Inter Press Service » Global Governance http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Jun 2015 23:55:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Perfecting Detection of the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/perfecting-detection-of-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perfecting-detection-of-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/perfecting-detection-of-the-bomb/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 23:55:07 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141371 CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo introducing the panel discussion on 'Citizen Networks: The Promise of Technological Innovation' at SnT2015 in Vienna, June 2015. Photo credit: CTBTO

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo introducing the panel discussion on 'Citizen Networks: The Promise of Technological Innovation' at SnT2015 in Vienna, June 2015. Photo credit: CTBTO

By Ramesh Jaura
VIENNA, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

An international conference has highlighted advances made in detecting nuclear explosions,tracking storms or clouds of volcanic ash, locating epicentres of earthquakes, monitoring the drift of huge icebergs, observing the movements of marine mammals, and detecting plane crashes.

The five-day ‘Science and Technology 2015 Conference’ (SnT2015), which ended Jun. 26, was the fifth in a series of multi-disciplinary conferences organised by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which has been based in the Austrian capital since 1997.

The conference was attended by more than 1100 scientists and other experts, policy makers and representatives of national agencies, independent academic research institutions and civil society organisations from around the world.“With a strong verification regime and its cutting edge technology, there is no excuse for further delaying the [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty] CTBT’s entry into force” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

SnT2015 drew attention to an important finding of CTBTO sensors: the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was the largest to hit Earth in at least a century.

Participants also heard that the Air Algérie flight between Burkina Faso and Algeria which crashed in Mali in July 2014 was detected by the CTBTO’s monitoring station in Cote d’Ivoire, 960 kilometres from the impact of the aircraft.

The importance of SnT2015 lies in the fact that CTBTO is tasked with campaigning for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which outlaws nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. It also aims to develop reliable tools to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected.

These include seismic, hydro-acoustic, infrasound (frequencies too low to be heard by the human ear), and radionuclide sensors. Scientists and other experts demonstrated and explained in presentations and posters how the four state-of-the-art technologies work in practice.

170 seismic stations monitor shockwaves in the Earth, the vast majority of which are caused by earthquakes. But man-made explosions such as mine explosions or the announced North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 have also been detected.

CTBTO’s 11 hydro-acoustic stations “listen” for sound waves in the oceans. Sound waves from explosions can travel extremely far underwater. Sixty infrasound stations on the Earth’s surface can detect ultra-low frequency sound waves that are emitted by large explosions.

CTBTO’s 80 radionuclide stations measure the atmosphere for radioactive particles; 40 of them also pick up noble gas, the “smoking gun” from an underground nuclear test. Only these measurements can give a clear indication as to whether an explosion detected by the other methods was actually nuclear or not. Sixteen laboratories support radionuclide stations.

When complete, CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS) will consist of 337 facilities spanning the globe to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. Nearly 90 percent of the facilities are already up and running.

An important theme of the conference was performance optimisation which, according to W. Randy Bell, Director of CTBTO’s International Data Centre (IDC), “will have growing relevance as we sustain and recapitalise the IMS and IDC in the year ahead.”

In the past 20 years, the international community has invested more than one billion dollars in the global monitoring system whose data can be used by CTBTO member states – and not only for test ban verification purposes. All stations are connected through satellite links to the IDC in Vienna.

“Our stations do not necessarily have to be in the same country as the event, but in fact can detect events from far outside from where they are located. For example, the last DPRK (North Korean) nuclear test was picked up as far as Peru,” CTBTO’s Public Information Officer Thomas Mützelburg told IPS.

“Our 183 member states have access to both the raw data and the analysis results. Through their national data centres, they study both and arrive at their own conclusion as to the possible nature of events detected,” he said. Scientists from Papua New Guinea and Argentina said they found the data “extremely useful”.

Stressing the importance of data sharing, CTBTO Executive Secretary, Lassina Zerbo, said in an interview with Nature: “If you make your data available, you connect with the outside scientific community and you keep abreast of developments in science and technology. Not only does it make the CTBTO more visible, it also pushes us to think outside the box. If you see that data can serve another purpose, that helps you to step back a little bit, look at the broader picture and see how you can improve your detection.”

Photo credit: CTBTO

Photo credit: CTBTO

In opening remarks to the conference, Zerbo said: “You will have heard me say again and again that I am passionate about this organisation. Today I am not only passionate but very happy to see all of you who share this passion: a passion for science in the service of peace. It gives me hope for the future of our children that the best and brightest scientists of our time congregate to perfect the detection of the bomb instead of working to perfect the bomb itself.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the tone in a message to the conference when he said: “With a strong verification regime and its cutting edge technology, there is no excuse for further delaying the CTBT’s entry into force.”

South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, pointed out that her country “is a committed and consistent supporter” of CTBTO. She added: “South Africa has been at the forefront of nuclear non-proliferation in Africa for over twenty years. We gave up our nuclear arsenal and signed the Pelindaba Treaty in 1996, which establishes Africa as a nuclear weapons-free zone, a zone that only came into force in July 2009.

Beside the presentations by scientists, discussion panels addressed topics of current special interest in the CTBT monitoring community. One alluded to the role of science in on-site inspections (OSIs), which are provided for under the Treaty after it enters into force.

This discussion benefited from the experience of the 2014 Integrated Field Exercise (IFE14) in Jordan. “IFE14 was the largest and most comprehensive such exercise so far conducted in the build-up of CTBTO’s OSI capabilities,” said IDC director Bell.

Participants also had an opportunity to listen to a discussion on the opportunities that new and emerging technologies can play in overcoming the challenges of nuclear security. Members of the Technology for Global Security (Tech4GS) group joined former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry in a panel discussion on ‘Citizen Networks: the Promise of Technological Innovation’.

“We are verging on another nuclear arms race,” said Perry. “I do not think that it is irreversible. This is the time to stop and reflect, debate the issue and see if there’s some third choice, some alternative, between doing nothing and having a new arms race.”

A feature of the conference was the CTBT Academic Forum focused on ‘Strengthening the CTBT through Academic Engagement’, at which Bob Frye, prestigious Emmy award-winning producer and director of documentaries and network news programme, pleaded for the need to inspire “the next generation of critical thinkers” to help usher in a world free of nuclear tests and atomic weapons of mass destruction.

The forum also provided an overview of impressive CTBT online educational resources and experiences with teaching the CTBT from the perspective of teachers and professors in Austria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Pakistan and Russia.

With a view to bridging science and policy, the forum discussed ‘technical education for policymakers and policy education for scientists’ with the participation of eminent experts, including Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy; Nikolai Sokov of the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies; Ference Dalnoki-Veress of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies; Edward Ifft of the Center for Security Studies, Georgetown; and Matt Yedlin of the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia.

There was general agreement on the need to integrate technical issues of CTBT into training for diplomats and other policymakers, and increasing awareness of CTBT and broader nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policy issues within the scientific community.

Yet another panel – comprising Jean du Preez, chief of CTBTO’s external relations, protocol and international cooperation, Piece Corden of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Thomas Blake of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and Jenifer Mackby of the Federation of American Scientists – looked ahead with a view to forging new and better links with and beyond academia, effectively engaging with the civil society, the youth and the media.

“Progress comes in increments,” said one panellist, “but not by itself.”

[With inputs from Valentina Gasbarri]

Edited by Phil Harris    

The writer can be contacted at headquarters@ips.org

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Toilets with Piped Music for Rich, Open Defecation on Rail Tracks for Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/toilets-with-piped-music-for-rich-open-defecation-on-rail-tracks-for-poor/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 21:34:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141368 Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

Children investigate their community's newly improved toilets, one of UNOCI's “quick impact projects” (QIPS) which supported the rehabilitation of schools and toilets in Abidjan. Credit: UN Photo/Patricia Esteve

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

As most developing nations fall short of meeting their goals on sanitation, the world’s poorest countries have been lagging far behind, according to a new U.N. report released here.

The Joint Monitoring Programme report, ‘Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment’, authored by the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), says one in three people, or 2.4 billion worldwide, are still without sanitation facilities – including 946 million people who defecate in the open.“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces." -- Tim Brewer of WaterAid

“What the data really show is the need to focus on inequalities as the only way to achieve sustainable progress,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, head of UNICEF’s global water, sanitation and hygiene programmes.

“The global model so far has been that the wealthiest move ahead first, and only when they have access do the poorest start catching up. If we are to reach universal access to sanitation by 2030, we need to ensure the poorest start making progress right away,” he said.

Pointing out the existing inequities, the report says progress on sanitation has been hampered by inadequate investments in behaviour change campaigns, lack of affordable products for the poor, and social norms which accept or even encourage open defecation.

Although some 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world has missed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target by nearly 700 million people.

Today, only 68 per cent of the world’s population uses an improved sanitation facility – 9 percentage points below the MDG target of 77 per cent.

Still, the world has made “spectacular progress” in water, Jeffrey O’Malley, Director, Data, at UNICEF’s Research and Policy Division, told reporters Tuesday.

In 2015, 91 percent of the global population used an improved drinking water source, up from 76 percent in 1990, while 6.6 billion people have access to improved drinking water.

