Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 May 2017 13:06:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 At the UN Oceans Forum in June, Will the US Play a Bit Part?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/at-the-un-oceans-forum-in-june-will-the-us-play-a-bit-part/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-the-un-oceans-forum-in-june-will-the-us-play-a-bit-part http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/at-the-un-oceans-forum-in-june-will-the-us-play-a-bit-part/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 18:54:11 +0000 Lori Silberman Brauner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150466 Oceans contribute substantially to US wealth, but it’s unclear how much the government will participate in the UN’s first oceans conference. Lucena, Philippines, above. JOE PENNEY

Oceans contribute substantially to US wealth, but it’s unclear how much the government will participate in the UN’s first oceans conference. Lucena, Philippines, above. JOE PENNEY

By Lori Silberman Brauner
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 2017 (IPS)

In just a few weeks, the United Nations is convening a world gathering to discuss the health of the world’s oceans and seas, with member states, government and nongovernmental organizations, corporations and members of the scientific community and academia signed up to take part.

Yet while representatives from America’s private sector and academic community — even the state of California — will be participating, so far it is not clear what role, if any, the United States government, the UN’s most important member, will take in the conference.

To be held June 5 to 9 at UN headquarters in New York City, the main objective of the conference is to support the implementation of sustainable development goal No. 14, which calls to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

The predecessor to the SDGs, as they are called, did not reference the ocean or seas in a single goal. The conference agenda is wide ranging, with panel discussions on financing the “blue economy” for small island developing nations to “women and girls in science for ocean.”

“If the cycle of decline that accumulated human activity has brought upon the ocean is not reversed, the implications for us all cannot be good,” said UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson in a newsletter from the conference’s co-chairs, Sweden and Fiji. (Thomson is Fijian.) “Anyone who cares about the health of the ocean can and should get involved.”

While the US has agreed to participate in the conference — showing up, at a minimum — a State Department press officer said that planning for the meeting, which is the first to focus on a single development goal, was “ongoing.” The office added that it had nothing else to offer at this time.

Another State Department official, who also asked not to be named, told PassBlue that the US was finalizing its delegation, including who would serve as the delegation’s head, and that “we intend to be actively engaged in the June Conference.”

Press officers at the US mission to the UN, which is still in a period of transition since Trump took office, did not respond to emails for comment.

Low-ranking US mission employees have been attending negotiations on the conference’s summary statement, or “call for action.” Moreover, the State Department maintains a Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; its acting assistant secretary is Judith Garber.

While the conference will attract governments and other major representatives from across the world — as every nation has a connection to the ocean — a UN organizer said that the hope was that a powerful country or individual would initiate actions to get the world to pay closer attention to SDG 14 and the state of the oceans, which cover 75 percent of the planet.

That could mean the US, the person said. After all, Trump owns many resorts located on oceanfront property, deriving profit from such views, access and cooling effects. Mar-a-Lago, his private home and private golf club in Palm Beach, Fla., is minutes from the Atlantic.

“Oceans contributed more than 3 million jobs and $300 billion to the U.S. GDP,” Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice president for U.S. Oceans and Global Fishing Watch at Oceana, an advocacy group, noted. “Much of that depends on ocean health, which in turn depends on international action. That’s why the U.S. simply can’t afford not to lead on ocean protection, so we hope to see a continuation of U.S. leadership at the UN Oceans Conference.”

The conference comes on the heels of the Arctic Council ministerial-level meeting held earlier this month in Fairbanks, Alaska, offering a window as to how the US may approach the UN event. The Council, comprised of eight Arctic nations that include the US, completed its two-year chairmanship at the gathering.

The ministers issued a final statement, the Fairbanks Declaration 2017, reaffirming the Council’s commitment to maintaining peace, stability and constructive cooperation, among other crucial aspects to the future of the Arctic Circle.

Climate change was on the Fairbanks agenda. “Noting with concern that the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average,” the declaration also recognized “the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and its implementation, and reiterating the need for global action to reduce both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the conference as chairman of the Council and signed the declaration, despite the Trump administration’s wavering over whether to remain a party to the Paris Agreement. (Garber of the Oceans bureau in the State Department also attended.)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the meeting of the Arctic Council as chairman, May 11, 2017.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended the meeting of the Arctic Council as chairman, May 11, 2017.

The Council meeting also follows an executive order issued by Trump directing a review of offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, reversing Obama’s Arctic leasing ban. (A question by this reporter to Garber’s office about the order was directed to the White House.)

Negotiators on the Oceans Conference call for action are also wrestling with references to the Paris Agreement. The latest version of the document said it recognized “the particular importance of the Paris Agreement,” but discussions continue from May 22 to 25 at the UN, so that language could be dropped or changed.

Many environmental challenges hurt the ocean, as a background note for the conference said: “Marine pollution and litter, 80 percent of which come from land-based sources, compromise ocean health.”

A quarter of all carbon dioxide released through human activity is absorbed by the oceans and raises the seawaters’ acidity, and nearly one-third of all fish stocks are below sustainable levels, up from 10 percent in 1974. The note also stated that the deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems and habitats has a more severe and immediate impact on vulnerable groups, such as small island developing states like Fiji.

The conference will feature plenary meetings, partnership “dialogues” in which less-developed nations will chair events with richer countries, and a commemoration of World Oceans Day on June 8.

In February, when negotiations began on the call for action and the partnership-dialogue themes, the US participated in both segments.

“The United States views the Conference as an opportunity to focus on tangible areas for cooperation, without developing a new or amended UN ocean agenda,” its official meeting statement read.

It added, more critically, “While we remain flexible on the content of the Call for Action at this time, we would not want to see inclusion in the document of the creation of new bodies or high-level positions, language that would pre-judge the outcomes of any ongoing negotiations, nor do we believe the Call for Action should call for additional, follow-on conferences for SDG 14 considering the overlap and synergies among the various SDGs.”

A key focus of the conference is the presenting of voluntary commitments by governments, companies and others pledging action on conservation. With 189 commitments so far, these pledges represent governments that include France, Spain, Nigeria, Indonesia, Belgium, Grenada, Fiji, Palau and Sweden.

California, with its long Pacific Ocean border, has seven commitments registered, such as a plan to preserve its coastal ecosystems and prepare for rising sea levels.

University involvements include Arizona State’s Biogeography, Conservation and Modeling Laboratory, which researches fishery policies; and Northeastern University, which has created a Coastal Sustainability Institute to respond to environmental threats facing marine habitats.

In the private sector, Envision Plastics, from North Carolina, has announced a goal of removing up to 10 million pounds of plastic that could pollute the oceans over the next two years. Dell has committed to processing plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coasts to incorporate in new packaging of its computers.

The following countries will be paired for the partnership dialogues, emphasizing the rich state-developed state theme: Australia-Kenya, Iceland-Peru, Canada-Senegal, Estonia-Grenada, Italy-Palau, Monaco-Mozambique and Norway-Indonesia.

The US, notably, is not among them.

An annual Our Oceans global conference — not focused on SDG 14 — has been held for the last three years at different locations; this year, it is to be hosted in Malta in October.

Our Oceans is meant to enlist specific steps by nations to protect and mitigate climate effects on the world’s vast waters. Last year, the forum convened in Washington, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, an ocean lover cultivated through a family-owned island off Massachusetts, called Naushon, and a house on Nantucket (recently sold for a move by Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, to Martha’s Vineyard).

“We have to keep the momentum going so that we can come together and protect our ocean,” Kerry said at the conference. “Why? Because our ocean is absolutely essential for life itself — not just the food, but the oxygen and weather cycles of the planet all depend on the ocean.”

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Agony of Mother Earth (I) The Unstoppable Destruction of Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/agony-of-mother-earth-i-the-unstoppable-destruction-of-forests/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 13:13:36 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150456 This is the first of a two-part series on how humankind has been systematically destroying world’s forests—the real lungs of Mother Earth. Part II will deal with forest depletion for wood-fuel.]]> The Selm Muir Forest of West Lothian, Scotland. Credit: UN Photo/Robert Clamp

The Selm Muir Forest of West Lothian, Scotland. Credit: UN Photo/Robert Clamp

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 18 2017 (IPS)

The world’s forests are being degraded and lost at a staggering rate of 3.3 million hectares per year. While their steady destruction in many Asian countries continues apace, deforestation of the world’s largest tropical forest – the Amazon – increased 29 per cent from last year’s numbers. And some of the most precious ecosystems in Africa are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation.

These are some of the facts that have been repeatedly heralded by the scientific community and the world’s most authoritative voices, who remind us that globally, 1.3 billion people are estimated to be “forest peoples”, who depend almost entirely on them for their livelihoods.

Asia

Patrick Durst, the senior Forestry officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on May 15 added to this figure that 28 per cent of the total income of households living in or near forests come from forest and environmental income.

According to FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment in 2015, forests continue to be lost in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka. Moreover, the degradation of forest quality further decreases the forests’ capacity to provide goods and services necessary for human survival. These losses will be more acutely felt as the demand for forest products steadily rises in the future.

While most countries in the Asia-Pacific region continue to struggle to respond to forest loss, some are taking positive action, says the assessment, adding that through reforestation programmes, China and Viet Nam are actually increasing the amount of forested land. And the government of Sri Lanka has announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover by as much as 35 per cent.

Latin America

Meanwhile, “the world’s ancient forests are in crisis–a staggering 80 per cent have already been destroyed or degraded and much of what remains is under threat from illegal and destructive logging.”

Believe it or not, these estimates are anything but new or even recent—they were advanced around 9 years ago by a major independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace.

In fact, Greenpeace had already on 30 January 2008 reported that illegal logging was having a devastating impact on the world’s forests.

Its effects include deforestation, the loss of biodiversity and fuelling climate change, the group noted, adding that this creates “social conflict with indigenous and local populations and leads to violence, crime and human rights abuses.”

According to Greenpeace, it is estimated that some 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood and 60 million indigenous peoples depend on forests for their subsistence.

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Sustainably managed forests hold vast potential to play a decisive role in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change. Credit: FAO/Simon Maina

Amazon Deforestation Now

Barely six months ago, the very same global campaigning organisation reported that Amazon deforestation had increased 29 per cent from the numbers released for last year, according to data released by the Brazilian government on 31 November 2016.

“Brazil is losing control over the destruction of its forests because of poor policy decisions and may now have difficulty reaching its climate agreement targets, “ Greenpeace said on Dec. 1, 2016.

Data from the Deforestation Monitoring Program for the Legal Amazon indicated that 7989 km² of forest in the Amazon was destroyed between August 2015 and July 2016, the conservationist organisation reported.

“This is the second consecutive year deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest has increased, a direct result of the government’s lack of ambition in dealing with the challenge of curbing forest loss. It is the first time in 12 years there have been increases in deforestation two years in a row.”

Cristiane Mazzetti, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner, warned that the increase in deforestation rates can be linked to signals from Brazil’s government that it will tolerate the destruction of the Amazon.

“In recent years, public environmental protection policies in Brazil have weakened. For example, very few protected areas and Indigenous Lands have been created, and a new Forest Code was approved in 2012 that gives amnesty to those who committed illegal deforestation.”

According to Greenpeace, deforestation is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of Brazil’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“With forest loss on the rise again, the country could find it difficult to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, recently signed and ratified by Brazil… It is estimated that the deforestation of 7989km² has released the equivalent of 586 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere—the same amount as eight years of emissions from all of the cars in Brazil.”

The illegal harvesting of timber, expansion of agribusiness and the conversion of forests into pasture are a few of the major drivers of deforestation, Mazzetti explained, adding that building large infrastructure projects, like hydroelectric plants, also stimulates land grabbing and speculation, leading to even more deforestation.

Africa

For his part, Kofi Annan, former UN secretary general and current chair of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), recently warned against the destruction of forests, which provide clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods.

“Each day more forests are cleared, driven by multiple activities, from agriculture to infrastructure development, to the growing demand for wood and forest products, often made worse by illegal logging,” he said.

In his keynote address at the ‘Forests for the Future – New Forests for Africa’ conference in Accra, Ghana on 16 March, Kofi Annan said, “some of the world’s most precious ecosystems, such as the Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin, are threatened by oil, gas and mineral exploration and exploitation”.

Forests offer incredible impetus to the fight against climate change. “Forest restoration and reforestation in Africa can contribute to the global effort to tackle climate change and accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Annan, adding that “forest restoration of 350 million hectares could generate 170 billion dollars per year in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products”.

In its 2014 report, Grain, Fish, Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions, the Africa Progress Panel argued that effective protection, management and mobilisation of Africa’s vast forest resources are needed to support transformative growth.

The Panel estimated that Africa lost 12.4 billion Euros (17 billion dollars) to illegal exports of timber in 2011.

Part II and last of this series on the Agony of Mother Earth focuses on forests depletion for fuel.

