tax to make the rules fairer.

The 800 million people in poverty worldwide need change. In many ways, people are ahead of the U.N. as they’re doing it without flashy launch events or concerts. Across Africa, people have been mobilised and fought for the right to free primary school education, with massive wins.

And in my native Brazil, women without access to land have organised themselves, taken on brutal landlords and won the right to farm the land. Leaders are acknowledging the idea of inequality but poor people around the world are not just recognising it, they are wrenching it from its roots and organising themselves to build something new.

To achieve real change for poor people, the business as usual approach I saw at the U.N. over the last few days won’t be good enough. The climate conference in Paris in December will be the first test. If world leaders do not commit to emissions cuts and agree to financing to help developing countries with climate impacts, then success for the goals will be off to a very shaky start.

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

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Africa Must Depend Less on Development Aid, Says New Study Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:48:53 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targeted date by the end of December, one of the lingering questions has long remained unanswered – at least, until now.

industry_0Why did most African nations make progress in some, but failed to reach their targets in most others?

A new study, titled “Assessing Progress in Africa Toward the Millennium Development Goals” released here, points out that poor implementation mechanisms and excessive reliance on development aid undermined the economic sustainability of several of the eight MDGs, including the elimination or reduction of extreme poverty and hunger.

The report, produced jointly by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), says: “Having made encouraging progress on MDGs, African countries have the opportunity to use the newly launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to tackle remaining challenges and achieve a development breakthrough.”

The 17 SDGs, adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders last week, targets the year 2030 for the total elimination of poverty and hunger worldwide.

With official development assistance (ODA) to Africa projected to remain low over the period 2015-2018, at an average of around 47 billion dollars annually, the focus should be on boosting and diversifying economies, mobilizing domestic resources and new partners, unleashing the economic potential of women and fighting illicit financial flows, says the report.

Asked about the slow progress made by African nations in implementing the MDGs, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, told IPS lack of adequate financial resources has been one of the biggest constraints in meeting the MDGs.

And ODA seems to be reaching a plateau, he said.

“Therefore, there is a need for countries to make concerted efforts to mobilize domestic resources, build up financial infrastructure, and ensure appropriate regulatory measures and institutions are put in place.”

Still, he pointed out, mobilizing resources is not enough; this must be accompanied by appropriate policies for effective utilization of the resources for the purpose intended.

He also said: “We must design strategies for overcoming the funding challenge. ODA should serve as a catalyst.”

For instance, a substantial proportion of ODA should be used to development institutional capacity for domestic resource mobilization in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

In addition, other sources of funding need to be mobilized, such as remittances, the private sector, South-South cooperation, financing from extractives and other sectors, he added.

Although overall poverty rates are still hovering around 48 percent, according to the most recent estimates, most countries have made progress on at least one goal.

The Gambia reduced poverty by 32 percent between 1990 and 2010, while Ethiopia decreased its poverty rate by one third, focusing on agriculture and rural livelihoods.

Some policies and initiatives have been groundbreaking, says the report, pointing out Niger’s School for Husbands, which has been successful in transforming men into allies in promoting women’s reproductive health, family planning and behavioral change towards gender equality.

Cabo Verde increased its forest cover by more than 6.0 percentage points, with millions of trees planted in recent years.

Still, the study says much more work lies ahead to ensure living standards improve for all African women and men.

“While economic growth has been relatively strong, it has not been rapid or inclusive enough to create jobs. Similarly, many countries have managed to achieve access to primary schooling however considerable issues of quality and equity need to be addressed. “

Projecting into the future, the study says achieving sustainable development will also be impossible unless African nations and communities are resilient, able to anticipate, shape and adapt to the many shocks and challenges they face, including climate-related disasters, health crises such as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and conflict and instability. Investments now in prevention and preparedness will minimize risk and future costs.

Africa has seen an acceleration in economic growth, established ambitious social safety nets and designed policies for boosting education and tackling HIV and other diseases.

