Inter Press ServiceIPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 18 Aug 2017 18:02:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Soy Changes Map of Brazil, Set to Become World’s Leading Producerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/soy-changes-map-brazil-set-become-worlds-leading-producer/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 17:22:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151713 “Our wealth lies in the climate, not in the land,” said Antonio Galván, president of the Rural Union of Sinop, a municipality created just 37 years ago, which has prospered due to the continued expansion of soy in Brazil. Sinop, population 133,000, is the biggest city in northern Mato Grosso, a state in west- central […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts from the interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minamata Convention, Curbing Mercury Use, is Now Legally Binding

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FAO Gender and Climate Change Programme. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 7 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

World Conference in China

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

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

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

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

Women in Land-Dependent Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Shen

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, the numbers speak for themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But dental mercury apparently continues to get a free pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, this will not happen on its own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is also a huge role for the private sector.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Interview edited for length and clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever since, the situation has only become worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerald Leitner. Credit: IFLA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: GGGI

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Rijsberman. Credit: GGGI

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

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

Solar Energy, Self-Driving Electric Vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Energy Transition

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

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

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

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

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

Unsustainable Depletion of Natural Resources

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

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

Sirpa Jarvenpaa. Credit: GGGI

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

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

Green Jobs, Clean Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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To Achieve Ambitious Goals – We Need to Start with our Basic Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:16:40 +0000 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151434 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

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By Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin
NEW YORK, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Recent protests in Ethiopia have seen people demonstrate in their thousands, angry at their authoritarian government, its favouritism towards those close to the ruling elite, and its failure to share the country’s wealth more equally.

The response of the state, in a country where dissent is simply not tolerated, has been predictably brutal: at the height of protests last year hundreds of people were killed, and a staggering estimated 24,000 were arrested, many of whom remain in detention today.

Perhaps not many of those marching in Ethiopia were aware of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies with provisions to protect civic freedoms, ensure equal access to justice and uphold the rule of law.

Clearly, in countries like Ethiopia, the current reality falls a long way short of these basic standards: if people felt that the government was listening to them and they could take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, they wouldn’t have protested in such large numbers.

If fundamental freedoms were upheld, including the essential civil society rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression, then people wouldn’t have been met with mass killings and detentions. It is no surprise that on the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the space for civil society – civic space – in every country of the world, Ethiopia is rated in the worst category, as having an entirely closed civic space.

It’s a matter of disappointment for civil society that progress on Goal 16 was not one of the goals reviewed by the governance body of the global goals at last week´s High Level Political Forum, which convened all UN member states and leaders from across sectors to review goal progress. A common concern amongst the 2,5000 civil society representatives that attended the global forum is that without progress on Goal 16, all the other goals cannot be achieved. And Goal 16 can only be realised if the role of civil society is respected and civic freedoms are protected.

On this score, two years into the Sustainable Development Goals, the early signs are worrying. Of the 44 countries whose progress was checked, four of them – Azerbaijan, Belarus and Iran, alongside Ethiopia – have entirely closed civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor ratings. A further 18 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and from Brazil to Thailand – are rated as also having serious civic space restrictions. Only ten countries are assessed as having entirely open civic space.

The fact that there are worrying levels of restrictions placed on civil society in over three quarters of the countries up for review in New York indicates that civil society’s ability to realise Goal 16 is being hampered, and potential for SDG progress is being lost.

The SDGs must go further than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which enabled governments to receive praise for making advances on a narrow set of indicators even while they were cracking down on fundamental freedoms: Ethiopia, for example, was rated highly for its MDG performance, alongside other countries where civic space is heavily restricted. It must be remembered that the promise of the SDGs is to be much more ambitious than the MDGs, and to advance social justice and human rights.

The ambition of the SDGs calls for everyone – governments, businesses and civil society – to play their part; the agenda is too big for any one sector to deliver on its own. But when civil society is being constrained – including widespread restrictions on the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to receive funds and organise the masses – then its capacity to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals at the community level is severally limited.

Goal 16 must be on the agenda whenever countries meet to evaluate progress on the SDGs. As of now it is only scheduled to be reviewed in 2019. The key test for Goal 16, for Ethiopia’s citizens, and the many other countries with restricted civic space, is if people are able to freely express their opinions, protest in peace and promote the interests of their communities without fear of persecution. On these measures, the Sustainable Development Goals still have a long way to go.

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China Seeks to Export Its Green Finance Model to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:05:44 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151431 Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change. The PBOC, which as China’s central bank […]

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Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change.

The PBOC, which as China’s central bank regulates the country’s financial activity and monitors its monetary activity, has been particularly interested in Argentina, because next year it will preside over the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies.

In 2018, Buenos Aires will become the first Latin American city to organise a summit of the G20 forum, in which the major global powers discuss issues on the global agenda.

