Inter Press ServiceGlobal Governance – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 18 Aug 2017 18:02:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Civilians Increasingly Bearing Burden of Armed Conflicts in Arab Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/civilians-increasingly-bearing-burden-armed-conflicts-arab-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilians-increasingly-bearing-burden-armed-conflicts-arab-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/civilians-increasingly-bearing-burden-armed-conflicts-arab-region/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 11:32:17 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151695 The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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World Humanitarian Day / Syrian boy brings bread back from underground bakery in severly damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo. August 2014. photo credit Shelly KittlesonIPS

Syrian boy brings bread back from underground bakery in severly damaged opposition-held area of Aleppo. August 2014. photo credit Shelly KittlesonIPS

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Switzerland, Aug 18 2017 (IPS)

The war in Syria has now entered its 6th year and is becoming the world’s worst man-made disaster.

The humanitarian calamity in Syria has affected millions of lives; more than half of Syria’s pre-war population has been forced to flee, including 6.3 million internally displaced persons and 5.1 million refugees living in refugee camps in the Middle East and in Europe. It is also estimated that approximately 465,000 people have lost their lives because of this enduring conflict with no immediate end in sight.

Arab civilians are also suffering in other major armed conflicts in the Middle East. According to UNHCR and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, at least 3 million Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the civil strife in Iraq.

Iraq Body Count estimates that more than 50% of the war-related deaths – following the 2003 Iraq invasion – were civilians.

In Yemen, the United Nations estimates that more than 10,000 civilians have perished from the fighting between Yemeni government forces and the Houthi rebels. On top of this, IOM and UNHCR estimates that around 3 million Yemeni civilians have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of the conflict.

World Humanitarian Day / Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim. Credit: United Nations Library at Geneva

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim. Credit: United Nations Library at Geneva

The high civilian tolls witnessed in these conflicts reveal that civilians are increasingly bearing the burden of armed conflicts in the Arab region.

The pattern of modern warfare has changed: battles that were once fought in the unpopulated shores of Normandie and in the desert of El Alamein are now being fought in the urban centres of Gaza, Mosul, Baghdad and Aleppo affecting the lives of millions of civilians.
The theme of the 2017 World Humanitarian Day – Civilians caught in conflict are not a target – reaffirm the vision expressed in the 10 May 2017 report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict calling for “collective action to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict.”

A “global protection crisis” has emerged – noted the Secretary General in the same report – owing to the rise of use of force of which civilians are ultimately the main victims. Since the end of World War II, it is estimated that between 60-90% of war-related deaths are primarily among civilians. Civilians have become the primary casualties of war in the 21st century.

The irregular and black market arms trade have fuelled the rise of violent and extremist groups in numerous countries in the Arab region.

The illicit arms trade has enabled terrorist groups to thrive in countries affected by conflict and violence. Disturbing images of civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals being bombed in Palestine, in Syria and in Iraq show that civilian infrastructure is increasingly being targeted by belligerents.

Although the Arms Trade Treaty sought to regulate the international arms trade, the flow of arms and weapons to violent and extremist groups continues to fuel bloody conflicts in the Arab region owing to the lack of ratification of the Treaty by the member states of the United Nations.

Warfare and armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in urban centres in the Arab region. It has brought the war closer to people. The pattern of modern warfare has changed: Battles that were once fought in the unpopulated shores of Normandie and in the desert of El Alamein are now being fought in the urban centres of Gaza, Mosul, Baghdad and Aleppo affecting the lives of millions of civilians.

World Humanitarian Day / Civilians are Not a Target

The use of heavy weapons, so-called strategic bombardments and the use of modern technologies such as drones have increased the likelihood of inflicting collateral damage on civilians during armed conflicts. The disproportionate use of force has caused immense suffering leading to abuse and to killings of civilians. Collateral damage has emerged as an acceptable term to justify errors and the indiscriminate use of force.

In order to respond to the need to provide protection to civilians in armed conflict, the world has a moral responsibility to end the illegal trade of arms and weapons fuelling the growth of violent and extremist groups.

States need to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and comply with its provisions so as to end the illicit arms trade that is currently estimated to lie at around 10 billion US dollars per year. Weapons and arms should not end up in the hands of extremist groups such as DAESH that commit heinous and unscrupulous crimes on civilian populations in the Arab region.

I also appeal to the international community to ensure that all parties to conflict comply with their provisions to protect the lives of civilians in line with the provisions set forth in the Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War commonly known as the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Respect for international law must guide the actions of belligerents in armed conflicts. Widespread crimes against humanity affecting civilians must be condemned uniformly by world leaders regardless of where they take place. Civilians should not bear the burden of the devastating consequences of military conflicts.

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Soy Changes Map of Brazil, Set to Become World’s Leading Producerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 17:22:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151713 “Our wealth lies in the climate, not in the land,” said Antonio Galván, president of the Rural Union of Sinop, a municipality created just 37 years ago, which has prospered due to the continued expansion of soy in Brazil. Sinop, population 133,000, is the biggest city in northern Mato Grosso, a state in west- central […]

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The soybean harvest this year in Brazil will hit record levels and reaffirm that the country is about to displace the United States as the world’s top producer of soy. Credit: Embrapa

The soybean harvest this year in Brazil will hit record levels and reaffirm that the country is about to displace the United States as the world’s top producer of soy. Credit: Embrapa

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 17 2017 (IPS)

“Our wealth lies in the climate, not in the land,” said Antonio Galván, president of the Rural Union of Sinop, a municipality created just 37 years ago, which has prospered due to the continued expansion of soy in Brazil.

Sinop, population 133,000, is the biggest city in northern Mato Grosso, a state in west- central Brazil which has experienced a major expansion of the agricultural frontier since the 1970s, and is currently the leading national producer of soy, accounting for 27 per cent of Brazil’s production.

“We have 14 to 15 million hectares of land available to expand soybean crops by 150 per cent in Mato Grosso, with no need to deforest,” Galván told IPS from Sinop.

For this reason, “it is a natural tendency,” he said, for Brazil to soon overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of soy, as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predict, in the report “2017-2026 Agricultural Outlook”.

More or less regular rainfall from October to May is the main factor for the growth of agriculture in northern Mato Grosso, explained Galván.

Besides soy, which is planted at the start of the rainy season and harvested about four months later, other crops are also planted, but at the end of the rainy season – generally cotton and maize, of which Mato Grosso has also become the biggest producer in the country in the past four years.

State-owned lands, divided between the “Cerrado” ecoregion – the Brazilian savannah – and the Amazon forest, used to be undervalued for their low fertility, until they became the new agricultural frontier.

Galván, originally from the far south of Brazil, moved to Sinop in 1986, when land was still cheap. “Soybean was just starting in Sinop when I came, the local economy was only based on livestock and logging,” he recalled.

That year, Mato Grosso produced 1.9 million tons of soybean. But by 2016 the state’s soy crop reached 26.03 million tons, and this year it is expected to increase between 11 and 12 per cent, according to the Agriculture Ministry’s National Supply Agency.

Many of the migrants from southern Brazil who founded and settled in Sinop did not share that prosperity reflected in one of the highest human development rates in Brazil’s hinterland. “They went bankrupt and returned to their places of origin,” defeated by the harsh living conditions and lack of transport at the beginning, lamented Galván.

The city’s name comes from the initials (in Portuguese) of the company that “colonised” the area, the Real Estate Company of Northeastern Paraná (a southern state), buying lands, building the first houses and streets, and attracting families to an illusory El Dorado.

 Complex of soy and maize storehouses and processing plants in Lucas Rio Verde, in the heart of the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s main producer of soy, maize and cotton, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS


Complex of soy and maize storehouses and processing plants in Lucas Rio Verde, in the heart of the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s main producer of soy, maize and cotton, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

This is how Brazil’s Amazon region was populated, with the 1964-1985 military dictatorship promoting internal migration, which expanded the deforestation and provoked land conflicts, massacres of indigenous people and malaria epidemics.

The production of soy also expanded from south to northwest, although more slowly.

Soy began to be grown in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state, in 1914, because it had the most temperate climate, the only one suitable at the time. The expansion began in 1970, when national output was just 1.5 million tons.

In a decade production rose tenfold, and it more than doubled again in the 1990s, advancing towards the north until Mato Grosso took the lead in production in 2000.

While production stagnated in the south, in Mato Grosso it tripled so far this century, and expanded to previously inconceivable areas, such as the Northeast, including the semi-arid parts, and the humid northern Amazon region.

Soy became the main national agricultural product, representing half of the production of cereals, pulses and oilseeds, and the largest export revenues: 25 billion dollars in 2016. The rural map and economy of Brazil changed radically in the process.

“The main obstacles for the expansion of soy are infrastructure and logistics. On the large agricultural estates technology continues to improve while productivity grows, with yields approaching the U.S. average of 3,730 kilos per hectare,” said Alexandre Cattelan, head of Technology Transfer in Embrapa Soy.

Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), created in 1973 by the Agriculture Ministry, is a complex of 47 specialised units, including Embrapa Soy, scattered around the country.

It played a decisive role in the adaptation of soy to Brazil’s tropical climate, with increasing productivity. Output, using new seeds and techniques, increased 6.17 times, while the cultivated area grew 3.82 times since 1980.

“We have the land and know-how to overtake the U.S., but we lack proper roads, ports, railways and sufficient storage facilities,” Cattelan told IPS. This year, because of a record harvest, the storehouses are full and there is no space for the maize that is now being harvested.

Highway BR163, which crosses the most productive area in Mato Grosso and runs to the river ports in the Amazon, is the shortest way for exporting locally produced soy and maize. But it still has an unpaved 100-km stretch and is impassable during the rainy season.

Adequate seeds and the use of lime, fertilisers and micronutrients to improve the soil helped to expand the crop to the Cerrado savannah region, said Cattelan, an agronomist who has a PhD in soil microbiology.

Direct seeding, which excludes plowing of the earth and involves covering it with straw, the inoculation of bacteria which fix nitrogen in the soil, reduce costs and environmental damage, such as the contamination of the water table, he said.

A bottleneck for the production of soy could be a slowdown in the consumption of protein in China, from a 7.9 per cent increase in the last decade to a 2.3 per cent increase over the next decade, according to the FAO and OECD report.

The report also projects a lower level of growth of per capita consumption of food in the countries of the developing South, from 1.1 per cent against the previous 3.1 per cent, and the stabilisation of the use of vegetable oils for making biodiesel.

Moreover, the expansion of soy generates controversy, especially because of the intense use of genetically modified seeds and agrochemicals, sald Alice Thuault, associate director of the non-governmental Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), which operates in northern Mato Grosso.

In 2011, a study identified toxic agrochemicals in the breastmilk of many women in Lucas do Rio Verde, a municipality next to Sinop.

The production of soy also drives the deforestation of the Amazon forest, although in a much lower proportion than livestock production, which “occupies 50 to 70 per cent of the recently deforested areas,” Thuault told IPS.

Furthermore, soybean growers, mostly producers with large extensions of land, dominate local politics and rule according to their interests, to the detriment of family farmers, the environment and public health. Former Mato Grosso governor Blairo Maggi is currently Brazil’s agriculture minister.

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Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, is Now Legally Bindinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/minamata-convention-curbing-mercury-use-is-now-legally-binding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minamata-convention-curbing-mercury-use-is-now-legally-binding http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/minamata-convention-curbing-mercury-use-is-now-legally-binding/#respond Wed, 16 Aug 2017 10:47:56 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151690 The Minamata Convention — a legally-binding landmark treaty, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade – entered into force August 16. The primary aim of the Convention is “to protect human health and the environment” from mercury releases, which are considered both environmental and health hazards, according to the United Nations. […]

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Minamata Convention - Informal gold mining is one of the main sources of mercury contamination. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS.

Informal gold mining is one of the main sources of mercury contamination. An artisanal gold miner in El Corpus, Choluteca along the Pacific ocean in Honduras. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS.

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Aug 16 2017 (IPS)

The Minamata Convention — a legally-binding landmark treaty, described as the first new environmental agreement in over a decade – entered into force August 16.

The primary aim of the Convention is “to protect human health and the environment” from mercury releases, which are considered both environmental and health hazards, according to the United Nations.

So far, the international treaty has been signed by 128 of the 193 UN member states and ratified by 74 countries, which are now legally obliged to comply with its provisions.

The Minamata Convention joins three other UN conventions seeking to reduce impacts from chemicals and waste – the Basel Convention (1992), Rotterdam Convention (2004) and Stockholm Convention (2004).