Africa has also introduced women’s quotas in parliament, leading the way internationally on gender equality, and increased gender parity in primary schools.

The continent’s new development priorities, as embodied in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, are both comprehensive and universal, while their implementation will entail mobilizing additional resources and partners, and putting in place more robust monitoring systems.

The writer can be contacted at

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Electoral Revolution in Brazil Aimed at Neutralising Corporate Influence Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:45:49 +0000 Mario Osava Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

From now on, elections in Brazil will be more democratic, without corporate interference, which had become decisive and corruptive. A Sep. 17 Supreme Court ruling declared unconstitutional articles of the elections act that allow corporate donations to election campaigns.

The 8-3 verdict came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) against the laws authorising and regulating donations by big corporations to political parties and candidates.

In its challenge to the constitutionality of the elections act articles in question, the OAB argued that they violate the democratic principle – the backbone of the 1988 constitution – which established that all citizens are political equals, with each individual vote carrying the same weight.

The verdict also stated that corporate financing runs counter to the first article of the constitution, which establishes that the political representatives elected by the people must serve the public good and that there must be a strict separation between the public and private spheres.

Citing academic studies, the OAB further asserted that corporate donations transfer economic inequality to the political sphere, negating democracy and tending towards a “plutocracy” or government by the rich.

Campaign donations from corporations give them undue influence over politics by putting candidates in their debt, bound to defend “the economic interests of their donors in the drafting of legislation, the design and execution of the budget, administrative regulation, public tenders and public procurement,” the OAB added.

Corruption is also a major factor in this promiscuous relationship between money and politics. And campaign financing is almost always an element present in political scandals.“The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law.” -- Fernando Lattman-Weltman

Today’s big scandal, which decisively influenced the Supreme Court ruling, involves a kickback scheme in the state-owned oil firm Petrobras, which suffered at least six billion dollars in losses from graft and overvalued assets.

More than 30 politicians have been accused of receiving bribes from large construction and engineering firms in return for inflated contracts, and part of the funds allegedly financed candidates and political parties in election campaigns.

The ban on corporate donations will also lead to a reduction in gender imbalances in politics, sociologist Clara Araujo at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told IPS.

Female candidates receive little campaign funding from their parties, but they are given larger proportions of donations from individuals than from companies, the opposite of male candidates, she said, based on the study “Women in the 2010 Elections”, which she co-authored, and on figures from 2014.

As a result of discrimination by political parties, reflected by underfunding and less advertising time, especially on TV, women are underrepresented in Congress, where they hold only 10 percent of seats in the lower house and 13.6 percent in the Senate, although they make up 52 percent of voters.

“The Supreme Court judgment is good news in the midst of the chaos of Brazil’s political crisis,” because it brings new balance to a game that was unfavourable to women, Guacira de Oliveira, one of the directors of the Feminist Centre of Studies and Advice (CFEMEA), told IPS.

But it has come at a moment of great uncertainty, when the crisis tends to have a greater impact on progressive political currents, and it will not change the rules that maintain inequality within and between the political parties.

Public resources, such as the official Party Fund, and radio and TV time for candidates will continue to benefit the big parties, since they are distributed proportionally to the number of seats held by each party, Oliveira lamented.

Only in-depth political reforms, called for by civil society organisations, could effectively democratise the election process. But the current legislature, where conservative lawmakers are a majority, would never approve that.

Far-reaching political reforms would require a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution – which may become a possibility if the crisis gets worse.

But without corporate donations, “campaigns will suffer a sharp drop in funding, which means candidates and parties will have to cut costs. Internet and the social networks, which already had a growing participation in the elections, will become much more important,” said Fernando Lattman-Weltman, a professor of politics at the UERJ.

“But money will seek other ways to influence politics,” he added. “The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law,” he told IPS.

