Inter Press Service » Globalisation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 May 2015 12:27:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Opinion: The Crisis of the Left and the Decline of Europe and the United Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-crisis-of-the-left-and-the-decline-of-europe-and-the-united-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-crisis-of-the-left-and-the-decline-of-europe-and-the-united-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-crisis-of-the-left-and-the-decline-of-europe-and-the-united-states/#comments Tue, 19 May 2015 11:07:04 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140701

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that neoliberal thinking, which has failed to meet an adequate response from the left, and lack of political vision has led to the decline of Europe and the United States.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 19 2015 (IPS)

The victory of the Conservative Party and the debacle of the Labour Party in the recent British general elections is yet another sign of the crisis facing left-wing forces today, leaving aside the question of how, under the British electoral system, the Labour Party actually increased the number of votes it won but saw a reduction in the number of seats it now holds in Parliament (24 seats less than the previous 256).

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

If the proportional rather than uninominal system had been used, the Conservative Party with its 11 million votes would have won 256 and not 331 seats in Parliament (far short of the absolute majority of 326 needed to govern), while at the other extreme the United Kingdom Independence Party with nearly four million votes would have landed 83 and not just the one seat it ended up with – results that would be hard to imagine anywhere else and a good example of insularity.

To an extent, the recent British general elections mirrored the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 when Democratic candidate Al Gore won around half a million more popular votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush but failed to win the majority of electoral college votes on which the U.S. system is based. The outcome was eight years of George W.  Bush administration, the war in Iraq, the crisis of multilateralism, and all the paraphernalia of “America’s exceptional destiny”.

Let us venture now into an analysis that will have the politologues among us cringing.“The left has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 … it has had no real answer to the crisis”

It is now generally recognised that the end of the Soviet Union has given free way to a kind of capitalism without control, marked by an unprecedented supremacy of finance which, in terms of volume of investments, overwhelmingly exceeds the real or productive economy.

In its wake, neoliberal thinking has found the left totally unprepared, because part of its function had been to provide a democratic alternative to Communism, which was suddenly no longer a threat.

The left therefore has tried to mimic the winners, instead of trying to be an alternative to the process of neoliberal globalisation and, since the beginning of the world financial crisis in 2008 (with its bail-out cost so far of over four trillion dollars), it has had no real answer to the crisis.

Ever since the industrial revolution, the identity of the left had been to press for social justice, equality of opportunities and redistribution, while the right placed the emphasis on individual efforts, less role for the state and success as motivation.

Continuing with this brutal simplification, we have to add that the left, from Marx to Keynes, always studied how to create economic growth and redistribution – Marx by abolishing private property, social democrats through just taxation.

But it never studied the creation of a progressive agenda in the event case of an economic crisis such as the one we are now facing, with structural unemployment, young people obliged  to accept any kind of contract, new technologies which are making the concept of classes disappear, and rendering trade unions – erstwhile powerful actors for social justice – irrelevant.

It is unprecedented that the top 25 hedge fund managers received a reward in 2014 of 11.62 billion dollars, yet neither U.S. President Barack Obama nor Ed Miliband, then still leader of the Labour Party at the recent British general elections (until he resigned after election defeat), saw it fit to denounce this obscene level of greed.

Meanwhile, Europe as a political project is clearly in disarray, and now faces a “Grexit” on its southern flank and a “Brexit” on its northern flank.

In the case of a “Grexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Greece), Greece faces the prospects of having to make substantial concessions to Europe, thus reneging on the promises of Alexis Tsipras who was voted in as prime minister in rebellion against years of dismantlement of public and social structures imposed in the name of austerity.

What is at stake here is the very neoliberal model itself and not only is ordoliberal Germany supported by allies like Austria, Finland and the Netherlands erecting a wall against any form of leniency, but countries which accepted painful cuts and where conservatives are now in power, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, see leniency as giving in to the left.

A “Brexit” (the possible abandonment of the European Union by Britain) is a different affair. It is a game being played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to negotiate a more favourable agreement for Britain with the European Union.

A referendum will be held before the end of 2017 and the four million people who voted for the UKIP in the recent elections, plus the country’s “Euro-sceptics”, threaten to push Britain out of the European Union, especially if Cameron does not manage to obtain some substantial concessions from Brussels.

Meanwhile, if Europe is in disarray, the United States has a serious problem of governance. Analyst Moisés Naím, who served as editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine from 1996 to 2010, has pinpointed a few examples of how this has translated into self-inflicted damage.

One concerns China which, after waiting five years trying to get the Republican-dominated Congress to authorise and increase in its stake in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from a ridiculous 3.8 percent to 6 percent (compared with the 16.5 percent of the United States), got fed up and established an alternative fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Washington tried unsuccessfully to kill the initiative by putting pressure on its allies but first the United Kingdom, then Italy, Germany and France announced their participation in the new bank, which now has 50 member countries and the United States is not one of them.

Another example was the attempt by the Republican-dominated Congress to kill the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) which has provided support for U.S exporters to the tune of 570 billion dollars since it was set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934.  In just the last two years, China has provided 670 billion dollars in support for its exporters. Moral of the story: U.S. companies will be at a clear disadvantage.

As Larry Summers, a great proponent of U.S. hegemony, put it, “the US will not be in a position to shape the global economic system”.

The latest snub to the U.S. role of world leader came from four Arab heads of state who snubbed a U.S.-Gulf States summit at Camp David on May 14. The summit had been called by Obama to reassure the Gulf states that the ongoing negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement would not diminish their relevance, but the rulers of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain deserted the summit.

However, there is no more striking example of mistake-making than the joint effort by the United States and Europe to push Russian President Vladimir against the wall over his engagement in Ukraine by imposing heavy sanctions.

There was no apparent reflection on the wisdom of encircling a paranoid and autocratic leader, albeit one with strong popular support, by progressively also bringing in all Eastern and Central European countries. The result of this encirclement of Russia is that China has now come to the rescue of Russia, by injecting money into the country’s asphyxiated economy.

China will invest around six billion dollars in the construction of a high speed railway between Moscow and Kazan, is financing a 2,700 kilometre pipeline for the supply of 30 billion cubic metres of Russian gas over a period of 30 years, plus several other projects, including the establishment of a two billion dollar common fund for investments and a loan of 860 million dollars to the Russian Sberbank bank.

So, the net result is that Russia has been pushed out of Europe and into the arms of China, and the two are now starting joint naval and military manoeuvres.  Is this in the interest of Europe?

At the end of the day, the decline of Europe and the United States perhaps comes down to a decline of political vision, with democracy being substituted by partocracy, and the statesman of yesteryear being substituted by very much more modest and self-referential political leaders.

This is all taking place amid a growing disaffection with politics, which is now aimed basically at administrative choices, making corruption easy. At least this is what around one-third of electors now appear to believe when they are asked if they think that they can make a difference at elections … and this is why a rapidly growing number of people are deserting the ballot box. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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The U.N. at 70: Is It Still Fit for the Purpose?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-is-it-still-fit-for-the-purpose/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 11:48:04 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140625 A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

A boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. The UN at 70 must “be fit for the purpose … otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy”. Photo credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, May 14 2015 (IPS)

Events are being organised around the world to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, but a recent seminar held in the Austrian capital was not held to applaud the body’s past contributions.

Rather, the 45th International Peace Institute (IPI) Seminar, held from May 6 to 7,  saw representatives from the political, NGO, media and military sectors come together to discuss the organisation’s capability to deal with the crises and challenges of the future.

There was consensus among participants that the difficulties in the realms of international peace and security are very different today from those that dominated the international community at the time of the foundation of the United Nations in 1945.The global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard

Not only has the number of member states quadrupled since then, the global scenario has seen the entry of non-state “actors” such as criminals and terrorists representing a real threat to stability of the international system that the United Nations was set up to safeguard.

At the same time, the planet is afflicted by other threats that do not stop at national borders, such as climate change, pandemics and wars, which have global dimensions and are extremely difficult to contain in our globalised world.

As Martin Nesirky, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Vienna, put it: “The UN grew from the ashes of World War Two and there has been no global conflict since then, but neither has there been global peace.”

This year, debate about reform of the United Nations comes at a time that represents a possibility for change and action on two major fronts.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), although they have not yet been fully realised, are being pushed forward in the spirit of adapting a new development agenda in the form of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Furthermore, there are hopes that a global agreement on climate change will finally be reached in Paris in December at the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

According to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, “this is not just another year, this is the chance to change the course of history.”