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), an international coalition of over 95 public interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from more than 50 countries, has been calling for a legally binding treaty for over a decade and “welcomes the new protocol”.

The treaty holds critical obligations for all 74 State Parties to ban new primary mercury mines while phasing out existing ones and also includes a ban on many common products and processes using mercury, measures to control releases, and a requirement for national plans to reduce mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

In addition, it seeks to reduce trade, promote sound storage of mercury and its disposal, address contaminated sites and reduce exposure from this dangerous neurotoxin.

According to ZMWG, mercury is a global pollutant that travels long distances. Its most toxic form – methylmercury – accumulates in large predatory fish and is taken up in bodies through eating fish, with the worst impacts on babies in utero and small children.

In an interview with IPS, Michael Bender and Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, Co-coordinators of ZMWG said despite its flaws, the new treaty presents the best opportunity to address the global mercury crisis.

‘’The ZMWG looks forward to effective treaty implementation and providing support, where feasible, particularly to developing countries and countries with economies in transition”.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What would be the significant impact of the Minamata Convention entering into legal force on August 16? How will it advance the longstanding global campaign to end the widespread use of mercury which has long been declared both an environmental and health hazard worldwide?

A: The new treaty is a mixture of mandatory and voluntary elements intended to control the burgeoning global mercury crisis.  It holds critical obligations that affect global use, trade, emissions and disposal of mercury.  In the near term, such provisions include a prohibition on any new primary mining of mercury, and phasing out mercury added products (by 2020) and mercury bearing processes (by 2025).

Some of these steps were unthinkable several years ago.  Now, viable, available and cost effective alternatives exist for most all products containing mercury like thermometers, dental amalgam, thermostats, measuring devices and batteries, as well as processes using mercury (e.g. production of chlorine.)

Support for treaty implementation will be provided through a financial mechanism established in the Convention text. Furthermore, the treaty includes reporting provisions (also relevant to the question below) which entails the Convention Secretariat monitoring progress and, over time, having the Conference of the Parties address issues that may arise.

The treaty also includes other provisions which provide information and guidance necessary to reduce major sources of emissions and releases. Taken together, these steps will eventually lead to significant global mercury reductions.

However, while heading in the right direction, the treaty does not move far enough nor fast enough in the short run to address the spiraling human health risks from mercury exposure.

In the case of major emission sources, like coal-fired power plants, the requirements are for countries to follow BAT/BEP practices (best available technologies/best environmental practices) to curtail releases, but no numerical reduction targets were established. New facilities will not be required to have mercury pollution controls for 5 years after the treaty enters into force, with existing facilities given 10 years before they begin their control efforts.

The treaty also addresses artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), which is both the largest intentional use and emission source of mercury globally.  However, while required ASGM national action plans (NAPs) will foster reduced use, the treaty fails to include a provision to require an eventual end to mercury use. It is envisioned, however, that NAPs will eliminate many of the worst practices that constitute the vast majority of mercury use in the sector.

While the Convention bans new primary mercury mining, it allows existing primary mining for 15 years (but does not allow supplying such uses as ASGM.)  From this source, mercury is only allowed in the manufacturing of mercury-added products and other manufacturing processes.

Q: What in your opinion are the key provisions of the Convention that could eventually lead to a worldwide ban on the use of mercury?

A: The Convention contains control measures aimed at significantly limiting the global supply of mercury to complement and reinforce the demand reduction control measures. Specifically, the Article 3 provisions limit the sources of mercury available for use and trade, and specify procedures to follow where such trade is allowed. Eventually, as mercury uses diminish, via the different Convention provisions – (e.g. the Convention’s 2020 mercury-added product phase out, and 2025 ban on the mercury use in the chlorine production)–  the production and exports from primary mercury mines will be reduced.

As discussed above, while the Convention does not ban its use, the provision to develop plans for curtailing mercury use in artisanal and small scale gold mining is important, since it is the largest mercury use and release sector, far surpassing emissions from coal fired power plants.

Q: With 74 ratifications so far, is there any mechanism that will help monitor the implementation of the convention by the 74 countries that are state parties and who are legally obliged to comply with the provisions of the convention?  Does the convention lay out any penalties against those who violate the convention or fail to implement its provisions?

A: The Convention establishes reporting requirements by the Parties, including reporting on “measures it has taken to implement provisions of the Convention and on the effectiveness of such measures…”   Further, no later than six years after the Convention enters into force, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the Convention The evaluation shall be based on available reports and monitoring information, reports submitted pursuant and information and recommendations provided the Implementation and compliance committee.

This is why discussions during COP1 (scheduled to take place in Geneva September 24-29) regarding reporting forms are so important. The Article 21 reporting requirements will provide critical information on the global mercury situation and the effectiveness of the Convention in achieving mercury reductions and protecting human health.

Information Parties report on should be made publicly available. This should include information on emissions and releases; the quantities of waste mercury (i.e., commodity-grade mercury no longer used) that was disposed, and the method of final disposal; and the decisions on frequency of reporting.  Most importantly (at least for mercury production and trade) we recommend the data be provided annually in order to accurately monitor the changing global circumstances, and because of the problems with other data sources.

Finally, the Convention does not foresee penalties for noncompliance.  However, the Convention compliance committee will also focus on assisting countries come into compliance as well as also identifying areas where countries may need more assistance. In addition, individual country laws can enact penalties – (e.g. the EU regulation on mercury discusses penalties, and the Member States have to define these within their national laws.)

The NGOs will also play the watchdog role in monitoring progress, and ‘naming and shaming’ as relevant, as we follow the process in the COPs, etc.

Q: Are there any concerns that some of the leading countries, including UK, Russia, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa, Australia and Spain are not on the list of ratifiers of the convention? Have they given any indications of future ratifications?

A: For developed countries, it’s anticipated that they already have implemented many of the conference provisions, or are in a position to finance them in the future (unlike developing countries, which will rely on Convention funding.)

As far as South Africa, our partner NGO, Ground Work, has stated that ratification remains a challenge in South Africa because the industrial sector is very heavily driven by the coal industry, with almost 90% of the energy from coal. The large-scale mining sector is also not willing to declare the amount of mercury released from the ore that they mine.

All EU countries will eventually all ratify.  India has started the process toward ratification, as has Australia and also Russia- but it may take some time.

In the meantime, India has taken some affirmative steps in shifting out of mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants and regulating mercury.  However, emissions from thermal power plants is still a concern since almost 60 % of the energy generated is from coal and the cost associated with capturing mercury from coal emissions is viewed as a constrain.

Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, is Now Legally Binding

 

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Conservation Agriculture Sprouts in Cuban Fieldshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/conservation-agriculture-sprouts-cuban-fields/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conservation-agriculture-sprouts-cuban-fields http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/conservation-agriculture-sprouts-cuban-fields/#comments Thu, 10 Aug 2017 18:21:00 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151642 At the entrance, the Tierra Brava farm looks like any other family farm in the rural municipality of Los Palacios, in the westernmost province of Cuba. But as you drive in, you see that the traditional furrows are not there, and that freshly cut grass covers the soil. “For more than five years we’ve been […]

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Onay Martínez holds a sugar-apple on his farm, Tierra Brava, in western Cuba, where he practices conservation agriculture and has turned this sustainable system that minimally disturbs the soil into a model in his country. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Onay Martínez holds a sugar-apple on his farm, Tierra Brava, in western Cuba, where he practices conservation agriculture and has turned this sustainable system that minimally disturbs the soil into a model in his country. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
LOS PALACIOS, Cuba, Aug 10 2017 (IPS)

At the entrance, the Tierra Brava farm looks like any other family farm in the rural municipality of Los Palacios, in the westernmost province of Cuba. But as you drive in, you see that the traditional furrows are not there, and that freshly cut grass covers the soil.

“For more than five years we’ve been practicing conservation agriculture (CA),” Onay Martínez, who works 22 hectares of state-owned land, told IPS.

He was referring to a specific kind of agroecology which, besides not using chemicals, diversifies species on farms and preserves the soil using plant coverage and no plowing.

“In Cuba, this system is hardly practiced,” lamented the farmer, who is cited as an example by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of integral and spontaneous application of CA, which Cuban authorities began to include in their policies in 2016.

This fruit tree orchard in the province of Pinar del Río, worked by four farmhands, is the only example of CA reported at the moment, and symbolises the step that Cuba’s well-developed agroecological movement is ready to take towards this sustainable system of farming. The Agriculture Ministry already has a programme to extend it on a large scale.

FAO defines CA as “an approach to managing agro-ecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits and food security while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment. CA is characterised by three linked principles, namely: Continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance; Permanent organic soil cover; Diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations.”

Because of the small number of farms using the technique, there are no estimates yet of the amount of land in Cuba that use the basic technique of no-till farming, which is currently expanding in the Americas and other parts of the world.

CA, which uses small machinery such as no-till planters, has spread over 180 million hectares worldwide. Latin America accounts for 45 per cent of the total, the United States and Canada 42 per cent, Australia 10 per cent, and countries in Europe, Africa and Asia 3.6 per cent.

The world leaders in the adoption of this conservationist system are South America: Brazil, where it is used on 50 per cent of farmland, and Argentina and Paraguay, with 60 per cent each.

And Argentina and Brazil, the two agro-exporter powers in the region, are aiming to extend it to 85 per cent of cultivated lands in less than a decade.

Sheep are raised for meat on the Tierra Brava farm, which also produces fruit, expensive and scarce in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Sheep are raised for meat on the Tierra Brava farm, which also produces fruit, expensive and scarce in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“In conservation agriculture we found the basis for development because it allowed us to achieve goals in adverse conditions,” said Martínez, a computer specialist who discovered CA when in 2009 he and his brother started to study how to reactivate lands that had been idle for 25 years and were covered by weeds.

A worker operates a kind of mower characteristic of this type of agriculture to clear the paths in Tierra Brava, which has no electricity or irrigation system. The cut grass is thrown in the same direction to facilitate the creation of organic compost.

“There are places on the farm, such as the plantation of soursop (Annona muricata), where you walk and you feel a soft step in the ground,” Martínez said, citing an example of the recovery of the land achieved thanks to the fact that “no tilling is used and the soil coverage is not removed.”

Focused on the production of expensive and scarce fruit in Cuba, the farm in 2016 produced 87 tons, mainly of mangos, avocados and guavas, in addition to 2.7 tons of sheep meat and 600 kilos of rabbit.

Now they are building a dam to practice aquaculture and are starting to sell soursop, a fruit nearly missing in local markets.

Mandarin orange, canistel (Pouteria campechiana), coconut, tamarind, cashew, West Indian cherry (Malpighia emarginata), mamey apple (Mammea americana), plum, cherry, sugar apple (Annona squamosa), cherimoya (Annona cherimola) and papaya are some of the other fruit trees growing on the family farm, until now for self-consumption, diversification or small-scale, experimental production.

An assortment of fruit grown on the Tierra Brava farm in Los Palacios, in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. In the cooperative of which it forms part, farmers aspire to build a processing plant to sell “healthy fruit” to tourists. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

An assortment of fruit grown on the Tierra Brava farm in Los Palacios, in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Río. In the cooperative of which it forms part, farmers aspire to build a processing plant to sell “healthy fruit” to tourists. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Rotating crops is hard and requires a lot of training and precision, but CA is also special because it allows you time to be with your family,” said Martínez, referring to another of the benefits also mentioned by specialists.

FAO’s representative in Cuba, German agronomist Theodor Friedrich, is one of the staunch advocates of CA around the world, based on years of research.

“Agroecology, as it was understood in Cuba in the past, has excluded the aspect of healthy soil and its biodiversity,” he told IPS in an interview. “Now the government recognises that the move towards Conservation Agriculture fills in the gaps of the past, in order to achieve true agroecology.”

Friedrich said that in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, CA is new, but “several pilot projects have been carried out, and there is evidence that it works.”

In October 2016, Cuba laid out a roadmap to implement CA around the country, after an international consultation supported by FAO. And in July a special group was set up within the Agriculture Ministry to promote CA.

“CA has not been immediately adopted on a large-scale around the country,” said Friedrich. “But as of 2018, the growth of the area under CA is expected to be much faster than in countries where this system only spreads among farmers, without the coordinated support of related policies.”

A worker operates a low-impact mower, used in conservation agriculture to clear the land, on the Tierra Brava farm in Los Palacios, a municipality at the western tip of Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A worker operates a low-impact mower, used in conservation agriculture to clear the land, on the Tierra Brava farm in Los Palacios, a municipality at the western tip of Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Good practices that improve the soil, which form the basis of this system, have been promoted in Cuba for some time now by bodies such as the Soil Institute (IS). It is even among the few environmental services supported by the state in Cuba’s stagnant economy, to combat the low fertility of the land.

