Inter Press Service » Globalisation http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 31 Jan 2015 14:22:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Glimmer of Hope for Assangehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glimmer-of-hope-for-assange http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:17:00 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138943 Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

There is a window of hope, thanks to a U.N. human rights body, for a solution to the diplomatic asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London for the past two and a half years.

Authorities in Sweden, which is seeking the Australian journalist’s extradition to face allegations of sexual assault, admitted there is a possibility that measures could be taken to jumpstart the stalled legal proceedings against Assange.

The head of Assange’s legal defence team, former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, told IPS that in relation to this case “we have expressed satisfaction that the Swedish state“ has accepted the proposals of several countries.

The prominent Spanish lawyer and international jurist was referring to proposals set forth by Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Slovakia and Uruguay.

The final report by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), adopted Thursday Jan. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, contains indications that a possible understanding among the different countries concerned might be on the horizon.

The UPR is a mechanism of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine the human rights performance of all U.N. member states.

The situation of Assange, a journalist, computer programmer and activist born in Australia in 1971, was introduced in Sweden’s UPR by Ecuador, the country that granted him diplomatic asylum in its embassy in London, and by several European and Latin American nations.

The head of the Swedish delegation to the UPR, Annika Söder, state secretary for political affairs at Sweden’s foreign ministry, told IPS that “This is a very complex matter in which the government can only do a few things.”

Söder said that in Sweden, Assange is “suspected of crimes, rape, sexual molestation in accordance with Swedish law. And that’s why the prosecutor in Sweden wants to conduct the primary investigation.

“We are aware of Mr. Assange’s being in the embassy of Ecuador and we hope that there will be ways to deal with the legal process in one way or the other. But it is up to the legal authorities to respond,” she said.

Assange’s legal defence team complains that Sweden’s public prosecutor’s office is delaying the legal proceedings and refuses to question him by telephone, email, video link or in writing.

Garzón noted that parallel to the lack of action by the Swedish prosecutor’s office, there is a secret U.S. legal process against Assange and other members of Wikileaks, the organisation he created in 2006.

“The origin of the U.S. legal proceedings against Assange was the mass publication by Wikileaks of documents, in many cases sensitive ones, which affected the United States,” said Garzón.

Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other classified U.S. documents revealed practices by Washington that put it in an awkward position with other governments.

Assange sought refuge in the embassy after exhausting options in British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to allegations of rape and sexual molestation, of which he says he is innocent. He has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is worried that if he is extradited to that country he will be sent to the United States, where he is under investigation for releasing secret government documents.

If the legal process in Sweden begins to move forward, there would be a possibility for him to be able to leave the Ecuadorean embassy, where he took refuge on Jun. 19, 2012, and give up the diplomatic asylum he was granted by the government of Rafael Correa on Aug. 16, 2012.

In the UPR report, Sweden promised to examine recommendations made by other countries and to provide a response before the next U.N. Human Rights Council session, which starts Jun. 15.

Garzón has urged the Swedish government to specify a timeframe for the legal action against Assange, as the delegation from Ecuador recommended in the UPR.

“The Human Rights Committee, another specialised U.N. body, stipulates that precise timeframes must be established for putting a detained person at the disposal of a judge,” he pointed out.

Söder told IPS that Sweden’s legal system does not set any deadline for the prosecutor to complete the pretrial examination phase, as reflected in the Assange case.

Garzón is also asking Sweden to introduce, as soon as possible, “measures to ensure that the legal proceedings are carried out in accordance with standards that guarantee the rights of individuals, concretely the right to effective judicial recourse and legal proceedings without undue delays.”

He also called for the adoption of administrative and judicial measures to make investigations before the courts more effective. With respect to this, he mentioned “the practice of measures of inquiry abroad, in line with international cooperation mechanisms.”

In addition, the international jurist demanded measures to ensure that people deprived of their freedom are provided with legal guarantees in accordance with international standards.

The Swedish delegation agreed to study a recommendation by Argentina to “take concrete measures to ensure that guarantees of non-extradition will be given to any person under the control of the Swedish authorities while they are considered refugees by a third country,” in this case Ecuador.

These should include legislative measures, if necessary.

This is important because Assange is facing the threat that the Swedish or British authorities could accept an extradition request from the United States for charges of espionage, which carry heavy penalties.

In his comments to IPS, Garzón said he was “disappointed” that the Swedish state has not accepted one of Ecuador’s recommendations.

He was referring to the request that Sweden streamline international cooperation mechanisms on the part of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office in order to ensure the right to effective legal remedy, specifically in cases where the person is protected by the decision to grant asylum or refuge.

It was stressed in the UPR that the right to asylum or refuge is considered a fundamental right, and must be respected and taken into account, making it compatible with the right to legal defence.

The director-general of legal affairs in Sweden’s foreign ministry, Anders Rönquist, argued that there is no international convention on diplomatic asylum.

The only one referring to that issue is the inter-American convention, he said, adding that the International Court of Justice in The Hague does not require recognition of diplomatic asylum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Tieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-u-s-skirt-obstacles-to-normalisation-of-ties/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138835 The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (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. 

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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OPINION: For the Good of Humanity – Towards a Culture of Caringhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-for-the-good-of-humanity-towards-a-culture-of-caring/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 12:46:56 +0000 Andrew MacMillan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138580

In this column, Andrew MacMillan, former director of the Field Operations Division of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joint author with Ignacio Trueba of ‘How to End Hunger in Times of Crises’, argues that behind the so-called success of globalisation lie problems that are “taken for granted” and little thought is given to how it can be better managed to serve the interests of people.

By Andrew MacMillan
ROME, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

About a week ago my wife was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. She was promptly treated with antibiotics and, wonderfully, is now on the mend.

What has struck me about this experience is not so much the high professionalism of the health workers or their up-to-date hospital equipment but the fact that she has become immersed in what can best be described as “a culture of caring”.

Andrew MacMillan

Andrew MacMillan

She and the other patients in her ward are looked after round the clock by an extraordinary team of state-employed nurses in a quiet, efficient and courteous way that inspires confidence.

I suppose that there is nothing particularly unusual about this. Caring for others is a very natural human trait. Everywhere, mothers care for their children; sons and daughters care for their aging parents; and neighbours rush to help each other when they hit problems.

Perhaps, however, “modern” societies – if one dares to generalise about them – are driven more by the quest for individual material wealth than by any widely expressed wish to do things for the general good of humanity.

Unless you live in Bhutan, your country’s performance is measured not in terms of the happiness of its people but by the growth of its Gross Domestic Product; bankers and businessmen reward themselves with salary bonuses rather than with extra time with their families; and those who enjoy the highest pinnacles of wealth vie with each other over the size of their fleet of private jets or the tonnage of their personal yachts.

The idiosyncrasies of the super-rich and celebrities would not matter much if they had not become the new role models for people who aspire to “do well” in life and if their wealth did not entitle them to a voice in the corridors of world power. It seems odd that Presidents and Prime Ministers flock each year in January to [the World Economic Forum in] Davos to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but perhaps this is simply a tacit admission of the influence that the latter have.“I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice
even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being”

Much of the recent material gains all around the planet is the result of the processes of globalisation that have successfully combined inventiveness, capital, low-cost but increasingly skilled labour and cheap transportation in new ways that have flooded the world’s markets with an amazing array of tantalising goods.

This apparent success of globalisation, however, may distract political attention from the idea that it could perhaps work better in everyone’s interest.

It seems absurd that 6 billion mobile phones have been produced and sold but 800 million people still go hungry every day; that, as people travel further, faster and more frequently, diseases such as Ebola spread more rapidly and more widely but the institutions responsible for protecting us from increased threats remain desperately under-funded; and that governments hesitate to upset their voters by acting to trim greenhouse gas emissions while, as predicted, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events is repeatedly wreaking havoc upon the unfortunate.

We tend to take these problems for granted rather than face up to the need to identify how to best manage globalisation in the interests of humanity.

I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being.

I do not think that there are many people who, if asked, would want to see others starve for lack of food, who welcome greater weather instability or who think that it is right that their children should suffer from the environmental damage that results from our unsustainable lifestyles.

In a sense, President Lula of Brazil put this idea to the test during his successful 2002 campaign. Breaking out of the normal political mould, he did not promise his voters higher incomes but simply pledged that all Brazilians would enjoy three meals a day by the end of his term in office.

He unveiled his Zero Hunger Programme on his first day as President, with the State assuming the responsibility for assuring that all the poorest families in the country could fulfil their right to food. There was huge outpouring of popular support for his efforts to create the more just and equitable society that has now emerged.

What many of us would like to see is the emergence of a new international consciousness of social justice similar to that proposed by Lula and embraced by Brazilians twelve years ago.

It must be founded on a growing public recognition of the unique role that multilateral institutions have to play in ensuring that globalisation is harnessed to benefit all people, especially the poorest of the poor. It must also assure greater inter-generational fairness in the use of our planet’s scarce resources.

Nowhere is the need for greater fairness more apparent than in the realm of food management – where we face a crazy situation in which, though ample food is produced, the health of more than half the world’s population is now damaged by bad nutrition.

It is fitting that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, should have launched his personal “Zero Hunger Challenge” in Brazil in 2012 when he called for the elimination of hunger “within my lifetime”.

The fact that the current Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – the United Nations agency that that oversees global food management – is José Graziano da Silva, who was the Brazilian architect of Lula’s Zero Hunger Programme, inspires confidence that it will do all in its power to bring about a world without hunger.

We can already see a renewed FAO in action – committed to ending hunger and malnutrition, more focused in its goals, working as one and embracing partnerships for a better present and future. Four more years will allow Graziano da Silva to consolidate the transformations he has begun and realise their full effect to the benefit of the world´s poor and hungry.

Hopefully 2015 will be a year in which the world’s leaders will become the champions of the justice and fairness – the caring society that my wife has experienced – to which so many of us aspire.

At the very least, they should pick up the thought that, as in Brazil, it should be a perfectly normal function of any self-respecting government to ensure that all its people can eat healthily.

(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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OPINION: Global Citizenship, A Result of Emerging Global Consciousnesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-global-citizenship-a-result-of-emerging-global-consciousness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-global-citizenship-a-result-of-emerging-global-consciousness http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-global-citizenship-a-result-of-emerging-global-consciousness/#comments Sat, 10 Jan 2015 11:56:54 +0000 Arsenio Rodriguez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138577

Arsenio Rodriguez is Chairman and CEO of Devnet International, an association that works to create, promote and support partnerships and exchanges among civil society organisations, local authorities and entrepreneurs throughout the world.

By Arsenio Rodriguez
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

Globalisation is an integral feature of modernity. It already has significantly advanced to transform local experiences into global ones, to unify the disparate villages of the world into a global community, and to integrate national economies into an international economy.

At the same time, however, the process of globalisation brings about the loss of cultural identity.

Arsenio Rodriguez

Arsenio Rodriguez

Many young people today grow up and live in a consolidating global world and define themselves as people not belonging to any particular culture. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, were legal international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.

