Inter Press ServiceIPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 Jan 2018 17:32:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Groups Condemn U.S. Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:04:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153938 International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees. This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA serves […]

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Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza.Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2018 (IPS)

International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees.

This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

UNRWA serves over 5 million refugees with education, healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

As the U.S. was the agency’s biggest donor, contributing over 350 million dollars in 2017, UNRWA is now facing its biggest financial crisis.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support…at stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiples risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he added.

Former UN Undersecretary General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland noted that the funding cut will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugee children who depend on the agency for their education.

“It will also deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare-up in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he said.

UNRWA provides education to over half of a million boys and girls in 700 schools and manages more than 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 clinics.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar noted that many Palestinian refugees live in poverty, including the majority of those in Syria who require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the U.S. cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees,” she said.

Politics Over Humanitarianism?

The Trump administration said that the decision was made as a way to press for unspecified reforms in the agency.

Though the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the move was not made to pressure Palestinians to enter negotiations, President Donald Trump suggested otherwise in a series of tweets just weeks before the decision.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

“The administration seems intent on holding them hostage—and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees—as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks,” she said.

Head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) U.S. delegation Husam Zomlot echoed similar sentiments, stating that refugees’ access to basic humanitarian services is not a “bargaining chip, but a U.S. and international obligation.”

“Taking away food and education from vulnerable refugees does not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace and [the] rights of Palestinian refugees will not be compromised by a financial decision,” he said.

Egeland also tweeted that cutting aid is a “bad politicization of humanitarian aid.”

UNRWA has long been controversial since its establishment in 1949.

Though it has evolved into a quasi-government, the agency was first set up to temporarily assist those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, so did UNRWA’s existence.

The agency allows refugee status to be passed down from generation to generation and does not remove people from its list who have gained citizenship elsewhere, contributing to an ever expanding population and questions as to who qualifies as a refugee.

From the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled after the 1948 war, there are now over 5.2 million registered refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

While UNRWA has been criticized for not working to resettle refugees, Israel has not granted refugees the right to return and other countries such as Lebanon have largely denied Palestinians citizenship and access to employment or land.

Even if the funding cut is meant to target Palestinian authorities, many note that vulnerable Palestinian refugees will bear the brunt of the impact as they will be left in a renewed state of limbo.

UNRWA has since launched a global fundraising campaign to try to close its funding gap before it is forced to cut safety-net services.

Donors have begun to step up including the Government of Belgium which pledged 23 million dollars to UNRWA soon after the move was announced.

“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” said Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” Krahenbuhl said.

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US, Led by an Erratic Trump, Seeks to Undermine UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/us-led-erratic-trump-seeks-undermine-un/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:33:00 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153931 The continued erratic and outrageous comments by President Donald Trump – and his attempts to undermine the United Nations – are threatening to cause irreparable damage to the world body. The signs are ominous: the US withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the threats against member states voting for anti-Israeli resolutions; […]

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US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

The continued erratic and outrageous comments by President Donald Trump – and his attempts to undermine the United Nations – are threatening to cause irreparable damage to the world body.

The signs are ominous: the US withdrawal from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the threats against member states voting for anti-Israeli resolutions; slashing funds to a 69-year-old UN agency for Palestinian refugees; withdrawal from the 2016 Paris climate change agreement; threats to “totally destroy” a UN member state, North Korea; a US-inspired $285 million reduction in the UN’s regular budget for 2018-2019, and the insidious attempts to wreck the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement.

And more recently, Trump triggered a global backlash when he singled out Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” eliciting protests from the 55-member African Union (AU).

Trump has also come under fire for his insulting statements that “all Haitians have AIDS” and Nigerians who visit the US “would never go back to their huts.”

But running notoriously true to form, he has reversed himself again and again — and denied making any of these statements, despite credible evidence.

In its editorial last week, the New York Times rightly declared that Trump “is not just racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He’s also a liar.”

That’s quite a mouthful to characterize the supreme leader of the free world: a crown which he may lose, paradoxically, to President Xi Jinping of totalitarian China.

James A. Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum (1993-2012), an NGO monitoring the work of the United Nations, told IPS the Trump administration poses a grave threat to the future of the UN and to the development of international cooperation more generally.

“But we have to ask: how much does the present differ from the past and how close are we to a collapse of the UN under assault from Washington?.”

Every day, there appears new confirmation of the problem, whether it is President Trump’s crude statements about world leaders, his harsh commentary and stereotypical remarks about other countries and peoples, his upsetting of carefully-constructed international agreements, and his utter disregard for the tactfulness of diplomacy, said Paul.

“In terms of the UN as an institution, we see such blows as the US withdrawal from the Climate Change Agreement, looming US defunding of the UN’s Palestinian refugee aid, and US-led slashing of the regular UN budget.”

Crude blackmailing to enforce favorable votes in UN bodies, said Paul, has also been practiced by Washington more than ever.

“At the same time, there is an increasingly-harsh US government rhetoric about the UN as a useless bureaucracy, undeserving of respect and support.”

Paul said “right-wing nationalism has arisen in many lands in recent years, of course, and we should remember that the US has often in the past acted towards the UN and the international community with condescension and domination”.

Recent developments, he argued, are therefore not so much unique as they are extreme, posing deeper-than-ever threats to the viability of the UN in an extremely unstable and dangerous time.

Meanwhile, the US has already announced it will cut about $65 million in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which providence sustenance to millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon.

Responding to a question at a press conference January 16, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “very concerned” about the US funding cuts.

“I strongly hope that, in the end, it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA, in which the US has a very important share.”

And he made it clear that UNRWA, contrary to a misconception, is “not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by the General Assembly.”

Last December, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has hinted at linking America’s financial leverage as the biggest single donor, to Washington’s political demands, claimed the US had successfully negotiated the $285 million reduction of the UN budget for 2018-2019.

And it was Haley who threatened to “take down names” and cut US aid to countries that voted for a resolution last December condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as the new Israeli capital.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and Senior Analyst, Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS “Trump’s ignorance and arrogance makes a dangerous compound mixed with Nikki Haley’s ambitions and her pro-Israeli prejudices.”

Her job as Permanent Representative of the UN includes letting the US government know the views of the rest of the world, but it is clear from her counterproductive threats that she does not really care, he said.

Sarah Palin (a former Republican Vice Presidential candidate), announcing her foreign policy credentials, once remarked she could monitor Russia from her backyard in her home state of Alaska.

“And it is clear that Haley can only see Israel from the US mission on First Avenue,” said Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the UN in Peace and War,” recently released by Just World Books.

That seems to reflect some deep prejudices as well as blatant domestic political ambition. While Bush appeased his right wring by letting John Bolton bluster, Washington and the White House made sure that he did not break up the playground, he added

“Trump shows no signs of restraining the damage that Haley is doing to the UN and international law – nor indeed to American diplomacy which Haley even more than some of her predecessors is making an oxymoron.”

But unlike earlier times, a newly involved, and newly affluent China is waiting to pick up the balls that Haley and Trump throw out, said Williams who has been covering the United Nations since 1989.

Mouin Rabbani, Contributing Editor, Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), told IPS history is demonstrating once again that there is an inherent threat to international peace and security “when powerful states are led by volatile airheads.”

The United Nations is as exposed to these risks as any other state or institution, and arguably more so given its dependency on not only American funding but also US engagement, he added.

“At the same time, it would be a little unfair to assign blame solely to Trump and his diplomats, in this case led by the extraordinarily vulgar Nikki Haley.”

This is because UN-bashing has become something of a national sport if not civic requirement in the US for decades, fed by a ceaseless stream of morbid, utterly fantastical conspiracy theories of the type that Americans excel at concocting and revel in ingesting, he noted.

“We are witnessing, in real time, what happens when powerful states cease to properly invest in the education of their children.”

The problem for the UN is that making the world body a more effective organization is the one item not on the agenda of its US critics, he declared.

With Trump, they smell a unique opportunity to administer permanent and irreparable damage to the UN (and for that matter pretty much everything else they identify with modern civilization).

“It will be for the international community to decide whether to yet again roll over and play dead or prevent the lunatics from taking over the asylum,” Rabbani declared.

Paul told IPS that to get perspective and avoid idealizing earlier years at the UN, “we should remember the negative effects of the Cold War on the UN, including the proxy wars, the fierce battles over decolonization, and the negative pressure constantly brought to bear on UN budgets.”

The Congo crisis in the early 1960s had a deadly effect on the UN in more ways than one. Recent information points to the assassination of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, showing how far Washington and its allies were prepared to go to weaken the UN so as to protect mining and other interests in Congo and throughout Africa, he noted.

“Today, the budget cuts may be the UN’s most serious danger. In the previous biennium, the Obama Administration already forced budget reductions but this time the cuts have been deeper and more fundamental.”

After years of “doing more with less,” the UN system is desperately short of funds for basic programs. Still, the Trump people in Washington have declared that cuts must go deeper and further shrinkage is necessary.

“Beyond the Regular Budget, Washington is imposing deep austerity on UN agencies, funds and programs. Will the Trump administration simply strangle the UN with steadily more draconian under-funding?,” he asked.

This has apparently been the Trump plan for US government agencies as well, from Environmental Protection to the State Department. “Kill the Beast!” chant the alt-right ideologues to the applause of their neo-liberal corporate backers. said Paul, author of the newly-released book “Of Foxes and Chickens: Oligarchy & Global Power in the UN Security Council.”

To assess the danger, “we need to go beyond calculations about whether Trump will be voted out of office in 2020.” Such possibilities, he noted, are a reminder that Trump’s own peculiarly odious politics could be short-lived.

“But they do not answer the larger question: what is happening in the world that has given rise to so many thuggish right-wing populists and so many corrupt, rightward-leaning centrists as well?”

Could it be the rising hegemony of the multinational corporations and their owners, who think they can rule over the global system with a minimum of interference, from old-fashioned states and ineffective intergovernmental bodies?, asked Paul, a former editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World.

“We, the peoples,” the globe’s citizens, have been lured into this trap, to the surprise of so many intellectuals, globalists, and internationalists. This, not Trump, is the existential threat that the UN faces.

