Inter Press ServiceGlobal Governance – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 Jan 2018 17:32:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Groups Condemn U.S. Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:04:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153938 International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees. This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA serves […]

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Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza.Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2018 (IPS)

International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees.

This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

UNRWA serves over 5 million refugees with education, healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

As the U.S. was the agency’s biggest donor, contributing over 350 million dollars in 2017, UNRWA is now facing its biggest financial crisis.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support…at stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiples risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he added.

Former UN Undersecretary General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland noted that the funding cut will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugee children who depend on the agency for their education.

“It will also deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare-up in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he said.

UNRWA provides education to over half of a million boys and girls in 700 schools and manages more than 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 clinics.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar noted that many Palestinian refugees live in poverty, including the majority of those in Syria who require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the U.S. cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees,” she said.

Politics Over Humanitarianism?

The Trump administration said that the decision was made as a way to press for unspecified reforms in the agency.

Though the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the move was not made to pressure Palestinians to enter negotiations, President Donald Trump suggested otherwise in a series of tweets just weeks before the decision.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

“The administration seems intent on holding them hostage—and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees—as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks,” she said.

Head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) U.S. delegation Husam Zomlot echoed similar sentiments, stating that refugees’ access to basic humanitarian services is not a “bargaining chip, but a U.S. and international obligation.”

“Taking away food and education from vulnerable refugees does not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace and [the] rights of Palestinian refugees will not be compromised by a financial decision,” he said.

Egeland also tweeted that cutting aid is a “bad politicization of humanitarian aid.”

UNRWA has long been controversial since its establishment in 1949.

Though it has evolved into a quasi-government, the agency was first set up to temporarily assist those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, so did UNRWA’s existence.

The agency allows refugee status to be passed down from generation to generation and does not remove people from its list who have gained citizenship elsewhere, contributing to an ever expanding population and questions as to who qualifies as a refugee.

From the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled after the 1948 war, there are now over 5.2 million registered refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

While UNRWA has been criticized for not working to resettle refugees, Israel has not granted refugees the right to return and other countries such as Lebanon have largely denied Palestinians citizenship and access to employment or land.

Even if the funding cut is meant to target Palestinian authorities, many note that vulnerable Palestinian refugees will bear the brunt of the impact as they will be left in a renewed state of limbo.

UNRWA has since launched a global fundraising campaign to try to close its funding gap before it is forced to cut safety-net services.

Donors have begun to step up including the Government of Belgium which pledged 23 million dollars to UNRWA soon after the move was announced.

“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” said Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” Krahenbuhl said.

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Davos: a Tale of Two Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-tale-two-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:58:52 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153934 Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

At the same time as the World Economic Forum’s rich and powerful hold forth about fixing the crisis of inequality they created, a new movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance is telling another story that is growing around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico

As the world’s 1% gather in the luxury Swiss mountain resort Davos this week, rallies are taking place around the world on mountains of a very different sort – the mountains of garbage and of open pit mines that millions of the most unequal call home.

People will be gathering in events in countries including India, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mexico to publicly demand an end to inequality.

Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation. Events worldwide include a pop concert at a slum next to a garbage mountain in Kenya, a football match in Senegal, a public meal sharing in Denmark, a rally at open-pit an mine in South Africa, a sound truck in Nigeria, and a giant “weighing scales of injustice” in the UK.


Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation.

The protesters are demanding an end to the age of greed, and say that the solutions to the inequality crisis will not come from the same elites that caused the problem. People living on the frontlines of inequality are the key to the radical change that is needed, they say.

They are already organising to build their power by joining together in a global Fight Inequality Alliance that unites social movements, women’s rights groups, trade unions, and NGOs in over 30 countries across the world. They are urging the world to hear the solutions to inequality from those who suffer it not those who caused it.

Nester Ndebele, challenging mining the companies widening inequality in South Africa, remarks: “These mining companies claim to bring development but they make a fortune while leaving our land unfarmable, our air dangerously polluted, and our communities ripped apart. Women bear the brunt of this. They claim it is worth it for the energy they provide but the wires go over our homes with no connection. The politicians need to stop listening to the mining companies fancy speeches and hear from us instead.”

Mildred Ngesa, fighting for women’s rights in Kenya, explains why the events are taking place at the same time as, and as a counter to, the elite Davos meeting in Switzerland: “All these rich men at Davos say all these nice things about women’s empowerment but when young women in the places I grew up have no economic security, many have little real choices beyond the red light. We need jobs, housing, and free education and health, not speeches from the same people who push for corporate tax exemptions which take away resources needed to advance equality.”

Campaigners call on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws. Community groups ideas, which elites don’t mention, include an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxation on the top 1% to enable quality health and education for all, increases in minimum wages and stronger enforcement, and a limit how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

“We have rising inequality because the rich are determining what governments should do. Davos can never be the answer because the problem is caused by the influence of the people at Davos. Governments around the world must listen instead to their citizens, and end the Age of Greed. We know that governments will only do that when we organize and unite, so we are coming together as one. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.” says Filipina activist Lidy Nacpil, a co-founder of the international Fight Inequality Alliance.

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US, Led by an Erratic Trump, Seeks to Undermine UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:33:00 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153931 The continued erratic and outrageous comments by President Donald Trump – and his attempts to undermine the United Nations – are threatening to cause irreparable damage to the world body. The signs are ominous: the US withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the threats against member states voting for anti-Israeli resolutions; […]

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US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

The continued erratic and outrageous comments by President Donald Trump – and his attempts to undermine the United Nations – are threatening to cause irreparable damage to the world body.

The signs are ominous: the US withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the threats against member states voting for anti-Israeli resolutions; slashing funds to a 69-year-old UN agency for Palestinian refugees; withdrawal from the 2016 Paris climate change agreement; threats to “totally destroy” a UN member state, North Korea; a US-inspired $285 million reduction in the UN’s regular budget for 2018-2019, and the insidious attempts to wreck the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement.

And more recently, Trump triggered a global backlash when he singled out Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” eliciting protests from the 55-member African Union (AU).

Trump has also come under fire for his insulting statements that “all Haitians have AIDS” and Nigerians who visit the US “would never go back to their huts.”

But running notoriously true to form, he has reversed himself again and again — and denied making any of these statements, despite credible evidence.

In its editorial last week, the New York Times rightly declared that Trump “is not just racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He’s also a liar.”

That’s quite a mouthful to characterize the supreme leader of the free world: a crown which he may lose, paradoxically, to President Xi Jinping of totalitarian China.

James A. Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), an NGO monitoring the work of the United Nations, told IPS the Trump administration poses a grave threat to the future of the UN and to the development of international cooperation more generally.

“But we have to ask: how much does the present differ from the past and how close are we to a collapse of the UN under assault from Washington?.”

Every day, there appears new confirmation of the problem, whether it is President Trump’s crude statements about world leaders, his harsh commentary and stereotypical remarks about other countries and peoples, his upsetting of carefully-constructed international agreements, and his utter disregard for the tactfulness of diplomacy, said Paul.

“In terms of the UN as an institution, we see such blows as the US withdrawal from the Climate Change Agreement, looming US defunding of the UN’s Palestinian refugee aid, and US-led slashing of the regular UN budget.”

Crude blackmailing to enforce favorable votes in UN bodies, said Paul, has also been practiced by Washington more than ever.

“At the same time, there is an increasingly-harsh US government rhetoric about the UN as a useless bureaucracy, undeserving of respect and support.”

Paul said “right-wing nationalism has arisen in many lands in recent years, of course, and we should remember that the US has often in the past acted towards the UN and the international community with condescension and domination”.

Recent developments, he argued, are therefore not so much unique as they are extreme, posing deeper-than-ever threats to the viability of the UN in an extremely unstable and dangerous time.

Meanwhile, the US has already announced it will cut about $65 million in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which providence sustenance to millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon.

Responding to a question at a press conference January 16, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “very concerned” about the US funding cuts.

“I strongly hope that, in the end, it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA, in which the US has a very important share.”

And he made it clear that UNRWA, contrary to a misconception, is “not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by the General Assembly.”

Last December, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has hinted at linking America’s financial leverage as the biggest single donor, to Washington’s political demands, claimed the US had successfully negotiated the $285 million reduction of the UN budget for 2018-2019.

And it was Haley who threatened to “take down names” and cut US aid to countries that voted for a resolution last December condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as the new Israeli capital.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS “Trump’s ignorance and arrogance makes a dangerous compound mixed with Nikki Haley’s ambitions and her pro-Israeli prejudices.”

Her job as Permanent Representative of the UN includes letting the US government know the views of the rest of the world, but it is clear from her counterproductive threats that she does not really care, he said.

Sarah Palin (a former Republican Vice Presidential candidate), announcing her foreign policy credentials, once remarked she could monitor Russia from her backyard in her home state of Alaska.

“And it is clear that Haley can only see Israel from the US mission on First Avenue,” said Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the UN in Peace and War,” recently released by Just World Books.

That seems to reflect some deep prejudices as well as blatant domestic political ambition. While Bush appeased his right wring by letting John Bolton bluster, Washington and the White House made sure that he did not break up the playground, he added

“Trump shows no signs of restraining the damage that Haley is doing to the UN and international law – nor indeed to American diplomacy which Haley even more than some of her predecessors is making an oxymoron.”

But unlike earlier times, a newly involved, and newly affluent China is waiting to pick up the balls that Haley and Trump throw out, said Williams who has been covering the United Nations since 1989.

Mouin Rabbani, Contributing Editor, Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), told IPS history is demonstrating once again that there is an inherent threat to international peace and security “when powerful states are led by volatile airheads.”

The United Nations is as exposed to these risks as any other state or institution, and arguably more so given its dependency on not only American funding but also US engagement, he added.

“At the same time, it would be a little unfair to assign blame solely to Trump and his diplomats, in this case led by the extraordinarily vulgar Nikki Haley.”

This is because UN-bashing has become something of a national sport if not civic requirement in the US for decades, fed by a ceaseless stream of morbid, utterly fantastical conspiracy theories of the type that Americans excel at concocting and revel in ingesting, he noted.

“We are witnessing, in real time, what happens when powerful states cease to properly invest in the education of their children.”

The problem for the UN is that making the world body a more effective organization is the one item not on the agenda of its US critics, he declared.

With Trump, they smell a unique opportunity to administer permanent and irreparable damage to the UN (and for that matter pretty much everything else they identify with modern civilization).

“It will be for the international community to decide whether to yet again roll over and play dead or prevent the lunatics from taking over the asylum,” Rabbani declared.

Paul told IPS that to get perspective and avoid idealizing earlier years at the UN, “we should remember the negative effects of the Cold War on the UN, including the proxy wars, the fierce battles over decolonization, and the negative pressure constantly brought to bear on UN budgets.”

The Congo crisis in the early 1960s had a deadly effect on the UN in more ways than one. Recent information points to the assassination of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, showing how far Washington and its allies were prepared to go to weaken the UN so as to protect mining and other interests in Congo and throughout Africa, he noted.

“Today, the budget cuts may be the UN’s most serious danger. In the previous biennium, the Obama Administration already forced budget reductions but this time the cuts have been deeper and more fundamental.”

After years of “doing more with less,” the UN system is desperately short of funds for basic programs. Still, the Trump people in Washington have declared that cuts must go deeper and further shrinkage is necessary.