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Election campaigns have become expensive in Brazil in the last two decades, with the intense use of advertising techniques. Media advisers have become indispensable, and more and more costly to hire. Some have become celebrities, whose fame has transcended national borders.

After their triumphs in Brazil, they have been hired for tens of millions of dollars to head campaigns in other countries of Latin America, or in Africa.

Large campaign teams specialising in working the airwaves and the press have turned election campaigns into a media war between well-paid armies of advisers, following the U.S. model, with ongoing qualitative surveys providing guidance for speeches, slogans and TV ads and appearances.

Now candidates will have to return to the basics: personal speeches, direct public relations, street rallies and armies of volunteers, said Lattman-Weltman.

Without resources to produce and broadcast sophisticated ads, “candidates will try to seduce the media, trying to make them more biased and identified with specific parties,” like in the United States, he said, referring to dangerous side-effects of the new scenario.

Generating new political developments and creativity in campaigns will also become more important factors, he said.

Without the millions of dollars in donations from companies, the game will be less unequal, but candidates who already have power and are well-known by the public, like legislators, governors or other political leaders, will enjoy a big advantage over new candidates, Oliveira said.

That is a disadvantage faced by women in general, who began to participate in elections more recently, and who make up a small minority in the executive and legislative branches – even though one woman, Dilma Rousseff, has been president of this country of 202 million people since 2011.

Celebrities like TV hosts, actors and footballers, along with prominent trade unionists and social activists, will likely be the most sought-after by the parties.

The next elections, for mayors and city councilors in Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities, will be a test of how campaigns will work without legal and illegal donations from the big sponsors, especially in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Statistics from the Superior Electoral Court from 2010 and 2014, when presidential, state and legislative elections were held, point to “a strong correlation between the amount of spending and victory,” said Araujo.

So without a right to vote, companies had become a decisive factor in elections. In other words, “the big voter was money,” said Claudio Weber Abramo, director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency Brazil, in a statement reflected by the OAB in its successful legal challenge that led the Supreme Court to put an end to elections dominated by corporate financing.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Solar Power Slowly Making Inroads into Mideast and Africa Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:38:05 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent Mohammed-Park

By a Global Information Network correspondent
DUBAI, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

To the ordinary eye, it looks like an empty desert but from this spit of endless sand is rising the largest photovoltaic solar project in the Middle East.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, located 30 miles south of Dubai, was launched with 13 megawatts of capacity. It could be producing 3,000 megawatts by 2030.

A similar project is rising in Morocco, future home of what may be the world’s largest concentrated solar power complex. Built in Quarzazate province, it is the kingdom’s answer to costly fossil fuel imports and climate change.

These two projects, along with other solar developments in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, are demonstrating that the Middle East and North Africa will have a Plan B if oil prices continue to fall.

By contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has some of the world’s most abundant and least exploited renewable energy sources, especially solar power.

The need is undeniable. Today in Africa, 621 million people – two-thirds of the population – live without electricity. The problem is most acute in East Africa, where only 23 percent of Kenyans; 10.8 percent of Rwandans; and 14.8 percent of Tanzanians have access to an electricity supply, according to the World Bank.

But a new breed of “solar-preneurs” is emerging, increasing access to power and generating revenues at the same time.

“Solar is a valuable source of distributed energy,” says Sachi DeCou, co-founder of Juabar, a company running a network of solar charging kiosks in Tanzania.

“Here in Africa, populations are quite dispersed. Solar is modular so it can be sized to fit the needs of anywhere, from a light to a business, household to an entire village.”

Jesse Moore, managing director at M-Kopa Solar, which provides “pay-as-you-go” renewable energy for off-grid households in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, agrees.

M-Kopa Solar provides power to more than 140,000 households in East Africa for 0.45 dollar per day, and is adding over 4,000 homes each week. Revenues are nearing 20 million dollars per year, and the company is starting to license its technology in other markets, such as Ghana.

“Solar is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike,” Moore says.

