Inter Press Service » Women & Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 26 Dec 2014 06:18:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 ‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138357 Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kanchipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

While Raghu Raja’s dream will take some time to come true, his fellow fisherman Varadaraj Madhavan is already there: two of his three children have attended the “cyclone college”.

His 22-year-old daughter Vijaya Lakshmi has already graduated from the college – the first graduate in Madhavan’s entire clan – and 18-year-old son Dilli Ganesh is expected to follow suit next year.

During her three years of college, Laxmi studied English, Computer Applications and Disaster Management. Among her greatest achievements as a student has been creating a “Hazard Map” of her village. The map, prepared after an extensive study of the village, its shoreline and soil structure, shows the level of vulnerability the village faces.

“This is a real time status,” says Ignatius Prabhakar of SEEDS India, an NGO that trains vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness. “There are different colours indicating different types of sea storms and the levels of threats they pose. The map, meant to be updated every three months, is for the villagers to understand these threats and be prepared.”

There are seven neighbourhoods in Nemmeli and a copy of the hazard map stands at the entrance of each of them. Laxmi, who worked alongside a team of engineering students from Chennai on the mapping project, describes is as a great learning experience.

“I learnt a lot of our village, the environment here. For example, I learnt how disappearance of sand dunes, overfishing and garbage disposal can increase the threats of flooding. I also learnt where everyone should go in time of a disaster and how exactly we should evacuate,” she says.

The young woman is now also a member of the Village Residents Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction – a community group that actively promotes disaster preparedness.

From cyclone shelter to learning hub

Though highly popular now, it was an uphill task to set up the college, recalls Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Madras and the founder of the college.

To begin with, the state government had asked the college to be operational from the year 2011. It was summer already, but there were no buildings to hold the classes in and no land allocated yet to build one. After several rounds of intense lobbying of local government officials, Krishnamurthy was offered the cyclone shelter to run the college.

The next big step was to convince the villagers to send their children to the college.

“We hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) and fixed a loudspeaker on top on it. My assistant would drive the vehicle around the neighbourhood all day, calling on the villagers to send their children to the college. I would wait right here, under a tree, waiting for a parent to turn up,” says Krishnamurthy, says who was the principal until recently and is credited for the college’s current popularity and its successful disaster risk reduction programme.

In the first year of the college, 60 students enrolled. After four years, the number has gone up to 411 and half of them are women, says Krishnamurthy.

Sukanya Manikyam, 23, who recently graduated, was one of the first students to enroll. She is now planning to join a post-graduate course. “I would like to teach at a university one day,” she says.

According to Krishnamurthy, since the tsunami, the rate of erosion along the shore has been visibly increasing. The topography of the sea bed has changed, the sand dunes are disappearing and houses are caving in, slowly rendering the villagers homeless and causing internal displacement.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like,” says Krishnamurthy.

As the danger of displacement from the advancing sea grows greater, so does this fishing community’s need for alternative livelihoods. The ‘cyclone college’ is catering to this need, providing knowledge and information that can help residents find new jobs and build new lives.

Tilak Mani, a 60-year-old villager, is optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago, the tsunami had left all of us in tears. Today, our children have the skills to steer us towards safety in such a disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138241 A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pushing for Gender Equity at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:54:28 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138220 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/feed/ 2 OPINION: Women Must Be Partners and Drivers of Climate Change Decision-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:03:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138154 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

As leaders from around the world gather in Lima, Peru this week to discuss global cooperation in addressing climate change, a woman in Guatemala will struggle to feed her family from a farm plot that produces less each season.

A mother in Ethiopia will make the difficult choice to take her daughter out of school to help in the task of gathering water, which requires more and more time with each passing year.Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A pregnant woman in Bangladesh will worry about what will happen to her and her children if the floods come when it is her time to deliver.

These women, and millions of women around the world, are on the front lines of climate change. The impacts of shifting temperatures, erratic rainfall, and extreme weather events touch their lives in direct and profound ways.

For many, these impacts are felt so strongly because of gender roles – women are responsible for gathering water, food and fuel for the household. And for too many, a lack of access to information and decision-making exacerbates their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

Our leaders in Lima this week will meet to lay the critical foundations for a new global agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

They seek to resolve important questions about collective action to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change, to build resilience in communities to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid, and to provide the finance needed for climate-smart development around the world. It is critical that in all of these efforts, our leaders recognise the importance of ensuring that climate change solutions are gender-responsive.

What does it mean for climate change solutions to be gender-responsive? It means, for example, that in formulating strategies for renewable energy women are engaged in all stages and that these strategies take into consideration how women access and use fuel and electricity in their homes.

It means that vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans take into account women’s lives and capabilities. And critically, it means women are included at decision-making tables internationally, nationally, and locally when strategies and action plans are developed.

Going beyond the acknowledgment that men and women are impacted differently by climate change and thus, the need for climate policies and actions to be gender-responsive, we must also examine and support pathways to greater empowerment for women.

When women are empowered, their families, communities, and nations benefit. Responding to climate change offers opportunities to enhance pathways to empowerment. This requires addressing the underlying root causes such as gender stereotypes and social norms that perpetuate and compound inequality and discrimination.

Examples abound and these include removing restrictions to women’s mobility, providing full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, ensuring access to education and employment opportunities as well as access to economic resources, such as land and financial services.

Enhancing women’s agency is key to a human rights-based and equitable climate change agenda. In September during the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York, UN Women and the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice brought together more than 130 women leaders for a forum on “Women Leading the Way: Raising Ambition for Climate Action.”

We heard remarkable stories of women’s leadership in addressing all aspects of the climate crisis.

Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Women leaders mobilise communities, promote green investments, and develop energy efficient technologies. Indeed, if we are serious about tackling climate change, our leaders in Lima this week must ensure that women are equal partners and drivers of climate change decision-making.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Indigenous Peoples Are the Owners of the Land” Say Activists at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 18:54:44 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138141 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/feed/ 2 Climate Finance Flowing, But for Many, the Well Remains Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 13:25:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138082 Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

For more than 10 years, Mildred Crawford has been “a voice in the wilderness” crying out on behalf of rural women in agriculture.

Crawford, 50, who grew up in the small Jamaican community of Brown’s Hall in St. Catherine parish, was “filled with enthusiasm” when she received an invitation from the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) to be part of a civil society contingent to the 20th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP20), where her voice could be heard on a much bigger stage."Many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them." -- UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres

But mere days after arriving here for her first-ever COP, Crawford’s exhilaration has turned to disappointment.

“I am weary, because even in the side events I don’t see much government representatives coming to hear the voice of civil society,” she told IPS.

“If they are not here to hear what we have to say, there is very little impact that will be created. Already there is a gap between policy and implementation which is very serious because we talk the talk, we don’t walk the talk.”

Crawford said women farmers often do not get the attention or recognition they deserve, pointing to the important role they play in feeding their families and the wider population.