However, the not all participants at the IPI seminar were convinced that the United Nations could fulfil its destined role without adapting to the fast changing circumstances that shape the world community.

A hotly debated issue was the long demanded reform of the U.N. Security Council and the power of veto held by its five permanent members – China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russian Federation – which were said not to represent the world community.

Some participants noted that the current geopolitical situation is marked by a breakdown of power relations which have complicated the work of the United Nations enormously.

Richard Gowan, Research Director at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), expressed his concern about the escalation of power struggles in recent years.

“Tensions between Russia and the West, and to some extent China and the West, have severely impaired the UN’s ability to deal with the Syrian crisis and stopped the UN having a serious role in the Ukrainian crisis altogether.”

He called for resolution of ongoing geopolitical competition to enable the United Nations to regain the strength to deal with pressing crises” and warned that “if the Security Council breaks down, the rest of the UN will ultimately break down.”

Meanwhile, as the world faces the most severe refugee crisis since the Second World War, it was stressed that the proper functionality of international institutions – and of the United Nations in particular – is of the highest importance. More than 53 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced today, a figure equal to the entire population of South Korea.

The last tragic incidents of hundreds of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean have shown that the international community is failing to ensure the security of those seeking a safe future in Europe. “Desperation has no measure and no cost,” said Louise Aubin, Deputy Director of the Department of International Protection at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

During her work for the U.N. refugee agency, Aubin came face to face with the situation of the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, situated some 100 kilometres from the Kenya-Somalia border, which houses an estimated 500,000 Somali refugees, some of whom are third generation born in the camp.

“It’s impossible for me to explain as a parent that I would actually accept that situation,” Aubin said.” There is no way I would not do anything in my power to try to send my children somewhere else. And that somewhere else is across the Mediterranean.”

In the light of the recent tragedies suffered by refugees, participants said that it is necessary to create safe access to asylum in order for refugees to enjoy the rights that are theirs under international law.

It is clear that this responsibility does not lie only with the United Nations, they agreed, pointing to the role of the European Union in dealing with refugee flows.

However, both the United Nations and the European Union are only as strong as their member states allow them to be.

If the UN at 70 turns out not be fit for the purpose, it has to take immediate measures to become so – otherwise it would be letting down people in need and compromising its legitimacy.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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EU Calls for Paradigm Shift in Development Cooperationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-calls-for-paradigm-shift-in-development-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-calls-for-paradigm-shift-in-development-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/eu-calls-for-paradigm-shift-in-development-cooperation/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 11:05:05 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140455 The European Commission is calling for SDGs to address poverty eradication and sustainable development together in three dimensions – economic, social and environmental. Photo credit: UNFPA Sudan

The European Commission is calling for SDGs to address poverty eradication and sustainable development together in three dimensions – economic, social and environmental. Photo credit: UNFPA Sudan

By Ramesh Jaura
BRUSSELS, May 5 2015 (IPS)

In the run-up to the international Conference on Financing for Development from Jul. 13 to 16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the European Union has called for a “true paradigm shift” in global development cooperation.

The Addis Ababa conference will be followed by the U.N. post-2015 Summit in New York and the Climate Change conference in Paris in December. “These meetings will define our future and will set the level of ambition of the international community for the years and decades to come,” according to European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica.

The Addis Ababa conference on development financing in July and the Paris climate conference in December offer a “once in a lifetime” opportunity “to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity, transform economies, protect the environment, promote peace and ensure the respect of human rights” – Neven Mimica, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development
This, Mimica believes, offers a “once in a lifetime” opportunity “to end poverty, achieve shared prosperity, transform economies, protect the environment, promote peace and ensure the respect of human rights.”

The European Commission, which represents the interests of the 28-nation European Union, believes that the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be agreed in New York in September should not only cover “traditional” development challenges such as poverty, health and education, but go much further and address poverty eradication and sustainable development together in three dimensions – economic, social and environmental.

The Commission is pleading for “moving towards a universal agenda”. This means that the goals and targets to be agreed in New York will apply to all countries, challenging them to achieve progress domestically, while contributing to the global effort. “Such a far-reaching agenda can only be delivered through a true global partnership,” said Mimica.

The E.U. Development Commissioner is backed by an eminent group of experts from Finland. France, Germany and Luxembourg, who have authored the fifth edition of the European Report on Development (ERD), which focuses on ‘Combining Finance and Policies to Implement a Transformative post-2015 Development Agenda’.

Mimica wants the agenda to serve to mobilise action by all countries and stakeholders at all levels: governments, private sector and civil society, all of which would need to play their part.

The key message of the ERD report, launched on May 4, is that policy and finance go together and that they are both crucial to implement a transformative post-2015 development agenda.

Based on existing evidence and specific country experiences, the report shows that finance alone is not enough – it seldom reaches the intended objectives, unless it is accompanied by complementary policies, the right combination of financing and enabling policies, says the report.

According to Mimica, “the findings and analysis contained in the report provide a most valuable research-based contribution to the debate, particularly in view of the Addis Conference on Financing for Development – but also beyond”.

“In this crucial year for international development cooperation, the 2015 European Report on Development can serve as a key point of reference, not just for the European Union, but for the international community at large,” Mimica said at the launching of the report.

The findings of the report are in line with three major guidelines which would drive the E.U. Commission’s action to implement the new development agenda:

  • if it is not sustainable, it is not development
  • if it is not resilient, it is not development
  • if it is without women, it is not development

In many ways, the report complements and supports the work of the Commission in advocating a comprehensive approach to the means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda. At the same time, it challenges the Commission to keep pushing our thinking forward, said Mimica.

The significance of the report is underlined by the fact that the European Union as a whole has consistently remained the biggest global aid donor, even in times of significant budgetary constraints.

According to latest figures, the European Union’s collective official development assistance (ODA) (by E.U. institutions and member states) has increased to Euro 58.2 billion (up by 2.4 percent from 2013) – growing for the second year in a row, and reaching its highest nominal level to date. Collective European Union ODA represented 0.42 percent of E.U. gross national income (GNI) in 2014.

A 0.7 percent ODA/GNI target was formally recognised in October 1970  when the U.N. General  Assembly adopted a resolution including the goal that “each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official  development  assistance  to  the  developing  countries  and  will  exert  its  best  efforts  to  reach  a minimum net amount of 0.7 percent of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the decade.”

To date, the target has not been achieved but it has been repeatedly re-endorsed at the highest level at international aid and development conferences.

“We are committed to playing our full part in all aspects of the post-2015 agenda, including means of implementation,” Mimica stressed.

He added: “In our February Communication [on a Global Partnership for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development after 2015], the Commission was very clear. We proposed to the Member States a collective E.U. re-commitment to the 0.7 ODA/GNI target – and we hope indeed that there will be agreement amongst Member States on this ahead of Addis.”

Official development assistance will certainly remain important in a post-2015 context – in particular for the least developed countries (LDCs), according to Mimica.

“At the same time, we expect other partners – including other developed economies and emerging actors – to also contribute their fair share. The efforts of the European Union alone will not be enough.”

Aware that this is a rather controversial issue, he added: “To be able to speak of an ambitious outcome in Addis and New York, we will all need to raise our level of ambition. The EU is ready to engage with all partners to achieve this. We have been active and constructive in the negotiations so far, and we will continue to do so, taking a responsible, bridge-building approach.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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No Woman, No Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-woman-no-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-woman-no-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/no-woman-no-world/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 22:00:12 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140347 By Sean Buchanan
LONDON, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

Almost exactly two years ago, on the morning of Apr. 24, over 3,600 workers – 80 percent of them young women between the ages of 18 and 20 – refused to enter the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, because there were large ominous cracks in the walls. They were beaten with sticks and forced to enter.

Forty-five minutes later, the building collapsed, leaving 1,137 dead and over 2,500 injured – most of them women.

The Rana Plaza collapse is just one of a long series of workplace incidents around the world in which women have paid a high toll.

It is also one of the stories featured in the UN Women report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights, launched on Apr. 27.

All too often women fail to enjoy their rights because they are forced to fit into a ‘man’s world’, a world in which these rights are not at the heart of economies.
Coming 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, which drew up an agenda to advance gender equality, Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 notes that while progress has since been made, “in an era of unprecedented global wealth, millions of women are trapped in low paid, poor quality jobs, denied even basic levels of health care, and water and sanitation.”