To these figures one must add at least an estimated 30 million undocumented migrants.

As a result, more people in the world are intermarrying across cultural, ethnic and religious groupings. In Europe, for example, in the period 2008-10, on average one in 12 married persons was in a mixed marriage. Their children are exposed to hybrid cultural settings plus sometimes the host country setting if both parents are immigrants.

In 2013, more than one billion traveled internationally as tourists, thus increasing their firsthand knowledge of the world beyond their own borders. On the other hand, there are nearly three billion Internet users in the world today. More than a billion are connected in social networks across the planet.For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture.

The interconnectedness of people today is beyond anything that has happened before in history. And to this one must add the ecological, cosmological and modern physics concepts that emphasise interconnectedness in the world at large and our appreciation of being on the same planet, the global village.

For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture. People living between cultures feel more “natural” in a globalised world because it reflects the combination of different cultures, views and social belongings.

There is, however, as part of the global synthesis and interconnectedness process, a socio-cultural energy of resistance, acting as a counterforce. And although many people define and identify themselves as global citizens, the cultures and societies in which they live do not easily accept their status, and constantly try to place and categorise them.

Wherever they feel at home, they are simultaneously perceived as outsiders, tourists, and as members of a foreign culture. Simultaneously, as the world integration persists, cultural entrenchments, ethnic, religious and parochial groups resist, fearing the dissolving forces of globalisation, manifesting the resistance in fundamentalism, violence and tribal and ethnic wars.

Culture and globalisation have come to be understood as mutually exclusive and antithetical; the former is typically associated with one specific culture while the latter signifies the homogenisation of all cultures into one.

For the global citizen, self-understanding and cultural identity are defined by the lack of belonging to a specific culture. Global citizens lose their sense of belonging and become strangers to society, but in return they gain the freedom of self-expression and self-definition since they are unfettered by the normative constraints of culture and society.

The world is in the midst of a great transition. Prevailing business as usual models are not going to work for a nine billion, highly consumptive society. Scientific, business and government authorities throughout the world agree that we need to align our production and consumption cycles, our markets, with the natural cycles of our life support systems.

And our fragmented approaches are not efficient or effective enough to accomplish this. We need a global consciousness and a global citizenship.

Not a global government but a federated international system based on collaboration and cooperation, rather than competition and hegemony, linking citizenry in their respective communities and countries on issues of common interest and with respect for the cultural diversity.

And it cannot be not just be governments participating in this concerted effort of international cooperation. Private business stands today as the most powerful sector in the planet. However, it has yet to assume a corresponding responsibility in shaping the future of the societal context in which it is embedded and on which it ultimately depends.

A new world-culture is emerging through an integral vision, which is independent of existing traditions and conserved values. It is initiating a new way of thinking in terms of an indivisible totality, and it discards the relative values of comparison in favour of the recognition of the intrinsic worth of everything and everyone.

Increasing numbers of people, communities, even corporate enterprises are increasingly understanding this interconnectedness and the advantage of cooperation and collaboration as a business model.

The movement to global citizenship should be to connect people committed to create a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, to accelerate a cohesive global movement of personal and social transformation, reflecting the unity of humanity.

True global citizens aim to connect caring communities, groups, and individuals at a global level, to promote understanding of humanity’s underlying unity and advance its expression through peace, social justice and ecological balance.

Anyone who transforms his/her perception of the world from one of me against “the other”, of “us” versus “them”, into a unified perception that recognises the interconnectedness of life starts to belong to the global citizenship movement.

This emergence is already happening everywhere as people are becoming conscious at many levels of political organisation, that the functioning of the life support systems that underwrite the well-being and prosperity of humanity is at risk.

There is broad consensus amongst the world’s scientific, business, intergovernmental and non-governmental communities that: (a) we need to align our production and consumption cycles and our markets with the natural regenerative cycles of nature; (b) prevailing business-as-usual models based on intense and wasteful consumption are not going to work for the expected nine billion inhabitants; (c) there is an urgency to change our ways; and (d) piecemeal approaches are not effective or scalable enough.

Sustainable solutions are there, people are already making a difference, making things happen. All we need to do is a wide-range scaling up and a fast acceleration of this process.

We have a systems problem, so we need a systemic solution. There is only one force on earth that is powerful enough to fix this – all of us. We need to collaborate consciously in the largest enterprise, ever to be set in motion; one that contains all others –a truly global citizenry and for this we need a massive cultural change in our consciousness.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Falling Oil Prices Threaten Fragile African Economieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/falling-oil-prices-threaten-fragile-african-economies/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 22:35:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138388 Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

The sharp decline in world petroleum prices – hailed as a bonanza to millions of motorists in the United States – is threatening to undermine the fragile economies of several African countries dependent on oil for their sustained growth.

The most vulnerable in the world’s poorest continent include Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sudan – as well as developing nations such as Algeria, Libya and Egypt in North Africa."In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high." -- Dr. Shenggen Fan of IFPRI

Dr. Kwame Akonor, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, who has written extensively on the politics and economics of the continent, told IPS recent trends and developments such as the outbreak of Ebola and the fall of global oil prices “shows how tepid and volatile African economies are.”

In 2012, for instance, Sierra Leone and Liberia (two of the hardest hit countries with Ebola) were cited by the World Bank as the fastest growing sub-Saharan African countries, he pointed out.

In a similar vein, countries such as Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are considered top performing economies due to the large concentration of their oil and gas reserves.

“But the ramifications of any economic crisis will undoubtedly negatively impact the fortunes of these countries,” said Akonor, who is also director of the University’s Centre for African Studies and the African Development Institute, a New York-based think tank.

The world price for crude oil has declined from 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last week.

There are multiple reasons for the decline, including an increase in oil production, specifically in the United States; a fall in the global demand for oil due to a slow down of the world economy; and a positive fallout from conservation efforts.

As the New York Times pointed out: “We simply don’t burn as much energy as we did a few years ago to achieve the same amount of mileage, heat or manufacturing production.”

There are also geopolitical reasons for the continued decline in oil prices because Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest producers, has refused to take any action to stop the fall.

Despite the crisis, the Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi was quoted as saying, “Why should I cut production?”

This has led to the conspiracy theory it is working in collusion with the United States to undermine the oil-dependent economies of three major adversaries: Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the fall in prices is also affecting Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman.

But they are expected to overcome the crisis because of a collective estimated foreign exchange reserve amounting to over 1.5 trillion dollars.

The drop in oil prices, however, will have the most damaging effects on Africa which has been battling poverty, food shortages, HIV/AIDS, and more recently, the outbreak of Ebola.

The heaviest toll will be on Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa which depends on crude oil for about 80 percent of its revenues, according to the Wall Street Journal. The country’s currency, the naira, has declined about 15 percent since the beginning of the fall in oil prices.

Dr. Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), sees both a positive and negative side to the current oil crisis. He told IPS the recent decline in oil prices will help reduce food prices.

Since oil prices are highly co-related to food prices, high oil prices make agricultural production more expensive and thus cause food prices to increase, he added.

“Now that oil prices are on a downward trend, this is, by and large, good for global food security and nutrition,” he said.

Dr. Fan said poor producers and consumers in developing countries should be able to benefit from this – as long as their purchasing power increases.

However, he cautioned, oil exporting countries may lose government revenues from low oil prices.

Indeed, crude oil producing nations in Africa have felt the pinch of declining oil prices given the dependence of their economies on crude oil, he noted. In the short run, he said, poor people may suffer, if their governments reduce food subsidies.

“In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high.”

When oil prices are low, these governments should use reserves to ensure that poor people are protected through social safety net programmes, he added.

Dr. Akonor told IPS as impressive as the current and long-term economic projections for Africa might seem, it does not change the precarious and fragile nature of the continent’s economic foundations.

“The high debt overhang and the heavy reliance on raw materials (such as oil) and minerals for exports, makes African economies susceptible to shock and systemic risks,” he noted.

Moreover, he said, the underlying human capital formation, especially amongst the burgeoning unemployed youth population, lacks the requisite skills that could lead to real sustainable growth and transformation.

“What is needed then is the effective implementation of development strategies and policies that would lead to long-term structural transformation and durable human development,” he argued.

One way to achieve this is through closer regional cooperation, given the small size of domestic markets and poor continental infrastructure. Transformative and human needs development must, amongst other things, address Africa’s poor infrastructure, said Dr. Akonor.

According to the African Development Bank, the road access rate in Africa is only 34 percent, compared with 50 percent in other developing regions. Only 30 percent of Africans have access to electricity, compared to 70-90 percent in other developing countries.

“What makes Africa’s development challenges vexing is that there has not been a shortage of autonomous development-related ideas between African leaders and interested publics,” Dr. Akonor said.

One can argue that Africa has debated and produced too many blueprints and programmes for over half a century without any tangible results or follow through, he said.

“Thus the major obstacle to durable economic performance in Africa has not been the ambitious nature of the development targets, but rather the absence of political will by African governments and the lack of consistency, coordination, and coherence at the sub regional, regional and even global levels to implement structural change,” Dr. Akonor declared.

“Transformational development will require that Africa add value to, and diversify, its export commodities. Building a solid industrial base and infrastructural capacity are also necessary prerequisites toward autonomous structural change.”

Dr. Fan told IPS that on the broader issue of the factors that influence food prices, it is important to realise the right price of food is not easy to determine.

What is important is that the prices of food (including the natural resources that are used for food production) fully reflect their economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits in order to send the right signals to all actors along the food supply chain.

“If this causes food prices to increase, social safety nets should be provided to protect poor people in the short term and also to help them move on to more productive activities in the long term,” Dr. Fan said.

In so doing, their food security and nutrition is not compromised, he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Europe Has Lost Its Compasshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:43:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138263

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that, with the fall of the Swedish government orchestrated by the far-right and centre-right opposition, a symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy in Europe has fallen, and the grip of an irrational fear of immigrants tightens as Europe’s politicians seek a scapegoat.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The Swedish Social Democrat government, which took office only two months ago, has just resigned. The far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats sided with the four-party centre-right opposition alliance, and new elections will be held in March next year.

In Europe, Sweden has been the symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy – the place where those escaping dictatorship and hunger could find refuge; the country without corruption, where social justice was a national value.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

However, in just a short period, the Sweden Democrat xenophobic party, which wants to close the country to foreigners and is now the third-largest party in parliament, was able to topple the government on Dec. 3.

Similar parties exist in the other Nordic countries – Finland, Norway and Denmark – where they have been similarly able to take a decisive role in national politics. The myth of northern Europe, the modern and progressive Nordic Europe, has vanished.

A few days later, in Dresden (the Florence of Germany) in Saxony, thousands of demonstrators marched to the cry ”Wir sind das Volk” [“We are the people”] – the same battle cry used in protests against the Communist regime in then East Germany 25 years ago, only this time the protest was against immigrants.