“Can a new leadership arise, with new ability to bring the public to its senses? Can the climate crisis stimulate a new transnational political movement? Can a global constituency for a revived national politics and a new and transformed UN come soon into being?,” he asked.

“The UN’s future almost certainly depends on it”, he said.

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40% of India’s Thermal Power Plants in Water-Scarce Areas, Threatening Shutdownshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/40-indias-thermal-power-plants-water-scarce-areas-threatening-shutdowns/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 06:57:25 +0000 Tianyi Luo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153902 Tianyi Luo, World Resources Institute

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Tuticorin thermal power station. Credit: Begoon/Wikimedia Commons Water shortages are hurting India’s ability to produce power.

By Tianyi Luo
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 17 2018 (IPS)

New WRI research finds that 40 percent of the country’s thermal power plants are located in areas facing high water stress, a problem since these plants use water for cooling. Scarce water is already hampering electricity generation in these regions—14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utilities experienced at least one shutdown due to water shortages between 2013-2016, costing the companies $1.4 billion.

It’s an issue that’s only poised to worsen unless the country takes action—70 percent of India’s thermal power plants will face high water stress by 2030 thanks to climate change and increased demands from other sectors.

Billions of Tons of Freshwater, Consumed

Thermal power—power that relies on fuels like coal, natural gas and nuclear energy—provides India with 83 percent of its total electricity. While these power plants fail to disclose how much water they’re using in their operations, WRI developed a new methodology using satellite images and other data to calculate their water use.

What’s the Difference Between Water Withdrawal and Consumption?

Water withdrawal: The total amount of water that is diverted from a water source (e.g. surface water, groundwater) for use.

Water consumption: The portion of water that is not returned to the original source after being withdrawn.

Much of the water withdrawn by plants is returned to the lakes and ponds from which it came, but a lot is also consumed, and not returned to its original source. We found that almost 90 percent of India’s thermal power generation depends on freshwater for cooling, and the industry is only growing thirstier.

Thanks to increased energy demand and the growing popularity of freshwater-recirculating plants, which consume the most water of any thermal plant, freshwater consumption from Indian thermal utilities grew by 43 percent from 2011-2016, from 1.5 to 2.1 billion cubic meters a year.

To put this in perspective, India’s total domestic water consumption in 2010 was about 7.5 billion cubic meters, according to the Aqueduct Global Water Risk Atlas. That means power plants drank about 20 percent as much water as India’s 1.3 billion citizens use for washing dishes, bathing, drinking and more.

40 Percent of Thirsty Plants Are in Water-Stressed Areas

More than a third of India’s freshwater-dependent plants are located in areas of high or extremely high water stress. These plants have, on average, a 21 percent lower utilization rate than their counterparts located in low or medium water-stress regions—lack of water simply prevents them from running at full capacity.

Even when controlling the comparison analysis by unit age, fuel type and plant capacity, the observation was always the same: Plants in low- and medium-stress areas are more able to realize their power output potential than those in high water-stress areas.

Scarce Water Dries Up Revenue

There are practical and financial implications of power plants’ thirst. Between 2013 and 2016, India’s thermal plants failed to meet their daily electricity generation targets 61 percent of the time due to forced power plant outages.

The reasons ranged from equipment failure to fuel shortages. Water shortages were the fifth-largest reason for all forced outages—the largest environmental reason.

In 2016 alone, water shortages cost India about 14 terawatt-hours of potential thermal power generation, canceling out more than 20 percent of the growth in the country’s total electricity generation from 2015.

The Way Forward

As India develops, water competition will continue to grow and climate change will likely disrupt predictable water supply. Thermal utilities will become even more vulnerable to water shortages, power outages and lost revenue.

But there’s a better path forward: Upgrading cooling systems, improving plant efficiency, and ultimately shifting toward water-free renewables like solar photovoltaics and wind can all curb water risks to power generation.

It’s worth noting that the government of India already has plans in place that give reason for hope, such as the notification on power plant water withdrawal limits and the “40/60” renewable energy development plan. If these ambitious policies are enacted and enforced, our estimates show that India will save 12.4 billion cubic meters of freshwater from being withdrawn by power plants. That’s a year’s worth of showers for 120 million people – more than live in the Philippines.

But change won’t happen overnight. Even with proactive policies in place, the key lies in their implementation. In the coming years, the Indian government, utility companies and international investors all have a role to play in making the power sector more resilient to water risks.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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Marooned in Bangladesh, Rohingya Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/marooned-bangladesh-rohingya-face-uncertain-future/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 23:30:48 +0000 Sohara Mehroze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153729 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-power-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:53:29 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153716 Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2018 (IPS)

In 1994, Dr. David R. Hawkins wrote a book positing the difference between power and force (Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior – the latest revised version came out in 2014).

Basing his hypothesis on the science of kinetics, Dr. Hawkins made a case for how human consciousness – and the physical body – can tell the difference between power, which is positive, and force, which is not. An example of power over force is illustrated as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the force of British colonialism.

Power is slow, steady, and long lasting, whereas force is moving, fast, and tends to both create counter-force, and eventually exhaust itself. Dr. Hawkins’ argument, often labeled as ‘spiritual’, lays the groundwork for how faith, or belief, is a source of power, and, to coin a phrase, it’s all good.

Historically, from the first century’s Lucretius, to 16th Century Machiavelli, to 18th Century’s Voltaire and David Hume, through to modern day Richard Dawkins and others among the New Atheists, it has long been argued, in different ways, that religion —particularly as manifested through religious institutions — is, in Hawkins’ terms, more pertinent to the realm of ‘force’.

And yet, it is still largely towards these religious leaders, and religious institutions, that the international community (now increasingly shepherded by many governments) is looking, as a means to (re)solve a myriad of human development and humanitarian challenges.

These challenges include poverty, migration, environmental degradation, children’s rights, harmful social practices, ‘violent extremism’ (often narrowed down only to the religious variety), and even armed conflict. Religious leaders, and occasionally faith-based organizations, are posited as the panacea to all these, and more.

The notion of partnering with religious actors as one of the means to mobilise communities (socially, economically and even politically), to seek to (re)solve longstanding human development challenges, has evolved significantly inside the United Nations system over the last decade. But the intent of the outreach from largely secular institutions towards religious ones, has changed in the last couple of years.

The rationale for partnership, as argued by the diverse members of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Partnership with Religious Actors for Sustainable Development (or the UN Task Force on Religion, for short) in 2009, was based on certain facts: that religious NGOs are part of the fabric of each civil society, and therefore bridging between the secular and religious civic space is key to strong advocacy and action for human rights (think the Civil Rights Movement in the USA); that religious institutions are the oldest and most long-standing mechanisms of social service provision (read development including health, education, sanitation, nutrition, etc.); and that some religious leaders are strong influencers (if not gatekeepers) of certain social norms – including especially some of the harmful social practices that hurt girls and women.

Thus, the UN Interagency Task Force developed guidelines for engagement with religious actors, based on a decade of learning, consultations and actual engagement among 17 diverse UN entities and almost 500 faith-based NGOs. These guidelines stipulate, among other aspects, engagement with those who are committed to all human rights. Thus, there is to be no room for cherry-picking, or so-called ‘strategic’ selectivity about which rights to honour, and which to conveniently turn a blind eye to.

When the specific religious actors who are committed to all human rights, are convened, even around one development or humanitarian issue, the ‘power’ in the convening space is palpable, and the discourse can – and does – move hearts and minds. This was evident as far back as 2005 when UNDP started convening Arab faith leaders around the spread of HIV.

Some of the very same religious leaders who held that HIV was a ‘just punishment for sexual promiscuity’, when confronted with the scientific realities of the spread of the disease, and its very human consequences on all ages and all social strata, signed on to a statement which remains one of the most ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) in religious discourse of the time, and some went so far as to ask for forgiveness from those living with HIV among them.

The ‘power’ of religious actors who are systematically convened together for the human rights of all, at all times, was repeatedly witnessed over the course of several UN initiatives over the years, in different countries, and at the global level. Notably, UNFPA and UNICEF convened religious leaders with other human rights actors, to effect a social transformation as witnessed in a number of communities committed to stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in several sub-Saharan African countries.

The latest event took place as 2017 wound to an end, in December, when the UN Office for the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, after two years of convening religious actors – using the UN systems vetted partners and it’s Guidelines — as gatekeepers against hate speech, responded to a request from some of the religious leaders themselves, to come together from several South Asian countries (including Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka).

Sharing respective experiences of protecting religious minorities and standing in solidarity with the rights of all, across religions and national boundaries, created a sense of shared purpose, and above all, of possibility, hope – and yes, of power. Not a minor achievement in a time of a great deal of general confusion and sense of instability around, and with, religion.

Can the same be said of convening religious actors who are prepared to uphold a particular set of rights, even at the expense of ignoring other rights, ostensibly for the ‘greater good’? Or are we then, very possibly, inadvertently mobilising the ‘force’ of religion?

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Central America Weakens Forest Shield Against Future Droughtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-weakens-forest-shield-future-droughts/#respond Sun, 31 Dec 2017 17:55:22 +0000 DANIEL SALAZAR http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153692 Jazziel Baca lives in the municipality of Esquías, in western Honduras, one of the areas hardest hit by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which damaged almost 500,000 hectares of forest in that Central American country between 2013 and 2015. Supposedly, the pest that was destroying the pines would stop spreading with the rains, but […]

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Costa Rica increased its forest cover, but some wetlands and areas in the north of the country have been affected by deforestation and drought. The high use of agrochemicals and fertilisers in agro-industrial activities and logging in neighboring lands damaged the Palo Verde wetland and the surrounding forests. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

Costa Rica increased its forest cover, but some wetlands and areas in the north of the country have been affected by deforestation and drought. The high use of agrochemicals and fertilisers in agro-industrial activities and logging in neighboring lands damaged the Palo Verde wetland and the surrounding forests. Credit: Miriet Abrego / IPS

By Daniel Salazar
SAN JOSE, Dec 31 2017 (IPS)

Jazziel Baca lives in the municipality of Esquías, in western Honduras, one of the areas hardest hit by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis), which damaged almost 500,000 hectares of forest in that Central American country between 2013 and 2015.