According to data from the IS, only 28 per cent of Cuban soils are highly productive for agriculture. Of the rest, 50 per cent is ranked in category four of productivity, one of the lowest, due to the characteristics of the formation of the Cuban archipelago and the poor management of soil during centuries of monoculture of sugarcane.

“In this municipality, the number of farms that use organic compost to improve the soils has increased. The payment for improving the soil has been an incentive,” said Lázara Pita, coordinator of the agroecological movement in the National Association of Small Farmers of Los Palacios.

“We have rice fields, where agroecology is not used, but where they do apply good practices for soil conservation such as using rice husks as nutrients,” Pita, whose association has 2,147 small farms joined together in 15 cooperatives, an agroindustrial state company and rice processing plant, told IPS.

Standing in a wide-roofed place without walls in Tierra Brava, Pita estimated that 40 farms qualify as ecological, and another 60 could shift to clean production techniques.

With the certification of a soil expert, a farmer like Martínez can earn between 120 and 240 dollars a year for offering environmental services, such as soil improvers, the use of live barriers and organic materials. This is an attractive sum, given the average state salary of 29 dollars a month.

Cuba, which depends on millions of dollars in food imports, has 6,226,700 hectares of arable land, of which 2,733,500 are cultivated and 883,900 remain idle.

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Leadership Failure Perpetuates Stagnationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/leadership-failure-perpetuates-stagnation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leadership-failure-perpetuates-stagnation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/leadership-failure-perpetuates-stagnation/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 16:33:34 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151629 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Growing income inequality in most countries before the Great Recession has only made things worse, by reducing consumer demand and household savings, and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR , Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

What kind of leadership does the world need now? US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership was undoubtedly extraordinary. His New Deal flew in the face of the contemporary economic orthodoxy, begun even before Keynes’ General Theory was published in 1936.

Roosevelt’s legacy also includes creating the United Nations in 1945, after acknowledging the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the Second World War. He also insisted on ‘inclusive multilateralism’ – which Churchill opposed, preferring a bilateral US-UK deal instead – by convening the 1944 United Nations Conference on Monetary and Financial Affairs at Bretton Woods with many developing countries and the Soviet Union.

The international financial institutions created at Bretton Woods were set up to ensure, not only international monetary and financial stability, but also the conditions for sustained growth, employment generation, post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

Debt bogey
In resisting painfully obvious measures, the current favourite bogey is public debt. Debt has been the pretext for the ongoing fiscal austerity in Europe, which effectively reversed earlier recovery efforts in 2009. With private sector demand weak, budgetary austerity is slowing, not accelerating recovery.

Much has been made of sovereign debt on both sides of the north Atlantic and in Japan. In fact, US debt interest payments come to only 1.4 percent of annual output, while Japan’s very high debt-GDP ratio is not considered a serious problem as its debt is largely domestically held. And, as is now well known, the major problems of European debt are due to the specific problems of different national economies integrated sub-optimally into the Eurozone.

The international community has, so far, failed to develop effective and equitable debt workout, including restructuring arrangements, despite the clearly dysfunctional and problematic international consequences of past sovereign debt crises. The failure to agree to sovereign debt workout arrangements will continue to prevent timely debt workouts when needed, thus effectively impeding recovery as well.

Meanwhile, earlier international, including US tolerance of the Argentine debt workout of a decade and a half ago had given hope of making progress on this front. However, this has now been undermined by the Macri government’s recent concession, on worse terms and conditions than previously negotiated, to ‘vulture capitalists’.

Golden cages of the mind
Most major deficits now are due to the collapse of tax revenues following the growth downturn and costly financial bailouts. Slower growth means less revenue, and a faster downward spiral. While insisting on fiscal deficit reduction, financial markets also recognize the adverse growth implications of such ‘fiscal consolidation’.

Many policymakers are now insisting on immediate actions to rectify various imbalances, pointing not only to fiscal deficits, but also to trade and bank imbalances. While these undoubtedly need to be addressed in the longer term, prioritizing them now effectively blocks stronger, sustained recovery efforts.

Recent recessionary financial crises have been caused by bursting credit and asset bubbles. Recessions have also been deliberately induced by public policy, such as the US Fed raising real interest rates from 1980. Internationally, this contributed not only to sovereign debt and fiscal crises, but also to protracted stagnation outside East Asia, including Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ and Africa’s ‘quarter century retreat’.

Yet another distraction is exaggerating the threat of inflation. Much recent inflation in many countries has been due to higher international commodity, especially fuel and food prices. Domestic deflationary policies in response only slowed growth while failing to stem imported inflation. In any case, the collapse of most commodity prices since 2014 has rendered this bogey irrelevant.

Market vs recovery
Strident recent calls for structural reforms mainly target labour markets, rather than product markets. Labour market liberalization in such circumstances not only undermines worker protections, but is also likely to diminish real incomes, aggregate demand and, hence, recovery prospects. Nevertheless, these have become today’s priorities, detracting from the urgent need to coordinate and implement strong and sustained efforts to raise and sustain growth and job creation.

Meanwhile, cuts in social and welfare spending are only making things worse – as employment and consumer demand fall further. In recent decades, profits and rents have risen at the expense of wages, but also with much more accruing to finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) compared to other sectors.

The outrageous increases in financial executive remuneration in recent years, which cannot be attributed to increased productivity by any stretch of the imagination, have exacerbated problems of financial sector short-termism. Regulations are urgently needed to limit short-termism, including the ability of corporations to reap greater profits in the short-term while worsening risk exposure in the longer term, thus exacerbating systemic macro-financial vulnerability.

Growing income inequality in most countries before the Great Recession has only made things worse, by reducing consumer demand and household savings, and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases – instead of augmenting investments in new economic capacities and capabilities.

Reform bias
Current policy is justified in terms of ‘pro-market’ – effectively pro-cyclical – choices when counter-cyclical efforts, institutions and instruments are sorely needed instead. Unfortunately, global leadership today seems held to ransom by financial interests, and associated media, ideology and ‘oligarchs’ whose political influence enables them to secure more rents and pay less taxes in what must truly be the most vicious of circles.

John Hobson – the English liberal economist in the tradition of John Stuart Mill – noted that ‘economic imperialism’ emerged from the inherent tendency for economic power to concentrate and the related influence of oligopolistic rentiers on public policy. Selective state interventions to bail out and protect such interests nationally and internationally, while not subjecting them to regulation in the national interest, must surely remind us of the dangers of powerful, but unaccountable oligarchies in a systemically unstable market economy and politically volatile societies.

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Why New US Cold War with Russia Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-us-cold-war-russia-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 15:54:16 +0000 Vladimir Popov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151631 Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

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Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

By Vladimir Popov
BERLIN, Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

Even before the imposition of new sanctions on Russia by Donald Trump and the ongoing fuss over Russian hackers undermining US democracy, Russian-American relations had deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s. Why?

Vladimir Popov

Political ideology
After all, the US has fewer ideological disagreements with Russia than with the USSR. Russia now has a capitalist economy and is more democratic than the USSR. Russia is also much weaker than the USSR – its population and territory are about 60 to 80 percent of the Soviet Union, and its economic and military might has been considerably diminished, so it poses much less of a threat to the US than the USSR.
However, US rhetoric and actions towards Russia are much more belligerent now than during the 1970s, or in the 1980s, when the US imposed sanctions against the USSR after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. Even when President Reagan was calling the USSR ‘the evil empire’, relations did not deteriorate as much as in recent years.

Bilateral economic relations have taken a similar turn for the worse. Soviet-US trade expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, nominally increasing nearly a hundred-fold in two decades, before plateauing in the 1980s. There was some growth in the 1990s and 2000s after the USSR fell apart, but after peaking in 2011, trade has been falling.

Why did the fastest expansion of bilateral trade occur in the 1960s and 1970s? After all, the USSR was not a market economy, and also ‘communist’. By contrast, US trade growth with post-Soviet, capitalist and democratic Russia over the next two decades was modest, before actually shrinking in the last half decade.

Geopolitics?

One popular explanation is geopolitical considerations. It is argued that when a hostile power tries to expand its influence, the US, the rest of the West and hence, NATO respond strongly.

Examples cited include the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, and sanctions against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The same could be said about more recent Western sanctions in response to Russian advances in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria.

But the 1970s contradicts this argument. After all, the USSR was gaining ground at US expense in Indochina, the former Portuguese colonies, Nicaragua and other developing countries. Why then did détente and trade grow in the 1970s?

US as #1
The US position is not primarily determined by either ideology or geopolitics, but rather, by the changing US establishment view of the balance of power. After the devastation of the Second World War, the USSR was hardly a superpower, so the US expected to press the USSR, its erstwhile ally, into submission through the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union began closing the gap with the United States in terms of productivity, per capita income and military strength in the 1950s and 1960s. Even though its economy slowed from the mid-1960s, the USSR had caught up in many respects, enough to qualify as the other superpower. The result was détente. Although the USSR had been offering rapprochement after the Second World War, the US only accepted detente in the 1970s, as the military gap closed.

Today, the US establishment knows that the Russian economy have fallen far behind since the 1980s while its military is getting more obsolete. The strategic conclusion appears to be that Russia can be contained via direct pressure and sanctions, something unthinkable against the communist USSR in the 1970s or China today, even though China is less democratic than Russia and still led by a communist party.

Playing with fire
Economically and militarily, Russia is undoubtedly relatively much weaker today than the USSR was. But its capacity has recovered considerably in the new century from the 1990s, with modest growth reversing the economic devastation of the Yeltsin presidency.

And even if it is true that the US is now an unchallenged ‘number one’, and will remain dominant in the foreseeable future, while Russia is not only weak, but also getting relatively weaker, the current effort of pressing Russia into submission has risks.

US pressure on Russia can result in a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which the USSR was willing to risk at that time, even though its military capability was well behind that of the US. Eventually, not only were Soviet missiles withdrawn from Cuba, a return to the status quo ante, but the US also promised not only not to invade Cuba, but also to withdraw its medium range missiles from Turkey.

True, Russia is relatively weaker today, but it still has tremendous destructive capacity. One only has to remember that North Korea, with much less military capacity, has successfully withstood US pressure for decades. However, as US economic dominance in the world has been eroding since the Second World War, and its military superiority is the main source of US advantage, the temptation will remain to use this superiority before it is eroded as well.

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Donald Trump & Kim Jong-Un Need To Find A Diplomatic Off-Ramphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/donald-trump-kim-jong-un-need-find-diplomatic-off-ramp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donald-trump-kim-jong-un-need-find-diplomatic-off-ramp http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/donald-trump-kim-jong-un-need-find-diplomatic-off-ramp/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 07:40:29 +0000 Daryl G. Kimball http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151626 Daryl G. Kimball is Executive Director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association

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Image by The Official Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Photostream – flickr.com

By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON DC, Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

Just six months into the administration of President Donald Trump, the war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea have escalated, and a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis is more difficult than ever to achieve.

Both leaders need to immediately work to descalate the situation and direct their diplomats to engage in an adult conversation designed to resolve tensions

On Jan. 1, North Korea’s authoritarian ruler Kim Jong Un vowed to “continue to build up” his country’s nuclear forces “as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on [sic] nuclear threat and blackmail.” Kim also warned that North Korea was making preparations to flight-test a prototype intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Two days later, Trump could not resist laying down a “red line” on Twitter, saying, “It won’t happen.”

Pyongyang has responded to the U.S. statements and military exercises on North Korea’s doorstep with its own, even more bellicose rhetoric. Following press reports that a U.S. carrier strike group was being sent toward the Korean peninsula, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations warned April 17 that “a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment” and that his country is “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the United States.”

After an inter-agency review, Trump and his team announced a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” to try to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile program. So far, the approach has been all “pressure” and no “engagement,” with U.S. officials calling for North Korea to agree to take concrete steps to show its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

In response, North Korean has accelerated its pace of ballistic missile tests, including flight tests of missiles in July with ICBM capabilities. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Aug. 5 the toughest UN Security Council sanctions yet imposed on North Korea. The Korean Central News Agency lashed out Aug. 8, warning that it will mobilize all its resources to take “physical action” in retaliation in response to the UN actions.

Trump, in turn, said Tuesday “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Trump’s attempt to play the role of nuclear “madman” is as dangerous, foolish, and counterproductive as North Korea’s frequent hyperbolic threats against the United States.