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Defence of Right to Water Drives Call for Land Reform in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/defence-of-right-to-water-drives-call-for-land-reform-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=defence-of-right-to-water-drives-call-for-land-reform-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/defence-of-right-to-water-drives-call-for-land-reform-in-chile/#comments Thu, 18 May 2017 03:04:10 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150447 Small-scale farmers from Samo Alto, in northern Chile, are forced to share the scarce water of the Hurtado River with large agro-exporters, who benefit from a dam built downstream. In this country, water is a private good, granted in perpetuity to the concessionaires. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Small-scale farmers from Samo Alto, in northern Chile, are forced to share the scarce water of the Hurtado River with large agro-exporters, who benefit from a dam built downstream. In this country, water is a private good, granted in perpetuity to the concessionaires. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 18 2017 (IPS)

Water at high prices, sold as a market good, and small farmers almost a species in extinction, replaced by seasonal workers, are the visible effects of the crisis in rural Chile, 50 years after a land reform which postulated that “the land is for those who work it.”

To tackle the crisis, environmental and social activists are proposing a new land reform to reclaim water as a public good, at a time when a persistent drought is affecting much of Chile, making it necessary to use tanker trucks to distribute water in some low-income neighbourhoods in cities around the country.

Last year the number of villages, small towns and neighbourhoods that were left without water and were supplied by tanker trucks also doubled in relation to 2015, said water department director Carlos Estévez.

“In Chile, water has become a capital good, left to the discretion of speculators and separated from the land, while international jurisprudence indicates that it should be available for the preservation of life and food production, and only after that, for other economic activities,” expert and activist Rodrigo Mundaca told IPS.“The green revolution is a model that does not preserve natural assets. Our export model is associated with monoculture and we need to promote a new development paradigm based on a harmonious relationship with nature.” -- Rodrigo Mundaca

Mundaca, the secretary-general of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and the Protection of the Environment (Modatima), said that “a second land reform is key to recovering water,” after the one carried out in the 1970s.
“The green revolution is a model that does not preserve natural assets. Our export model is associated with monoculture and we need to promote a new development paradigm based on a harmonious relationship with nature,” he said.

This South American country is a major producer and exporter of food products, thanks to the production of major companies and consortiums that own the land and water.

The mining industry still accounts for half of Chile’s exports, which amounted to over 60 billion dollars in 2016. But this is also one of the 10 top countries in the world in food exports, ranking first for several products. The food industry represents a total of 20 billion dollars in exports.

Meanwhile, the current regulation of the right to water in Chile, after it was privatised in 1981 during the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, is threatening small-scale family farmers, who are fighting for at least partial restoration of public control.

The 1980 constitution states that water is a private good. The use of hydric resources, according to the laws of the market, is regulated by the Water Code, which gives the state the power to grant usage rights to companies free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water usage rights to be bought, sold or leased without taking into consideration priorities of use. In Chile, there are 110,000 water-use rights contracts in force under the Water Code.

The government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet introduced a proposed amendment to the Code in Congress, although its final approval will take several months.

The amendment would make water usage rights temporary rather than perpetual. But it would only apply to future concessions, and would not be retroactive, which has drawn criticism from environmentalists and social activists in rural areas.

Fifty years after the land reform launched by the Christian Democrat government of Eduardo Frei (1964-1970) and expanded by socialist president Salvador Allende (1970-1973), support for a second land reform plan that would make water a social good once again is growing.

A group of young people who attended the release this month in Santiago of the study “The grandchildren of the land reform: employment, reality and dreams of rural youth in Chile,” by FAO consultant Sergio Faiguenbaum, who found that young people in rural areas in the country have three times as much formal schooling as their parents. Credit: INDAP

A group of young people who attended the release this month in Santiago of the study “The grandchildren of the land reform: employment, reality and dreams of rural youth in Chile,” by FAO consultant Sergio Faiguenbaum, who found that young people in rural areas in the country have three times as much formal schooling as their parents. Credit: INDAP

Between the cities of Petorca and Antofagasta, in arid northern Chile, 200 and 1,340 km from the country’s capital Santiago, respectively, the prices for a year’s water rights for a liter of water per second – the amount needed to irrigate one hectare of vineyard – range from 7,670 dollars to 76,700 dollars, said Mundaca, referring to cases that make the reform necessary.

The rest of Latin America

Luiz Beduschi, a Territorial Development Policies officer at the Santiago-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that “historically, Latin America has been one of the regions with the highest levels of inequality in the distribution and use of natural resources.”

“This phenomenon has among its causes an increasing concentration in the value chains, the establishment and growth of companies that exploit resources at an industrial scale, backed by public policy approaches that foster an increase in the participation of these countries in export markets,” he said.

Beduschi stressed that “the expansion of investment in the region through sowing pools (speculative investment funds), annual leases or purchases of large extensions of land, among others, has contributed to a higher concentration of land than before the land reforms that were carried out in several countries in the region.”

“Conflicts over access to natural resources have been on the rise around the world and the situation is no different in this region,” said the FAO expert.

“The historical processes of agricultural reform, strongly promoted in different countries in the region, which in the case of Mexico was carried out 100 years ago, and 50 years ago in Chile, allow us today to once again discuss the widespread question of inequality, which arises from the global concentration of the ownership and use of natural resources, historically reflected in land ownership,” he said.

Impacts of the model to be reformed

Agronomist Jacques Chonchol, minister of agriculture during Allende’s government and a promoter of the land reform process, told IPS that the new reform made sense because the counter-reform carried out by the dictatorship “practically privatized water, an increasingly scarce resource.”

“We have very little arable land: less than ten per cent of Chile’s 757 million square kilometres, and part of that is being lost” to the phenomenon of the selling off of parcels of land in rural areas as second properties of city dwellers, he warned.

Chonchol also expressed the need for “a forestry policy that excludes agricultural lands. That was prohibited, but during the dictatorship, it began to happen again. Forestry plantations should be banned on farmland, and these companies should plant native trees, since pines and eucalyptus absorb a lot of water.”

He believes that the counter-reform “gave rise to a new capitalist agriculture, much more efficient from an economic point of view, although not always in social terms,” in a model that “perpetuates inequality”, which the democratic governments have maintained.

On the social level, historian José Bengoa told IPS that until the land reform, there were three kinds of farmers in Chile: “small landholders grouped in towns and villages; tenant farmers and their families, on the big estates; and ‘outsiders’ who wandered between the towns and estates.”

“That structure changed dramatically and today a great majority are non-permanent agricultural workers, who live in towns and cities near agricultural areas,” Bengoa said.

“There is a small sector of small-scale farmers, who could be called peasants, who are the majority in some regions and sectors, and then there is an increasing proportion of seasonal workers,” he said.

For Bengoa, “Chilean agriculture is nowadays, due to the land reform carried out 50 years ago, a highly capitalist and productive sector.”

“This activity, without any controls, leads to an unprecedented level of exploitation of human resources, workers and natural resources, such as water. In the next few years there will be serious problems, both in terms of the need for manpower and of the need for resources such as water and land, as well as environmental problems,” he predicted.

According to Bengoa, these problems cannot be easily solved, because “the agricultural sector will pressure the state to increase the flow of migrant workers, and for more infrastructure works, in particular in water reserves.”

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Climate Change Has Changed the Geography of Honduras’ Caribbean Coasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/climate-change-has-changed-the-geography-of-honduras-caribbean-coast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-has-changed-the-geography-of-honduras-caribbean-coast http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/climate-change-has-changed-the-geography-of-honduras-caribbean-coast/#comments Mon, 15 May 2017 23:07:27 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150427 The sea is encroaching fast in the coastal area of Balfate, along Honduras’ Caribbean Coast, where natural barriers are disappearing and the sea is advancing many metres inland. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The sea is encroaching fast in the coastal area of Balfate, along Honduras’ Caribbean Coast, where natural barriers are disappearing and the sea is advancing many metres inland. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

By Thelma Mejía
BALFATE, Honduras, May 15 2017 (IPS)

In Balfate, a rural municipality that includes fishing villages and small farms along Honduras’ Caribbean coast, the effects of climate change are already felt on its famous scenery and beaches. The sea is relentlessly approaching the houses, while the ecosystem is deteriorating.

“What was it like before? There used to be a coconut palm plantation before the beach, and a forest with howler monkeys. Today there are no palm trees and the howler monkeys have left,” environmental activist Hugo Galeano, who has been working in the area for over three decades, told IPS.

“Where the beach is now, which used to be 200 metres inland, there used to be a thick palm tree plantation and a beautiful forest. Today the geography has changed, the sea has swallowed up much of the vegetation and is getting closer and closer to the houses. The effects of climate change are palpable,” he said.

Galeano coordinates the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Honduras, and is one of the top experts on climate change in the country. He also promotes climate change mitigation and reforestation projects, as well as community integration with environmentally friendly practices, in low-income areas.

In the near future, this majestic tree will no longer be part of the scenery and a natural barrier protecting one of the beaches in Balfate, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

In the near future, this majestic tree will no longer be part of the scenery and a natural barrier protecting one of the beaches in Balfate, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The municipality of Balfate, with an area of 332 square kilometres and a population of about 14,000, is one of the localities in the Caribbean department of Colón that makes up the coastal corridor where the impact of climate change has most altered the local residents’ way of life.

Other communities in vulnerable corridor are Río Coco, Lucinda, Río Esteban and Santa Fe. In these places, the sea, according to local residents, “is advancing and the trees are falling, because they can’t resist the force of the water, since the natural protective barriers have disappeared.”

This is how Julián Jiménez, a 58-year-old fisherman, described to IPS the situation in Río Coco. He said his community used to be 350 metres from the sea, but now “the houses are at the edge of the beach.”

Río Coco, a village in the municipality of Balfate is increasingly near the sea. Located in the central part of the Caribbean coast of this Central American country, it is a strategic hub for transportation by sea to islands and other remote areas.

To get to Balfate you have to travel along a partly unpaved road for nearly eight hours from Tegucigalpa, even though the distance is only around 300 km. To reach Río Coco takes another hour, through areas where the drug trafficking mafias have a lot of power.

Jiménez has no doubts that “what we are experiencing is due to climate change, global warming and the melting of glaciers, since it affects the sea, and that is what we tell the community. For the past decade we have been raising awareness, but there is still much to be done.”

The geography of Balfate, a land of famous landscapes in Honduras’ Caribbean region, has changed drastically from three decades ago, due to encroachment by the sea, according to local residents. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

The geography of Balfate, a land of famous landscapes in Honduras’ Caribbean region, has changed drastically from three decades ago, due to encroachment by the sea, according to local residents. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

“We are also guilty, because instead of protecting we destroy. Today we have problems with water and even with the fish catches. With some kinds of fish, like the common snook, there are hardly any left, and we also are having trouble finding shrimp,” he said.

“It is hard for people to understand, but everything is connected. This is irreversible,” said Jiménez, who is the coordinator of the association of water administration boards in the coastal areas of Balfate and the neighbouring municipality of Santa Fe.

Not only Colón is facing problems along the coast, but also the four departments – of the country’s 18 – with coasts on the Caribbean, the country’s eastern border.

In the northern department of Cortés, the areas of Omoa, Barra del Motagua and Cuyamelito, which make up the basin of the Motagua River, near the border with Guatemala, are experiencing similar phenomena.

In these areas on the gulf of Honduras, fishers have also reported a substantial decline inT fish catches and yields, José Eduardo Peralta, from the Coastal Sea Project of the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines, told IPS.

“The sea here has encroached more on the beach, and on productive land, than in other coastal areas. With regard to fishing, there are problems with the capture of lobster and jellyfish; the latter has not been caught for over a year and a half, save for one capture reported a month ago in the area of Mosquitia,“ in the Caribbean, he said in his office in Tegucigalpa.

This tree on one of the beaches in Balfate could fall in a matter of six months, due to the force of the waves which works against its roots, as part of the encroachment of the sea. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

This tree on one of the beaches in Balfate could fall in a matter of six months, due to the force of the waves which works against its roots, as part of the encroachment of the sea. Credit: Courtesy of Hugo Galeano to IPS

Peralta said the government is concerned about the effects of climate change, because they could reach dramatic levels in a few years.

The sea, he said, is rising and “swallowing up land, and we are also losing biodiversity due to the change in water temperatures and the acidification of the water.”

In line with Jiménez, Peralta said that “the sea currents are rapidly shifting, and the current should not shift overnight, the changes should take between 24 and 36 hours, but it’s not like that anymore. This is called climate change.”

Honduras is considered by international bodies as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate impacts, as it is on the route of the hurricanes and due to the internal pressures that affect the wetlands, such as deforestation and large-scale African oil palm plantations, which have a direct effect on water scarcity.

Ecologist Galeano said official figures show that in wetland areas, there are approximately two hectares of African oil palms per one of mangroves. He said it was important to pay attention to this phenomenon, because the unchecked spread of the plantations will sooner or later have an impact on the local ecosystems.

On Mar. 9, Environment Minister José Antonio Galdames launched the Climate Agenda, which outlines a National Plan for Climate Change Adaptation for the country, whose implementation recently began to be mapped out.

Among the measures to be carried out under the plan, Galdames underscored in his conversation with IPS a project of integral management of the Motagua River basin, which will include reforestation, management of agroforestry systems and diversification of livelihoods at the productive systems level.

Hurricane Mitch, which caused incalculable economic losses and left over 5,000 people dead and 8,000 missing in 1998, tragically revealed Honduras’ vulnerability. Two decades later, the climate impact is felt particularly in the Caribbean coastal area, which was already hit particularly hard by the catastrophe.

According to the United Nations, 66.5 percent of households in this country of 8.4 million people are poor.