“Our women farmers store seeds. In the event that a hurricane comes and resources become scarce, they would share what they have among themselves so that they can have a rebound in agriculture,” she explained.

WFO is an international member-based organisation whose mandate is to bring together farmers’ organisations and agricultural cooperatives from all over the world. It includes approximately 70 members from about 50 countries in the developed and emerging world.

The WFO said its delegation of farmers is intended to be a pilot for scaling up in 2015, when the COP21 will take place in Paris. It also aims to raise awareness of the role of smallholder agriculture in climate adaptation and mitigation and have it recognised in the 2015 UNFCCC negotiations.

The negotiations next year in Paris will aim to reach legally-binding agreements on limits on greenhouse gas emissions that all nations will have to implement.

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Diann Black-Layne speaks for a much wider constituency – Small Island Developing States (SIDS). She said adaptation, finance and loss and damage top the list of issues this group of countries wants to see addressed in the medium term.

“Many of our developing countries have been spending their own money on adaptation,” Black-Layne, who is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador on climate change, told IPS.

She said SIDS are already “highly indebted” and “this is borrowed money” for their national budgets which they are forced to use “to fund their adaptation programmes and restoration from extreme weather events. So, to then have to borrow more money for mitigation is a difficult sell.”

The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres agrees that such commitments by developing countries needs to be buttressed with international climate finance flows, in particular for the most vulnerable.

“There is no doubt that adaptation finance needs to increase. That is very clear that that is the urgency among most developing countries, to actually cover their adaptation costs and many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them (so) they are actually already doing it out of their own pocket,” Figueres said.

Loss and Damage is a facility to compensate countries for extreme weather events. It also provides some level of financing to help countries adjust to the creeping permanent loss caused by climate change.

“At this COP we are focusing on financial issues for loss and damage,” Black-Layne said. “In our region, that would include things like the loss of the conch industry and the loss of the fishing industry. Even if we limit it to a two-degree warming, we would lose those two industries so we are now negotiating a mechanism to assist countries to adapt.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In 2012, the conch industry in just one Caribbean Community country, Belize, was valued at 10 million dollars.

A landmark assessment presented Wednesday to governments meeting here at the U.N. climate summit said hundreds of billions of dollars of climate finance may now be flowing across the globe.

The assessment – which includes a summary and recommendations by the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance and a technical report by experts – is the first of a series of assessment reports that put together information and data on financial flows supporting emission reductions and adaptation within countries and via international support.

The assessment puts the lower range of global climate finance flows at 340 billion dollars a year for the period 2011-2012, with the upper end at 650 billion dollars, and possibly higher.

“It does seem that climate finance is flowing, not exclusively but with a priority toward the most vulnerable,” Figueres said.

“That is a very, very important part of this report because it is as exactly as it should be. It should be the most vulnerable populations, the most vulnerable countries, and the most vulnerable populations within countries that actually receive climate finance with priority.”

The assessment notes that the exact amounts of global totals could be higher due to the complexity of defining climate finance, the myriad of ways in which governments and organisations channel funding, and data gaps and limitations – particularly for adaptation and energy efficiency.

In addition, the assessment attributes different levels of confidence to different sub-flows, with data on global total climate flows being relatively uncertain, in part due to the fact that most data reflect finance commitments rather than disbursements, and the associated definitional issues.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting the vulnerable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High risk for adolescent girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mexico’s Climate Laws Ignore Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/mexicos-climate-laws-ignore-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-climate-laws-ignore-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/mexicos-climate-laws-ignore-women/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 10:40:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134169 The Ajusco forest, one of Mexico City’s green lungs and water sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Ajusco forest, one of Mexico City’s green lungs and water sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 8 2014 (IPS)

The rural communities of San Miguel and Santo Tomás Ajusco, to the south of Mexico City, are preserving 3,000 of their 7,619 hectares of forest in exchange for payment for environmental services. But the inequality in the communities is far from ecological.

The 484 men and 120 women who own plots of between half a hectare and eight hectares are organised in the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales (“commissioner’s office for communal goods”). To preserve the forest and care for the water, they receive trees, seeds, greenhouses and other supplies from the federal government and the authorities in the state capital.

There are numerous jobs, ranging from guarding the forest to prevent logging or fires to filling out official paperwork.

And the benefits provided are not insignificant.

Since 2012, this group of ‘comuneros’ – peasants farmers who work communal lands – has been participating in the programme for payments for environmental services financed by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and the private construction firm Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA), who provide 123 dollars a year per hectare for keeping the forest clean, growing living barriers, and planting trees.

The work is not done on all plots at the same time, but in a rotating fashion, so the benefits circulate around a surface area of 220 hectares.

In addition, between 2012 and 2013, CONAFOR granted them around 300,000 dollars for the restoration of micro-basins.

But women only participate in reforestation and garbage collection activities.

“We’re going to reforest up to July, when the rainy season starts,” Alma Reyes, a 42-year-old mother of three who is one of the 120 female ‘comuneras’, told IPS. “The problem is that the jobs available to women are very limited.”

Reyes overcame decades of exclusion in 2010, when she successfully ran for the position of secretary of the Comisariado, one of the organisation’s three highest-level posts.

But her term ended in August 2013, and Reyes doubts that another woman will be elected to the position.

“A sexist majority prevails, and the laws are not enforced,” she said. “Women have no influence over what is done, in the distribution of benefits or in decision-making.”

In 2013, similar payments were approved for 52,000 hectares of forest land around the country. And for a period of five years, CONAFOR earmarked 77 million dollars in environmental services on 471,000 hectares.

At first glance, the projects have borne fruit: most of the children in the communities attend school, people eat three meals a day, and villagers have stopped leaving. But statistics are needed to gauge the improvement in living conditions for both men and women.

The case of the ‘comuneras’ from Ajusco illustrates how the role of women is not taken into account in Mexico’s laws on climate change.

The General Climate Change Law in effect since 2012 makes virtually no reference to participation by women.

The only mention of the subject, in article 71, says the plans drawn up by the states must “always seek to achieve gender equity and the representation of the most vulnerable populations.”

“All laws can be perfected,” legislator Lourdes López, chair of the congressional commission on the environment and natural resources, told IPS. “We are reviewing it, because when the law is applied, details are found. We want to ensure follow-up on the climate change plans and on how the executive branch implements them.”

López, who belongs to the Green Ecological Party and heads the Mexican chapter of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International), is one of the advocates of greater reforms.

The law made the target of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 obligatory, subject to the availability of funding and technology transfer, according to the most comprehensive study on climate legislation, which analysed the laws of 66 countries and was published in February by GLOBE International, a global network of parliamentarians concerned about the environment.

Martha Lucía Micher, a lawmaker from the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), believes laws and decision-making must do a better job of including women.

“How can policies be developed if women are ignored?” asked Micher, chair of the gender equality commission. “How can sustainable projects be promoted if women don’t participate? We aren’t sufficiently represented in decision-making on climate change.”