Supposedly, the pest that was destroying the pines would stop spreading with the rains, but the rainy season came and there was no rain. He told IPS that apart from fewer trees, his town also has less water, the soil has eroded and some of the neighboring communities face drought.

This is not the only problem causing them to run out of water.

In Honduras, forest coverage shrank by almost a third, from 57 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2015, explained by an increase of monoculture, extractive projects, livestock production and shifting cultivation. It is the Central American country with the greatest decline in forest cover, in a region where all of the countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, are destroying their forests.The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

According to the State of the Region Programme, the 2017 environmental statistics published this month, since 2000 Central America has lost forest cover and wetlands, vital to the preservation of aquifers, which coincided with a widespread regional increase in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

It is not good news, said Alberto Mora, the State of the Region research coordinator, who noted that the region could have 68 departments or provinces suffering severe aridity towards the end of the century, compared to fewer than 20 today.

Mora also stressed that demand for drinking water could grow by 1,600 percent by the year 2100, according to the study prepared by the State of the Nation of Costa Rica, an interdisciplinary body of experts funded by the country’s public universities.

“This greatly exacerbates the impacts of global warming and rising temperatures, on ecosystems and their species. It is really a serious problem in Central America,” he told IPS.

Fewer trees, less food

Baca, an environmental engineer active in the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth, explained that farmers are moving higher up the mountains, because the soil they used to farm is no longer fertile. Using the slash-and-burn technique, they grow their staple foods.

But also, he said, “we have very long droughts and, without rainy seasons, the peasant farmers can’t plant their food crops, which gives rise to emergency situations in terms of food security.”

To the west of Honduras, in neighboring Guatemala, losses are also reported in forest cover. In 2000, 39 percent of the territory was covered by trees; that proportion had fallen to 33 percent by 2015.

The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

The Tapantí National Park, east of San José, has more than 50,000 hectares of forest. Costa Rica is the only one in Central America that has increased its forest cover in the last 15 years. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz / IPS

Although fewer and fewer hectares of forest are cut down in that country, the problem persists and continues to generate serious food security challenges.

Agricultural engineer Ogden Rodas, coordinator of FAO’s Forest and Farm Facility in that country, explained to IPS from Guatemala City that the loss of forests is affecting Guatemala’s ability to obtain food in multiple ways.

Currently, he said, peasant and indigenous communities have less food from seeds, roots, fruits or leaves and fewer jobs, which were previously generated in activities such as weeding and pruning.

Their ability to put food on their tables is also affected, as the destruction of the forest cover impacts on the water cycles, affecting irrigated agriculture.

Rodas believes that her country needs to strengthen governance, the management of agribusiness crops such as sugar cane and African oil palm, to create alternatives for forest-dwelling communities and develop strategies for the sustainable use of firewood, a problem common to the entire region.

In Honduras, another FAO specialist, René Acosta, told IPS from Tegucigalpa that the government has committed to reforesting up to one million hectares by 2030, but the task will only be possible if it is coordinated with all the actors involved, and incentives and ecotourism business capabilities are generated.

Costa Rica increases its forest cover

The forest cover in Central America decreased from 46 percent in 2000 to 41 percent in 2015.
Forest cover shrank from 32 to 26 percent in Nicaragua, from 66 to 62 percent in Panama, and from 16 to 13 percent in El Salvador.

The exception was Costa Rica where more than half (54 percent) of the land is covered by trees, compared to 47 percent 15 years ago.

Pieter Van Lierop, subregional forestry officer and team leader of the FAO Natural Resources, Risk Management and Climate Change Group in Costa Rica, explained that there are many factors driving this process.

The progress made is due, he said, “in part to the priority put in this country on its forest policy.”

“Another factor is the structural changes in agriculture, which have reduced the pressure to convert forests into agricultural land and have led to an increase in the area covered by secondary forests and to legal controls to prevent the change from natural forest to other uses for the land,” he said.

Some sustainable practices contribute to this increase in forested areas in the country.

For example, there has been a programme of payment for environmental services in place for two decades, financed by a tax on fossil fuels, among other sources.

The State pays the equivalent of 300 dollars every five years for each privately-owned hectare of protected forest and 1,128 dollars to owners who wish to create a secondary forest on their farms.

“What have we gained with this? That many more people come to see the forests,” said Gilmar Navarrrete, one of the heads of the programme of the.National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO).

“Hurricane Otto also hit recently: if we didn’t have the forest cover we have, the impact would have been very serious,” he told IPS.

There are other programmes in place. Lourdes Salazar works in Paquera, Lepanto and Cóbano, in northwest Costa Rica, with 83 farmers in a programme financed by the non-governmental Fundecooperación and supported by other public institutions.

“We work together with farmers because we want them to adapt to climate change, establish improved pastures, and change their mentality. We want them to let fruit trees grow, as well as timber trees for shade, which will also help them produce more,” the agricultural engineer told IPS.

Salazar takes part in a 10 million dollar project which aims to impact 400 farms around five hectares in size, which each farmer must reforest while raising cattle and pigs and growing organic produce.

“The farmers themselves say it’s more beneficial. If there was only one tree in a pasture all the cows would huddle there. Why not leave more trees? They have been learning that they produce more when they implement this type of practices,” said Salazar.

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US Faces Collective Defiance at UN Over Jerusalemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/us-faces-collective-defiance-un-jerusalem/#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:45:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153682 When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President. Turkish Foreign Minister […]

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UN voting -- electronic board. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 22 2017 (IPS)

When the UN General Assembly condemned the United States for its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the vote was described as a “collective defiance” of the international community against public threats against the United Nations and its member states by a politically unpredictable and predictably wavering US President.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking on behalf of a country that has been a longstanding American ally, declared that Donald Trump’s threat last week to cut off American aid to countries voting for the UN resolution, as an act of “bullying,” and the General Assembly “would not bow to such bullying”.

“It is unethical. The votes and dignity of member states are not for sale– and it was unacceptable for a member state to threaten other member states. A vote in favour of the Palestinian people would place Member States on the right side of history”, he noted.

Stewart Patrick, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “I think this was a significantly self-inflicted wound and really unnecessary, clumsy diplomacy on the part of the United States.”

“More than that, I think it symbolizes the self-defeating notion that for the United States, ‘it’s my way or the highway,’” he said.

Regrettably, there is no love lost between Trump and the United Nations, which he once denounced as just another “social club” – a remark made more through sheer ignorance than a well-thought-out diplomatic pronouncement.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, went one step further by not only warning member states but also the United Nations itself. In an implicit threat on US funding for the UN, she said: “We will remember it (the voting against the US), when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution (22 percent of the regular budget) to the United Nations”.

The final tally on the vote was 128 in favour to 9 against (Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Togo, United States), with 35 abstentions.

The non-binding General Assembly resolution, which expressed “deep regret” over recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem, also stressed that the future of the Holy City “is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant UN resolutions” – and, in a stinging rebuke to the US, declared “null and void” any actions intended to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition.

Adopted at an emergency special session of the General Assembly on Thursday, the resolution was a devastating attack against Trump’s recent unilateral decision to recognize the historically disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a pledge to relocate the US embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv—the only country to do so.

The 128 member states supporting the resolution included four of the five permanent members of the Security Council: the UK, France, China and Russia. The fifth permanent member is the US.

Last week, speaking on the impending UN vote, Trump blustered he will not tolerate “all of these nations that take our money and then vote against us in the Security Council and at the General Assembly. They take hundreds of millions of dollars and then they vote against us. Well we’re watching those votes.”

But some of his threats, which is rare for a head of state, have proved to be empty. Trump threatened to hold up aid to Pakistan if it did not cooperate more on US counter-terrorism efforts and also warned he will withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) if it did not increase its joint military spending.

US economic and military aid to American allies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, run into billions of dollars annually—but all of these countries voted for the resolution.

One of the strongest denunciations came from Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi of Pakistan who told delegates that the unilateral actions of one country were set to undo decades of work by the international community and to defy international law.

She said Pakistan rejected the decision by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate its embassy to the Holy City in contravention of several provisions of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

“Member States must recommit to thwarting any attempts to violate the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the ultimate goal of a two State solution”.

Expressing her support for the Palestinian cause, she said it was a key pillar of Pakistan’s foreign policy, recalling that her country had led and sponsored the Assembly’s first ever resolution on Jerusalem.

“In that regard, Pakistan was proud to join the international community once again in adopting a landmark draft resolution to reject the “revisionist” decision of the United States,” declared Dr Lodhi.

Riad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Palestine, said while the State of Palestine respected the sovereignty of all States, it refused to have that principle used as an excuse to deny Palestinians their rights.

“We stand today united for justice,” he declared, stressing “the veto will not stop us”. The State of Palestine would not accept any justification — security, religious or otherwise — to excuse Israel’s continued occupation, he said. The United Nations was today undergoing an unprecedented test “with Palestine as its headline”.

The General Assembly resolution followed a failed attempt by the 15-member Security Council last week to adopt a similar text reflecting regret about “recent decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem.” But that resolution, despite a vote of 14 to 1, was vetoed by the United States, a permanent member of the Security Council.

Both the General Assembly and the Security Council votes have underlined the increasing isolation of the Trump administration—amongst its Western allies and at the United Nations.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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To Be a Latin-American Migrant in Madridhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/latin-american-migrant-madrid/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-migrant-madrid http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/latin-american-migrant-madrid/#comments Wed, 20 Dec 2017 14:46:17 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153635 If you are in Madrid and have some spare time, just go to an area which residents consider a “high class” neighbourhood situated in a district bordering Barrio de Salamanca, one of the richest areas in the Spanish capital. There you will see relatively modern buildings next to old houses constructed under Francisco Franco’s rule […]

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In a main street between Plaza del Ecuador and Plaza de la República Domenicana, in Barrio de Hispanoamérica” neighbourhood, Madrid. Credit: IPS/Baher Kamal

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

If you are in Madrid and have some spare time, just go to an area which residents consider a “high class” neighbourhood situated in a district bordering Barrio de Salamanca, one of the richest areas in the Spanish capital.

There you will see relatively modern buildings next to old houses constructed under Francisco Franco’s rule (1939-1975) and sold to military officials at token prices. You will also see many shops run by Chinese migrants, selling cheap but nice cloth in what used to be boutiques frequented by wealthy middle-aged women.