A previously unknown activist, 41-year-old Lutz Bachmann, has set up the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and in seven weeks has been able to rally thousands of people. The local paper, the Sachsische Zeitung, has reported that Bachman has several criminal convictions for burglary, dealing with cocaine and driving without a licence or while drunk.“The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants”

Such details were irrelevant to the demonstrators. They “miss their country”, demand “protection of the Homeland” and applaud Bachmann’s call for a “clean and pure Germany”.

In Saxony, foreign immigrants account for only two percent of the population, and only a small fraction of those are Muslim. But the announcement that facilities would be opened for some 2,000 refugees from Syria, was the trigger in this town of 530.000 inhabitants. In the last state legislative elections, a new populist party, the Alternative for Germany, took almost 10 percent of the vote.

A similar irrational fear is gripping many European countries.

Italy, for example, now has two major parties (the Northern League and the Five Star Movement), which together account for around 35 percent of the vote, with xenophobic tones, and another major party, Forza Italia (literally Forward Italy) led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is flirting with an anti-European policy. The three more or less openly advocate withdrawal from the Euro.

At the same time, in 2013, only 514.308 children were born (including those of immigrants), 20.000 less than the year before. Between 2001 and 2011, according to ISTAT, the national statistical institute, the number of families formed by one person increased by 41.3 percent, while those with children fell by five percent. Of those with children, 47.5 percent had one child, 41.9 percent two and only 10.6 percent three or more.

If, as is conventionally held, the demographic replacement rate is 2.1, this means that the Italian population, like everywhere in Europe, is on a steep decline.

Of course, having child today is not an easy choice. To put it simply: in 2009, Italy had a budget of 2.5 billion euro for social interventions and, four years later, only one-third of that; in 2009, Italy’s Family Policies Fund stood at 186.5 million euro and is now less than 21 million. No wonder then that 60 percent of the population lives in fear of becoming poor.

The number of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rose from 1.8 million in 2007 to 2.5 million in 2013. And while Italy’s young people are being humiliated, its senior citizens are being mistreated – 41.3 percent of pensions are less than 1,000 euro per month.

By the way, 83,000 Italians expatriated in 2013, and the number of young people with a university degree that went to the United Kingdom, for example, was just over 3,000 – but in the same year, 44,000 foreigners also left Italy and while Italy received nearly 355,000 immigrants in 2011, two years later the number was just 280,000. And yet the campaign of xenophobia in Italy has it that there is a dramatic increase in immigrants.

This social decline is happening at different speeds and in different proportions all over Europe. In Germany, the core country, 25 percent of the population fall into the so-called “Hartz IV” category – under the Hartz Committee reform of the German labour market introduced by then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – and have to survive on the bare minimum of benefits.

This social decline is being accompanied by an unprecedented increase in social inequality. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, published a study In 2002 on inequality among world citizens, starting from the 19th century, using the Gini index of inequality (where absolute equality = 0). In 1820, the index stood at 50, had risen to 60 in 1910, 64 in 1950, 66 in 1992 and 70 ten years later.

Today the ratio between a minimum wage and a top salary is very simple – the small guy must work 80 years to earn what the big guy earns in a year!

According to a number of sociologists, ‘catching up’ (or the so-called ‘demonstration effect’), is one underlying reason for corruption. It is no accident that the south of Europe has much more corruption than the north (but the Protestant Ethic must also play a role).

In just a few months, the former prime minister of Portugal, José Socrates, has been jailed, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to politics in France to try to escape several accusations and Spaniards are riveted by the revelation of giant webs of corruption that the government is now trying to stymie by changing the judge in charge of the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Romans have awakened to find out that a criminal organisation has been controlling the town council and the administration, and this coming on the heels of a similar discovery in Milan, where individuals who had been already convicted of corruption got back into business and did more of the same in the public works for next year’s Expo.

It is no wonder that, as in every crisis, in a climate fear and uncertainty, there is a need for a scapegoat. The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants.

This all shows that Europe has lost its compass – and there is nothing on the horizon indicating that it can be recovered soon.

Who is going to provide an answer to Europe’s anguish when those in power escape from reality and look for scapegoats? (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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Only Half of Global Banks Have Policy to Respect Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138161 Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice.

Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks.“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” -- Aldo Caliari

The findings, published by BankTrack, an international network of watchdog groups, come three and a half years after the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, specify a range of actions and obligations for all businesses, including the financial sector.

Yet banks have a unique role in underwriting nearly all of the business activity around the globe, even as they are typically shielded from the impacts of those investments.

“Banks covered in this report have been found to finance companies and projects involving forced removals of communities, child labour, military backed land grabs, and abuses of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination,” the report, released last week, states.

“Policies and processes, open to public scrutiny and backed by adequate reporting, are important tools for banks to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen, and that where they do, those whose rights have been impacted have the right to effective remedy … If these policies and procedures are to be meaningful, the finance for such ‘dodgy deals’ must eventually dry up.”

One of the banks studied in the new report, JPMorgan Chase, is one of the leading U.S. financiers of palm oil, through loans and equity investments. While the bank does have a human rights policy, BankTrack’s researchers find this policy applies only to loans, not investments.

“When it comes to reporting on implementation, the bank falls flat, making the policy little more than window-dressing,” Jeff Conant, an international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group that is working on palm-oil financing, told IPS.

“We’ve spoken with JPMorgan Chase about the need to give impacted people an opportunity to file complaints about the human rights impacts of its financing, with the belief that this is a first step towards accountability. Frankly, from the bank’s response, I don’t see them stepping up anytime soon.”

While private finance today facilitates almost the full range of corporate activity, Conant notes, “the finance institutions themselves are wholly unaccountable.”

Sobering results

According to the new study, a few banks appear to be well on their way to conformity with the Guiding Principles. The top-ranked institution, the Dutch Rabobank, received a score of eight out of 12, with Credit Suisse and UBS close behind.

These are the exceptions, however. Against a set of 12 criteria, the average score was only a three.

Many scored at or near zero. While those ranked at the very bottom include several Chinese institutions, they also include banks in the European Union and the United States.

Indeed, Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, scored just 0.5 out of 12, receiving a minor bump for having expressed some commitment to carrying out human rights-related due diligence. (The bank failed to respond to request for comment for this story by deadline.)

“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles,” Aldo Caliari, the director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“The Guiding Principles are the bare minimum of any human rights framework in the corporate sector, a framework that has the companies’ consent. So the fact that there is so little [adherence to] such a relatively weak tool, where every effort to court corporations’ support has been made, is, indeed, very telling.”

Despite the spectrum of findings on implementation, the financial services industry as a whole has taken note of the Guiding Principles.

In 2011, four European banks met to discuss the principles’ potential implications for the sector. Three more banks eventually joined what is now called the Thun Group, and in October 2013 the grouping released an initial paper on the results of these discussions, including recommendations for compliance.

A previously existing set of voluntary guidelines for the banking sector, known as the Equator Principles, were also updated in 2013 to reflect the new existence of the Guiding Principles. So far, the Equator Principles have been signed by 80 financial institutions in 34 countries.

“To date, banks’ efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward,” Ryan Brightwell, the new report’s author, said in a statement.

“BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation.”

Strengthening accountability

The new findings on lagging implementation will strengthen arguments from those who want to tweak or supplant the Guiding Principles. Some suggest, for instance, that the framework be changed to treat financial institutions differently from other sectors.

“[T]he financial sector requires an exceptional treatment when it comes to the application of the Guiding Principles,” the Center of Concern’s Caliari wrote last year in comments for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Financial companies, more than other companies, have the potential, with their change of behaviour, to influence the behaviour of other actors. That means they also should be upheld to a greater level of responsibility when they fail to do so.”

Caliari and others are also part of a movement to move beyond voluntary frameworks such as the Guiding Principles (at least in their current form), and instead to see through the creation of a binding mechanism.

This decades-long effort received a significant boost in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations. (This same session also approved a popular second resolution, aimed instead at strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles process.)

The new data on banks’ relative lack of compliance with the Guiding Principles, Caliari says, is one of the reasons the call for a legally binding treaty “has been gaining ground.”

He continues: “It is increasingly clear that mechanisms that rely on the consent of the companies cannot be the total of available accountability mechanisms. More is needed.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Africa Laments as Kyoto Protocol Hangs in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/africa-laments-as-kyoto-protocol-hangs-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-laments-as-kyoto-protocol-hangs-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/africa-laments-as-kyoto-protocol-hangs-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 23:40:32 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138076 By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

African countries fought hard for the Kyoto Protocol not to die on African soil at the 2011 Climate Change Conference in South Africa, but they say it is now languishing in limbo because developed countries are taking what they called “baby steps” towards ratification of the Doha Amendment that gave it a new lease of life.

The African Group and other least developed country negotiators at the ongoing (Dec. 1-12) U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, say they are concerned about the slow progress towards giving a legal force to the international emission reduction treaty.

Nagmeldin El Hassa, Chair of the Africa Group in Lima – “In our view, the developed countries are reneging, abandoning and weakening the Kyoto Protocol”. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Nagmeldin El Hassa, Chair of the Africa Group in Lima – “In our view, the developed countries are reneging, abandoning and weakening the Kyoto Protocol”. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“We would like to point out that slow ratification of Commitment Period Two of Kyoto by developed countries does not build confidence. In our view, the developed countries are reneging, abandoning and weakening the Kyoto Protocol,” Nagmeldin El Hassan, Chair of the African Group said at the opening of the conference.

He said failure by developed countries to ratify the Doha Amendment was forcing the least developed countries to assume legal commitments while relaxing the legal commitments of the historical greenhouse emitters. “If this is the game that some think we are ready to entertain, we must make it clear that we will not be party to this game,” El Hassan added.

In December 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Protocol was agreed, extending it into a new commitment period running from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2020. The European Union (EU), its 28 Member States and other developed countries have ratified the protocol.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which the Kyoto Protocol is linked, requires ratification by 144 countries before it can enter into force.“The responses of rich developed countries show no sense of urgency – they have presented less climate finance than last year, have not raised their pollution targets and have not even legally ratified the Kyoto Protocol as they promised two years ago” – Mithika Mwenda, Secretary-General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)

By the end of November 2014, only 20 countries had ratified the Doha Amendment establishing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Guyana was the latest to ratify as it prepared to join the negotiations in Lima.

El Hassan told IPS that the ratification process needs to be accelerated and clear accounting rules adopted in Lima so that the amendment enters into force by the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015.

African environment groups and NGOs are also calling on governments to hasten progress on ratification of the much fought for second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.

Mithika Mwenda, Secretary-General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) to which more than 30 Africa-based NGOs belong, told IPS that it was demoralised by the “baby step” speed of the developed countries towards ratification.

“Africans have sent their governments to Lima with urgent and creative demands to face the climate crisis,” said Mwenda. “Yet the responses of rich developed countries show no sense of urgency – they have presented less climate finance than last year, have not raised their pollution targets and have not even legally ratified the Kyoto Protocol as they promised two years ago.”