“China started to develop strategies to promote green finance international collaboration in the G20 framework in 2016, the year when it took over the presidency. And Germany took over this year the presidency and decided to continue. We are looking forward to Argentina to continue with this topic of green finance in 2018,” said Ma Jun, chief economist at the PBoC, in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the UNDP offices in Buenos Aires. “Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information.” -- Ma Jun

Ma, a distinguished economist who has worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Deutsche Bank, was the keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Finance, held Jul. 20-21 at IDB headquarters in Buenos Aires.

At that event, he told representatives of the public sector and private companies from a number of countries that over the past three years China has been making an important effort for its financial system to underpin a change in the development model, putting aside polluting industries and supporting projects that respect the environment and use resources more efficiently.

Ma, a high-ranking PBoC official since 2014, surprised participants in the Symposium stating that in 2015, China decided to change its development model because of the enormous environmental impact it had, which is reflected in the estimate he quoted: that “a million people a year die in China due to pollution-related diseases.“

He said four trillion yuan – approximately 600 billion dollars – will be needed to finance investments in environmentally sustainable projects over the next few years in China.

Simon Zadek, co-director of the UN Environment Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, concurred with Ma.

He explained that the UN agency he co-heads promotes the “mobilisation of private capital towards undertakings compatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, by the financial markets, banks, investment funds and insurance companies.“

He added that “many countries have taken steps in that direction and China is one of the most inspiring, most ambitious at an internal level and most active in promoting international cooperation.“

“Financial markets and capital should take environmental and climate issues into account now, not tomorrow. We are hoping for Argentina’s leadership next year on this matter and we are ready to collaborate if it decides to do so,“ said the UN Environment official.

The Symposium was held a few days after this year’s G20 summit, which was hosted Jul. 7-8 by Hamburg, Germany.

During the summit the discrepancy became evident between the rest of the heads of government and U.S. President Donald Trump, who does not believe in climate change and withdrew his country from the Paris Agreement, which in December 2015 set commitments for all governments to reduce global warming.

In Hamburg, a meeting was held by the Green Finance Study Group (GFSG), created in 2016, the year China presided over the G20, and which is headed by Ma and Michael Sheren, senior advisor to the Bank of England, with UN Environment acting as its secretariat.

There are two main issues that the GFSG currently promotes for the financial industry to consider when deciding on the financing of infrastructure or productive projects: setting up an environmental risk analysis and using publicly available environmental data.

“PBoC, the largest Chinese bank, has verified that to invest too much in the polluting sector is not beneficial. The costs are higher and the profits lower, because lots of policies are more and more restrictive in the polluting sector,” Ma said, noting that the bank began to carry out environmental risk analysis two years ago.

For the chief economist, “the other focus is to allow financial markets to distinguish who is green and who is brown,” referring to the predominant model of development, based on draining natural resources and not preserving ecosystems.

“Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information,” added Ma.

An important part of the initiative is the promotion of the emission of so-called green bonds, to finance projects of renewable energy, energy saving, treatment of wastewater or solid waste, the construction of green buildings that emit less pollutants and reduce their energy consumption, and green transport.

But the promotion of green finance does not foresee the arrival of special funds for that purpose to countries of the developing South.

In fact, the “greening of the financial system“ mainly depends on the private sector, especially where the state has limited fiscal capacity, according to the conclusions of the G20’s GFSG.

For Rubén Mercado, UNDP economist in Argentina, governments can facilitate undertakings that are beneficial to the environment by changing policies, without the need for spending additional funds.

“The key issue is that of relative prices. In Argentina we have subsidised fossil fuels for years. Perhaps we would not even have to subsidise renewable forms of energy, but simply reduce our subsidies for fossil fuels so that the other sources can be developed,“ he said.

Ma took a similar approach, pointing out that “You don´t need to spend money, you just need to eliminate the subsidies” that are traditionally granted to fossil fuel producers, which hamper investments in clean energies.

In the Symposium in Buenos Aires a study was released about the economies of Germany, China and India, which revealed that in the last year they have invested in renewable energies just 0.7, 0.4 and 0.1 per cent of GDP, respectively.

“The massive demand for green financing simply cannot be met by the public sector or the fiscal system,” said Ma.

“In a country like China, 90 percent is being covered by the private sector. Globally, my feeling is that in the OECD countries the fiscal capacity is probably higher. Maybe more than 10 percent could be provided by governments,” he said.

“But in other economies with weaker fiscal capacity, the rate should be even lower than in China.”