But what you will often see are old Spanish men and women, some of them in wheelchairs, who are patiently accompanied and taken care of by Latin American migrants, going for a walk, sitting in a small park to breath some fresh air and take the sun.

Before that, these very same migrants would have walked the dogs of the elderly persons for whom they work, went shopping for food, read books or newspapers to them, and helped them wash their faces before dressing them up to go out.

Back home, the accompanying migrants will clean the house, wash, iron, cook, give them their medicine, answer the phone calls of their very busy, very short of time working sons and daughters.

“Good People”

“They are good people, all old people are good people,” Nancy*, a 33-year old Ecuadorian migrant, told IPS. “It is a tough job because they [the elderly] spend their time either complaining or saying confused words or speaking to their late husbands or wives,” she tells IPS.

In spite of that and of some prejudices against migrants in general, such as “they come to Spain to take our jobs” or “to cheat our elderly people and take their money,” Nancy* does not complain.

“Yes, we hear these things but when you look at the old people we assist and see their resigned look or watch them sleeping like babies, you feel more pity than anger.”

Nancy* gets 620 euro a month (some 700 dollars) helping her pay her rent and send a little money to her own elderly parents in Ecuador. She is now looking for two part-time jobs to earn a bit more.

Vladomiro* (37) is Colombian and assists don Jaime, an 87-year-old man who did well running a small grocery. Like Nancy*, Vladimiro* feels compassion.

“In our country we all respect elderly people… they have worked hard all their lives, they built up their families and did all what they could for their daughters and sons to have studies and a better future that what they had,” Vladomiro tells IPS.

Both Nancy* and Vladomiro* confess to feeling homesick for their families, their countries, their food, their habits and traditions. But they are relieved as they can send some money to their families and help their sons and daughters have a better life.

By the way, this neighbourhood full of elderly people accompanied by Latin American migrants is called Barrio de Hispanoamérica and its streets all bear the names of Latin American countries and capital cities.

If you instead go to the popular Malasaña neighbourhood, you will see many ethnic restaurants run by Latin American migrants, serving traditional dishes though moderating the taste to adapt it to the Spanish clientele’s eating habits.

Jose* is a 39-year Peruvian. He works as waiter and partner at a small restaurant. His wife Alicia (35), also from Peru, works in the kitchen.

He tells IPS that they met in Madrid and married here, and do not want to have children for now as they’re working hard to save money that can allow them both help their parents and also one day return to their country to have a “decent” life.

Potosi street, walking from Colombia street to La Habana avenue, Madrid. Credit: IPS/Baher Kamal

The Big Boom

Jose* is proud as they managed to resist the temptation of buying a flat in Madrid’s outskirts, like other migrants did a decade ago or so.

It was a time of prosperity due to a spectacular construction boom. Developers were offering jobs to thousands of people, many of them migrants, in a singular marathon to build high-rise blocs, paying up to 3,000 euro (some 3,500 dollars) to even unskilled bricklayers, without even questioning if those migrants had legal residency permits.

During that boom, banks immediately rushed to offer easy, fast, attractive credit to everybody, migrants included, to buy property, furniture and cars. “Many migrants did,” says to IPS Dominican Danny* (45) who was visiting his friend Jose*.

Then came the 2008 global financial crisis. “The workers lost their jobs, they could not pay their monthly instalment, the banks sued them, the judges ordered their eviction, and they lost all the money they had paid to the banks, apart from their flats, furniture and cars,” he explains.

The result is that hundreds of them found themselves on the street and had to return to their countries of origin, almost empty-handed.

In fact, recent data published by the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de EstadísticaINE) reveals that a growing number of Latin Americans have been returning to their countries.

Latin Americans in Spain

In Spain, it is estimated that there are some 1.8 million Latin American immigrants, with Colombians, Argentinians, Bolivians and Peruvians representing the main groups, with an increasing number of Andean people residing in this country.

On average, they transfer around 15 per cent of their annual income to their countries of origin, especially in the case of Ecuadorians and Colombians.

In the Andean region, migrants’ remittances amounted to 9,200 million dollars in 2006, according to the Andean Community. Colombia is the country with the largest remittances received with 3,890 million dollars in 2006; followed by Ecuador, with 2,916 million dollars; Peru, with 1,825 million dollars; and Bolivia, with 569 million dollars.

Data related to the first quarter of 2017 confirms that Latin American immigrants in Spain have been sending about 15 per cent of their annual income to their countries of origin, with an average close to 270 euros per month.

But the fact that migrants are returning does not put an end to migration challenges. “Rather than being viewed as an isolated phenomenon, return migration is an integral part of international migration,” UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) senior Migration specialist Ana Fonseca had explained in a related event in Ecuador.

Spanish to Latin America

Meanwhile, the Spanish statistics agency INE estimates the number of Spanish citizens residing abroad has reached 2,406,611 as of January 1, 2017, evidencing an increase of 4.4 per cent (101,581 people) with respect to data for the same period of the previous year.

An IOM 2015 report showed that since the beginning of 2010, more Spanish citizens emigrated to Latin America than Latin Americans who do the opposite.

As for the countries of destination, the UK received 13,281 Spanish more than in 2015, followed by the US (11,675), France (10,889), Argentina (8,814), Germany (8,656), Mexico (7,643), Cuba (6,136), Ecuador (4,107), Colombia (2,835) and the Dominican Republic (2,095).

Back to Madrid—according to a study on migration in this region, migrants are beneficial also from a purely economic perspective. “For each euro Madrid region spends in services for migrants, it gets back 2 euros in |taxes and social] benefits.”

Perhaps many Spanish unemployed people are not aware of this study—otherwise they would not be blaming migrants but rather their own government and rich corporations for the lack of jobs.

*Names of migrants have been changed to protect their identities.

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Perpetrators of Crimes against Humanity Must be Brought to Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:46:11 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153631 On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that the forcible expulsion of more than 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh has aggravated the dire human rights and humanitarian situation of the Rohingya.

He remarked inter alia that international decision-makers, members States of the United Nations and NGOs have a “moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and other persecuted people worldwide.”

In this regard, Dr. Al Qassim stated that “the Geneva Centre took the initiative on 11 and 12 October 2017 to call upon the members of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to hold a special session in solidarity with the Rohingya people and to address the situation in Myanmar.

Our call for peace, solidarity and justice in Myanmar was heard; on 5 December 2017 a special session was convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva to identify a common platform to end the atrocities committed on the Rohingya people guided by the principles of justice and human solidarity. It is only through joint action and human solidarity that world society can respond with a unified voice to address the plight of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

Although the holding of the special session on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in the Rakhine Sate of Myanmar reached its objective, the world society must keep its gear high in calling for peace and social justice. Dr. Al Qassim added:

Our efforts to address the situation in Myanmar will be in vain if the international community limits its action to include the adoption of resolutions and declarations in support of the Rohingya people.

Endemic poverty, violence and stark inequalities remain high in Rakhine State. Once the Rohingya refugees start to return to their home societies as envisaged in the ‘Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State’ signed on 23 November between Bangladesh and Myanmar which presupposes that it will become safe for them to do so, the main task will lie in rebuilding a safe, stable and inclusive society for all.

The Rohingya people and other minorities in Rakhine State must be allowed to enjoy full and unconditional legal protection and fundamental freedoms. I appeal to the government of Myanmar to review and revoke the 1982 Citizenship law that degrades the status of the Rohingya people and other minorities to second-class citizens. All citizens of Myanmar are entitled to enjoy equal and inclusive citizenship rights,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

In conclusion, he added that perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. Strengthening accountability and transitional justice in post-conflict Myanmar are imperative to end impunity and bring peace and stability to the region.

Myanmar must take its future into its own hands and address all human rights concerns deriving from the current situation in Rakhine State. Decision-makers in Myanmar must remain committed to developing a peaceful and inclusive society in which the Rohingya people and other minorities are considered as integral components of the society of Myanmar and the international community must continue to assist victims to ensure their livelihoods and Bangladesh to enable it to be in a position to provide them with decent shelter,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Rise of Teenage Pregnancy Deters Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rise-teenage-pregnancy-deters-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rise-teenage-pregnancy-deters-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rise-teenage-pregnancy-deters-development-goals/#respond Tue, 19 Dec 2017 20:02:45 +0000 Lorenzo Jmenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153624 Lorenzo Jiménez de Luis, is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Dominican Republic

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Teenage pregnancy: 2 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the Dominican Republic have been pregnant or have been mothers

Teenage mom with her baby. Credit: IPS

By Lorenzo Jiménez de Luis
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Dec 19 2017 (IPS)

A few years ago, someone shared a video with me that deeply impacted me. It was called “The Girl Effect”. In three minutes, the video demonstrates the fate of millions of girls and teenagers around the world.

Years later, when I arrived in the Dominican Republic and studied its challenges in terms of human development, I remembered that video and concluded that if the Dominican Republic does not resolve the problem of teenage pregnancy, despite its high sustained economic growth, its important social transformation and its modernization, it will never reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

A few days ago, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched its 2017 National Human Development Report for Dominican Republic devoted to this topic. This report is complemented in turn by another report presented by UNICEF and the World Bank in August and also by the report presented in November by the National Statistics Office (ONE in Spanish) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The three documents make up a global and coherent product of a sinister reality. Two out of 10 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in the Dominican Republic have been pregnant or have been mothers; representing 15.9% of the country’s population. Surely it will be a higher percentage given that pregnancies begin to occur as early as twelve years of age.

The causes of this sinister reality, briefly described, are multiple; but its consequences are clear: low or very low quality of life, poor welfare, recurrent poverty, exclusion.

The link between poverty and child and teenage pregnancy is clear, and the UNDP National Human Development Report shows that the mentioned link is to be found in the opportunity cost that teenage pregnancy represents for the human development of these young women. That is, the opportunities that they lose as a consequence of those early pregnancies or maternities.

This reality, I insist sinister indeed, worsens when considered that it has an equally quantifiable impact on the young pregnant woman, on the family environment of the pregnant girl or teenager and of course also on the child, the product of that pregnancy.

We are talking about half of the population of the country. The good news, however, is that the spooky effects of teen pregnancy are not necessarily irreversible.