The two legislative commissions presided over by López and Micher, as well as female activists and academics, set up a working group to propose changes to laws on climate change, with the aim of including a gender perspective.

This country of 118 million people is highly vulnerable to climate change and is already suffering the manifestations of global warming, such as more frequent and devastating storms, severe drought, a rising sea level, and a loss of biological diversity.

Over half – 51.3 percent – of the population lives in poverty, and many women, especially in rural areas, bear the brunt of the impact of climate change, because they are responsible for making sure their families have clean water and food, and for taking care of their families in case of disasters.

The absence of a gender focus in the country’s climate laws contrasts sharply with other areas.

The National Development Plan 2013-2018 stipulates that a gender angle must be incorporated in all government programmes, in order to achieve equality between men and women.

And the National Programme for Equal Opportunities and Non-Discrimination against Women 2013-2018 orders the incorporation “of a gender focus in the detection and mitigation of risks, emergency response and reconstruction in natural and manmade disasters,” and in “policies on the environment and sustainability.”

Leticia Gutiérrez, a policy adviser with the Alianza MéxicoREDD+ (REDD+Mexico Alliance), told IPS that “under the prevailing approach, women are still seen as a vulnerable group and the focus is on the promotion of productive projects without managing to have an impact on the structural causes of gender inequality.”

The Alianza sponsored a study that analyses Mexico’s main laws and policies, as well as public spending dedicated to equality between men and women in relation to the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism.

The document, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Gender Office, concluded that although there is a legal and institutional framework that requires the inclusion of gender considerations, a gender focus is not yet sufficiently included in a cross-cutting manner in forestry, agriculture, environment and climate policies.

Mexico is ranked 21 out of 72 countries on the IUCN Environment and Gender Index (EGI). The top country on the list is Iceland, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is in last place.

The achievements and proposals “sound great,” said Alma Reyes. “I hope they are put into practice, because gender equity is demanded from all sides.”

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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A Honduran Paradise that Doesn’t Want to Anger the Sea Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:17:57 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133238 One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
SANTA ROSA DE AGUÁN, Honduras , Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change.

“We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what happened with Mitch, which destroyed so many houses in the town – nearly all of the ones along the seashore,” community leader Claudina Gamboa, 35, told IPS.

Around the coastal town of Santa Rosa de Aguán, the stunning landscape is almost as pristine as when the first Garífunas came to Honduras in the 18th century.

The people who came from the sea

The Garífunas make up 10 percent of the population of 8.5 million of Honduras, which they reached over two centuries ago.

The Garífunas are descendants of Africans captured and brought to the region by European slave ships that sank in the 17th century off the island of Yarumei – now St. Vincent – where they settled and intermarried with native Carib and Arawak people.

From St. Vincent, which was under British dominion, they were expelled in 1797 to the Honduran island of Roatán. Later, the Spanish colonialists allowed them to move to the mainland, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and other Central American countries.

To reach Santa Rosa de Aguán, founded in 1886 and home to just over 3,000 people, IPS drove by car for 12 hours from Tegucigalpa through five of this Central American country’s 18 departments or provinces, until reaching the village of Dos Bocas, 567 km northeast of the capital.

From this village on the mainland, a small boat runs to Santa Rosa de Aguán, located on the sand in the delta of the Aguán river, whose name in the Garífuna language means “abundant waters.”

Half of the trip is on roads in terrible conditions, which become unnerving when it gets dark. But after crossing the river late at night, under a starry sky with a sea breeze caressing the skin, the journey finally comes to a peaceful end.

A three-year project to help the sand dunes recover, which was completed in 2013, was carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, with additional support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The project sought to generate conditions that would enable the local community to adapt to the risks of climate change and protect the natural ecosystem of the dunes.

The initiative enlisted 40 local volunteers, almost all of them women, who went door to door to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the environment and to educate people about the risks posed by climate change.

“They called them crazy, and thought the people working on that were stupid, but I asked them ‘don’t stop, just keep doing it.’ Now there is greater awareness and people have seen the winds aren’t hitting so hard,” Atanasia Ruíz, a former deputy mayor of the town (2008-2014) and a survivor of Hurricane Mitch, told IPS.

She and Gamboa said the women played an essential role in raising awareness on climate change, and added that thanks to their efforts, the project left an imprint on the white sand and the local inhabitants.

People in the community now understand the importance of protecting the coastal system and preserving the dunes, and have learned to organise behind that goal, Gamboa said. “It’s really touching to see the old women from our town picking up garbage for recycling,” she said.

The sand dunes act as natural protective barriers that keep the wind or waves from smashing into the town during storms.

“When the sea got mad, it made us pay. When Mitch hit, everything here was flattened, it was just horrible,” Gamboa said.

Some people left town, she said, “because we were told that we couldn’t live here, that it was too vulnerable and that the sea would always flood us because there was no way to keep it out.

“But many of us stayed, and with the knowledge they gave us, we know how to protect ourselves and our town,” she said, proudly pointing out how the vegetation has begun to grow in the dunes.

In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 11,000 dead and 8,000 missing in Honduras, while causing enormous economic losses and damage to infrastructure.

Santa Rosa de Aguán was hit especially hard, with storm surges up to five metres high. The bodies of more than 40 people from the town were found, while others went missing.

The effort to recover the sand dunes along the coast included the construction of wide wooden walkways to protect the sand.

In addition, the remains of cinder block houses destroyed by Mitch were finally removed, to prevent them from inhibiting the natural formation of dunes.

The project also introduced recycling, to clear garbage from the beach and the sandy unpaved streets of this town, where visitors are greeted with “buiti achuluruni”, which means “welcome” in the Garífuna language.

Lícida Nicolasa Gómez is an 18-year-old member of the Garífuna community who prefers to be called “Alondra”, her nickname since childhood.

“I loved it when they invited me to the dunes and recycling project, because we were deforesting the dunes, hurting them, destroying the vegetation, but we’re not doing that anymore,” she said.

“We even made a mural on one of the walls of the community centre, to remember what kind of town we wanted,” she added, with a broad smile.

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural includes scraps of plastic, metal, tiles and bottle tops. It reflects the beauty of the Garífunas, showing people fishing, crops of mandioc and plantain, and the sea and bright sun, while reflecting the desire to live in harmony with the environment.

The sand dunes are up to five metres high in this small town at the mouth of a river that runs through the country’s tropical rainforest.

Hugo Galeano, from GEF’s Small Grants Programme, told IPS that Santa Rosa de Aguán became even more vulnerable after Hurricane Mitch, which affected the local livelihoods based on fishing, farming and livestock.

For this community built between the river and the sea, flooding is one of the main threats to survival, said the representative of the GEF programme.

Ricardo Norales, 80, told IPS that, although the sand dunes and vegetation are growing, “the location of our community means we are still exposed to inclement weather.

“With the project, we saw how the wind and the sea don’t penetrate our homes as much anymore. But we need this kind of aid to be more sustainable,” he said.