The total without access globally is now 663 million, almost a 100 million fewer than last year’s estimate, and the first time the number has fallen below 700 million.

As the MDGs expire this year, the goal on water has been met overall, but with wide gaps remaining, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal on sanitation, however, has failed dramatically. At present rates of progress it would take 300 years for everyone in Sub-Saharan Africa to get access to a sanitary toilet, said the report.

Tim Brewer, Policy Analyst on Monitoring and Accountability at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the MDG goal on water was met largely because of those who were easiest to reach.

“The poorest are often still being left behind. What we need to do in the new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), now under negotiation, is to make sure that progress for the poorest is made the headline figure.”

“We cannot have another situation where we appear to be succeeding because the situation of the comparatively wealthy has improved, even as millions of people are still falling ill from dirty water or from environments that are contaminated with faeces,” he noted.

Brewer said monitoring is key: “We need to measure basic access for the poor, as well as measuring other indicators such as whether water is safe and affordable, and whether wastewater is safely treated.”

“This is the only way to make sure we reach everyone, everywhere by 2030 and hold governments accountable to their promises,” he argued.

In countries like Japan and South Korea, according to published reports, sanitation is far beyond a basic necessity: it has the trappings of luxury with piped in music, automatic flushing, and in some cases, scenic window views — even while millions in developing nations defecate openly in nearby rural jungles or on rail tracks (with their bowel movements apparently being coordinated with train schedules, according to a New York Times report.)

The practice of open defecation is also linked to a higher risk of stunting – or chronic malnutrition – which affects 161 million children worldwide, leaving them with irreversible physical and cognitive damage.

“To benefit human health it is vital to further accelerate progress on sanitation, particularly in rural and underserved areas,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

Asked if it would be realistic for sanitation goals to be rolled into the proposed SDGs with a target date of 2030, UNICEF’s Wijesekera told IPS that an even more ambitious sanitation target is suggested for the new SDG agenda – to eliminate open defecation and achieve universal access to sanitation.

“I think the goal of achieving universal access to sanitation by 2030 is possible, but only if we start focusing on the poorest and most vulnerable right now (rather than waiting for the wealthiest to gain access first, as has historically been the case).”

He said: “We can also learn from the successes of the past 25 years, and especially the last 15. A number of countries have made rapid gains during the MDG era.’

For example, he pointed out, Ethiopia has reduced open defecation rates by 64 percentage points and Thailand has closed the gap in access between the richest and the poorest.

This shows what is possible when countries recognise the importance of tackling inequalities in access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), thus unlocking wider benefits in health, nutrition, education and economic productivity, he noted.

Asked how the sanitation problem can be resolved, Wijesekera told IPS: “Sanitation is not rocket science; most developed countries take it for granted.”

“But our experience on the ground in developing countries shows that it is not just a question of governments investing money and technology. It is also about changing ordinary people’s attitudes and behaviours, and this takes time,” he said.

Sanitation can best be addressed by countries establishing and investing in people and systems at a local level to change people’s behaviours, and to get the private sector engaged in providing affordable and good quality products and services for the poor.

This, he said, needs to be led by countries themselves, and donors, international organisations and the private sector all have a role in providing financing and expertise.

He also said there is a growing awareness of the importance of sanitation as a foundation for human and economic development.

World leaders – from the U.N. Secretary-General, to the President of the World Bank, to the Prime Minister of India – are all talking about it.

“We need to translate this high level political support into action in order for all people to have access to what is theirs as a human right: clean drinking water and adequate sanitation,” said Wijesekera.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Cuba: Blazing a Trail in the Fight Against HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cuba-blazing-a-trail-in-the-fight-against-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-blazing-a-trail-in-the-fight-against-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/cuba-blazing-a-trail-in-the-fight-against-hivaids/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 20:13:17 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141366 Providing pregnant mothers with antiretroviral medicines can reduce the risk of HIV transmission from 45 percent to just one percent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Providing pregnant mothers with antiretroviral medicines can reduce the risk of HIV transmission from 45 percent to just one percent, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

In 2013, an estimated 240,000 children were born with HIV. This was an improvement from 2009, when 400,000 babies tested positive for the infection, but still a far cry from the global target of reducing total child infections to 40,000 by 2015.

Bucking the global trend, one small island nation has made gigantic strides towards the 2015 goal. That country is Cuba, and in 2013 it recorded just two babies born with HIV.

Today, Cuba has become the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé said in a press release today, “This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere. It shows that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible and we expect Cuba to be the first of many countries coming forward to seek validation that they have ended their epidemics among children.”

Every single year, over 1.4 million women living with HIV become pregnant. Without proper treatment, they run a 15-45 percent chance of transmitting the virus to their kids – during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding.

But if both mother and child receive proper antiretroviral treatment, the risk of transmission falls to just one percent.

Since 2010, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), which serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the WHO, has been working with its partners in Cuba and other states in the region to roll out a comprehensive programme to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of both HIV and syphilis.

This process has involved improving early access to prenatal care, testing for pregnant women and their partners, caesarean deliveries and substitution of breastfeeding.

Such services were undertaken and provided within the larger framework of equitable access and universal healthcare, in which maternal and child health is integrated with programmes to combat sexually transmitted diseases.

“Cuba’s success demonstrates that universal access and universal health coverage are feasible and indeed are the key to success, even against challenges as daunting as HIV,” PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne said in a statement on Jun. 30.

“Cuba’s achievement today provides inspiration for other countries to advance towards elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis,” she added.

WHO and its partners first published comprehensive guidelines on the processes and criteria for validation of eliminating mother-to-child transmissions in 2014.

Because treatment and prevention can never be 100 percent effective, ‘elimination’ is defined as “a reduction of transmission to such a low level that it no longer constitutes a public health problem”, according to PAHO.

In March of 2015, a group of international experts visited Cuba to assess its progress towards the elimination target, and spent five days visiting health clinics, labs and government institutions interviewing a range of experts and other stakeholders.

Comprised of experts from 10 countries including Argentina, Japan and Zambia, the mission considered a number of indicators – all of which must be met for at least one year – including confirming that new child infections as a result of mother-to-child transmissions are less than 50 cases per 100,000 live births.

Other indicators, which must be met for at least two years in order to receive validation, include ascertaining that more than 95 percent of HIV-positive women know their status, receive at least one ante-natal visit, and receive antiretroviral drugs.

“Eliminating transmission of a virus is one of the greatest public health achievements possible,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan announced on Jun. 30.

“This is a major victory in our long fight against HIV and sexually transmitted infections, and an important step towards having an AIDS-free generation,” she added.

According to the World AIDS Day 2014 Report, there were 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2013. Since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s, 39 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses and close to 78 million have become infected with HIV.

Thanks to sustained local and global efforts to fight the epidemic, the death toll has fallen significantly in the past decade, from 2.4 million deaths in 2005 to 1.5 million in 2013, representing a 35-percent decline.

New infections have also declined by an estimated 38 percent since 2001, from 3.4 million to 2.1 million in 2013.

Among children, new infections have fallen from an estimated 580,000 in 2001 to 240,000 in 2013. If more countries emulate Cuba’s example, the international community will be closer to its 2015 goals, and the ultimate goal of eliminating AIDS altogether.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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China Hailed as Leader for New Climate Planhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/china-hailed-as-leader-for-new-climate-plan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-hailed-as-leader-for-new-climate-plan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/china-hailed-as-leader-for-new-climate-plan/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:55:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141364 A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Environmental groups are praising China following the formal submission of Beijing’s highly-anticipated climate change strategy to the United Nations Tuesday.

The plan includes a commitment to peak emissions around the year 2030, reduce carbon intensity 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix by about 20 percent by 2030.

The pledges are part of China’s so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which every country must submit ahead of the December U.N. climate talks in Paris (COP21). At that high-level meeting, a global climate deal is expected to be agreed which will come into force by 2025.

“China’s INDC is a positive boost to the ongoing international climate change process leading to Paris,” said Changhua Wu, Greater China Director of The Climate Group. “China’s efforts to align its domestic growth agenda and global climate change agenda is a leading example of how a fundamental shift is needed to grow the economy differently.”

According to data from The Climate Group, China is currently the world’s biggest investor in clean energy, spending a record 89.5 billion dollars last year to account for almost a third of the world’s total renewables investment.

China’s rapid economic growth is still largely based on coal, which still accounts for two-thirds of its energy mix. However, the growth of its renewables sector is already having an impact, with the National Bureau of Statistics of China reporting that in 2014 coal consumption fell 2.9 percent even while its total energy consumption grew, thanks to a 16.9 percent share from clean energy including wind and hydro.

Jennifer Morgan, Global Climate Director, Climate Program, World Resources Institute, said Tuesday that, “China’s plan reflects its firm commitment to address the climate crisis. Already, 40 countries have released their national commitments, showing the growing momentum behind international climate action this year.

“China is largely motivated by its strong national interests to tackle persistent air pollution problems, limit climate impacts and expand its renewable energy job force,” she said in a statement. “More than 3.4 million people in China are already working in the clean energy sector.”