The trend could be reversed if a new architecture of policies that affect and integrate prevention is urgently introduced, as well as the mitigation of the effects of pregnancy through care and protection policies. Policies that ensure greater opportunities.

A new architecture with a multidimensional character, that reaches the local level (territorial approach) and is implemented over time.

If the above is adopted and introduced soon, the possibilities of complying with the commitments acquired by the State can be fulfilled. If it is not the case; I am afraid that we will be talking about a country with a half future. The one of the privileged half of the population.

 

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Key Facts You Should Know About Global Migration Trendshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/key-facts-know-global-migration-trends/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-facts-know-global-migration-trends http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/key-facts-know-global-migration-trends/#respond Tue, 19 Dec 2017 13:56:54 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153615 The UN International Organization for Migration –IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources. Considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out: In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people […]

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Credit: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Dec 19 2017 (IOM)

The UN International Organization for Migration –IOM’s Global Migration Trends Factsheet presents a snapshot of the major migration trends worldwide for the year 2015 based on statistics from a variety of sources.

Considering the state of migration globally in 2015, the following facts stand out:

In 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – was the highest ever recorded, having reached 244 million (from 232 million in 2013).

As a share of the world population, however, international migration has remained fairly constant over the past decades, at around 3 per cent. While female migrants constitute only 48 per cent of the international migrant stock worldwide, and 42 per vent in Asia, women make up the majority of international migrants in Europe (52.4 per cent) and North America (51.2 cent).

South-South migration flows
(across developing countries) continued to grow compared to South-North movements (from developing to developed countries): in 2015, 90.2 million international migrants born in developing countries resided in other countries in the Global South, while 85.3 million born in the South resided in countries in the Global North.

Germany became the second most popular destination for international migrants globally (in absolute numbers), following the United States and preceding the Russian Federation, with an estimated 12 million foreign-born residing in the country in 2015 (against 46.6 million in the U.S. and 11.9 million in the Russian Federation).

As a proportion of the host country’s population, however, numbers of international migrants continue to be highest in Gulf Cooperation Council countries: the foreign-born population makes up 88.4 per cent of the total population in the United Arab Emirates, 75.7 cent in Qatar and 73.6 cent in Kuwait.

Close to 1 in 5 migrants in the world live in the top 20 largest cities, according to IOM’s World Migration Report 2015. International migrants make up over a third of the total population in cities like Sydney, Auckland, Singapore and London, and at least one in four residents in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris is foreign-born.

The year 2015 saw the highest levels of forced displacement globally recorded since World War II, with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people across various regions of the world – from Africa to the Middle East and South Asia.

The world hosted 15.1 million refugees by mid-2015. This is a 45 per vent increase compared to three and a half years ago, largely due to continued conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, now well into its 5th year. Some 8.6 million persons were newly displaced in 2015 alone.

In 2015, Germany also became the largest single recipient of first-time individual asylum claims globally, with almost 442,000 applications lodged in the country by the end of the year.

The number of asylum claims worldwide almost doubled between the end of 2014 and the first half of 2015, from 558,000 pending applications at the end of 2014 to almost 1 million by the end of June 2015. This figure continued to increase, rising to about 3.2 million pending asylum applications globally by the end of 2015.

By the end of 2015, the EU as a whole received over 1.2 million first-time asylum claims, more than double the number registered in 2014 (563,000), and almost double the levels recorded in 1992 in the then 15 Member States (672,000 applications). The increase in 2015 is largely due to higher numbers of asylum claims from Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis).

Almost 1 in 3 first-time asylum applicants in the EU were minors, a 9 per cent increase compared to 2014 levels; also, 1 in 4 of these were judged to be unaccompanied by national authorities – the highest number since 2008 and a three-fold increase on numbers registered in 2014.

Still, the vast majority of refugees continue to be hosted by developing countries, particularly those that are proximate to the refugees’ countries of origin: for instance, the bulk of the Syrian refugee population is hosted by Turkey (2.2 million), Lebanon (1.2 million) and Jordan (almost 630,000), according to figures recorded in December 2015.

Also, most forced displacement globally still occurs within countries’ borders, with an estimated 38 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence at the end of 2014 – from Iraq to South Sudan, from Syria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

The year 2015 was also the deadliest year for migrants: increased levels of forced displacement globally were tragically accompanied by record-high numbers of people perishing or going missing while trying to cross international borders.

Over 5,400 migrants worldwide are estimated to have died or gone missing in 2015.

According to IOM’s Missing Migrant project, migrant fatalities during migration to Europe increased by 15 per cent compared to the previous year, reaching at least 3,770.

From 2014 to 2015, a major and sudden shift in routes of irregular migration by sea to Europe occurred – with about 853,000 arriving to Greece compared to almost 154,000 to Italy, as opposed to about 34,400 and 170,100 respectively in 2014.

In 2015, the number of voluntary returns of migrants (e.g. failed asylum-seekers, and other groups) from EU countries was for the first time higher than the number of forced returns (81,681 against 72,473). Moreover, the number of IOM-assisted voluntary returns from EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 reached a figure of almost 56,000.

New estimates for the number of migrant workers globally show that the large majority of international migrants in the world are migrant workers. Migrants have higher labour force participation than non-migrants, particularly due to higher labour force participation rates for migrant women relative to non-migrant women.

Remittances continue to climb globally while remittance-sending costs remain relatively high. The sum of financial remittances sent by international migrants back to their families in origin countries amounted to an estimated 581 billion dollars in 2015 – over three-quarters of which were sent to low and middle-income economies. In Tajikistan remittances constituted over 40 per cent of the country’s GDP.

However, average remittance transfer costs were still at 7.5% of the amount sent in the third quarter of 2015, higher than the 3 per cent minimum target set in the Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Remittance transfer costs are particularly high in Sub-Saharan Africa – now standing at 9.5% on average.

Finally, public opinion towards migration globally is more favourable than commonly perceived – with the notable exception of Europe, according to an IOM-Gallup report, “How the World Views Migration”. The report is based on a Gallup poll conducted across over 140 countries between 2012 and 2014.

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No Health Protection for Migrant-Women Healthcare Givershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/no-health-protection-migrant-women-healthcare-givers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-health-protection-migrant-women-healthcare-givers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/no-health-protection-migrant-women-healthcare-givers/#respond Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:51:47 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153596 While the media may be attracted by images of migrants drowning or sold as slaves, another flagrant but lesser-known drama is that of care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, often migrants, and who make a very large contribution to global public health, but are exposed to great health risks themselves with little or no protection, […]

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Credit: UN

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 18 2017 (IPS)

While the media may be attracted by images of migrants drowning or sold as slaves, another flagrant but lesser-known drama is that of care workers, who are overwhelmingly women, often migrants, and who make a very large contribution to global public health, but are exposed to great health risks themselves with little or no protection, let alone basic labour rights.

Migrant women care workers buttress health systems in countries where there are shortfalls in health-care provision, while their own rights to health and well-being can be eroded and their health-care needs unfulfilled, the UN leading health agency reminded on the occasion of the World Migrants Day on 18 December.

These migrant women care workers act as “a cushion for states lacking adequate public provision for long-term care, child care and care for the sick,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Ageing in late industrial and middle-income economies, combined with rising demographic dependency ratios and female labour force participation, have led to emerging care deficits in many contexts in developed and developing countries, it explained.

“Around the world, more women are entering the labour force, taking them away from traditional unpaid caring roles in the home. Increasingly, immigrant women are being drawn into receiving country economies to care, often in informal settings, and frequently engaged by private households, without full access to social protection and labour rights.”

A striking fact is that fewer than 15 per cent of home-based long-term care workers are estimated to be formally employed.

For its part, the Organisation for Economic and Cooperation Development (OECD) International Migration Outlook 2015 reported on the percentage of foreign-born workers among the total home-based caregivers of long-term care in a number of industrialised countries.

These percentages amounted to nearly 90 per cent in Italy, around 75 per cent in Greece, over 65 per cent in Spain, and 50 per cent in Luxembourg.

WHO’s report deals with paid home-based care workers who attend to the varied needs of children, older people, people with disabilities and the disabled and the sick.

Shocking Facts

Here are some key facts provided by WHO:

— Those who are hired informally often lack the statutory labour rights accorded to them through a contract, including pensions and benefits, and may receive wages that are significantly lower than those paid for equivalent work in the formal health-care system,

— Migrant women care workers face particular challenges because of the vagaries of immigration laws in various destination countries, which often prevent them from entering the country legally or taking paid employment.

— This lack of legal status puts undocumented immigrants working in the care sector in many countries at risk of abuse by unscrupulous employers.

— The care sector itself is rendered unable to fully benefit from the work of immigrant workers who may want to provide in-home care but are unable to find a legal path to enter the country or obtain employment.

— Migrant care workers generally encounter harsher working conditions and have fewer rights and less adequate health coverage than do native workers. Because care work is frequently relegated to the informal sector, employees find that access to health care or insurance is not guaranteed but granted at the whim of employers.

In the United States in 2010, for example, almost one quarter of foreign-born workers employed in health care support jobs, such as nursing, psychiatric, or home health aides lacked health insurance themselves.

— Much has been written about the poor conditions that care workers, especially migrants, regularly face, including low wages, long hours, and inadequate housing and food for those who “live-in.” Many studies report that such work often entails lack of respect and status and even verbal, physical and sexual abuse,

— In the most extreme instances, when recruiters or employers confiscate workers’ passports and deduct travel costs and other expenses from their wages (or fail to pay them altogether), care work jobs become a modern form of indenture

— Many migrant women care workers experience poor reproductive and sexual health. There is also ample evidence that they are subject to physical violence, including sexual harassment/ assault and regular beatings.

For example, 44 per cent of Filipina migrants reported knowing another domestic worker who had experienced physical abuse, 27 per vent knew someone who had experienced sexual harassment, and 22.4 per vent knew someone who had been raped.

IOM marks International Migrants Day on 18 December with a series of worldwide events including a Geneva award ceremony for the Global Migration Film Festival. Credit: IOM

The Day

William Lacy Swing, director general of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), made an urgent call for “Safe Migration for a World on the Move” ahead of the International Migrants Day.