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World Lags on Clean Energy Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-lags-on-clean-energy-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-lags-on-clean-energy-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-lags-on-clean-energy-goals/#comments Sun, 14 May 2017 23:51:12 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150409 At the current pace in 2030 there will still be one person in ten without electricity. Credit: Bigstock

At the current pace in 2030 there will still be one person in ten without electricity. Credit: Bigstock

By Stephen Leahy
VIENNA, May 14 2017 (IPS)

It may be the 21st century but more than three billion people still use fire for cooking and heating. Of those, one billion people have no access to electricity despite a global effort launched at the 2011 Vienna Energy Forum to bring electricity to everyone on the planet.

“We are not on track to meet our goal of universal access by 2030, which is also the Sustainable Development Goal for energy,” said Rachel Kyte, CEO for Sustainable Energy for All and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General.“Indoor air pollution has a bigger health impact than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.” --Vivien Foster

“We must all go further, faster—together,” Kyte told more than 1500 delegates and government ministers at the 2017 version of the biannual Vienna Energy Forum this week, organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Kyte reminded everyone that the 2015 Sustainable Development Goal for energy (SDG 7) was a unanimous promise to bring decarbonized, decentralized energy to everyone and that this would transform the world bringing “clean air, new jobs, warm schools, clean buses, pumped water and better yields of nutritious food”.

Moreover, to prevent catastrophic climate change the world committed to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 under the 2015 Paris Agreement, she said. “Why are we not moving more quickly?”

At the current pace in 2030 there will still be one person in ten without electricity, according to the Global Tracking Framework 2017 report. Most of those people will be in Africa.

In Chad, Niger, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo only one person in ten currently has access and this is falling as populations increase, said Elisa Portale , an energy economist at the World Bank who presented the report’s findings.

Although renewable energy like solar and wind gets a great deal of press and attention, the world is failing to meet the SDG target of decarbonizing 36 percent the global energy system and will only get to 21 percent by 2030. Currently it is about 18 percent since renewables include hydropower and biomass. A few countries managed to increase their renewable share by 1 percent per year but some others like Canada and Brazil are actually going backwards, she said.

Decarbonizing electricity is going much faster than decarbonizing energy for heating and for transportation, which is seen to be more challenging.

Improvements in energy efficiency are also far behind. Investment in energy efficiency needs to increase by a factor of 3 to 6 from the current 250 billion dollars a year in order to reach the 2030 objective, the report concluded.

The biggest failure the Global Tracking Framework revealed was that the current number of people still using traditional, solid fuels to cook increased slightly since 2011 to 3.04 billion. Those fuels are responsible for deadly levels of indoor air pollution that shorten the lives of tens of millions and kill four million, mainly children, every year according to the World Health Organization.

This seems to be a low priority and by 2030 only 72 percent of the world will be using clean cooking fuels, said Portale. In other words, 2.5 billion people – mostly in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa – will still be burning wood, charcoal or dung to cook their foods.

Clean cooking is not a priority for most governments although Indonesia is doing quite well, said Vivien Foster, Global Lead for Energy Economics, Markets & Institutions, The World Bank. “Indoor air pollution has a bigger health impact than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined,” Foster told IPS.

One reason clean cooking is a low priority is that men are largely the decisions makers in governments and at the household level and they often are not involved in cooking. Environmental health issues generally get far less attention from governments she said. “Sadly, it’s often mobile phones before toilets,” Foster said.

However, the situation in India is dramatically different.

Green energy – decarbonized, decentralized energy — is no longer expensive or difficult. It is also the most suitable form of energy for developing nations because both access and benefits can come very quickly, said Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of Energy.

Access to clean liquid propane gas (LPG) for cooking has increased 33 percent in the last three years, which is about 190 million homes. In the last year alone 20 million of the poorest of the poor received LPG for free, Goyal told IPS.

Although millions have no connection to electricity, Goyal said it was his personal belief this will no longer be the case by 2019, three years before India’s 2022 target.

“Prime Minister Modi is completely committed to universal access,” he said. “He grew up poor. He knows what it is like to not have electrical power.”

India is adding 160 gigawatt (GW) of wind and solar by 2022 and it may beat that target too as the cost of solar and wind are well below coal, the country’s main source of energy. The US currently has just over 100 (GW) in total. One GW can power 100 million LED lightbulbs used in homes.

On the energy efficiency front, India is also closing in on a target of replacing all of its lighting with LEDs, saving tens of millions in energy costs and reducing CO2 emissions by as much as 80 million tonnes annually.

“We are doing this even if no one else is. We have a big role to play in the fight against climate change,” Goyal said.

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The Very Survival of Africa’s Indigenous Peoples ‘Seriously Threatened’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-very-survival-of-africas-indigenous-peoples-seriously-threatened/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-very-survival-of-africas-indigenous-peoples-seriously-threatened http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-very-survival-of-africas-indigenous-peoples-seriously-threatened/#comments Wed, 03 May 2017 06:19:25 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150257 The Indigenous World 2017. Credit: IWGIA

The Indigenous World 2017. Credit: IWGIA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 3 2017 (IPS)

The cultures and very survival of indigenous peoples in Africa are seriously threatened. They are ignored, neglected and fall victims of land grabbing and land dispossession caused by extractive industries, agribusiness and other forms of business operations.

These are some of the key findings of a major report “The Indigenous World 2017,” on the state of indigenous peoples worldwide, issued on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The report, launched on 25 April by the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGI) during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting (24 April—5 May), emphasises that in spite of progress, there are still major challenges facing indigenous peoples in Africa.

Africa is home to an estimated 50 million indigenous peoples, that’s around 13 per cent of the total of 370 million indigenous peoples worldwide. They live in all regions of Africa, with large concentrations in North Africa where the Amazigh people live. In West Africa, there are large pastoralist populations in countries like Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon etc.

There are also large concentrations of indigenous peoples in East Africa with big pastoralist populations in countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Hunter-gatherers are found in many countries in central and Southern Africa, though they are smaller in numbers than the pastoralist groups.

In several African states, explains IWGIA, “indigenous peoples are yet to be recognised as such.” Arguments of all Africans being indigenous or that the concept “indigenous peoples” is divisive and unconstitutional are persistently expressed in political statements and continue to shape policies of a number of African countries.

Large-scale dispossessions of indigenous peoples’ lands remain a significant challenge in several African states, says the report, adding that the global drive for raw materials, agro-business and building major infrastructure projects are pushing indigenous peoples to their last boundaries.

A recent African Commission’s report on extractive industries and indigenous peoples reveals the negative impact several mining, agro business and logging projects are having on indigenous peoples’ land rights and access to natural resources, according to IWGIA.

In several cases, tensions with indigenous peoples have led to open conflicts, including loss of lives. In this regard, the African Commission has sent urgent appeals to a number of African governments on serious human rights violations affecting indigenous peoples.

Forced Evictions, Human Eights Violations

Marianne Wiben Jensen

Marianne Wiben Jensen

Marianne Wiben Jensen, IWGIA’ senior advisor on Africa and Land Rights, told IPS that Africa’s indigenous peoples are victims of land grabbing and other forms of land dispossession caused by extractive industries, agribusiness and other business operations.

“This leads to forced evictions and other forms of serious human rights violations,“ she said, adding that indigenous peoples in Africa are “marginalised economically and politically and are only to a very limited extent participating in decision-making processes.”

“So they have very limited possibilities of voicing their perspectives and priorities and influencing their own futures,” Wiben Jensen warned, explaining that they typically live in marginalised and remote areas with very limited and bad social infrastructure.

The issue of extractive industries is once again a recurrent and overarching theme in the Indigenous world. Numerous examples show that both states and industries are repeatedly ignoring the key principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Mega infrastructure projects, investments in extractive industries and large-scale agriculture are increasingly posing a threat to the everyday life of indigenous peoples and their ability to maintain their land, livelihood and culture.

At the same time, Wiben Jensen added, indigenous peoples in Africa have proven to be very resilient, and despite the many problems they face and the lack of support they receive from their governments, they are still there and manage to survive in often very harsh environments based on their unique indigenous knowledge of the nature and the natural resources.

“All this is happening amidst an alarming rate of violence and discrimination of indigenous peoples and human rights defenders around the world.”

In the Ngorongoro district of Tanzania, indigenous women are getting organised. They don’t want to be kept out of decision-making processes - they want to be heard and respected. Credit: IWGIA

In the Ngorongoro district of Tanzania, indigenous women are getting organised. They don’t want to be kept out of decision-making processes – they want to be heard and respected. Credit: IWGIA

Violence against Indigenous Women, Girls

Wiben Jensen also warned that violence against indigenous women and girls continues to feature several indigenous communities in Africa, including harmful cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early or forced marriage and inaccessibility of good standards on reproductive rights.

Overall, one could put African states into three categories as far as the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights is concerned.

First, some African states that have fully endorsed the concept “indigenous peoples in Africa” and have moved on to adopt legal or policy frameworks aimed at addressing the concerned communities’ particular human rights situation. “These states are still small in number but their potential impact is immense.”

Second, some African states recognise and are willing to redress the historical injustices and marginalisation suffered by certain sections of their national populations that self-identify as indigenous peoples, “but remain uncomfortable with the term “indigenous peoples” and therefore prefer using alternative concepts in their laws or policies.”

Third, there are African states that continue to contest the existence of indigenous peoples in the continent or the relevance of the concept in Africa. There are numerous reasons for this denial, including a misunderstanding of what the concept “indigenous peoples in Africa” means.

The Forgotten Peoples, Reported

The Indigenous World 2017 is IWGIA’s 30th report on the status of indigenous peoples and comes in a special edition on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

It provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide and a comprehensive overview of the main global trends and developments affecting indigenous peoples during 2016. It contains 59 detailed country reports and 12 articles on defining global processes in a total of 651 pages.

It also highlights that despite some encouraging national achievements, the country reports in this year’s edition continue to illustrate the great pressures facing indigenous communities at the local level.

Over 70 experts, indigenous activists and scholars have contributed to the Indigenous World 2017, which has been published with support from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Danida, Denmark’s development cooperation.

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Long Way to Go for Indigenous Rights Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/long-way-to-go-for-indigenous-rights-protection/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 09:11:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150139 Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tadodaho Sid Hill (shown on screens), Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

Despite progress, many gaps remain in international indigenous rights protection, said representatives during an annual UN meeting.

More than 1000 indigenous representatives from around the world have gathered at the UN for the 16th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). This year’s meeting focuses on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which was adopted 10 years ago by the General Assembly.

“On the day of the adoption of the declaration, there was a major change in the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples,” said this year’s UNFPII Chairperson Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine during the opening ceremony.

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Mali). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Ermineskin Cree Nation Chief Willie Littlechild echoed similar comments, stating that indigenous communities had no voice in the international arena until the 1980s when discussions first began on creating a special instrument to protect indigenous peoples worldwide.

Alongside the Declaration, the UN now has four mechanisms focused on indigenous communities, including UNPFII and a Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

“Coming from no voice to four mechanisms at the UN, I think that is a significant accomplishment,” Littlechild stated.

The 2030 Agenda for Development, adopted in 2015 by the international community, also directly involves and references indigenous issues unlike its predecessor the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, many challenges remain in implementing and enforcing UNDRIP.

Littlechild expressed concern to IPS over the lack of implementation mechanisms in Canada, stating: “[Justin Trudeau] was the first Prime Minister to even look at the UN declaration…but the task is now in the follow-up.”

After formally adopting UNDRIP in 2016, many have said that Prime Minister Trudeau has violated the document by approving several controversial pipelines without full consent from indigenous communities whose lands would be impacted. One such pipeline is the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline which received support from 40 out of 139 First Nations living along the planned route.

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Article 19 of UNDRIP highlights the importance of such consent, stating: “States are required to consult and cooperate with indigenous peoples in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.”

The right to lands, territories, and resources is also among the most important provisions of the Declaration.

Both Aboubakrine and Littlechild highlighted the importance of inclusive discussions and decision-making at the international and state levels to ensure the protection of indigenous rights.

“Some of the traditional knowledge of elders is critical to making sure there’s safe development if that is what is agreed to or to protect the environment,” Littlechild told IPS.

Aboubakrine stressed the need for UN agencies to communicate and coordinate in order to effectively and meaningfully enforce UNDRIP.

“It’s moving along, but I’m just concerned we are not moving along with it,” Littlechild concluded.

Indigenous communities around the world face disproportionately high rates of poverty, poor health, and discrimination. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), indigenous people constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but make up approximately 15 percent of the world’s poorest.

The 16th Session of UNFPII aims to address challenges and highlight progress in indigenous rights at the UN headquarters from 24 April to 5 May.

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Indigenous Peoples – Best Allies or Worst Enemies?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/indigenous-peoples-best-allies-or-worst-enemies/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 07:23:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150134 Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

It all happened on the very same day—4 April. That day, indigenous peoples were simultaneously characterised as fundamental allies in the world’s war on hunger and poverty, while being declared as collective victims of a “tsunami” of imprisonments in Australia. See what happened.