“Beyond the Regular Budget, Washington is imposing deep austerity on UN agencies, funds and programs. Will the Trump administration simply strangle the UN with steadily more draconian under-funding?,” he asked.

This has apparently been the Trump plan for US government agencies as well, from Environmental Protection to the State Department. “Kill the Beast!” chant the alt-right ideologues to the applause of their neo-liberal corporate backers. said Paul, author of the newly-released book “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy & Global Power in the UN Security Council.”

To assess the danger, “we need to go beyond calculations about whether Trump will be voted out of office in 2020.” Such possibilities, he noted, are a reminder that Trump’s own peculiarly odious politics could be short-lived.

“But they do not answer the larger question: what is happening in the world that has given rise to so many thuggish right-wing populists and so many corrupt, rightward-leaning centrists as well?”

Could it be the rising hegemony of the multinational corporations and their owners, who think they can rule over the global system with a minimum of interference, from old-fashioned states and ineffective intergovernmental bodies?, asked Paul, a former editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World.

“We, the peoples,” the globe’s citizens, have been lured into this trap, to the surprise of so many intellectuals, globalists, and internationalists. This, not Trump, is the existential threat that the UN faces.

“Can a new leadership arise, with new ability to bring the public to its senses? Can the climate crisis stimulate a new transnational political movement? Can a global constituency for a revived national politics and a new and transformed UN come soon into being?,” he asked.

“The UN’s future almost certainly depends on it”, he said.

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“The World Has Gone in Reverse”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-gone-reverse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:06:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153922 A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future. Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the General Assembly on his priorities for 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future.

Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the rise in nationalism and xenophobia.

“In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse,” said Guterres to the General Assembly.

“At the beginning of 2018, we must recognize the many ways in which the international
community is failing and falling short.”

Among the major concerns is the ongoing and heightened nuclear tensions.

Guterres noted that there are small signs of hope, including North Korea’s participation in the upcoming winter Olympics as well as the reopening of inter-Korean communication channels.

“War is avoidable—what I’m worried is that I’m not yet sure peace is guaranteed, and that is why we are so strongly engaged,” he said.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to surrender the country’s development and stockpile of nuclear missiles.

During a meeting in Canada, United States’ officials warned of military action if the Northeast Asian nation does not negotiate.

“It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told foreign ministers.

A recently released nuclear strategy also outlines the U.S. administration’s proposal to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian and Chinese military threats which may only sustain global tensions.

Guterres has also pinpointed migration and refugee protection as priorities for the year.

Though arrivals have dropped, refugees and migrants from Honduras to Myanmar still embark on dangerous journeys in search of economic opportunity or even just safety. However, they are still often met with hostility.

“We need to have mutual respect with all people in the world. In particular, migration is a positive aspect—the respect for migrants and diversity is a fundamental pillar of the UN and it will be a fundamental pillar of the actions of the Secretary-General,” Guterres said.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted later this year after months of negotiations. The U.S. however has since withdrawn from the compact and is seemingly increasingly abandoning its commitments to migrants and refugees.

Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made offensive comments about immigrants from Caribbean and African nations.

The African Group of UN Ambassadors issued a statement condemning the “outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks” and demanded an apology.

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville echoed similar sentiments, stating: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Guterres expressed particular concern about U.S. cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) which has served more than five million registered refugees for almost 70 years.

“UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugee population…those services are extremely important not only for the wellbeing of these populations—and there is a serious humanitarian concern here—but also it is an important factor of stability,” he said.

Just a day after the Secretary-General’s briefing, the U.S. administration announced that it will cut over half of its planned funding to the agency.

Former UN Undersecretary-General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland urged the government to reconsider its decision.”

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

In light of the range of challenges, Guterres called for bold leadership in the world.

“We need less hatred, more dialogue, and deeper international cooperation. With unity in 2018, we can make this pivotal year that sets the world on a better course,” he concluded.

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40% of India’s Thermal Power Plants in Water-Scarce Areas, Threatening Shutdownshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 06:57:25 +0000 Tianyi Luo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153902 Tianyi Luo, World Resources Institute

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Tuticorin thermal power station. Credit: Begoon/Wikimedia Commons Water shortages are hurting India’s ability to produce power.

By Tianyi Luo
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 17 2018 (IPS)

New WRI research finds that 40 percent of the country’s thermal power plants are located in areas facing high water stress, a problem since these plants use water for cooling. Scarce water is already hampering electricity generation in these regions—14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utilities experienced at least one shutdown due to water shortages between 2013-2016, costing the companies $1.4 billion.

It’s an issue that’s only poised to worsen unless the country takes action—70 percent of India’s thermal power plants will face high water stress by 2030 thanks to climate change and increased demands from other sectors.

Billions of Tons of Freshwater, Consumed

Thermal power—power that relies on fuels like coal, natural gas and nuclear energy—provides India with 83 percent of its total electricity. While these power plants fail to disclose how much water they’re using in their operations, WRI developed a new methodology using satellite images and other data to calculate their water use.

What’s the Difference Between Water Withdrawal and Consumption?

Water withdrawal: The total amount of water that is diverted from a water source (e.g. surface water, groundwater) for use.

Water consumption: The portion of water that is not returned to the original source after being withdrawn.

Much of the water withdrawn by plants is returned to the lakes and ponds from which it came, but a lot is also consumed, and not returned to its original source. We found that almost 90 percent of India’s thermal power generation depends on freshwater for cooling, and the industry is only growing thirstier.

Thanks to increased energy demand and the growing popularity of freshwater-recirculating plants, which consume the most water of any thermal plant, freshwater consumption from Indian thermal utilities grew by 43 percent from 2011-2016, from 1.5 to 2.1 billion cubic meters a year.

To put this in perspective, India’s total domestic water consumption in 2010 was about 7.5 billion cubic meters, according to the Aqueduct Global Water Risk Atlas. That means power plants drank about 20 percent as much water as India’s 1.3 billion citizens use for washing dishes, bathing, drinking and more.

40 Percent of Thirsty Plants Are in Water-Stressed Areas

More than a third of India’s freshwater-dependent plants are located in areas of high or extremely high water stress. These plants have, on average, a 21 percent lower utilization rate than their counterparts located in low or medium water-stress regions—lack of water simply prevents them from running at full capacity.

Even when controlling the comparison analysis by unit age, fuel type and plant capacity, the observation was always the same: Plants in low- and medium-stress areas are more able to realize their power output potential than those in high water-stress areas.

Scarce Water Dries Up Revenue

There are practical and financial implications of power plants’ thirst. Between 2013 and 2016, India’s thermal plants failed to meet their daily electricity generation targets 61 percent of the time due to forced power plant outages.

The reasons ranged from equipment failure to fuel shortages. Water shortages were the fifth-largest reason for all forced outages—the largest environmental reason.

In 2016 alone, water shortages cost India about 14 terawatt-hours of potential thermal power generation, canceling out more than 20 percent of the growth in the country’s total electricity generation from 2015.

The Way Forward

As India develops, water competition will continue to grow and climate change will likely disrupt predictable water supply. Thermal utilities will become even more vulnerable to water shortages, power outages and lost revenue.

But there’s a better path forward: Upgrading cooling systems, improving plant efficiency, and ultimately shifting toward water-free renewables like solar photovoltaics and wind can all curb water risks to power generation.

It’s worth noting that the government of India already has plans in place that give reason for hope, such as the notification on power plant water withdrawal limits and the “40/60” renewable energy development plan. If these ambitious policies are enacted and enforced, our estimates show that India will save 12.4 billion cubic meters of freshwater from being withdrawn by power plants. That’s a year’s worth of showers for 120 million people – more than live in the Philippines.

But change won’t happen overnight. Even with proactive policies in place, the key lies in their implementation. In the coming years, the Indian government, utility companies and international investors all have a role to play in making the power sector more resilient to water risks.

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Pakistan, Facing Military Aid Cuts, One Step Ahead of UShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pakistan-facing-military-aid-cuts-one-step-ahead-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-facing-military-aid-cuts-one-step-ahead-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pakistan-facing-military-aid-cuts-one-step-ahead-us/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 14:27:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153886 When the United States abruptly cuts off military supplies to its allies for political or other reasons, the reaction has been predictable: it drive these countries into the arms of the Chinese, the Russians and Western European weapons suppliers. So, when the Trump administration decided recently to withhold about $2.0 billion in aid to Pakistan, […]

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'Rafale B', French Air Force combat jets.

By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

When the United States abruptly cuts off military supplies to its allies for political or other reasons, the reaction has been predictable: it drive these countries into the arms of the Chinese, the Russians and Western European weapons suppliers.

So, when the Trump administration decided recently to withhold about $2.0 billion in aid to Pakistan, the government in Islamabad was one step ahead: it had already built a vibrant military relationship with China and also turned to UK, France, Sweden, Turkey and Italy for its arms supplies.

In the Middle East, some of the longstanding US allies, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Kuwait, are known not to depend too heavily on American weapons systems—and their frontline fighter planes include not only F-15s and F-16s (US-supplied) but also Rafale and Mirage combat jets (France), the Typhoon (a UK/France/Italy joint venture) and Tornado and Jaguars (UK), all of them in multi-billion dollar arms deals.

The primary reason for multiple sources is to ensure uninterrupted arms supplies if any one of the suppliers, usually the US, withholds military aid – as it did in the 1990s when Washington suspended security assistance to Pakistan under the so-called Pressler amendment which called for a certification that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons. (It did)

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest data for 2012-2016, the US accounted for about a third of the entire global market in major conventional weapons.

SIPRI reports that Pakistan has received significant quantities of weapons from both the United States and China in recent years. Deliveries from China in the last several years reportedly include combat aircraft, tanks, submarines, and other naval vessels.

US deliveries have included armored personnel carriers and systems to modernize US F-16s that were previously supplied to the Pakistani military.

Derek Bisaccio, Middle East/ Africa & Eurasia Analyst at Forecast International Inc., a US-based defense research company, told IPS the two primary arms suppliers to Pakistan are the United States and China.

American arms agreements with Pakistan, he said, have totaled between $5-6 billion since 2001; much of this stems from the sale of F-16 fighter planes.

“Although Chinese arms sales to Pakistan are more difficult to put a dollar figure to– owing to a lack of transparency on both sides– it is expected that Chinese arms sales have eclipsed American arms sales on an annual basis in recent years as Pakistan and China have deepened their military-technical cooperation,” he noted.

In the past decade, China has sold naval patrol vessels, submarines, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to Pakistan. The two have partnered on projects like the JF-17 fighter jet, assembled and manufactured locally by the Pakistanis.

Other arms suppliers include Ukraine, with whom Pakistan has partnered on its fleet of battle tanks, and Turkey.

Pakistan and Turkey have negotiated in the past few years over Pakistan’s possible purchase of attack helicopters and corvettes. Pakistan has purchased airborne early warning & control aircraft from Sweden and may well acquire more in the coming years, Bisaccio said.

In the past, Pakistan has contracted the United Kingdom, France and Italy for some of its purchases; many naval vessels and aircraft operated by Pakistan are French-origin, he added.