IOM plans to mark the Day with a series of worldwide events including a Geneva awards ceremony for the Global Migration Film Festival, which includes many public and private sector partners participating with IOM missions in over 100 countries.

In addition to film screenings in Geneva and New York, IOM also plans to participate in a UN leadership debate featuring UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres at Manhattan’s UNICEF House, touching on the global compact on migration, expected to be adopted by the end of 2018.

The UN leadership debate will explore the common ground on migration, rather than the divisions, said Swing. Despite often-sharp rhetoric, migration “is less a problem to be solved than a human reality to be managed.”

Planned UNICEF House events include the opening of the critically acclaimed art installation UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage (See: www.Together-in-NY.org), brining to life stories of refugees who have settled in the US by exploring past traumas through three-dimensional models of their homes mounted on suitcases they carried on their journeys.

Safe Migration, Not Leaky Boats

In an Op-Ed column penned for International Migrants Day: Our Right of Passage Should be Safe Migration, Not Leaky Boats), Swing wrote, “While we live at a time when a privileged elite considers global mobility virtually its birth-right, it is denied to countless others trapped in hopelessly bad economic or conflict circumstances.”

He warned that denial leads to “smuggling networks, human traffickers and modern-day enslavers who ply their trade these days with complete impunity.”

Hundreds of millions who are not part of the growing, truly global labour talent market find themselves outside looking in, and looking onto a world they can only dream of, Swing added. “They face enormous income disparities and hardships and no chance of getting a visa or a work permit.”

It comes as no surprise then that vast armies of hopeful young migrants want to climb aboard the “leaky boats” referred to by the UN secretary general, Swing continued, adding that driven by lack of economic opportunity, often exacerbated by climate change, they too are vulnerable to the siren song of social media.

“That’s where smuggling networks, human traffickers and modern day enslavers ply their trade these days with complete impunity. These cruel deceptions go unchecked, as the social media giants chase new markets in the global south.”

Just a quick reminder: a big power like the United States drew millions of migrants when it had an open-door policy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Rohingyas: Lurching from Crisis to Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingyas-lurching-crisis-crisis/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153586 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Newly arrived Rohingya people wait at an army camp in Sabrang in Teknaf on Nov. 29, 2017 before being shifted to a camp in Cox's Bazar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

Ferdous Begum was cleaning her child after he had defecated in the open, using leaves she collected from a nearby tree at Bangladesh’s Teknaf Nature Park. The settlement is packed with Rohingya refugees who fled military persecution in Myanmar since August.

“Access to water is terrible here,” Begum said. “We’ve only a couple of hand-dug shallow wells and we don’t get enough water from the wells for so many people living in the camp.”“Initially we received patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.” --Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma

Other camps near Teknaf are also facing acute shortages of water, especially access to drinking and clean water, while aid workers face difficulties with hygiene management for the refugees crammed in squalid camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar.

The latest UN report shows an estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, increasing the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000 since Aug. 25.

The report said new arrivals were living in spontaneous settlements with increasing demand for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.

Ferdous Begum said her son was unwell last night, with a stomach upset. “Misfortune follows us anywhere we go,” Begum said.

Aid workers said refugees, especially pregnant women, lactating mothers and children were exposed to the risk of health hazards because of water shortages that led to poor hygiene management.

Diphtheria is rapidly spreading among Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week.

In one month, as of Dec. 12, a total of 804 suspected diphtheria cases, including 15 deaths, were reported among the displaced Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar.

The first suspected case was reported on Nov. 10 by a clinic of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Cox’s Bazar, according to the WHO.

A number of aid workers working in the field said hygiene was very important to prevent disease outbreaks in these overcrowded camps.

Many of the latrines made initially were already overflowing and faecal sludge was seen in the open in almost every camp. And many of the tubewells or hand-pumps are broken, shortening the supply of safe water.

Dr. Dipongkor Binod Sharma of Dhaka Community Hospital Trust, who has been working with Rohingya refugees since the latest influx began in August, said, “Initially we received maximum patients with bullet, burn and stab injuries. Now we’re getting more patients with waterborne and cold-related diseases and the number is increasing.”

Dr. Sharma said a large number of his patients were women and children suffering from acute malnutrition and anaemia, as most of the pregnant and lactating women were very young – many still in their teens.

“Hygiene is very crucial for them, but it seems they are not aware,” he said.

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya girl proudly holds up her drawing at a UNICEF school at Balukhali camp, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya refugee named Gul Nahar rushed to a BRAC aid centre with her six-month-old boy, Mohammad Haras, seeking help. “He’s been suffering from high fever along with diarrhoea for the last 10 days,” Nahar said.

Nahar said the seven members of her family were living together in a single shanty room.

WaterAid Bangladesh country director Dr. Md Khairul Islam told IPS he was aware of water shortages in the camps in Teknaf. “The situation might be exacerbated when local farmers start irrigation for their crops in the area soon,” he added.

Executive director of the government’s Institute of Water Modelling, Professor M Monowar Hossain, told IPS there were plans to initiate a survey to ascertain the level of ground water there.

“It’s a part of the national survey… It’s not particularly for the Rohingya issue. [But] Until we do the survey, we can’t say there is any scarcity of water,” said Prof Hossain, a former dean of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

Local people fear the presence of over half a million Rohingyas will put additional pressure on water sources and that would worsen the situation in the coming months.

They warned about a severe water crisis in the later part of winter, when the groundwater level naturally goes down.

Rohingyas in the Jadimora area said that they were trying to collect water from tubewells in local communities, but on many occasions they’d been barred.

In the absence of safe water, Rohingyas in makeshift camps in Damdamia Nature Park, Jadimora, Alikhali, and Unchiprang areas of Teknaf are collecting water from ponds, waterfalls and other untreated sources.

“Nobody is supplying drinking water for us. We collect water from a nearby pond,” said a Rohingya community leader in the Damdamia area, Rashid Ullah.

Many Rohingyas built makeshift shelters in forest preserves, felling trees and setting up shanties on hilly slopes. Other have taken refuge at overcrowded registered and unregistered camps.

The haphazard sprouting of camps makes it hard to supply safe drinking water to Rohingyas, aid workers said.

Department of Public Health Engineering officials said for the Rohingyas who took shelter in wild forests and hills, safe drinking water facilities like tube wells are nonexistent.

“We can’t say we have reached all Rohingyas with safe drinking water and other facilities as they are living scattered,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam of Cox’s Bazar told IPS.

“Particularly in Teknaf, we wanted to relocate those Rohingyas facing shortage of water to other camps, but they were not interested,” Kalam said.

Aid workers say the Rohingya influx has slowed down, but several hundred refugees still arrive every day, adding pressure on both the government and humanitarian relief groups.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has constructed more than 3,800 latrines and 159 wells in six host community locations – Whykong, Palonkhali, Jaliapalong, Kutupalong, Rajapalong and Baharchora.

“Access to clean water and safe sanitation services is a problem for the communities hosting refugees in Cox’s Bazar,” said Alessandro Petrone, WASH Programme Manager for IOM’s Rohingya Response, in a statement earlier this month.

“A global and up to date WASH assessment providing a proper gaps analysis and an activities plan is urgently needed. IOM is developing a rated assessment tool and will deploy teams to the field in the coming days to support this work,” said Petrone.

The Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), of which IOM is a part, reported this week that the humanitarian situation for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained dire.

The inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2017-18 identified the areas of WASH, health, nutrition and food security and shelter for immediate scale-up to save lives in both settlements and host communities, it said.

As per the HRP, the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar is highly vulnerable, many having experienced severe trauma, and are now living in extremely difficult conditions.

The limited WASH facilities in the refugee established settlements, put in place by WASH sector partners, including UNICEF, prior to the current influx, are over-stretched, with an average of 100 people per latrine, the report said.

New arrivals also have limited access to bathing facilities, especially women, and urgently require WASH supplies including soap and buckets.

Given the current population density and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, any outbreak of cholera or Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD), which are endemic in Bangladesh, could kill thousands of people residing in temporary settlements, the report warned.

he series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Using Data to Combat Prejudice Against Immigrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:31:53 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153583 What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment. In order to discuss these and […]

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Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment.

In order to discuss these and other questions, international experts met in Buenos Aires on on Thursday, Dec. 14, at the first Forum on Migration, Trade and the Global Economy.

Not coincidentally, but to highlight the links between both topics, the event was held a day after the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), also held in the Argentine capital.

“Migration is treated today in the world almost as a police matter. We stress the need to address the issue a different way, analysing the favourable economic outlook, especially in international trade,” said Aníbal Jozami, president of the Foro del Sur Foundation."Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It's very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society." -- Marina Manke

This Argentine non-governmental organisation, which promotes diversity, organised the event together with the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

There are some 244 million migrants in the world today – around three percent of the total population – according to figures provided by Diego Beltrand, the IOM regional director for South America.

The number of migrants grew by an estimated 300 percent over the last 50 years. Different kinds of evidence of their economic contribution, something that is usually ignored, were presented at the forum.

This lack of knowledge about the positive impact of migration is the reason why, Beltrand said, “freedom of trade has been widely recognised around the world, but not freedom of movement for people.”

According to a study presented by the IOM during the forum, migrants contribute nearly 10 percent of the world’s GDP and are especially helpful to their countries of origin at times of economic crisis through remittances, which exceed 15 percent of national GDP in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras.

The IOM also estimates that migrants generate six trillion dollars worldwide. Meanwhile, the remittances they send to their countries of origin reach 15 billion dollars per year, according to Resedijo Onyekachi Wambú, from the African Foundation for Development.

Another prejudice challenged was that most immigrants aspire to very basic jobs. Stefano Breschi, a professor at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, revealed that in the last two decades, high-skilled migration grew by 130 percent against an increase of just 40 percent for the low-skilled.

Why then do politicians from all destination countries of the world try to win votes by promising more restrictions against foreigners, against all empirical evidence?

For Marina Manke, head of the IOM’s Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, “Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It’s very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society.”

Manke is a Russian woman married to a German man. She emigrated to Germany, which she visits every weekend as she now works in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“My family in Germany see a large number of migrants in Berlin and it worries them. We need to be patient. Maybe there is a negative impact in the short term but over long periods migration is a broadly positive phenomenon,” she told IPS.