Australia must reduce the “astounding” rates of imprisonment for indigenous peoples and step up the fight against racism, on 4 April warned Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.“Traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management” – Graziano da Silva

“It is alarming that, while the country has adopted numerous policies to address the socio-economic disadvantage of Aboriginal peoples and those from the Torres Strait Islands, it has failed to respect their rights to self-determination and to full and effective participation in society,” she added at the end of an official visit to Australia.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the Australian government policies have failed to deliver on targets in the areas of “health, education and employment and have led to a growing number of people being jailed, and have resulted in an increasing number of children being removed from their homes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

Astounding Figures

“High rates of incarceration were described to me as a “tsunami” affecting indigenous peoples. It is a major human rights concern. The figures are simply astounding. While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up only 3 per cent of the total population, they constitute 27 per cent of the prison population, and much more in some prisons,” she stressed.

“I visited Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville, Queensland, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children constitute 95 per cent of the children detained. Many have been going from out-of-home care into detention,” Tauli-Corpuz said, adding that aboriginal children are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in contact with the child protection system or to be subject to abuse or neglect.

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

Indigenous women from Panama design action plans to ensure food security. Credit: FAO

“… I urge Australia to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Children should be detained only as a last resort… These children are essentially being punished for being poor and in most cases, prison will only aggravate the cycle of violence, poverty and crime. I found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of my visit.”

The UN expert expressed criticism of the government programme known as the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which was initiated in 2014 and involved a large budget cut in funding for support programmes. “The implementation of the strategy has been bureaucratic, rigid and has wasted considerable resources on administration.”

Tauli-Corpuz called on the government to forge a new relationship with the national representative body for indigenous peoples, the National Congress of Australia’s First People, and restore their funding.

She also expressed concern that the government would not meet targets to close the gap in areas such as “life expectancy, infant mortality, education and employment,” and called for a comprehensive approach including specific targets for the “reduction of detention rates, child removal and violence against women.”

Fundamental Allies

That very same day–4 April, the head of the United Nations body specialised in the areas of food and agriculture, was welcoming in Rome a group of indigenous youth representatives from the indigenous peoples’ seven socio-cultural regions of the world.

In his address to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus meeting in the Italian capital (5-7 April), Graziano da Silva, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that indigenous peoples are “fundamental allies” in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty “because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.”

Credit: FAO

Credit: FAO

In a world in which climate change brings new challenges and uncertainties, we cannot eliminate hunger without the participation of youth, said da Silva, noting that “they must participate in these issues that will affect their children and their children’s children. Let’s work together and do it right now.”

The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity for countries, indigenous organisations and the United Nations to work together to make an impact starting now through to 2030, he added, while reminding that since the creation of its Indigenous Peoples team in 2014, FAO is strengthening its work with indigenous organisations based on a double approach:

“On the one hand, we consider indigenous peoples as fundamental allies in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty because of their wealth of ancestral knowledge and good practices.

“On the other hand, “we are aware that the lack of recognition of their rights in the management of natural resources and the marginalization they suffer places them in a vulnerable position. I speak above all of your ancestral rights to land tenure.”

Traditional Indigenous Knowledge

Da Silva referred to the indigenous food systems, noting that traditional indigenous knowledge and the diversity of their food systems can provide solutions for healthy diets, and many areas such as nutrition, climate change or ecosystem management.

Working with indigenous women’s leadership schools, he added, has enabled fellow indigenous women to gain access to training on rights, food security and other areas of interest such as the use of local seeds, voluntary guidelines on land tenure, guides on artisanal fisheries, etc.

The Rome meeting of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus coincided with the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

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How Feminists Have Catapulted Women to National Leadership Roleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:51:10 +0000 Torild Skard http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150119 Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

By Torild Skard
NEW YORK, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Hillary Clinton did not make it to the top, but Theresa May, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, did. Since Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female prime minister, in Sri Lanka in 1960, one-hundred women have been heads of state or government around the world.

How did they get to power and did they make a difference? And how much did feminist activists influence the promotion of female leaders? Plenty and decisively.

The nations of the world reaffirmed faith in the equal rights of women and men when the United Nations was created in 1945, though all the existing states were male dominated and 97 percent of the representatives at the San Francisco conference were men.

My analysis of the conference shows that women from Latin America, headed by Bertha Lutz from Brazil, lobbied successfully for women’s rights, despite opposition from, among others, the sole US female representative, Virginia Gildersleeve, the dean of Barnard College.

Since then, the UN and member states have repeatedly demanded women’s equal participation in power structures, but progress has been slow. When it comes to everyday realities, men in power often seek to maintain their prerogatives, and the higher the position they hold, the greater the resistance to including women.

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

In 2017, only 23 percent of members of Parliament are women; 18 percent of government ministers are women; and 5 percent of national leaders are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

When I studied the life course of 73 female presidents and prime ministers in 53 countries from 1960 to 2010, in my book, “Women of Politics,” it was evident that national leadership for women was no simple matter.

In all regions, except North Africa and the Middle East, women rose to power but not often, and it happened in about twice as many industrialized nations as in developing countries. To succeed, most of the female top leaders had extraordinary qualifications, including extensive education and professional careers.

In addition, the political systems provided opportunities. The great majority of women rose to power in established or emerging democracies. But if a certain democracy was necessary for women’s political participation, that was not enough.

Worldwide, political institutions were male dominated and women were neither mobilized nor welcomed if there was no pressure from feminist movements to do so. Many women who climbed to power benefited from activists requiring more women in leading positions.

In practice, women used three paths to become national leaders. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi of India, Isabel Perón of Argentina and others in Asia and Latin America took over the political position of a deceased father or husband.

A few, such as Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot of Haiti, came in as outsiders relative to their personal background. But most of the women rose in the ranks of the political parties, gaining a degree of conditional support from male colleagues.

The political parties are crucial actors in democratic systems, representing a link between people and power. But often they represent an obstacle and do not provide support for women. Studies of parties are, unfortunately, rare. It is notable that globally, women hold only 10 percent of leadership positions in political parties.

Top female leaders are usually surrounded by men. At the same time, female politicians are often expected to promote the interests of women. Whatever they do, female leaders are criticized. So what did they do?

I studied to what extent female leaders followed up the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which has 189 states parties, of which the United States is a signatory but has not ratified it. Here is what I learned:

• Some women, albeit a few, conformed to male-dominated politics and neglected or weakened women’s positions. Such examples were Tansu Ciller of Turkey, Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of Britain.
• About half of the women played a compromising role, trying to look after the interests of both men and women. These included, among others, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Cristina Fernández Kirchner of Argentina, Mary McAleese of Ireland and Merkel and Gandhi.
• Finally, about a third of the women openly opposed male policies and promoted women-friendly measures, such as recruiting women to high positions, ensuring their reproductive rights and establishing special institutions for women. These include Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, Tarja Halonen of Finland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia.

Although most female heads of state and government did not call themselves a “feminist,” they all contributed to strengthening women as political actors by accepting a top position. Thereby, they broke prevailing patterns and, in most cases, showed that women could handle the tasks. In addition, the great majority — some more and some less — made efforts to support women in particular. So, it usually made a difference with a woman at the top instead of a man.

The approaches of top female leaders to winning gains for women was important, but to carry out substantial women-friendly policies they needed support. An active feminist movement pressuring the relevant levers was essential. And the political system had to work democratically, so feminist voters could have an impact on who was elected to political office and which policies were pursued to promote gender equality.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Middle East, Engulfed by a ‘Perfect Storm’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/middle-east-engulfed-by-a-perfect-storm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-engulfed-by-a-perfect-storm http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/middle-east-engulfed-by-a-perfect-storm/#comments Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:35:21 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150079 In Mazrak, Yemen, a five year-old girl, diagnosed as malnourished, is given a pink wristband to wear to show she has not been getting enough to eat. Credit: UNHCR/Hugh Macleod

In Mazrak, Yemen, a five year-old girl, diagnosed as malnourished, is given a pink wristband to wear to show she has not been getting enough to eat. Credit: UNHCR/Hugh Macleod

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 21 2017 (IPS)

A perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East, and continues to threaten international peace and security.

Hardly anyone could sum up the Middle East explosive situation in so few, blunt words as just did Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Reporting to the UN Security Council on the “dire situation across the Middle East region, marked by the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, fractured societies, proliferation of non-State actors and unbelievable human suffering,” Mladenov reiterated the need for a surge in diplomacy for peace to ease the suffering of innocent civilians.

The UN Special Coordinator also warned that “the question of Palestine remained a ‘potent symbol’ and a ‘rallying cry’, “one that is easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups.”“The question of Palestine remained a “potent symbol” and “rallying cry,” one that is easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

“Let us not forget that behind the images of savagery [there] are the millions [struggling] every day not only for their own survival but for the true humane essence of their cultures and societies,” he on 20 April 2017 told the Security Council.

“Today, a perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East, and continues to threaten international peace and security,” he said, noting that divisions within the region have opened the doors to foreign intervention and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife.

“Ending the occupation and realising a two-state solution will not solve all the region’s problems, but as long as the conflict persists, it will continue to feed them.”

Mladenov also informed the 15-member Security Council of sporadic violence that continued to claim lives and reported on Israel’s approval of the establishment of new settlements and declaration of “State land” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

On the Palestinian side, he noted multiple worrying developments that are “further cementing” the Gaza-West Bank divide and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation.

Turning to the wider region, Mladenov briefed the Security Council members on the on-going crisis in Syria that continues to be a “massive burden” for other countries and called on the international community to do more to stand in solidarity with Syria’s neighbours.

“Strong, Loud Alarm”

“The statement that Mr. Mladenov has just made should sound a strong, loud alarm,” a retired Arab diplomat told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“We should always have in mind that the United Nations envoys and special coordinators use to be extremely careful when choosing their wording, in particular when it comes to reporting to the UN Security Council. This is why his words should be taken really seriously,” the diplomat emphasised.

Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

According to this well-informed source, several Middle East analysts and even regional political leaders “harbour mixed feeling and even confusion about what some consider as “errant” foreign policy of the current US administration.”

“What is anyway clear is that a new Middle East is now “under construction”. Such process will not be an easy one, in view of the growing trend to embark in new cold war between the US and Russia,” the diplomat concluded.

Further in his briefing, the UN Special Coordinator spoke of the situation in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen as well as of “social exclusion and marginalisation that tend to provide fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism.”

Recalling UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a “surge in diplomacy for peace”, Mladenov urged UN Member States, especially through a united Security Council, to assume “the leading role in resolving the crisis.”

“Multilateral approaches and cooperation are necessary to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.”

“Grave Danger”

Just one week earlier, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the UN Security Council in the wake of yet another dire turn in the Syrian crisis, that the United States and the Russian Federation “must find a way to work together” to stabilise the situation and support the political process.”

In his briefing on 12 April, de Mistura added that the previous week’s reported chemical weapons attack, the subsequent air strikes by the US and intensified fighting on the ground have put the fragile peace process is in “grave danger.”

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF

“This is a time for clear-thinking, strategy, imagination, cooperation,” said de Mistura.

“We must all resolve that the time has come where the intra-Syrian talks move beyond preparatory discussions and into the real heart of the matter, across all four baskets, to secure a meaningful negotiated transition package,” he added.

Prior to the reported chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun area of Idlib, modest but incremental progress were made, the UN envoy noted, highlighting that though there no breakthroughs, there were also no breakdowns. The most recent round of talks, facilitated by the UN in Geneva, wrapped up three weeks ago.

However, the reported attack and subsequent events have placed the country between two paths: one leading more death, destruction and regional and international divisions; and the other of real de-escalation and ceasefire, added de Mistura.

The UN Special Envoy reiterated that there are no military solutions to the strife in the war-ravaged country.

“You have heard it countless times, but I will say it again: there can only be a political solution to this bloody conflict […] regardless of what some say or believe,” he expressed, noting that this is what Syrians from all walks of life also say and something that the Security Council had agreed upon.

“So, let us use this moment of crisis – and it is a moment of crisis – as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution.”

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Nikki Haley’s ‘Historic’ Debate on Human Rights Left a Small Impressionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:11:08 +0000 Dulcie Leimbach http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150050 Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

By Dulcie Leimbach
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, presided over what she was determined to sell as “an historic meeting exclusively on human rights” in the UN Security Council. But her brief speech in the April 18 meeting fell far short of introducing innovations to confront violations of human rights or prevent them in such places as Syria, Burundi and Myanmar.

“If this Council fails to take human rights violations and abuses seriously, they can escalate into real threats to international peace and security,” Haley began. “The Security Council cannot continue to be silent when we see widespread violations of human rights.

“Why would we tell ourselves that we will only deal with questions of peace and security, without addressing the factors that bring about the threats in the first place?”

The debate, ponderously titled “Maintenance of international peace and security: human rights and prevention of armed conflict,” gave an “opportunity to reflect on the way the Security Council directly addresses human rights issues in its work,” according to a concept note from the US mission to the UN.

The afternoon meeting among the Council’s 15 permanent and elected members turned political in no time. Ukraine referred to a “human-rights phobia” in the UN and blasted away at Russia’s annexation of Crimea; Uruguay said it was the responsibility of governments to protect its citizens’ human rights as well as people “in transit.” A low-level Russian diplomat rejected the whole notion of the Council concentrating on human rights in its forum.

Yet what shone through the two-hour meeting was not Haley’s remarks but the consistent messages of other Council members, who commended the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as indispensable partners with the Security Council. France, for example, said it was very “attached” to the Human Rights Council. Britain was effusive.