In Rwanda, Henri Nyakarundi developed a mobile solar charging kiosk, operated under a franchise model that offers Rwandans the chance to run income-generating businesses by providing services such as charging of electronics and sales of electronic vouchers.

Opportunities to create solar businesses in Africa are huge, he says, but they only exist at the micro level. The next step is to produce power for the grid through solar, he adds, but this requires large investment and local banks are not yet willing to finance such projects unless you are a big company. (END)

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Opinion: We Can Overcome Poverty and Hunger by 2030 Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:24:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

Over three quarters of the extreme poor in the world live in the countryside. Reducing rural poverty will therefore require significantly higher rural incomes. Since most rural incomes are related to agriculture, raising agricultural productivity can help raise rural incomes all round.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many governments invested a great deal to increase agricultural, especially food production. In the second half of the 20th century, agricultural productivity rose rapidly. However, intense price competition meant that productive resource suppliers and consumers benefitted more from productivity gains.

Lower food prices thus helped reduce poverty while transnational agri-business has profited greatly from changes in agricultural production, credit, processing and marketing chains.

In the last decade, food prices went up again as production rose more slowly than before, partly due to greater land and other resource constraints, reduced public investments as well as increased demand for food crops, including for bio-fuels and more animal feed.

Supply and demand

Food price increases from a decade ago have been associated not only with significant supply and demand changes, but also with biofuel mandates and subsidies as well as greater commodity speculative investments.

But with food prices receding again more recently, food would become cheaper, reducing farmer incomes and the incentive to produce more food.

Poor countries are doubly handicapped by their limited tax capacities, due to low tax rates on low incomes. While agricultural taxation is generally proportional to land cultivated or output, much government rural or agricultural spending has benefited plantations and larger farmers more than smaller smallholders, tenants or sharecroppers. Nevertheless, the poor may have benefited in so far as greater output lifts all boats.

While there is little excessive taxation of small farmers these days, there are also modest urban-to-rural resource transfers through the fiscal system or other transfer arrangements.

However, with a few notable exceptions, most government spending on agriculture is not biased to the poor.

Government spending in rural areas and on agriculture has generally been motivated by political considerations, especially the desire to secure rural political support, not least by raising agricultural output, productivity and incomes.

Instead, such public expenditure tends to benefit the relatively better-off in agriculture. This is generally true with improved rural infrastructure or social services, including health and schooling, as well as agricultural support in the form of subsidized fertilizer or other agricultural inputs – usually distributed according to the amount of land owned.

Closing food security gaps

The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s mainly involved wheat, rice and maize. Closing the productivity, output and income gaps of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with the rest of the world will require appropriate measures addressing the many disincentives to greater food and other investments in the continent needed to improve livelihoods.

Undoubtedly, increased food production can enhance food security, reduce hunger and improve nutrition in SSA for the farmers themselves. But food security has been undermined by trade liberalization and export promotion in the last three decades.

The recent purchase or long-term lease by foreign interests of choice African agricultural land to produce food for export is especially problematic.

Experience since the mid-20th century reminds us that increasing food production alone will not be enough to eliminate poverty and hunger in the world. There has long been enough food in the world to feed everyone, but the hungry typically do not have the incomes or other means to secure access to sufficient food to adequately feed themselves.

As many hundreds of millions are so deprived, and likely to remain so for a long time to come, especially with the likelihood of a prolonged economic slowdown, with high levels of underemployment and unemployment, there is no other way to overcome poverty and hunger except with some basic social provisioning for all, by establishing what is called a basic ‘social protection floor’.

In this connection, FAO seeks to accelerate the transition ‘from protection to production’, and thus ensure sustainable means to eliminate hunger and poverty while ensuring resilience in the longer term.

With the growing consensus, momentum and commitment to eradicate world poverty and hunger by 2030 enshrined in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, it will be necessary to deploy all the necessary instruments as soon as possible.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda emerging from the third Financing for Development Conference in July is supposed to ensure adequate financial and other means of implementation for this purpose.