According to a report in the Washington Times last week, China is planning to build a military base in Pakistan, which would be its second overseas military base, after Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

The naval installation will be erected in a key strategic location: the Pakistani town of Jiwani, a port near the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman and near the Straits of Hormuz, which resides at one of the six proposed economic corridors of the One Belt One Road Initiative, commonly called the Silk Road Economic Belt, the Times said.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Trump administration’s decision to halt military aid to Pakistan is long overdue. Pakistan’s human rights record is deplorable, as documented in annual reports from the State Department.”

However, that decision was not justified on human rights grounds, she noted. Instead, the administration argues that the Pakistani government is not doing enough to combat terrorism.

“This argument that Pakistan is harboring terrorists is not new. The US-Pakistani relationship frequently features policy cycles that include critical statements by US officials, attempts to reduce or halt aid, and an eventual return to the status quo,” said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at the United Nations, on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

“Ironically, the Trump decision to put a hold on military assistance to Pakistan comes at the same time as Reuters reports that the administration is planning to be even more aggressive in pursuing global arms sales. Embassy staffs are apparently going to be asked to promote US arms sales more actively to their host governments. This is reminiscent of similar moves during the Reagan administration.”

She also pointed out that advocates of arms sales often argue that countries can find other suppliers if the US government refuses a sale.

“Yet by avoiding selling sophisticated US weapons to unstable regimes, we may significantly reduce the risk that members of our armed forces will end up fighting our own weapons. And in the end, the US government needs to set ethical standards for arms sales, not merely economic ones.”

Reacting to the US aid cuts, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif was quoted as saying: “We do not have any alliance” with the US. “This is not how allies behave.”

Trump said on Twitter that Pakistan had “given us nothing but lies and deceit” and accused Islamabad of providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

But Islamabad may still retaliate by closing down US supply routes to Afghanistan which goes through Pakistan. Currently, there are over 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

Bisaccio of Forecast International Inc told IPS that due to decades of partnership, the Pakistani military has a large amount of U.S.-supplied equipment, either provided directly from the U.S. or a third party, in its force structures, either in active use or in storage.

Much of the Army’s aviation wing is composed of Western-supplied aircraft, with a lot of American systems.

Asked if the Pakistani military can survive if the US suspends military aid– and halts maintenance, servicing and spares to US-made equipment—Bisaccio said it can certainly survive, but in some areas of the military such moves to end cooperation would be painful.

He said the suspension of maintenance, servicing, and the provision of spare parts– should the U.S. decide to enact such a move– would be particularly problematic for the Pakistani F-16 fleet.

Pakistan has already encountered difficulty acquiring new F-16s, as the U.S. Congress blocked Pakistan from using foreign military financing to purchase eight jets in 2016. Inability to acquire maintenance or armaments would impact fleet readiness, especially over time as the F-16s face attrition. Posturing against rival India would suffer as a result, he added.

Moreover, the ability of the Army to carry out counter-insurgency operations could be impacted should Pakistan not be able to obtain servicing for the Army’s aviation assets, especially the AH-1 attack helicopters.

“Pakistan, in recognition that reliance on one supplier could create vulnerability, has over the years diversified its supplier base and worked to build up its own defense industry, which does have the effect of lessening its military dependence on the U.S,” Bisaccio pointed out.

The dispute with President Trump, he pointed out, is a symptom of the longer-running tension between the U.S. and Pakistan, but, in Pakistan’s view, the latest row with the Trump administration provides further validation for this policy.

In an interview with the Financial Times in September 2017, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reiterated that his country would like to purchase F-16s from the U.S., but could seek alternatives from France or China if need be.

Pakistan’s missile deterrent against India is a key element of the country’s national security and Pakistan was able to develop its missile program without American assistance.

“The gradual fraying of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan has occurred amid a deepening of relations between China and Pakistan. Their joint cooperation on a range of matters, including military-technical issues, will help blunt the impact of the U.S. cutting off aid to Pakistan.”

The volume of security assistance provided to Pakistan from China is unknown but is likely to increase moving forward, offsetting to some extent the temporary or permanent loss of American assistance, he added.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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The Reality of North Korea as a Nuclear Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/reality-north-korea-nuclear-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reality-north-korea-nuclear-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/reality-north-korea-nuclear-power/#comments Thu, 11 Jan 2018 11:12:46 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153823 With a track record of six underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, North Korea is desperately yearning to be recognized as the world’s ninth nuclear power – trailing behind the US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel. But that recognition seems elusive– despite the increasing nuclear threats by Pyongyang and the continued […]

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Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 11 2018 (IPS)

With a track record of six underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, North Korea is desperately yearning to be recognized as the world’s ninth nuclear power – trailing behind the US, UK, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel.

But that recognition seems elusive– despite the increasing nuclear threats by Pyongyang and the continued war of words between two of the world’s most unpredictable leaders: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Arguing that North Koreans have little reason to give up their weapons program, the New York Times ran a story last November with a realistically arresting headline which read: “The North is a Nuclear Power Now. Get Used to it”.

But the world’s five major nuclear powers, the UK, US, France, China and Russia, who are also permanent members of the UN Security Council, have refused to bestow the nuclear badge of honour to the North Koreans.

North Korea, meanwhile, has pointed out that the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, were perhaps facilitated by one fact: none of these countries had nuclear weapons or had given up developing nuclear weapons.

“And that is why we will never give up ours,” a North Korean diplomat was quoted as saying.

Dr M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, told IPS there is, however, hope in the recent placatory moves by North and South Korea.

“I think that the situation can return to a calmer state, although it is entirely possible that this calmer state would involve North Korea holding on to nuclear weapons. I suspect that for the time being the world will have to live with North Korea’s nuclear arsenal,” he added.

“Although that is not a desirable goal, there is no reason why one should presume that North Korea having nuclear weapons is any more of a problem than India, Pakistan, or Israel, or for that matter, China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, or the United States,” said Dr Ramana, author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India, Penguin Books, New Delhi (2012).

“I think the greater problem is the current leadership of the United States that has been making provocative statements and taunts. I think it is for the powerful countries to start the process of calming down the rhetoric and initiate negotiations with North Korea.”

Also, any peace process should be based on reciprocal moves: one cannot simply expect North Korea to scale down its programs without corresponding moves by the United States, he declared.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003), told IPS there is little doubt that North Korea, (also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), has acquired a nuclear weapon capability and the means of delivering it to the mainland of the USA.

That this is clearly in defiance of international norms and a violation of international law and Security Council resolutions is also clear, he noted.

Those norms, quite apart from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), now include the recently negotiated Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.

It was adopted on 7 July 2017, but neither the USA nor the DPRK have acceded to it, said Dhanapala a former President of Pugwash (2007-17),

He also pointed out that the persistent efforts of the DPRK since the end of the Korean War to conclude a just and equitable peace with the USA have been rebuffed again and again.

“Past agreements and talks both bilateral and multilateral have failed and we are now witnessing the puerile antics of two leaders engaged in the mutual recrimination of two school-yard bullies asserting that one man’s nuclear button is bigger than the other’s while tensions reminiscent of the Cold War build up alarmingly.”

Such escalation reached dangerous proportions at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis where the historical record proves that the world was saved from nuclear catastrophe by sheer luck.

“We cannot trust to luck anymore,” he warned.

“Some small steps between the two Koreas hold promise of a dialogue beginning on the eve of the Winter Olympics. This must be the opportunity for all major powers to intervene and resume negotiations. The Secretary-General of the UN must act and act now,” he added.

The number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined significantly since the end of the Cold War: down from approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 14,550, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

According to US intelligence sources, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is anywhere between 20 to 50 weapons. The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimates a total of over 50 weapons.

Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, told IPS that successive North Korean governments have pursued their nuclear weapons program for two primary reasons: to ensure the survival of the Kim Dynasty and to preserve the survival of the North Korean state.

“As Scott Snyder (a Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy Council on Foreign Relations) taught us years ago, there is a logic – potentially deadly as is the case with any nuclear weapons program – to the development of North Korea’s deterrent nuclear arsenal.”

Beginning with the Korean War, the United States has threatened and or prepared to initiate nuclear war against North Korea. These threats have added resonance for North Koreans as a consequence of the United States military having destroyed 90% of all structures north of the 38th parallel during the Korean War.

Gerson said it is also worth noting that in the wake of the 1994 U.S.-DPRK nuclear crisis, North Korea was prepared to trade its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees, normalization of relations and economic development assistance.

The United States failed to fulfill its commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework, by refusing to deliver promised oil supplies and endlessly delaying its promised construction of two light water nuclear reactors in exchange for the suspension of the DPRK nuclear weapons program.

In 2000, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright negotiated a comprehensive agreement with North Korea. And President Clinton was to travel to Pyongyang to finalize the agreement, but with the political crisis caused by the disputed outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election, he did not make that trip.

Among the first disastrous orders of business of the Bush Administration was the sabotaging of that agreement. This, in turn, led to North Korea’s first nuclear weapons test, said Gerson, author of “Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World”, “The Sun Never Sets…Confronting the Network of U.S. Foreign Military Bases”, and “With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination”.

While expectations for the meeting of North and South Korean officials, currently underway, are low, said Gerson, the world should be celebrating South Korean President Moon’s winter Olympic-related diplomatic initiatives and the resulting functional Olympic Truce.

By welcoming North Korean athletes to participate in the Olympics and by postponing threatening U.S.-South Korean military “exercises,” President Trump’s “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” –ratcheting up of dangers of war have been sidelined– he pointed out.

Following his inauguration last year, President Moon announced that he had a veto over the possibility of a disastrous U.S. initiated second Korean War. Having exercised that veto and forced Trump’s hand, he has opened the way for deeper diplomacy and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Gerson said: “There remains, of course, the danger the Olympic Truce will simply serve as a temporary reprieve, with President Trump, beleaguered by the Muller investigation and seemingly endless scandals, again ratcheting up tensions. Disastrous war remains a possibility should the nuclear monarch opt for a desperate and deadly maneuver in his struggle for political survival.”

There never was, nor will there be, a military solution to the U.S.-North Korean nuclear crisis, and as U.S. military authorities have repeated warned, given Seoul’s proximity to North Korean artillery, even a conventional U.S. military attack against North Korea would result in hundreds of thousands of South Korean casualties and could escalate to uncontrollable and genocidal nuclear war.

The way forward requires direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations, possibly in multi-lateral frameworks like the Six Party Talks, Gerson noted.

As the growing international consensus advocates, resolution of the tensions will necessitate some form of a “freeze for freeze” agreement, limiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for halting U.S. threats to destroy or overturn the North Korean government and to implement previous commitments to normalization of relations.

With this foundation in place, future diplomacy can address finally ending the Korea War by replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace treaty and building on numerous proposals for the creation of a Northeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

In the end, Gerson said, the only way to prevent similar nuclear weapons proliferation crises is for the nuclear powers to finally fulfill their Article VI Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to negotiate the complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

As the Nobel Peace Laureate and senior Manhattan Project scientists Joseph Rotblat warned, humanity faces a stark choice. “We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will witness their global proliferation and the nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceives to be an unjust hierarchy of nuclear terror.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The Data Revolution Should Not Leave Women and Girls Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 16:20:56 +0000 Jemimah Njuki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153800 Jemimah Njuki is an expert on agriculture, food security, and women’s empowerment and works as a senior program specialist with IDRC. She is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.

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Most African farmers are women. Credit: IPS

By Jemimah Njuki
OTTAWA, Canada, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

If there is one political principle that has been constant throughout the history of human civilization it is the fact that land is power. This is something that is particularly true, and often painfully so, for women who farm in Africa.