“Two institutions of the United Nations are particularly vital to delivering this joined up approach to human rights,” said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN. “First, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office provide invaluable support to UN peace operations.” Second, he added, is the Human Rights Council.

Rights experts had hinted that Haley’s session on human rights was an attempt to undermine the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. She has pointed to the Council as “corrupt” and said she planned to visit it in June to whip it into shape.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, reinforced the primary role of the UN human-rights monitoring bodies. He said that “close cooperation between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and all relevant United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, enhances general awareness of potential crisis situations, and our collective ability to address them.”

Guterres described the Security Council’s own “decisive action” on human rights, citing the establishment of the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere as well as the Council’s referral of atrocity cases to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As a matter of course, human-rights abuses are raised often by Council members as an early warning — or “prevention” — method.

As if stuck on a sales pitch, the US emphasized in the weeks before the meeting that it was holding the first exclusive session in the Council on human rights. But that is debatable, say some rights experts, since the topic has been written specifically into 15 peacekeeping mission mandates, sanctions, investigations, resolutions, special-envoy responsibilities and other matters relevant to the Council.

Even Haley acknowledged these tools of the Council, admitting their relevance and value.

Haley’s office fudged how well the Council accepted the purpose of the debate, saying that “through negotiations the United States convinced all 15 Council members to agree to put the meeting on the POW” – program of work. But the meeting was technically positioned under the international peace and security umbrella and not listed as an agenda item, a threshold that some council members refused to cross.

The US concept note for the meeting posed five questions to Council members to consider when they came to the session, as if they were being asked to write a high-school essay. The first question read, “What types of measures should the Security Council take to respond to serious human rights violations and abuses?” (The US did not appear to answer that.)

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted in the lead-up to the meeting, is the “human rights discussion serious?” He added: “Are particular countries named? Do they include allies?”

In the Council’s early decades, human rights rarely crept into its deliberations because of Article 2, paragraph 7 of the UN Charter, which said, “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. . . . ”

Sensitive political realities kept the topic from going too deep when it did arise, according to “The Procedure of the UN Security Council,” a reference book by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws. When a Council member wanted to raise a human-rights issue in a certain country — not unusual throughout the Cold War — ambassadors needed to show that the abuses could ripple outside the country.

Famously, the topic of Myanmar (Burma) was brought up in 2006 when the US representative and other Council members voiced concerns over the deteriorating situation in that country. They noted that Myanmar’s outflow of refugees and illegal drugs as well as contagious diseases could destabilize the region, the Sievers-Daws book said. But China objected to putting Myanmar on the Council’s agenda, denying its problems presented an international threat.

Nevertheless, the Council has not avoided taking on high-profile rights-abuse cases. The rise in abuses in Burundi last year prompted the Council to call on the government to cooperate with UN human-rights monitors — or else. And a UN commission of inquiry on North Korea declared the regime responsible for crimes against humanity, with the Council elevating the matter to its regular agenda.

In Burundi, the UN’s top human-rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said on April 18 that he was alarmed by what appeared to be a “widespread pattern” of rallies in Burundi in which members of a pro-government youth militia chant a call to “impregnate” or kill opponents. Burundi has been seized on and off by violence since its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, won a disputed third term in 2015.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Fighting Xenophobia & Inequality Together in the Age of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:25:23 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150042 Ben Phillips is Co-Founder #fightinequality alliance]]> Credit: UN photo

Credit: UN photo

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, KENYA, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

As the world marks 100 days of the Trump Presidency, we can see that we are now in a new era of crisis, that it goes well beyond one man and one country, and that only a profound and international response can get us out of the state we are in.

The crises of xenophobia and inequality embodied by the Age of Trump are profound and are worldwide. Refugees without safe haven; ethnic and religious minorities facing officially sanctioned discrimination; women facing an aggressive onslaught of misogyny.

Civil society leaders supporting marginalized people are seeing an upsurge of these injustices in every continent. We are witnessing a world in danger not just of a slow down in social progress but of a reverse in it.

For leaders of civil society, four things are clear.

First, this is a global challenge. The whirlwind first hundred days of the Trump administration in the US have both epitomized and exacerbated worrying global trends in which an increasingly economically divided world is becoming an increasingly angry and intolerant one.

Secondly, we must take sides against intolerance. We must unashamedly support the oppressed and commit ourselves to resisting forces of division – whether it be hate speech at refugees in Hungary, xenophobic attacks in South Africa, extrajudicial killings of activists in Latin America, discrimination against religious minorities in South Asia, or unconstitutional bans on migrants in the USA. We will work together with others to help foster societies built on respect for diversity, and open to refugees from war and persecution.

The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.
Thirdly, to tackle the forces of intolerance we must also confront the ever widening inequality that is driving societies apart. Progressive values are put under massive strain when economies cast millions aside. We know from history that 1929 economics can lead to 1933 politics, and that when people lose hope fascists ascend. Growth must benefit ordinary people, economies must be reoriented to create jobs, decent jobs, and not see wealth ever more concentrated in the hands of a view.

Fourthly, we must work together as one. There is an old saying, “the people united will never be defeated”. Sadly, that is not always true. But what is true is that the people divided will always be defeated. The challenge to foster societies of equality and solidarity can not be achieved by one organization or even one sector alone. That is why we have come together as many different leaders in NGOs, trade unions, and social movements in a joint call to #fightinequality, and to build power from below.

The stakes could not be higher. The forces of ever widening inequality, and of ever increasingly intolerance, are mobilizing. But so are the forces of solidarity and equality.

We are more united than ever to fight inequality and intolerance. Inspired by the great campaigns of old – anti-slavery, anti-colonialism, votes for women, anti-apartheid, drop the debt – and by the determined young people of today – in Fees Must Fall, Black Lives Matter, Gambia Has Decided – we will work to bend the long arc of the universe towards justice. The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.

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Yemen, World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 05:10:44 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150034 Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. Credit: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. Credit: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

With 18.8 million people –nearly 7 in 10 inhabitants– in need of humanitarian aid, including 10.3 million requiring immediate assistance, Yemen is now the largest single-nation humanitarian crisis in the world, the United Nations informs while warning that the two-year war is rapidly pushing the country towards “social, economic and institutional collapse.“

More worrying, the conflict in Yemen and its economic consequences are driving the largest food security emergency in the world, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported.

According to OCHA, over 17 million people are currently “food insecure,” of whom 6.8 million are “severely food insecure” and require immediate food assistance, and two million acutely malnourished children. The Yemeni population amounts to 27,4 million inhabitants.

“We can avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but need 2.1 billion dollars in funding to deliver crucial food, nutrition, health and other lifesaving assistance,” the UN estimates.

UN, Sweden, Switzerland

The world organisation plans to hold a high-level pledging meeting for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Co-hosted by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden, the conference will take place at UN in Geneva on 25 April 2017.

Credit: OCHA

Credit: OCHA

“The time is now to come together to prevent an “impending humanitarian catastrophe” in Yemen, the organisers warn.
OCHA has also reminded that even before the current conflict escalated in mid-March 2015, Yemen had faced “enormous levels” of humanitarian needs stemming from years of “poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law.”

Meantime, it has stressed the need to protect civilians. “The conduct of hostilities has been brutal. As of 31 December 2016, health facilities had reported nearly 48,000 casualties (including nearly 7,500 deaths) as a result of the conflict.” These figures significantly under-count the true extent of casualties given diminished reporting capacity of health facilities and people’s difficulties accessing healthcare.

Massive Violations of Human Rights

OCHA stressed the impact of this crisis in which “all parties appear to have committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

On-going air strikes and fighting continue to inflict heavy casualties, damage public and private infrastructure, and impede delivery of humanitarian assistance, it explains, adding that parties to the conflict and their supporters have created a vast protection crisis in which millions of people face tremendous threats to their safety and well-being, and the most vulnerable struggle to survive.

According to the UN humanitarian body, since March 2015, more than 3 million people have been displaced within Yemen. Roughly 73 per cent are living with host families or in rented accommodation, and 20 per cent in collective centres or spontaneous settlements. A substantial numbers of returnees live in damaged houses, unable to afford repairs and face serious protection risks.

Economy, Destroyed

The Yemeni economy is being wilfully destroyed, OCHA informs. Preliminary results of the Disaster Needs Assessment estimated 19 billion dollars in infrastructure damage and other losses – equivalent to about half of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013.

“Parties to the conflict have targeted key economic infrastructure. Mainly air strikes – but also shelling and other attacks – have damaged or destroyed ports, roads, bridges, factories and markets. They have also imposed restrictions that disrupt the flow of private sector goods and humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.”

For months, nearly all-basic commodities have been only sporadically available in most locations, and basic commodity prices in December 2016 were on average 22 per cent higher than before the crisis, reports OCHA.

At the same time, Yemen is experiencing a liquidity crisis in which people, traders and humanitarian partners struggle to transfer cash into and within the country. Lenders have become increasingly reluctant to supply credit to Yemeni traders seeking to import essential goods.

Basic Commodities, Scarcer, More Expensive

On this, it informs that at the end result is an economic environment in which basic commodities are becoming scarcer and more expensive just as people’s livelihoods opportunities and access to cash are receding or disappearing altogether.

And that humanitarian partners face growing pressure to compensate for the entire commercial sector, which is beyond both their capacity and appropriate role. Essential basic services and the institutions that provide them are collapsing due to conflict, displacement and economic decline.

“Yemeni authorities report that Central Bank foreign exchange reserves dropped from 4.7 billion dollars in late 2014 to less than 1 billion in September 2016, and the public budget deficit has grown by more than 50 per cent to 2.2 billion dollars.”

In addition, salaries for health facility staff, teachers and other public sector workers are paid erratically, often leaving 1.25 million state employees and their 6.9 million dependents – nearly 30 per cent of the population – without a regular income at a time of shortages and rising prices.

“As a result, social services provided by public institutions are collapsing while needs are surging.” In August 2016, the Ministry of Public Health and Population in Sana’a announced it could no longer cover operational costs for health services, and by October, only 45 per cent of health facilities in the country were fully functional.

Absenteeism among key staff – doctors, nutrition counsellors, teachers, etc. – is reportedly rising as employees seek alternatives to provide for their families, according to the UN. On top of pressure to compensate for a faltering commercial sector, humanitarian partners are increasingly fielding calls to fill gaps created by collapsing public institutions.

90% of Food, Imported – 8 Million Lost Livelihoods

According to OCHA, Yemen relies on imports for more than 90 per cent of its staple food and nearly all fuel and medicine.

Authorities in Sana’a and other areas also at times deny or delay clearances for humanitarian activities, including movement requests for assessments or aid delivery. Restrictions on workshops, humanitarian data collection and information sharing have also been intermittently introduced and rescinded.

These restrictions are at times resolved through dialogue, but the time lost represents an unacceptable burden for people who desperately need assistance. Positive developments since November 2016 indicate that these restrictions may substantially improve in the immediate coming period.

An estimated 8 million Yemenis have lost their livelihoods or are living in communities with minimal to no basic services, the UN informs, adding that about 2 million school-age children are out of school and damage, hosting IDPs, or occupation by armed groups.

Yemen is an Arab country situated in the Southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the second-largest country in the peninsula, with nearly occupying 528,000 km2, and its coastline stretches for about 2,000 kms.

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Demand for Lower Peacekeeping Dues to Pit US Against UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 15:04:02 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150023 A memorial service for a UN peacekeeper, Corp. Khalid El Hasnaoui of Morocco, April 20, 2016, in the Central African Republic. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, above, leads the mission there. Credit: UN PHOTO

A memorial service for a UN peacekeeper, Corp. Khalid El Hasnaoui of Morocco, April 20, 2016, in the Central African Republic. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, above, leads the mission there. Credit: UN PHOTO

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The Trump administration, buoyed by a powerful anti-internationalist movement among conservative Republicans in the United States Congress, is headed for a new confrontation with the United Nations over who decides how much the US should pay for peacekeeping.

With a tentative US budget deadline of April 28 fast approaching, it is almost certain that American arrears will mount again, after the Obama administration closed the funding gap.

At the same time, a broad campaign against UN peacekeeping, reflecting current thinking in the US government, is also being waged in the Security Council by Ambassador Nikki Haley.

In her short time on the Council, she has never missed an opportunity to declare that the US will pay no more than 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget, down from about 28 percent. Haley, whose formal education is in accountancy, has also said that she will be looking hard at UN peacekeeping missions to cut costs, although this is still part of a learning curve for her.

Until recently, Haley seemed surprised to hear that troop-contributing countries were compensated by the UN for use of their soldiers.

The US position today is part of an historical cycle of standoffs that began in the 1980s and peaked during the administration of Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. That is when an earlier wave of anti-internationalism, led most prominently by the late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, exerted its influence.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms reveled in disparaging and insulting the UN, while forcing a politically weakened Clinton to make significant changes in US institutions working in international affairs, including the abolition of an independent Arms Control Agency.

At the time, the US contribution to the annual peacekeeping budget was assessed by the UN at about 31 percent, down from just under 40 percent assessed in the early years of the world body. In 1995, however, Congress passed a law putting a cap of 25 percent on payment of UN peacekeeping dues, and arrears in hundreds of millions of dollars began to accumulate.