According to Mwenda, the developed countries are determined to delay their participation in the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period.  “They are letting their national interests trump over the global common good and are opting out of multilateral rules.”

Earlier in the week, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said that both developed and developing country Parties to the Kyoto Protocol needed to save the protocol from languishing in limbo by ratifying it.

“I have said this before and let me say it again. For this international legal framework to enter into force, governments need to complete their ratification process as soon as possible. We need a positive political signal of the ambition of nations to step up crucial climate action,” said Figueres.

The African Group is pushing for ratification of the Doha Amendment because it extends a legal commitment to Annex 1 countries – members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) plus a group of countries whose economies are in transition – to contribute towards a global effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Ram Prasad Lamsal from Nepal, who chairs the LDC Group, told IPS that “ratification is essential for the Kyoto Protocol to continue to serving as a cornerstone of the multilaterally agreed rules-based system under the [Climate Change] Convention and a full reflection of its principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.”

However, while the African countries are pushing their developed country counterparts to ratify the Doha Amendment, just four of them had ratified it by the end of November – South Africa, Sudan, Morocco and Kenya.

A delegate from European Union speaking on condition of anonymity wondered why the African countries – as well as the LDC Group, the G77 and China – were not ratifying the second commitment period as they mount pressure on developed countries.

Paul Isabirye, Uganda’s UNFCCC Focal Point, told IPS that African countries would easily ratify once the developed countries had taken the lead.

“But even if all the African countries ratified, it still cannot enter into force before our colleagues do it. They have the bulk of the emissions to cut. The issue is not that Africa has lagged behind, the big emitters don’t seem to be coming forward,” said Isabirye.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Citizens of the World, Unite!http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/citizens-of-the-world-unite/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=citizens-of-the-world-unite http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/citizens-of-the-world-unite/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 01:25:55 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138009 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury chaired the Forum on Nov. 18, 2014 in New York at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. Credit: Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury chaired the Forum on Nov. 18, 2014 in New York at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. Credit: Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 2014 (IPS)

As politics, economies, conflicts and cultures become increasingly intertwined, will individual identities also begin to transcend national boundaries?

The elusive nature of “global citizenship” was noted by Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona, at an IPS Forum on Global Citizenship last week at the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York."We should come out of our narrow boundaries, not only of ourselves but of our communities." -- Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

“The concept of global citizenship has challenged the minds of humans for a very long time although its exact definition has never really crystallised,” Kohona said.

The idea was famously put forth by Tony Blair during a speech in Chicago in 1999. “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not. We cannot refuse to participate in global markets if we want to prosper. We cannot ignore new political ideas in other countries if we want to innovate,” Blair said.

Ambassador Kohona said that even after the collapse of the empires spawned by the Westphalian system, the growth of powerful individual states has not encouraged the development of a genuinely global system.

Kohona stressed the importance of the United Nations as an institution in which to hold up the principle of global citizenship.

“The establishment of the United Nations has created the forum for humanity to make an effort to address common issues together from a global perspective. It is the most effective forum available to all nation states. The United Nations and its agencies have been successful in generating sympathy for the usefulness of approaching many of today’s challenges together.”

The Forum was chaired by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former representative for Bangladesh and the prime mover of the 1999 General Assembly resolution that adopted the U.N. Declaration and the Programme of Action (PoA) on the Culture of Peace.

“When we speak of global citizenship, certain thoughts come to mind,” he said. “The first thing to understand is spirituality. What are our values, what are our commitments as human beings? The second is the belief in the oneness of humanity. We should come out of our narrow boundaries, not only of ourselves but of our communities.”

Despite challenges, many of the panellists agreed that the promotion of global citizenship is advancing against the headwinds of the purported clash of civilisations, declining resources, and cultural cynicism.

IPS Chair Ambassador Walther Lichem noted that, “Almost to the day 200 years after the initiation of multilateral diplomacy at the Congress of Vienna, we become aware that multilateral diplomacy is increasingly giving way to global governance.”

Lichem noted that global citizenship needs to be seen in the context of a system that espouses norms such as the “responsibility to protect,” a principle that puts the international community above the nation state when it comes to protecting its own citizens.

“Global citizenship is to be understood as a citizenship with human rights as a way of life,” Lichem said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has identified global citizenship as the third priority area in his Global Education First initiative, seeing it as important that students don’t simply learn how to pass exams and get jobs in their own countries, but are instilled with an understanding of the importance of respect and responsibility across cultures, countries and regions.

“Global citizenship is a fight against limbo,” said Erol Avdovic, vice president of the United Nations Correspondents Association. “It is the fight against misconception and against ignoring – or even worse, manipulating – simple facts.”

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, an entity that explores the roots of polarisation between societies and cultures was in attendance at the Forum, with spokesperson for the High Representative Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Nihal Saad noting that education for global citizenship “has the power to shape a sustainable future and better world.

“Educational policies should promote peace, mutual respect and environmental care. It does not suffice for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education should and must bring shared values to life.”

Saad’s sentiments were shared by Monte Joffee, Soka Gakkai International’s USA representative, who said, “Our curriculum needs to include more topics of a global nature so our students can develop empathetic resonance with ‘the other’.

“This does not reach to the core of today’s educational crisis. Speaking only of American education, I must say that the inequalities of educational funding, the levels of despair and hopelessness in too many of our communities… are numbing realities and ‘add-ons’ to the curriculum about global citizenship are not the solution.”

Joffee related the story of Anand Kumar, an Indian mathematician who is well known for his “Super 30” programme in Patna, Bihar. It prepares economically disadvantaged students for the entrance examination for the renowned Indian Institutes of Technology (ITT) engineering schools, with great success.

His programme selects 30 talented candidates from disadvantaged, tutors them, and provides study materials and lodging for a year.

Joffee noted that this story provides a great model for Global Citizenship Education. “Educators must say, ‘I will start right here, with the student right in front of me.'”

Ramu Damodaran from United Nations Department of Public Information Outreach Division also spoke of the importance of academics being given more opportunities to have a voice at the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Decline of Social Europe is Part of a World Trendhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-decline-of-social-europe-is-part-of-a-world-trend/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-decline-of-social-europe-is-part-of-a-world-trend http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-decline-of-social-europe-is-part-of-a-world-trend/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:15:40 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137963

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that social criteria are taking a back seat to financial and economic criteria in the policies of European countries.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

After the Italian sea search-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum at a cost of nine million euros a month, through which the Italian Navy has rescued nearly 100,000 migrants – although perhaps up to 3,000 have died – from the Mediterranean since October 2013, Europe is now presenting its new face in the Mediterranean.

The European Union is launching Joint Operation Triton with a monthly budget of 2.9 million euros and funds secured until the end of the year. Its function is to enforce border controls – not to save “boat people” – and it will patrol just thirty nautical miles from the coast, which pales in comparison with Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation which saw patrols being sent close to the Libyan coast.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Even with this very limited operation, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the United Kingdom will not contribute because operations that save migrants make them more willing to try to cross the Mediterranean. Of course, there is a perverted logic in this: the more migrants that die, the greater will be the discouragement for others to try.

Following this logic through, the ideal situation therefore would be to reach a death rate that would stop illegal immigration once and for all!

In this context, it is worth noting that the U.K. government is considering withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (something that even Russian President Vladimir Putin has never considered). The argument is that nobody can be above U.K. courts.

London is also refusing to pay its share of increased of contributions to the European Union and is considering how to put an annual cap on the number of Europeans who are entitled to work legally in the United Kingdom.“Since 1986, the year of signing of the Single European Act, Europeans have never been able to agree on a minimum social basis, which would have given them rights as workers to act collectively as Europeans in the face of a market which is economically unified, but with no common social legislation”

And finally, the U.K. government received with great uproar the sentence of the European Court of Justice, which placed a European cap on banker bonuses, rejecting Britain’s claims that it was illegal. The British argument was that pay levels (also of discredited bankers) were part of social policy and thus under the authority of member states not of the European Union.

Meanwhile, the same Court has issued another sentence under which E.U. member states are not obliged to support European citizens who do not have economic activities in the E.U. countries to which they have migrated. And the German Parliament is now preparing a law to expel European immigrants who do not find a job within six months.

Of course, this will open the doors to all other countries to reduce the free movement of Europeans in Europe, a cornerstone of the original vision of a solidary Europe. Now Europeans will be obliged to take any job, and therefore the law of market will become the primary criterion for their movements in Europe.

Since 1986, the year of signing of the Single European Act, Europeans have never been able to agree on a minimum social basis, which would have given them rights as workers to act collectively as Europeans in the face of a market which is economically unified, but with no common social legislation.

In fact, the point has now been reached where social criteria are the last to be used to judge whether a country is recovering or not, well after economic and financial criteria.

A devastated Greece is now again being considered in financial markets because its economic indicators are on the up. And, at the last G20 meeting in Brisbane, Spain was touted as the example that austerity policies – those indicated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the example for laggards like Italy and France – are the correct way out of the crisis.

At the same time, a very different source, Caritas, has reported that only 34.3 percent of Spaniards live a normal life, while 40.6 percent are stuck in precariousness, 24.2 percent are already suffering moderate exclusion and 10.9 percent are living in severe exclusion.

To understand the trend, six years ago, 50.2 percent of Spaniards had a normal life. Now, one citizen in four is suffering exclusion, and of those 11 million excluded citizens, 77.1 percent have no job, 61.7 percent no house and 46 percent no health care support.

According to UNICEF’s recent report on children under recession, 76.5 million children in the rich countries live in poverty, and in Spain, 36.3 percent of the country’s children (2.7 million) are living in a state of precariousness.

What is now new is that some major financial institutions have started to draw attention to social issues.

Janet L. Yellen, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has declared that she is concerned about the growing inequality of wealth and income in the United States, and that chances for people to advance economically appear to be diminishing. And Mario Draghi, governor of the European Central Bank, is now constantly mentioning the issues of “unbearable unemployment “and “growing exclusion”.

In the background there is the proven fact that countries which took emergency measures to reduce public borrowing have mostly had weaker growth, like most European countries (with the exception of Germany, helped by a boom in machinery exports to Russia and China), while those which introduced a policy of stimulus, like the United States, Japan and Britain, have done much better, also in reducing unemployment.

But Merkel continues to ignore calls from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other monetary institutions – she is only interested in pleasing her constituency, which is increasingly looking to its immediate interests and losing sight of European perspectives.

In all this, the banks continue to be uninterested in any social perspective. A few days ago, European and U.S. regulators imposed new fines worth 4.5 billion dollars on a number of major banks (we are now approaching the 200 billion dollar mark since the crisis started in 2008) for illegal activities.

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of the largest of them, JP Morgan, declared in an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC that it is important that United States creates a “safe harbour” where JPMorgan’s illegal practice of hiring the relatives of political leaders “is not punished”.

In Dimon’s country, between 2009 and 2010, 93 percent of economic growth ended up in the pockets of one percent of the population, according to Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and the 16,000 families with wealth of at least 111 million dollars have seen their share of national wealth double since 2012 to 11.2 percent.