The history of Santa Rosa de Aguán is marked by the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes, which have hit the town directly or indirectly many times since it was founded.

But the sand dunes are once again taking shape along the shoreline, where the community has built walkways to the sea.

Local inhabitants want their town to be seen as an example of adaptation to climate change and the construction of alternatives making survival possible. Several of them said they did not want an “ayó” – good-bye in Garífuna – for their community.

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Sun Shines on Forest Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sun-shines-forest-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132514 Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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Gender Counts in the Aftermath of Disasterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/gender-counts-aftermath-disaster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-counts-aftermath-disaster http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/gender-counts-aftermath-disaster/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 13:52:10 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131010 A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the Christmas Eve floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was still missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A cleric prays with Colleen James in Cane Grove, St. Vincent hours before it was confirmed that James' sister had died in the Christmas Eve floodwaters. Her two-year-old daughter was still missing. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 31 2014 (IPS)

The rise in natural disasters in the Caribbean due to climate change has led to increased suffering for both men and women, much of it as a consequence of socially constructed roles based on gender, experts say.

So although women typically suffer more during natural disasters, gender policies that specifically focus on helping men when disasters strike are also needed, according to a disaster management official in the Caribbean."[Women] connect to the whole concept of social capital - relying on each other, family connections and friends." -- Elizabeth Riley

“In the Caribbean region, discussions on gender are relegated to conversations on women,” Elizabeth Riley, the deputy executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), told IPS.

However, she said, experience of natural disasters in the region show that there is a need for psycho-social support programmes for males following a disaster.

A report prepared for the United Nations Development Programme entitled “Enhancing Gender Visibility in Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change in the Caribbean” noted that men often lacked coping skills in the aftermath of a hurricane and were prone to alcohol abuse, stress, and anger.

Riley said reports from regional disasters showed women, on the other hand, responded to such events “by connecting to the whole concept of social capital – relying on each other, family connections and friends.”

She said women in these disasters occupied themselves with consoling children through story-telling, communal cooking and “encouraging people toward a place of recovery.” Other reports showed that men did show some resilience in tackling the reconstruction of their homes.

Reports of natural disasters in the region highlight other male vulnerabilities.

Riley said other reports show that “elderly men are abandoned and incapable of fending for themselves.”

“It is very closely connected to a culture where men have multiple partners and when they reach old age they do not have social capital for support,” she said.

“That is the result of the socially constructed role of men being macho” by having children with several women, she said. “It puts a level of burden on the state because the support for older men is significantly less than that for women,” she said.

In its 2004 macro-economic and social assessment of the damage wrought by Hurricane Ivan in Grenada, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States noted that “69 percent of the victims were males, and 70 percent of all deceased were over 60 years old.”

Men may be more likely to suffer physical harm in a natural disaster, said Dr. Asha Kambon, a consultant who worked for 20 years with UN-ECLAC, specialising in natural disasters and their impact on small island developing states. “We women are not as prone to risk-taking as men,” she noted.

Though women typically die in greater numbers than men in a natural disaster, Kambon told IPS the ratio of male to female deaths depended very much “on the environment, on the circumstances.”

For example, in the recent floods that occurred over the Christmas holidays in St. Vincent, Dominica, and St. Lucia, all six of the deaths in St. Lucia were of men, most of whom were attempting to drive through the floods.

She recalled that during floods in Guyana in a recent year, several men died from leptospirosis because of walking through flood waters, whereas no women died from this illness. Kambon said this was because the women took the recommended medication and avoided contact with the flood waters.

Nevertheless, natural disasters do place a special burden on women in the region in ways that mirror the experiences of women worldwide.

In the Caribbean, schools and churches are the most likely buildings to be used as shelters following a natural disaster. This increases the women’s burden of care, said Kambon, since “women are responsible for the children and the elderly, and very often the schools are not reopened rapidly following a disaster. So they have to look after those children, and they cannot go out and look for work.”

According to “Making Risky Environments Safer,” published by the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women, “Domestic work increases enormously when support systems such as childcare, schools, clinics, public transportation and family networks are disrupted or destroyed” due to natural disaster.

Many poor women in the Caribbean are employed at the lowest end of the tourism industry, and since disasters typically do severe damage to the industry, many are left unemployed because their skills are not easily transferable.

“Men are able to get into the marketplace faster because the skills they possess are transferable. Also, men often have some construction skills so they can get jobs in those sectors and earn an income,” Kambon said.

Women are less likely to be employed in the “cash for work” programmes that are frequently implemented following a disaster to rebuild a country’s infrastructure and to provide paid employment, said Riley, since men have the advantage of greater physical strength.

Kambon said that women are also less likely to be employed in such rebuilding programmes because of being restricted to the home in caring for elderly relatives and children.

Perhaps “a cash for care” programme could be implemented, she said, with a view to providing an income to women who would look after dependent members of the community, thus freeing other women to go out and look for work.

She said such considerations underscore the importance of knowing the gender ratio of the community when devising disaster response programmes.

According to “Making Risky Environments Safer”, “Emergency relief workers’ lack of awareness of gender-based inequalities can further perpetuate gender bias and put women at an increased disadvantage in access to relief measures and other opportunities and benefits.”

Further, in the aftermath of recent regional disasters, there was the issue “of the safety and well-being of women and children,” Kambon said, since there is often a breakdown of law and order.

Bathroom facilities also presented a problem for women in emergency shelters.

“What was adequate for men was completely inadequate for women, in terms of cleanliness, safety, location and the ability to use them,” Kambon said.

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Women Advance in Distant Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/women-advance-distant-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-advance-distant-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/women-advance-distant-islands/#comments Sat, 21 Dec 2013 07:34:55 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129676 By Catherine Wilson
BUALA, Solomon Islands, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands is demonstrating that women leaders can drive development progress and win voter support.

Sikilabu did not have the same campaign funds as male candidates when she stood in the 2006 provincial election. But her unwavering commitment for more than a decade to bringing tangible improvements to rural lives that were blighted by hardship and lack of development paved the way for her landslide victory against six male candidates.

“To me, politics is helping a family to a better life, helping the family who are hungry, the elderly, the disabled, assisting communities to build toilets, providing access to solar energy,” Sikilabu told IPS in the Solomon Islands. “It is about really touching people’s lives.”

In a nation of more than 900 islands covered in dense tropical rainforest with few roads and widely scattered villages, the challenges of campaigning were enormous. Touring communities involved sleeping in the bush, swimming across flooded rivers and travelling by canoe in stormy weather.

It was the first time that remote communities in Isabel Province, which has a population of about 30,000, witnessed women bidding for election. Although society in Isabel is matrilineal, Sikilabu explained that habitually “boys are sent to school and that’s the beginning of this idea that women are not important in decision-making committees or meetings.”

While equality is enshrined in the constitution, broad acceptance of women in political power is yet to become a reality.