By 1999, when the US was in danger of losing its vote in the UN General Assembly, the Helms-Biden agreement (Joseph Biden, a senator then, was the ranking Democrat on the committee) set up a timetable to start paying $926 million in arrears to the UN and other international organizations.

The UN-US calculations and gaps have seesawed ever since. In the early years of the George W. Bush administration, the US cap was raised several times by Congress as arrears were being reduced. In fact, when Barack Obama assumed the presidency in 2009, the US budget cap on payments was higher, at 27.1 percent, than the UN assessment of 25.9 percent.

At the end of the Obama years, the US payment ceiling was set at 28.57 percent, according to figures from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The UN assessment stood a little lower, at 28.3 percent.

Payments to the UN are drawn from sections of the US State Department budget, which Trump has promised to slash by about 31 percent, a figure that Congress, which writes the budget, is likely to oppose — or temper. The UN’s peacekeeping budget for 2016-2017 was $7.2 billion to $7.89 billion, depending on whose figures are used.

A Republican-led Congress — especially the House of Representative — could argue that all the adjustments made over the years were one-off annual temporary measures that merely tinkered with the 1995 law capping US payments to peacekeeping at 25 percent. Along those lines, all that Congress would have to do is reaffirm the 1995 legislation to meet Trump’s 25 percent. The US would automatically fall back into default.

To describe the process by which the UN sets assessment and dues scales as Byzantine would be making it sound easy. It starts with the UN Charter, which mandated in Article 17 that all member nations contribute to budget expenses. There has been no dispute since 2000 over US dues to the UN’s regular operating budget, for which the US is assessed 22 percent, the highest payment of any nation. The American issue is with peacekeeping dues only.

In assessing peacekeeping rates, the central role is played by the 18-member UN General Assembly Committee on Contributions (separate from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, the ACABQ, which a previous Take a Look report on the US-UN budget crisis erroneously said was responsible).

Peacekeeping dues are calculated from the base of each nation’s regular budget assessments. A number of factors are then taken into account, including the strength of the national economy, measured in gross national income (GNI) and GNI per capita. Some poor countries receive a discount on their regular budget rate.

The biggest discounts go to least-developed countries (LDCs) , which get 90 percent knocked off their regular budget rate when peacekeeping dues are decided. Countries with high per capita income get no discount.

The permanent five members of the Security Council, or P5 — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — are a special case. Those nations, which can veto or alter proposed peacekeeping resolutions and other measures in the Council, are assessed at a premium rate.

This means that the sum of all discounts given to other countries are added pro rata to the regular budget rates of the P5 to determine what they will be charged for peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping rates and discounts may be recalculated and changed only every three years by the General Assembly, based on advice from the Committee on Contributions. The next major review takes place in 2018. Until then, annual “technical” reviews are held. The 2017 session for this year’s review is in June.

The US government will have to adhere to these timetables and work with the UN in New York throughout the coming months. But as the rules stand now, no major changes can be made on rates until the next three-year review.

The US will remain the world’s largest economy during this period, and there will not be much sympathy around the UN for the Trump administration as the dues argument burgeons. The US already pays less than it should because of previous budget deals.

Even before the Trump cuts kick in, only 1.4 percent of the US federal budget is devoted to foreign aid of all kinds. Within that total, American peacekeeping and regular budget dues to the UN combined account for a minuscule 0.2 percent of the US national budget.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Typical Cuban Sweet – a Symbol of the Post-Hurricane Challenge to Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/typical-cuban-sweet-a-symbol-of-the-post-hurricane-challenge-to-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=typical-cuban-sweet-a-symbol-of-the-post-hurricane-challenge-to-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/typical-cuban-sweet-a-symbol-of-the-post-hurricane-challenge-to-agriculture/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 07:01:27 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149993 Vendor Raulises Ramírez is up early to sell the typical coconut cones which he made the previous day, alongside the La Farola highway into the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPSRaulises Ramírez is up early to sell the typical coconut cones which he made the previous day, alongside the La Farola highway into the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Vendor Raulises Ramírez is up early to sell the typical coconut cones which he made the previous day, alongside the La Farola highway into the eastern Cuban city of Baracoa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
BARACOA, Cuba, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

Early in the day, when a gentle dew moistens the ground and vegetation in the mountains of eastern Cuba, street vendor Raulises Ramírez sets up his rustic stand next to the La Farola highway and displays his cone-shaped coconut sweets.

“These will maybe be the last ones… the cones will disappear, because the hurricane brought down all the coconut palms in Baracoa,” the 52-year-old private entrepreneur told IPS. He makes a living in Cuba’s oldest city selling this traditional sweet made of coconut, honey, fruits and spices, wrapped in the fibrous cone-shaped palm leaf.

“Look at all this!“ exclaimed Ramírez, pointing to the ground next to the highway littered with the trunks of coconut palm trees knocked down or bent by Hurricane Matthew, which hit Baracoa and other parts of eastern Cuba on Oct. 4-5, 2016.

He expects to continue making his sweets for a while longer thanks to his reserves. His main customers are Cubans who pay the equivalent of 25 cents of a dollar for each “cucurucho” or coconut cone, a typical sweet of this municipality, with an agricultural sector based on coconut and cacao, among other products.“We have to provide the local population with support to produce staple crops and provide new sources of income, until the commercial perennial crops begin to produce.” -- Theodor Friedrich

When his coconut reserves are finished, he will have to look for a different source of income than the one that has sustained his family for the last five years. “The tourists like to buy dried fruit,” he said, referring to the growing influx of foreign visitors in the area.

Ramírez’s situation is in some way similar to that of the entire agri-food sector in this municipality with a population of 81,700, which is facing a tough challenge: recovering their main long-cycle crops that were ravaged by the strongest hurricane ever registered in the province of Guantánamo, where Baracoa is located.

“We estimate the shortest possible time for coconut production to recover is four years, while cacao will take two and a half years. But reforestation will take many more years, between 15 and 20,” said Baracoa Mayor Luis Sánchez, referring to the fundamental components of local economic development: cacao, coconut, coffee and forestry products.

In the affected territories in Guantánamo, agriculture was among the hardest-hit sectors, with 70,574 hectares damaged. According to official reports, 27 per cent of the cacao, coconut and coffee plantations and 67 per cent of the forest heritage was lost.

The hurricane damaged 35,681 hectares of the main crops in this mountainous coastal municipality. Only four per cent of the vast plantations of coconut palm trees are still standing, which were used to obtain part of the seeds vital to the recovery effort.

A beach along the coast of Baracoa, where coconut trees were damaged by Hurricane Matthew – a serious problem in this city in eastern Cuba, since coconuts are one of the main local agricultural products. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A beach along the coast of Baracoa, where coconut trees were damaged by Hurricane Matthew – a serious problem in this city in eastern Cuba, since coconuts are one of the main local agricultural products. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“In small areas on the outskirts of the city some coconut palm trees still remain on private farms and in people’s yards, which are the source of the coconuts vendors are using to make their cones, but the state-run factory is not producing any,” Rodríguez said, about the temporary disappearance of this symbol of Baracoa.

The factory, the only one that made coconut cones and distributed them in the provinces of Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba and Holguín, is now producing tomatoes and fruit brought from other parts of the country. The cocoa industry is still active, even producing several by-products, thanks to reserves of cacao.

So far, only 3,576 hectares of forestry, coconut, coffee, cacao and fruit plantations have been recuperated, since the authorities are putting a priority on “the areas dedicated to short-cycle crops to quickly obtain food, such as vegetables and fruits for domestic consumption,” said the mayor in an exclusive interview with IPS.

“Baracoa, the cacao capital” reads an enormous poster at the entrance to this city founded 505 years ago by Spanish colonialists. Alongside coconut cone vendors like Ramírez, men and women sell big scoops of home-made dark chocolate along the La Farola highway.
Hurricane Matthew thwarted a project to create production chains based on coconut and cacao, with investments to foment cultivation of the crops and modernise the food industry in the municipality. The initiative hoped to tap into other potential sources of income, especially using coconuts.

The current production based on coconut and cacao does not cover domestic demand in this country of 11.2 million, nor demand from international tourists, who reached the record number of four million in 2016.

Baracoa Mayor Luis Sánchez Rodríguez shows IPS the impact on Cuba’s oldest city of Hurricane Matthew, and explains the measures adopted to reactivate production in the main agricultural.  Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Baracoa Mayor Luis Sánchez Rodríguez shows IPS the impact on Cuba’s oldest city of Hurricane Matthew, and explains the measures adopted to reactivate production in the main agricultural. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Meanwhile, we have to provide the local population with support to produce staple crops and provide new sources of income, until the commercial perennial crops begin to produce,” advised Theodor Friedrich, representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba.

He told IPS that to this end, FAO is supporting several initiatives for agricultural and food production recovery in the area affected by Matthew, through two projects financed by the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and FAO resources. In addition, it is awaiting the approval of a bigger third project financed by a donor.

“There is an urgent need to recover the most commercial crops, to avoid delaying this process,” said Friedrich, an agronomist who advocates the need of restoring them with resilience to future climate shocks.

“In part, these crops can be used to intersperse food crops and integrate new crops with their corresponding value chains,” he said.

In the case of the territories affected by the hurricane, and together with the local authorities, FAO promotes the proposal to plant drumstick or horseradish trees (moringa oleifera) among the perennial crops, a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree which provides a micronutrient-rich ingredient used to fortify food and animal feed, while also offering a natural fertiliser for the soil.

This initiative can strengthen small industries in the area involved in the manufacturing of fortified foods and in livestock production. “It will increase the production and availability of high value-added foods, while at the same time providing a financial income to farming families,” said the FAO representative.

The government of Baracoa also identifies another economic option for local residents.

“Tourism is the most feasible alternative, because the recovery of agriculture will take some time, even though there is a programme for agro-industrial development,” said Mayor Sánchez. “After Matthew, visits here by local and international tourists fell, but now we are experiencing a surge.”
In the area, government-run hotels and other lodgings offer at total of 275 rooms, and another 367 rooms are available in 283 private houses, where the number of rooms offered has climbed to cater to the current tourism boom.

Near Baracoa’s seafront, retiree Dolores Yamilé Selva’s hostel, which she has run since 1998, is full. She believes that there is still untapped tourism potential in the area. “The tourists that come to our town, mainly from Europe, is interested in our natural surroundings,” she told IPS.

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Survivors of Sex Abuse Say UN Neglected Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/survivors-of-sex-abuse-say-un-neglected-them/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:39:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149964 Shocking new revelations about what happened to children sexually abused in the Central African Republic by peacekeepers were revealed in a Code Blue Campaign press conference April 12. Credit: SVT

Shocking new revelations about what happened to children sexually abused in the Central African Republic by peacekeepers were revealed in a Code Blue Campaign press conference April 12. Credit: SVT

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2017 (IPS)

Several survivors who were sexually abused by peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue to be neglected by the UN, an investigative team has found.

Three years after cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping forces in CAR became public, a Swedish film team located a number of survivors who have said that the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) promised support never arrived.

“The exposure isn’t that these atrocities were committed against the kids, but that they were then promised support and just vanished,” Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign Paula Donovan told IPS.

The organization first documented the cases of sexual abuse by French peacekeeping troops in 2015, causing public outrage. Children between the ages of 8 and 15, who were living in a refugee camp at the time, reported that they were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food and other goods. Fourteen French soldiers reportedly were suspected of being involved.

After speaking to UNICEF representative in CAR who said that the children are cared for and followed up with, investigative reporter Karin Mattisson and her team spoke to children who said otherwise. One such survivor is Martha who became pregnant and contracted HIV by a peacekeeping soldier when she was 14-years-old.

“Initially, UNICEF said that they would make sure that the soldier was imprisoned and take care of the mother and baby to help us. But then, nothing, no one came to visit. It was left to us to take care of the child,” her friend said. Martha said that all they received was a “present” of money equivalent to US$15, a bag of rice, milk and sugar. Meanwhile, the peacekeeper was sent home and it is uncertain if any punitive action was taken.

Two boys, who were also sexually abused and provided testimony to the UN’s initial investigation, similarly claimed that they did not receive any help. “We are trying to get it together on our own. We pick up water for people, we wash cars—that is how we have lived since then.”

In response to the allegations, UNICEF spokesperson Najwa Mekki told IPS that the agency has provided assistance to children whose cases they are aware of and that they have scaled up their reporting procedures, victim assistance, and staff capacity since 2015.

“We are following up on the children identified in the Swedish TV programme, providing assistance when appropriate, and will continue to give the necessary support to any victim of sexual exploitation and abuse who comes forward or is brought to our attention,” she told IPS.

Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, who is also involved in the Code Blue Campaign, noted that UN bureaucracy often stands in the way of action by preventing clear and concise information on such cases to travel up the chain of command.

“Finally when it reaches the Secretary General, [information] is already absolutely diluted,” he told IPS. And without complete evidence, any investigation becomes a “sham inquiry,” Chowdhury added.

Despite steps taken by the UN to address the scandal in 2015, including the creation of a review panel which characterized the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse as a “gross institutional failure,” little to no punitive action has been taken.

Most recently in January, a French investigation into the cases closed without anyone being charged. Senior UN officials accused of abuse of authority for suppressing information rather than reporting cases have also remained largely untouched, Donovan said, adding that the initial “gross institutional failure” has only continued.