The last U.S. presidential elections cost 3.4 billion dollars, and most of that came from this small minority. Democracy, where all votes are equal, is increasingly becoming a plutocracy where money elects.

Meeting leaders of social movements on Oct. 26, Pope Francis told them: “They call me a communist [for speaking of] land, work and housing … but love for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel.” Certainly, governments are doing otherwise …

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Laying the Foundations of a World Citizens Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:25:17 +0000 Anthony George http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137958 In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

By Anthony George
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Has organised civil society, bound up in internal bureaucracy, in slow, tired processes and donor accountability, become simply another layer of a global system that perpetuates injustice and inequality?

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

This kind of introspective reflection was at the heart of a process of engagement among CSOs from around the world that gathered in Johannesburg from Nov. 19 to 21 for the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference.

Organised byDEEEP, a project within the European civil society umbrella organisation CONCORD which builds capacity among CSOs and carries out advocacy around global citizenship and global citizenship education, the conference brought together 200 participants.“It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens” – Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform

Key partners were CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is one of the largest and most diverse global civil society networks) and GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

The three-day gathering was part of a larger series of conferences and activities that were arranged to coincide during the 2014 International Civil Society Week organised by CIVICUS, which closed Nov. 24.

Global citizenship is a concept that is gaining currency within the United Nations system, to the delight of people like Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform and a key advocate for global citizenship education.

At the heart of this concept is people’s empowerment, explains Lappalainen. “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens.”

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg.

The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

This new spirit of inquiry and engagement, very much evident in the creative, interactive format of this year’s conference, is encapsulated in an aphorism introduced by thought-leader Bayo Akomolafe from Nigeria: “The time is very urgent – let us slow down”.

Akomolafe’s keynote address explored the need for a shift in process: “We are realising our theories of change need to change,” he said. “We must slow down today because running faster in a dark maze will not help us find our way out.”

“We must slow down today,” he continued, “because if we have to travel far, we must find comfort in each other – in all the glorious ambiguity that being in community brings … We must slow down because that is the only way we will see … the contours of new possibilities urgently seeking to open to us.”

A key opportunity for mutual learning and questioning was provided on the second day by a panel on ‘Challenging World Views’.

Prof Rob O’Donoghue from the Environmental Learning Research Centre at South Africa’s Rhodes University explored the philosophy of ubuntu, Brazilian activist and community organiser Eduardo Rombauer spoke about the principles of horizontal organising, and Hiro Sakurai, representative of the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations in New York, discussed the network’s core philosophy of soka, or value creation.

A female activist from Bhutan who was to join the panel was unable to do so because of difficulties in acquiring a visa – a situation that highlighted a troubling observation made by Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS, about the ways in which the space for CSOs to work is being shrunk around the world.

The absence of women on the panel was noted as problematic. How is it possible to effectively question a global system that is so deeply patriarchal without the voices of women, asked a male participant. This prompted the spontaneous inclusion of a female member of the audience.

In the spirit of embracing not-knowing, the panellists were asked to pose the questions they think we should be asking. How do we understand and access our power? How do we foster people’s engagement and break out of our own particular interests to engage in more systems-based thinking? How can multiple worldviews meet and share a moral compass?

Ubuntu philosophy, explained O’Donoghue, can be defined by the statement: “A person is a person through other people.”

The implications of this perspective for the issues at hand are that answers to the problems affecting people on the margins cannot be pre-defined from the outside, but must be worked out through solidarity and through a process of struggle. You cannot come with answers; you can only come into the company of others and share the problems, so that solutions begin to emerge from the margins.

The core perspective of soka philosophy is that each person has the innate ability to create value – to create a positive change – in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Millions of people, Sakurai pointed out, are proving the validity of this idea in their own contexts. This is the essence of the Soka movement.

His point was echoed the following evening in the address of Graca Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a CIVICUS reception, in which she spoke of the profound challenges confronting civil society as poverty and inequality deepen and global leaders seem increasingly dismissive of the voices of the people.

Then, toward the end of her speech, she softly recalled “my friend Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) in the final years of his life, and his consistent message at that time that things are now in our hands.

What he showed us by his example, she said, is that each person has immense resources of good within them. Our task is to draw these out each day and exercise them in the world, wherever we are and in whatever ways we can.

Those listening to Machel saw Mandela’s message as a sign of encouragement in their efforts to create the World Citizens Movement of tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Civil Society Freedoms Merit Role in Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:45:58 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137944

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, reports that civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development. He calls on civil society around the world to remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.

Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian woman activist, is in prison for protesting against a public assembly law declared by United Nations experts to be in breach of international law.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to support the formation of `gay clubs and institutions’.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In Bangladesh, civil society groups are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their project objectives with a view to discourage documentation of serious human rights abuses.

In Honduras, activists exposing the nexus between big business owners and local officials to circumvent rules operate under serious threat to their lives.

In South Sudan, a draft law is in the making that requires civil society groups to align their work with the government-dictated national development plan.

With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development.

Back in 2010, when the United Nations organised a major summit to take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a number of civil society groups lamented that“too little partnership and too little space” was marring the achievement of MDG targets.“With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development”

They pointed out that, in a large number of countries, legal and practical limitations were preventing civil society groups from being set up, engaging in legitimate undertakings and accessing resources, impeding both the service delivery and watchdog functions of the sector, thereby negatively affecting development activities.

Since then, there has been greater recognition at multilateral levels about the challenges faced by civil society. In 2011, at a high-level forum on aid and development effectiveness, 159 national governments and the European Union resolved to create an “enabling environment” for civil society organisations to maximise their contributions to development.

In 2013, the U.N. Secretary General’s expert High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that a separate goal on good governance and effective institutions should be created. The experts suggested that this goal should include targets to measure freedoms of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information, which are integral to a flourishing civil society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also emphasised the importance of ‘partnership with civil society’ in the post-2015 agenda. Even as restrictions on civil society activities have multiplied around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council has passed resolutions calling for the protection of civic space.

Senior U.N. officials and experts, including the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have spoken out against state-sanctioned reprisals against activists highlighting human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, despite the progress, civic space appears to be shrinking. The State of Civil Society Report 2014 issued by CIVICUS points out that following the upheavals of the Arab Spring, many governments have felt threatened and targeted activists advocating for civil and political freedoms.

In Ethiopia, bloggers and journalists speaking out against restrictions on speech and assembly have been targeted under counter-terrorism legislation for “inciting” disaffection.

Additionally, the near total dominance of free market economic policies has created a tight overlap between the economic and political elite, putting at risk environmental and land rights activists challenging the rise of politically well-connected mining, construction and agricultural firms.

Global Witness has pointed out that there has been a surge in the killing of environmental activists over the last decade.

Notably, abundant political conflicts and cultural clashes are spurring religious fundamentalism and intolerant attitudes towards women’s equality and the rights of sexual minorities, putting progressive civil society groups at serious risk from both physical attacks as well as politically motivated prosecutions.

In Uganda, concerns have been expressed about the promotion of homophobia by right-wing religious groups.

In Pakistan, indiscriminate attacks on women’s rights activists are seriously impairing their work.

Countering these regressive developments will require greater efforts from the international community to entrench notions of civic space in both developmental as well as human rights forums.

A critical mass of leading civil society organisations has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urging him to ensure that the post-2015 agenda focuses on the full spectrum of human rights, with clear targets on civil and political rights that sit alongside economic, social and cultural rights.

It is being argued that explicit inclusion of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which underpin a vibrant and able civil society should be goals in themselves in the new global development agenda.

It is equally vital to make parallel progress on the human rights front. Many governments that restrict civic freedoms are taking cover under the overbroad provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

They argue that the provisions of the ICCPR on freedom of association and assembly, which are short on detail, are open to multiple interpretations on issues such as the right to operate an organisation without formal registration or to spontaneously organise a public demonstration.

The global discourse on civil society rights would be greatly strengthened if the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the expert body of jurists responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, could comprehensively articulate the scope of these freedoms.

This would complement progress made at the U.N. Human Rights Council and support implementation of comprehensive best practice guidelines issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

For now, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against civil society groups fighting for economic, social and political justice. Many powerful governments do not subscribe to democratic values and are fundamentally opposed to the notion of an independent sector. And many democracies have themselves encroached on civic space in the face of perceived security and strategic interests.

Civil society around the world must remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected. We have come too far to let those with vested interests encroach on the space for citizens and civil society to thrive. (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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Down With Sustainable Development! Long Live Convivial Degrowth!http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/down-with-sustainable-development-long-live-convivial-degrowth/#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 12:10:14 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137893 Detail from the cover of ‘Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era’

Detail from the cover of ‘Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era’

By Justin Hyatt
BUDAPEST/BARCELONA, Nov 22 2014 (IPS)

For anyone who recently attended the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth in Leipzig, Germany, listening in on conference talk, surrounded by the ecologically savvy, one quickly noticed that no one was singing the praises of sustainable development.

Nonetheless, development per se and all that this entails did take centre stage, as a crowd of three thousand participants and speakers debated ongoing trends in the fields of environment, politics, economics and social justice.

Given that it may not be immediately clear why a rallying cry anchored to ecological principles would call for the demise of sustainable development – which in generic terms could be described as the environmentalist programme dating back several decades – it seems that a clarification or two would be in order.

As is the case with social movements, they evolve and go through periods of transformation like anything else does. When the term sustainable development came into use in the 1970s and 1980s, it did support the assumption that general environmental principles and minimum ecological limits should be respected when going about the everyday business of development.From the vantage point of economic realism, development is inextricably connected to economic growth. However, degrowthers carry the deeply-held belief that economic growth simply does not deliver what it promises: increased human welfare

The term sustainable development rapidly gained wide-scale acceptance, with the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development just one of the many (inter)governmental or top-down bodies that have set up in the past three decades to include environmental goals in planning and policy.

However, according to Federico Demaria, author and member of Research & Degrowth in Barcelona, the idea of sustainable development is based on a false consensus. Once this term and its underlying situations are properly deconstructed, Demaria tells IPS, “we discover that sustainable development is still all about development. And that is where the problem lies.”

Development is indeed a dirty word in degrowth circles. From the vantage point of economic realism, development is inextricably connected to economic growth. However, degrowthers carry the deeply-held belief that economic growth simply does not deliver what it promises: increased human welfare.

“Thus we find ourselves at a place where we need to readdress the flaws of sustainable development with a fresh perspective,” says Demaria.

It is with the hopes to do just that in a clear and powerful way that Demaria, along with Giorgos Kallis and Giacomo D’Alisa, have produced the new book Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, which has just been released by Routledge.

This volume includes 50 entries that all touch on specific aspects of degrowth and go a long way towards elucidating the distinguishing factors of degrowth, as well as properly defining concepts ranging from conviviality to bioeconomics, societal metabolism and many others.