At the same time, notes the report, financial globalisation, trade liberalisation, the ongoing privatisation of public services and the ever-expanding role of corporate interests in the development process have shifted power relations in ways that undermine the enjoyment of human rights and the building of sustainable livelihoods.

Against this backdrop, all too often women fail to enjoy their rights because they are forced to fit into a ‘man’s world’, a world in which these rights are not at the heart of economies.

What this means in real terms is that, for example, at global level women are paid on average 24 percent less than men, and for women with children the gaps are even wider. Women are clustered into a limited set of under-valued occupations – such as domestic work – and almost half of them are not entitled to the minimum wage.

Even when women succeed in the workplace, they encounter obstacles not generally faced by their male counterparts. For example, in the European Union, 75 percent of women in management and higher professional positions and 61 percent of women in service sector occupations have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace in their lifetimes.

The report makes the link between economic policy-making and human rights, calling for a far-reaching new policy agenda that can transform economies and make women’s rights a reality by moving forward towards “an economy that truly works for women, for the benefit of all.”

The ultimate aim is to create a virtuous cycle through the generation of decent work and gender-responsive social protection and social services, alongside enabling macroeconomic policies that prioritise investment in human beings and the fulfilment of social objectives.

Today, “our public resources are not flowing in the directions where they are most needed: for example, to provide safe water and sanitation, quality health care, and decent child and elderly care services,” says UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Where there are no public services, the deficit is borne by women and girls.”

According to Mlambo-Ngcuka, “this is a care penalty that unfairly punishes women for stepping in when the State does not provide resources and it affects billions of women the world over. We need policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security and independence,” she added.

The report agrees that paid work can be a foundation for substantive equality for women, but only when it is compatible with women’s and men’s shared responsibility for unpaid care work; when it gives women enough time for leisure and learning; when it provides earnings that are sufficient to maintain an adequate standard of living; and when women are treated with respect and dignity at work.

Yet, this type of employment remains scarce, and economic policies in all regions are struggling to generate enough decent jobs for those who need them. On top of that, the range of opportunities available to women is limited by pervasive gender stereotypes and discriminatory practices within both households and labour markets. As a result, the vast majority of women still work in insecure, informal employment.

The reality is that women also still carry the burden of unpaid work in the home, which has been aggravated in recent years by austerity policies and cut-backs. To build more equitable and sustainable economies which work for both women and men, warns the report, “more of the same will not do.”

At a time when the global community is defining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the post-2015 era, the message from UN Women is that economic and social policies can contribute to the creation of stronger economies, and to more sustainable and more gender-equal societies, provided that they are designed and implemented with women’s rights at their centre.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Pillar of Neoliberal Thinking is Vacillatinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-pillar-of-neoliberal-thinking-is-vacillating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-pillar-of-neoliberal-thinking-is-vacillating http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-pillar-of-neoliberal-thinking-is-vacillating/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:27:03 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140225

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the latest figures from the IMF only confirm what many citizens already know – that the economic situation is worsening. However, he notes, what is new that there are now signs that the IMF has woken up to reality, indicating that “an important pillar of neoliberal thinking is vacillating”.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

This month’s World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) only confirms that consequences of the collapse of the financial system, which started six years ago, are serious. And they are accentuated by the aging of the population, not only in Europe but also in Asia, the slowing of productivity and weak private investment.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Average growth before the financial crisis in 2008 was around 2.4 percent. It fell to 1.3 percent between 2008 and 2014 and now the estimates are that it will stabilise at 1.6 percent until 2020, in what economists call the “new normal”. In other words, “normality” is now unemployment, anaemic growth and, obviously, a difficult political climate.

For the emerging countries, the overall picture does not look much better. It is expected that potential growth is expected to decline further, from an average of about 6.5 percent between 2008 and 2014 to 5.2 percent during the period 2015-2020.

The case of China is the best example. Growth is expected to fall from an average 8.3 percent in the last 10 years to somewhere around 6.8 percent. The result is that the Chinese contraction has worsened the balance of exports of raw materials everywhere.

The crisis is especially strong in Latin America, and in Brazil the fall in exports has contributed to worsening the country’s serious crisis and increasing the unpopularity of President Dilma Rousseff, already high because of economic mismanagement and the Petrobras scandal.“Progressive parties were able to build their success during economic expansion but the Left has not developed much economic science on what to do in period of crisis”

This, by the way, opens up a reflection which is fundamental. From Marx to Keynes, redistribution theories were all basically built on stable or expanding economies.

Progressive parties were able to build their success during economic expansion but the Left has not developed much economic science on what to do in period of crisis. What it tends to do is mimic the receipts and proposals from the Right and, when the crisis is over, it has lost its identity and has declined in the eyes of the electorate.

From this perspective, the situation in Europe is exemplary. All those right-wing xenophobic parties which have sprouted up – even in countries long held to be models of democracy such as the Nordic countries – have developed since 2008, the beginning of the financial crisis. In the same period of time, all progressive parties have lost weight and credibility. And now that the IMF sees some improvement in the European economy, it is not the traditional progressive parties that are the beneficiaries.

The term that the IMF gives to the current economic moment is “new mediocrity” – which is a franker way of saying “new normal” – and it observes that in the coming five years, we will face serious problems for public policies like fiscal sustainability and job creation.

In fact, every day, the macroeconomic figures, which have become the best way to hide social realities, are becoming less and less realistic if we go back to microeconomics as we have done during the last 50 years.

The best example is the United Kingdom, which is the champion of liberalism. Each year it has cut public spending and now claims to have growth in employment, with 600,000 new jobs in the last year. The only problem is that if you look into the structure of those jobs, you will find that the large majority are part-time or underpaid, and employment in the public sector is at its lowest since 1999.

A clear indicator is the number of people who visit the food banks created to meet the needs of the indigent. In the world’s sixth largest economy, their numbers have grown from 20,000 before the crisis seven years ago to over one million last year. And the same has happened all over Europe, albeit to a lesser extent in the Nordic countries.

U.K. economists have published studies on how austerity has affected growth. According to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, established by the U.K. government, austerity blocked economic growth by one percent between 2011 and 2012. But, according to Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University, the figure is actually about five percent (or 100 billion pounds).

In other words, fiscal austerity reduces growth, and this creates large deficits which call for more fiscal austerity. It is a trap that Nobel laureate Keynesian economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have described in detail to no avail. We are all following the “liberal order” of Germany, which think its reality should be the norm and that deviations should be punished.

Now, while we can all agree that much of this is obvious to the average citizen in terms of its impact on everyday life, what is important and new is that the IMF, the fiscal guardian which has imposed the Washington Consensus (basically a formula of austerity plus free market at any cost) all over the Third World with tragic results, has woken up to reality.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not implying that the IMF is becoming a progressive organisation, but there are signs that an important pillar of neoliberal thinking is vacillating.

Of course, those responsible for the global crisis – bankers – have come out with impunity. The world has exacted over three trillion dollars from its citizens to put banks back on their feet. The over 140 billion dollars in fines that banks have paid since the beginning of the crisis is the quantitative measure of illegal and criminal activities.

The United Nations calculates that the financial crisis has created at least 200 million new poor, several hundred millions of unemployed, and many more precarious jobs, especially for young people. And, yet, nobody has paid, while prisons are full of people who are there for minor theft, the social impact of which is infinitesimal by comparison.

In 2014, James Morgan, the boss of Morgan Stanley, cashed in 22.5 million dollars, Lloyd Blanfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, 24 million, James Dimon, the boss of J.P. Morgan, 20 million. The most exploited of all, Brian Moynihan of the Bank of America, a paltry 13 million. Nobody stops the growth of bankers.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140180 Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Long History of Predatory Practices Against Developing Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-a-long-history-of-predatory-practices-against-developing-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-long-history-of-predatory-practices-against-developing-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-a-long-history-of-predatory-practices-against-developing-countries/#comments Mon, 06 Apr 2015 19:11:12 +0000 Kinda Mohamadieh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139820

In this column, Kinda Mohamadieh, a researcher at the South Centre, argues that the predatory practices of ‘vulture funds’ and their systemic implications represent a threat to the development of indebted poor countries.

By Kinda Mohamadieh
GENEVA, Apr 6 2015 (IPS)

The world’s attention turned to the practices of vulture funds after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court opinion in the NML Capital vs Argentina case, which forbids the country from making payments on its restructured debt.