At Addis, the Rome-based U.N. agencies presented an affordable and feasible way to quickly eliminate hunger and poverty through social protection, while increasing the earned incomes of the poor with adequate pro-poor investments during 2016-2030 costing about 0.3 percent of current global income. Clearly, together, we can – and must – eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030.

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

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Opinion: Multilateral Treaty Framework – An Abiding Achievement of the U.N. Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:12:11 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona Mongolia depositing ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, on Sep. 28, 2015

Mongolia depositing ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, on Sep. 28, 2015

By Dr. Palitha Kohona

As it celebrates its 70th birthday, a proud achievement of the United Nations over its lifetime, is the framework of multilateral treaties that it has been instrumental in putting in place.

Today a mind boggling network of treaties has proliferated affecting every imaginable area of human interaction, including trade, aviation, shipping, transport, human rights, outer space, terrorism and organised crime, disarmament, the environment, the oceans and seas, etc.

Treaties are widely recognised as the pre-eminent source of international law in the contemporary world and the reach of a treaty based international legal order, including dispute settlement mechanisms, has gradually extended and consolidated. They have become the foundation for creating a better world through the adoption of commonly negotiated and accepted standards with legal force.

Treaty making among sovereigns, inter alia, for the regulation of conduct among themselves, to facilitate economic and commercial relations, to demarcate their territorial boundaries and to avoid conflict, has a long history.

One of the oldest known treaties was between the Hittites and Ramses II of Egypt, a bronze replica of which is displayed in the U.N. building. Interestingly, many of the provisions of this treaty could sit comfortably in a modern instrument. Not much seems to have changed in the way states deal with each other in 5000 years.

Over 560 multilateral treaties are deposited with the U.N. Secretary-General. Most have been concluded under the auspices of the U.N. or with U.N. assistance. Facilitating multilateral treaty making has been a major preoccupation of the U.N. since its inception.

Treaties, which were originally concluded to regulate inter-sovereign relations, have increasingly been negotiated in response to a variety of emerging global needs with an ever increasing impact on the lives of individuals, on communities and the world in general.

A few have been inherited by the U.N. Secretary-General from the short-lived League of Nations. Multilateral treaties on human rights, climate change, the oceans, terrorism and organised crime, to name a few, attract much attention today.

For historical reasons, the Charter of the U.N. itself, which has 193 parties, is deposited with the USA. Significantly, some of the landmark standard setting instruments affecting humanity are not treaties but U.N. declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 adopted through the Millennium Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals of 2015.

Since the Millennium Summit in 2000, the U.N. has made a sustained effort to secure wider participation in the multilateral treaties deposited with the U.N. Secretary-General, organising a dedicated treaty event during each UNGA, under the theme, “AN INVITATION TO UNIVERSAL PARTICIPATION”.

The initial Treaty Event of 2000 was successful beyond all expectations attracting 274 treaty actions and the participation of 84 heads of state and government and other high dignitaries. Reflecting the importance that they attached to global treaties, world leaders such as Jacques Chirac of France, Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Tony Blair of the UK, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India, trooped in to place their signatures on treaties deposited with the Secretary-General (SG).

A number of the multilateral treaties deposited with the SG are close to achieving universal participation, including non-members of the U.N. For example, ground breaking treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women have secured almost universal participation.

For a country that wields unparalleled economic and political power and one that has been a proactive advocate for advancing the international legal order, the USA, sticks out as a non-party to any of the above.

It is recognised that many provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention, which commands only 167 parties as of now, have become part of customary international law. Major states such as the USA, Turkey, Venezuela and Peru are still to become party to it due to domestic and other considerations but comply with most of its provisions.

Two implementing agreements to the Convention, one on its Part XI and the other on Straddling Fish Stocks, have been concluded and have entered in to force. Negotiations on a third, on marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction, are expected to commence soon.