The event was held in the old Buenos Aires Immigrants’ Hotel, a building near the port which has been turned into a museum. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Argentine government gave free accommodation there to families who had just arrived after long sea journeys.

Argentina is a country whose founders set their sights on attracting immigrants. The National Constitution, written in 1853, promises equal opportunities “for all men of the world who want to live on Argentine soil.”

Thus, between 1881 and 1914 more than four million foreigners arrived, who represented more than a quarter of the population in 1895, as can be read in the museum. The majority of these immigrants were from Italy, Spain and other European countries.

Today things have changed, and Europe is the destination sought by millions of immigrants as it tries to close its borders.

“The major problem in Europe is that we find that the data is not reflected in the public discourse. If you look for information, you generally find a neutral or positive picture of migration’s role in the labour market and economy,” said Martin Kahanec, professor of public policy at the Central European University in Budapest.

“In the debates related to Brexit in the UK, for instance, the narratives that migrants take our jobs or abuse our welfare were not supported by the data,” the Slovak expert told IPS.

“Although economic arguments are used in the debate, what really drives this debate is fear.”

Europe is the main destination for migrants from Africa, the continent that exports the most people. Every year, between 15 and 20 million young Africans join the labour market and a high proportion cannot find a job and are impelled to leave their country, according to figures provided during the forum, setting out on journeys where death can prevent them from reaching their destination.

South America, on the other hand, received praise for its recent immigration policies.

Since 2009, efforts were made to strengthen the regional integration process with freedom of movement agreements for citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

This made it possible for more than two and a half million citizens from other countries in Latin America to obtain residency permits, according to data from the IOM Regional Office for South America, based in Buenos Aires.

In the case of Argentina, the National Director of Migrations, Horacio García, said that since 2012, more than 1,350,000 residence permits have been granted.

García, however, warned that it is necessary for the State to get involved in the integration of immigrants into the labour market, a topic that today is being neglected.

“It is necessary to identify those regions of the country where there are job opportunities, so so they can contribute to development, their skills are used and the pressure is taken off urban areas,” he said.

Like other countries in the region, Argentina recently received large numbers of immigrants from Venezuela who are fleeing the economic, political and social crisis in that country.

Argentine sociologist Lelio Mármora, who specialises in migration questions, estimated that in the last year and a half alone, some 40,000 Venezuelans have settled in Argentina.

However, openness towards immigrants is not common in the world. Mármora was one of those who most emphatically condemned the “difference between the freedom that exists for the movement of goods and for the movement of people.”

“Everyone applauded the fall of the Berlin Wall and today we have about 20,000 kilometers of walls and fences that prevent people from passing from one place to another,” he complained.

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Climate Change Threatens Mexican Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/climate-change-threatens-mexican-agriculture/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:07:21 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153569 Azael Meléndez recalls the tornado that in May 2015 struck his hometown of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City. “I had never seen anything like it, and I asked my parents, and they said the same thing,” the farmer told IPS. The tornado lifted fences protecting gardens in the area, […]

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Mexican agriculture has begun to feel the impacts of climate change, affecting the productivity of some staple foods in the local diet. The photo shows a vegetable street market, with products that go directly from the producers to consumers, in the west of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Mexican agriculture has begun to feel the impacts of climate change, affecting the productivity of some staple foods in the local diet. The photo shows a vegetable street market, with products that go directly from the producers to consumers, in the west of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Azael Meléndez recalls the tornado that in May 2015 struck his hometown of San Gregorio Atlapulco, in Xochimilco, on the outskirts of Mexico City.

“I had never seen anything like it, and I asked my parents, and they said the same thing,” the farmer told IPS.

The tornado lifted fences protecting gardens in the area, whose name means “place in the middle of the water” in the Nahuatl language, and which is located on the south side of greater Mexico City, which is home to 22 million people.

For Meléndez, who has a horticultural project with two other farmers, this is one of the manifestations of climate change, “which has devastated the area along with urbanisation.” The group uses the ancestral method of “chinampas” to grow lettuce, broccoli, radish, beets and aromatic herbs.

They grow crops on an area of about 1,800 square metres, harvesting about 500 kilograms of products per week, which they sell to 10 restaurants, in the wholesale market in the capital and tianguis (street markets)."Agriculture is highly dependent on local weather conditions and is expected to be very sensitive to climate change in the coming years. In particular, a warmer and drier environment could reduce agricultural production.” -- Eduardo Benítez

Water shortages, an unstable climate, proliferation of pests, infrequent but more intense rainfall, hail and the effects of human activities are affecting an area that is crucial for the supply of food and for climate regulation in the Mexican capital, says a study by the international environmental organisation Earthwatch Institute.

The system of chinampas, a Nahuatl word that means “the place of the fertile land of flowers”, was practiced by the native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century.

The Aztec technique is based on the construction of small, rectangular areas of arable soil to grow crops in the microregion’s wetlands, with fences made of stakes of ahuejote (willow), a water-tolerant tree typical of this ecosystem.

The chinampa method is used on a total of 750 hectares, where about 5,000 farmers work.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) classifies it as one of the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), for preserving agrobiodiversity, helping farmers adapt to climate change, guaranteeing food security and fighting poverty.

But not only this microregion is affected by climate change. Indeed, it is difficult to find a place in Mexico that is not exposed to it.

The May report “Estimates of potential yields with climate change scenarios for different agricultural crops in Mexico”, by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, projected a decline in rainfall in the country.

The report, focused especially on crops of corn, beans, wheat, soybeans, sorghum and barley, found that water productivity is decreasing for most crops, which means water requirements will increase in the medium term. It also found yield loss for the seven crops, especially marked in the case of corn, beans and wheat.

In the southern state of Chiapas, farmers are already facing water shortages, sudden and heavy rains, floods and rising temperatures.

“The areas need water, we need water for the land, renewed soil, because that is the baseline. And it’s not exclusive to Chiapas, it is happening throughout Mexico,” Consuelo González, a farmer in Chiapas who grows corn on 40 hectares of land, told IPS.

González, a representative of a producers committee for her state, said there are also problems of deforestation and bad agricultural practices.

Chiapas, the second-poorest state in the country, has a sown area of 1.42 million hectares and 62 crops. Among its main products are corn, pastures, coffee, sugar cane, bananas, mangoes, beans and oil palm, which account for nearly 90 percent of the state’s total production.

The 12 most important crops produce 10.11 million tons. In the case of corn, the yield reaches 1.5 tons per hectare, half of the national yield of 3.2 tons, due to the size of the plots and low level of mechanisation.

In 2010, the region passed the Law for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in the State of Chiapas, and one year later it implemented the Climate Change Action Plan.

In its nationally determined contribution (NDC), incorporated two years ago in the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mexico included strengthening the diversification of sustainable agriculture among the measures to be adopted by 2030.

Among the instruments to achieve this goal, it establishes the conservation of germplasm and native species of corn and the development of agroecosystems through the incorporation of climatic criteria in agricultural programmes.

In its NDCs, the country pledged to reduce its polluting emissions by 22 percent by 2030, compared with 2013 levels.

That year, Mexican agricultural activity released 80.17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By 2020, emissions of this potent greenhouse gas are expected to reach 111 million.

By 2030, the goal is to curb agricultural and livestock emissions to 86 million tons.

“Agriculture is highly dependent on local weather conditions and is expected to be very sensitive to climate change in the coming years. In particular, a warmer and drier environment could reduce agricultural production,” said Eduardo Benítez, assistant representative of Programmes at the FAO Partnership and Liaison Office in Mexico.

Among other consequences of climate change, he mentioned to IPS a higher prevalence of fungi and pests, soil transformation, less availability of land and water for agriculture and alterations in agrobiodiversity.

“They give something, but it’s not enough,” Meléndez said about the government’s support for helping the “chinamperos” – farmers who grow crops using the chinampa method – adapt to climate change.

“It has cost us a lot of work. We carry out prevention work, such as using biological filters, to raise water in the channels to a certain level for irrigation. We try to regulate the temperature with meshes of different sizes that provide shade for the crops,” he explained.

One of the problems lies in the lack of coordination among Mexican institutions, as shown by the assessment of the Government’s 2014-2018 Special Programme on Climate Change (PECC), implemented by the government to address the phenomenon.

This analysis shows that the Information System of the Cross-cutting Agenda that operated between 2009 and 2012 is not working since the programme came into force in 2014, which prevents a “close follow up” of the progress of its 199 lines of action.

In addition, it found that the National Climate Change System has not addressed the question of connecting programmes, actions and investments at the federal, state and municipal levels, with the PECC.

González, based on her experience as a farmer, recommended silvopastoral (combining forestry and grazing) systems to maintain the plots. “There are areas that can be well preserved. We focus on soil conservation. Another solution is agroecology,” to restore soils and preserve resources, she said.

FAO and the government Agency for Marketing Services and Development of Agricultural Markets (ASERCA) are working on a project of early warnings for agriculture based on agrometeorological information to monitor the climate impacts on food production and availability.

The aim is for this data to be available to “policy-makers, financial and risk management institutions and mainly to producers. Thus, public policy can be oriented in actions such as the promotion and use of crop insurance or the activation of contingency funds,” said Benítez.

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Money Talks at One Planet Summit in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/money-talks-one-planet-summit-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=money-talks-one-planet-summit-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/money-talks-one-planet-summit-paris/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 12:27:17 +0000 Paris Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153552 As funding to combat climate change has lagged behind lofty words, the One Planet Summit in France this week invited governments and business leaders to put money on the table. The result was a significant number of international pledges – both for investment in green energy and divestment from fossil fuels – as various sectors […]

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Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Credit: AM

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at the One Planet Summit in Paris. Credit: AM

By Paris Correspondent
PARIS, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

As funding to combat climate change has lagged behind lofty words, the One Planet Summit in France this week invited governments and business leaders to put money on the table.

The result was a significant number of international pledges – both for investment in green energy and divestment from fossil fuels – as various sectors responded to the call from French President Emmanuel Macron for urgent action.Some of the drive at the summit came from small island states, which have been battered by recent hurricanes and other disasters.