Argentina had defaulted in 2001 and went through two rounds of negotiations to restructure its debt, both in 2005 and 2010. In June 2014, the court ordered Argentina to pay the ‘vulture funds’ that held out and did not accept the terms of the debt swaps.

Kinda Mohamadieh

Kinda Mohamadieh

The vulture funds had held out with the aim of achieving what amounts to a 1,600 percent return on their original investment. The funds concerned had purchased the Argentinian bonds in 2008 at 48 million dollars and the court ruling ordered Argentina to pay them 832 million dollars.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz noted that this was “the first time in history that a country was willing and able to pay its creditors, but was blocked by a judge from doing so”.

While this case brought the term ‘vulture funds’ into the public sphere, the predatory practices of these entities did not start with Argentina.

According to a former U.N. independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related financial obligations of states on the full enjoyment of all human rights, the term ‘vulture funds’ describes “private commercial entities that acquire, either by purchase, assignments or some other form of transaction, defaulted or distressed debts, and sometimes actual court judgments, with the aim of achieving higher returns.”

Basically, vulture funds are hedge funds whose modus operandi focuses on three main steps including: (1) purchasing distressed debt on the secondary market at deep discounts far less than its face value; (2) refusing to participate in restructuring agreements with the indebted state; and (3) pursuing full value of the debt often at face value plus interest, arrears and penalties, including through litigation, seizure of assets or penalties.“The African Development Bank has reported that at least twenty heavily indebted poor countries have been threatened with or have been subjected to legal actions by commercial creditors and vulture funds since 1999”

Many developing countries have been exposed to the predatory practices of vulture funds, especially African and Latin American countries.

The African Development Bank has reported that at least twenty heavily indebted poor countries have been threatened with or have been subjected to legal actions by commercial creditors and vulture funds since 1999. These countries include Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, as well as Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Peru was targeted by NML Capital in the year 2000. According to media reports, the fund spent almost four years in the courts to win a ruling that forced Peru to settle for almost 56 million dollars on distressed debt, which the fund had initially bought for 11.8 million dollars.

The African Development Bank has documented that up until the year 2007, 25 judgments in favour of vulture funds had yielded nearly one billion dollars. Out of this amount, 72 percent of the judgments have been against African countries. The reported number of outstanding cases against debtor countries has doubled since 2004.

According to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 54 court cases were instituted against 12 heavily indebted poor countries between 1998 and 2008. The IMF estimates that in some cases claims by vulture funds constitute as much as 12 to 13 percent of a country’s gross domestic product.  The World Bank estimates that nearly one-third of countries that are eligible for debt relief and other poverty alleviation programmes are the targets of nearly 26 vulture funds.

Concerned about the extent of the threat posed by such predatory practices and their systemic implications, several international authorities and multilateral institutions have voiced their concern about the matter.

The African Development Bank has warned that by precluding debt relief and costing millions in legal expenses, these vulture funds undermine the development of the most vulnerable African countries.

In June 2014, the heads of state and government of the Group of 77 and China, in their declaration issued on the occasion of the ‘For a New World Order for Living Well’ summit held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, reiterated the importance of “not allowing vulture funds to paralyse the debt restructuring efforts of developing countries” and stressed that “these funds should not supersede the state’s right to protect its people under international law.”

The IMF had cautioned that upholding the decision against Argentina would harm future sovereign debt restructuring attempts. In 2013, the IMF stated that “if upheld, [the Court of Appeals decision] would likely give hold-out creditors greater leverage and make the debt restructuring process more complicated”.

In 2007, G8 finance ministers had expressed concern about actions of some litigating creditors against heavily indebted poor countries, and agreed to work together to identify measures to tackle this problem based on the work of the Paris Club.

In September 2014, a resolution on the activities of vulture funds and the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of states on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, was presented by Argentina and adopted at the 27th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council which took place in Geneva.

It is also worth noting that the 26th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2014 had adopted a resolution titled ‘Elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights’.

This resolution sets in place a process of negotiations towards an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and their liability in the area of human rights. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* This column is based on a longer version published in published in the South Centre’s South Bulletin 83 of 12 February 2015.

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Millions of Dollars for Climate Financing but Barely One Cent for Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/millions-of-dollars-for-climate-financing-but-barely-one-cent-for-women/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 20:24:58 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139999 Oxfam research found that in Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 people died or went missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami, two-thirds were women. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Oxfam research found that in Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 people died or went missing during the 2004 Asian tsunami, two-thirds were women. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Indonesia, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

The statistics tell the story: in some parts of the world, four times as many women as men die during floods; in some instances women are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters than men.

A study by Oxfam in 2006 found that four times as many women as men perished in the deadly 2004 Asian tsunami. In Sri Lanka, where over 33,000 died or went missing, two thirds were women, Oxfam research found.

“Women have to practically scream for their voices to be heard right now." -- Aleta Baun Indonesian activist and winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize
According to a World Bank assessment, two-thirds of the close to 150,000 people killed in Myanmar in 2008 due to Cyclone Nargis were women.

The aftermath of environmental disasters, too, is particularly hard on women as they struggle to deal with sanitation, privacy and childcare concerns. Women displaced by climate-related events are also more vulnerable to violence and abuse – a fact that was documented by Plan International during the 2010 drought in Ethiopia when women and girls walking long hours in search of water were subject to sexual attacks.

In post-disaster situations, the burden of feeding the family often falls to women, and many are forced to become breadwinners when men migrate out of disaster zones in search of work.

The pattern repeats itself in environmental crises around the world, every day.

A report published last month by the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), the International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) and the Alliance of Funds found that “women throughout the world are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by a changing climate” – yet they are the least likely to receive proper funding to recover from, adapt to or protect against the dangers of disasters.

Produced after the August 2014 Summit on Women and Climate held in the Indonesian island province of Bali, which brought together over 100 grassroots activists and experts, the report revealed that “only 0.01 percent of all worldwide grant dollars support projects that address both climate change and women’s rights.”

Experts say this represents a critical funding gap, at a time when the international community is stepping up its efforts to deal with a global climate threat that is becoming more urgent every year; research by the non-profit Germanwatch found that between 1994 and 2013, “More than 530,000 people died as a direct result of approximately 15,000 extreme weather events, and losses during [the same time period] amounted to nearly 2.2 trillion dollars.”

Connecting funders with grassroots communities

The recent GGF report, ‘Climate Justice and Women’s Rights’, concluded, “Most funders lack adequate programmes or systems to support grassroots women and their climate change solutions. Men receive far greater resources for climate-related initiatives because [donors] tend to wage larger-scale, more public efforts, whereas women’s advocacy is typically locally based and less visible […].”

The problem is not a lack of funds; experts say the real issue is ignorance or unwillingness on the part of donors or supporting organisations to funnel limited financial resources into the most effective projects and initiatives.

“The new report is a guide to funders on how to identify and prioritise projects so that women can get out of this dangerous situation,” GGF Executive Director and CEO Terry Odendahl told IPS.

In a bid to connect funders directly with women on the ground working within their own communities, the Bali summit last year brought together activists with organisations that distribute some 3,000 grants annually in 125 countries to the tune of 45 million dollars.

The goal of the summit – carried forward in the report – was to enable the experiences and ideas of grassroots women’s groups to shape donor agendas.

Among the many priorities on the table is the need to increase women’s participation in policymaking at local, national and international levels; address the most urgent climate-related threats on rural women’s lives and livelihoods; and recognise the inherent ability of women – particularly indigenous women and those engaged in agricultural labour – to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Aleta Baun, an activist from the Indonesian island of West Timor who won the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to organise local villagers in peaceful ‘weaving’ protests at marble mining sites in protected forest areas on Mutis Mountain, told IPS, “Women have to practically scream for their voices to be heard right now.”

Her tireless activism over many decades has won her recognition but also exposed her to danger. She recalled an incident over 10 years ago when she received death threats but had no support network – neither local nor international – to turn to for help.

The same holds true in India, where research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that although rural women spend, on average, 30 percent of their day searching for water, very few resources exist to support them, or study the impact of this grueling task on their families and health.

Experts like Odendahl contend that funders need to get out of the silo mentality and concentrate on the overall impact of climate change, environmental degradation, commercial exploitation of resources and even dangers faced by women activists as parts of one big puzzle.

Protecting women activists

Tools like the recently released report can be used to bridge the gap and connect actors and organisations that have hitherto operated alone.

INWF Executive Director Emilienne De Leon Aulina told IPS, “It is a slow process. We have now began the work; what we need to do is to keep building awareness among decision makers and results will follow.”