Trump’s latest statement is a blatant threat of nuclear force that will not compel Kim to shift course. In fact, repeated threats of U.S. military force only give credibility to the North Korean propaganda line that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter U.S. aggression, and it may lead Kim to try to accelerate his nuclear program.

That should not come as a surprise. Since the beginning of the nuclear age, U.S. “atomic diplomacy” has consistently failed to achieve results. The historical record shows that U.S. nuclear threats during the Korean War and later against China and the Soviet Union, as well as Nixon’s “madman” strategy against North Vietnam, failed to bend adversaries to U.S. goals.

With respect to North Korea in particular, the threat of pre-emptive U.S. military action is not credible, in large part because the risks are extremely high.

North Korea has the capacity to devastate the metropolis of Seoul, with its 10 million inhabitants, by launching a massive artillery barrage and hundreds of conventionally armed, short-range ballistic missiles. Moreover, if hostilities begin, there is the prospect that North Korea could use some of its remaining nuclear weapons, which could kill millions in South Korea and Japan.

U.S. intelligence sources believe North Korea has already developed a warhead design small enough and light enough for delivery by an ICBM. North Korea’s may have a supply of fissile material for up to 25 nuclear weapons, but its fissile production capacity is likely growing and it may be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test explosion, which would further advance ability to develop a reliable missile-deliverable warhead.

Trump and his advisers need to curb the impulse to threaten military action, which only increases the risk of catastrophic miscalculation. A saner and more effective approach is to work with China to tighten the sanctions pressure and simultaneously open a new diplomatic channel designed to defuse tensions and to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs.

Better enforcement of UN sanctions designed to hinder North Korea’s weapons procurement, financing, and key sources of foreign trade and revenue is very important. Such measures can help increase the leverage necessary for a diplomatic solution. But it is naive that sanctions pressure and bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack can force North Korea to change course.

Unless there is a diplomatic strategy to reduce tensions and to halt further nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests in exchange for measures that ease North Korea’s fear of military attack, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will increase, with a longer range and less vulnerable to attack, and the risk of a catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula will likely grow.

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Can the Gender Gap Be Measured in Dollars Only?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/can-gender-gap-measured-dollars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-gender-gap-measured-dollars http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/can-gender-gap-measured-dollars/#respond Mon, 07 Aug 2017 16:13:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151598 Until a decade or so ago, experts and world organisations measured the impact of natural and man-made disasters in terms of human losses. For instance, they would inform about the number –and suffering—of human beings falling victims of extraordinary floods, droughts, heat or cold waves, and armed conflicts. This is not the case anymore. Now […]

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FAO Gender and Climate Change Programme. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

Until a decade or so ago, experts and world organisations measured the impact of natural and man-made disasters in terms of human losses. For instance, they would inform about the number –and suffering—of human beings falling victims of extraordinary floods, droughts, heat or cold waves, and armed conflicts. This is not the case anymore.

Now the measurements are made in terms of money, i.e., how much losses in terms of money a disaster can cause to world economy–more specifically to Gross Domestic Product. In other words, human suffering is now being calculated in terms of dollars. This way, the traditional human welfare related question “how are you today?” might gradually become “how much are you worth today?”

This trend to “monetising” instead of “humanising” shockingly applies also to what can be considered as the major social and human drama the world has been facing all along its known history—the gender gap.

True that every now and then reports remind about women representing more than 50 per cent of all human beings; that they are the human “life-givers”; the guardians of family and nature and the engine of social coherence, let alone their essential contribution to feeding the world. Indigenous women, for instance, are the key protectors of world’s biodiversity. See: Indigenous Peoples Lands Guard 80 Per Cent of World’s Biodiversity.

90 Per Cent of Agricultural Workers; 10 Per Cent of Land Holders

Here, the facts speak by themselves: globally, women make up 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force.

Young girls and women collecting water from a water spring situated in a cabbage field owned by a local woman farmer and FAO-EU Project beneficiary in Ethiopia. Credit: FAO

In many poor countries, more than 95 per cent of all economically active women work in agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, women hold 10 per cent of the credit available to smallholder agriculture, they add.

Similarly, female farmers receive only 5 per cent of all agricultural extension services, and only 15 per cent of agricultural extension officers are women.

These facts, which have been cited among others by the United Nations Convention toCombat Desertification (UNCCD), also indicate that closing the gender gap could create 240 million jobs by 2025 and add US 12 trillion dollars to annual global growth (GDP), according to a report by McKinsey and Company.

Other major UN specialised bodies, like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have systematically been highlighting the essential contribution of women.

Rural women and girls are key agents of change to free the world from hunger and extreme poverty, said FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva at a special side-event on gender equality and women’s empowerment on the occasion of the 40th Session of the FAO Conference (Rome, 3-8 July 2017).

“Their role goes beyond agricultural production and extends throughout the food system but, as we all know, rural women continue to face multiple constraints,” he said, noting that they have less access to productive resources and employment opportunities.

Graziano da Silva also stressed that women are more affected by the consequences of conflicts and crises.

“During a drought situation, for example, a greater workload is placed on women. In Africa and Latin America, women can spend many hours a day searching for water in times of drought and then need to walk many kilometres carrying a bucket of water on their head,” he said.

In Ghana, the stability of a woman’s marriage and good relations with male relatives are critical factors in maintaining her land rights. Credit: FAO


In spite of this, women worldwide continue to be victims of flagrant inequalities. See: “It Will Take 170 Years for Women to Be Paid as Men Are

World Conference in China

The need to accelerate women’s empowerment in fighting droughts and desertification will be on the table of the UNCCD’s 13 Conference of the Parties (COP 13), that’s the signatories to the Convention, scheduled to take place in Ordos, China, 6–16 September 2017

The Bonn-based UNCCD secretariat’s note “Gender, Drought, and Sand and Dust Storms,” states that structural inequalities embedded in the social, political, economic and cultural institutions, norms and practices limit women’s agency, undermining effective implementation of the Convention.

“A focused and systematic approach to bridge the gender inequalities linked to women’s land use and management, it adds, can improve the livelihoods of women and girls and their families and the conditions of the ecosystems that supply these needs, and enhance their resilience to drought.”

Their increasing exposure to extreme weather events –drought, unpredictable rainfall–accentuates their vulnerability, and compels them to take ever-greater risks to meet their needs, UNCCD underlines.

Women in Land-Dependent Communities

“Women in land-dependent communities affected by the impacts of land degradation and desertification require special attention in order for them to access the resources they need to provide for their households and make communities resilient and stable.”

According to the Convention, the Scientific Conceptual Framework for Land Degradation Neutrality states that the drivers of land degradation are not gender neutral. It stresses that poverty is both a root cause and a consequence of land degradation, with gender inequality playing a significant role in the process, worsening the impacts on women.

On this, the UNCCD Science Policy Interface recommends integrating gender considerations into implementation of the Convention, including through Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) planning and implementation, decision-making, stakeholder engagement and the preliminary assessments for LDN.

“Evidence shows that gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s full and equal participation and leadership in the economy are vital in achieving sustainable development, and significantly enhance economic growth and productivity.”

Women are not just percentages nor can they be quantified merely in terms of dollars.

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Mauritanians Go to Polls for Controversial Referendum Votehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/mauritanians-go-polls-controversial-referendum-vote/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mauritanians-go-polls-controversial-referendum-vote http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/mauritanians-go-polls-controversial-referendum-vote/#respond Mon, 07 Aug 2017 07:12:20 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151582 While voters in Venezuela overwhelmingly rejected President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to amend the constitution recently, similar tensions and a clash between protesters and state authorities appears to be brewing across the Atlantic in the West African nation of Mauritania. The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has sounded alarm about the apparent suppression of dissent, […]

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By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

While voters in Venezuela overwhelmingly rejected President Nicolás Maduro’s plan to amend the constitution recently, similar tensions and a clash between protesters and state authorities appears to be brewing across the Atlantic in the West African nation of Mauritania.

04 March 2016 – Nouakchott, Mauritania
Secretary-General (right) meets with representatives of civil society in Nouakchott, Mauritania, during his visit to the country.

The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has sounded alarm about the apparent suppression of dissent, and the excessive use of force by authorities to quash protests ahead of the controversial vote.

“We have witnessed protest leaders with broken arms and bruised faces after they were beaten up by police during demonstrations. We are concerned that as tensions and protests escalate, the authorities may resort to further use of such excessive force. We call on all sides to refrain from the use of violence and to take measures to de-escalate the situation,” Ravina Shamdasani, a human rights officer at OHCHR, told IPS.

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the president of Mauritania, responded to a failed proposal to amend the constitution by raising the stakes to a referendum vote, scheduled for August 5th.

The proposal, which seeks to abolish Majilis al-Shuyukh, or the upper house of the parliament, was approved by the Jamiya Al Wataniya, the lower house. The bill collapsed in the upper house earlier in March this year as 33 senators out of a total of 56 rejected it.

The bill, now up for a referendum vote, also proposes changes to the country’s flag by adding a red stripe to the top and bottom to pay homage to the martyrs who fought for the country’s successful independence from France in 1960.

Since July 21, as protests escalated, the government has refused air time on TV to dissenters, and has made arrests.

The UN urged the government to conduct elections peacefully, and in compliance with an international order to hold transparent elections.

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The End of UN Habitat?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/end-un-habitat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=end-un-habitat http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/end-un-habitat/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 23:56:01 +0000 Felix Dodds http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151573 Felix Dodds is Senior Fellow at the Global Research Institute University of North Carolina and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute Boston and City of Bonn International Ambassador

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At the beginning of August, the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN Habitat came out with its report.

A photocomposition of European cities in a Habitat III exposition in Quito. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Felix Dodds
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2017 (IPS)

At the beginning of August, the High Level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat came out with its report. Before commenting on the Panel Report I want to put up front that I know that a lot of the staff in UN Habitat do excellent work and its same they weren’t given a proper role in Habitat III.

It should be remembered that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appointed the high-level panel in April this year. The Panel had a very short time to produce its report. I would argue far far too short a time.  To enable a Panel to get on top of options and proposals and hear viewpoints on initial drafts Panels should not be expected to report in less than two years. So, I find myself reading a report that I already have concerns about in the context of the ability of those on the Panel to really get beyond a literature search and a few outside papers and very little outside reflection or input.

Universal body: Let’s turn to the recommendations. The first one I would highlight is making UN Habitat a universal body. No! No! No!

So why not? UNEP was made a universal body out of Rio+20. It has had only 2 meetings as a universal body and there are big questions whether the new body is better than the old UNEP Governing Council. What I mean is it is too early to say if going to the additional bureaucracy and finance needed for a universal body makes the body more effective or less. It’s not as if countries are fighting over trying to become a member of the governing body of UN Habitat. Ensuring that any governing body of UN Habitat schedule overlaps with the UN Environment Assembly is a good idea and one that has been advocated in the 1990s for the functioning commissions of EcoSoc. I have advocated that before every High Level Political Forum (HLPF) there should be a two-day local SDG conference. This should be organized by the stakeholders with UN Habitat and other UN bodies in support NOT leading. The idea of having an Assembly or for that matter a Forum around the UNGA is a none starter. Member states in New York are preparing prior to the Heads of State session for their Heads of State, Ministers and events the idea that another set of activities would come into a space that is already highly stressed shows a lack of understanding of intergovernmental processes.

Stakeholders and Habitat:  Habitat II in 1996 in the original text had given places on the Commission on Human Settlement to industry, women, NGOs and local government. Member States took that out either in New York or Nairobi I can’t remember. That was a good suggestion.

Committee of Stakeholders: This made me laugh. The people on the Panel clearly don’t understand the term stakeholder. They interchange stakeholders with civil society which are completely different terms and refer to different groups so for example academics, Indigenous Peoples, the local government and the private sector are not members of civil society. They then go on to suggest that the Committee of Stakeholders will include ten civil society representatives, five academics and five from the private sector. It’s embarrassing. I could go into this at length but just in terms of the SDG process through the HLPF private sector are 1 of 10 or more stakeholder groups in this process they become 1 in 4. I didn’t see much evidence that the private sector was at the door clamoring to get involved with the Habitat III process. As far as the 5 places for academics REALLY!!!!! Are they more important to pick out than a few other stakeholders that are central to delivering the SDGs such as women, youth, the NGOs who are actually active on human settlement issues?

Committee on Local Government:  I understand why this is a good idea for local and sub national government. I do believe they need a different relationship with UN Habitat than other stakeholders and this should be looked at. I’m not sure this doesn’t ghettoize them.