China currently accounts for a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions and one-third of the G20’s (which as a group produces 75 percent of the world’s emissions).

At the moment, the world seems set on a path for a potentially catastrophic temperature rise of up to 4 degrees C., not the less than 2 degrees that is seen as a critical threshhold, according to Janos Pasztor, the U.N.’s assistant secretary general and Ban Ki-moon’s chief adviser on climate change.

Around 40 countries have submitted INDCs thus far, but experts believe bolder targets are needed across the board.

The International Energy Agency has already warned that the INDCs submitted “will have a positive impact on future energy trends, but fall short of the major course correction required to meet the 2 Celsius degrees goal.”

“It is clear that China’s plan to tackle carbon emissions and build an economy on renewables and clean technology is firmly embedded at the highest level of government. We hope that India, Brazil and others will soon follow and show the required level of ambition,” said Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group.

A survey released earlier this month found that China leads the world in public support for government action on climate change.

Some 60 percent of respondents in China favour a leadership role for their country, versus 44 percent in the United States and 41 percent in Britain.

And a new study by the London School of Economics (LSE) predicts that China’s greenhouse gas emissions could peak by 2025, five years earlier than the time frame indicated by Beijing, thanks to steady reductions in coal consumption.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Foreign Investment Fell Worldwide in 2014, U.N. Sayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/foreign-investment-fell-worldwide-in-2014-u-n-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-investment-fell-worldwide-in-2014-u-n-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/foreign-investment-fell-worldwide-in-2014-u-n-says/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 16:25:27 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141363 By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows in 2014 declined 16 per cent to 1.2 trillion dollars, according to this year’s newly released World Investment Report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The UNCTAD report pointed to the fragility of the global economy, policy uncertainty for investors and elevated geopolitical risks as factors contributing to the drop in FDI. New investments were also offset by some large divestments.

However, FDI rose slightly to developing economies, which extended their lead in global inflows of investment. China is now the largest global recipient of FDI.

Released just ahead of the third international conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa in mid-July, the report concluded that reforming international investment governance is key to building an enabling environment for investment, maximising the chances of reaching ‘financing for development’ targets to be discussed at the conference.

West Asia maintained its downward trend in FDI in 2014 for the sixth consecutive year, decreasing by 4 per cent to 43 billion dollars. The report describes a succession of crises that have hit the region, including the global economic crisis and an eruption of political unrest leading to conflict in some countries, which have contributed to the continuous fall.

Elsewhere in South, East, and South-East Asia, the report was more positive. Inflows to South Asia rose to 41 billion dollars in 2014, primarily owing to good performance by India, while inflows to East Asia rose by 12 percent to 248 billion, and those to South-East Asia experienced a 5 percent increase, to 133 billion. China’s boost was driven by an increase in FDI to the services sector, while FDI fell in manufacturing, especially in industries that are sensitive to rising labour costs.

Developing economies as a group attracted 681 billion dollars worth of FDI and remain the leading region by share of global investment inflows. Among the top 10 FDI recipients in the world, half are developing economies: Brazil, China, Hong Kong (China), India and Singapore.

Developed economies, however, recorded a 28 per cent decline in inflows last year. This figure was greatly affected by the single mega divestment by Vodafone of its Verizon Wireless business in the United States. The Vodafone deal was indicative of a general trend in merger and acquisition activity which saw divestment deals rising to one out of every two mergers and acquisitions.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bangladeshi Migrants Risk High Seas and Smugglers to Escape Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/bangladeshi-migrants-risk-high-seas-and-smugglers-to-escape-poverty/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:21:55 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141360 These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh  (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
TEKNAF, Bangladesh, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Though he is only 16 years old, Mohammad Yasin has been through hell and back. He recently survived a hazardous journey by sea, crammed into the cargo-hold of a rudimentary boat along with 115 others.

For 45 days they bobbed about on the Indian Ocean somewhere between their native Bangladesh and their destination, Malaysia, with scarcely any food, no water and little hope of making it to shore alive.

Midway through the ordeal, Yasin watched one of his fellow travelers die of starvation, a fate that very nearly claimed him as well.

The young man, who hails from a poor cobbler’s family in Teknaf, located on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazaar, broke down in tears as he narrated the tale, putting a human face to the story of a major exodus of migrants and political refugees in Southeast Asia that has rights groups as well as the United Nations up in arms.

45 days of torture

“Horror unfolded as we sailed. Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves." -- ” Mohammad Ripon, a Bangladeshi migrant who survived a torturous maritime journey
Yasin tells IPS it all began when a group of men from the neighbouring Bandarban district promised to take him, and five others from Teknaf village, to Malaysia in search of work.

With an 80-dollar monthly salary and a family of four to look after, including a sick father, Yasin believed Malaysia to be a ‘dream destination’ where he would earn enough to provide for his loved ones.

“The men told us we would not have to pay anything now, but that they would later ‘deduct’ 2,600 dollars from each of us once we got jobs in Malaysia,” recounted the frail youth.

“On a sunny morning around the last week of April we were taken along with a larger group of men and women to the deserted island of Shah Porir Dwip, where we boarded a large wooden boat later that same evening.”

A little while into the journey on the Bay of Bengal, at the Chaungthar port located in the city of Pathein in southern Myanmar, a group of Rohingya Muslims joined the party.

This ethnic minority has long faced religious persecution in Myanmar and now contributes hugely to the movement of human beings around this region.

Together with the 10 organisers of the voyage, who turned out to be traffickers, the group numbered close to 130 people. Just how they would reach their destination, or when, none of the passengers knew. Their lives were entirely in the hands of the boat’s crew.

“Horror unfolded as we sailed,” recalled Mohammad Ripon, who also joined the journey at the behest of traffickers from the central Bangladeshi district of Narayanganj.

“Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves,” he told IPS.

During the day the crew opened the hatch of the cargo vessel to let in the blistering sun. At night it was kept shut, leaving the passengers to freeze. No one could sleep; the shrieks and cries of sick and frightened passengers kept the entire company awake all night long.

From time to time, the boat stalled on the choppy waters, “probably to change crews”, the passengers told IPS.

But no one knew for sure, and none dared ask for risk of being physically abused or thrown overboard. By this time, their captors had already beaten a number of the passengers for asking too many questions.

After nearly a month and a half of this torture, the Bangladesh Coast Guard steered the boat in to Saint Martin’s island, off the coast of Cox’s Bazar – very close to where the hopeful immigrants had begun their journey.

It was not until the malnourished passengers emerged, with sunken eyes and protruding ribs, that they realised the crew had long since abandoned the ship.

Traffickers exploiting poverty

Though their dreams were dashed, this group is one of the lucky ones; they escaped with their lives, their possessions and their money.

For too many others, these illicit journeys result in being robbed, pitched overboard or even buried in mass graves by networks of smugglers and traffickers who are making a killing by exploiting economically desperate and politically marginalised communities in Southeast Asia.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an estimated 88,000 people –mostly poor Bangladeshis and internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar – attempted to cross the borders into Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia in a 15-month period.

This includes 63,000 people between January and December of 2014 and an additional 25,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Of these, an estimated 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015. Since October 2014, 620 people have lost their lives during hazardous, unplanned maritime journeys on the Bay of Bengal.

To make matters worse, the discovery of trafficking rings has prompted governments in the region – particularly Thai and Malaysian authorities – to crack down on irregular arrivals, refusing to allow ships to dock and sometimes going so far as to tow boatloads of people back out to sea despite the presence of desperate and starving people on-board.

From humble aspirations to hazardous journeys

Aspiring migrants from Bangladesh are fleeing poverty and unemployment in this country of close to 157 million people, 31 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) suggests that the unemployment rate is 4.53 percent, putting the number of out-of-work people here at close to 6.7 million.

Mohammad Hasan, 34, is one of many who dreamed of a more prosperous life in a different country.

A tall, dark welder from Boliadangi, a village in the northwestern Thakurgaon district, he told IPS, “I sold my ancestral land to travel to Malaysia where I hoped to get a welding job in a construction company, because my earnings were not enough to support my six-member family.”

At the time, he was earning less than 100 dollars a month. Feeding seven people on 1,200 Bangladeshi taka (about 15 dollars) a day is no easy task. Desperate, he put his life in the hands of traffickers and set out for the Malaysian coast.

Earlier this year, abandoned by those who had promised them safe passage, he and close to 100 other men were discovered drifting off the coast of Thailand. Fortunately, all of them survived, but the money they paid for the journey was lost.

Forty-one-year-old Kawser Ali from Gangachara, a village in the northern Rangpur District, had a similar tale. He says he made a break for foreign shores because his earnings as a farmer simply weren’t enough to put enough food on the table to keep his eight-member family, including his in-laws, alive.

Millions of people here share his woes: between 60 and 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population relies on agriculture for a livelihood, and the vast majority of them struggle to make ends meet.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Kawser was recently found deep within a forest in Thailand where he and some 50 others had been led by traffickers and abandoned to their own fate.

He told IPS that most of his companions along the journey were marginal farmers, like himself. “We have no fixed income, and can never earn enough to improve our economic condition. I would like to see my son go to a better school, or take my wife to market on a motorbike.”