One such example is a potential project between the Urgent Action Fund and the Indonesian Samadhana Institute on mapping the impact of threats faced by female environmental activists, which have witnessed a disturbing rise in the past decade.

A study by Global Witness entitled ‘Deadly Environment’, which analyses attacks on land rights defenders and environmental activists, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed – a number comparable to the death toll of journalists during that same period.

Because women environmental activists tend to focus on local and community-based issues, the dangers they face go largely undocumented.

For a person like Baun, who has faced multiple death threats and at least one threat of a gang rape, both awareness and funding have been slow in coming.

“I have been facing these issues for over 15 years, and it is only now that people have started to take note. But at least it is happening – it is much better than the silence.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Authorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:51:41 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139975 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Crisis Resolution and International Debt Workout Mechanismshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:34:01 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139924

In this column, Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, looks at the role of international debt workout mechanisms in debt restructuring initiatives and argues, inter alia, that while the role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible, it cannot be placed at the centre of these debt workout mechanisms because its members represent both debtors and creditors.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Debt restructuring is a component of crisis management and resolution, and needs to be treated in the context of the current economic conjuncture and vulnerabilities.

International debt workout mechanisms are not just about debt reduction, but include interim arrangements to provide relief to debtors, including temporary hold on debt payments and financing.

They should address liquidity as well as solvency crises but the difference is not always clear. Most start as liquidity crises and can lead to insolvency if not resolved quickly.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

Liquidity crises also inflict serious social and economic damages as seen in the past two decades even when they do not entail sovereign defaults.

International mechanisms should apply to crises caused by external private debt as well as sovereign debt. Private external borrowing is often the reason for liquidity crises. Governments end up socialising private debt. They need mechanisms that facilitate resolution of crises caused by private borrowing.

Only one of the last eight major crises in emerging and developing economies was due to internationally-issued sovereign debt (Argentina). Mexican and Russian crises were due to locally-issued public debt; in Asia (Thailand, Korea and Indonesia) external debt was private; in Brazilian and Turkish crises too, private (bank) debt played a key role alongside some problems in the domestic public debt market.

We have had no major new crisis in the South with systemic implications for over a decade thanks to highly favourable global liquidity conditions and risk appetite, both before and after the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008, due to policies in major advanced economies, notably the United States.

But this period, notably the past six years, has also seen considerable build-up of fragility and vulnerability to liquidity and solvency crises in many developing countries."There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure”

Sovereign international debt problems may emerge in the so-called ‘frontier economies’ usually dependent on official lending. Many of them have gone into bond markets in recent years, taking advantage of exceptional global liquidity conditions and risk appetite. There are several first-time Eurobond issuers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

In emerging economies, internationally-issued public debt as percentage of gross domestic product has declined significantly since the early 2000s. Much of the external debt of these economies is now under local law and in local currency.

However, there are numerous cases of build-up of private external debt in the foreign exchange markets issued under foreign law since 2008. Many of them may face contingent liabilities and are vulnerable to liquidity crises.

An external financial crisis often involves interruption of a country’s access to international financial markets, a sudden stop in capital inflows, exit of foreign investors from deposit, bond and equity markets and capital flight by residents. Reserves become depleted and currency and asset markets come under stress. Governments are often too late in recognising the gravity of the situation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending is typically designed to bail out creditors to keep debtors current on their obligations to creditors, and to avoid exchange restrictions and maintain the capital account open.

The IMF imposes austerity on the debtor, expecting that it would make debt payable and sustainable and bring back private creditors. It has little leverage on creditors.

There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure; and risks are created for the financial integrity of the IMF.

Many of these problems were recognised after the Asian crisis of the 1990s, giving rise to the sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, originally designed very much along the lines advocated by the U.N. Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD) throughout the 1980s and 1990s (though without due acknowledgement).

However, it was opposed by the United States and international financial markets and could not elicit strong support from debtor developing countries, notably in Latin America. It was first diluted and then abandoned.

The matter has come back to the attention of the international community with the Eurozone crisis and then with vulture-fund holdouts in Argentinian debt restructuring.

After pouring money into Argentina and Greece, whose debt turned out to be unpayable, the IMF has proposed a new framework to “limit the risk that Fund resources will simply be used to bail out private creditors” and to involve private creditors in crisis resolution. If debt sustainability looks uncertain, the IMF would require re-profiling (rollovers and maturity extension) before lending. This is left to negotiations between the debtor and the creditors.

However, there is no guarantee that this can bring a timely and orderly re-profiling. If no agreement is reached and the IMF does not lend without re-profiling, then it would effectively be telling the debtor to default. But it makes no proposal to protect the debtor against litigation and asset grab by creditors.

There is thus a need for statutory re-profiling involving temporary debt standstills and exchange controls. The decision should be taken by the country concerned and sanctioned by an internationally recognised independent body to impose stay on litigation.

Sanctioning standstills should automatically grant seniority to new loans, to be used for current account financing, not to pay creditors or finance capital outflows.

If financial meltdown is prevented through standstills and exchange controls, stay is imposed on litigation, adequate financing is provided and contractual provisions are improved, the likelihood of reaching a negotiated debt workout would be very high.

The role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible. However, the IMF cannot be placed at the centre of international debt workout mechanisms. Even after a fundamental reform, the IMF board cannot act as a sanctioning body and arbitrator because of conflict of interest; its members represent debtors and creditors.

The United Nations successfully played an important role in crisis resolution in several instances in the past.

The Compensatory Financing Facility – introduced in the early 1960s to enable developing countries facing liquidity problems due to temporary shortfalls in primary export earnings to draw on the Fund beyond their normal drawing rights at concessional terms – resulted from a U.N. initiative.

A recent example concerns Iraq’s debt. After the occupation of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to implement stay on the enforcement of creditor rights to use litigation to collect unpaid sovereign debt.

This was engineered by the very same country, the United States, which now denies a role to the United Nations in debt and finance on the grounds that it lacks competence on such matters, which mainly belong to the IMF and the World Bank.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* This article is partly based on South Centre Research Paper 60 by Yilmaz Akyüz titled Internationalisation of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies.

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Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetorichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139917 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Dr. Randy Rydell, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” -- The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” Dr. Rydell said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Rydell, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Afghanistan’s Economic Recovery: A New Horizon for South-South Partnerships?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/afghanistans-economic-recovery-a-new-horizon-for-south-south-partnerships/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:39:08 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139889 The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has invested 1.2 billion dollars in Afghanistan for roads, railways, and airport projects. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan’s history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.

Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered the ring at a low point for his country.

“Our goal is to become a transit country for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.” -- Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes of religious extremism.

But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan’s future are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all directions.

Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred to Afghanistan as the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, an essential ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.

The country is poised to become the world’s largest producer of copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.

Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan’s landmass represents prime geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe. As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.

Regional integration 

Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country’s transformation.

“In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world’s largest continental economy,” Ghani stressed. “What happened in the U.S. in 1869 when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.

“Our goal is to become a transit country,” he said, “for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics.”

Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in order to create economies of scale.

“In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the Caspian,” he claimed.

Roads, too, will be vital to the country’s revival, and here the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork. Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements worth 130 million dollars, “[To] finance a new road link that will open up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond.”

Thomas Panella, ADB’s country director for Afghanistan, told IPS, “ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme, 2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed.

“In the transport sector,” he added, “six projects are ongoing and eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan’s transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.

Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31, 2013, the development bank had sunk 1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold increase in usage.

In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants, and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund (ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars annually for 2015 and 2016.

China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a stake in one of the country’s most critical copper mines and invested in the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and “improve feasibility.”

Both India and China, the former through private companies and the latter through state-owned corporations, have made “significant” contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf states and Azerbaijan also form part of the ‘consortium approach’ that he has adopted as Afghanistan’s roadmap out of the doldrums.

‘A very neoliberal idea’

But in an environment that until very recently could only be described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to be a bumpy one.

According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of ‘No Good Men Among the Living’, “There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of foreign aid.”

“If you go to look at schools,” he told IPS, “or into clinics that were funded by the international community, you can see these institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which helped them build a base of support.”

Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites will not be easily dismantled.

“The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it’s oriented towards development of private industries and private contractors,” Gopal stated.

“When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to survive.”

Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. “It’s a very neoliberal idea,” he added, “to privatise everything and hope that the benefits will trickle down.

“But as we’ve seen all over the world, it doesn’t trickle down. In fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren’t the ones to get help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process.”

Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development – particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.

Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly fund local communities in ways that don’t immediately give rise to an army of middlemen.

It remains to be seen how the country’s plans to shake off the cloak of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global economy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Global Citizenship Essential for Gender Equality: Ambassador Chowdhuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:34:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139860 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

At a recent panel discussion on women’s leadership during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was the lone male voice.

"Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world," Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

“Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world,” Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

In front of an audience of every creed, colour and culture, the decorated diplomat and former president of the United Nations Security Council tied the advancement of women’s causes to one of his pet causes: the idea of ‘global citizenship,’ of humans growing and learning and acting and working with consideration of their place in the global community.

“Being globally connected, emerging as global citizens, will help women achieve equality and help them show leadership,” Chowdhury told the packed room on Mar. 17.

“Each one of us needs to be globally connected. The days of staying in our national boundaries are gone. It is necessary to see women’s rights and equality as human issues, not women’s issues,” he said. “Men and women together, we have the power to empower.”

Through decades in diplomacy, the Bangladesh-born Chowdhury has served in some of the U.N’s highest posts, including under-secretary-general and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, president of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and vice-president of the Economic and Social Council, as well as serving two terms as Security Council president.

This idea of global citizenship is one he has proudly championed, pushing for greater education for young people to know and appreciate their place in the world, and how they can understand global challenges.

Chowdhury said the concept had existed for some time, but gained international prominence when it was enshrined – alongside increasing school enrolment and improving quality of education – as one of three priorities on the Secretary-General’s ‘Global Education First Initiative’ (GEFI) in 2012.

“Global citizenship is your ability and capacity to think as part one broad humanity. It is believing in ‘oneness’ of humanity, that we are all connected and interconnected, all interdependent,” Chowdhury told IPS.

“Humanity cannot make progress without all of us feeling that way. Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world. Nothing and no one can feel independent of connection with the world.”

Placing global citizenship alongside such foundational educational aspirations as increasing numbers of children attending school, and raising the quality of those schools, illustrates the extent to which the U.N. supports the concept.

In contrast to the concrete, empirical first and second goal, a brochure produced in conjunction with the launch of the GEFI outlined global citizenship as a more esoteric, ethereal concept; concerned not so much with achieving a certain statistic or milestone, but with bringing about a more fundamental shift in how education itself is delivered.

“Interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life,” the brochure stated.

“It must cultivate an active care for the world… education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day… it must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century.”The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world.

Chowdhury cited economic development, climate change and peace as the three major challenges that require advanced global citizenship to find a solution.

“Nobody can just get a normal degree from a university and think that knowledge will carry them through. They have to know what’s happening in the rest of the world. We have a better world if we feel for others in need who are impoverished and going through challenges,” he said.

“The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world. Being born a human has some responsibility, and that entails being aware of the challenges and how best you can contribute to resolving them.”

In his presentation to the CSW panel, Chowdhury invoked women in Africa – who he said “faced the heaviest odds in the world on many fronts” – as a source of inspiration for women worldwide fighting for gender equality.

“I am personally encouraged to see the leadership of African women. They face heavy odds, but come up with enormous amounts of energy, creativity and leadership to make their presence felt,” he said.

In speaking with IPS, he invoked global citizenship as a basic cornerstone for effective leadership moving toward a sustainable international future – but said that some foundational aspects of current education would need to be remoulded to achieve the ideal learning system to craft successful global citizens.

“Sometimes people in industrialised countries think they know everything, that their education is the best, but in many cases those students have the least knowledge of the challenges in other parts of the world. The majority of the world’s population are going through concerns not even known to people in other parts of the world,” Chowdhury said.

“People are told they learn to get a degree, to get a job, to get money. That is the central focus in many countries. Really, the most important thing is to learn about the world, its diversity, that there are many languages and cultures and ethnicities.”

Both Chowdhury and the GEFI cited numerous barriers to implementing better systems to teach global citizenship, including outdated teaching methods and equipment, insufficient teacher capacity to teach such concepts, and the costs of updating or reforming such systems.

“Reviews from around the world find that today’s curricula and textbooks often reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate social divisions, and foster fear and resentment of other groups or nationalities. Rarely are curricula developed through a participatory process that embraces excluded and marginalized groups,” the GEFI brochure stated.

Chowdhury, however, stressed that the costs of inaction far outweighed the costs and difficulty of reforming educational systems.

“We have ignored global citizenship and interconnectedness, valued independence of our countries, and conflict is happening. Economic development, trade regimes, all these things are are seriously affected if we don’t [change],” he said.

“This is why we are stepping up our concern and interest in promoting global citizenship as a value to be added to humanity’s opportunities.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Islanders Say Climate Finance “Essential” for Paris Agreementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pacific-islanders-say-climate-finance-essential-for-paris-agreement/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 21:56:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139854 Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Natural disasters and climate change, including sea level rise, are already impacting many coastal communities in Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia , Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

As Pacific Islanders contemplate the scale of devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam this month across four Pacific Island states, including Vanuatu, leaders in the region are calling with renewed urgency for global action on climate finance, which they say is vital for building climate resilience and arresting development losses.

In a recent public statement, the Marshall Islands’ president, Christopher Loeak, said, “The world’s best scientists, and what we see daily with our own eyes, all tell us that without urgent and transformative action by the big polluters to reduce emissions and help us to build resilience, we are headed for a world of constant climate catastrophe.”

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities." -- Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands
Progress on the delivery of climate funding pledges by the international community could also decide outcomes at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, they say.

“It is reassuring to see many countries, including some very generous developing countries, step forward with promises to capitalise the Green Climate Fund. But we need a much better sense of how governments plan to ramp up their climate finance over the coming years to ensure the Copenhagen promise of 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 is fulfilled,” Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told IPS.

“Without this assurance, success in Paris will be very difficult to achieve.”

The Pacific Islands are home to about 10 million people in 22 island states and territories with 35 percent living below the poverty line. The impacts of climate change could cost the region up to 12.7 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of this century, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates.

The Pacific Islands contribute a negligible 0.03 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet are the first to suffer the worst impacts of global warming. Regional leaders have been vocal about the climate injustice their Small Island Developing States (SIDS) confront with industrialised nations, the largest carbon emitters, yet to implement policies that would limit global temperature rise to the threshold of two degrees Celsius.

In the Marshall Islands, where more than 52,000 people live on 34 small islands and atolls in the North Pacific, sea-level rise and natural disasters are jeopardising communities mainly concentrated on low-lying coastal areas.

“Climate disasters in the last year chewed up more than five percent of national GDP and that figure continues to rise. We are working to improve and mainstream adaptation into our national planning, but emergencies continue to set us back,” the Marshall Islands’ Foreign Minister said.

The nation experienced a severe drought in 2013 and last year massive tidal surges, which caused extensive flooding of coastal villages and left hundreds of people homeless.

“Like other small vulnerable countries, we have experienced great difficulty in accessing the big multilateral funds. The Green Climate Fund must avoid the mistakes of the past and place a premium on projects that deliver direct benefits to local communities,” de Brum continued.

Priorities in the Marshall Islands include coastal restoration and reinforcement, climate resilient infrastructure and protection of freshwater lenses.

Bilateral aid is also important with SIDS receiving the highest climate adaptation-related aid per capita from OECD countries in 2010-11. The Oceanic region received two percent of OECD provided adaptation aid, which totalled 8.8 billion dollars.

Sixty percent of OECD aid in general to the Pacific Islands comes from Australia with other major donors including New Zealand, France, the United States and Japan. But in December, the Australian government announced far-reaching cuts to the foreign aid budget of 3.7 billion dollars over the next four years, which is likely to impact climate aid in the region.

Funding aimed at developing local climate change expertise and institutional capacity is vital to safeguarding the survival and autonomy of their countries, islanders say.

“We do not need more consultants’ reports and feasibility studies. What we need is to build our local capacity to tackle the climate challenge and keep that capacity here,” de Brum emphasised.

In the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson expressed concern that “local capacity is limited”, a problem that is “addressed through the provision of technical assistance through consultants who just come and then leave without properly training our own people.”

Kiribati, comprising 33 low-lying atolls with a population of just over 108,000, could witness a maximum sea level rise of 0.6 metres and an increase in surface air temperature of 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2090, according to the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

The country is experiencing higher tides every year, but can ill afford shoreline erosion with a population density in some areas of 15,000 people per square kilometre. The island of Tarawa, the location of the capital, is an average 450 metres wide with no option of moving settlements inland.