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No Justice, No Peace for Yemeni Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/no-justice-no-peace-yemeni-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-justice-no-peace-yemeni-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/no-justice-no-peace-yemeni-children/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 14:09:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151395 Human rights groups are urging the UN Secretary-General to include the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) in a child rights’ “shame list” after documenting grave violations against children. Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict have documented at least 23 SLC airstrikes which injured or killed children, prompting an urgent call for the […]

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'Zuhoor_Yemen' : One-year-old Zuhoor was forced to have the fingers of her right hand amputated after being seriously injured by an airstrikes near Sana'a. Credit: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 21 2017 (IPS)

Human rights groups are urging the UN Secretary-General to include the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC) in a child rights’ “shame list” after documenting grave violations against children.

Save the Children and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict have documented at least 23 SLC airstrikes which injured or killed children, prompting an urgent call for the UN to help protect children caught in the midst of the deadly two year-long conflict.

“Everywhere you go in Yemen you see the devastation caused by airstrikes…all parties have been responsible for the unnecessary deaths of children in Yemen, and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is among them,” said Save the Children’s Yemen country director Tamer Kirolos.

“The UN Secretary-General must put the interests of children first – and hold all of those responsible to account,” he continued.

The human rights groups compiled evidence of “grave violations” in an effort to push Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to include the SLC in a report on child rights violations in conflict, expected to be released next month.

The annual Children and Armed Conflict report documents grave violations including the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals. It also includes an annex which names and shames perpetrators of such violations.

The coalition was initially listed in the 2016 report, only to be removed a few days later after the Gulf state reportedly threatened to withdraw funding from critical UN programs.

“I had to make a decision just to have all UN operations, particularly humanitarian operations, continue,” former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said following the move.

“I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programs,” he added.

The 2016 report found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of all recorded child deaths and injuries.

This pattern has only continued as Save the Children and Watchlist documented the killing and maiming of more than 120 children.

In one incident, multiple airstrikes on a market in Hajjah in March 2016 left 25 children dead and four injured.

Multiple bombings of schools and hospitals have also been recorded, including attacks on two different Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported hospitals.

Beyond the immediate and devastating effects on children, such attacks have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in the country including the “world’s worst cholera outbreak.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children under the age of 15 account for 40 percent of the almost 300,000 suspected cholera cases and make up a quarter of cholera-related deaths.

The 1.8 million acutely malnourished children under five are particularly vulnerable to such communicable diseases.

However, the health system remains unable to respond to the needs of the population as only 45 percent of health facilities remain with limited functionality.

“As war grinds on and children’s lives are blighted not just in Yemen but around the world, the Secretary-General’s annual list has rarely been more important,” the organisations said in a briefing.

“It offers an opportunity to stand up for children caught in today’s brutal conflict to say that their lives and rights have value,” they continued.

In order to hold perpetrators accountable, the list must be “executed without fear or favour” where every party to the conflict that has committed grave violations is included, they added.

Though listing the SLC is not an end in itself, failure to include a key party to the conflict will set a “dangerous precedent” that others around the world will take note of.

“It would also betray the families whose loved ones were killed, the children who suffered life-changing injuries in airstrikes last year…Yemen’s children deserve accountability for the attacks committed against them,” Save the Children and Watchlist concluded.

The coalition is comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan. Because of an ongoing diplomatic rift, Qatar is no longer a part of the SLC.

More than 4,000 children have been killed or injured by all sides of the conflict.

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Local Farmers and Consumers Create Short Food Supply Chains in Mexican Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:51:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151382 Víctor Rodríguez arranges lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and herbs on a shelf with care, as he does every Sunday, preparing to serve the customers who are about to arrive at the Alternative Market of Bosque de Tlalpan, in the south of the Mexican capital. Farmers bring their organic vegetables from San Miguel Topilejo, a rural village […]

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Mauricio Rodríguez, a member of the association of Organic Vegetables’ Producers of San Miguel Topilejo "Del Campo Ololique", serves customers at his stall in the Tlalpan Alternative Market, in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mauricio Rodríguez, a member of the association of Organic Vegetables’ Producers of San Miguel Topilejo "Del Campo Ololique", serves customers at his stall in the Tlalpan Alternative Market, in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 20 2017 (IPS)

Víctor Rodríguez arranges lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and herbs on a shelf with care, as he does every Sunday, preparing to serve the customers who are about to arrive at the Alternative Market of Bosque de Tlalpan, in the south of the Mexican capital.

Farmers bring their organic vegetables from San Miguel Topilejo, a rural village a few km away in the municipality of Tlalpan, where they grow chard, onions, radishes, beets and other produce as a group on a total of seven hectares.

Agriculture “is a family heritage handed down by our grandparents, we are the third generation, it gives us knowledge and tools for living. We farmers must continue to exist, because we form part of the food chain,“ said Rodríguez, 36, whose wife also works in the association.