Some multilateral treaties, concluded with great enthusiasm and fanfare, are still a long way from entering into force. Some require just a few more ratifications or accessions to trigger their entry into force. With its complex entry into force provisions, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a key component of the disarmament framework, is still not in force.

Efforts to secure wider participation in the multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary-General continues. In his letter of invitation to Member States to the 2015 Treaty Event, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states that the Event “provides a distinct opportunity for States to fulfil pledges made in national and international fora to sign on to, and particularly, to ratify or accede to multilateral treaties”.

It is unusual for a state to withdraw from a multilateral treaty. Only a handful of examples exist. Canada denounced the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. North Korea sought to withdraw from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1997 but the Secretary-General, as depositary, took the view that withdrawal would only be possible with the consent of all the parties.

The Charter of the U.N. contains specific provisions on treaties. Article 102 requires that, “Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it.”
Over 60,000 treaties have been registered with the U.N. and published in the U.N. Treaty Series now available on-line. Despite the Charter requirement, it is estimated that only a fraction of the treaties concluded, is registered with the Secretariat. It is said that the U.N. Treaty Collection on the web is accessed over one million times a month.

The genesis of Article 102 lies almost 100 years ago when Leon Trotsky published the secret treaties of the Tsarist Government causing an outcry about the destructive consequences of secret treaties. The U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, identified secret treaties as a cause of wars and, at his insistence, Article 18 of the Statute of the League of Nations was adopted, requiring all treaties to be registered with the League and published by it.

This provision was later incorporated in the U.N. Charter with the added proviso that treaties, which were not registered could not be invoked before an organ of the U.N.

Treaties constitute the major source of international law. The conclusion of a treaty per se does not guarantee proper compliance. The provisions of a treaty that has entered into force must be implemented.

A multilateral treaty itself, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in its Article 26, states that a treaty in force is binding on its parties and must be implemented in good faith. By and large, states abide by their treaty obligations.

Even when doubts exist about the legality of an action, extreme efforts are made to find legal justifications. A state would not normally become party to a treaty until its domestic implementing mechanisms, including legislation, are in place.

This tendency of states to comply with their international legal obligations augurs well for a world, many parts of which are still mired in discord and conflict, sometimes with the involvement of major powers.

The fact that the language used in treaty making, in some instances, facilitates interpretations of convenience, tends to sow seeds of doubt about the efficacy of one of the U.N.’s major achievements, the global network of treaties.

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

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Iran’s nuclear deal and the regional countries Tue, 29 Sep 2015 15:50:55 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford. This is the ninth of a series of 10 articles in which Jahanpour looks at various aspects and implications of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany, plus the European Union.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

Although some regional countries initially opposed the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany), once the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed by the two sides in July 2015, practically all regional countries welcomed it. After the initial agreement in Lausanne, U.S. President Barack Obama invited all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders to a Camp David summit in May and all of them expressed support for the deal.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

After the nuclear agreement was announced, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait both congratulated Iran and the Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi hailed the deal as a historic event which constituted the first step to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. He called on the international community to put pressure on Israel to get rid of her nuclear weapons. As the head of the Arab League he speaks officially for all the Arab countries.

After the meeting between Obama and the Saudi King Salman at the White House on September 4th, the two sides issued a joint statement. In the statement King Salman expressed his support for the JCPOA “which once fully implemented will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and thereby enhance security in the region.”

For his part, Obama has indicated that the region needs a new approach toward regional security. He said the Sunni Arab states shouldn’t blame Iran for all their problems, and he called on them to engage Iran in a “practical conversation” to reduce sectarian divisions and address shared threats from terrorism.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has talked about the possibilities for cooperation with Iran’s neighbors on common challenges in a spirit of “mutual respect, good neighborliness, and Islamic brotherhood.”