It is these humble aspirations – together with tales from friends and neighbours who have made the transition successfully – that have led scores of people Kawser to the coast, to board unsafe vessels and put themselves at the mercy of the sea and smugglers in exchange for a chance to make a better life.

Aninda Dutta, a programme associate for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, told IPS, “In Bangladesh, there is a strong link between migration and smuggling, in which a journey that starts through economic motivations may end up as a trafficking case because of the circumstances.”

These ‘circumstances’ include extortionate fees paid to so-called agents, essentially rings of smugglers and human traffickers; beatings and other forms of intimidation and abuse – including sexual abuse – during the journey; theft of all their possessions while at sea; or abandonment, penniless, in various locations – primarily Thailand or Malaysia – where they are subject to the ire of immigration authorities.

In a bid to nip the epidemic in the bud, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) recently set up more checkpoints to increase vigilance, and proposed that the government tighten regulations regarding the registering of boats.

But until the government tackles the underlying problem of abject poverty, it is unlikely that they will see an end to the exodus any time soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Paris Climate Change Pacthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141357 The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Black Women in the Americas Launch Decade of Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:03:04 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141353 Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

They say they are tired of waiting for justice after centuries of neglect and contempt due to the color of their skin. Black women leaders from 22 countries of the Americas have decided to create a political platform that set a 10-year target for empowering women of African descent and overcoming discrimination.

“We’re going to fight with all of our strength to break the chains of racism and racially-motivated violence,” Shary García from Colombia told IPS at the end of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas, which drew 270 delegates to Managua Jun. 26-28.

García said the three days of debates in the Nicaraguan capital gave rise to the Political Declaration of Managua, whose 17 demands and central themes are aimed at eradicating discrimination based on a combination of racial and gender reasons in the Americas.

“It wasn’t easy to sum up in 17 ideas the complaints and demands of 270 women and their families, who have experienced discrimination, violence and the denial of their rights all their lives. But each and every one of us who came here knows that this is how the beginning of the end of discrimination starts.”

Altagracia Balcácer from the Dominican Republic told IPS that the 17 main themes are cross-cut by concepts like fighting racism, demanding a decent life and anti-poverty policies, demanding the right to make decisions about the future, and freedom of choice regarding sexual and reproductive rights.

“The demands include halting violence towards black women, giving the population of African descent visibility in the national statistics and census, protecting black children and adolescents, and offering opportunities to youngsters in this population group,” she said.

Other concerns, she said, are “protecting the environment, expanding access to natural and economic resources, and guaranteeing food security and sovereignty.”

In addition, the delegates called for “protection and decent treatment of immigrants, salvaging and acknowledging our cultural heritage, respect from the media, the non-stigmatisation of black people, expanding access to justice and guaranteeing safety for women and their communities.”

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS that the document does not demand the recognition of rights, but the enforcement of all treaties, laws and international conventions referring to black women that have been signed since the 2001 World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa.

The Political Declaration of Managua “is not an expression of good intentions; it is an official document demanding the implementation of public policies in all countries of the Americas…to start once and for all to recognise and give their rightful place to the black populations on the continent,” said Wilson, from Nicaragua.

“With this platform, our aim is to move towards compliance with all of our rights in the context of the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent,” added the head of the Managua-based RMAAD, which is active in 24 countries.

In January the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, to promote respect for their rights and freedoms and greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and cultures.

According to the U.N., some 200 million people in the Americas identify themselves as being of African descent.

Wilson explained that over the next decade, black women in Latin America will document, with clear, reliable indicators, the real situation of people of African descent. They also hope to see poverty levels drop.

“We say ‘reliable’ because we don’t exist in the existing statistics, we’re invisible,” said Wilson. “Another of the summit’s achievements is that in each country in the Americas we will set up an observatory to follow up on the demands set forth here.”

To that end, they have technical and institutional support from U.N. agencies, European donor countries, non-governmental organisations, and defenders of human rights and gender rights.

They will also try to get their list of demands accepted by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The idea, said Wilson, is to press countries to design public policies targeting women and people of African descent, and to create follow-up mechanisms to make it possible to gauge the progress made by the time the next summit is held five years from now.

The head of RMAAD said the women who took part in the summit made it clear that there is a perception that police brutality and violence in general against black people are on the rise, especially in the United States and Brazil, two of the countries that were represented in the summit.

“Hate crimes in the United States make the international headlines,” Wilson said. “But because the population of African descent is invisible in Latin America, racially-motivated killings in the region do not come to public attention.”

As a panelist in the forum on human rights, Nilza Iriaci said that “in my country, Brazil, hate crimes happen every day, but there is no sense of scandal.” Brazil is the Latin American country with the largest black population.

A 2010 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Afrodescendant Population of Latin America”, which was updated two years later, found that despite the creation of new legal frameworks and institutions to protect the rights of people of African descent in the region, most of the black population lived in poverty and suffered from discrimination.

Vicenta Camusso, a representative of black women in Uruguay, said things had not changed since the study was carried out. “It’s the same as always – our rights and the poverty we suffer have not improved one bit,” she told IPS.

She said that although every country in the region has legal frameworks protecting the rights of women and blacks, no specific budget funds are allotted.

“Partly because of this, most black women continue to live in inferior living conditions compared to women of other races, and young black people experience the same exclusion and violence as the older generations did,” she said.

“Since Durban, little to nothing has changed for women of African descent in the Americas,” 7she complained. “More than 80 percent of black people in the region live in a state of poverty and social inequality, with few opportunities for improvement, because of ethnic-racial reasons.”

Camusso pointed out that the 2001 global conference emerged from official efforts by the international community to design actions aimed at fighting racism, racial discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and associated violence.

In the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community, U.N. agencies, development aid institutions, private organisations and society in general pledged “to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Urged to Ramp up Aid for Agent Orange Clean-Up Efforts in Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:54:42 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141347 An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

A key senator and a D.C.-based think tank are calling for Washington to step up its aid in cleaning up toxic herbicides sprayed by the United States in Vietnam during the war that ended 40 years ago.

Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank here, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who has long led the efforts in the U.S. Congress to compensate Vietnamese war victims, called on Washington to do more, arguing that it will further bolster renewed ties between the two countries.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get to. We need more assistance.” -- Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh
Leahy’s remarks were echoed by Charles Bailey, former director of Aspen Institute’s Agent Orange in Vietnam Program – a multi-year initiative to deal with health and environmental impacts of the estimated 19 million gallons of herbicides that were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1970.

Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh expressed similar sentiments at the event.

Hanoi’s ambassador said his government has been spending 45 million dollars every year to deal with the many problems created by Agent Orange and other herbicides used by U.S. military forces during the war.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get,” he said. “We need more assistance.”

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese people were affected, including 150,000 children born with birth defects.

Those who bore the brunt of the chemical spraying suffered cancer, liver damage, severe skin and nervous disorders and heart disease. The children and even grandchildren of people exposed to Agent Orange have been born with deformities, defects, disabilities and diseases.

Huge expanses of forest and jungle, including the natural habitats of several species, were devastated. Many of these species are still threatened with extinction.

In some areas, rivers were poisoned and underground water sources contaminated. Erosion and desertification as a result of the herbicide sprays made barren fields out of once-fertile farmlands.

The United States currently funds aid operations in Vietnam through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). According to Bailey, 136 million dollars have been appropriated to date. But some observers of the programme say still more should be done.

Merle Ratner from the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign said that too little of the aid has gone to the people. Most of it is given to international NGOs, who are then contracted to do the work, she said.

“We are suggesting that the aid go directly to NGOs in Vietnam because who knows the people better than their own organisations?” Ratner told IPS.

“People should be involved in their own solutions to the situation.”

The renewed attention comes at a time when the U.S. and Vietnam have moved closer together, particularly in light of the two nations’ growing concerns over China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“I want to turn Agent Orange from being a symbol of antagonism into an area where the U.S and Vietnamese governments can work together,” Leahy said. “At a time when China is actively seeking to extend its sphere of influence and United States has begun its own re-balance towards Asia, these Vietnam legacy programs have taken on greater significance.”

The general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phy Trong, is scheduled to visit the United States this year, the first such trip by the nation’s ruling party chief.

The warming relationship has helped Leahy further his cause. Leahy met with much resistance in the early 2000s when Washington was clearly reluctant to take responsibility for the destruction wrought by its forces during the war in which an estimated two million Vietnamese and some 55,000 U.S. troops were killed.

Vietnam, on the other hand, put the issue on the backburner as it focused on gaining preferential trade status (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) for exports to the huge U.S. market.

While Washington and Hanoi established full diplomatic relations in 1995, it wasn’t until 2002 that the two governments held a joint conference on the impact of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam and its people.

In Dec. 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Act that specifically makes available funds for the remediation of dioxin contaminated areas in Vietnam.

Much of those funds have been earmarked for a clean-up project at the former giant U.S. military base at Da Nang, which is 824 km from the capital, Hanoi. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides over many parts of rural Vietnam, destroying millions of hectares of forests in an attempt to deny the Viet Cong insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies cover and food.