He is one of eight members of the Organic Vegetables’ Producers association of San Miguel Topilejo “Del Campo Ololique”, which in the Nahuatl indigenous tongue means “place where things are well.“

Rodríguez, a father of two, says “the best thing to do was return to the roots and contribute to future generations,“ referring to the decision to engage in organic farming and create direct channels of distribution, instead of selling their crops to wholesalers, who used to pay them a pittance.

“We have made it through the hardest part, which was to keep the project alive. Now we have steady customers who want healthy products, they know what they are consuming. We have gained the trust of our customers,“ he explained.

The association emerged in 2003 and harvests some 700 kg of vegetables a week, which the members take on Sundays to the Tlalpan street market and two other alternative markets in Mexico City, and on Tuesdays to Cuernavaca, a city about 90 km south of the capital.

They also welcome visits to the farm by customers interested in seeing how they do things.

The group has added 1,000 metres of tomato greenhouses and 500 of cucumbers, thanks to a rainwater collection system that allows them to cultivate year round. They also make beet juice and ready-to-eat salads, to incorporate added value.

In Topilejo, which in Nahuatl means “he who holds the precious chieftain’s staff“ and where some 41,000 people live, the group also protects the forest and has built terraces to prevent mudslides.

The Ololique association is one of the five winners of the 2017 Fund for the Innovation of Short Agri-Food Chains, organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the non-governmental organisation Slow Food Mexico, which distributed some 34,000 dollars between five undertakings.

A total of 98 groups involved in sustainable commerce, eco-gastronomy and nutritional education ran in the competition held to promote traditional cuisine, agroecological food production, clean systems in small-scale agriculture, agricultural biodiversity of crops and wild species, as well as food security, sovereignty and resilience.

Short food supply chains are market mechanisms that imply a proximity between places of production and consumption, which offer products grown using sustainable agricultural practices, with fewer intermediaries and closer ties between producers and consumers.

The idea is that these mechanisms can bolster family farming, whose international year was celebrated in 2014, to promote agroecological practices, improve farmers’ incomes, protect the environment and bolster sustainable food.

“Short chains are mechanisms of commercialisation to sell directly to consumers or through only one intermediary,“ explained Mauricio García, coordinator of the Short Food Chains project in the FAO office in Mexico.

“Since the farmers know the consumers, they start growing in response to demand, and their products sell better. The consumer knows who the producers are and can see how they grow their food,“ he told IPS.

The expert said that this way “a connection“ is established that allows small-scale farmers to sell their products at a fair price and allows consumers to buy products knowing where they came from.

FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food estimate that small-scale agriculture produces 75 per cent of the country’s food. Of the more than five million farms in Mexico, over four million are family farms.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, small-scale farming makes up nearly 81 per cent of agricultural holdings, provides between 27 and 67 per cent of food consumed domestically, occupies between 12 and 67 per cent of agricultural land and contributes between 57 and 77 per cent of regional agricultural employment.

In this country of 129 million people, there are only 26 short food supply chain street markets, where farmers sell their produce directly to consumers in markets that they have set up themselves, according to the Platform of ‘Tianguis’ and Organic Markets of Mexico, and confirmed by FAO.

In 2017, the Mexican Agriculture Ministry’s Programme to Support Small-Scale Producers has a budget of 490 million dollars – a 29 per cent increase with respect to 2016.

One of the objectives of the Ministry’s 2013-2018 sectoral programme is to support the production and incomes of small-scale farmers in the poorest rural areas.

Rodríguez said that reaching more markets and consumers without intermediaries will require more support. “These projects are indispensable, because we defend agriculture, preserve our communities and protect the environment,“ he said.

The group plans to buy a solar dryer, add another four hectares of land in 2018, register their brand and design packaging and wrappers for their processed foods.

FAO and the Agriculture Ministry list some of the challenges for small-scale agriculture, such as human capital, limited capital goods and technologies, weak integration in production chains and degradation of natural resources.

They also include high vulnerability to weather shocks, low yields and serious constraints due to shortages of land and water.

García suggests a change in perspective for the public sector.

“We want strategic aspects to be financed in these projects, which already have a history and required very concrete things, in order for them to work better. They can have better products, with more added value to generate more resources and to be able to sustain their projects,“ he said.

He stressed that “these are replicable initiatives, we need to finance them, for them to thrive and to promote their replication.“

Since 2013, the more than 190 United Nations member states have been negotiating the “Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people living in rural areas.“

It addresses and promotes the rights to natural resources and to development, to participation, information about production, commercialisation and distribution, as well as to access to justice, work, and safety and health in the workplace.

In addition, it deals with rights to food and food sovereignty, to decent livelihoods and income, to land and other natural resources, to a safe, clean and healthy environment, to seeds and to biodiversity.

Meanwhile, organisations of farmers, rural associations and research centres have promoted, since 2015, that the UN declare a “Decade of Family Agriculture“.