The World Bank reports there has been little progress in increasing women’s political representation in the Pacific region over the past decade. In the Solomon Islands only two women have been elected to the national parliament since Independence in 1978, Hilda Kari in the 1980s and recently Vika Lusibaea. In the 2010 national election, women contested 21 of 50 seats, but only received 4 percent of the vote.

On entering the provincial assembly with one other woman, Beverley Dick, Sikilabu perceived a public “desperate for change” and knew it was vital to achieve real outcomes during her first term in office.

“I said to the people, when I’m elected I will improve the things you are facing as problems in the communities,” Sikilabu said.

Water, energy, sanitation and health are some of the basic service needs in the province. Sikilabu strove first to provide electricity to the estimated 1,500 people in 16 remote communities in her ward or electorate.

“After my first four years, I had supplied solar energy systems to every family in every household in every village,” she said. “The children have light, so they can sit in the evening and do their homework. Now their pass marks are getting higher.”

Building and repairing rural health clinics that will serve more than 4,000 people is another achievement.

“Women have babies in their canoe, on the beach and children die from malaria,” Sikilabu said. “In the past we have had men leaders who haven’t done anything to address this problem.”

From the capital, Honiara, she coordinated the shipping of building materials, plumbing equipment, toilets, solar panels and water tanks to the Isabel islands to expedite work on the new clinic in Sigana ward and one under repair in Japuana ward.

“When the new clinic is open, most women will be within walking distance,” Sikilabu said. “Currently they have to paddle their canoes for up to three hours.”

Helen and Patlyn from Gurena village on the main Santa Isabel Island claimed that the efforts of local women leaders had also improved sanitation, housing and agricultural livelihoods through access to farm tools and more productive crops.

Today Isabel is home to two of the total six women in provincial governments in the country.

Through their leadership, “more social problems have been addressed and our voice is being heard on important issues, such as mining and logging,” Judy Tabiru, president of the Isabel Provincial Council of Women in Buala added.

Sikilabu has announced her candidature for the 2014 national election, and her achievements have attracted the attention of four political parties that are keen to have her join them.

However she is adamant that more elected women are needed to influence government policies and social change in a nation ranked 143 out of 187 for human development. For this to happen, addressing persistent gender inequality, in a country where female literacy is an estimated 14 percent, and increasing women’s economic and leadership capacity is critical.

“If we choose women who are educated, automatically they will have the confidence if they are elected to parliament,” Tabiru emphasised. “But for women in the provinces, they have to be trained in public speaking; they have to get more confidence.”

Isabel’s Ministry of Community Affairs conducts village training to develop female participation in decision-making and encourage their public advocacy on important community issues.

National Councils of Women, intergovernmental organisations and international donors also support women’s political aspirations in the region. In August Sikilabu spent time with the deputy speaker of the Victorian State Parliament, Christine Fyffe, as part of a regional mentoring exchange programme organised by the Australian Government’s Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project.

Temporary special measures, in the form of 10 reserved parliamentary seats for women, were proposed in 2008 in the Solomon Islands, but did not gain cabinet approval. Yet Sikilabu believes they are required.

“There are men and women who do not support temporary special measures. They feel it is giving special treatment to women, but in Malaita Province the women’s situation is different to mine in Isabel, so we are not all the same,” she said.

She emphasised it was also a responsibility of currently elected women to ensure that others followed in the future.

“We have to impact more women coming into government by being passionate, coming out in public and talking more and being seen to be addressing issues.”

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Driving Home the Link Between Gender and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/driving-home-the-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=driving-home-the-link-between-gender-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/driving-home-the-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/#comments Mon, 18 Nov 2013 18:38:54 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128908 Panelists at the Gender and Climate Change workshop held Nov. 12 at the COP19 in Warsaw. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Panelists at the Gender and Climate Change workshop held Nov. 12 at the COP19 in Warsaw. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
WARSAW, Nov 18 2013 (IPS)

Tuesday was Gender Day at the COP19 climate summit in Warsaw, and many of the events that took place in the National Stadium focused on the topic of gender and its relation with climate change, and tried to shed a light on problems that require action from policy-makers.

The day opened with the launch of the Environmental Gender Index (EGI), a project of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Lorena Aguilar, IUCN senior gender adviser, explained it to IPS.

“The EGI is the first index of its kind, bringing together measurements of gender and environmental governance; 72 countries have been rated for six different variables, with each one of its indicators,” Aguilar said at the COP19 United Nations Climate Change Conference running Nov. 11-22 in the Polish capital.

The 72 countries were ranked according to their performance in livelihood, gender rights and participation, governance, gender education and assets, ecosystem and country-reported activities. Each of the variables contains a set of indicators to better define their scope.

For example, the ‘gender rights and participation’ variable looks at whether women enjoy equal legal rights, property rights and balanced representation in the decision-making processes.

The first outcome of this extensive research that should be stressed is that in many cases the highest-income group of countries – the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – recorded rather poor performances in reporting about gender, environment and sustainable development.

This might be due to the “perception that gender equality has already been achieved throughout all spheres in the country, including the environmental sector,” but also to a lack of political will, the report observes.

The top three performers in country-reporting to the Rio Conventions on biodiversity, climate change and desertification and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are India, Kenya and Ghana, while “at the lower end of the scores, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Italy do not address gender in any of their latest three Rio Convention reports,” the IUCN study says.

Yet, poverty still goes hand in hand with gender inequality, when it comes to environmental issues as well. This translates into an index that sees the first positions all occupied by OECD countries, with Iceland, Netherlands and Norway in the top three, and Italy closing the list in the 16th position.

Latin American and Caribbean countries appear in the middle of the ranking, with the exception of Panama being among the strongest performers, right after Italy and followed by South Africa. Eurasian countries are also all ranked as moderate performers, with the best being Romania in the 22nd position and the last Uzbekistan in the 39th.

The list of weakest performers is occupied mainly by MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries, with Yemen second to last in the overall ranking; Asian countries, among which India ranks 46th and Pakistan last of the continent in 67th position; and African countries, which account for most of the weakest performers, closing the table with the Democratic Republic of Congo as the worst performer of the sample.

Gender advocates here at the COP also seem to confirm what the ranking shows. It is in the poorest countries that climate change effects have the most different impacts on men and women.

“Because of the socially constructed roles, women in Uganda are culturally required to provide food, cultivate food, prepare it and serve it to their families,” explains Gertrude Kenyangi from Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN) in Uganda.

“Food, energy and water are interconnected, and if you don’t have these three things, which are made even scarcer by climate change, then you won’t be able to fulfil your role, and that alone will create problems between you and your husband, it will probably make your children destitute, and it will affect your entire livelihood.”

Kenyangi escaped that same fate thanks to an educational programme.

“I myself come from a forest-dependent community, but I broke out of that cycle. I happened to be connected with some religious organisations that sponsored my education.” And this is how, after her studies, she founded SWAGEN, a network of grassroots women community-based organisations.