As long-term habitation is threatened, climate funding will, in the future, have to address population displacement, according to the Kiribati Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

“Climate induced relocation and forced migration is inevitable for Kiribati and planning is already underway. Aid needs to put some focus on this issue, but is mostly left behind only due to the fact that it is a future need and there are more visible needs here and now.”

Ahead of talks in Paris, the Marshall Islands believes successfully tackling climate change requires working together for everyone’s survival. “If climate finance under the Paris Agreement falls off a cliff, so will our response to the climate challenge,” de Brum declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Measurement Matters – Civic Space and the Post-2015 Frameworkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-measurement-matters-civic-space-and-the-post-2015-framework/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-measurement-matters-civic-space-and-the-post-2015-framework http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-measurement-matters-civic-space-and-the-post-2015-framework/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 07:18:34 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139818

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that with recent trends pointing to shrinkage of civil society space, goals and targets to protect this space in the post-2015 agenda will count for nothing if not backed by relevant indicators.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

For those of us interested in a vibrant civil society, it seems to be best of times and the worst of times.

In recent months, there has been great progress in recognising the importance of civil society in shaping the so-called ‘post-2015’ agenda and an explicit recognition of the important role that civil society will play in delivering sustainable development. However, in many countries around the world, the actual conditions in which civil society operates are getting worse not better.

As we come closer to a new global agreement on sustainable development goals (SDGs), we need to push for an agreement – backed by robust indicators – that will make a tangible difference in protecting civic freedoms.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Indeed, a perceptible rise in bureaucratic harassment and raids on NGO offices, violent dispersal of citizen demonstrations, attacks on and illicit surveillance of activists, combined with the application of draconian laws to silence dissent and restrict funding, has many civil society observers worried about shrinking space for the sector.

Over the course of last year, CIVICUS, the global alliance for citizen participation, monitored severe threats to civic freedoms in roughly half of the globe’s 193 countries. Amnesty International’s Annual Report for 2014/2015 calls it “a devastating year” for those seeking to stand up for human rights. Front Line Defenders, which works to protect human rights defenders at risk, reports the killing or death in detention of over 130 human rights defenders in the first ten months of 2014 alone.

All of this is happening while the United Nations is making unprecedented efforts to ensure greater civil society participation in the post-2015 global development framework.

While the next generation of sustainable development goals, their associated targets and indicators will be decided by world leaders at their Sep. 25-27 summit in New York this year, civil society’s role in grounding the framework in people’s aspirations and holding duty bearers to account is crucial.“Assurances for a civil society enabling environment and respect for the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the post-2015 framework are integral to greater public involvement and accountability in development”

In light of recent trends which point to shrinkage of civil society space, in both democracies and non-democracies, there is naturally a high level of anxiety whether guarantees on civic freedoms and civil society participation will be included in the final framework. Indeed, a major criticism of the current Millennium Development Goal (MDG) framework is that it has failed to recognise and thereby institutionalise the role of active citizens and civil society organisations in development.

Assurances for a civil society enabling environment and respect for the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the post-2015 framework are integral to greater public involvement and accountability in development.

So far, some progress has been made but the gains remain shaky because many governments which will be involved in adopting the final framework in September are themselves complicit in serious violations of civic freedoms. These include some influential states such as China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and Turkey whose developmental models are predicated on top-down governance with scant role for independent civil society.

Positively, the U.N. Secretary General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Agenda, released in December last year, calls for the creation of an “enabling environment under the rule of law for the free, active and meaningful engagement of civil society and advocates reflecting the voices of women, minorities, LGBT groups, indigenous peoples, youth, adolescents and older persons.”

Notably, participatory democracy – without which civic freedoms cannot meaningfully exist – has been described as both an enabler and outcome of development.

From the perspective of civic freedoms and civil society participation, the U.N. Secretary General’s report has done well to elaborate on the proposal submitted to the U.N. General Assembly by the Open Working on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) in July 2014.

Comprising 30 representatives nominated by U.N. member states from all the regions of the world, the OWG recommended 17 goals and 169 corresponding targets which are the basis of intergovernmental negotiations on the SDGs this year.

Two goals are particularly relevant from the standpoint of civil society’s ability to freely operate and monitor progress on the framework.  These are proposed Goal 16 (“promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”) and proposed Goal 17 (“strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for development”). 

The proposed goals are further sub-divided into targets. For instance, targets under Goal 16 include “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making at all levels” and “public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” A key target under Goal 17 is to “encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.”

Progress on the proposed targets will be measured by indicators currently being developed by various U.N. bodies, including the U.N. Statistics Division. Ultimately, it will be the indicators that will anchor the post-2105 agenda because gains will be gauged through their prism. It is therefore crucial that the United Nations is able to identify suitable tools to measure civic space and civil society participation.

Although, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) has produced a report titled ‘Accountability through Civic Participation in the Post-2015 Development Agenda’, much more needs to be done to put in place relevant indicators that are linked to the targets identified by the OWG.

For instance, in relation to proposed Target 16.10 with its focus on “fundamental freedoms”, it would be valuable to evaluate whether both legislation and practice protect civic space, in particular the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.  Similarly, under proposed Target 17.17 with its focus on encouraging and promoting civil society partnerships, it will be vital to measure the existence of enabling conditions such as mandated requirements for civil society involvement in official policy making processes at the national level.

Currently, there are a number of initiatives that measure civic space and civil society participation. Some of these, such as the World Press Freedom Index, the Freedom in the World survey and the Enabling Environment Index, are led by civil society organisations, while others such as the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation are being developed by multi-stakeholder initiatives.

With post-2015 negotiations entering the final phase, it is vital that political negotiators and technical experts are convinced that adoption of the above and associated methodologies will lead to better service delivery, citizen monitoring and accountability.

With the attention on the post-2015 agenda now focused on measurement, civil society advocates have their work cut out to also engage and influence the statisticians. Ambitious goals and targets will count for nothing if not backed by relevant indicators. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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High-Tech to the Rescue of Southern Africa’s Smallholder Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/high-tech-to-the-rescue-of-southern-africas-smallholder-farmers/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 12:50:44 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139810 The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

The Dube AgriZone facility currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa. Credit: FAO

By Kwame Buist
DURBAN, South Africa, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

Agriculture is the major employer and a backbone of the economies of Southern Africa.

However, the rural areas that support an agriculture-based livelihood system for the majority of the nearly 270 million people living in the region are typically fragile and there is wide variability in the development challenges facing the countries of the region.

The agricultural sector is dominated by crop production, although the share of livestock production and other agriculture practices have been increasing.Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely small holder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world

Chronic and acute food insecurity remain major risks and Southern Africa still faces enormous challenges in trying to transform and commercialise its largely smallholder-based agricultural systems through accelerated integration into competitive markets in a rapidly globalising world.

These and other challenges facing the sector were the focus of a three-day meeting (Mar. 10-12) in Durban of management and experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which ended with a call to prioritise broad-based partnerships and build synergies to provide countries with effective and efficient support in the agriculture sector.

In an annual event designed to provide a platform for discussion and exchange of information on best practices and the general performance of FAO programmes in the region, David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa, reiterated the importance of different sectors working together.

“Achieving food and nutrition security in Southern Africa is a challenge far too great for any government or FAO to overcome alone,” he said. “As well as the governments of developing and developed countries, the civil society, private sector and international development agencies must be involved. Above all, the people themselves need to be empowered to manage their own development.”

Building on what works

As one example of the best practices under the scrutiny of the meeting, participants took part in a field visit to the Dube AgriZone facility – a high-tech agricultural development initiative pioneered by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government.

The facility aims to stimulate the growth of KwaZulu-Natal’s perishables sector and aims to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistent quality, year-round production and improved management of disease and pests.

The facility – strategically located 30 km north of the important coastal city of Durban – currently incorporates 16 hectares of greenhouses, making it the largest climate-controlled growing area under glass in Africa.

Its primary focus is on the production of short shelf-life vegetables and cut flowers which require immediate post-harvest airlifting and supply to both domestic and export markets.

In addition to its greenhouses, the facility offers dedicated post-harvest packing houses, a central packing and distribution centre, a nursery and the Dube AgriLab, a sophisticated plant tissue culture laboratory.

Dube AgriZone is an eco-friendly facility, adopting a range of ‘green’ initiatives to offset its environmental impact, including rainwater harvesting, use of solar energy, on-site waste management, and the growth of indigenous plants for rehabilitation efforts.