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In the New World Order, Asia Is Rising, Says Pakistan’s UN Envoyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-world-order-asia-rising-says-pakistans-un-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-world-order-asia-rising-says-pakistans-un-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-world-order-asia-rising-says-pakistans-un-envoy/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 18:44:56 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151363 When Maleeha Lodhi arrived at the United Nations in 2015 as Pakistan’s ambassador, she brought with her a broad background in academia, journalism and diplomacy: a Ph.D. in political science from the London School of Economics, where she later taught political sociology; the first woman to edit major newspapers in Pakistan; ambassador to the United […]

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Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, presiding over a General Assembly session, May 5, 2017. In an interview, Lodhi said the UN imbued nations with a “spirit of cooperation.” Credit: UN/Photo

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 19 2017 (IPS)

When Maleeha Lodhi arrived at the United Nations in 2015 as Pakistan’s ambassador, she brought with her a broad background in academia, journalism and diplomacy: a Ph.D. in political science from the London School of Economics, where she later taught political sociology; the first woman to edit major newspapers in Pakistan; ambassador to the United States twice and once as Pakistan’s high commissioner in London.

In a sense, that background is all coming together at the UN.

While Lodhi’s diplomatic priority must be putting Pakistan’s interests first, she said in an interview in her office at the Pakistani UN mission on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she also finds time to focus on global perspectives, which makes the UN a great assignment.

From her base in New York, Lodhi stays actively involved in a number of international think tanks, including the Institute of Strategic Studies and the Middle East Center at the LSE, both in London. She is also a member of the UN Disarmament Commission and the global agenda council of the World Economic Forum.

In the interview, Lodhi ranged over Pakistan’s reputation in the UN arena, the increasing role of China in development across Asia, the rise of Islamophobia and the sad state of Western responses to an unprecedented world refugee crisis.

Although Pakistan’s national priorities remain predominant — Lodhi mentioned counterterrorism, sustainable economic development, relations with India and the decades-long impasse over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir — the UN has another 192 nations with their own interests. The rapid, spontaneous evolution of a new world order means every nation needs friends to meet the challenges.

“When you come to the UN, you see the priorities of other nations, and the dynamics at play, and the crises that are occurring,” she said. “The best thing about [the UN] is that it encourages a spirit of cooperation, and I think that’s extremely essential in the challenging times that we live in. The United Nations is about negotiating as part of a bloc of countries. No country here negotiates on its own for obvious reasons, because you need the support of other countries.”

The UN displays global changes in sharp relief, Lodhi suggested, and the West must recognize that these developments beg for a rethinking of old assumptions about international power structures.

“At a time when we see the rise of Asia — and this being described as Asia’s century — the West needs to go back to the drawing board and revisit the very notion of an international community,” she said.

Maleeha Lodhi was born into a well-to-do family in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and the center of the country’s cultural traditions and base for its most prominent human-rights activists and groups. That includes the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental group.

She has credited her career partly to her parents’ emphasis on education. But her personality came into play early. She is known to be tough but gracious, meticulous in her scholarship while outspoken in promoting Pakistan. An Indian commentator suggested that Lodhi may have been sent to the UN to keep India from getting a permanent Security Council seat, though the Council is a long way from reform and expansion.

Decades ago, Lodhi became a good friend and adviser to Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister, who first appointed her ambassador to the United States in 1993-1996. She served as ambassador to the US again, from 1999 to 2002, under the military government of President Pervez Musharraf.

Her years in Washington, and later in fellowships at Harvard and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, would have demonstrated to anyone that Pakistan had serious critics across the US government and research organizations.

Under Abdul Qadeer Khan, who headed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Pakistan was found to have shared the technology he acquired while studying and working in Europe (or help given to him by China) with North Korea, Libya and Iran. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2004 for his black-market operations but pardoned almost immediately by General Musharraf and placed under house arrest until 2009.

Asked if Pakistan’s however-notorious past relations with North Korea and China, which is the country’s biggest development aid donor, had led to any outside requests for Pakistani information on the North Korean nuclear program or suggestions that Pakistani experts might be tapped to give advice with China on the current nuclear crisis with the Kim Jong Un regime, Lodhi said no.

Pakistan is often portrayed as an oppressive Islamic society, harsh on women and minorities, a record that is increasingly shared by neighboring India. The Pakistani government and intelligence services have also been accused of having created the Taliban, though little is said or remembered of Islamabad’s earlier hosting — with full US support — of the disparate armies of the Afghan mujahedeen, who took power after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The remnants of these warlord-led militias in Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance continue to create political havoc in Kabul.

The attitude toward Pakistan is much more positive at the UN, Lodhi said.