Private Sector: Is the most central ask of the Panel for ‘UN Habitat explore ways to encourage private sector actors to look at the unintended negative impacts of their investments and to find ways to mitigate them?’ . The Panel goes on to say ‘that UN-Habitat develop a strategy for cooperation with multilateral banks, financial institutions, and private sources of finance in order to increase the available resources for inclusive and sustainable urbanization.’ What it should focus on is supporting the development of principles for PPPs or whether PPPs are the right approach for infrastructure. As it is in many cases sub national governments who are doing PPPs – UN Habitat could play a role in the UN family to collect best practice to support the UN developing core PPP principles and offer capacity building with the sub-national and local government bodies to help sub national governments to address where PPPs or Public-Public-Public Partnerships are the better way forward.

UN Urban: This is a good idea PROVIDED UN Habitat does not chair it. I say that because both for Habitat II and Habitat III the Executive Directors kept out the rest of the UN Family as much as they could. Either intentionally – because they were worried about competition or incompetence where they didn’t engage the family members early enough to enable them to bring their expertise to the table. UN Water has elections for the head of it – it did at one time rotate the chair. Both of these ideas would be work considering. UN Habitat should act as the Vice Chair. The secretariat for UN Urban should be seconded people from different agencies and programmes.  As with UN Water stakeholders should be enabled to join as non-voting members.

Funding: It has been estimated that we need $5-7 trillion a year to implement the SDGs. If NUA had actually been about the local implementation of the SDGS as opposed to a forgotten agreement languishing on people’s hard drives then you could work out the funding needed at the local level for the over 60% of the targets that need a local implementation. A Panel that had two years to do its work could have commissioned such a paper. This would have been the basis for then a conversation with Member States and other funders about what role UN Habitat might play.

The reason that UN Habitat is not funded adequately is that Member States DO NOT have confidence in the leadership of the body. Setting up new funds without new leadership and the beginning of a proven record is I think a waste of time.

Finally – the bits of the NUA which will survive will be those that support the implementation of the SDGs, the Paris Climate Agreement and the AAAA.

What this report doesn’t do is look at other options (a) merging with UNEP (b) going back into UNDP. It also doesn’t ask Member States and stakeholders what services they need from UN Habitat at the country level. This could have been undertaken over a two-year period but not in a less than five month period. How it fits into the Secretary Generals Re-positioning the UN Development System to Deliver on the 2030 Agenda is unclear. It probably means it will be seen as a feeding into the second report due out in December.

For UN Habitat to be a success it needs to focus on the SDG agenda it needs to make friends again with the UN family as a whole and not try and barriers around the localization of the SDGs and say MINE. So much of the UN family is working at the country level on similar parts of the agenda and should be doing this in cooperation with UN Habitat. It will be up to the next Executive Director of UN Habitat to do much of this. If they don’t, then they may be the last Executive Director of UN Habitat.

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Latin America Discusses How to Make Environmental Rights a Realityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/latin-america-discusses-make-environmental-rights-reality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-discusses-make-environmental-rights-reality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/latin-america-discusses-make-environmental-rights-reality/#respond Fri, 04 Aug 2017 01:35:07 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151563 The final declaration of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stated that “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.” However, this rarely happens in Latin America and the Caribbean. That was acknowledged by most countries in the region, which 25 years later are drafting a supranational […]

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Delegates from 24 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean pose next to Argentine authorities, after the opening of the seventh meeting of the negotiating committee on a regional agreement that will enable access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, held in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Delegates from 24 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean pose next to Argentine authorities, after the opening of the seventh meeting of the negotiating committee on a regional agreement that will enable access to information, participation and justice in environmental matters, held in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 4 2017 (IPS)

The final declaration of the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stated that “Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.” However, this rarely happens in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That was acknowledged by most countries in the region, which 25 years later are drafting a supranational legal instrument with the aim of making public access to information and to environmental justice a reality for people in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Delegates from 24 countries are taking part Jul. 31 to Aug. 4 in the Seventh Meeting of the Negotiating Committee of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.“Social conflicts over environmental issues resulted in 200 deaths last year around the world, 60 per cent of which were documented in Latin America. The most violent region has been the Amazon rainforst, where 16 people died for defending their land.” -- Danielle Andrade

This week’s meeting in Buenos Aires, organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the government of Argentina, is to be the second-to-last debate on Principle 10, and is being held behind closed doors.

The final document is to be approved in November or December in an as-yet undetermined city.

But there is still a long way to go.

At the current meeting it has become clear that the debate on how far public participation should go has not come to a conclusion, although the ECLAC-sponsored negotiations began in November 2014.

The main sticking point is whether or not the document will be binding on signatory states.

If an agreement is reached for a binding document, it would set minimum standards for the participating countries to guarantee public participation in environmental matters.

If the decision is that it should be non-binding, it could merely become yet another declaration of principles that changes nothing.

The UN special rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox of the United States, said “the instrument should be binding, even though that would make it harder to reach a consensus.”

“If it isn’t binding, the impression will be that instead of taking a step forward, we took a step back,” he said.

Knox was a special guest speaker during the opening of the meeting, which was held at Argentina’s Foreign Ministry, with the presence of three Argentine cabinet ministers and Costa Rica’s deputy minister of environment, Patricia Madrigal.

The Costa Rican official took part on behalf of the Negotiating Committee board, which is presided by her country and Chile, and is also composed of Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the same vein as Knox, the Argentine expert on environmental law, Daniel Sabsay, a speaker at a special session on the implementation of the future agreement, said he was “worried by the prospect that the text will just end up as another grand declaration, without any actual results.”

Rights of indigenous peoples and communities

The draft of the Regional Agreement makes several references to indigenous peoples and establishes that it will acknowledge the right to consultation, and prior, free and informed consent, which has been recognised in most national legislations, and in the International Labour Organisation Convention 169, which regulates the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

It also stipulates that information must be delivered in indigenous languages, and that native people must receive special assistance to access information, since they are identified as a vulnerable group.

In addition, it establishes that, in every project with an environmental impact, the State has the obligation to identify the directly affected communities and promote their informed participation in the decision-making processes.

“The drafts that have been released until now set out no concrete instruments which countries are required to enforce and which would empower civil society. If it is not binding, it will not be useful,” he told IPS.

The debate is taking place against a backdrop of escalating disputes over land and natural resources, around the world and in this region in particular.

“Social conflicts over environmental issues resulted in 200 deaths last year around the world, 60 per cent of which were documented in Latin America. The most violent region has been the Amazon rainforst, where 16 people died for defending their land,” said Danielle Andrade of Jamaica, chosen as a civil society representative in the negotiations.

This situation shows the failure of governments to address the concerns of local communities in the face of extractive or land use projects that affect them.

Principle 10 of the Río Declaration establishes that States must facilitate and promote social participation in debates on environmental issues, making information widely available and guaranteeing access to legal and administrative proceedings.

The consensus is that Latin America in general has sufficient regulations in this respect. In fact, Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said that “since 1992, 20 countries in the region have incorporated in their constitutions the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.”

The issue, it seems, is how to put into practice those rights which are only on paper.

“Nearly every country has environmental laws, but they have problems enforcing them. That is why we believe the creation of a committee for implementation of the treaty is crucial, to which people in the region could turn with their environmental conflicts, and which should include public participation, and should have powers to intervene,” Andrés Nápoli of Argentina, another civil society representative in the negotiations, told IPS.

The agreement that is being negotiated is inspired by the so-called Aarhus Convention, approved in 1998 in that city in Denmark, within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The Convention was especially useful for Eastern Europe countries, which had abandoned Communism a few years before, and had few environmental regulations.

“The countries of Latin America have been developing environmental laws since the 1990s, and recently some English-speaking Caribbean nations have being doing so,” said Carlos de Miguel, head of ECLAC’s Policies for Sustainable Development Unit.

“For that reason, the aim is enhancing the capacities of countries to ensure the rights established in the existing laws. Some countries have not been able to implement their environmental legislation, not because they don’t want to, but due to a lack of training and of financial resources,” he told IPS.

De Miguel said “we expect an ambitious agreement, that includes the creation of the institutions that will enforce it. We hope it will be signed not only by the 24 countries that are negotiating, but by all 33 countries in the region.”

The countries taking part in the discussions include all of the nations of South America except for Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam, and all of the countries of Central America with the exception of Nicaragua, while Caribbean island nations like Barbados and Cuba are absent.

Among the articles that are under discussion in Buenos Aires are article 6, which defines the scope of the right to information; 7 and 8, on the participation of citizens in decision-making processes; and 9, which regulates access to justice.

The last meeting will discuss the articles that define the institutions created by the treaty and whether or not to create an enforcement committee that, according to the majority, will define its effectiveness.

“It is essential to establish mechanisms to ensure that participation is real and ensure the most vulnerable populations have access to information, because official bodies and NGOs on their own cannot mobilise participation,” said Leila Devia, head of the Basel Convention Regional Centre for South America, at the special session on implementation.

That convention, which has 186 member States, deals with the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

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Gender Equality? It’s Still a Man’s Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/gender-equality-still-mans-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-still-mans-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/gender-equality-still-mans-world/#respond Thu, 03 Aug 2017 17:57:38 +0000 Anna Shen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151558 Anna Shen is an international consultant for the United Nations, an entrepreneur, and advisor to startups around the world.

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Gender inequality is the greatest moral and social issue of our time — and the world’s most critical economic challenge.

Globally, women are grossly underrepresented in scientific research and development (R&D). Laboratory-assistant-analyzing. Credit: Bigstock

By Anna Shen
SAN FRANCISCO, California, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

Gender inequality is the greatest moral and social issue of our time — and the world’s most critical economic challenge. If half of the global population cannot fulfill their human potential, the world’s economic growth will falter.

Gender inequality is the greatest moral & social issue of our time, it’s up to all of us - men and women - to change the rules

Anna Shen

We are being robbed as we speak: if women fully participated in formal economic activity, it would add $12 trillion to the world’s coffers, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Drill down to specific industries – the tech sector – and globally, women face the most profound imbalances. At risk are the immense contributions to innovation that women around the world could make — if simply given the chance.

We are now in what The World Economic Forum calls the “4th Industrial Revolution,” an era built on technology that fuses digital, physical and biological worlds. It is imperative that women contribute to the planet’s sweeping transformation.

Imagine if women participated fully and their intellects, talents, and skills were fully used. Think of the products developed, technologies created, companies funded, and discoveries found. What answers would women find for the world’s most pressing problems?

Keep in mind women’s inventions to date: Marie Curie, winner of two Nobel Prizes, who discovered radioactivity, radium and polonium; Grace Hopper, who designed Harvard’s Mark I computer; and
Ann Tsukamoto, who isolated stem cells, a promising discovery that could lead to a cure for cancer.

Sadly, the numbers speak for themselves.

Globally, women are grossly underrepresented in scientific research and development (R&D). Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works to accelerate women’s workplace inclusion, reports that worldwide, females account for less than 29 percent of those employed in R&D. In America, which prides itself as possessing the worlds’ most advanced tech companies, women hold less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

When women actually do work in the tech sector, retention is an issue; negative work experiences and a lack of support spur women to depart at alarming rates. Almost one-third of women in science, technology and engineering in the U.S. intend to leave their jobs within a year; it is worse in other parts of the world, as women in Brazil (22 percent) and India (20 percent) plan to quit during the same time period.

If one narrowly looks at the business case for gender, the argument is undeniable. Put simply, women boost the bottom line and add invaluable perspectives. According to a Morgan Stanley report that polled 108 tech firms, companies with a highly gender-diverse workforce grew 5.4 percent more revenue-wise per year.

Board representation matters too. Companies in every sector, not just tech, perform 5 percent better when they have just one woman on the board, according to Credit Suisse, which examined 3,000 companies. The Peterson Institute for International Economics noted that out of 22,000 firms surveyed globally in tech and other, 60 percent had no female board members. Norway, Latvia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria had only 20 percent female representation in board members and senior executives.

In developing countries, gender parity could enable greater self-sufficiency. Consider the recent visit of Google CEO Sundar Pichai to Nigeria and the promise that the company will train 10 million Nigerians in the next five years, ushering them into the digital economy, a lofty goal that would open more Africans to the global marketplace. What if half – five million — of the newly trained tech workers were women?

Dr. Unoma Okorafor, founder of the Nigerian-based foundation Working to Advance African Women (WAAW), is working across eight countries to increase the pipeline of females in tech. She believes that fostering gender parity is critical to poverty alleviation and Africa’s rapid development. “Technology can empower women who are currently working in agriculture or at home. Many entrepreneurs are women, however, they are excluded from the formal system,” she said.