“Justice is being delayed and it is being denied,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Donovan also pointed to the problematic use of “UN insiders” in addressing the issue due to concerns of their own legacy and reputation.

“The people who are part of the problem have been tasked with the solution…they don’t want to come forward and say ‘here’s what is so broken and so awful about the UN and I’ve decided to fix it’ because they presided over all of it,” she told IPS.

Early this year, Secretary-General António Guterres announced the creation of a task force to investigate UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse. Among those in the task force is former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jane Holl Lute and Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Military Adviser Lieutenant General Carlos Humberto Loitey.

Chowdhury said that no task force will help.

“If it is with UN insiders…they will not do anything to put their own into this abuse,” he told IPS.

Both Donovan and Chowdhury called for a special courts mechanism to deal with sexual abuse by UN peacekeeping forces. Chowdhury also highlighted the need for a independent unit to conduct inquiries and report cases which may help bring about more punitive action against perpetrators whose actions are often shielded by their colleagues.

“The UN needs to save itself from itself,” Donovan told IPS.

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Can António Guterres Fend Off America’s War on the UN?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/can-antonio-guterres-fend-off-americas-war-on-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-antonio-guterres-fend-off-americas-war-on-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/can-antonio-guterres-fend-off-americas-war-on-the-un/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:27:30 +0000 Dulcie Leimbach http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149919 António Guterres has traveled to Africa, Europe and the Middle East since becoming UN secretary-general in January 2017. He arrives at the Mogadishu airport in Somalia, above, on March 7, 2017. TOBIN JONES/UN PHOTO

António Guterres has traveled to Africa, Europe and the Middle East since becoming UN secretary-general in January 2017. He arrives at the Mogadishu airport in Somalia, above, on March 7, 2017. TOBIN JONES/UN PHOTO

By Dulcie Leimbach
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 11 2017 (PassBlue)

When António Guterres was chosen by the United Nations Security Council in October to become the next leader of the UN, neither he nor anyone else could have predicted precisely who would be commanding the Oval Office of the White House in January 2017, just as Guterres’s term opened.

Now that Donald Trump has assumed the presidency of the United States, Guterres not only inherited a caseload of hellish problems to control with limited powers but he must also manage Trumpian plots to minimize if not gut the UN’s core work.

As a European ambassador summarized the situation for Guterres: “The terms of engagement have changed since he got the job. This is very different from anything we’ve ever seen before.”

While the wars in Yemen and Syria rage on and people die there with not one person sent to jail or prosecuted for war crimes; and as terrorism persists, famine looms in parts of the world and millions of refugees hang in limbo, Guterres surely knew his job would be ridiculously challenging.

To put it graphically, Guterres has inherited “a real pile of shit,” said Thomas G. Weiss, a New York scholar on the UN.

Raised a Catholic in Lisbon, Guterres wanted to become secretary-general to act as a savior. Having spent 10 years visiting refugee camps as head of that UN agency and given his Socialist tendencies to remember the poor and fix human injustices, Guterres might have innocently assumed he had the backing of the richest country in the world, America.

“His deep caring and pain were evident when he confessed that there was one question that always weighs heavy on his heart. ‘That is: how can we help the millions of people caught up in conflict, suffering massively in wars with no end in sight?’ ” said Kairat Umarov, the ambassador of Kazakhstan to the UN and an elected member of the Security Council.

But support from Trump, who tweeted revenge for what he perceived as the UN’s anti-Israel bias and clubby ways right before he moved into the White House, couldn’t be more unreliable than at any time in the last 10 years for the world body. This is not the first secretary-general to withstand serious blows by US administrations that were striving to win points from a broad swath of American voters, who are generally clueless about the UN.

“The other time it was like this was in the early days of [Ronald] Reagan — rocky,” recalled an American who held a top political affairs post at the UN. Moreover, with John Bolton, a US ambassador to the UN under the George W. Bush administration, the American noted, “things could have been hairy.” Yet everything, he concluded, worked out in the end for the UN.

In talking with ambassadors who represent their countries at the UN as well as policy specialists and academics, most people expressed instant empathy for Guterres as he copes in his first months in his new job, especially regarding his relationship with the US. People who commented on Guterres — mainly on background — want him to succeed.

Advice to Guterres came from many quarters. He should frame his interests and agenda “in a way where he convinces the Trump administration that he’s their ally, not their opponent,” said Melissa Labonte, a professor of political science at Fordham University in the Bronx who has written about the UN.

Trump’s fast moves to defund parts of the UN has made the normally confident Guterres “very troubled,” said a South American diplomat. Trump recently cut millions of dollars of contributions to the UN Population Fund, which provides lifesaving maternal-health care — and contraceptives — to the world’s poorest women.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, is busy hammering away at peacekeeping missions, regardless of what any mission may do — like fight Al Qaeda terrorists in the Sahel region of Africa — or whether she has ever visited these precarious sites. She skipped a UN Security Council trip to the Lake Chad basin in West Africa, what some media and political leaders are calling the world’s most neglected crisis. Instead, she tweeted that she was home, not feeling well and watching “Lone Survivor.”

Prompted by Haley, who has admitted she is still learning on the job, Guterres sent a memo to UN program leaders to “adjust” to US cuts. Reductions to other UN aid programs hover as the US sharpens its knife to its own development arm, USAID.

“All objectives — the SDGs, peace and security — will not be achieved in the short- to medium-term,” the South American diplomat said. Guterres, who has been traveling nearly nonstop around the Middle East, Africa and Europe, would prefer to stay in New York more often. But if you consider where he has traveled — to such places as Berlin, Brussels and oil-rich Middle East nations — it may indicate he is seeking money to fill a widening US hole.

Some diplomats noted with alarm that with the US retrenching financially and criticizing it in blanket ways — always a simple target — China is eager to step into the void. Japan, which is the second-largest donor to the UN general budget, after the US, and the third-largest to the peacekeeping budget (after US and China), said it was tracking such moves by its giant neighbor.

Yet a Japanese diplomat said in an interview that it was “premature” to declare whether his country would increase its financial donations to the UN peacekeeping budget and other operations.

“China is obviously more active on the international front,” the diplomat said. “We will see what China will do in the UN” and “observe what China is going to do on the ground.”

Guterres, who is 67 and goes by Tony, is married to Catarina Vaz Pinto, who has stayed in Lisbon as the deputy mayor for cultural affairs. Guterres did his homework when he arrived on the 38th floor of the UN secretariat: his roomy office offers stunning views of New York from his aerie above the East River, including densely packed Queens, a microcosm of UN nationalities. His goal was “conflict prevention,” a mantra he invoked as a candidate for secretary-general, and his rhetoric was rooted in practicality: he wanted to keep conflicts from happening rather than unwind them as they tore places and people apart.

He was also more than willing, he said repeatedly, to reform the UN bureaucracy to be more deliberate.

“We expect Mr. Guterres to continue to work on a number of important agendas”: peace and security, reform and development and ridding peacekeeping of sexual abuses, the Japanese diplomat noted.

Angela Wells, the communications officer for the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University, has worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Africa. She said she appreciated Guterres’s focus on conflict prevention, but that he needs to give more attention to protecting humanitarian workers, who have been increasingly killed on the job.

“In South Sudan, where historically humanitarian workers could work free from any substantive insecurity, we’re not seeing that anymore,” Wells said. “They are continually under threat in places like Yemen and Syria. He needs to emphasize that there must be no immunity for these crimes. Once humanitarian workers lose access, the whole response can collapse.”

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, in red, at the April 7 Security Council meeting reacting to the chemical-weapons attack in Syria. RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, in red, at the April 7 Security Council meeting reacting to the chemical-weapons attack in Syria. RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO


The Trump administration’s proposed money cuts to parts of the UN — most of which must go through Congress — could provide an opportunity for Guterres to change the world body, like sharing control more evenly among the 193 member nations, a few people suggested.

“The UN at large and Secretary-General Guterres, in particular, should regard these cuts as an opportunity to welcome greater contributions from the many emerging political and economic powers to better reflect the new multipolar world order,” said Mona Ali Khalil, a legal adviser for Independent Diplomat, an international group that represents nonstate actors in peace negotiations.

Guterres, Khalil added, could also achieve more diversity and regional representation in what remains a permanent-five-centric “distribution of leadership positions over the substantive departments of the Secretariat.”

UN staff members cheered on Guterres when he arrived for his first day at the UN in New York on Jan. 3. His jaunty enthusiasm struck a new tone for the UN, downtrodden by the inability of the former secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to halt the war in Syria — stuck by Russia and China on the Security Council and unsuccessful diplomacy by the US, Britain and France, the other permanent Council members.

Guterres ran into political flak immediately with the US as he chose a special envoy for the UN’s “support mission” in Libya. Salam Fayyad, a well-respected former prime minister of Palestine, may have gotten the imperative green light from Nikki Haley, but she was apparently overruled by the White House. This embarrassment for Guterres revealed how much he needed to clear his decisions deep within the US presidency. Such direct approval has not been necessary for previous secretaries-general.

As a counterweight, Guterres had also planned to pick Tzipi Livni, the Israeli politician, for another top envoy spot in the UN. That idea vanished amid the Fayyad flap.

Another first step for Guterres was to revive the dormant Cyprus peace talks on political reunification of the island, now divided into Greek and Turkish sections. Much fanfare was made as Espen Barth Eide, the UN envoy for Cyprus and a Norwegian, met with the two sides in the Cyprus standoff early in the year. After many photo opportunities and sessions, the talks have fallen off the map.

Some analysts and media accuse the Russians for interfering in the negotiations, as they try to maintain control of offshore gas development near the island and their offshore banking interests in Cyprus.

The first Trump immigration ban, announced on Jan. 27, symbolized Guterres’s inner conflicts as the new secretary-general: should he speak against the ban on seven Muslim-majority countries to the US or relegate that tricky role to other UN officials, like the low-key refugee chief, Filippo Grandi, an Italian? Guterres took days to remark publicly on the ban, which was blocked (as was the one trotted out in March), taking heat on Twitter and from the media at the UN for his days of silence.

Since then, Guterres has held only two meetings with journalists who cover the UN in New York; for a man who vouched he would be a transparent secretary-general, his distance has provoked anger from reporters. His “discreet diplomacy,” as his office calls it, has meant not automatically issuing statements about meetings with VIPS like the ex-mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and some government leaders, such as Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, who stopped by the UN last week.

Other crucial private discussions include half-dozen conversations with Haley, who said she found the UN “misguided.” (When asked by a reporter about what “worked” at the UN, Haley said “the diplomats” – who are not, of course, staff members of the UN.)

Haley is rumored to be forging a national name for herself through her ambassadorship to the UN, starting with unpopular tactics like decreasing the size of UN peacekeeping missions and closing others. Haley hammered the Congo operation first, despite violent politics in the country and the recent murder there of an American working for the UN, Michael Sharp. (Another UN colleague, Zaida Catalan, from Sweden, was also murdered, along with a Congolese translator.)

Haley’s approach to UN peacekeeping is not strictly about numbers, said an Italian diplomat; otherwise, “we would oppose that.” Instead, peacekeeping reform by Haley — and by Guterres — represents “an evolution” in fleshing out which missions need to be reviewed.

An accountant who ran South Carolina for nearly two terms as governor, Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has endorsed Trump’s refugee bans, calling them necessary for keeping America safe. Her profile at the UN has spiked as she condemned the chemical weapons assault in Syria on April 4 and justified the retaliatory US missile strikes two days later. Yet her contradictions linger, as the week before those events she said that removing Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, was not a US priority. Her immediate boss, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has also been contradictory on US foreign policy in Syria, but he has grown more consistent on his stance as he heads to Russia for a visit this week.

Haley came to the UN after turning down Trump’s offer of secretary of state, she confirmed, and as her second term as governor had one year left, with term limits stopping her from a third try in the near future. Her reputation in South Carolina was built on combining stern warnings with “Happy Monday” greetings. A big win for her was preventing a Boeing plant from unionizing in a state that never embraced collective bargaining by employees.

Haley’s blunt disdain for the Human Rights Council — “so corrupt” — echoes ancient sentiments from previous US administrations. Except, that is, for Obama’s, which determined that participating in the Council was smarter diplomacy than abandoning it. Haley’s foreign-policy contradictions extend to the Council’s membership: as Trump welcomed Egypt’s leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to the White House, he and Haley didn’t mention that Egypt may be one of the big spoilers on the Council.

Inner sanctum: António Guterres and Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, on April 6 in the UN’s secretariat, New York. MARK GARTEN/UN PHOTO

Inner sanctum: António Guterres and Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, on April 6 in the UN’s secretariat, New York. MARK GARTEN/UN PHOTO


“Ambassador Haley has said she is looking for ‘value’ in the Council, which she called ‘corrupt’ and filled with ‘bad actors’ — ignoring that it has, for example, established important investigations and reports on North Korea, Iran, Syria, Belarus, Mali and other countries,” said Felice Gaer, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Guterres, Gaer noted in an email, “hasn’t defended the Council when it should be defended, nor criticized it directly. (In Geneva he said it had to be balanced, and credible, but attached no country names to his remarks which seemed to be aimed at the Council’s treatment of Israel — but might have just as easily been soothing word for Iran or Syria.)