Two-thirds of the herbicide contains dioxin. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, dioxin is a compound found to cause cancer and diabetes, as well as a host of other diseases.

A scientific report in 1969 also concluded that the herbicide can cause birth defects in laboratory animals, thus leading U.S. forces to halt the use of Agent Orange in 1970.

A 1994 Institute of Medicine study records that there was a growing number of Vietnam veterans who have fathered handicapped children. Many still dispute the link between Agent Orange and birth defects—Vietnam veterans in the United States still cannot claim benefits for birth defects in their children.

While welcoming Washington’s new aid programme, some activists who have long called for the U.S. to help Vietnam address the problems left behind by Agent Orange insist that U.S. should both do more and provide more direct assistance to Vietnamese groups on the ground who believe that the United States’ funds could be better distributed.

Susan Hammond, executive director of the War Legacies Project, said she hopes to see more of the money go to rural Vietnam.

“U.S. funding, at this point, is pretty much limited to the Da Nang area,” Hammond said. “In rural areas, families are pretty much left on their own.”

Tim Rieser, Leahy’s chief staffer with the Senate subcommittee that deals with foreign aid, recalled that it was initially very difficult to obtain any funding from the government.

“The State Department and Pentagon were very resistant to the idea of any kind of action by the U.S. that might be interpreted as reparations or compensation,” he said.

“It took over a year to reach an agreement with them that what we were talking about was not either of those things, but it was of trying to work with the Vietnamese government to address the problems that we obviously have responsibility for.”

Rieser said he is currently urging the Pentagon to help fund the cleanup of the Bien Hoa airbase, 1,702 km from the capital. He said the area could well contain even higher levels of dioxin than Da Nang. And he urged Obama to include additional money in his proposed 2016 budget.

“Ideally, if the president would include money in the budget, it would make our lives much easier,” he said. “But at the very least when there are opportunities – like when the president goes to Vietnam or the general secretary comes here – to reaffirm the commitment of both countries to continue working on this issue. [That] is almost as important as providing the funds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Afghanistan: No Place for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/afghanistan-no-place-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-no-place-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/afghanistan-no-place-for-children/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 03:56:46 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141344 Aid from the UK is supporting a network of orthopaedic centres across Afghanistan to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Aid from the UK is supporting a network of orthopaedic centres across Afghanistan to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

No one will deny that when a child – any child – is killed, it is a tragedy. Imagine, then, the extent of the tragedy in Afghanistan where, in just four years, 2,302 children have lost their lives as a result of ongoing fighting in this country of 30 million people.

According to his latest report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that more kids were killed or maimed in 2014 than in any previous year under review.

During the reporting period from Sep. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2014, an additional 5,047 young people were badly injured, leaving many crippled for life.

Ground engagements were reportedly the number one cause of child casualties, leaving 331 children dead and 920 injured in 2014; these figures represent a doubling of the number from the previous year.

Armed groups’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas resulted in 664 casualties, while suicide attacks took the lives of 214 children – an increase in 80 percent compared to 2013.

The report also stated that “explosive remnants of war killed or maimed 328 children”, while international military airstrikes left 38 kids either dead or injured – including eight from drone strikes alone.

The biggest culprits appear to have been the Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami, followed closely by the Afghan National Securities Forces, who were responsible for 126 killings and 270 injuries.

Five kids were killed and 52 injured in cross-border shelling from Pakistan. The U.N. was unable to verify the cause of death in 163 cases, and chalks up a further 505 injuries to “crossfire”, without being able to attribute responsibility to any particular group.

“These tragically high casualty numbers show that children are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and unfortunately this trend continues with the deterioration of the security environment into 2015,” Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s special representative for children and armed conflict said in a press release last week.

Various actors, primarily the Taliban and similar armed groups, forcibly recruited an estimated 68 children into their ranks. In an even more troubling trend, kids continue to carry out suicide attacks for the Taliban and perform a range of dangerous or potentially life threatening tasks like planting IEDs or acting as spies.

Detention and torture of children is also a major cause of concern for rights activists, with the ministry of justice reporting 258 boys held in juvenile detention centres on charges relating to national security, including “association with armed groups”.

Between February 2013 and December 2014, the U.N. interviewed 105 child detainees, 44 of who claimed they had experienced ill-treatment or torture.

Another aspect of the conflict that directly impacts children here is the systematic and sustained attack on schools throughout the country.

U.N. researchers verified 163 incidents, including the placement of explosive devices within school premises, attacks on schools used as polling stations, threats against protected personnel or teachers, and the targeting of girls’ education by way of intimidation, propaganda, or physical attacks.

The U.N. believes that 469 Afghan schools are closed as a result of the shaky security situation, with an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 Taliban fighters reportedly active in most provinces around the country.

Children are also at risk of sexual assault – in the review period, eight boys and six girls were victims of sexual violence, with four of the verified cases traced back to the national police and one to a “pro-government militia commander.”

Furthermore, “Twenty-four boys and two girls were abducted in 17 separate incidents, resulting in the killing of at least four boys by the Taliban, the rape of two girls by the local police, and the rape of a boy by a pro-Government militia,” according to the U.N.

As a new government attempts to gain control over the situation, U.N. experts are hopeful that the deadly tide can be reversed.

“I look forward to working with the Government of Afghanistan even more intensively in the months ahead as we move towards fully implementing the country’s Action Plan for ending recruitment and use of children,” Zerrougui said at the report’s launch this past Thursday.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The ACP at 40 – Repositioning as a Global Playerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 16:25:36 +0000 Patrick I. Gomes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141340 ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

By Patrick I. Gomes
BRUSSELS, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Sir Shridath Ramphal, then-Foreign Minister of the Republic of Guyana, who played a leading role in the evolution of the Lomé negotiations that lead to the birth of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, pointed to the significant lessons of that engagement of developed and developing countries some 40 years ago and had this to say:

“As regards the Lomé negotiations, the process of unification – for such it was – added a new dimension to the Third World’s quest for economic justice through international action. Its significance, however, derives not merely from the terms of the negotiated relationship between the 46 ACP states and the EEC, but from the methodology of unified bargaining which the negotiations pioneered.

Never before had so large a segment of the developing world negotiated with so powerful a grouping of developed countries so comprehensive and so innovative a regime of economic relations. It was a new, and salutary, experience for Europe; it was a new, and reassuring, experience for the ACP States.

“Forty years later, that lesson remains retains its validity. Unity of purpose and action remains the touchstone of ACP’s meaning and success.”

With a conscious appreciation of that founding unity of purpose and action, the ACP Group convened a high-level symposium at its headquarters in Brussels on Jun. 6. The event marked the milestone of four decades of trade and economic cooperation, vigorous and contentious political engagements and a range of development finance programmes – all aimed at the eradication of poverty from the lives of the millions of people in its 79 member states.“The ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975”

In 1975, it was 46 developing countries that met in the capital city of Guyana, to sign the Georgetown Agreement and give birth to the ACP Group. They had recently embarked on their post-colonial path of independence following successful negotiations of non-reciprocal trade arrangements with the then nine-member European Economic Community (EEC) in February.

Known as the Lomé Agreement, after the capital of Togo where it was signed, this legally-binding, international agreement had a life-span of 25 years to 2000. Essentially, it comprised three pillars of trade and economic cooperation, development assistance – mainly through grants from the European Development Fund (EDF) – and political dialogue on issues such as human rights and democratic governance.

During that period, the preferential trade and aid pact undoubtedly gave an impetus to various aspects of economic and social development in the ACP Group. Substantial revenue was received from preferential access to the European market for exports of clothing, banana, sugar, cocoa, beef, fruit and vegetables, for example, and with the accompanying aid programmes.

The benefits were seen in the economies of Mauritius, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Guyana and Fiji, to name a few. Member states of the ACP Group, less-developed countries (LDCs), landlocked states and small island developing states (SIDS), had access to returns from trade for improved social services and in this sense, the first decades of Lomé were certainly gains for development in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

But these gains entrenched an aid-dependency of commodity export economies with minimal structural transformation through value-added manufacturing and related service sectors in ACP countries.

The fierce trade-liberalising world of the late 1990s, rising indebtedness due to enormous increase in the cost of energy and pressure from the challenge of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to the European Union’s discriminatory practice of preferential trade and aid to this exclusive set of developing countries meant that post-Lomé ACP-EU trade relations had to be WTO-compatible.

Finding compatibility for “substantially all trade” between the economies of the ACP’s 79 members – grouped in six regions of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – and Europe, and ensuring that development criteria take precedence over tariff reductions and WTO rules have proven contentious in this long-standing partnership.

With this overhang of tensions in its troubled access to its principal market, the ACP faces the conclusion of the 20-year Agreement signed in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin, in 2020.

A soul-searching and vigorous process to be repositioned as a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality is the singular task on which the ACP now concentrates.

Such a task has entailed a series of actions that are informed by the report of the Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives for the ACP Group of States that was approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2014.

The main thrust of the transformation and repositioning of the ACP is captured in the strategic policy domains identified in the report.