Though women in Africa are far more likely to farm than men, they are also much less likely to have secure rights to the land where they cultivate crops and they typically hold smaller plots of inferior quality.

As a researcher who studies the role of gender in agriculture, I want to do my part to address this injustice, because when women have stronger rights to land, their crop yields increase and they have higher incomes and more bargaining power within the household. Research has shown that stronger land rights leads to other benefits such as better child nutrition and improved educational attainment for girls.

But as I delve deeper in to the issue, I frequently encounter another political constant, which is the fact that information is power. And one manifestation of the chronic neglect of women in agriculture is the lack of data that would help illuminate and address their plight.

For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched the Goal Keepers Initiative, which is making a concerted effort to track progress toward achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Examining the first ever report on the program launched just a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was scroll down to the section on Goal 5, “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls.” When examining the indicators related to gender, which include tracking the percentage of women who have secure land rights, I kept encountering the phrase, “Insufficient data” in big, bold red capital letters!

Without data, it is impossible to track progress or identify policies and interventions that are achieving gender equality. In order to develop solutions—whether around land rights or the many other challenges women and girls face–we need data that highlights current problems and assesses their impact.

A good example of how sex-specific data fosters progress is in financial inclusion. Sex-specific data gives us information about who is accessing which kind of products, which channels they use and what the gaps are. Being aware of these gaps is essential to overcome them, and this is impossible without data sets for both men and women. In Rwanda, use of sex-specific data has led to the targeting of groups who are excluded from the financial system, raising the financial inclusion index rise from 20 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2012.

A report by Data2X, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation, indicates that although close to 80 percent of countries globally regularly produce sex-specific statistics on mortality, labor force participation, and education and training, less than one-third of countries separate statistics by sex on informal employment, entrepreneurship (ownership and management of a firm or business) and unpaid work, or collect data about violence against women. This leads to an incomplete picture of women’s and men’s lives and the gaps that persist between them, which constrains the development of policies and programs to address these gaps.

A key challenge to collecting these data sets is investment. We need financial investments to collect data on the situation of women and girls at different levels –local, national and international. A study carried out by the UN Statistics Division in collaboration with the UN regional commissions in 2012, showed that out of 126 responding countries only 13 percent had a separate budget allocated to specific gender statistics, 47 percent relied on ad-hoc or project funds and the remaining 39 percent had no funds at all.

In 2016, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested US $80M to improve the collection of sex specific data. In Uganda, the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study is collaborating with the United Nations Evidence and Data for Gender Equality initiative and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics to collect and analyze asset ownership by different members of households.

It would help to know for example what assets women own so as to develop programs and policies that benefit both men and women and that close persistent gender gaps. At Canada’s International Development Research Centre, we are supporting sex-specific reporting and registration of vital and civil events—including births and deaths to help track progress on such indicators as women’s reproductive health and child mortality.

Globally, there is still no available data on how many women own customary land. One challenge is that the rules, norms, and customs which determine the distribution of land and resources are embedded in various institutions in society—family, kinship, community, markets, and states. For example, when I was visiting Mali in 2012, I attended a village’s community meeting where I witnessed the village chief grant a local women’s group a local deed so they could farm together and raise their incomes. But there was no formal document or record.

Without this data, when land is privatized or formalized, women often lose control of customary land. For example in post-independence Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, during the land registration and formalization experience, lack of data and consideration of women in customary land rights led to the documentation of land in the name of the head of the household only, often a man. This gave the man authority to use, sell, and control the land, with women losing the customary access and rights that they had previously enjoyed.

International agencies and governments must commit to investing in collecting more data on women and girls. Closing this gender data gap is not only useful for tracking progress of where we are with the SDGs, but it can also point to what interventions are working, and what needs to be done to accelerate progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

What gets measured matters, and what matters gets measured. Women and girls matter.

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Why the #MeToo Movement Disrupts the Creeping Commodification of Feminismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/creeping-commodification-feminism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creeping-commodification-feminism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/creeping-commodification-feminism/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:43:12 +0000 Rangita de Silva de Alwis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153782 Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School & Advisor, UN SDG Fund

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Rangita de Silva de Alwis is Associate Dean of International Affairs, University of Pennsylvania Law School & Advisor, UN SDG Fund

By Rangita de Silva de Alwis
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

As the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York draws near, women from every corner of the world will convene to deliberate on the theme of CSW 2018: Challenges and Opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. This year, the theme of empowerment has added significance. The #MeToo movement has shocked our collective conscience and made it impossible to ignore that empowerment goes far beyond economic agency.

Rangita de Silva de Alwis

Women’s economic empowerment has enormous consequence. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that gender equality adds U.S. $12 trillion to the global economy, yet women are conspicuously absent from board rooms and in some communities, school rooms. The evidence is now clear, when women are absent from the market place, the market suffers.

Although the cost analysis is important, the #MeToo movement has helped unmask the way in which sometimes women’s economic participation pays lip service to women’s power, while serving those in power. Feminism’s urgent charge is not to commodify women through glossy stories and data, but to pierce those veils to identify the underlying power structures and structural barriers that prevent women’s access to and retention in the market.

Feminism’s latest incarnation, “economic feminism,” poses a complicated challenge to the pursuit of gender equality around the world. By providing legal economic rights to women empowerment is thus framed as voluntary, and structural barriers are normalized.

Herein the champions of economic feminism proudly parade entrepreneurial women as proof of gender equality, a byproduct of a transformation in a society that sees value in women. In this cultural shift, if a woman is not in the marketplace, it is because she has made a choice not to work – and not because of debilitating structural inequalities.

However, this thinking masks patriarchy’s power over women. Economic feminism, in its unquestioned authority, can pose a threat to women’s advancement around the world. The importance attached to economic instrumentalist arguments for women’s rights can hide unexamined challenges.

Without a doubt, the plethora of recent research confirming gender equality significantly boosts economic growth from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), as well as the aforementioned McKinsey study, is to be celebrated for giving a tangible economic reason for countries to improve the status of women.

Unfortunately, this message has been warped by some economies, and economic policies such as Abenomics in Japan supplant important social change policies on sexual abuse and hold back feminism’s goal of full realization of gender equality under law. The reality is that women continue to face inequality that goes beyond just economic opportunity.

Several countries, notably Japan, have put forward “win-win” economic policies, but they ignore controversial and difficult social policies such as violence against women. This approach is similar to the nations that peddled the “Asian Values” theory in the 1990s. The better approach is to reveal the interconnectedness of women’s economic participation with equal protection of laws.

For example, in many corners of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, women have unequal access to property and land. Globally, women’s unequal access to citizenship, residency, inheritance, and decision-making in public and private often subordinate women’s economic participation.

Gender equality in all laws, most importantly family laws, have a profound impact on shaping and advancing women’s economic participation. In many countries, laws that regulate women in their families require women to get permission from their husbands to travel and disallow married mothers to confer citizenship on their children. Several nations have legislation that do not recognize women as heads of household and control their free movement.

Further, laws around the world permit underage and forced marriage for girls. Every two seconds, a girl is forced into marriage. Women married as children will reach one billion by 2030, according to UNICEF.

Martha Minow, the former Dean of Harvard Law School, has argued that the rules of family law construct not only roles and duties of men and women, but can shape rules about employment and commerce, and perhaps the governance of the state.

And not to be forgotten is that violence is one of the most insidious barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Where a woman suffers sexual and other forms of abuse, her capacity to work and function are severely impaired – Fortune estimates that it costs the US $500 billion, but the human cost cannot be computed.

Fortune argues that when talking about equality, the focus should include violence, or more specifically, violence against women. And according to McKinsey, violence is one of the biggest factors holding American women and all other women back.

Feminism’s and the #MeToo movements’ power lies in its potential to disrupt seemingly immutable gender norms. The international women’s rights community, as it convenes in New York in March, should not be swayed by the promise of economic opportunity alone, it must continue to press on issues of violence, sexual abuse and discrimination that disallow women from participating in economic activity, and inhibit women’s full empowerment.

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Tourism Should Be Regulated, Before It Is Too Late…http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tourism-regulated-late/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tourism-regulated-late http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tourism-regulated-late/#respond Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:19:12 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153779 Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

This year, we will have 3 million tourists each day wandering the world. This massive phenomenon is without precedent in human history and is happening (as usual), with only one consideration in mind: money. We should pause and take a look at its social, cultural and environmental impact and take remedial measures, because they are becoming seriously negative if things are left as they are.

Roberto Savio

Sameer Kapoor listed for Triphobo Trip Planner a list of 20 places that have been ruined, due to excess of tourism. Antarctica is getting an alarming level of pollution. The famous Taj Mahal, a monument of love from the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to the memory of his wife, Mumtaz, has changed its shining milky white marble into a yellow shade. Mount Everest is strewn with trash from invading visitors.

The Great wall of China has been so mistreated by the massive invasion of tourists that it has begun to crumble in places The famous beaches of Bali are littered with trash; traffic is in a gridlock and roads and footpaths are in a dangerous state of disrepair.

Macchu Picchu has a such large number of visitors that archaeologists are worried about preservation of the site. Once there was a train to a small village, Aguas Calientes, to then continue by foot or mules. Now you can reach the enigmatic and sacred Inca citadel by air conditioned bus, and Aguas Calientes is now a town of 4.000 people with five star hotels. The famous Australian Coral Reef Barrier, has lost already one third of the corals.

The Galapagos islands, where Charles Darwin conceived his famous theory of natural selection, has so many visitors impinging on his fragile eco balance that in 2007 UNESCO placed it on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites but to no avail. The Parthenon has many visitors taking pieces of rocks and ruins, and drawing or carving on ancient pillars, that special police squad had to be created.

The wonders of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, is suffering the same fate, together with the Colosseum in Rome, where every week somebody gets caught for chipping away pieces of columns, or graffiting the pillars.

But maybe the best example of the negative impact of tourism is Venice. The town has now officially 54.000 residents. They were 100.000 in 1970. Every year 1.000 residents leave for the mainland, because rents and cost of life keeps going up, and the hordes of tourist make life impossible for the residents. The number of sweepers and cleaners employed by the city has to go up continuously. Giant ships continue to go over the delicate microsystem of the lagoon and their lobby is very strong. They insist that without their megaships landing at the centre of the town, 5.000 jobs would be in danger.

There is now a clear conflict between those who live off tourism and those who have other jobs. Like in Barcelona, residents now stage demonstrations against mass tourism. Venice will become a ghost town, like the village of Mont Saint Michel, the medieval village in Normandy, jammed by thousands of visitors, to see the famous high-speed sea tide. At night, 42 people sleep there.

What is impressive is the speed of the phenomenon since 1950 when the total tourist numbers were 25 million, two thirds to Europe meant 29.76%of the tourists , Africa a mere 1.98% and the Middle East 0.79%, like Asia and Pacific. 66 years later, tourist numbers rose to 1.2 billion, Europe is down to 50%, Americas to 16.55%, Africa is at 4.52%, while the Middle East is at 4.7%. And Asia Pacific? It is now at 24.2%.

What is more impressive is to look further – at 2030, for which we have all the data (from the United Nations World Tourism Organization). Well, in a short time, we will go up to 1.8 billion: 5 million tourists every day. Europe is again down, to 41%, Americas down to 14%, Asia up to 30%, Africa to 7% and Middle east to 8 %. A totally inverted world in respect to 1950.