Grassroots movements are paramount to connecting vulnerable people to the governance level, “but you need to make a deliberate effort to reach out to them,” Kenyangi told IPS.

“For instance, Women in Europe for a Common Future (WESC) is a platform that brought me into the debate, so I can bring in the grassroots dimension. Without their support I wouldn’t have the money to come on my own, I couldn’t afford the ticket, the accommodation, not even the registration to this event.

“That’s what changes the vicious cycle – if somebody intervenes from the outside, appreciating that we are all living on this planet and have just one planet,” she said.

Despite the name, WECF’s reach goes way beyond Europe, connecting more than 150 organisations and communities all over the world with the aim of influencing gender-sensitive environmental policies at the international level.

What they want to remind policy-makers of is that climate change is caused by life’s day-to-day decisions and has an impact on everybody’s daily life. But because women and men often have different lifestyles, their activities have a different impact on the environment.

While from a Western point of view it might be hard to imagine how climate change effects can have a different impact on men and women, in many parts of the world, such as areas where subsistence farming is carried out by women, the relationship becomes clearer.

Maira Zahur is part of the GenderCC delegation here at the COP, but back home she works on the policy level with the Pakistani government as an expert on disaster risk reduction.

“In simple terms, I advise them on how to use certain policies on the ground, how they can benefit women, how they should be revised, edited or extended, and how they can be taken to the grassroots level, explaining to people what things are there for their benefit,” she told IPS.

Recently, U.N. Women carried out a study on flood early warning systems in Pakistan, looking at different aspects, such as the social composition in the different areas, whether men are based in such areas or are working outside, how women make decisions if there are no men in the home, whether they are able to make their own choices in case of a flood warning or are dependent on males in the home or in the streets.

The study reported that “hesitation about taking women and girls out of the protected environment of homes” was one of the reasons for people not to leave their houses even when they had been warned in advance.

The report further analysed several gender-related issues arising inside relief camps for flood victims, from food access to hygiene implications and security problems faced by women.

“That’s why when you make policies such as early warnings, you need to take into account gender issues,” Zahur underlined.

Women’s involvement at all decision-making levels seems to be, if not a solution, at least a first essential step to addressing these policy gaps.

The attention towards gender-related issues within the climate change debate is growing, as shown by the decision adopted at last year’s climate summit in Doha to promote gender balance and participation by women in the UNFCCC negotiations, as well as by the big turnout at the Workshop on Gender and Climate Change held here on Tuesday Nov. 12.

Yet Zahur seems sceptical about possible advances during the conference. “We are all so involved in plenaries, contact groups, side events, that the basic purpose for which we are here is kind of lost. We need to find solutions that can help people at the grassroots level. That should be the major motivation. But here a lot of blah blah blah is happening, this is so tedious,” she sadly concluded.

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Women Find a Green Midas Touchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/women-find-a-green-midas-touch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-find-a-green-midas-touch http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/11/women-find-a-green-midas-touch/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 08:03:35 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=128583 Anisa Begum (right) I among countless women leading a green revolution in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS.

Anisa Begum (right) I among countless women leading a green revolution in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS.

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Nov 5 2013 (IPS)

On a hot and humid day in northwestern Bangladesh, Anisa Begum sits with a group of 25 homemakers, explaining how to use natural fertilisers to increase grain yield.

The 47-year-old mother of two tells them if men can grow crops and make money, so can women. She is a leader of the Common Interest Group (CIG) that brings together women who want to take up farming in this South Asian nation.

Begum has got hands-on training from the local agriculture office on how to maximise crop yield from natural fertilisers. She and nine other successful women farmers last year visited Vietnam, a country known for its efficient grain harvest.“More than two million farmers, 30 percent of them women, are now adopting new technologies in project areas in the northwestern districts.”

“This is a wonderful feeling,” a smiling Begum tells IPS, standing at the courtyard of her home in Islampur village in Rangpur district in northern Bangladesh.

This year she has trained a dozen or so fellow CIG members in the Pairabond area of Rangpur, 255 km from the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, and says an increasing number of women have been showing interest in new and improved farm practices.

The CIGs, formed with the help of local agriculture offices, are part of a programme to enhance farm productivity for food security in Bangladesh – the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP).

“It is absolutely incredible,” says NATP monitoring and evaluation officer Mizanur Rahman. “More than two million farmers, 30 percent of them women, are now adopting new technologies in project areas in the northwestern districts.”

The areas in greater Rangpur region are known for good quality grains and vegetables, thanks to the soil quality. The nation depends on the farmers of this region for high quality grains and other farm produce.

But traditionally women have been more involved in household work than agriculture. A study titled ‘Economic contribution of women in Bangladesh’ reveals that just about 21 percent of women in rural areas are directly engaged in agriculture compared to 78 percent of men. The study was carried out in 2008 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics with several partners.

So the idea behind the free training to women was also to encourage small entrepreneurship in agriculture. The local agriculture office has been very supportive.

Sarwarul Haque, agriculture officer in Mithapukur sub-district, tells IPS: “Initially we had a hard time convincing women to invest more time in agriculture. We demonstrated how they could adopt new technologies and reap benefits.”

Through the CIGs, women learn new technologies such as cultivating drought-resistant and high yielding aromatic rice, vermicomposting and planting all-season tomato seeds that keep the crop free of the leaf curl disease.

Rowshan Ara, a successful woman agriculturist in Pairabond, tells IPS: “When the demonstrations began in Islampur village, there were hardly any women who showed an interest in agriculture.

“Today out of about 5,500 people in Islampur, 1,200 are farmers, and over 40 percent of them are women involved in farming.”

Before joining the CIGs, many of the women used to be farm labourers, earning as little as Taka 70 (88 cents) a day for 10 hours of physical labour, cultivating and harvesting rice.

A woman farm labourer, depending on the season and the size of the cropland, can make a maximum of Taka 1,500 or 20 dollars a month.

Increasing participation in agriculture has changed things. A woman can now earn anything between Taka 5,000 and 8,000 (64 dollars and 100 dollars) a month by growing fine quality grain that is in great demand abroad.

Momena Begum, 42, says, “I chose vermicomposting and by the end of last year I sold vermin [red earthworms] worth 4,500 dollars. I made a nearly 30 percent profit.”

Vermicomposting has become very popular as farmers reap rich benefits from a healthy soil. It is cheaper than chemicals (less than 25 cents a kg). Producing pest free seeds at home is another popular practice.

Parul Sarkar, Momena Begum’s neighbour in Pairabond, says: “I learnt how to produce natural fertiliser from decomposed water hyacinth. The plants are available in plenty, so there is hardly any need for big investment. The fertiliser gives one and a half times the yield compared to chemical fertilisers in vegetables. With a small investment I started supplying the local market.”

Sarkar made over 380 dollars from the sale of natural fertilisers in the first quarter of this year. The income was in addition to the 90 dollars her husband earned from hard labour harvesting crops.