The historical development of the degrowth movement is also spelled out. Thus we learn that in the 1970s, at the time of the first phase of the degrowth debate, when The Limits to Growth by Dennis and Donella Meadows and others was published, resource limits was the talk of the town. Yet now, in what can be called the second stage, criticism of the hegemonic idea of sustainable development has come to the forefront.

It was Serge Latouche, an economic anthropologist, who defined sustainable development as an oxymoron in A bas le développement durable! Vive la décroissance conviviale!  (‘Down with sustainable development! Long live convivial degrowth!’) at a conference in Paris in 2002, affiliated with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and concerned with the issues of development.

Latouche and others in the French-speaking world began to give shape to the French movement, which called itself décroissance and eventually spread to other countries, entering Italy as decrescita and Spain as decrecimiento. Eventually, by 2010, degrowth emerged as the English-language term, well suited for universal applicability.

For many of the attendees of the degrowth conference in Leipzig, the set of vocabulary of the degrowth movement and even the very name degrowth begged to be dealt with carefully. There were a few proposals to switch to a name carrying positive connotations, instead of defining a movement based on opposition to something – growth in this case.

But Latouche and Demaria both argue that the word degrowth most concisely defines one chief objective of the movement – the abolition of economic growth as a social objective. Referred to as a missile word, it is disturbing for some, exactly because it intends to be provocative; as such, this has borne fruit.

There are certainly positive concepts to highlight in the degrowth movement. These include voluntary simplicity, conviviality and economy of care. Yet none of these terms are broad enough to be inclusive and representative of the breadth of ideas that make up the entirety of degrowth.

Perhaps Francois Schneider, another of the degrowth pioneers, put it best when he defined degrowth as: “equitable downscaling of production and consumption that will reduce societies’ throughput of energy and raw materials.”

The goal in all of this, according to the authors of the new book, is not simply to have a society that can manage with less, but to have different arrangements and a different quality. That is where the idea of societal metabolism (that is, energy and materials within the economy) comes into place, because it explains how a degrowth society will have different activities, rearranged forms or uses of energy, and significantly different allocations of time between paid and non-paid work.

Taking social relations as well as the time-work relationship a step further, the theory of dépense, also described in the new book, comes in handy. Dépense signifies the collective consumption of ‘surplus’ in a society.

Nowadays, surplus time and energy is often re-invested in new production or used in an individualistic manner. This follows the dictum of capitalism whereby there should not be too many wasteful expenses; at the most individuals can employ their own all-too-brief methods to unwind from stressful life in the rat race.

Yet degrowth advocates point to the habits of older civilisations where surplus was dedicated to non-utilitarian purposes, be they festivals or celebrations. Degrowthers prefer to see an application of dépense to community-based uses that place conviviality and happiness-inducing activities above economic factors.

While no one can predict when and how the degrowth transition will take place, Demaria stresses that examples of this transition are already here. “Look no further than the transition town movement in the United Kingdom or Buen Vivir in South America,” says Demaria.

Demaria and others also hope that one specific effect of the Leipzig conference, as well as the brand new volume on degrowth, will be to re-politicise environmentalism. Sustainable development de-politicises real political oppositions and underlying dissonance, contributing to the false imaginary of decoupling: perpetuating development without harming the environment.

“Once we decide that we are not afraid to talk about the full implications of development, be they economic, social or political,” says Demaria, “then we begin to see that it is actually utopian to think that our societies can be based on economic growth for ever. Degrowth, by contrast, really offers the most common sense of all.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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The Future of the Planet and the Irresponsibility of Governmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 08:23:09 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137866

In this column, Roberto Savio – founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News – argues that governments are unwilling to take steps to do something concrete to halt climate change because of their incestuous relations with energy corporations and because they are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Less than a week after everybody celebrated the historical agreement on Nov. 17 between the United States and China on reduction of CO2 emissions, a very cold shower has come from India.

Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal has declared: “India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate change many years in the future. The West will have to recognise we have the needs of the poor”.

This is also a blow to the Asia policy of U.S. President Barack Obama, who came back home from signing the CO2 emissions agreement in Beijing, touting his success on establishing U.S. policy in the region.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

But, more importantly, will give plenty of ammunition to the Republican Congress, which has been fighting climate control on the grounds that the United States cannot engage on climate control unless other major polluters make similar commitments. This was always directed to China, which had refuse to make any such commitment until President Xi, to the surprise of everybody, did so by signing an agreement with Obama.

India is a major polluter, not at the level of China, which has now reached 9,900 metric tons of CO2, against the 6,826 of the United States. But India is coming up fast. “The incestuous relations between energy corporations and governments are out of the public's eye. It is yet further proof that, even when nothing less than survival is at stake for islands and coastlines, agriculture and the poor, governments are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence”

Goyal has promised that India’s use of domestic coal will rise from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is selling licences for coal mining at a great speed. The country has increased its coal-fired plants by 73 percent in just the last five years. In addition, Indian coal is of poor quality, polluting twice as much as coal in the West.

Nevertheless, newly-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that he will embark on a major programme of renewable sources of energy, and there is an apparent paradox in the fact that many of the climate scientists who form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) are from India. Its Director-General is an Indian, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, who is also chief executive of the Energy Resources Institute in New Delhi.

The IPCC’s last report was much more dramatic than previous ones, stating conclusively that climate change is due to the action of man, and providing an extensive review of the damage that the agricultural sector is bound to face, especially in poor countries like India. At least 37 million people would be displaced by rising seas.

Indian towns are by far the most polluted in the world, surpassing several times each year the worst polluted day in China.

But what is more worrying is that governments are reacting too slowly. It would take a very major effort, which is not now on the cards, to keep temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Centigrade, and therefore to start to reduce emissions by 2020. Emissions in 2014 are expected to be the highest ever, at 40 billion tonnes, compared with 32 billion in 2010.

The consensus is that to limit warming of the planet to no more 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels, governments would have to restrict emissions from additional fossil fuel burning to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide.

But, according to the IPCC report, energy companies have booked coal and petroleum reserves equal to several times that amount, and they are spending some 600 billion dollars a year to find more. In other words, governments are directly subsidising the consumption of fossil fuel.

By contrast, less than 400 billion dollars a year are spent to reduce emissions, a figure that is smaller than the revenue of one just one U.S. oil company, ExxonMobil.

The last meeting of the G20 in Brisbane earlier this month gave unexpected attention to climate, but the G20 alone is spending 88 billion dollars a year in subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, which is double that which the top 20 private companies are spending to look for new oil, gas and coal.

The G20 spends 101 billion dollars to support clean energy in a clear attempt to make everybody happy but, according to the International Energy Agency, if G20 governments directed half of their subsidies, or 49 billion dollars a year, to investment for redistributing energy from new sources, we could achieve universal energy access as soon as 2030.

Another good example of the total lack of coherence from Western governments is that they have pledged an amount of 10 billion dollars for a Green Climate Fund, whose task is to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change. That amount is two-thirds of what those countries have been asking for and, since its creation in 1999, the fund has still to become operational.

And it was only after the last G20 meeting that the United States pledged three billion dollars and Japan 1.5 billion, bringing the total so far to 7 billion dollars – one-third is still missing.

And now we have the upcoming Climate Conference in Lima, in December, where opinion is that governments will once again fail to reach a comprehensive agreement on climate change – and the amount of time left for the planet will reduce even further.

Besides the fight to be expected from the Republican Congress in the United States, there will be also be opposition from countries that depend on fossil fuels, such as Russia, Australia, India, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

So, governments show a total lack of consensus and responsibility. If a referendum could be held asking citizens if they would prefer to pay 800 billion dollars less in taxes to avoid subsidising pollution, there are few doubts what the result would be. And there would be same result if they were asked if they would prefer to invest those 800 billion dollars in clean energy or continue to pollute.

But the incestuous relations between energy corporations and governments are out of the public’s eye. It is yet further proof that, even when nothing less than survival is at stake for islands and coastlines, agriculture and the poor, governments are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence. We are direly in need of global governance for this kind of globalisation. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137836

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will New Climate Treaty Be a Thriller, or Shaggy Dog Story?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-new-climate-treaty-be-a-thriller-or-shaggy-dog-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-new-climate-treaty-be-a-thriller-or-shaggy-dog-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-new-climate-treaty-be-a-thriller-or-shaggy-dog-story/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 13:28:17 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137793 The as-yet unfinished exhibit area which forms part of the temporary installations that the host country has built in Lima to hold the COP 20, which runs Dec. 1-12. Credit: COP20 Peru

The as-yet unfinished exhibit area which forms part of the temporary installations that the host country has built in Lima to hold the COP 20, which runs Dec. 1-12. Credit: COP20 Peru

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

This December, 195 nations plus the European Union will meet in Lima for two weeks for the crucial U.N. Conference of the Parties on Climate Change, known as COP 20. The hope in Lima is to produce the first complete draft of a new global climate agreement.
However, this is like writing a book with 195 authors. After five years of negotiations, there is only an outline of the agreement and a couple of ‘chapters’ in rough draft.

The deadline is looming: the new climate agreement to keep climate change to less than two degrees C is to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

“A tremendous amount of work has to be done in Lima,” said Erika Rosenthal, an attorney at Earthjustice, an environmental law organisation and advisor to the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).Climate science is clear that global CO2 emissions must begin to decline before 2020 – otherwise, preventing a 2C temperature rise will be extremely costly and challenging.

“Time is short after Lima and Paris cannot fail,” said Rosenthal. “Paris is the key political moment when the world can decisively move to reap all the benefits of a clean, carbon-free economy.”

Success in Lima will depend in part on Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. As official president of COP 20, Pulgar-Vidal’s determination and energy will be crucial, most observers believe.

Climate change is a major issue in Peru, since Lima and many other parts of the country are dependent on freshwater from the Andes glaciers. Studies show they have lost 30 to 50 percent of their ice in 30 years and many will soon be gone.

Pulgar-Vidal has said he expects Lima to deliver a draft agreement, although it may not include all the chapters. The full draft with all the chapters needs to be completed by May 2015 to have time for final negotiations.

The future climate agreement, which could easily be book-length, will have three main sections or pillars: mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage. The mitigation or emissions reduction pillar is divided into pre-2020 emission reductions and post-2020 sections.

Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, during one of the many events held to promote the COP 20. As chairman of the conference, his negotiating ability and determination will play a decisive role in the progress made by the new draft climate agreement. Credit: COP20 Peru

Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, during one of the many events held to promote the COP 20. As chairman of the conference, his negotiating ability and energy will be crucial to the progress made towards a new draft climate agreement. Credit: COP20 Peru

Both remain contentious, in terms of how much each country should reduce and by when.

Climate science is clear that global CO2 emissions must begin to decline before 2020 – otherwise, preventing a 2C temperature rise will be extremely costly and challenging.

However, emissions in 2014 are expected to be the highest ever at 40 billion tonnes, compared to 32 billion in 2010. This year is also expected to be the warmest on record.