These are in five thematic areas that address:

a) Rule of Law & Good Governance;

b) Global Justice & Human Security;

c) Building Sustainable, Resilient & Creative Economies; and

d) Intra-ACP Trade, Industrialisation and Regional Integration;

e) Financing for Development.

In each of these, and in ways that are mutually reinforcing, very specific programmed activities of an annual action plan are being prepared and will be executed.

For example, the annual plan will address the thematic area of “sustainable, resilient and creative economies” through the mechanism of an ACP Forum on SIDS with financial resources, mainly from the intra-ACP allocation of the EDF and the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of the partner agencies of the UN system with which the ACP Group works very closely.

Conceptualised so as to address systemic and structural factors affecting sustainable development, the ACP emphasises South-South and triangular cooperation as a major modality for implementation of its role as catalyst and advocate.

The current stage of rethinking and refocusing provides an opportunity for 40 years of development through trade by which the ACP Group and the European Union could recast the world’s most unique and enduring North-South treaty of developed and developing countries to effectively participate in a global partnership where no one is left behind.

The ACP has social and organisational capital accumulated from a rich experience on trade negotiations with the world’s largest bloc of Europe and its 500 million inhabitants.

Undoubtedly marked by contentious issues on trade provisions to satisfy the WTO’s non-discriminatory behaviour among its member States, ACP-EU relations reveal the persistent battle of poor versus rich with a view to finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

The 40th anniversary celebration by the ACP Group at a High-Level Inter-regional Symposium on Jun. 4 and 5 witnessed reflections on achievements and failures, as well as limitations in the performance of the ACP Group, in itself as a group and among its member states, as well as in its partnership with the European Union and the wider global arena.

The theme of the symposium covered the initial Georgetown Agreement and the ambitious objectives that were set in 1975. The high point was the keynote address by H.E. Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly.

Interestingly, discussions revealed how relevant and timely they remain and of special note was the “promotion of a fairer and more equitable new world order”.

This retrospective conversation has been recognised as fundamental for how, and in what direction, the ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Rome March Celebrates Pope’s Call for Urgent Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 13:06:28 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141337 March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

People of faith, civil society groups, and communities affected by climate change marched together in Rome Sunday Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment, and call for bolder climate action by world leaders.

Under the banner of ‘One Earth One Family’, the march brought together Catholics and other Christians, followers of non-Christian faiths, environmentalists and people of goodwill. The march ended in St. Peter’s Square in time for the Pope’s weekly Angelus and blessing.“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience” – Arianne Kassman, climate activist from Papua New Guinea

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City in September last year.

“As we stand at this critical juncture in addressing the climate crisis, we are particularly grateful to the Pope for releasing this encyclical as an awakening for the world to understand how climate change impacts people across all regions,” said Arianne Kassman, a climate activist from Papua New Guinea who took part in march to speak about the reality of climate change in the Pacific.

“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience,” she added.

Among the messages relayed to the Pope during the march was a request to make fossil fuel divestment part of his moral message in the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

“The fossil fuel divestment campaign is hinged on the same moral premise communicated by Pope Francis in his encyclical,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines.

“The campaign serves to highlight the immorality of investing in the source of the climate injustice we currently experience. This is why we hope that moving forward and building on this powerful message, Pope Francis can make fossil fuel divestment a part of his moral argument for urgent climate action.”

A petition urging Pope Francis to rid the Vatican of investments in fossil fuels has already gathered tens of thousands of signatures.

Over recent months, dozens of religious institutions have divested from coal, oil and gas companies or endorsed the effort, including the World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christians in 150 countries.

In May 2015, the Church of England announced it had sold 12 million pounds in thermal coal and tar sands and just this week the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) announced that it will exclude fossil fuel companies from its investments and call on its member churches with 72 million members to do likewise.

More than 220 institutions have commitments to divest from fossil fuels, with faith institutions making up the biggest segment.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris later this year for U.N. climate talks, the growing divestment movement will continue to fuel the ethical and economic revolution needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality, a key message from Pope Francis’ encyclical.

“The clear path required to address the climate crisis is one that breaks humanity free from the current stranglehold of fossil fuels on our lives and the planet,” said Hoda Baraka, Global Communications Manager for 350.org, one of the organisers of the march.

“This encyclical reinforces the tectonic shift that is happening – we simply cannot continue to treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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High Hopes in Iran as Nuclear Talks Head Into Final Roundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 21:07:03 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141334 Iran's lead negotiator and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was greeted by a cheering crowd back home in Tehran after a framework for a final nuclear deal was reached Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Geneva. Credit: ISNA/Borna Ghasemi

Iran's lead negotiator and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was greeted by a cheering crowd back home in Tehran after a framework for a final nuclear deal was reached Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Geneva. Credit: ISNA/Borna Ghasemi

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

A final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme wouldn’t only make non-proliferation history. It would also be the beginning of a better life for the Iranian people—or at least that’s what they’re hoping.

Iranians, who are keeping a close eye on the talks, which resumed Saturday in Vienna amidst the looming June 30 deadline, believe that significant economic improvements would result from a final accord in the near term, according to a major new poll and study released here last week.“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani's promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalisation.” -- Farideh Farhi

Majorities of the Iranian public say they expect to see better access to foreign medicines and medical equipment, significantly more foreign investment, and tangible improvements in living standards within a year of the deal being signed, according to the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research and Iran Poll, an independent, Toronto-based polling group working with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM).

Asked how long they believed it would take for changes resulting from a deal to materialise, 61 percent of respondents said they would see Iranians gaining greater access to foreign-made medicines and medical equipment in a year or less while a similar number—62 percent—thought they would see “a lot more foreign companies making investments in Iran” in a year or less.

A slightly lesser 55 percent thought they would see “a tangible improvement in people’s standard of living” within a year.

The poll—based on telephone interviews with over 1,000 respondents between May 12 and May 28—found strong support for a nuclear deal, but that support appears to be contingent on the belief that the U.S. would lift all sanctions as part of the deal, not just those related to Iran’s nuclear activities, and that economic relief would come relatively quickly.

The timeframe for and extent of sanctions removal remains, however, a major obstacle in the negotiations, the exact details of which are being kept private while talks are in progress.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—who holds the final say on all matters related to the state—reportedly demanded in a major speech Tuesday that all U.S. sanctions be lifted as of the signing of a deal, a demand that could further complicate the negotiations.

“While there is majority support for continuing to pursue a deal,” said Ebrahim Mohseni, a senior analyst at the University of Tehran’s Center and a CISSM research associate, “it is sustained in part by expectations that besides the U.N. and the E.U., the U.S. would also relinquish all its sanctions, that the positive effects of the deal would be felt in tangible ways fairly quickly, and that Iran would continue to develop its civilian nuclear programme.”

He added that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might have “difficulty selling a deal that would significantly deviate from these expectations.”

Tempered expectations

A 34-page study conducted by the New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) also found that civil society, which continues to support the negotiations even while criticising the government’s domestic policies, is hopeful for an agreement that will end years of sanctions and isolation.

Of the 28 prominent civil society members interviewed by ICHRI between May 13-June 2, 71 percent of respondents expect economic benefits from an accord, citing increased investment and oil revenues, and gains to employment, manufacturing, and growth.

However, one-fifth of those expecting economic gains believe these benefits could be lost to ordinary Iranians due to governmental mismanagement.

In fact, a significant number of the civil society leaders were skeptical of the Rouhani government’s ability to deliver tangible results from a final deal to the general public.

Thirty-six percent of the interviewees expected no improvement in political or cultural freedoms, citing either Rouhani’s lack of authority or lack of willingness, while 25 percent of all respondents said they expected economic benefits to reach only the wealthy and politically influential.

“Mr. Rouhani is not in control,” Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker and political activist told ICHRI. “Whatever he wants to implement, he would first have to seek permission from the Supreme Leader’s office.”

“The expectations we have of Mr.Rouhani do not match his capabilities,” he added.

However, 61 percent of the respondents still believe a deal would grant the Rouhani administration the political leverage required to implement political and cultural reforms.

“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani’s promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalisation,” Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar at the University of Hawaii, told IPS.

“He will still face still resistance and competition but there is no doubt he’ll be strengthened,” she said.

While the ICHRI’s civil society respondents expressed a greater degree of scepticism and nuance than the general population surveyed by the CISSM, a substantial majority in both polls argued that sanctions were significantly hurting ordinary Iranians, an effect that would only increase if no deal is reached.

“[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities,” Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, a civil activist and wife of a political prisoner, told ICHRI.

“The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Donors Pledge Over 4.4 Billion Dollars to Nepal – But With a Caveathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:24:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141332 Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

Blessed with more than 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, the government of Nepal is expected to launch a massive reconstruction project to rebuild the earthquake-devastated South Asian nation.

But the pledges came with a caveat.“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on." -- Caroline Baudot of Oxfam

“While donors were generous, many of them strongly emphasised the need for Nepal to strengthen efficiency, transparency and accountability in handling international assistance,” Kul Chandra Gautam, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS..

“They also emphasised the need for political stability, early local elections and speedy completion of the long pending Constitution drafting process,” said Gautam, a native of Nepal and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who is based in Kathmandu.