A growing number of women have been joining the CIGs. From less than 20 such groups in Mithapukur in 2009, the number has now gone up to more than 240.

Such efforts to boost national food production are designed and jointly funded by the World Bank, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the government in a 82.6 million dollar project known as the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP).

Adopting new technology in agriculture has had tremendous impact. Retailers, brokers and wholesalers prefer to market natural fertiliser-based vegetables and grains as they are cheaper compared to crops grown with chemical fertilisers.

“The potatoes and tomatoes grown using natural fertilisers show a healthy and glazed look,” says Raja Miah, a wholesaler in Bogra district. “One can tell the difference.”

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Technology and Innovation Aim at Greater Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/technology-and-innovation-aim-at-greater-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=technology-and-innovation-aim-at-greater-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/07/technology-and-innovation-aim-at-greater-food-security/#comments Sat, 27 Jul 2013 11:21:20 +0000 Cydney Hargis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=126067 Through a Feed the Future project in Kenya, smallholder farmers, particularly women, are introduced to high-value crops such as orange flesh sweet potatoes that can both boost household food security and increase incomes. Credit: Fintrac Inc.

Through a Feed the Future project in Kenya, smallholder farmers, particularly women, are introduced to high-value crops such as orange flesh sweet potatoes that can both boost household food security and increase incomes. Credit: Fintrac Inc.

By Cydney Hargis
WASHINGTON, Jul 27 2013 (IPS)

In the face of global climate change and currency devaluation, improved strategies are being used to combat high international poverty and malnutrition rates, and to increase global food security. 

The  administrator of  the the U.S. Agency for International Development  (USAID), Dr. Rajiv Shah, this week announced two new innovation labs at Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

“The U.S. has a proud history of providing food and services to the most in need countries,” said Shah at a Feed the Future progress report on Capitol Hill Thursday.  “It will continue to be our goal to modernise and strengthen these programmes, to create a pathway from receiving food when you are hungry to living in a food secure society.”

One of the recently announced labs, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum & Millet is a partnership between the organisation and Kansas State University.

The lab will attempt to find new technologies and techniques for smallholder farmers to use in order to ensure that their productivity of grasses raised for grain, including sorghum and millet, increases in times of climate change.

“The perspective from us is that we think the emphasis that has been given to agriculture is critical, not just for food security but for economic development and growth in developing countries overall,” senior policy advisor on agriculture and food security at the advocacy organisation Oxfam International, Eric Munoz, told IPS.

“We certainly have questions about USAID’s direction, but they are intended to strengthen their direction as opposed to redirect them.”

The second of the two new labs, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security, is a partnership with a number of universities including Michigan State University and the University of Pretoria.  The lab will attempt to improve food security policies and increase private sector investments to support smallholder farmers.

“The food security policy innovation lab is intended to increase the body of knowledge and understanding of the best way to go about influencing policy and what the best ones are to accelerate the impact that we are trying to achieve,” the food policy advisor for USAID’s Food Security Bureau, David Atwood, told IPS.

Both of these labs will focus on Senegal, Niger and Ethiopia.

“If you look at the big food crises, some 17 million people were affected in 2012, including people in those three countries,” Munoz told IPS.  “They have large populations of food insecure and hungry people.  Focusing on those countries makes a lot of sense.”

A gender lens

Launched in 2011, Feed the Future issues annual reports analysing progress during the fiscal year.  The reports outline overall goals for 2015 and yearly targets along the way.

“The programme is still just a couple years in so we are starting to see some nice results, especially on nutrition,” Katie Lee, advocacy and policy coordinator for international development at the alliance of nongovernmental organisations InterAction, told IPS.

“More gendered data were provided in this second progress report, but the data show that work needs to be done to make sure the programme is reaching more women.”

According to the report, Feed the Future has met the majority of the goals it set for fiscal year 2012 in terms of who is receiving aid and how it is benefitting them.  Leaders at the organisation say that they put more of an emphasis on providing food aid to women.

“Women tend to invest more in family and child education and health, so investing in women can really help take the whole development effort a long way,” Atwood told IPS.

According to Feed the Future, women make up 45 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and if they were given the same access to land as men, their agricultural output could potentially reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million.

In 2011, Feed the Future supported a group of 65 female farmers in Ghana for five months by training them in record keeping, planning and management.  The group was eventually able to buy new technologies to increase their rice production.

“The progress report is not just about technology, it’s an opportunity to understand where we can do better,” said Shah at the talk on Capitol Hill.  “We’ve gendered out data and learned that we have a great deal further to go to ensure that every dollar is preferentially benefitting women and girls.”

By fiscal year 2013, Feed the Future hopes to see over 15 million rural households directly benefit from U.S. government intervention, over eight million people apply for technologies or management as a result of intervention, and over 13 million children under the age of five have access to U.S.-supported nutrition programmes.

“We want to ensure that when American assistance touches the lives of the hungry, we help them immediately and help them stand on their own two feet in the future,” said Shah.

“When we lead with our values and we partner with our great academic and scientific institutions, our efforts are recognised an appreciated.”

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Women’s Time Has Comehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/womens-time-has-come/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-time-has-come http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/womens-time-has-come/#comments Mon, 17 Jun 2013 18:08:27 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=119974 Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to FAO H.E. Bérengére Quincy. Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to FAO H.E. Bérengére Quincy. Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

By Claudia Ciobanu
ROME, Jun 17 2013 (IPS)

Closing the gender gap between women and men on agriculture and food security could free over one hundred million people from hunger. 

Women represent 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce yet they have access to disproportionately less land and productive resources, according to FAO’s report The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011.

Not only are they discriminated against in terms of access to credit and land, but they also are burdened with more house and family care chores and are more likely to be in precarious and low-paid employment.

During this week’s biannual conference in Rome, FAO announced the mainstreaming of gender across all its policies and put its gender policy for discussion in front of the national delegations.“In order to close the gender gap, it is not enough to adopt the gender lens." - ActionAid International’s Alberta Guerra

Observers of FAO’s work on gender argue that the organisation has made very good progress over the past years, and that the basic necessary documents and normative frameworks needed for closing the gender gap are now in place.

But care must now be paid to implementation.

“Gender mainstreaming is necessary but not a guarantee,” Berengere Quincy, France’s representative to FAO, tells TerraViva. “The mainstreaming needs to be backed up by better knowledge and expertise and followed up with clear objectives and indicators of progress.”

In many places around the world, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen pointed out in his speech given in Rome at the kickoff of the FAO biannual conference, women are also discriminated against when it comes to nutrition, with men systematically getting the best food. In turn, this weakens women’s chances of meeting their full potential.

FAO’s report quoted above further points out that granting women equal access to land and resources as men would increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, which in turn would lead to raising agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four percent and saving 100 to 150 million people from malnourishment.

In response to these realities – and to pressures from civil society – FAO has over the past two years made significant progress on turning itself into an organisation focused on closing the gender gap when it comes to food security.