In 2009, at COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries agreed to make pre-2020 emission reductions under the Copenhagen Accord. However, those commitments fall far short of what’s needed and no country has since increased their “ambition”, as it is called.

Some – like Japan, Australia and Canada – have even backed away from their commitments.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a special summit with 125 heads of state on Sep. 24 in hopes countries’ would use the event to announce greater reductions. Instead, developed countries like the U.S. made general promises to do more while hundreds of thousands of people around the world marched to demand their leaders to take action.

The ambition deadlock was evident at the U.N. Bonn Climate Conference in October with developing nations pushing their developed counterparts for greater pre-2020 cuts.

However, the country bloc known as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) proposed a supplementary approach to reducing emissions that involves countries sharing their knowledge, technology and policy mechanisms.

Practical, useful and necessary, this may become a formal part of a new agreement, Rosenthal hopes.

“There were very good discussions around renewable energy and policies to reduce emissions in Bonn,” agrees Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, international policy advisor at CAN-Latin America, a network of NGOs.

“Developed countries need to make new reduction pledges in Lima,” Konstantinidis told TA.

This includes pledges for post-2020 cuts. Europe’s target of at least 40 percent cuts by 2030 is not large enough. Emerging countries like China, Brazil, India and others must also make major cuts since the long-term goal should be a global phase-out of fossil fuel use by 2050 to keep temperatures below 1.5C, he said.

This lower target is what many African and small island countries say is necessary for their long-term survival.

The mitigation pillar still needs agreement on how to measure and verify each country’s emission reductions. It will also need a mechanism to prevent countries from failing to meet their targets, Konstantinidis said.

Ironically, the most advanced mitigation chapter, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), is the most controversial outside of the COP process.

REDD is intended to provide compensation to countries for not exploiting their forests. Companies and countries failing to reduce emissions would pay this compensation.

The Peruvian government wants this finalised in Lima but many civil society and indigenous groups oppose it. Large protest marches against REDD and the idea of putting a price on nature are very likely in Lima, Konstantinidis said.
“Political actors appear totally disconnected from real solutions to tackle global warming,” said Nnimmo Bassey of the No Redd in Africa Network and former head of Friends of the Earth International.

REDD is a “financial conspiracy between rich nations and corporations” happy to trade cash for doing little to reduce their carbon emissions, Bassey said in an interview.

The only way to stop this “false solution” is for a broad alliance of social movements who take to the streets of Lima, he said.

The adaptation pillar is mainly about finance and technology transfer to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. A special Green Climate Fund was set up this year to channel money but is not yet operational.

At COP 15, rich countries said they would provide funding that would reach 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 in exchange for lower emissions reductions. Contributions in 2013 were only 110 million dollars.

Promises made by Germany and Sweden in 2014 amount to nearly two billion dollars, however, payments will be made over a number of years. It is also not clear how much will be new money rather than previously allocated foreign assistance funding.

“Countries need to make new financial commitments in Lima. This includes emerging economies like China and Brazil,” said Konstantinidis.

Loss and damage is the third pillar. It was only agreed to in the dying hours of COP 19 last year in Warsaw, Poland. This pillar is intended to help poor countries cope with current and future economic and non-economic losses resulting from the impacts of climate change.

This pillar is the least developed and will not be completed until after the Paris deadline.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Obstacles to Development Arising from the International Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-obstacles-to-development-arising-from-the-international-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-obstacles-to-development-arising-from-the-international-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-obstacles-to-development-arising-from-the-international-system/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 09:16:18 +0000 Manuel F. Montes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137705

In this column, Manuel F. Montes, senior advisor on Finance and Development at the South Centre in Geneva, argues that the limited number of successfully developing countries since the 1950s has provoked a debate over whether the success of these countries required their success in eluding international obstacles to development. The question, he says, is to evaluate features of the international system on the basis of how these features are conducive to enabling long-term investment toward economic diversification. This column is based on a more extensive Research Paper* prepared by the author for the South Centre.

By Manuel F. Montes
GENEVA, Nov 12 2014 (IPS)

As the international community wades into the political discussions regarding the alternatives to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015 and the design of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as mandated by the Rio+20 conference, it is timely to consider the question of whether development is a matter mostly of individual effort on the part of nation-states or whether there are elements in the international economic system that could serve as significant obstacles to national development efforts.

If there are obstacles in the international economic system, it is important that the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs address the question of the elimination or the reduction of these obstacles.

Manuel F. Montes

Manuel F. Montes

The limited number of successfully developing countries since the 1950s has provoked a debate over whether the success of these countries required their success in eluding international obstacles to development.

The question is to evaluate features of the international system on the basis of how these features are conducive to enabling long-term investment toward economic diversification.

Terminologies of previous development orthodoxies litter the development literature – import substitution, industrialisation, basic needs, structural adjustment, Washington Consensus and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Each of these orthodoxies tended to be a reaction to perceived weaknesses or missing elements from the immediately previous one. The most recent orthodoxy, as exemplified by the MDGs, is that development is about poverty eradication.

But poverty eradication is an overly narrow, possibly misleading, perspective on development.“Poverty eradication is a desired outcome of development but its achievement is permanent only with the movement of a significant proportion of the population from traditional, subsistence jobs to productive, modern employment”

Poverty eradication is a desired outcome of development but its achievement is permanent only with the movement of a significant proportion of the population from traditional, subsistence jobs to productive, modern employment.

The association of development with poverty reduction created for the donor community the pride of place in economic policy in developing countries.

But this place can be at the cost of reducing the responsibility of donor countries in helping to maintain an enabling international environment for development in trade, finance, human resource development and technology.

In the MDGs, these issues are crammed into “MDG-8”, the so-called global partnership for development, with a very selective and poorly defined set of targets.

Development requires not just higher levels of income, nutrition, education, and health outcomes but in the first place involves higher levels of productivity and capabilities.

Higher levels of productivity and capabilities are possible only with structural transformation of the economy.

In turn, in most societies, according to a report by the Secretary-General of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), such a structural transformation has been “associated with a shift of the population from rural to urban areas and a constant reallocation of labour within the urban economy to higher-productivity activities.”

Structural transformation is only possible with substantial and sustained investment over decades in new activities and products, not just in anti-poverty programmes.

Where the international economic system is hostile to investment in new, productivity enhancing economic activities is where its elements create obstacles to development.

One example of an externally based obstacle is aid volatility which has been shown to have highly negative impacts on macroeconomic performance and domestic investment.

Capital and technological investments are required to overcome the enormous productivity gap between developing and developed countries which characterises the world economy.

In 2008, a ratio of the average Gross National Income (GNI) per worker in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) versus those in the least developed countries (LDCs) was 22:1 in favour of the OECD countries.

This imbalance has worsened by a factor of five in comparison to the earliest days of capitalist development. In the nineteenth century, taking the Netherlands and the United Kingdom as the richest countries and Finland and Japan as the poorest, the productivity gap was only between 2 to 1 and 4 to 1.

The international economic system is lacking crucial mechanisms for delivering long-term, stable resources required by developing countries to upgrade their capabilities.

Dependence on commodity exports sustains the productivity gap between developed and developing countries.

Abundant global liquidity and growing trade imbalances fuelled a commodity boom in the 2000s which benefited many developing countries, including many LDCs.

All previous global liquidity booms had ended with serious economic crises in developing countries. The more recent commodity price boom did not introduce an enduring improvement in macroeconomic balances, especially for low-income countries (LICs).

While in the 2000s LDCs experienced the strongest growth rates since 1970s, according to UNCTAD, more than one-quarter of LDCs actually saw GDP per capita decline or grow slowly in the 2002-2007 global boom.

Even the middle income region of Latin America presents evidence of insignificant structural improvement in fiscal and current account balances.

Previous commodity boom periods had similarly not been an occasion for structural change in LDCs. UNCTAD suggests that between the 1970s and 1997, manufacturing as a proportion of GDP increased by less than two percentage points in LDCs as a group, a period which saw various episodes of commodity and global liquidity booms.

When considering LDCs from Africa alone and including Haiti, manufacturing fell from 11 to 8 percent during the same period.

Developing countries had extensively liberalised their trade regimes in the 1980s. In the aftermath, UNCTAD finds that some LDCs have more open trade regimes than other developing countries, and others are more open than even developed countries.

These policies had been intended to facilitate economic diversification. Instead of the expected outcome, greater trade liberalisation has been accompanied by greater concentration in the structure of exports.

The international economic system labours under the constraint that the highest decision-making bodies in key institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), do not provide sufficient voting weight and policy influence to countries most affected by their operations.

One effort under way but under enormous political obstruction is to update voting weights in line with the changed economic structure. Even the G20, where important developing countries sit, has been unable to advance progress. (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. 

*  Click here for the Research Paper on which this column is based.

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Fishing for Peace in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-for-peace-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:21:38 +0000 John Feffer and Michal Witkowski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137695 The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

By John Feffer and Michal Witkowski
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

Environmental problems, by their nature, don’t respect borders. Air and sea pollution often affect countries that had nothing to do with their production. Many extreme weather events, like typhoons, strike more than one country. Climate change affects everyone.

These environmental problems can aggravate existing conflicts among countries. But they can also bring countries together in joint efforts to find solutions. A case in point is the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in Korea.

The NLL is the oft-disputed border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the peninsula. Although the two countries agreed to a territorial boundary at the 38th parallel following the Korean War armistice, they have never agreed on the maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea, which threads between a number of islands and through rich fishing grounds.

Over the years, North and South Korea have exchanged artillery fire across the NLL, and naval vessels as well as fishing boats have clashed in the area on a number of occasions.

Various environmental challenges have only sharpened the conflict. But with a new imperative to address these environmental problems, the NLL can offer the two Koreas an opportunity to chart a new relationship for the 21st century.

Anatomy of a Dispute

North Korea maintains six naval squadrons on the [Northern Limit Line]. The North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels. The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority.
The NLL region has been a zone of contention between North and South Korea for more than six decades. It has been the site of several clashes between the Koreas.

Among the most notable are the naval confrontations of 1999 and 2002, the 2009 gunboat incident near Daecheong Island, the 2010 artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship.

This maritime border is heavily militarised. North Korea maintains six naval squadrons there. According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels—around 60 percent of which are stationed around the coastal borders.

Due to the decline of the North Korean economy, the fleet mostly consists of smaller vessels used for covert operations and for escorting fishing boats around the NLL.

The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority. It’s further reinforced by the presence of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in nearby Yokosuka, Japan.

South Korean troops, along with their American counterparts, carry out annual drills in the region, which always raise tensions along the disputed maritime border.

North Korea does not recognise the present border arrangement. Furthermore, the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) regime set by the U.N. – which grants states special resource exploration rights in a sea zone stretching 200 miles from their land borders – cannot be applied in a close-quarter situation such as the NLL.

The fishing zones that lie within the NLL are the source of fierce contention between both South and North Korea.

One of the major arguments that North Korea has made around the disputed NLL is that South Korea has access to the majority of fisheries within the current boundaries, while the North occupies far less territory than it potentially could.