Tourism is already today the largest employer in the world: 1 person every 11. China has surpassed the US as the largest nationality. In 2016, they have spent 261 billion US dollars, and they will spend 429 billion in 2020.

UNWTO points to the fact that in 2025, China will have 92.6 million families with an income between 20.000 and 30.000 dollars per year; 63 million with an income between 35.000 and 70.000 dollars per year; and 21.3 million, with an income between 70.000 and 130.000 dollars. A large part of them is expected to travel and spend money. How many people speak Chinese and know anything about their idiosyncrasis ?

But any other consideration beside money, is totally absent in this debate. For instance, a large part of the jobs is in fact only seasonal, and poorly paid. Most of the money does not stay in the place where it is spent, but goes back to big companies and food imported for the tourist’s habits.

It is calculated that in the Caribbean, a full 70% goes back to US and Canada. Culture and traditions are influenced as outsiders come. Local culture and traditions become just a show for foreigners, and can lose roots. Hotels are built just for tourism in the most beautiful spots, degrading habitat and nature.

Price increases in local shops, because tourists are often wealthier than the local population. It is sufficient to go to a town which is out of the tourist’s circuits, to see the difference. In fact, now there is a growing search for “intact” places, different from “tourist’s places.

Tourist restaurants have become synonymous with poor food and high prices. And a tourist place is one that has lost its identity to conform with the demands of tourists. It has been the proliferation of Mc Donalds, Pizza Huts and other fast food joints, often in the most beautiful parts of towns, that pushed Petrini, in an old village with gastronomic tradition, Bra in Piedmont, to start a movement called Slow Food movement. The movement defends the freshness of materials, that must be local, preserving the original and traditional cuisines, and defending local products form the ongoing homogenization. It has now over 100.000 members in 150 countries, which defends identity against globalization.

Florence can well be a good example of how tourism is uprooting the locals’ identity and tradition. It was since the Renaissance, a place of art and culture. It was a must for cultured tourists and the forebearers of today’s tourists: German, British and French visitors, until the Second World War. A city of elegance, antique dealers, art shops, handcrafts and a very recognized Florentine cuisine.

Now it is full of tourist’s shops, jeans places, cheap standardized handcraft, a lot of pizzeria and tourist restaurants. The concierge of the classical Hotel Baglioni, when questioned about the decay of the town, had a simple answer: “Sir, we are a town of merchants. We did create the letter of change, the banks, and the international trade. Here come people who looked for art and antiques. Today we are awash with people who want to buy blue jeans and cheap stuff. We provide with what people want.” And for those living, in Rome, the main street via del Corso has suffered the same transformation.

It is scary to think what will happen when in the not so far 2020, 100 million Chinese will travel worldwide, with Europe as their first destination. Anybody who had a Chinese visitor (or from a different culture),knows how difficult it is for him to understand what he sees.

One of the main artistic European buildings are churches, and for a totally different religion they are strange places. It makes no sense to a Chinese what is Romanesque or Baroque, as they do not have any equivalent at home. And the classical tourist tour is now for about a week, in which they see at least 5 towns. This is the equivalent for a European to visit the temples in Tibet, without having studied Tibetan Buddhism, which is very different from other branches of Buddhism. Or, for that matter, visit the Egyptian temples without some knowledge at least of the Egyptian cosmology, the reigns of death, and the Pantheon of Gods. What will be remembered is the size of the pyramids, the smell of the incense in Buddhist temples, and other mere esthetical impression. That has nothing to do with culture and art.

To talk about the negative impacts of tourism, opens inevitably the question of classism. The more cultured you are, the more you can get from your travels. Does that mean that only cultured people (that until the second world war, also meant affluent: today the two concepts have split, may be for ever), should travel? Is tourism not a way to enrich and educate, so it should be on the contrary an important tool for the less cultivated?

I do not think that there is an easy answer to this issue. What I know, is that only a small minority of those visiting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, or the Potala Palace in Lhasa, or the valley of the kings in Egypt, have a book in their hands, that they have bought to prepare themselves. They depend on their tour guides, who confess that they do not even try to teach, but only to show what their tourists can all understand. That means that when you are in the Sistine Chapel, you are nearly unable to move, while the custodians try to move people on, so to make space for the waiting line of visitors. Among that crowd, there are some people who can place the difference between Michelangelo and Matisse, and would certainly benefit from some more time, while this is irrelevant for others.

It is clear that we cannot let 1.8 billion people wander in the world, without introducing some global regulations on how to limit the negative aspects of tourism, and relating it not only to money, but to education, culture and personal development.

To come in touch with different cultures, civilizations, foods, habits and realities should be an occasion that should not be left only to money. A paradox is that we are fighting against immigrants, because of different cultures, but we accept gladly the same people if they come as tourist and not as refugees. And the other paradox is the two parallel words which coexist: one, the real, about poverty and violence that we read in newspapers; and another of the same place, which exists only for tourists, about the beautiful beaches, wonderful nature, and fantastic hotels.

Right now, you can visit the Vatican after its closing, with a modest fee of 100 Euro per person, in quiet and small numbers. Is the future of tourism made with two tracks, where money will be the dividing factor ?

It is obvious that we should link tourism to education and culture. A proposal is simply to ask every tourist, when he buys a tour, an airline ticket, or asks for a visa, to buy and read a very simple and schematic book (they do not exist until now), which can be read and understood in no more than 10 hours about what he or she is going to visit.

A small commission formed by one teacher of history, one of geography, and one of art, is established in any small or large cities, where now lives the large majority of the population. In all of them there are schools with these studies. They conduct a small exam, and charge a small fee for a certificate, to justify their extra work.

Tourists can choose to go to the commission or not. Few extremely simple questions such as – which is the capital of the countries you are going to visit ? Is the country independent ? Is it a monarchy or a republic ? How does it makes its money ? Its monument and art have different moments in history? The commission would give two certificates. One would give access to museums and monuments for the first two hours of the day, and only those with the certificate could then enter. After those two hours , everybody with the two certificates can enter. But this would enable those who can understand and enrich themselves, to have some time in peace and quiet.

This would make two tracks of tourism, not based on money. And this could generate a demonstration effect, where tourists would probably dedicate sometime to prepare themselves. I asked one former director general of UNESCO what he thought of a such proposal. His answer was – it is a great idea, but where is the political will to support this or, for that matter any international agreement ?

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Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:30:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153729 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Uncertainty Surrounds Renegotiation of NAFTA and Its Consequences for Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 16:32:20 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153721 The first few months of 2018 will be key to defining the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whose renegotiation due to the insistence of U.S. President Donald Trump has Mexico on edge because of the potential economic and social consequences. After five rounds of ministerial negotiations, which began in August, the […]

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Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-power-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:53:29 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153716 Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2018 (IPS)

In 1994, Dr. David R. Hawkins wrote a book positing the difference between power and force (Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior – the latest revised version came out in 2014).

Basing his hypothesis on the science of kinetics, Dr. Hawkins made a case for how human consciousness – and the physical body – can tell the difference between power, which is positive, and force, which is not. An example of power over force is illustrated as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the force of British colonialism.

Power is slow, steady, and long lasting, whereas force is moving, fast, and tends to both create counter-force, and eventually exhaust itself. Dr. Hawkins’ argument, often labeled as ‘spiritual’, lays the groundwork for how faith, or belief, is a source of power, and, to coin a phrase, it’s all good.

Historically, from the first century’s Lucretius, to 16th Century Machiavelli, to 18th Century’s Voltaire and David Hume, through to modern day Richard Dawkins and others among the New Atheists, it has long been argued, in different ways, that religion —particularly as manifested through religious institutions — is, in Hawkins’ terms, more pertinent to the realm of ‘force’.

And yet, it is still largely towards these religious leaders, and religious institutions, that the international community (now increasingly shepherded by many governments) is looking, as a means to (re)solve a myriad of human development and humanitarian challenges.

These challenges include poverty, migration, environmental degradation, children’s rights, harmful social practices, ‘violent extremism’ (often narrowed down only to the religious variety), and even armed conflict. Religious leaders, and occasionally faith-based organizations, are posited as the panacea to all these, and more.

The notion of partnering with religious actors as one of the means to mobilise communities (socially, economically and even politically), to seek to (re)solve longstanding human development challenges, has evolved significantly inside the United Nations system over the last decade. But the intent of the outreach from largely secular institutions towards religious ones, has changed in the last couple of years.

The rationale for partnership, as argued by the diverse members of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Partnership with Religious Actors for Sustainable Development (or the UN Task Force on Religion, for short) in 2009, was based on certain facts: that religious NGOs are part of the fabric of each civil society, and therefore bridging between the secular and religious civic space is key to strong advocacy and action for human rights (think the Civil Rights Movement in the USA); that religious institutions are the oldest and most long-standing mechanisms of social service provision (read development including health, education, sanitation, nutrition, etc.); and that some religious leaders are strong influencers (if not gatekeepers) of certain social norms – including especially some of the harmful social practices that hurt girls and women.

Thus, the UN Interagency Task Force developed guidelines for engagement with religious actors, based on a decade of learning, consultations and actual engagement among 17 diverse UN entities and almost 500 faith-based NGOs. These guidelines stipulate, among other aspects, engagement with those who are committed to all human rights. Thus, there is to be no room for cherry-picking, or so-called ‘strategic’ selectivity about which rights to honour, and which to conveniently turn a blind eye to.

When the specific religious actors who are committed to all human rights, are convened, even around one development or humanitarian issue, the ‘power’ in the convening space is palpable, and the discourse can – and does – move hearts and minds. This was evident as far back as 2005 when UNDP started convening Arab faith leaders around the spread of HIV.

Some of the very same religious leaders who held that HIV was a ‘just punishment for sexual promiscuity’, when confronted with the scientific realities of the spread of the disease, and its very human consequences on all ages and all social strata, signed on to a statement which remains one of the most ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) in religious discourse of the time, and some went so far as to ask for forgiveness from those living with HIV among them.

The ‘power’ of religious actors who are systematically convened together for the human rights of all, at all times, was repeatedly witnessed over the course of several UN initiatives over the years, in different countries, and at the global level. Notably, UNFPA and UNICEF convened religious leaders with other human rights actors, to effect a social transformation as witnessed in a number of communities committed to stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in several sub-Saharan African countries.

The latest event took place as 2017 wound to an end, in December, when the UN Office for the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, after two years of convening religious actors – using the UN systems vetted partners and it’s Guidelines — as gatekeepers against hate speech, responded to a request from some of the religious leaders themselves, to come together from several South Asian countries (including Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka).

Sharing respective experiences of protecting religious minorities and standing in solidarity with the rights of all, across religions and national boundaries, created a sense of shared purpose, and above all, of possibility, hope – and yes, of power. Not a minor achievement in a time of a great deal of general confusion and sense of instability around, and with, religion.

Can the same be said of convening religious actors who are prepared to uphold a particular set of rights, even at the expense of ignoring other rights, ostensibly for the ‘greater good’? Or are we then, very possibly, inadvertently mobilising the ‘force’ of religion?