Dube AgriZone provides growers with the potential to achieve improved agricultural yields, consistency of produce quality, close management of disease and pest infestation and year-round crop production with a view to improved sustainability and enhanced agricultural competitiveness.

“I could never have been able put up such a facility and produce at the current scale were it not for this innovative AgriZone,” said Derrick Baird, owner of Qutom Farms, which currently produces 150,000 cucumbers in the glass greenhouse leased from Dube AgriZone.

“This high-tech facility with all the necessary facilities – including transportation and freight – has allowed us to concentrate on producing cucumbers at much lower costs than in other locations where we had previously tried.”

The partnership between the provincial government and the private sector behind the facility was hailed as an example of a success story that could offer valuable lessons to others across Southern Africa.

“There is plenty we can learn from this facility and perhaps one of the more important ones is on forming partnerships and alliances,” said Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative in South Africa.

“We need to build on what is working by adopting and adapting technologies to the local situation, and then scaling them upwards and outwards to achieve even better results,” he added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: What if Youth Now Fight for Social Change, But From the Right?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 17:58:42 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139808

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, takes young voters’ support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections as the starting point for looking at how young people in Europe are moving to the right.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

The “surprise” re-election of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections has been met with a flood of media comment on the implications for the region and the rest of the world.

However, one of the reasons for Netanyahu’s victory has dramatically slipped the attention of most – the support he received from young Israelis.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, 200,000 last-minute voters decided to switch their vote to Netanyahu’s Likud party due to the “fear factor” and most of these were voters under the age of 35.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Perhaps the “fear factor” was actually an expression of the “Masada factor”. Masada is a strong element in Israeli history and collective imagination. The inhabitants of the mountain fortress of Masada, besieged by Roman legions at the time of Emperor Tito’s conquest of the Israeli state, preferred collective suicide to surrender.

Israelis today feel besieged by hostile neighbouring countries (first of all Iran), the continuous onslaught by the Caliphate and the Islamic State, overwhelming negative international opinion and growing abandonment by the United States.

Netanyahu played a number of cards to bring about his last-minute election success, including his speech to the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress on Mar. 3, which was seen by many Israelis as an act of defiance and dignity, not a weakening of fundamental relations with the United States.

His support for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, his denial of the creation of a Palestinian state and his show of contempt for an international community unable to understand Israel’s fears led Netanyahu’s Likud party to victory.

In Israel, being left-wing mean accepting a Palestinian state, being right-wing means denying it. In the end, the Mar. 17 vote was the result of fear.“Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s ‘glorious’ past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country … is an easy way out”

Israeli’s young people are not alone in moving to the right as a reaction to fear. It is interesting to note that all right-wing parties which have become relevant in Europe are based on fear.

Growing social inequality, the unprecedented phenomenon of youth unemployment, cuts in public services such as education and health, corruption which has become a cancer with daily scandals, and the general feeling of a lack of clear response from the political institutions to the problems opened up by a globalisation based on markets and not on citizens are all phenomena which are affecting young people.

“When you were like us at university, you knew you would find a job – we know we will not find one,” was how one student put it at a conference of the Society for International Development that I attended.

“The United Nations has lost the ability to be a place of governance, the financial system is without checks and corporations have a power which goes over national governments,” the student continued. “So, you see, the world of today is very different one from the one in which you grew up.”

As Josep Ramoneda wrote in El Pais of Mar. 18: “We expected that governments would submit markets to democracy and it turns out that what they do is adapt democracy to markets, that is, empty it little by little.

This is why many of those of who vote for right-wing parties in Europe are young people – be it for the National Front in France, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the Lega Nord (North League) in Italy, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Germany and Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.

Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s “glorious” past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country, and bringing back to the nation space and functions which have been delegated to an obtuse and arrogant bureaucracy in Brussels which has not been elected and is not therefore accountable to citizens, is an easy way out.

This is a major – but ignored – epochal change. It was long held that an historic function of youth was to act as a factor for change … now it is fast becoming a factor for the status quo. The traditional political system no longer has youth movements and its poor performance in front of the global challenges that countries face today makes young people distrustful and distant.

It is an easy illusion to flock to parties which want to fight against changes which look ominous, even negative. It also partially explains why some young Europeans are running to the Islamic State which promise a change to restore the dignity of Muslims dignity and whose agenda is to destroy dictators and sheiks who are in cohort with the international system and are all corrupt and intent on enriching themselves, instead of taking care of their youth.

What can young people think of President Erdogan of Turkey building a presidential palace with 1,000 rooms or the European Central Bank inaugurating headquarters which cost 1,200 million euro, just to give two examples? And what of the fact that the 10 richest men in the world increased their wealth in 2013 alone by an amount equivalent to the combined budgets of Brazil and Canada?

This generational change should be a transversal concern for all parties but what is happening instead is that the welfare state is continuing to suffer cuts. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), young people in the 18-23 age group will retire with an average pension of 650 euro. What kind of society will that be?

Without the safety net now being provided by parents and grandparents, how can young people in such a society avoid feeling left out?

We always thought young people would fight for social change, but what if they are now doing so from the right?

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Development and Taxes, a Vital Piece of the Post-2015 Puzzlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/development-and-taxes-a-vital-piece-of-the-post-2015-puzzle/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139795 A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

A fairer more cooperative global tax structure is needed to help achieve Post-2015 development goals. Credit: Eoghan OLionnain CC by SA 2.0 License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Public funds are vitally important to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making corporate tax avoidance trends a pressing issue for post-2015 Financing for Development discussions.

A draft agenda circulated this week for the Financing for Development (FfD) post-2015 Development Conference to be held in Addis Ababa in July places domestic public finances as a key action agenda item.“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else.” -- Nicholas Shaxson

The agenda acknowledges the need for greater tax cooperation considering “there are limits to how much governments can individually increase revenues in our interconnected world”.

Over 130 countries, represented by the Group of 77 (G-77), called for greater international tax cooperation to be included on the agenda, in recognition of the increasingly central role of tax systems in development.

These calls come in light of the Luxembourg Leaks and Swiss Leaks, which have revealed in recent months how some of the world’s biggest multinational corporations avoid paying billions of dollars of taxes through deals with ‘tax havens’ in wealthy countries.

Two reports out this week, from Oxfam and the Tax Justice Network, both look at the impacts of corporate tax avoidance on global inequality.

Catherine Olier, Oxfam’s European Union policy advisor, told IPS, “Corporate tax avoidance is actually a very important issue for developing countries because according to the International Monetary Fund, the poor countries are more reliant on corporate tax than rich countries.”

Olier said that considerable funds are needed to make the SDGs possible.

“If we look at what’s currently on the table in terms of Official Development Assistance (‘international aid’) or even leveraging money from the private sector, this is never going to be enough to finance the SDGs,” she said.

“Tax is definitely going to be the most sustainable and the most important source of financing,” Olier said.

Oxfam’s report called on European institutions, especially the European Commission, to “analyse the negative impacts one member state’s tax system can have on other European and developing countries, and provide public recommendations for change.”

Nicholas Shaxson from the Tax Justice Network told IPS that tax havens are predominantly wealthier countries, but that they negatively impact both rich and poor countries.

“This is no longer an issue about developing countries versus rich countries. I think you have to get beyond geography and start thinking about this as a battle between wealthy elites and everybody else,” he said. “That’s where the battle line is, that’s where the dividing line is.”

He added that corporate taxes were particularly important to developing countries, in part because it was more difficult to leverage tax revenue from a poorer constituency.

“In pure justice terms, in terms of a large wealthy multinational extracting natural resources or making profits in a developing country and not paying tax, I think that nearly everyone in the world would agree in their gut that there’s something wrong with that situation,” Shaxson said.

Shaxson is the author of the Tax Justice Network’s (TJN) report: Ten Reasons to Defend the Corporation Tax, published earlier this week.

The report argues that trillions of dollars of public spending is at risk, and that if current trends continue, corporate headline taxes will reach zero in the next two to three decades.

Meanwhile, Oxfam reported in January that the “combined wealth of the richest 1 percent will overtake that of the other 99 percent of people next year [2016] unless the current trend of rising inequality is checked.”

Oxfam is calling for a Ministerial Roundtable to be held at the FfD Conference to help facilitate the establishment of a U.N. inter-governmental body on tax cooperation.

Olier told IPS that while developing countries have expressed support for greater tax cooperation, there has so far been less support from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, including European countries and the United States.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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