“Contrary to the impression given by the negative media [particularly in the US], at the United Nations you’ll find the total antithesis. If you look at Pakistan’s position within this international community, it is one of enormous respect,” she said. She noted that the country has played a key role at the UN “on all three pillars: peace and security, human rights/humanitarian action and development.”

“We have consistently remained among the top three troop contributors to UN peacekeeping,” she said. “This has been the case since 1960 onwards.” Lodhi added that much of the current deployment of Pakistani soldiers is in Africa, “where they are needed most.”

On the humanitarian front, Lodhi points to Pakistan’s record on refugee assistance.

“We’ve always pointed out that the Western countries need to show a bigger heart,” she said. “They have a big wallet, but they need to match that wallet with a bigger heart. We didn’t have much of a wallet in Pakistan, but we continue to host over two million Afghan refugees. At the peak, we had more than three million. We continue to do that, and we’ve done that for 35 years.”

Pakistan, the world’s second-most-populous Muslim majority nation after Indonesia, plays a key role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, and its voting bloc at the UN, Lodhi said. Among the concerns of Muslims, she said, are the unfulfilled resolutions on Kashmir, still a disputed territory between Pakistan and India; and on Palestine.

“There’s such a similarity between the cases of Palestine and Kashmir, both involving Muslim nations, both involving big power politics that stood in the way and continue to stand in the way of implementation of those resolutions.”

As a Muslim, Lodhi sees Islamophobia and xenophobia as “new forms of racial discrimination,” she said. “This is the contemporary expression of effort to discriminate against people of a certain faith who also happen to be people of a certain color. Here, also, Pakistan has been active at the United Nations, raising the issue.”

China looms large in the ambassador’s perception of the most significant global changes happening on the horizon, starting with the shifting relationship between Islamabad and Beijing.

“Traditionally, it was a defense and strategic dimension that was dominant in the relationship,” Lodhi said. “Now that relationship has morphed into a much more wide-based relationship. The defense-strategic relationship is there, but in addition, there is a very strong — I would say, much stronger — economic and investment orientation because Pakistan is the pivot of China’s One Belt, One Road. We hope to be the beneficiary in a mutually advantageous way.”

The Chinese initiative was announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping. It is a breathtakingly ambitious program involving road, rail and sea links connecting traders and investors across Central Asia, parts of South and Southeast Asia, two seas — the South China Sea and Indian Ocean –and, ultimately, Europe.

The Chinese, who never think small or pay a lot of attention to critics, have wowed Pakistan, a longtime ally that sees itself as part of “the biggest economic initiative of the 21st century by any nation,” Lodhi said. “People still invoke the Marshall Plan as having in a way created a new paradigm and shifted a whole set of circumstances at that time. But this is gigantic by comparison. It’s not about aid and assistance. It’s about investment. It’s about trade. It’s about energy cooperation.

This has the potential of transforming all of Asia — certainly the 60 countries that are participating, thrusting them into a new era of prosperity and mutual cooperation.”

(*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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Don’t Move Resources from Development to Security, Warns UN Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/dont-move-resources-development-security-warns-un-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dont-move-resources-development-security-warns-un-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/dont-move-resources-development-security-warns-un-chief/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 21:02:39 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151339 António Guterres, UN Secretary-General at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

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António Guterres, UN Secretary-General at the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2017 (IPS)

Twenty years ago, when I was starting my functions as Prime Minister of Portugal, the world was surfing a wave of optimism. The Cold War had ended, technological prosperity was in full swing, the internet was spreading and there was the idea that globalisation would not only increase global wealth, but that it would trickle down and would benefit everybody in our planet.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Twenty years afterwards, I would say that the picture is mixed. It’s true that globalisation, technological progress have dramatically increased global trade, global wealth, it is true that the number of absolute poor has been reduced and that living conditions have improved all over the world but it is also true that globalisation and technological progress together have been factors of increase of inequality. Eight persons in the world have as much wealth as half of the world population.

At the same time, it is clear that people were left behind in the rust belts of this world, and youth unemployment became a severe problem in different regions of our planet not only undermining the future of those young people but also being an obstacle to the development of their countries and in some situations being a part of the global threat created by the fact that without hope they can easily be recruited by extremist organisations and we see that impact in global terrorism today.

Now it is true that that has generated a loss of confidence, loss of trust between peoples and government or political establishments, between people and international organisations like the UN, and between people and the idea of globalisation in itself, of global governance, and of multilateral institutions.

I think it is important to recognise that there is a paradox because problems are more and more global, challenges are more and more global, there is no way any country can solve them by itself, and so we need global answers and we need multilateral governance forms, and we need to be able to overcome this deficit of trust, and that in my opinion is the enormous potential of the Agenda 2030; because the Agenda 2030 is an agenda aiming at a fair globalisation, it’s an agenda aiming at not leaving anyone behind, eradicating poverty and creating conditions for people to trust again in not only political systems but also in multilateral forms of governance and in international organisations like the UN.