“He needs to focus more directly on fixing the Council’s obsession with Israel, including by conveying to states that they need to end the biased treatment and should treat Israel like other countries.”

Guterres is also lagging in his goal to inject fresh blood in his ranks. He kept Ban’s communications team in place and reappointed Western officials to the most influential jobs, like peacekeeping (France), political affairs (US) and disarmament (Japan) — all men. His vow to shape a more equal UN by gender and by region is flagging. His senior appointments by gender, however, are much more advanced than under the previous secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, according to the New York University Center on International Cooperation.

In addition, his deputy, Amina Mohammed, a Nigerian who was environment minister until March and the orchestrator of the UN’s 17 global development goals, made a splash when she arrived at the UN but has not been seen much since.

Guterres’s most powerful ally among UN member states is France. France wanted Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, in the UN job from the get-go, reflecting the Socialist agenda of François Hollande, who leaves office as president of France this year, as well as other Western European governments. South Americans, like Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking nation, rallied close to him, too.

Most ambassadors interviewed for this article offered sympathetic assessments on Guterres: a Russian diplomat — as if mirroring his own plight — said Guterres was a “strong man” working under “huge pressures.” The American who worked in UN political affairs under Reagan and George W. Bush said that Guterres was “hitting the right notes” on peace and security issues while not getting “into arguments with the incoming administration” of the US.

After all, he added, “They [Trump administration] don’t know what they’re doing.”
Member states, explained an African ambassador on the Security Council, were banding together to optimize Guterres’s position with the US. “We are helping him by talking to America on how to improve this issue,” the diplomat said.

“If any man can deal with that government” — the US — “it’s António Guterres,” said Terje Rod-Larsen, a Norwegian who runs the International Peace Institute, a think tank located across the street from the UN.

A low bar for Guterres could be his most important advantage, said Thomas Weiss, the academic expert, given that Guterres followed Ban Ki-moon — a “disaster.”

“Never take a job after someone who has done a terrific job,” Weiss said. “You can’t possibly do it better. So, Guterres has the good fortune of following Ban Ki-moon rather than Kofi Annan.”

Kacie Candela contributed reporting to this article.

(Courtesy PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Malala Yousafzai Becomes UN’s Youngest Messenger of Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/malala-yousafzai-becomes-uns-youngest-messenger-of-peace/#comments Mon, 10 Apr 2017 20:51:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149896 Malala Yousafszai with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Malala Yousafszai with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2017 (IPS)

Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai has become the youngest UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education.

During a designation ceremony, UN Secretary-General António Guterres selected and honoured Yousafzai as the organisation’s Messenger of Peace.

“You are the symbol of one of the most important causes of the world…and that is education for all,” said Guterres.

“Admiring your courageous defense of the rights of all people including women and girls to education and equality [and] honoring the fact that you have shown, even in the face of grave danger, the unwavering commitment to peace…it takes great pride and pleasure in proclaiming Malala Yousafzai a United Nations Messenger of Peace,” he continued.
"I think people should look at me and all of the other 1.6 billion Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at a few terrorists…they are not us,” -- Malala Yousafzai

Yousafzai, 19, became a symbol for the fight for girls’ education after being shot in Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2012 for opposing Taliban restrictions on female education. She has since become a global human rights leader, becoming the the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate and co-founding the Malala Fund to raise awareness of the millions of girls without access to formal education.

“I stood here on this stage almost three and a half years ago…and I told the world that education is a basic human right of every girl…I stand here again today and say the same thing: education is the right of every child and especially for girls, this right should not be neglected,” Yousafzai said upon accepting the role.

Over 130 million girls are out of school today. Girls often lack access to education because they have to work, care for younger siblings, or are married early. Many also face violence, posing additional barriers for school attendance.

Beyond issues of education, Yousafzai has also been an outspoken advocate on issues of conflict and refugees.

On the escalation of violence in Syria, she stated: “To the children under siege in Aleppo, I pray that you will get out safely. I pray that you will grow up strong, go to school and see peace in your country some day. But prayers are not enough. We must act. The international community must do everything they can to end to this inhumane war.”

Most recently, Yousafzai condemned the U.S. executive order banning people from several Muslim-majority countries, writing that she is “heartbroken” and asking President Donald Trump to not turn his back on families fleeing violence and war.

“I’m a Muslim and I’m proud to be a Muslim… I think people should look at me and all of the other 1.6 billion Muslims who are living in peace and believe in peace rather than looking at a few terrorists…they are not us,” she said during the designation ceremony.

Both Yousafzai and Guterres noted the challenges that refugee families face in camps.

Worldwide, approximately 50 percent of refugee children have access to primary education. The gap widens as children grow older with 22 percent having access to secondary education and less than 1 percent with access to universities. In Lebanon alone, only half of Syrian refugee children can go to school.

“This shows how little the international community is doing to educate refugee children,” said Guterres.

“It is our responsibility, especially in the richest countries, to express our solidarity to all those who unfortunately cannot provide to their children the education they have the right to receive,” he continude.

The Malala Fund helps fund schools around the world, including education programs in the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan.

Messengers of Peace are distinguished individuals, carefully selected from various fields by the Secretary-General, to help raise awareness on the work of the UN. Others Messengers of Peace include U.S. actor Leonardo Di Caprio, Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and U.S. singer Stevie Wonder.

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No U.S. Refuge for Syrians Even After Military Strikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-u-s-refuge-for-syrians-even-after-military-strikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-u-s-refuge-for-syrians-even-after-military-strikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/no-u-s-refuge-for-syrians-even-after-military-strikes/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 23:31:19 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149866 Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN holding up pictures of victims of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria which prompted the Trump administration to launch an airstrike against the Assad government. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN holding up pictures of victims of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria which prompted the Trump administration to launch an airstrike against the Assad government. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

U.S. President Donald Trump Thursday night described the deepening Syrian refugee crisis as partial justification for the first direct U.S. airstrike against the Syrian government, even though the United States still bans all refugees from Syria.

Several rights groups responded Friday, calling on Trump to repeal the ban, which applies to migrants from Syria and 5 other countries in Africa and the Middle East.

“Trump was using very strong words last night to describe the cruelty and the horrors that children and civilians in general are enduring (in Syria),” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, co-director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch told IPS.

“To try to keep refugees out of the United States is cruel,”McFarland Sánchez-Moreno added. “It’s contrary to the values that the U.S. has traditionally claimed to hold dear and inconsistent with some of the words that President Trump himself used last night.”

Speaking from Palm Beach, Florida on Thursday night Trump described how “even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered” in the alleged chemical weapons attack which took place earlier this week.

“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically.  As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize…” Trump continued.

“If we truly want to help protect the people of Syria, we must also be willing to offer the Syrians assistance as they flee attacks in search of safety," -- Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America

However despite the airstrike marking a change in direction in Syria for the Trump Republican administration, there is no indication the administration is considering a similar shift in its policy towards Syrian refugees.

Reactions from the 15 member states of the UN Security Council to the airstrike on Friday were mixed, with some supporting the strikes even though the United States carried out the unilateral attack without the backing of the council. Others, including Bolivia, which called the meeting, strongly opposed the attack.

Lord Steward Wood of Anfield, Chair of the UN Association of the UK, a civil society organisation questioned the United States decision to take “unilateral action without broad international backing through the UN,”

He said that such action “without a clear strategy for safeguarding civilians, and through further military escalation risks further deepening and exacerbating an already protracted and horrific conflict, leaving civilians at greater, not lesser, risk of further atrocities.”

“In the meantime, if President Trump wishes to help the victims of Assad’s atrocities, he could pledge to play a leading role in resettling the survivors,” Wood added.

Meanwhile Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America’s Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor called for the United States to “change course” on Syrian refugees following the airstrikes.

Gottschalk said that the “innocent families” that Trump referred to “who were killed in Idlib are no different than the people who are attempting to seek refuge in the U.S.”

“Oxfam is urging the President to change course on his discriminatory ban that blocks Syrian civilians from finding refuge in the United States,” he said. “If we truly want to help protect the people of Syria, we must also be willing to offer the Syrians assistance as they flee attacks in search of safety.”

Although this is the first time that the United States has directly targeted Bashar Al-Assad’s government, airstrike monitoring project Airwars reports that there have been 7912 US-led coalition strikes targeting the so-called Islamic State since 2014. Airwars has also reported a spike in civilian casualties related to coalition air strikes in March 2017, rating 477 civilian casualties reports as ‘fair’.

However Airwars also reported that the U.S. strike on Shayrat Airfield in Homs in the early hours of Friday 7 April destroyed “up to 12 aircraft” describing this result as “significant” considering that “the primary cause of civilian deaths by (the) Syrian regime remains airstrikes.”

Earlier this week spokesmen for the UN Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that the Secretary-General was “deeply disturbed by the reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in an airstrike in the Khan Shaykhun area of southern Idlib, Syria.”

“The Secretary-General expresses his heartfelt condolences to victims of the incident and their families.”

Guterres had not yet commented on the U.S. airstrike against the Syrian government as of Friday evening.

Almost five million people have fled Syria since the conflict began over six years ago. Many areas of Syria are besieged and inaccessible to humanitarian assistance as well as UN monitors. This makes it difficult for the UN to monitor attacks such as the alleged chemical weapons attack which took place this week. This is also why the UN no longer provides an official death toll for the conflict, however in April 2016, UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said that it is likely more than 400,000 people had been killed.

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Tomatoes, Limes and Sex-Selective Abortionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/tomatoes-limes-and-sex-selective-abortions/#comments Fri, 07 Apr 2017 04:45:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149843 Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2017 (IPS)

When Bimla Chandrasekharan saw that women who gave birth to baby girls were being sent out of the house by their angry husbands and mothers-in-law she realised a basic biology lesson was needed.

“We start educating them on this XY chromosome,” Chandrasekharan who is Founder and Director of Indian women’s rights organisation EKTA told IPS. “(But) we don’t say XY chromosome, we do it with tomatoes and limes. ‘Tomato tomato’ it becomes a girl, ‘tomato lime’ it becomes a boy.”

It is just a start but this lesson helps to show fathers that they in fact determine the sex of their children.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), there are now 117 million girls who are ‘missing’ worldwide because of sex selective abortion and infanticide.

The problem ballooned in India and China in the 1990s, partly due to increased access to ultrasounds. But according to the UNFPA the problem has also now spread to new regions including Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

A new UNFPA program to address the problem in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Nepal will draw on the experiences of both India and China in addressing the problem.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.” -- Luis Mora, UNFPA

“Son preference is a practice that affects many societies around the world,” Luis Mora, Chief of the UN Population Fund’s Gender, Human Rights & Culture Branch told IPS.

“What we have seen over the last three decades is that the practice that initially was considered a sort of exception in China and India … has moved to other countries.”

Yet while the increase in sex selection has coincided with access to technologies like ultrasound, both Mora and Chandrasekharan agree that banning ultrasounds alone won’t fix the problem.

“In a patriarchal society there is always a preference for a male child,” says Chandrasekharan.

This is why EKTA challenges patriarchy and teaches mothers and fathers why they should want to have daughters just as much as they want sons.

Some of the reasons why sons are preferred over daughters are economic. In India parents have to pay a dowry for daughters. In many countries only sons can inherit property, daughters cannot.

But there are other reasons too.

As Chandrasekharan points out, some mothers fear bringing daughters into a world where they are likely to experience sexual harassment and abuse, a lifetime of unpaid housework, and marriage as young as 12 or 13.

Chandrasekharan, is an active member of a national campaign called Girls Count, which aims to fight sex selection in India, and receives funding from both UNFPA and UN Women.

She says that within Girls Count there are “two streams.”

“One stream of people believe in strict enforcement of the law,” says Chandrasekharan, “The other stream is challenging patriarchy, I belong to that stream,” She adds that she also believes in the law, but doesn’t think that laws alone work.

As Chandrasekharan points out India’s Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Technique Act was introduced in 1994, banning prenatal scanning and revealing the sex to parents, yet this law has not stopped sex-selective abortions.

Yet Chandrasekharan is also careful to say that challenging patriarchy doesn’t mean that her organisation is anti-men. Patriarchy is a system, she says that has consequences for both men and women, but mostly benefits men.

“We are not against you as an individual we are talking about a system,” she tells the men and boys she works with.

Mora also agrees that it is not possible to end sex selection without addressing gender inequality.

“The evidence we have (of what) what really works is changing social norms and gender norms that under-value girls and at the same time giving opportunities to girls and women.”

This includes giving rights, equal access to education, employment and land, says Mora. “These are the practical things that make a sustainable change.”

This is also why EKTA introduces role models to the community, to show that not all women will spend their lives doing unpaid housework.

EKTA’s most recent role model came from the local community herself. At a young age she met a family member who told her that she had flown to meet them by plane.

Even though the girl came from a marginalised Dalit family, she told her family that she wanted to be the ‘engine driver’ of a plane, since she didn’t yet know the word for pilot.

Last year, says Chandrasekharan, she became a full-fledged pilot and returned to speak to the community as part of EKTA’s role models program.

UNFPA’s new program in the six selected countries is funded by the European Union, however many other UNFPA programs are now in jeopardy, after the United States’ decision to withdraw all of its funding from the agency on Monday.

IPS spoke to Chandrasekharan during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women.

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