Could a burgeoning tech sector wean these countries off foreign aid? If countries could train workers to think for themselves, Africa could change the narrative from aid to trade. “We could empower Africans to innovate for themselves,” said Okorafor, adding that this is part of the goal of attracting women to careers in STEM.

The problem is in training and retaining women leaders globally, but discrimination exists in the funding mechanism – venture capital (VC) — used to birth companies. In California’s Silicon Valley, where many of the world’s largest tech companies launched – Uber, Airbnb, Google, Facebook – women face obstacles in VC; in fact, women-led companies comprised less than 5 percent of all VC deals in 2016. Only 7 percent of partners at the leading 100 VC firms are women.

This summer’s avalanche of sexual harassment scandals at Uber and several prominent American venture capital firms have made global front-page news.

Unfortunately, for women in other countries, the story is also the same. In late July, the board of Kenyan software company Ushahidi fired Daudi Were, executive director, after an investigation of sexual harassment by a former employee. She published details online, recounting the disturbing impact of his actions. Eleven other women experienced similar incidents.

Access to capital is unmistakably powerful. Trish Costello, founder of Portfolia, a crowdfunding website that aims to create a new class of women investors, said that, “The goal is to design spaces that work for women in terms of investment vehicles. Men say that there are no female VCs and that is why there is a leaky pipeline, but that is not true.”

Ruchira Shukla, regional lead for South Asia for the venture capital arm of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), gave hopeful news: “The number of women entrepreneurs in the tech space is rising. These women will serve as role models,” adding that she is heartened by the women entrepreneurs she is seeing, especially as the IFC invested in a fund for female founders.

Recent discussions to raise women up are encouraging. Is it lip service? Across the tech industry, it is still a man’s world. It’s up to all of us – men and women – to change the rules. Innovation and the world’s future are at stake.

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UN Analytical Leadership in Addressing Global Economic Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges/#respond Thu, 03 Aug 2017 07:42:45 +0000 Jose Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151552 José Antonio Ocampo was Executive Secretary of the UN-ECLAC from 1998 to 2003 and UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs from 2003 to 2007. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development from 2005 to 2015.

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International solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata/IPS

By José Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations recently released the 70th anniversary issue of its flagship publication, the World Economic and Social Survey (WESS). First published in January 1948 as the World Economic Report, it is the oldest continuous publication analyzing international economic and social challenges. The 2017 issue reviews 70 years of WESS policy recommendations, many of which remain relevant today to address global challenges and to achieve the 2030 Agenda or Sustainable Development Goals.

Created in 1945 to ensure world peace, the United Nations charter recognized that economic and social progress for all is fundamental for ensuring sustainable peace. The UN has thus been monitoring socio-economic developments globally since the 1940s. Its analyses have long highlighted the interdependence of the global economy, and advocated international policy coherence and coordination for sustainable, inclusive and balanced socio-economic progress.

The picture which emerges is that the UN has been ahead of the curve on many issues, especially on closing gaps in human well-being between and within countries. From early on, it has urged developed countries to support socio-economic progress in developing countries, not only in their own interest as trading partners, but also to maintain conditions for greater economic stability and more equitable global development. It has also long called for predictable transfers of finance and technology to developing countries, and for opening up developed country markets to developing countries’ exports.

The UN has also pioneered innovative multilateral institution building to fill lacunae. In the 1960s, WESS provided the analytical rationale for establishing the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to support developing countries seeking to equitably benefit from international trade and investment, and to industrialize.

The 2017 review of issues WESS has underscored the importance of its analyses. The 1951-52 issue identified three major challenges: “maintenance of economic stability, those concerned with persistent disequilibrium in international payments, and those arising from the relatively slow advance of the under-developed countries”. Needless to say, these challenges remain relevant today.

The 1956 issue warned against monetarism and monetary policy solutions, arguing that “a single economic policy seems no more likely to overcome all sources of imbalance … than is a single medicine likely to cure all diseases”. Along these lines, the 1959 issue acknowledged the “evils of large-scale inflation”, but argued that “economic stagnation or large-scale unemployment is not an acceptable cost to pay for price stability or equilibrium in the balance of payments”.

The 1965 issue warned that tying aid would reduce aid effectiveness, external debt burdens were rising rapidly, and capital would flow from developing to developed countries.

The 1971 issue warned of the “unsettling effects of massive movements of short-term capital” and argued for an “international code of conduct and mechanism for surveillance” to curb their disruptive effects. It also warned that IMF governance arrangements dangerously limited developing country voice, and called for Special Drawing Rights to be used to provide development finance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, WESS repeatedly warned that putting the burden of adjustment on deficit countries alone would not only stifle their growth, but also exert deflationary pressure on the world economy. The UN urged provision of additional finance by surplus countries and international financial institutions on less stringent terms and conditions to support robust recoveries and prevent widespread welfare losses.

The 1982 issue warned against the reluctance to undertake expansionary policies at a time of a global crisis for fear of undermining investor confidence: “without more vigorous expansionary policies, recovery will lack strength, levels of demand will not be sufficient to bring present productive capacity into full use, and the incentive to undertake new investment will remain weak”.

WESS’s rich legacy reminds us of the continuing relevance of multilateral institutions, especially in facing major challenges. The global economy needs strong institutions and coordinated international actions, with adequate voice and participation by developing countries. This is particularly true for ensuring international monetary stability and trade dynamism, which remain crucial for global development.

It also underscores that international solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Sustainable development is necessarily multidimensional and often context-specific; requiring strengthened state capacities and capabilities, strategic development planning and appropriate adaptation to local conditions.

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Central America Fights Climate Change with Minimal Foreign Aidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/central-america-fights-climate-change-minimal-foreign-aid/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-fights-climate-change-minimal-foreign-aid http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/central-america-fights-climate-change-minimal-foreign-aid/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 07:05:54 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151490 Despite the fact that Central America is one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change, it has half-empty coffers when it comes to funding efforts against the phenomenon, in part because it receives mere crumbs in foreign aid to face the impacts of the rise in temperatures. According to a study released in June, […]

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US Lags Far Behind in Banning Dental Health Hazardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/us-lags-far-behind-banning-dental-health-hazard/#respond Mon, 31 Jul 2017 05:16:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151496 The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry. The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced […]

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The United States is refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry

Example of mercury use in the healthcare sector. From left to right: Mercury Sphygmomanometer, Dental Amalgam and a Fever Thermometer. Credit: UNDP

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2017 (IPS)

The United States is lagging far behind its Western allies – and perhaps most of the key developing countries – in refusing to act decisively to end a longstanding health and environmental hazard: the use of mercury in dentistry.

The 28-member European Union (EU), with an estimated population of over 510 million people, recently announced its decision to ban amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers. The ban comes into effect July 2018.

“In sharp contrast, the U.S. government has done nothing to protect these vulnerable populations from exposure to amalgam’s mercury,” says a petition filed by Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC), which has been vigorously campaigning for mercury-free dentistry, since its founding back in 1996.

In Norway and Sweden, dental amalgam is no longer in use, while it is being phased out in Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In Mauritius and EU nations, it is banned from use on children. Denmark uses dental amalgam for only 5% of restorations and Germany for 10% of restorations.

In Bangladesh, it is to be phased out in 2018, and in India, there is a dental school requirement of eliminating amalgam in favour of alternatives.

In Nigeria, the government has printed and distributed consumer-information brochures while the government of Canada has recommended that all dentists stop its use in children and pregnant women — and those with kidney disorders.

Dental amalgam has been described as a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. And it is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper.

In its petition, addressed to the FDA Commissioner, CDC says the United States – the only developed nation with no warnings or restrictions on the use of dental amalgam in children – is the outlier.

“Why are other countries protecting their children while the FDA lets American children be exposed to dental mercury? In order to catch up with other developed nations, the Commissioner must amend FDA’s mercury amalgam rule,” says the lengthy petition replete with facts and figures—and worthy of a research project.

The petition presents its case citing several sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

According to the Wall Street Journal last week, FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb, in a sweeping regulatory overhaul of Big Tobacco, has cracked down on tobacco companies, demanding that all cigarettes should have such low levels of nicotine so they no longer are considered addictive.

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, told IPS that with all the modern mercury-free dental fillings available today, it is inexcusable that FDA remains the world’s chief defender of implanting neurotoxic mercury in children’s mouths – mere centimeters from their developing brains.”

It’s time for FDA to catch up to the European Union and ban amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers,” he added.

Michael Bender, Director, Mercury Policy Project in Vermont, USA, told IPS: “During negotiations, the U.S. stated position was ‘to achieve the phase down, with the goal, the eventual phase out’ of dental amalgam. FDA should stop acting like a rogue agency and follow the US position.”

In its petition, CDC urges the Commissioner to take three key measures to stop amalgam use in children under age 15, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers:

Firstly, issue a safety communication warning dentists, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Secondly, require manufacturers to distribute patient-labeling that includes warnings against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

Thirdly, develop and implement a public information campaign (including FDA’s website, social media, press releases, and a press conference) to warn dentists, dental associations, parents, and dental consumers against amalgam use in children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.

The petition also says the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury requires nations to “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

The U.S. government signed and accepted the Minamata Convention on 6 November 2013. FDA’s official support for “change towards use of dental amalgam” and its rejection of “any change away from use of dental amalgam” in its 2009 dental amalgam rule is contrary to the Minamata Convention’s requirement that parties “phase down the use of dental amalgam.”

FDA’s push for phasing up amalgam use has raised major concerns in the international community, says the petition.

The Convention enters into force – and becomes legally binding– on 16 August. On 18 May the 50th nation ratified, and with that threshold reached, the Convention enters into force in 90 days– namely, 16 August. Jamaica was the 71st nation to ratify the convention last week.

Asked for an FDA response, Stephanie Caccomo, Press Officer, Office of Media Affairs & Office of External Affairs, told IPS the FDA has neither promoted the use of dental amalgams nor supported an increase in their use.

FDA serves as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lead representative to the Minamata Convention on Mercury and takes very seriously the Convention’s objective of protecting human health from the possible adverse health effects of mercury exposure, she added.

“The U.S. actively supported the Convention throughout its development and the FDA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of State on how the United States will implement the treaty obligations.”

She pointed out that the U.S. government is committed to complying with the Convention by taking at least two of the nine specific measures set forth in Part II of Annex A of the Convention with respect to dental amalgam.

Elaborating further, she said in an email message, that dental amalgam contains elemental mercury. It releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys.

“FDA has reviewed the best available scientific evidence to determine whether the low levels of mercury vapor associated with dental amalgam fillings are a cause for concern. Based on this evidence, FDA considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.”

The weight of credible scientific evidence reviewed by FDA does not establish an association between dental amalgam use and adverse health effects in the general population. Clinical studies in adults and children ages 6 and above have found no link between dental amalgam fillings and health problems, she noted.

“The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor. Very limited to no clinical data is available regarding long-term health outcomes in pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and children under the age of six, including infants who are breastfed. Pregnant women and parents with children under six who are concerned about the absence of clinical data as to long-term health outcomes should talk to their dentist.”

However, the estimated amount of mercury in breast milk attributable to dental amalgam is low and falls well below general levels for oral intake that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe, she added.

“Despite the limited clinical information, FDA concludes that the existing risk information supports a finding that infants are not at risk for adverse health effects from the mercury in breast milk of women exposed to mercury vapor from dental amalgam.”

Some individuals have an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or the other components of dental amalgam (such as silver, copper, or tin). Dental amalgam might cause these individuals to develop oral lesions or other contact reactions.

“If you are allergic to any of the metals in dental amalgam, you should not get amalgam fillings. You can discuss other treatment options with your dentist,” she advised.

To the extent there are any potential risks to health generally associated with the use of dental amalgam, FDA issued a final rule and related guidance document establishing special regulatory controls to mitigate any such risks.

“Moreover, while FDA does not believe additional action is warranted at this time, FDA continues to evaluate the literature on dental amalgam and any other new information it receives in light of the 2010 advisory panel recommendations and will take further action on dental amalgam as warranted,” Caccomo added.

Asked for a response to the FDA statement, Charlie Brown said: “Consumers for Dental Choice’s petition demands that FDA carry out its duty to provide American children the same protection from amalgam’s mercury that the European Union does over there.”

He pointed out that FDA admits repeatedly that no evidence exist that amalgam’s mercury is safe for young children, yet FDA will not stop being the world’s most stubborn defender of implanting mercury into children’s mouths (and bodies).