When the NLL was being drawn up, the international standard for territorial water limits was three nautical miles; by the 1970s, however, 12 nautical miles became the norm. The North’s argument is that the current setting prevents it from accessing neighbouring sea areas, which, in Pyongyang’s view, should belong to the North.

Such a border set-up fails to acknowledge that small islands, such as Yeonpyeong Island, are not equivalent to continental masses in terms of generating maritime boundaries.

Environmental issues

Overfishing and other destructive fishing practices that have continued for decades have had perhaps the greatest impact on the NLL’s environmental situation. Such activities have caused habitat destruction and biomass change in the Yellow Sea.

For instance, due to overfishing between the 1960s and the 1980s, the number of invertebrates and fish dropped by over 40 percent. With the decrease in fish populations, more effort is required to maintain the desired catch capacity, and many commercially significant species have been severely depleted. As a result, the species composition and the relative proportions of the fish found in the region have been altered.

One country alone cannot ensure the region’s sustainability. The trans-boundary nature of these issues requires a cooperative approach.

The nature of the Yellow Sea – and in particular the seabed on which the NLL is located – limits water circulation, increasing the amount of harmful sediments and aggravating the quality of the water. This has decreased the sea’s ability to “cleanse itself,” making the area around the NLL even more vulnerable to pollution and the harmful effects of human activities on land.

Habitat depletion can greatly affect local communities as well as cause problems for the fishing industry. Development projects on the South Korean side have been a major factor in this process.

More than 30 percent of marshland fields have been lost in South Korea between 1975 and 2005 due to dam construction, embankment, and dikes. Rice paddy fields have been lost as a result of reclamation and the lowering of water tables in nearby lakes.

An ever-increasing market demand for seafood boosts the profitability of short-term-oriented fishing activities. Insufficient pollution prevention only aggravates the situation.

Possible Solutions

As a result of the tense security situation and the unresolved border – along with the lack of a peace treaty between the Koreas to formally end the Korean War – any sort of consensus on the matter of the NLL in the context of inter-Korean relations is difficult to achieve.

One proposed solution is the establishment of a joint fishing zone between the two countries. This zone would boost the North’s fishing industry and could serve as a start to a trust-building process between the neighbours.

Such a process would be based on increased economic cooperation in the NLL region that could lead to further improvements in relations and make future collaboration more likely.

The “Sunshine Policy,” a period of North-South engagement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was an attempt at establishing such cooperation. In the negotiations regarding the NLL during that period, North Korea demanded changes in the border situation that had to be met before it could agree to participate in the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

The South reportedly agreed to this condition. However, the summit failed to bring any real closure to the matter: concrete decisions were left to be discussed in the future.

The overall framework dating back to the Sunshine Policy’s prime is still in place. For instance, the Kaesong Industrial Park – a joint North-South venture on the northern side of the DMZ – is still operational. Ties between the Koreas could be further enhanced by cooperation around the NLL region.

Some ideas have already been put forward and were initially agreed upon by both sides. In 2000, for example, the two countries came to an agreement along the maritime boundary on the east side of the peninsula where South Korean boats shared the profits from their squid fishing in Northern waters.

Also in 2000, the two sides agreed to create a special peace and cooperation zone around the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Another proposal was to combine a joint fishing zone with a common industrial complex in Haeju, a port city on the Northern side. Finally, the Koreas agreed to establish a “peace sea” from the island of Yeonpyeong right to the estuary of the Han River.

No military presence would be allowed in this area. With the South’s withdrawal from the Sunshine Policy framework under the right-wing President Lee Myung-Bak, however, the joint projects were put on hold.

A resuscitation of such joint projects could potentially move cooperation beyond the issue of the NLL to other areas of both business and policy-making. Two major obstacles would need to be overcome in order for such a solution to work.

First, an independent body to monitor the area would need to be appointed to prevent breaches of the agreement and to ensure that both parties follow environmental rules. This mechanism would have to recognise the specificity of the issues surrounding the NLL and formulate policies accordingly.

Second, the two sides would have to agree on a peaceful dispute resolution mechanism.

A universal solution that can resolve the NLL issue does not exist. A carefully devised policy that takes into account the political and economic tensions between the two Koreas may be the answer.

Importantly, the NLL would have to be gradually demilitarised to reduce the probability of any unwanted conflict that could destabilise the area. However, there is minimal possibility that the two countries will agree to reduce their military positions given that the two countries signed the armistice nearly six decades ago but never agreed on a peace treaty.

Thus, for such a solution to become possible, economic cooperation must come first.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Filipinos Take to the Streets One Year After Typhoon Haiyanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipinos-take-to-the-streets-one-year-after-typhoon-haiyan/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 11:53:07 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137683 One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

One year after Typhoon Haiyan, more than four million people still remain homeless. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/Pio Arce/Genesis Photos-World Vision/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

People covered their bodies with mud to protest against government ineptitude and abandonment; others lighted paper lanterns and candles and released white doves and balloons to remember the dead, offer thanks and pray for more strength to move on; while many trooped to a vast grave site with white crosses to lay flowers for those who died, and to cry one more time.

These were the scenes this past Saturday, Nov. 8, in Tacloban City in central Philippines, known as ground zero of Typhoon Haiyan.

One year after the storm flattened the city with 250-kph winds and seven-metre high storm surges that caused unimaginable damage to the city centre and its outlying areas and killed more than 6,500 people, hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Nov. 8 marked the first anniversary of Haiyan, known among Filipinos as Yolanda, the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history.

Thousands of stories, mostly about loss, hopelessness, loneliness, hunger, disease, and deeper poverty flooded media portals in the Philippines. There were also abundant stories of heroism and demonstrations of extraordinary strength.

Understanding the scope of the disaster

"We have felt a year's worth of the government's vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year's worth of news and studies that confirm this situation." -- Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors
There may be some signs that suggest a semblance of revival in Tacloban City, located about 580 km southeast of Manila, but it has yet to fully come back to life – that process could take six to eight years, possibly more, according to members of the international donor community.

Still, the anniversary was marked by praise for the Philippines’ “fast first-step recovery” from a disaster of this magnitude, compared with the experience of other disaster-hit places such as Aceh in Indonesia after the 2004 Asian tsunami that devastated several countries along the Indian Ocean.

In its assessment of the relief and reconstruction effort, released prior to the anniversary, the Philippines-based multilateral Asian Development Bank (ADB) said that while “reconstruction efforts continue to be a struggle”, a lot has been done.

“The ADB has been in the Philippines for 50 years, and we can say that other countries would not have responded this strongly to such a huge crisis,” ADB Vice President for East Asia and Southeast Asia Stephen Groff told a press conference last week.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder echoed his words, adding, “The ability of the country to bounce back was faster than we’ve ever seen in other humanitarian disasters.”

Experts say that Filipinos’ ‘bayanihan’ – a sense of neighbourhood and communal unity – helped strengthen the daunting rehabilitation process.

“Yolanda was the largest and most powerful typhoon ever to hit land and it impacted a huge area, including some of the poorest regions in the Philippines. It is important that we look at the scale and scope of this disaster one year after Yolanda,” Groff stressed.

He said the typhoon affected 16 million people, or 3.4 million families, and damaged more than one million homes, 33 million coconut trees, 600,000 hectares of agricultural land, 248 transmission towers and over 1,200 public structures such as provincial, municipal and village halls and public markets.

Also damaged were 305 km of farm-to-market roads, 20,000 classrooms and over 400 health facilities such as hospitals and rural health stations.

In total, the storm affected more than 14.5 million people in 171 cities and municipalities in 44 provinces across nine regions. To date, more than four million people still remain homeless.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has faced criticism from affected residents, who used Saturday’s memorial to blast the government for its ineptitude in the recovery process.

Efleda Bautista, one of the leaders of People Surge, a group of typhoon survivors, told journalists, “We have felt a year’s worth of the government’s vicious abandonment, corruption, deceit, and repression, and have seen a year’s worth of news and studies that confirm this situation.”

Protesters burned a nine-foot effigy of the president on the day of the anniversary.

Early morning on Nov. 8 more than 5,000 people holding balloons, lanterns, and candles walked around Tacloban City in an act of mourning and remembrance.

The Roman Catholic Church declared the anniversary date as a national day of prayer as church bells pealed and sirens wailed at the start of a mass at the grave-site where nearly 3,000 people are buried.

Hundreds of fishermen staged protests to demand that the government provide new homes, jobs, and livelihoods, accusing government officials of diverting aid and reconstruction funds.

Filipino netizens recalled that they cried nonstop while helplessly watching on their television and computer screens how Tacloban City was battered by the storm.

They posted and shared photos of Filipinos who were hailed as heroes because they volunteered to meet and drive survivors to their relatives in Manila and other places as they alighted from military rescue planes.

“Before” and “after” pictures of the area also made the rounds on the Web.

‘Billions’ in international assistance

President Aquino in a visit to nearby affected Samar island before the storm anniversary said, “I would hope we can move even faster and I will push everybody to move even faster, but the sad reality is the scope of work we need to do can really not be done overnight. I want to do it correctly so that benefits are permanent.”

The Philippine government estimates the need for a 170-billion-peso (3.8-billion-dollar) master-plan to rebuild the affected communities, including the construction of a four-metre-high dike along the 27-km coastline to prevent further damage in case of another disaster.

Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban City, told journalists two million people are still living in tents and only 1,422 households have been relocated to permanent shelters. As many as 205,500 survivors are still in need of permanent houses.

The recovery process was successful in erecting new electricity posts a few months after the storm, while black swaths of mud have now been replaced by greenery, with crops quickly replanted, and rice fields thriving once more.

Government, private, and international aid workers also restored sanitation and hygiene programmes in the aftermath of the storm.

The ADB announced it was trying to determine whether or not to provide a further 150 million dollars worth of official assistance to Yolanda survivors on top of the 900 million dollars already pledged in grants and concessions at the start of reconstruction efforts.

The United States’ Agency for International Development (USAID) is expected to provide a 10-million-dollar technical assistance plan to develop 18,400 projects across the country. These will cover other hard-hit areas outside of Tacloban City, such as Guian in Eastern Samar, which will also receive 10 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for rehabilitation programmes.

The Canadian government also offered 3.75 million Canadian dollars to restore livelihoods and access to water to the affected provinces of Leyte and Iloilo.

The Philippine government assured that the billions donated, offered and pledged by the international community would be safely accounted for, monitored, guarded and reported on with transparency.

Panfilo Lacson, a senator who was designated in charge of the rehabilitation programme, said that already he has confirmed reports that some bunkhouses in Tacloban and Eastern Samar were built with substandard materials and that someone had colluded with contractors for the use of substandard materials to generate kickbacks.

“That’s when I realised we have to monitor the funds,” he said.

He asked Filipinos to share information that they know about irregularities on the management and administration of the billions of pesos from the national coffers and donor organisations for rebuilding communities.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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