The 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture report was for the first time focused on women’s role in the global food system. Importantly, it brought quantitative data to support the idea that empowering women contributes significantly to FAO’s mission of defeating hunger, which in turn contributed to gender issues being embraced across FAO departments.

In 2012, the organisation published a Gender Policy which aims to both prioritise gender issues in the FAO’s own structure and programmes and to increase capacities for promoting gender equality in the countries where FAO operates.

Several countries (Switzerland, Norway and the United States) as well as the European Union warned that clear targets and implementation mechanisms, alongside a sufficient budget, are crucial to add to the current plans if FAO is serious about gender equality.

This year’s conference is expected to endorse a budget for 2014/2015 that would leave the amounts for gender issues unchanged from the previous budget period 2013/2014, that is, 21.8 million dollars.

This amount represented a doubling of the 9.8 million dollars corresponding to the 2010/2011 following pressures of gender rights supporters within and outside FAO, and represents a 2.1 percent of the overall net appropriation. Over the next years, FAO is expected to set a target for gender spending which could even exceed the 2.1 percent.

ActionAid International’s Alberta Guerra, whose group has been advocating for a gender policy and gender mainstreaming at FAO for years, says that it is important that the organisation keeps up the momentum of promoting gender equality.

That would mean paying attention to implementation of the current commitments and making sure that a solid budget comes together with the objectives stated out in the policy documents.

“In order to close the gender gap, it is not enough to adopt the gender lens. It is essential that, in addition to that, interventions that target, specifically, women’s needs are put into place,” Guerra says.

“The policy is very forward looking. It’s not just a policy for FAO, but a policy for its members, a policy which tries to set objectives and goals that everyone concerned about food and agriculture is trying to achieve,” says Eve Crowley, FAO deputy director for gender, equity and rural development.

“It’s important to build a momentum around these objectives and goals among all stakeholders.”

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Digging Deep for New Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/digging-deep-for-new-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=digging-deep-for-new-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/digging-deep-for-new-conflict/#comments Sat, 16 Mar 2013 18:55:04 +0000 Pierre Klochendler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=117223 The Palestinian village Zaatara at the foot of Herodion. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

The Palestinian village Zaatara at the foot of Herodion. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.

By Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM, Mar 16 2013 (IPS)

If Herod the Great was a controversial figure of his time, 2,000 years on the controversy isn’t about his legacy; it’s about who holds the rights to excavate and preserve his artefacts.

A new exhibition at the Israel Museum which, for the first time, displays the king’s relics, might serve as a great tribute to him, but is also a powerful reminder of how the history of the Holy Land and today’s conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have become intertwined.

On top of a hill “raised to a greater height by the hand of man; rounded off in the shape of a breast,” as Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian of Rome described it, the old monarch had a fortress-palace erected as memorial for himself; and named it after himself – Herodion for Herod.

Herodion, from where the bulk of the exhibition originates, is visible from Jerusalem and dominates the Judaean desert, since 1967 part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank which the Palestinians seek as part of their future state.

Herodion is in Area C, namely 62 percent of the West Bank maintained under full Israeli control since the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords. An Israeli military base protects the site.

The Holy Land changed hands time and again since Herod’s time, but at 758 metres high, the lay of the land looks unchanged – at first glance.

Dotting the surroundings, Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages vie for rights to the land.

Appointed by the Romans, Herod ruled the vassal kingdom of Judaea, part of the Palaestina province of the Roman Empire, for 33 years between 37 and 4 BCE.

“He was a cultural bridge, working on both sides, caught between the exigencies of the Roman Empire and that of Judaism,” says David Mevorah, the exhibition’s curator. “By his people he was regarded as a convert Jew; by Rome as a client king. But Judaea prospered in his time.”

Exquisite tableware from glass and fine and glossy red roman pottery; a statue of Cleopatra, the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt; a decorated basin, a gift from his patron Emperor Augustus, whose bust is on display; his royal highness’s bath – all were found in situ.

Adorned with stucco and rare frescoes of sacred landscapes and navy battles painted with pigments on plaster, also imported from Herodion is the royal chamber.

The jewel of Herod’s crown, so to speak, is the reconstruction of his mausoleum which sheltered what archaeologists believe is the sarcophagus in which his body was placed. The man surely possessed a taste for the arts – even on his deathbed.  “He was very aware of historic memory,” comments the curator.

Here nowadays, historic memory refers mostly to competitive national quests.

Excavations at Herodion began in 1972 under Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer. “No one asked us or consulted us, then or now,” protests Jamal Amro, a Palestinian scholar from Bir Zeit University familiar with the site.

“The Israelis plundered Herodion,” he adds. “Israel uses archaeology to shape history and validate the country’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

After prolonged exploration, Netzer uncovered Herod’s tomb in 2007. Two years later, he died in tragic circumstances at the site.

It took three more years to move some 30 tonnes of carved masonry from Herodion to the museum. “We actually moved thousands of fragments to our laboratories, working intensively from here on restoration and reconstruction,” says Mevorah.

“We’ve performed quite an important role for world cultural heritage,” says Israel Museum director James Snyder. But the self-complimentary effusion has been short-lived.

Palestinians complain that Israeli archaeological activities in Palestinian territories are illegal. “According to international law, this is a crime,” declares Amro. “Israel must recognise the rights of the Palestinian nation to their historical sites.”

The Israeli government lists Herodion as a national heritage site. Granted full membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Palestinian Authority now wants to nominate Herodion for recognition as a world heritage site.

“The Oslo Accord makes Israel responsible for custodianship over archaeology in the West Bank until a final settlement is reached,” retorts Snyder.

A ruthless ruler who had the last lineage of the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled before him executed, including high priests, opponents, his beloved second wife and three of his children, Herod was feared by his subjects. In Christianity, he’s ‘Horrid Herod’, thought of as a serial baby killer.

At the museum, he is mostly remembered as a master builder for his colossal projects, including expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem revered in Judaism. Centuries later, the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary would be edified on its ruins.

For Amro, “Herod and Herodion are important not only to Jews but to Christians and Muslims. We should be in charge.”

“We borrowed the artefacts as authorised loans; we’ll retrocede them once the exhibition wraps by year’s end,” assures Snyder.

The question is where the relics will be returned to, and to whom. “To the authority in charge of archaeology in the West Bank,” clarifies Mevorah. That is, to the ‘Civil Administration’, a well-known euphemism for Israeli military authorities in the West Bank.

“They’ll never give back the artefacts to us, forget it,” protests Amro, not sure himself whether “it” refers to the site and its treasures or to the West Bank.

“When Israel signed the Camp David peace accord with Egypt in 1979 and withdrew from Sinai,” recalls Snyder, “there was a very intelligent division of material: what related to Egyptian heritage was returned to Egypt; what related to Jewish heritage stayed with Israel.”

Would such a model be applicable to Israel and Palestine were peace to be signed between them? “I’m just a museum director, but it was well done,” says Snyder.

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