A jubilant finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, told reporters the donors’ meeting, titled the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, was “a grand success”.

“The total pledge made today was 4.4 billion, which was more than expected… 2.2 billion in loans and 2.2 billion in grants,” he said.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged 1.0 billion dollars while China promised 3.0 billion yuan (483 million dollars) in assistance.

Additional pledges included 600 million from the Asian Development Bank, 260 million from Japan, 130 million from the U.S., 100 million from the European Union and 58 million from Britain, supplementing an earlier offer of up to 500 million dollars from the World Bank.

Nepal had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services.

This was a rather conservative or realistic needs assessment, considering that the estimated loss and damage from the earthquake was over 7.0 billion dollars, and it usually costs more to “build back better” than just the replacement cost of the destroyed and damaged infrastructure, Gautam said.

It was understood, he pointed out, about one-third of the estimated needs would be met from national resources and two-thirds would come from donors.

Donors really opened their hearts for the suffering people of Nepal, he said.

“We were delighted that even small poor countries like neighbouring Bhutan and faraway Haiti were forthcoming with generous pledges of 1.0 million dollars each,” said Gautam.

The United Nations estimated that about eight million people – almost one-third of the population of Nepal – were affected by the earthquake in April, described as “the largest disaster the country has faced in almost a century.”

More than 8,600 people were reported to have died, and according to U.N. figures, more than 20,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged and about a million children and 126,000 pregnant women are estimated to have been affected.

Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Adviser, told IPS the proposed investment provides Nepal with a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future.

“Now that pledges have been made, Oxfam is calling for communities to be consulted when the reconstruction plan is developed and implemented, continued attention to livelihoods and access to services, and that future disaster risks are reduced through reconstruction.”

She said donors and the Government of Nepal must now ensure there is a long-term plan which listens to communities – putting people at the center of the reconstruction process, which builds improved basic services like hospitals and ensures new buildings are safe and earthquake resilient.

“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on. Donors must make good on their promises and ensure the finance they have committed reaches those who need it,” said Baudot.

In a message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nepal has stood strong during this crisis.

“I commend the exceptional efforts of the country’s government and people – in particular the youth who have found new and innovative ways to help their country.”

He also said that the United Nations “stands ready to support the government and people of Nepal in this endeavor. I am confident that Nepal, with its resilient people will be able to recover from this devastating disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141320 During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philiber Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

Launched by UNDP Egypt, the icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction – But Still No Debt Reliefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 03:08:06 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141317 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

A major donor conference in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, “The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives.”

“This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future,” he said.

“This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient.”

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world’s 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF’s new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

“According to the most recent World Bank numbers,” said Jubilee USA in a statement, “Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake.”

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country’s total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country’s creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

“This is troubling news,” said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. “Given the devastation in Nepal, it’s hard to believe that the criteria was not met.”

“This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference,” said LeCompte.‎ “Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal’s debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Helping People with Disabilities Become Agents of Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:14:04 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141310 Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Participation, political and economic empowerment, inclusion, accessible technology and infrastructure as well as indicators for meaningful implementation are among the key issues persons with disabilities want to see reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In light of the ongoing negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, people with disabilities are calling upon governments to put an end to exclusion and discrimination by making persons with disabilities and their rights more visible in the SDGs.“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion." -- Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Rachel Kachaje, Deputy Chairperson for Development and Under-Represented Groups at Disabled People’s International (DPI) in Lilongwe, Malawi and former Malawian Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs, told IPS: “I would want to see the SDGs turning persons with disabilities into productive citizens in their respective countries.

“It pains me most of the time seeing persons with disabilities struggling to be recognised in society,” she said.

Rachel Kachaje knows what she is talking about. Struck by polio at the age of three, she lost the use of her legs. As her family could not afford a wheelchair, mobility challenges significantly complicated her primary and secondary school education. When she had finished school and was unable to attend university, finding a job proved very difficult at a time when companies refused to hire persons with physical impairments.

Yet, in the end, due to her hard-working spirit and encouraging family environment, Kachaje managed to overcome these challenges and steadily moved up the career ladder, culminating in her appointment as Malawian minister of disability.

The personal story of Rachel Kachaje illustrates how existing physical, societal, educational and professional barriers often prevent persons with disabilities from attaining their real potential and fully participating in society, while positive empowerment and encouragement can have important enabling effects.

Empowerment of persons with disabilities is indeed one of the core demands the activist enunciates. Speaking to IPS, Kachaje emphasised the importance of facilitating access to education as a “master key that unlocks all doors to life” and providing livelihood to allow for agricultural activity and food security. Apart from that, she said, health care services, social activities and greater involvement in politics are steps that will help persons with disabilities who are struggling to become fully productive citizens.

“I would want persons with disabilities in general and more in particular women with disabilities and their representative organisations to participate and be fully involved and consulted in government processes. […] This should not be just on paper only. I would want governments to walk the talk.”

As pointed out by the activist, considerable progress has taken place in Malawi in terms of inclusive education and economic as well as political empowerment.

“Schools are being made accessible, special needs teachers are being trained. There are still a lot of challenges but still something is being done and political will is there to make education inclusive,” she said.

“People with disabilities also get social cash transfer as part of economically empowering persons with disabilities. Some persons with disabilities have been appointed into decision making bodies.”

Two weeks ago, measures to overcome exclusion and mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities across the sustainable development agenda were discussed at the Eighth Session of the Conference of the States Parties (COSP8) to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The focus of this year’s conference was on poverty reduction, equality and development. As underscored by many speakers, disability and poverty are interrelated, which is due mainly to discrimination and lower education and employment levels.

A few days ahead of the conference, the zero draft of the outcome document for the U.N. Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda was released. In this context, many participants deplored that persons with disabilities were not specifically referred to in the first SDG, aimed at ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

According to Venkatesh Balakrishna, honorary president of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Global Network, “being invisible from the goal means being invisible from the benefits”. He called upon governments to explicitly mention persons with disabilities in the first SDG and add specific targets and indicators.

“Give hope to millions of people. Please use your pen for justice,” he urged.

Yet, compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), persons with disabilities have gained visibility in the zero draft document.

Priscille Geiser, Head of Technical Unit ‘Support to Civil Society’ at Handicap International, told IPS: “We do welcome the Zero Draft in which the inclusion and recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the entire document is groundbreaking compared to the Millennium Development Goals, and we welcome the fact that references to persons with disabilities have been strengthened throughout the declaration.”

On the other hand, she said, there were still shortcomings in terms of accessible technology and concrete indicators to measure implementation. Also, more emphasis need to be put on active participation and involvement of persons with disabilities.

“It is critical that commitments are made so that the SDGs are implemented and reviewed through meaningful participation. Overall, the active role of people to be agents of change, rather than simply as beneficiaries, is highly underestimated in this new agenda.”

Throughout the conference, participants stressed the fact that inclusion should not be seen as charity, but as an investment in society that will generate economic benefits and improve life for everybody.

“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion,” said Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, with an eye on the lost economic potential due to the exclusion of children with disabilities from school and ongoing labour market discrimination.

Speaking about future challenges, she emphasised the need to translate the provisions under the convention into legal action on the ground, provide persons with disabilities with accessible services, including accessible infrastructure and better social protection, collect data, set concrete targets and indicators and support the creation of institutions. According to her, the ultimate goal is the full participation of persons with disabilities in community life.

These points were repeatedly raised by almost all participants, demonstrating remarkable consent on the steps that need to be taken. This gives cause for hope that further concerted procedures will increase the visibility of people with disabilities in the post-2015 development framework and steadily make the implementation of the CRPD a reality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 18:25:00 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141308 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990."The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn't seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient." -- Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

While member states, weakened in the neoliberal era, have pulled back from the U.N. and cut its budgets, a charity mentality has arisen at the world body. Corporations and the mega-rich have flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. They have looked for a quietly commanding role in the organisation’s political process and hoped to shape the institution to their own priorities.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

The U.N. Global Compact, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999-2000 to promote corporate “responsibility,” was the first sign that the U.N. as an institution was beginning to work with the corporations and listen closely to them.

Critics point out that the corporations were getting branding benefits and considerable influence without any serious change in their behaviour, but the U.N. was happy to lend its prestige in exchange for proximity to the czars of the global economy.

The World Economic Forum, organisers of the Davos conferences, soon afterwards installed conferencing screens, disguised as picture frames, in the offices of top U.N. officials, so that corporate chieftains could have a spontaneous chat with their counterparts at the world body.Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

By that time, it was clear that Ted Turner’s dramatic donation of a billion dollars to the U.N. in 1997 was not a quirky, one-off gesture but an early sign that the U.N. was a target of Big Money. Today, the U.N. is riddled with “public-private partnerships” and cozy relations with the corporate world. Pepsico and BP are hailed as “partners.” Policy options have shifted accordingly.

As corporate voices have amplified at the United Nations, citizen voices have grown considerably weaker. The great global conferences, organised with such enthusiasm in the 1990s on topics like the environment, women’s rights, and social development, attracted thousands of NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of grassroots movements.