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Billionaires, Fiscal Paradise, the World’s Debt, and the Victimshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/billionaires-fiscal-paradise-worlds-debt-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=billionaires-fiscal-paradise-worlds-debt-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/billionaires-fiscal-paradise-worlds-debt-victims/#comments Tue, 02 Jan 2018 14:22:59 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153702 Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Money, coins and bills. Credit: IPS

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

Among Bloomberg’s many profitable activities is a convenient Bloomberg Billionaires Index that has just published its findings for 2017. It covers only the 500 richest people, and it proudly announces that they have increased their wealth by 1 trillion dollars in just one year. Their fortunes went up by 23% to top comfortable 5 trillion dollars (to put this in perspective, the US budget is now at 3.7 trillion). That obviously means an equivalent reduction for the rest of the population, which lost those trillion dollars. What is not widely known is that the amount of the circulation of money stays the same; no new money is printed to accommodate the 500 richest billionaires!

In fact, Forbes, the magazine for the rich, states that there are over 2.000 billionaires in the world, and this number is going to increase and increase fast. China has now overtaken the US, by having 594 billionaires as compared to the US’s 535 – and every three days a new millionaire is born. There is even an exclusive club of billionaires, the China Entrepreneur Club, which admits members only by the unanimity of its 64 members at present. Together they have 300 billion dollars, the 4.5% of the Chinese GNP. As a norm, the Chinese wealth is a family affair, which means that in 10 years they will leave a heritage of 1 trillion dollars, most probably to their sons; and the amount of inherited wealth is going to rise to three trillion dollars in 20 years.

We know from a large study by the French economist Thomas Piketty covering 65 countries during modern times, that the bulk of wealth comes from inherited money. That because, as we all know, money begets money. And Reagan started his campaign: “Misery brings misery, wealth brings wealth”: therefore, we must tax rich people less than poor people. But Trump’s tax law just adopted in the US, cuts taxes to companies, increasing the US deficit by 1.7 trillion dollars over ten years. Nobody is noticing that the US deficit is already at $18.96 trillion or about 104% of the previous 12 months of the Gross Domestic (GDP).

This tax reform will have a deep impact on Europe, by shifting there many of the costs of the reform, through balance of payments and trade. The five most important ministers of finance of Europe, UK included, have written a letter of protest, obviously much to the glee of President Trump, who perceives only the US as winner, and all others as losers.

Roberto Savio

All this staggering amount of money in a few hands (8 people have the same wealth as 2.3 billion people), brings us to three relevant considerations: a) what is happening with the world debt b) how are governments helping the rich to avoid taxes; c) the relation between injustice and democracy. None of those perspectives gives space for hope, and least of all trust in our political class.

Let us start with the world’s debt. I do not remember to have seen a single article on that in the closing year. Yet the International Monetary Fund has alerted: gross debt of the non-financial sector has doubled in nominal terms; since the end of the century to 152 trillion dollars. This is a record 225% of the world GDP. Two thirds come from the private sector, and one third from the public sector. But this increased from below 70% of the GDP last year now to 85%, a dramatic rise in such a short time.

In fact, the respected Institute for international Finance estimates that at the end of this year the global debt, private and public added, would have reached a staggering 226 trillion dollars, more than three times global annual economic output… This doesn’t seem to interest anyone. But let us take the state of the American economy, and a proud President boasting about the index of growth, now estimated at 2.6%. Well, this shows the inadequacy of the GDP as a valid indicator. Growth is a macroeconomic index. If 80% goes to a few hands, and the crumbs to all the others, who pay most of taxes, it is not an example of growth, it is just a problem waiting to explode.

What is more, nobody is thinking about the increase in deficit. The total private debt at the end of the first quarter of 2017 was 14.9 trillion, with an increase of 900 million dollars in three months. While salaries increased from 9.2 billion dollars in 2014 to 10.3 billion dollars in the second quarter of 2017, the debt of families rose from 13.9 billion dollars to 14.9, an increase of one billion dollars, in just four months.

Which growth are we talking about? In fact, we have 86% of the population facing an increasing debt, but poorer at the same time, because of the concentration of wealth in just 1% of the population’s hands. This should be a cause of concern for any administration, left wing or right-wing: in fact, it is not surprising that the 400 richest men of the US, led by Warren Buffet, have written to Trump telling him that they are doing fine and that they do need a tax rebate; and that he should worry about the poorest part of the population.

Now a favourite way of avoiding taxes, is to place money in tax havens, where between 21 and 30 trillion dollars are ensconced. The Tax Justice Network reports that this system is “basically designed and operated” by a group of highly paid specialists from the world’s largest private banks (led by UBS, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs), law offices, and accounting firms and tolerated by international organizations such as Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD, and the G20.

The amount of money hidden away has significantly increased since 2005, sharpening the divide between the super-rich and the rest of the world. And this is why there was a lot of pressure to oblige banks to open their accounts to fiscal inspector, and pressure on the Bahamas, Hong Kong, Panama and other third world countries.

Now, another good example of the reigning hypocrisy: The last meeting of the Ministers of Finance of the European Union (Ecofin), has not been able to take a decision on something heinous: several member countries (Luxemburg, UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Malta and Cyprus), host tax havens on their territories. The Queen of England has invested 10 million pounds in an English tax heaven. And two US states, in particular Delaware, have tax havens that are impenetrable even to the CIA and FBI. Tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey and the Bahamas were far less permissive, researchers found, than states such as Nevada, Delaware, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and New York. “[Americans] discovered that they really don’t need to go to Panama”, said James Henry of the Tax Justice Network. Ecofin has decided that they will continue to bang Third World countries, until they decided what to do at home.

So, the West proclaims principles of transparency and accountability, as long as it can impose these on others. But there is a paradox for the western governments: if those tax havens were closed, as the majority of the deposit comes from the West, they would be able to get much more taxes. To take just the case of the US: Reed College economist Kim Clausing estimates that inversions in tax havens and other income-shifting techniques reduced Treasury revenues by as much as $111 billion in 2012. And, according to a new Congressional Budget Office projection, the corporate base erosion will continue to cut corporate tax receipts over the next decade. It must be clear therefore that if governments let their revenues from the corporations and high earners shrink, they are not acting in the interest of the average citizen.

So, let us draw our conclusions. Nobody is paying attention to the world debt. It is increasing beyond control, but we are leaving the problem to the next generations, hoping that they will address it. We are mortgaging them with debt, with climate change, and whatever else is possible, to avoid any sacrifices on our part now. Our motto seems to be: Let us protect the riches, and expect less from them and more from the others. In 1952, corporate income taxes funded about 32 percent of the US government. That shrank to 10.6 percent by 2015. While tax havens aren’t the sole cause of this shift, it’s worth noting that the share of corporate profits reported in tax havens has increased tenfold since the 1980s. And now comes from Trump the giant tax gift for companies.

This policy, hidden to citizens, and never legitimized by any formal act of law, is now becoming evident because of the giant increase of inequality, which has no precedence in history. According to Oxfam, Great Britain will have more social injustice in 2020, that at the times of Queen Victoria. The world is moving faster to financial investments and transactions, and not the production of goods and services, which do not fetch instant rewards. It is estimated that with one trillion dollars you can buy the world production of a day of goods and services. That same day, the financial transactions reach 40 trillion dollars. That means, that for every dollar generated by human hands, there are 40 dollars created by financial abstractions.

Globalization is obviously rewarding capitals, not human beings. Well, this is having an impact in politics, and not the best one. There is everywhere an increasing number of losers, especially in rich countries, also because of technological development, and shift in consumption. A classic example are the coal mines that Trump wants to resurrect, to make America great again. But coal is inexorably being phased out because of climate concerns (even if not fast enough), and automatization reduces considerably the number of workers to be employed. Robots will in 2040 be responsible for 42% of production of goods and services, up from the present 16%. Which means around 86 million of new unemployed, in the West alone, according to the International Labour Organization. Those left out from the benefits of globalizations look at the winners, whom they see well connected to the system. This results in the globalization of resentment and frustration, which in a few years has led to the rise of the rightist parties in all European countries, triggered Brexit, and Trump. Once upon a time, the left was the banner-bearer of the fight for social justice. Now it is the right!

Finally, globalization has lost its shine – but not its power. Now, the debate is about how to de-globalize, and what is worrying is that the debate is not about how to bring the process to the service of humankind, but how to deploy populism and nationalism, and xenophobia, to “let us make US great again”, to the increase in clashes and conflicts.

International organizations like the IMF and the World Bank – who have been claiming for two decades that market is the only basis for progress, that once a totally free market is in place, the common man and woman would be the beneficiary – have switched the reverse gear. Now they are all talking about the need for the state to be again the arbiter for regulations and social inclusion, because they have found out that social injustice is a brake not only for democracy, but also economic progress. But despite all the mea culpa, they are rather late in the day. The genie is out of the bottle, and the powers that be do not even try to put it back. Utter hypocrisy, vested interests, and the lack of vision have regrettably replaced policy.

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Critical Issues to Watch in 2018http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/critical-issues-watch-2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=critical-issues-watch-2018 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/critical-issues-watch-2018/#comments Tue, 02 Jan 2018 11:27:44 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153698 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva

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More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold in the world in 2016, in 2018 we can expect international cooperation to reduce the use of plastic and how to treat plastic waste. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

More than 480 billion plastic bottles were sold in the world in 2016, in 2018 we can expect international cooperation to reduce the use of plastic and how to treat plastic waste. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

Another new year has dawned, and on a world facing serious disruption on many fronts.  What are the trends and issues to watch out for in 2018?

One obvious answer is to anticipate how Donald Trump, the most unorthodox of American Presidents, will continue to upset the world order.  But more about that later.

Just as importantly as politics, we are now in the midst of several social and environmental trends that have important long-lasting effects.  Some are on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where a long-term trend produces critical and sometimes irreversible events. We may see some of that in 2018.

Who would have expected that 2017 would end with such an upsurge of the movement against sexual harassment? Like a tidal wave it swept away famous or important persons from their posts, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film star Kevin Spacey, TV talk-show host Charlie Rose, US Senator Al Franken, and UK Minister Michael Fallon.

The #MeToo movement took years to gather steam, with the 1991 Anita Hill testimony against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas being a trailblazer.  It paved the way over many years for other women to speak up until the tipping point was reached last year. In 2018, expect the momentum to continue and in more countries.

 

Clicktivism & Real Life Activism Potent Instruments Against Sexual Violence

Another issue that has been brewing is the rapid growth and effects of digital technology.  Those enjoying the benefits of the smartphone, Google search, Whatsapp, Uber and on-line shopping usually sing its praises and wonder what life would be like without them.

But the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  It has many benefits such as more convenience and choice for consumers and higher efficiency and reduced costs for businesses.  But it also has serious downsides, and the debate is now picking up.

First, automation with artificial intelligence can make many jobs redundant.  Uber displaced taxis, and has now booked thousands of driver-less cars which will soon displace its army of drivers.

The global alarm over job losses was sounded a few years ago and is gathering speed.  Scholarly studies warn that as many as half of jobs or work tasks in industries including electronics, automobiles and textiles, and professional services such as accountancy, law and healthcare, will be replaced by robots within one or two decades.

New country-based estimates are being produced. An estimated 44% of jobs in the United Kingdom could feasibly be automated, equating to 13.7 million people who together earn about 290 billion pounds sterling, according to a 28 December 2017 article in The Guardian (London), citing a new study by the UK  think tank IPPR.