Turkey, which has worked closely with Iran over many years to resolve the nuclear issue (in May 2010, Turkey and Brazil tried to broker a deal between Iran and the West), is also fully supportive of this agreement. This leaves Israel as the only regional country that still opposes the deal.

With the very sensitive nuclear issue taken off the table, it is much easier now to deal with a number of critical regional issues. If the U.S. focuses exclusively on the agreement and does not test opportunities for collaboration with Iran on other issues, it may miss a historic opportunity to reshape relations with the Islamic Republic, as well as to usher in a new political and security order in the Middle East as a whole.

Iran of course poses a number of challenges to U.S. interests in the region, and in many arenas American and Iranian interests seem to be fundamentally at odds. Chief among these disagreements are Iran’s policies towards Israel, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Dubbed the “axis of resistance,” the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah grouping was supposed to highlight Iran’s commitment to the Palestinian cause. Iran is accused of supporting the Shi’a militias in Iraq to the detriment of the Sunni minority. Iran supports and arms the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and is also accused of supporting the Houthis in Yemen.

However, as the result of changed circumstances in the region none of these problems is insurmountable. As far as Hamas is concerned, after the civil war in Syria and the expulsion of Palestinians from that country, Hamas turned initially towards Turkey and towards the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Since the coup in Egypt, Hamas has turned more towards Qatar and has even mended relations with Saudi Arabia. Therefore, hardly any links exist at the moment between Hamas and Iran.

Hezbollah forces are fighting in Syria to support Assad’s government against ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups. This is a cause that the West shares. With the flood of refugees towards Europe, many European leaders have realized that no matter how much they loathe Assad, he is preferable to the terrorists that pose a deadly threat to the region and even to the West.

In a joint press conference in London, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that although Assad had to go, nevertheless, it might be necessary to talk to him as part of a deal over a transitional period. Neither Iran nor Russia has said that Assad should rule Syria forever, but they argue that first the terrorists should be defeated, and then Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people in a supervised election.

As far as Yemen is concerned, U.S. officials have admitted that Iran does not play any direct role in that conflict. In an interview with The New York Times in July, Obama said that Tehran had even tried to dissuade the Houthis from capturing Sana’a back in 2014. According to a report released on September 19 by Yemen’s Civil Coalition, over 6,000 Yemenis have so far lost their lives, and a total of 14,000 people have been injured, most of them civilians. The latest deadly stampede during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, killing at least 717 and injuring over 800 with a few hundred people still missing, has added to Saudi woes. The combination of these tragedies, as well as growing domestic discontent, might persuade the Saudi rulers to turn towards diplomacy and regional cooperation.

Turkey has recently softened her position towards Assad, and by placing its airports at the disposal of U.S. aircraft fighting ISIS, Turkey has shown that it takes the terrorist threat seriously. Recently, there have been some moves by the Russian President Vladimir Putin to form a security belt, including Russia, Iran, Egypt and Syria against ISIS. The response from the U.S. to Putin’s proposal has not been hostile. In the wake of their meetings in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. and Russian presidents might reach an agreement over how to jointly tackle the menace of terrorism.

During his recent visit to New York to take part in the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that ties with the U.S. had improved, but there was still a “long road to travel” before they could normalize their relations. Nevertheless, what we are seeing on the ground looks quite different. If the new rapprochement between Iran and the West is not to fizzle out, there is a need to broaden the scope of cooperation over regional issues.

Recent developments have shown that there is an increasing possibility for new geopolitical alignments throughout the region. The growing menace of terrorism, Iran and the U.S.’s tacit cooperation in Iraq, Saudi Arabia’s growing problems in Yemen, Turkey’s shift to greater cooperation with the U.S, and now Russia’s greater involvement in the fight against ISIS show that all these countries have some shared interests in fighting terrorism, and establishing security and stability in the region through cooperation.

The status quo in the Middle East cannot survive much longer. The winds of change are blowing throughout the entire region, and there is a possibility of new beginnings. This opportunity should not be missed.

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

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