Broad consultation produced progressive and even inspiring policy statements from the governments. Washington in particular was unhappy about the spectacle of citizen involvement in the great matters of state and it opposed deviations from neo-liberal orthodoxies.

In the new century, the U.S. warned that it would no longer pay for what it said were useless extravaganzas. The U.N. leadership had to shut down, downsize or otherwise minimise the conference process, substituting “dialog” with carefully-chosen interlocutors.

The most powerful governments have protected their domination of the policy process by moving key discussions away from the U.N. entirely to “alternative venues” for invitation-only participation. The G-7 meetings were an early sign of this trend.

Later came the G-20, as well as private initiatives with corporate participation such as the World Economic Forum. Today, mainstream thinkers often argue that the U.N. is not really a place of legislative decisions but rather one venue among others for discussion and coordination among international “stakeholders.”

The U.N. itself, in its soul-searching, asks about its “comparative advantage,” in contrast to these other events – as if public policy institutions must respond to “free market” principles. This race to the bottom by the U.N. is exceedingly dangerous.

Unlike the other venues, the U.N. is a permanent institution, with law-making capacity, means of implementation and a “universal” membership. It can and should act somewhat like a government, and it must be far more than a debating society or a place where secret deals are made. For all the hype about “democracy” in the world, the mighty have paid little attention to this most urgent democratic deficit.

Though the U.N. landscape is generally that of weakness and lack of action, there is one organ that is quite robust and active – the Security Council. It meets almost continuously and acts on many of the world’s most contentious security issues.

Unfortunately, however, the Council is a deeply-flawed and even despotic institution, dominated by the five Permanent Members and in practice run almost exclusively by the US and the UK (the “P-2” in U.N. parlance). The ten Elected Members, chosen for two-year terms, have little influence (and usually little zest to challenge the status quo).

Many observers see the Council as a power monopoly that produces scant peace and little enduring security. When lesser Council members have tried to check the war-making plans of Washington and London, as they surprisingly did in the 2003 Iraq War debates, their decisions have been ignored and humiliated.

In terms of international law, the U.N.’s record has many setbacks, but there have been some bright spots. The nations have negotiated significant new treaties under U.N. auspices, including major human rights documents, the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Disabled.

The Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced the release of CFC gasses and addressed the dangerous hole in the earth’s ozone layer. But the treaty bodies tasked with enforcement are often weak and unable to promote compliance.

Powerful states tend to flout international law regularly and with impunity, including treaty principles once considered inviolable like the ban on torture. International law, the purview of the U.N., is frequently abused as a tool of states’ propaganda, to be invoked against opponents and enemies.

Legal scholars question the usefulness of these “norms” with so little enforcement. This is a disturbing problem, producing cynicism and eating at the heart of the U.N. system.

The U.N. may not have solved the centuries-old conundrum of international law, but it has produced some good thinking about “development” and human well-being.

The famous Human Development Report is a case in point and there are a number of creative U.N. research programmes such as the U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, the U.N. University, and the World Institute for Development Economic Research. They have produced creative and influential reports and shaped policies in good directions.

Unfortunately, many excellent U.N. intellectual initiatives have been shut down for transgressing powerful interests. In 1993, the Secretary-General closed the innovative Center on Transnational Corporations, which investigated corporate behaviour and economic malfeasance at the international level.

Threats from the U.S. Congress forced the Office of Development Studies at UNDP to suddenly and ignominiously abandonment its project on global taxes. Financial and political pressures also have blunted the originality and vitality of the Human Development Report. Among the research institutions, budgets have regularly been cut and research outsourced. Creative thinkers have drifted away.

Clearly, the U.N.’s seventieth anniversary does not justify self-congratulation or even a credible argument that the “glass is half full.” Though many U.N. agencies, funds and programmes like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation carry out important and indispensable work, the trajectory of the U.N. as a whole is not encouraging and the shrinking financial base is cause for great concern.

As climate change gathers force in the immediate future, setting off mass migration, political instability, violence and even food supply failure, there will be increasing calls for action among the world’s people.

The public may even demand a stronger U.N. that can carry out emergency measures. It’s hard, though, to imagine the U.N. taking up great new responsibilities without a massive and possibly lengthy overhaul.

Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:52:45 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141296

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

It is hard to imagine today the public enthusiasm that greeted the founding of the U.N. in 1945.  After massive suffering and social collapse resulting from the Second World War, the U.N. seemed almost miraculous – a means at last to build peace, democracy, and a just society on a global scale.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Everywhere, hopes and aspirations were high.  Seven decades later, results have fallen far short.  On this anniversary, we can ask: what might have been possible and what is still possible from this institution that has inspired such passion, positive and negative, over the years?

The organisation, of course, was not set up by the United States and its allies to fulfill the wishes of utopian thinkers.  Though the Charter of 1945 invokes “We the Peoples,” the war victors structured the U.N. as a conclave of nation states that would express the will of its members – particularly themselves, the richest and most influential countries.

Despite statesmen’s pronouncements about noble intentions, the U.N.’s most mighty members have never seriously considered laying down their arms or sharing their wealth in an unequal world.  They have been busy instead with the “Great Games” of the day – like securing oil and other resources, dominating client states and bringing down unfriendly governments.Faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organisation’s overall expenditures.

Nevertheless, through the years, the U.N. has regularly attracted the hopes of reforming intellectuals, NGOs, humanitarians and occasionally even some governments – with ideas about improvement to the global system and well-being on the planet. In the run-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995, many reports, conferences and books proposed U.N. institutional reform, some of which advocated a direct citizen role in the organisation.

Among the ideas were a chamber of directly-elected representatives, a vitalised General Assembly and a more representative Security Council, shorn of vetoes.  Some thinkers wanted an institution “independent” from – or at least buffered against – the sordid arena of great power politics.  But most reforming ideas, including relatively moderate changes, have come to naught.

Governments of all stripes have had a very short-term perspective and a narrow, outmoded conception of their “national interest” in the international arena.  They have shown remarkably little creativity and far-sightedness and they have taken care not to threaten powerful status quo interests.

The U.N.’s seventieth anniversary has come at a moment of exhaustion and frustration among reformers that has sapped belief in creative change. We are at a low-point in U.N. institutional prestige and public support.  Not surprisingly, the organisation has attracted few proposals and initiatives this time around.

As we know, the planet is facing unprecedented problems that the U.N. is in business to address: poverty, gross inequality, civil wars, mass migration, economic instability, and worsening climate change.  Secretaries General have regularly appointed panels of distinguished persons to consider these “threats,” but member states have not been ready to produce effective solutions.

Most of the money and energy at the U.N. in recent years has poured into “peacekeeping,” which is typically a kind of military intervention outsourced by Washington and its allies. The organisation, dedicated in theory to ending war, is ironically now a big actor on the world’s battlefields. It has a giant logistics base in southern Italy, a military communications system, contracts with mercenaries, an intelligence operation, drones, armored vehicles and other accouterments of armed might.  Meanwhile, the Department of Disarmament Affairs has seen its funding and status decline considerably.

The richest and most powerful states like to blame the smaller and poorer countries for the U.N. reform impasse (fury at the “G-77” – the group of “developing” countries – can often be heard among well-fed Northern diplomats at posh New York restaurants).  But in fact the big powers (with Washington first among them) have been the most ardent “blockers” – strenuously opposed to a strong U.N. in nearly every respect, except military operations.

The big power blocking has been especially strong when it comes to global economic policy, including proposals to strengthen the Social and Economic Council.  The same powers have also kept the U.N. Environment Programme weak, while opposing progress in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.

Poor countries have complained, but they are not paragons of reform either: their  leaders are inclined to speak in empty populist rhetoric, demanding “aid” while pursuing personal enrichment. We are far from a game-changing “new Marshall Plan” or a global mobilisation for social justice that reformers rightly call for.  Well-meaning NGOs repeat regularly such ideas, with little effect, in comfortable conference venues.

The U.N. has weakened as its member states have grown weaker.  The IMF, the World Bank and global financial interests have pushed neo-liberal reforms for three decades, undermining national tax systems and downsizing the role of public institutions in economic and social affairs.  Governments have privatized banks, airlines and industries, of course, and they have also privatized schools, roads, postal services, prisons and health care.

The vast new inequalities have led to more political corruption, a plague of lobbying, and frequent electoral malfeasance, even in the oldest democracies.  As a result, nation states command less loyalty, respect and hope than they did in the past.  Traditional centrist parties are losing their voters and the public is sceptical about governing institutions at all levels, including the U.N.

When nations cut their budgets, they cut the budget of the U.N. too, small as it is.  Bold steps to improve the U.N. would require money, self-confidence and a long-term view, but member states are too weak, politically unstable, timid and financially insecure to take on such a task.  As states slouch into socially, economically and politically conservative policies, the U.N. inexorably follows, losing its public constituency in the process.

Tightening U.N. budgets have tilted the balance of power in the U.N. even more sharply towards the richest nations and the wealthiest outside players.  Increasingly, faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organization’s overall expenditures.

This “extra-budgetary” funding, enables the donors to define the projects and set the priorities.  The purpose of common policymaking among all member states has been all but forgotten.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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