In Malaysia, 54% of jobs is at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years according to a 2017 study by government-owned think-tank Khazanah Research Institute, citing a International Labour Office report.

The global alarm over job losses was sounded a few years ago and is gathering speed. Scholarly studies warn that as many as half of jobs or work tasks in industries including electronics, automobiles and textiles, and professional services such as accountancy, law and healthcare, will be replaced by robots within one or two decades.


Second is a recent chorus of warnings, including by some of digital technology’s creators, that addiction and frequent use of the smartphone are making humans less intelligent (as time and interest traditionally used to acquire broad and in-depth knowledge is now replaced by the narrow skills and short span attention required by social media) and socially deficient (as relations through social media replace direct human relationships).

Third is the loss of privacy, as personal data obtained from our internet use is collected by tech companies like Facebook and Google and sold to advertisers.  The companies have the data on personal details and preferences of millions or even billions of individuals which can be used for commercial, and possibly non-commercial, purposes.

Fourth is the threat of cyber-fraud, other cyber-crimes and cyber-warfare as data from hacked devices can be used to damage computers and websites; empty bank accounts; steal information from governments and companies;  send out false information; and engage in high-tech warfare.

Fifth is the worsening of inequality and the digital divide as those countries and people with little access to digital devices will be left behind or even lose their livelihoods.  The internet can be used by big companies or tech-savvy small and medium sized firms to establish growing markets for their products, which is one of the major attractions of the digital economy.

But firms, individual entrepreneurs and the self-employed that cannot adapt or keep pace with the new internet technologies, or that operate in places that do not even have access to the internet, are unable to take advantage of internet marketing and are also at increasing risk of their business being taken over by the big wave of on-line shopping.

The developing countries will be most badly hit by the inequities of the digital revolution; except for a few, they have much less capacity to gain.  Even in developed countries, the digital revolution will widen the rich-poor gap.  According to the IPPR study, low-paid job-related roles are in greatest danger as automation threatens jobs generating wages worth 290 billion pounds.

The usual response to these points is that people and governments must be prepared to take advantage of the benefits of the digital revolution and offset  the ill effects.  Suggestions include that laid-off workers should be retrained, companies be taught to use e-commerce, and a tax can be imposed on using robots (an idea supported by Microsoft founder Bill Gates).

But the technologies are moving ahead faster than policy makers’ capacity to understand or keep track of them, let alone come up with policies and regulations.

Expect this debate to move from conference rooms to the public arena in 2018, as more technologies are introduced and more effects become evident.

In 2018, the environmental crisis will continue to attract great public concern. On climate change, scientists frustrated by the lack of action, will continue to raise the alarm that the situation is far worse than earlier predicted.

In fact the tipping point may well be reached already.   On 20 December, the United Nations stated that the Arctic has been forever changed by rapidly warming climate.  The Arctic continued in 2017 to warm at double the rate of the global temperature increase, resulting in loss of sea ice, and other effects.  “The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen region it was decades ago,” said the Arctic Report Card authored by 85 scientists.

The Arctic phenomenon is only one of the signs of accelerating global warming.  Last year saw many extreme weather events including hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires and drought which climate change likely exacerbated; and 2015-2017 have been the three warmest years on record.

The target of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark just two years ago by the IPCC (the UN’s climate change scientific panel) and the Paris Agreement, now seems out of date and a new target of 1.5 degrees will be considered in 2018.

But it is much harder to meet this new target than the existing one, especially since the rise in average global temperature has already passed the 1 degree level.    Will political leaders and the public rise to the challenge, or will this coming year see a wider disconnect between what scientists say needs to be done, and a lack of response, and what will be the impact of the bad example of the US under President Trump?

And will the developing countries get the financial resources and technologies needed by them to take climate action, as pledged as commitments by the developed countries?

 

Credit: UNEP

 

Air pollution has now gained recognition as one of the world’s top killers.  With urban smog proliferating worldwide, including in the two big capital cities of New Delhi and Beijing, a tipping point may have been reached in public consciousness of its threat to human life and health. In 2018, there should be a big jump in policy measures to tackle this danger.

Plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans has also reached alarming proportions with the head of the UN environment programme Erik Solheim describing it as “Armageddon in the making” and predicting there will be the same weight of plastic as fish in the seas by 2050 if this continues.

Last year there was a lot of publicity given to this problem, including estimates there were 480 billion plastic bottles in the world in 2016, and we can expect international cooperation to reduce the use of plastic and how to treat plastic waste.

Another issue reaching tipping point is the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance, with bacteria mutating to render antibiotics increasingly ineffective to treat many diseases.   There are global and national efforts to contain this crisis, but these are only beginning in most countries, and far from adequate. Yet there is little time left to act before millions die from once-treatable ailments.

Finally, back to President Trump.  Since he showed last year that his style and policies are disrupting the domestic and global order, and he does seem to  care but even thrives on this, we can expect more of the same or even more shocking pronouncements and measures from him in 2018.

The opposition to his policies from foreign countries will mean little to him. But Trump has many enemies domestically who consider him a threat to the American system.   So long as the Republicans control both houses in the US Congress, the President may feel his position is secure.  But this may change if he commits what is perceived by his Party as a major blunder, or if the Democrats capture enough seats in the mid-term Congressional elections in November.

At this moment, it looks unlikely that a tipping point will be reached regarding Trump’s presidency and we will probably still be discussing what new policies he will unleash, this time next year.  But in politics today, as in other areas, nothing can be really reliably predicted.

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Central America Weakens Forest Shield Against Future Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts/#respond Sun, 31 Dec 2017 17:55:22 +0000 DANIEL SALAZAR http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153692 Jazziel Baca lives in the municipality of Esquías, in western Honduras, one of the areas hardest hit by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which damaged almost 500,000 hectares of forest in that Central American country between 2013 and 2015. Supposedly, the pest that was destroying the pines would stop spreading with the rains, but […]

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Costa Rica increased its forest cover, but some wetlands and areas in the north of the country have been affected by deforestation and drought. The high use of agrochemicals and fertilisers in agro-industrial activities and logging in neighboring lands damaged the Palo Verde wetland and the surrounding forests. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

Costa Rica increased its forest cover, but some wetlands and areas in the north of the country have been affected by deforestation and drought. The high use of agrochemicals and fertilisers in agro-industrial activities and logging in neighboring lands damaged the Palo Verde wetland and the surrounding forests. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

By Daniel Salazar
SAN JOSE, Dec 31 2017 (IPS)

Jazziel Baca lives in the municipality of Esquías, in western Honduras, one of the areas hardest hit by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which damaged almost 500,000 hectares of forest in that Central American country between 2013 and 2015.

Supposedly, the pest that was destroying the pines would stop spreading with the rains, but the rainy season came and there was no rain. He told IPS that apart from fewer trees, his town also has less water, the soil has eroded and some of the neighboring communities face drought.

This is not the only problem causing them to run out of water.

In Honduras, forest coverage shrank by almost a third, from 57 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2015, explained by an increase of monoculture, extractive projects, livestock production and shifting cultivation. It is the Central American country with the greatest decline in forest cover, in a region where all of the countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, are destroying their forests.The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

According to the State of the Region Programme, the 2017 environmental statistics published this month, since 2000 Central America has lost forest cover and wetlands, vital to the preservation of aquifers, which coincided with a widespread regional increase in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

It is not good news, said Alberto Mora, the State of the Region research coordinator, who noted that the region could have 68 departments or provinces suffering severe aridity towards the end of the century, compared to fewer than 20 today.

Mora also stressed that demand for drinking water could grow by 1,600 percent by the year 2100, according to the study prepared by the State of the Nation of Costa Rica, an interdisciplinary body of experts funded by the country’s public universities.

“This greatly exacerbates the impacts of global warming and rising temperatures, on ecosystems and their species. It is really a serious problem in Central America,” he told IPS.

Fewer trees, less food

Baca, an environmental engineer active in the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth, explained that farmers are moving higher up the mountains, because the soil they used to farm is no longer fertile. Using the slash-and-burn technique, they grow their staple foods.

But also, he said, “we have very long droughts and, without rainy seasons, the peasant farmers can’t plant their food crops, which gives rise to emergency situations in terms of food security.”

To the west of Honduras, in neighboring Guatemala, losses are also reported in forest cover. In 2000, 39 percent of the territory was covered by trees; that proportion had fallen to 33 percent by 2015.

The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Although fewer and fewer hectares of forest are cut down in that country, the problem persists and continues to generate serious food security challenges.

Agricultural engineer Ogden Rodas, coordinator of FAO’s Forest and Farm Facility in that country, explained to IPS from Guatemala City that the loss of forests is affecting Guatemala’s ability to obtain food in multiple ways.

Currently, he said, peasant and indigenous communities have less food from seeds, roots, fruits or leaves and fewer jobs, which were previously generated in activities such as weeding and pruning.

Their ability to put food on their tables is also affected, as the destruction of the forest cover impacts on the water cycles, affecting irrigated agriculture.

Rodas believes that her country needs to strengthen governance, the management of agribusiness crops such as sugar cane and African oil palm, to create alternatives for forest-dwelling communities and develop strategies for the sustainable use of firewood, a problem common to the entire region.

In Honduras, another FAO specialist, René Acosta, told IPS from Tegucigalpa that the government has committed to reforesting up to one million hectares by 2030, but the task will only be possible if it is coordinated with all the actors involved, and incentives and ecotourism business capabilities are generated.

Costa Rica increases its forest cover

The forest cover in Central America decreased from 46 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2015.
Forest cover shrank from 32 to 26 percent in Nicaragua, from 66 to 62 percent in Panama, and from 16 to 13 percent in El Salvador.

The exception was Costa Rica where more than half (54 percent) of the land is covered by trees, compared to 47 percent 15 years ago.

Pieter Van Lierop, subregional forestry officer and team leader of the FAO Natural Resources, Risk Management and Climate Change Group in Costa Rica, explained that there are many factors driving this process.

The progress made is due, he said, “in part to the priority put in this country on its forest policy.”

“Another factor is the structural changes in agriculture, which have reduced the pressure to convert forests into agricultural land and have led to an increase in the area covered by secondary forests and to legal controls to prevent the change from natural forest to other uses for the land,” he said.

Some sustainable practices contribute to this increase in forested areas in the country.

For example, there has been a programme of payment for environmental services in place for two decades, financed by a tax on fossil fuels, among other sources.

The State pays the equivalent of 300 dollars every five years for each privately-owned hectare of protected forest and 1,128 dollars to owners who wish to create a secondary forest on their farms.

“What have we gained with this? That many more people come to see the forests,” said Gilmar Navarrrete, one of the heads of the programme of the.National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO).

“Hurricane Otto also hit recently: if we didn’t have the forest cover we have, the impact would have been very serious,” he told IPS.

There are other programmes in place. Lourdes Salazar works in Paquera, Lepanto and Cóbano, in northwest Costa Rica, with 83 farmers in a programme financed by the non-governmental Fundecooperación and supported by other public institutions.

“We work together with farmers because we want them to adapt to climate change, establish improved pastures, and change their mentality. We want them to let fruit trees grow, as well as timber trees for shade, which will also help them produce more,” the agricultural engineer told IPS.

Salazar takes part in a 10 million dollar project which aims to impact 400 farms around five hectares in size, which each farmer must reforest while raising cattle and pigs and growing organic produce.