At the same time, it’s clear that when one looks at today’s economy, the global economies are improving, probably more slowly than we would like, but the areas of fragility are also increasing – political fragility, institutional fragility, but also development fragility, and societal fragility; and fragilities to a large extent are responsible for many of the conflicts today and for the spreading of those conflicts and the linking of those conflicts to the global threat of global terrorism.

And this is why it is true that the agendas of sustainable development and the agendas of preventing [conflict] and sustaining peace need to be linked. But here there is a caveat – that link should not be a pretext to move resources from development to security.

On the contrary, that should make us understand the centrality of development in what we do and the need to make sure that with that centrality of development we are able to fully recognise that sustainable and inclusive development is in itself a major factor of prevention of conflict as it is a major factor for the prevention of natural disasters and other aspects in which the resilience of societies is so important today.

And indeed if one looks at the global megatrends – population growth, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, chaotic urbanization in certain parts of the world – it is also true that all these megatrends are interacting with each other, are stressing each other. And we have to recognise that climate change became the main accelerator of all other factors.

This is also the moment to clearly say that the link to the Agenda 2030 of sustainable development, there must be a very strong reaffirmation of our commitment to the Paris Agreement and to its implementation with an enhanced ambition because the Paris Agreement by itself is not enough for the objectives that the world needs in relation to global warming. And this is something that I believe is very important not only because of its absolute need for mankind and the future of the planet but because it is also the right and smart thing to do.

We are seeing that the green economy is becoming more and more the economy of the future, that green business is good business and those that will not bet on green economy, on green technologies, will inevitably lose or not gain economic leadership in the years to come.

At the same time it is very important that we recognise that we need not only to be able to respond to the problems of those that are living in societies and that are under government responsibility but that human rights are also the rights of the people on the move, refugees and migrants, and so leaving no one behind will also have to inspire us to find the ways to look into migration with a different perspective, not with a perspective of rejection but understanding that is also an important component in solving global problems and that we need to find more legal avenues of migration and more ways to respect the human rights of migrants to make sure that they are not left behind in today’s world.

We know that the global megatrends are also making more and more people move in our world to prevent unnecessary movements, and to make sure that those movements that take place, take place in a regular way is another very important objective of not leaving anyone behind.

And then there is a central question of funding. And I think it is important to reaffirm today very clearly that developed countries need to abide by their commitments in relation to official development aid, but that at the same time that this is not enough to fund the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

We need to create conditions to help States be able to mobilise more their own resources and that has to do, on one hand, with tax reforms within states but also on mobilising the international community to fight together tax evasion, money laundering, and illicit flows of capital that are today making that more money is coming out of developing countries that the money that goes in through official development assistance.

And at the same time we need to make sure that the international financial institutions are able to leverage resources and to multiply their capacity to fund the implementation of the SDGs and also that we help countries to be able to access global markets, financial markets, and to be able to attract private investment without which it would be absolutely impossible to achieve these goals. And let’s also not only think about the problems of today, but also the problems of tomorrow.

We are facing a fourth industrial revolution, that will have a dramatic] impact in labour markets. And this will be a problem for many developing countries that today rely on cheap manpower as their competitive advantage; and cheap manpower will probably see many jobs destroyed in the near future with robotisation, and other forms of automation.

And at the same time a problem for many developed countries – look at the possibility that one day in a country like the US no more drivers might be necessary, no more drivers for cars, for trucks, and that is probably a very important source of employment in all societies in the world.

We need to be able to anticipate these trends, we need to be able to work together countries, international organisations, not to be reacting, but to be foreseeing what is coming and investing in education, in training, in new skills, in the adaptations of the labour markets to be able to cope with the challenges of the future. And for all that we also need to be able to reform, reform at country level, reform at the UN level and other organisations level.

Countries will look in different ways depending on different situations, on a country by country basis, into their governance mechanisms, into the way they are able to guarantee the participation of citizens, of businesses and of the civil society in development objectives. In the ways they are able to fight corruption, or to guarantee not only civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.

And as in the UN we need to be able to understand that even if the UN development system has produced many important contributions namely in the context of the implementation of the [SDGs], we are not fully ready for the new challenges of the present agenda 2030. That is why I presented to ECOSOC a first report on the reform of the UN development system. I will not be repeating here the 38 measures that are included in this first report but just say that there are a few central areas of concern.

First, the idea that we need to have at country level empowered resident coordinators and more effective country teams, more coordinated and more able to deliver support to the governments according to the government strategies – because governments and countries are the leaders of the implementation of the agenda – and to be more accountable to those governments at country level.