“FDA must now fish or cut bait. With our petition in its lap, FDA must choose between, on the one hand, doing its duty as a federal agency, and, on the other hand, keeping in place its four-decade-long program of putting profits for pro-mercury dentists ahead of lives of American children,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Consumers for Dental Choice says its campaign goal for Mercury-Free Dentistry is to phase out the use of amalgam, a 50% mercury product — worldwide. The recently concluded draft mercury treaty requires each signing nation to phase down its use of amalgam, and it provides a road map how.

“We aim to: educate consumers about the use of mercury in dentistry so they can make informed decisions; stop dental mercury pollution; protect consumers – especially vulnerable populations such as children and the unborn – from exposure to dental mercury; empower dental workers – dental assistants and hygienists – to protect themselves from mercury in the workplace; and promote access to mercury-free alternatives to amalgam.

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“The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-now-invest-youth-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-now-invest-youth-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/time-now-invest-youth-girls/#respond Fri, 28 Jul 2017 05:52:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151466 The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean? There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind. In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent […]

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The demographic dividend - “The Time is Now” to Invest in Youth, Girls

Natalia Kanem, Acting Executive Director the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2017 (IPS)

The demographic dividend: though not a new concept, it is one of the major buzzwords at the UN this year. But what does it really mean?

There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 around the world, the most in the history of humankind.

In Africa alone, approximately 60 percent of its population is currently under 25 years old and this figure is only expected to rise.

With this change in demographics comes more working-age individuals and thus the potential to advance economic growth and sustainable development, known as the demographic dividend.

However, this will not happen on its own.

Investments are required in areas such as education and sexual and reproductive healthcare in order to provide youth with opportunities to prosper, major components of the globally adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) new acting executive director Natalia Kanem, who assumed her new role after the unexpected death of former executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, sat down with IPS to discuss the issues, challenges, and goals towards achieving the demographic dividend and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Q: What is the demographic dividend and why is it so important?

A: The demographic dividend is the economic boost that happens in a country when you have more people in productive working ages employed and contributing to the economy compared to the categories of young people or elderly who are dependents in economic terms.

For many of the countries which dwell in poverty today, we are seeing this transition that was predicted to happen.

Through the success in healthcare and sanitation, society has been able to increase life expectancy—people are getting older so we are getting lower death rates.

At the same time, we are getting lower birth rates, which are happening in some of these countries, and that means the working-age population is going to have fewer mouths to feed, fewer shoes to put on the school-aged child’s feet.

Many things have to also happen at the same time—it’s not just simply lowering the birth rate.

You have to equip people to be able to be productive members of a society, and this means education is very important. Adolescent girls in particular should be equipped to reach their potential by providing education of certain types of skills or training.

All of this is going to add up to much more societal progress, potential of young people fulfilled, and human rights being enjoyed.

Q: Where does this fit in and how does it inform UNFPA’s work under your leadership? Does it signal a paradigm shift?

A: We do feel that it is a paradigm shift, and what we are doing at UNFPA is making it accessible so that governments understand its relevance.

The mandate of UNFPA is to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and we feel that a woman’s choice is at the center of all of this.

Right now, as girls get married young and are having coerced sexual activity young, they are really not able to decide for themselves about how many children they want, when they want to have them, and how they would like to space them.

By giving women the choice to exercise their reproductive wishes and educating them—all of these things are going to ignite the potential of young people.

These people have potential, they want to work, they want to be educated, they want to contribute—so let’s make it easier for them, let’s not hide sexual and reproductive health information.

Not every method is going to work for every person, so we really look at human rights across the spectrum of choice.

We also have a lot of experts who have been very strategic in thinking through what really makes a difference, and we can say emphatically that investment in sexual and reproductive health way outweighs the costs—you at least double your money, and if you do the whole package, you can actually get 122 times the investment.

There is nothing on the planet that gives you that kind of payback.

Q: Why isn’t it enough to just equip youth with skills and jobs?

A: The young person exists in a societal environment like we all do, and girls tend to get left out of that picture.

In the past, when we were thinking of farmers, we didn’t realize that more than half of the farmers were women. So we were giving all of the agricultural resources to the wrong people.

And here we are saying the adolescent girl is half of the world and she also needs to be deliberately included.

The cards will be stacked against her if we don’t protect her so she doesn’t fall into the trap of sexual and reproductive dis-ease—so she’s pregnant before she wants to be, she is having her kids too close together, she is physically exhausted, and if she doesn’t finish her education, all of these things work together.

So that’s why we keep harping on this balance of all of these different elements.

The Republic of Korea is the classic example of how its gross domestic product (GDP) grew over 2,000 percent in the 50 odd years when they were investing in voluntary family planning coupled with educating the population and preparing them for the types of jobs that were going to be available.

South Korea’s population pyramid went from looking like a triangle, where there wasn’t enough working age people to take care of those at the bottom, to where there were fewer children per family and greater ability to invest more into nutrition and education and all of the things families want for their children.

And it’s not just fewer families alone, because if you have fewer families but she doesn’t have an education, then it won’t work. You need the packaged deal.

We are ultimately talking about a social revolution which sees young people as an asset to their family, community, and country.

Q: How accepted is the correlation between growth and issues that may not be so obvious such as sexual and reproductive health or child marriage? Has there been pushback on that?

A: First of all, there was lack of recognition. It seems like the dots are very far apart until you paint the picture, but we have been explaining that better.

The regional report card atlas which we just launched earlier this month for the African Union Summit is very telling. We looked at those same parameters for every single African country, one of which was early marriage, and it varies so much.

In some countries, it can be up to 70 percent of girls getting married before the age of 17. In Rwanda it’s under 10 percent, and they have very good family planning which they’ve been working on for a while.

Uganda is a very good example of how pushback was transformed.

President Museveni came in as a strong proponent of big families and said that they need a big population in order to have more workers. But after a lot of discussion, he saw that Uganda already has a big population but it wasn’t enough.

So later, the President started advocating strongly for voluntary family planning services and services like midwives because again, the woman has to be sure that when she does get pregnant she and her baby are going to survive.

Uganda has now transformed its economy and is starting to see that demographic dividend boost.

Q: Where do the resources come from for countries to invest in youth?

A: Many countries are looking to invest their own resources in this proposition because the return on investment argument is highly persuasive.

We have also garnered the interest of development banks. The World Bank is working very closely with UNFPA on the Sahelian Women’s Economic Development and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) program. It’s only been active for a little while now but it is wildly successful because it looks at rural women in countries of the Sahel.

There is also a huge role for the private sector.

Government is very important because of policies and setting the tone and norms and laying down the expectations.

But the reality is that the private sector employs 90 percent of people in the developing world.

This coupling of the public government side and the private investment side is very crucial to ensure rights, freedoms, services, and accurate information—all of that together is needed for development and for this bonus that we call the demographic dividend.

Q: How are the recent funding cuts by the United States affecting UNFPA’s work? Is it hindering progress on the demographic dividend and/or the sustainable development goals?

A: First of all, I would like to say that UNFPA is moving forward.

We are steadfastly committed to our three goals: Zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and the elimination of harmful practices including violence that affect women and girls.

We are very focused on these three goals in our work with governments, civil society, private sector, and other actors in over 150 countries to honor the legacy of our late boss as well as those who preceded him.

There are still 214 million women who want family planning and don’t have modern contraception.

We have a funding gap that stands at about 700 million dollars from now to 2020, and we have been looking for additional funding because we need to reach more and more women and girls without cutting the programs we already have.

The United States’ defunding was such a disappointment in terms of our good standing in the world and our regret that the decision was based on an erroneous claim.

Ultimately, I think our regret on the decision is certainly monetary because we were using that money very effectively in humanitarian core operations.

But we also regret it because of the stature of the U.S. in the fight to make sure that there is gender equality as well as reproductive health and rights.

We are really looking forward to continuing a dialogue and hopefully keeping an open door because the U.S. and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been very good partners with UNFPA.

The time is now for young women to be protected from it being their fault that they got raped, for them feeling shame when they have been assaulted.

Let’s turn that around so that men and boys, women and girls live peacefully with the resources they want and need to survive and thrive.

No one of us can do it alone and I think that UNFPA is a good partner, and that we deserve to be supported.

*Interview edited for length and clarity.

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UN Appoints Experts to DRC’s Kasai to Probe Harrowing Rights Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/un-appoints-experts-drcs-kasai-probe-harrowing-rights-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-appoints-experts-drcs-kasai-probe-harrowing-rights-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/un-appoints-experts-drcs-kasai-probe-harrowing-rights-abuses/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 18:27:16 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151462 The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, appointed a team of three international experts yesterday to collect information and raise awareness about grave atrocities in the ongoing conflict in the remote Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Central Kasai has been mired in a conflict between government forces […]

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By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, appointed a team of three international experts yesterday to collect information and raise awareness about grave atrocities in the ongoing conflict in the remote Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Security Council observes a moment of silence in memory of two UN experts who were killed recently while monitoring the sanctions regime in the Kasaï Central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council observes a moment of silence in memory of two UN experts who were killed recently while monitoring the sanctions regime in the Kasaï Central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Credit: UN Photo

Central Kasai has been mired in a conflict between government forces and local militias called Kamuina Nsapu since August 2016. The conflict, which has escalated in recent months, garnered international attention when two U.N. experts in the region were killed in March 2017.

The conflict intensified in the run up to the elections of December 2016, when government security forces clashed with demonstrators who contested the president’s bid to stay in power beyond his term ending in 2016, and killed 50 people. Hundreds were jailed, and media outlets were banned.

Ever since, the situation has only become worse.

Newer armed groups like Bana Mura have emerged to fight the Congolese army and police. They have carried out brutal attacks against targeted civilians of Luba and Lulua ethnic groups, killing hundreds and burning villages. Small children have been gravely wounded from machete attacks, and pregnant women have been cut open.

Victims have speculated that members of the Congolese army have also been part of these horrific killings.

Today, as many as 3,300 people have died, and 1.3 million people have been displaced within the country. In Angola alone, more than 30,000 people have been registered as refugees as thousands more stream into the central African country every day. Some 42 mass graves have been documented by the Joint Human Rights Office.

The atrocities committed against civilians have put pressure on the UN, which adopted the UN Human Rights Council resolution on June 22, 2017.

In the resolution, the Council expressed its grave concerns about the recurrent violence and the “recruitment and use of child soldiers, sexual and gender-based violence, destruction of houses, schools, places of worship, and State infrastructure by local militias, as well as of mass graves.”

The Council puts the newly appointed team in charge of collecting information, determining facts and circumstances, and to forwarding “the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo the conclusions of this investigation in order to establish the truth and to ensure that the perpetrators of deplorable crimes are all accountable to the judicial authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The team includes Bacre Ndiaye, a Senegal national, Luc Côté, a Canadian who has worked on human rights violations in the DRC, and Mauritania’s Fatimata M’Baye.

A comprehensive report with the findings will be presented in June 2018, at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

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Will Governments Support Access to Information Driving Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-governments-support-access-information-driving-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-governments-support-access-information-driving-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/will-governments-support-access-information-driving-development/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 17:24:20 +0000 Gerald Leitner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151459 Gerald Leitner, is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

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Gerald Leitner, is Secretary-General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

By Gerald Leitner
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

In an Information Society, access, and the ability to apply and re-use information is at the heart of individual fulfilment and social participation. Long before the idea of an Information Society came into use, libraries connected people to this, connecting them with literature and learning, and allowing them to improve their lives, and those of their families and communities.

Access to information and the ability to apply and re-use it is at the heart of individual fulfilment and social participation

Gerald Leitner. Credit: IFLA

The Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report 2017, produced by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, makes the case for investment by governments, and other stakeholders, in delivering access as a driver of progress.

The spread of the Internet, and the content it holds, creates unique possibilities to offer access to information. Yet there are barriers standing in the way to realising this potential. These present us with two scenarios.

In the first, rates of physical connectivity to the Internet remain low in remote or poorer areas, allowing a digital divide to become a development divide. A lack of relevant content, and the ability to read and use it, prevents others from seeing the value in connectivity.

Information poverty robs people of opportunities to keep their families healthy, update farming practices to respond to climate change, or find jobs. And rather than full information and evidence, decisions on civic, economic and social life are taken based on misinformation and superstition.

In the second, people learn to get the best out of the Internet, knowing how to keep themselves and their families safe online. They can find the information they need, at the right time and in the right format, and apply it to changing real world problems.

They also develop the skills necessary to create their own content, further enriching available information resources. New markets are created, new communities formed, and innovation, creativity and civic participation thrives.