“The farmers themselves say it’s more beneficial. If there was only one tree in a pasture all the cows would huddle there. Why not leave more trees? They have been learning that they produce more when they implement this type of practices,” said Salazar.

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US Faces Collective Defiance at UN Over Jerusalemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:45:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153682 When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President. Turkish Foreign Minister […]

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UN voting -- electronic board. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 2017 (IPS)

When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking on behalf of a country that has been a longstanding American ally, declared that Donald Trump’s threat last week to cut off American aid to countries voting for the UN resolution, as an act of “bullying,” and the General Assembly “would not bow to such bullying”.

“It is unethical. The votes and dignity of member states are not for sale– and it was unacceptable for a member state to threaten other member states. A vote in favour of the Palestinian people would place Member States on the right side of history”, he noted.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “I think this was a significantly self-inflicted wound and really unnecessary, clumsy diplomacy on the part of the United States.”

“More than that, I think it symbolizes the self-defeating notion that for the United States, ‘it’s my way or the highway,’” he said.

Regrettably, there is no love lost between Trump and the United Nations, which he once denounced as just another “social club” – a remark made more through sheer ignorance than a well-thought-out diplomatic pronouncement.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, went one step further by not only warning member states but also the United Nations itself. In an implicit threat on US funding for the UN, she said: “We will remember it (the voting against the US), when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution (22 percent of the regular budget) to the United Nations”.

The final tally on the vote was 128 in favour to 9 against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States), with 35 abstentions.

The non-binding General Assembly resolution, which expressed “deep regret” over recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, also stressed that the future of the Holy City “is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant UN resolutions” – and, in a stinging rebuke to the US, declared “null and void” any actions intended to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition.

Adopted at an emergency special session of the General Assembly on Thursday, the resolution was a devastating attack against Trump’s recent unilateral decision to recognize the historically disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a pledge to relocate the US embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv—the only country to do so.

The 128 member states supporting the resolution included four of the five permanent members of the Security Council: the UK, France, China and Russia. The fifth permanent member is the US.

Last week, speaking on the impending UN vote, Trump blustered he will not tolerate “all of these nations that take our money and then vote against us in the Security Council and at the General Assembly. They take hundreds of millions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well we’re watching those votes.”

But some of his threats, which is rare for a head of state, have proved to be empty. Trump threatened to hold up aid to Pakistan if it did not cooperate more on US counter-terrorism efforts and also warned he will withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) if it did not increase its joint military spending.

US economic and military aid to American allies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, run into billions of dollars annually—but all of these countries voted for the resolution.

One of the strongest denunciations came from Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi of Pakistan who told delegates that the unilateral actions of one country were set to undo decades of work by the international community and to defy international law.

She said Pakistan rejected the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy to the Holy City in contravention of several provisions of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

“Member States must recommit to thwarting any attempts to violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the ultimate goal of a two State solution”.

Expressing her support for the Palestinian cause, she said it was a key pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy, recalling that her country had led and sponsored the Assembly’s first ever resolution on Jerusalem.

“In that regard, Pakistan was proud to join the international community once again in adopting a landmark draft resolution to reject the “revisionist” decision of the United States,” declared Dr Lodhi.

Riad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Palestine, said while the State of Palestine respected the sovereignty of all States, it refused to have that principle used as an excuse to deny Palestinians their rights.

“We stand today united for justice,” he declared, stressing “the veto will not stop us”. The State of Palestine would not accept any justification — security, religious or otherwise — to excuse Israel’s continued occupation, he said. The United Nations was today undergoing an unprecedented test “with Palestine as its headline”.

The General Assembly resolution followed a failed attempt by the 15-member Security Council last week to adopt a similar text reflecting regret about “recent decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem.” But that resolution, despite a vote of 14 to 1, was vetoed by the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council.

Both the General Assembly and the Security Council votes have underlined the increasing isolation of the Trump administration—amongst its Western allies and at the United Nations.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Goodbye to 2017, a Trump-dominated Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/goodbye-2017-trump-dominated-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=goodbye-2017-trump-dominated-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/goodbye-2017-trump-dominated-year/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 12:56:48 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153666 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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President Donald Trump prepares to address the general debate of the Assembly’s seventy-second session. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

President Donald Trump prepares to address the general debate of the Assembly’s seventy-second session. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Malaysia, Dec 21 2017 (IPS)

In 2017, Donald Trump dominated the year by using US clout to change many aspects of global relations, and not for the better.

What a year it has been!   As 2017 slips away, and 2018 dawns, many wonder if the world will ever be the same.

Credit or blame goes mainly to United States President Donald Trump for this radical change.  This time last year, after he won the presidential elections, it was a toss-up whether Trump would implement his campaign promises or become a more statesmanlike President.

After all, most election candidates are extreme on the campaign trail to win votes,  then become moderate on assuming office.  Not Trump.  For the past year, he has ruled as if he was catering to his extreme right voter base, with its narrow, anti-foreign and anti-internationalist views.

Trump’s policies have been in line with implementing his America First inauguration slogan, which really meant the America of his voter base, and with the accompanying sentiment, why should we bother about the rest of the world?  And he reached out directly to his base and the world public via a daily dose of tweets.

The new US leadership threatened NATO, paralysed the G7, pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, UNESCO and Global Compact on Migration, reduced funding for the United Nations and its agencies, and stopped all funding to the Green Climate Fund.
Many Americans (which increasingly include many Republicans) were aghast.  And the rest of the world received one policy pronouncement after another with a mixture of disappointment, incredulity and outrage.  The list includes insults to traditional allies (Australia, Germany, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom) and traditional and new foes real or imagined (North Korea, Iran, several Muslim-majority countries whose citizens now can’t enter the US) and with threats to economic rivals especially China but also countries with trade surpluses with the US, whom he labelled “cheaters.”

The new US leadership threatened NATO, paralysed the G7, pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, UNESCO and Global Compact on Migration, reduced funding for the United Nations and its agencies, and stopped all funding to the Green Climate Fund.

Trump’s policies were especially worrying for developing countries on trade issues.   He pulled the US out from the TPPA (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement) and initiated a re-negotiation of NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement).

These by themselves may not be a bad thing, if the changes the US want are for the good of all sides, since FTAs involving the US have many serious flaws.  But the evidence is that although most of these FTAs are already biased towards American interests, the Trump administration want to ensure that new US FTAs will have even more benefits going to the US, for example through opening markets even wider for US products and even more stringent intellectual property provisions that favour US corporations.

Trump at first threatened to impose a 30-45 per cent tariff on imports from China and Mexico, but this has not been done (at least not yet). Then the Republican Congress leaders put forward a border adjustment tax scheme (as part of tax reforms) that would place a 20% tax on all imports; this plan was eventually withdrawn after many US companies that rely on imports protested.

The Trump administration then revived its unilateral trade weapon, Section 301 of the US Trade Act 1974, which the US had hardly used since the World Trade Organisation was established.  In August, Trump initiated that an investigation be conducted to see if Section 301 tariff increases should be imposed on China for alleged violation of intellectual property and for requiring US companies to transfer technology.  The use of Section 301 is not in line with WTO rules;  if the US returns to its old bad habit of taking unilateral trade actions, it will open the door to a global trade war.

Just as worrying was the new US attitude towards multilateral trade relations and the WTO.  It showed its contempt for the WTO’s dispute settlement system by blocking replacements for retiring Appellate Body members, thus reducing the WTO’s capacity to arbitrate trade disputes.  It has refused to recognise the work done so far in the Doha work programme, giving the view that Doha is dead, and given notice it wants a revamp of the concept and use of the WTO’s special and differential treatment principle that is so important for developing countries.

 

Southern aerial view of the Temple Mount, Al-Aqsa in the Old City of Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa Mosque is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Credit: Godot13. Attribution: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

 

The year is ending with two more shocks. First, Trump announced the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, going against the previous US policy, the official UN position and the status quo (where the city is presently shared between Palestine and Israel).  This move, planned by his son-in-law and not the State Department, has been opposed even by US allies.  And it has triggered outrage across the developing world, with protests held in many parts of Palestine (resulting in increasing numbers of deaths and injuries) and other countries.

The new US policy destroyed any remaining hopes, if any, of a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict in the foreseeable future, and is likely to trigger another tragic round of bloody clashes in a region already fraught with wars.

Second, the US brought its antagonism to the present trading system to the Ministerial conference of the WTO held in the first half of December in Buenos Aires.  Its entrenched position refusing to recognise the WTO’s 16-year-old Doha agenda, or to honour a previous Ministerial commitment to create a permanent solution to a food security issue (known as public stockholding), or to acknowledge the principle and new proposals for special treatment of developing countries, was the main reason why the conference ended without the traditional Declaration and key decisions.  It also leaves the WTO in unchartered territory.

The Trump effect certainly dominated events and trends in 2017.  The biggest fear is that by design or accident or even an insulting tweet, conflict may break out between the US and North Korea, escalating into a nuclear war. If at least this can be avoided, we can thank our lucky stars.  So low have expectations of the world order fallen.

 

Rohingya refugees cross the border into Bangladesh. Credit: Olivia Headon/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

 

The year will also be remembered for the depths of inhumanity inflicted on fellow humans.

Top of the list is the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Since end-August, about 650,000 Rohingya crossed to Bangladesh to find refuge, at least 6,700 had been killed in the first month (according to a Doctors Without Borders survey) and many of their houses and villages had been burnt.  Despite widespread condemnation, including the top UN human rights official terming this as “elements of genocide”, the future of the Rohingya is both uncertain and bleak.

Natural calamities continued unabated.  Many countries across the world suffered from storms, cyclones and  hurricanes that wreaked destruction (with some Caribbean islands recently experiencing almost total physical and economic wipe-out);   earthquakes caused damage in other countries; forest fires swept across parts of California and elsewhere, and drought affected millions of people in Africa.

We are more and more witnessing the effects of climate change. The warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour, with higher potential for rainfall, while the warming oceans affect weather patterns, resulting in more powerful tropical storms and hurricanes.

But during the year, efforts to counter global warming were still at much too slow a pace. According to a recent report, global Greenhouse Gas emissions are estimated to have risen again in 2017, after a few years of decline.  Details on how to share the burden of transition to a low-carbon world have still to be worked out, and this hampers the speed of environmental action.   The US pulling out of the Paris Agreement and the about-turn in its domestic climate change policies made things worse.

The UNFCCC Conference of Parties session in Bonn in November discussed the details of interpreting the global framework of how countries should implement aspects of the Paris Agreement.  There was some progress, but also evidence that major differences remain, especially on North-South lines.

The global economy performed moderately well in 2017.  The US, Europe and Japan had more positive economic growth, though they have yet to recover from the financial crisis that began in 2008.  China’s economy expanded by near to 7%.   Buoyed by exports, Asian developing countries will attain better-than-expected 6% growth in 2017, according to latest Asian Development Bank estimates.

Some experts are however warning about the massive build-up of debt and predict another bout of domestic and international financial instability, that will also manifest in volatility in capital flows and foreign exchange rates.  So whether the 2017 momentum can be sustained, or whether 2018 will witness a bursting of the economic bubble, is unclear.

But that’s not the only thing that is unclear.  As the year ends, and a new year begins, there is great uncertainty in many areas and issues in the world.

 

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