At the same time, to have this level of coordination, transparency, accountability at global level, being in this case accountable to ECOSOC and to the General Assembly of the UN and to consider that gender parity in the UN must also be an instrument in order to support gender mainstreaming, in the application of all policies that relate to the Agenda 2030 and to its objectives from the eradication of poverty to all the different areas, in the different sectors in which we need to be effective.

And finally that funding needs to be in line with the objectives of coherence and the objectives of accountability that I have mentioned and that is why we have the idea to propose a funding compact to guarantee exactly that coherence instead of the dispersion of funding in line that are not taking into account the objectives that in each country, each government is able to put in place to achieve the sustainable development goals.

And I think that looking at this Assembly, one can only be enthusiastic about the fact that there is a very strong commitment not only to the implementation of the agenda but a very strong affirmation of support to multilateral governance as the way to lead the 2030 Agenda respecting the leadership of member states but recognising that only working together we can rebuild the trust that is needed and we can make the Agenda 2030 that factor that brings the fair globalisation the world needs in the present times.

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The Arab Youth Bulge and the Parliamentarianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/arab-youth-bulge-parliamentarians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-youth-bulge-parliamentarians http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/arab-youth-bulge-parliamentarians/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:26:37 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151300 More than ever before, the Arab region now registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges such as extremely high unemployment rates –more than half of all regional jobless population–, and inadequate education and health provision, in particular among young women. These challenges come amidst increasing population pressures, advancing drought and desertification, and […]

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The Arab region registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges, such as high unemployment and inadequate education

Students from Al-Amal Preparatory School for Girls in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, participate in psychosocial support activities. Credit: © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Sarraj

By IPS World Desk
ROME/AMMAN, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

More than ever before, the Arab region now registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges such as extremely high unemployment rates –more than half of all regional jobless population–, and inadequate education and health provision, in particular among young women.

These challenges come amidst increasing population pressures, advancing drought and desertification, and alarming growing water scarcity, all worsening as a consequence of climate change.

One of the main consequences is an increasing social unrest like the one that led to so the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Let alone massive migration–now it is estimated that 25 to 35 per cent of Arab youth appear to be determined to migrate. (See: What Future for 700 Million Arab and Asian Youth?).

What to Do?

More than 100 Arab and Asian legislators are set to focus on these and other related challenges in Amman, Jordan, during the Asian and Arab Parliamentarians Meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development (18-20 July 2017).

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), which is the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), in close consultation with Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development (FAPPD), participants have been selected based on their needs for capacity enhancement and priority policy interventions where knowledge-sharing can be most effective.

According to APDA, over the past decades, while the Arab region has shown remarkable socio-economic improvement including education and health, it has faced profound changes and challenges. Among them is the “youth bulge,” which describes the increasing proportion of youth in relative to other age groups.

The Arab region registers an unprecedented youth population growth while facing huge challenges, such as high unemployment and inadequate education

Students at the Jalazone Basic School watch a performance by ‘Clowns 4 Care’. Credit: © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Riham Jafary

Such increase, together with overall Arab population pressures, has resulted in an unprecedented youth population growth in the region’s history, it adds.

One of the most challenging issues facing young Arabs are the high-unemployment rates. “The region has one of the highest regional youth unemployment rate seen anywhere in the world,” it warns, adding that in 2009, more than 20 per cent of Arab youth were unable to find a job, which constituted more than half of the total unemployment.

Such high youth unemployment, combined with a demographic youth bulge, provoked the Arab Spring, a civil uprising mainly by Arab youths, and regional instability, according to APDA.

Moreover, despite overall progress in the health sector in many Arab countries over the past years, Arab youth still suffer from inadequate health provision and poor access to health facilities, lack of access to health information and services, especially for reproductive health.

“This is especially true for young women, youth in rural areas, and youth with disabilities and putting many in a vulnerable situation. “

The Youth Bulge

Organised under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs”, the Amman meeting aims at enhancing the roles of parliamentarians in enacting legislation to formulate policies and mobilize budget that takes population issues into account is a driver to promote socio-economic development.

In fact, legislators have a significant part to play in linking demographic dimensions with sustainable development and turning them into advantages to produce socio-economic outcomes.

“For instance, the youth bulge presents not only development challenges but also opportunities, if appropriate policies are adopted to invest in the youth and reap the full potential of them. “

The Amman event will be followed by one in India on mid-September, and another one in the Republic of Korea towards the end of October 2017.

The Asian Population and Development Association has supported activities of parliamentarians tackling population and development issues for 35 years.

This time, in close consultation with Forum of Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development and its Secretariat in Amman, Jordan, the event is intended to highlight and call attention of Asian and Arab parliamentarians to population perspectives in the 2030 Agenda.

As well, it will focus on parliamentarians’ important roles and tasks in addressing population issues aligned with the new goals and targets, and related policies and programmes that advance social inclusion and population stability in the region.

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