DA2I 2017 argues that four factors make the difference: physical connectivity, social context, individual and community skills, and the legal and policy framework. Based on indicators from established, recognised sources, the report offers a first look at how regions and countries are doing in each of these four areas, and how performance on these is linked to other characteristics, such as poverty or gender inequality.

It finds that while there is progress in some areas, such as numbers with Internet connections, big gaps in terms of skills and uses remain, and the gender digital divide is even widening.

It also provides evidence of the contribution access makes to achieving four of the focus Sustainable Development Goals at this year’s UN High Level Political Forum, which took place on 10-19 July – agriculture, health, gender equality and innovation.

Most of all, it underlines how essential libraries are to development. When they benefit from the resources and legal frameworks they need, they can bring their unique potential to bear – as trusted, community institutions, connected both to the global Information society and alert to local needs and interests, with staff dedicated to providing meaningful access to information.

IFLA itself has made the most of its unique position as the global voice of libraries, working with representatives of 73 countries to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and the role that libraries can play in their realisation.

We have been overwhelmed by the response so far, but this is just the start of an ongoing process – the next stop is a global meeting in early 2018. We look forward to returning with a new DA2I report next year, with updated statistics, and even more examples of how libraries are making a difference, from the local to the global level, to achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

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Can Economic Growth Be Really Green?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/can-economic-growth-really-green/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-economic-growth-really-green http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/can-economic-growth-really-green/#comments Thu, 27 Jul 2017 11:37:03 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151441 The answer to this big question is apparently “yes” – Economic growth can be really green. How? The facts are there. For instance, in 2016, solar power became the cheapest form of energy in 58 lower income countries, including China India and Brazil. In Europe, in 2016, 86 per cent of the newly installed energy […]

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The main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure are are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation

Credit: GGGI

By IPS World Desk
ROME/SEOUL, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The answer to this big question is apparently “yes” – Economic growth can be really green. How?

The facts are there. For instance, in 2016, solar power became the cheapest form of energy in 58 lower income countries, including China India and Brazil. In Europe, in 2016, 86 per cent of the newly installed energy capacity was from renewable sources. And solar power will likely be the lowest-cost energy option in almost all parts of the world in less than 10 years.

This bold, fact-based information has been provided by Frank Rijsberman, the Director General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a well-known expert in the field of sustainable development and former CEO of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium.

The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, yet they continue to this day

Frank Rijsberman. Credit: GGGI

Building on this documented information, Rijsberman, in an article Will fossil fuels and conventional cars be obsolete by 2030?, which was published on 23 February in The Huffington Post, asks “Is it all over for fossil fuels?”

The GGGI chief then answers: “Tony Seba, Author of “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation,” predicts that the industrial era of centralized fossil-fuel based energy production and transportation will be all over by 2030.”

Solar Energy, Self-Driving Electric Vehicles

Solar energy and self-driving electric vehicles will take over, explains Rijsberman. “New business models will allow people to call a self-driving car on their phone for a ride, ending the need for private car ownership.”

This change will occur as quickly as the transition from horse-drawn carriages to cars a century ago.

“The Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, and independent think-tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative echoed Seba’s prediction in their recent report, stating that electric vehicles and solar panels could dominate by 2020, sparking revolution in the energy sector and putting an end to demand growth for oil and coal.”

The Global Green Growth Institute invited experts to debate Seba’s “clean disruption” last month [January 2017] at the World Economic Forum in Davos (see short summary of our conclusions here).

“We discussed what are the main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure. The most immediate barriers are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation. The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate these subsidies, yet they continue to this day, Rijsberman informed.

“Significant volumes of investment are shifting away from fossil fuels and towards alternative energy services, particularly in countries with binding renewable energy targets such as in Europe.”

The Energy Transition

According to the head of GGGI — a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies–the energy transition can accelerate through the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally fossil fuel subsidies still amount to some 450 billion dollars per year, warned Rijsberman.

Even African governments, with limited budgets and many competing priorities still subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of 20-25 billion dollars per year according to Dr. Frannie Laeutier of the African Development Bank, speaking in Davos, he added.

Rijsberman then underlined that the best way for governments to attract the private sector is to stand aside (i.e., remove impeding policies such as fossil fuel subsidies and enable market access) and let the market develop by itself.

“Easier said than done, of course, for countries with monopolistic power utilities, with large political influence; or for countries with heavy subsidies on electricity prices.”

Unsustainable Depletion of Natural Resources

The Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, which was established in 2012, at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, has been accelerating the transition toward a new model of economic growth –green growth– founded on principles of social inclusivity and environmental sustainability.

In contrast to conventional development models that rely on the “unsustainable depletion and destruction of natural resources,” green growth is a coordinated advancement of economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and social inclusion driven by the sustainable development and use of global resources, according to GGGI.

Sirpa Jarvenpaa. Credit: GGGI

On this, GGGI incoming Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Communications, Sirpa Jarvenpaa, in an interview to IPS, emphasised the importance of the Institute in “supporting developing and emerging country governments in their transition to an inclusive green growth development.”

“We do it through mainstreaming green growth in development and sector plans, mobilising finance to green growth investments, and improving multi-directional knowledge sharing and learning for achieving green outcomes on the ground.”

Green Jobs, Clean Energy

Sirpa Jarvenpaa explains that, globally, GGGI’s strategy contributes to “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, green job creation, access to sustainable services (clean energy, sustainable waste management improved sanitation, and sustainable transport), improved air quality, access to enhanced ecosystem services, and climate change adaptation.”

In Jordan, for example, GGGI is helping the government prepare a national green growth plan –an overarching and influential policy instrument enabling incorporation of green growth objectives across the national investment planning, Jarvenpaa told IPS.

There, the Institute works in partnership with the Ministry of Environment as well as the German Ministry for the Environment

This interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder organisation believes “economic growth and environmental sustainability are not merely compatible objectives; their integration is essential for the future of humankind.”

For that, it works with developing and emerging countries to design and deliver programs and services that demonstrate new pathways to pro-poor economic growth. And it provides member countries with the tools to help build institutional capacity and develop green growth policy, strengthen peer learning and knowledge sharing, and engage private investors and public donors.

The Global Green Growth Institute supports stakeholders two complementary and integrated work-streams –Green Growth Planning & Implementation and Knowledge Solutions– that deliver comprehensive products and services designed to assist in developing, financing and mainstreaming green growth in national economic development plans.

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Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/sinking-island-seeks-seat-security-council/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:44:55 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151443 The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity. And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development […]

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An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

An aerial view of the Village of Kolhuvaariyaafushi, Mulaaku Atoll, the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

The Maldives, one of the world’s low-lying, small island developing states (SIDS) — threatened with extinction because of a sea-level rise– is shoring up its coastal defences in anticipation of the impending calamity.

And it is seeking international support for its very survival.—at a time when most Western nations are either cutting down on development aid or diverting funds to boost domestic security.

“The danger of sea level rise is very real and threatens not just the Maldives and other low-lying nations, but also major coastal cities like New York and Miami,” Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, the outgoing Permanent Representative of the Maldives, told IPS.

Sareer, who held the chairmanship of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for over two years, said that even though projections vary, scientists anticipate at least three feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.

“This would be problematic for the Maldives, SIDS and many other coastal regions. We are currently building coastal defences to mitigate the danger, but need more support,” said Sareer, currently Foreign Secretary of the Maldives.

Along with Maldives, there are several low lying UN member states who are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth, including the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Palau and Micronesia.

Asked if the United Nations and the international community were doing enough to help alleviate low-lying small island states, Sareer told IPS: “There has been a heightened focus on the risks SIDS face in recent years, not just from climate change but economic challenges as well. We are grateful for the progress, of course, but it is fair to say we still have much further to go.”

Beginning July 31, the Columbia Broadcast System (CBS), one of the major US television networks, is planning to do a series of stories on “Sinking Islands” threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of over 390,000 people compared to India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The island nation was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were destroyed. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to close because of tsunami damage estimated at over $400 million.

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsumani.

Meanwhile, in a dramatic publicity gimmick back in October 2009, former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting, with ministers in scuba diving gear, to highlight the threat of global warming.

And earlier, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kuala Lumpur in October 1989, then Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom told delegates that if his country is to host the annual meeting in the foreseeable future, the meeting may have to be held underwater in a gradually disappearing island nation.

The World Bank has warned that with “future sea levels projected to increase in the range of 10 to 100 centimeters by the year 2100, the entire country could be submerged”.

But still, the Maldives which graduated from the status of a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing nation in 2011, is very much alive – and currently campaigning for a two-year non-permanent seat in the most powerful body at the United Nations: the 15-member Security Council.

This is the first time in its 51 years of UN Membership that the Maldives has presented its candidacy for a seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Over the past 25 years, only six SIDS have served on the Council, out of the 125 elected members during that period. SIDS constitutes 20% of the UN Membership.

Since January 2015, the Maldives has chaired the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group it helped form in 1990, leading a coalition of 39 member states, of which 37 are UN Members, through landmark agreements on sustainable development, climate change, disaster risk reduction, financing for development, sustainable urbanization, and the follow-up to the SAMOA Pathway- the sustainable development programme of action for SIDS.

In a long-planned effort, the Maldives put forward its candidature on 30 January 2008: ten years before the election, which will take place next year in the 193-member UN General Assembly which will vote for new, rotating non-permanent members of the UNSC.

Sareer said the Maldives seeks to bring a fresh and unique perspective to old challenges.”

And the Maldives believes that non-traditional security threats are as important if not more, than traditional security threats, in today’s world. The Maldives also believes in multi-dimensional approaches to solving issues.

Despite its size, he said, the Maldives has always punched above its weight on the international stage. And it has been a staunch advocate for climate change, and a champion of small States.

Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona told IPS Maldives has a commendable mission to realise – to push for action on climate change through the Security Council.

This, though a laudable aspiration, will be an uphill battle given that a powerful Permanent Member of the UNSC (the United States) is a declared opponent of the majority global view on climate change, having recently pulled out of the Paris Accord. It will also run in to opposition from the fossil fuel lobby.

However, if elected to the UNSC, Maldives is likely to enjoy the sympathy of the vast majority of the membership of the UN, including those who initiated a movement to seek an advisory opinion in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on responsibility for global warming and climate change in 2012, said Kohona, who co-chaired the UN Working Group on Biological Diversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and is a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section.

“It will need to deploy considerable resources to secure a seat and then to realise its goal
because Security Council elections, unfortunately, have become a competition among aspirants to see who can spend most on entertaining, junkets and obligatory visits to capitals. These ‘poojas’ become bigger and bigger by the year,” said Kohona.

He said Maldives will be a trend setter for small island developing states, which also must be able to play a role in the UNSC. “They have concerns of global import. It is unsatisfactory in every sense for the UNSC to increasingly become a preserve of big and the powerful.”

He also pointed out that Maldives is well placed and eminently qualified to raise awareness on climate change, global warming and sea level rise. These are threats to the very existence of humanity and could very well morph in to threats to global peace and security.

Already the flood of refugees is having a destabilizing effect on Europe. Refugee flows, which could be massive, resulting from climate change would pose a greater threat to global peace and stability requiring UNSC action. Such action could be taken preemptively rather than after the catastrophe has occurred, he noted.

“Seeing our loyal friend and neighbour seeking a non permanent Security Council seat should also encourage Sri Lanka to do the same in the not-too-distant future,” he added.

Asked whether the 2016 Paris Climate Change Agreement reflected the fears expressed by SIDS on sea level rise, Sareer said sea level rise is just one of the many impacts of climate change, which are of significance to SIDS.

“The Paris Agreement’s main objective is to enhance climate actions, and hence doesn’t directly address sea level rise. However it did include a strong temperature goal and a stand-alone article on loss and damage, which indirectly address these concerns. What is important now is for countries to make deep cuts in their emissions immediately.”

Asked whether the Maldives expects funding from the multi-billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF), he said: “We do. The GCF is a primary multilateral vehicle to deliver climate financing to developing countries and therefore ramping up support for the GCF will be critical for all vulnerable countries.”

However, other funds under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are also crucial for transforming climate action in SIDS and also in developing countries.

He said changing rainfall patterns and increasing salinization caused by rising sea levels have led to challenges in securing reliable supplies of drinking water in many Small Island Developing States.

In this context, the Maldives submitted one of the first projects approved through the GCF which will see almost a third of the population of the Maldives becoming freshwater self-sufficient over the next five years.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

The post Sinking Island Seeks Seat in Security Council appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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