“We’re not going fast enough,” Macron said at the Dec. 12 summit, which he co-convened with the United Nations and the World Bank. “Some countries present will see their territories disappear. We all have to move forward… The time is now.”

French multinational insurance company AXA announced that it plans to have 12 billion euros in green investments by 2020 and that it would divest 2.4 billion euros from certain coal-company activities.

Meanwhile the World Bank Group (WBG) highlighted its funding of projects in India for street lighting; in West Africa to tackle “coastal erosion, flooding and climate change adaptation”; in Indonesia regarding geothermal-power development; and with the Global Covenant of Mayors in a new “Cities Resilience Programme” (CRP).

“Over the next three years, the CRP will leverage $4.5 billion in World Bank loans to catalyze billions in public and private capital for technical assistance, project co-financing and credit enhancement,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

He said that the programme would essentially “act as an investment banker for cities to structure programs to address their vulnerabilities to climate change”.

Kim also announced that the World Bank would not be financing upstream oil and gas after 2019, but that in “exceptional circumstances”, consideration would be given to such financing in the “poorest countries” where there is a clear benefit in terms of “energy access for the poor”.

The bank said it was on track to meet its target of 28 percent of its lending going to climate action by 2020.

With these and other announcements, the One Planet Summit, held two years after the signing of the landmark Paris Agreement, aimed to add momentum to the push for adequate financing of climate adaptation and mitigation, said some observers, while others termed it a public-relations exercise.

The summit brought together heads of state, local government representatives, non-governmental organizations – and schoolchildren. Journalists were out in force, alongside United Nations delegations, at the Seine Musicale venue, an imposing new arts centre on an island in the river Seine, just outside Paris.

Government leaders arrived by boat with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Macron and Kim, the co-convenors, for a packed afternoon of panel discussions and speeches, following morning events.

“Technological progress has already revealed the falsehood that responding to climate change is bad for the economy,” said Guterres. “Finance could be, should be and will be a decisive factor.”

Some of the drive at the summit came from small island states, which have been battered by recent hurricanes and other disasters.

Caribbean representatives announced the launch of a 8-billion-dollar investment plan to create the world’s first “climate-smart zone”. The bodies involved include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and private groups, forming a “Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition”.

The goal is to find a way “to break through the systemic obstacles that stop finance flowing to climate-smart investments”, the Caribbean Development Bank said.

Juvenel Moȉse, Haiti’s president and a participant at the summit, spoke of the vulnerability of the region, emphasizing that all the islands are suffering from the impacts of climate change. He said that Haiti was in a “very fragile zone”.

American actor Sean Penn, also present, said he had got involved in helping Haiti to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, and he said more financing was needed.

“I call on all those gathered to stand with Haiti,” he urged.

Meanwhile, Canada and the World Bank Group said they would support small island developing states to expand their renewable-energy infrastructure to achieve greater access to energy and to decrease pollution.

In side events around the summit, groups such as the International Development Finance Club (which groups 23 international, national and regional development banks from across the world), highlighted their “green financial flows”.

The group said that in 2016, IDFC members made new commitments representing 173 billion dollars in finance, an increase of 30 billion from 2015.

The eve of the summit, Dec. 11, was titled Climate Finance Day, and it was also the 20th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol. Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), told journalists that the long years of negotiations had provided a framework in which all sectors of society could take action, as governments “cannot do it alone”.

She said there was a growing sense of urgency, especially after recent extreme weather events that had seen some communities “losing everything they have built throughout their lives”. More support was needed for adaptation, she and other officials noted.

At the summit, the Agence Française de Développement – an IDFC member — signed accords with Mauritius, Niger, Tunisia and the Comoros – as part of the agency’s Adapt’Action Facility.

With financing of 30 million euros over four years, Adapt’Action seeks to “accompany 15 developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, in the implementation of the Paris Agreement regarding adaptation,” the agency stated.

An official from Niger spoke compellingly of problems that included desertification. The country has been cited as an example of France not doing enough for its former colonies, and political analysts question whether that will change under Macron.

The European Union meanwhile said that its External Investment Plan (EIP) is set to mobilise some 44 billion euros to “partner countries in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood” by 2020.

Among its goals, the EIP aims to “contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals while tackling some of the root causes of migration,” according to the EU.

Regarding Asia and the Pacific, officials at the summit said action by countries in the region were “encouraging”. Heads of state included the prime ministers of Bangladesh and Fiji, who spoke of their climate initiatives. Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the country was among the first emerging states to offer a green bond.

The international nature of the summit made the U.S. absence even more noticeable. As U.S. President Donald Trump had announced earlier this year that the country would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, he was not invited, French officials said.

Other American climate figures were present, however, such as businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Bloomberg said that around the world, businesses were taking “responsible” action because investors want to put their money in environmentally friendly companies.

Still, for some NGOs, not enough is being done, and the summit was more of what they had heard before.

“If governments and business are sincere in their commitment to the goals of the Paris Agreement, they would cease their financing of dirty and harmful energy projects around the world and would instead accept their responsibility for providing public finance to address climate change instead of letting business dictate the agenda,” said Meena Raman of Third World Network.

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South Sudan: a Nation Tormented by a Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/south-sudan-nation-tormented-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-nation-tormented-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/south-sudan-nation-tormented-crisis/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 11:05:56 +0000 Kujiek Ruot http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153553 I come from Panyijar County, South Sudan, just south of where famine was declared in February this year and one of thousands of places badly hit by the conflict which enters its fifth year today. With each year the fighting continues, the hopes that I and my fellow South Sudanese had when voting for independence […]

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Oxfam in South Sudan

By Kujiek Ruot, Oxfam, South Sudan
PANYIJAR COUNTY, South Sudan, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

I come from Panyijar County, South Sudan, just south of where famine was declared in February this year and one of thousands of places badly hit by the conflict which enters its fifth year today. With each year the fighting continues, the hopes that I and my fellow South Sudanese had when voting for independence in 2011 are dimmed.

Home has become a place where our worst memories are made in recent times. Another year passes and I wonder if I should start to ignore it, to move on and avoid more hurt. But how can you forget home? This is my home. My South Sudan.

Let me tell you a bit about my home.

If I ask you to imagine what my old home looked like, most people would picture the bad bits. You might think of the fighting that has forced people to flee for their lives, of barren lands, and of the suffering that thousands of people are currently going through.

But for me, Panyijar was always somewhere completely different; a beautiful and natural place with some of the kindest people around. It’s because of these memories that I cry when I see what is happening there today.

Panyijar County sits in the heart of huge swamps, some of the largest in the world. The waters are dotted by dozens of small islands, with lilies and natural vegetation floating in between. Rare eagles compete with the roosters to wake you in the morning. Not much plastic has reached here yet, so the waters are clear of rubbish.

The people of Panyijar have maintained the natural state of this palm tree-laden land. Were South Sudan a peaceful and developed nation, tourism would be a big earner here! And then there are the people.

Panyijar is famous for its culture of giving and sharing. Caring for others is encouraged from childhood. People tell folk tales of the perils of greed to discourage selfishness. It has even been known for families to trace the lineage of potential spouses for meanness, before getting married.

I remember you could move from one corner of the county to the next, meeting friendly faces all the way. You worried little about where to find food or a place to spend the night: someone would always welcome you. Because people had more, they had more to share when others were in need.

I cannot say there were no challenges before the conflict, but Panyijar was peaceful at least. Today, it’s a different story; a story of crisis. When the guns started blazing, thousands of people fled to the islands where they found some kind of safety but little to survive on except boiled water lily bulbs. With few latrines and clean water difficult to find, deadly diseases and suffering have followed.

The talk of the towns was once of cattle arriving from towns nearby. Now you hear of desperate people arriving, forced to flee from their homes. Diseases seem to be killing more than ever.

When, as a child, I felt unwell in the morning, my mother would give me some herbs and by late afternoon I would be back in the field playing with friends. The difference? Back then I ate nutritious food until I was full to the brim, but now the children are almost always hungry.

Food production has declined. There are few places safe enough to farm and fewer young people to do the work as many of them have been sucked into the conflict. We all keep giving and sharing whatever we may have, but with less to go around, our efforts are stretched thin.

It’s heart-breaking to see the state of a place with such huge potential. On my recent return I saw some signs that there can be better days. Community gardens set up with Oxfam’s help were flourishing, supplying some of the only vegetables in the markets.

It can’t be enough to feed the ever-growing population of the islands, but hopefully in better times more people will adopt them. I want nothing more than this place of natural beauty and wonderful people to grow and flourish.

For now, we must avert disaster. Aid agencies like Oxfam are doing all they can to stop things getting even worse and we must all keep working together to bring back my home’s lost glory and better times for South Sudan.

Peace is where it all begins.

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In Defense of Uganda’s Imprisoned Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/defense-ugandas-imprisoned-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=defense-ugandas-imprisoned-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/defense-ugandas-imprisoned-journalists/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 10:47:16 +0000 Angela Quintal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153544 The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has included eight staffers of the controversial Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper in its 2017 global census of imprisoned journalists. Some may disagree with that decision. After all, Red Pepper arguably endangered the lives of LGBTQ Ugandans by splashing the names of “200 top homos” across its pages back in […]

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Senior editors and directors of Uganda’s Red Pepper tabloid newspaper crowd the dock during.

By Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator
DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has included eight staffers of the controversial Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper in its 2017 global census of imprisoned journalists. Some may disagree with that decision.

After all, Red Pepper arguably endangered the lives of LGBTQ Ugandans by splashing the names of “200 top homos” across its pages back in 2014 when President Yoweri Museveni toughened criminal penalties for gays.

Outside of the country some accused the daily of hate speech but at home the government of course said nothing.

Now the tables are turned. Museveni’s authoritarian administration has cracked down hard on Red Pepper for republishing a story by a Rwandan outlet alleging a Ugandan plot to overthrow Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

Red Pepper‘s critics may view the arrests and prosecution of the eight journalists as poetic justice but that misses the bigger point. The Ugandan media is under tremendous and continuous pressure from an administration that attempts to silence critical and independent voices, and this crackdown is yet another attempt to intimidate the press.

That is why we, the World Association of Newspapers local media and press freedom organizations, as well as competitors and commentators, among others, have condemned the Red Pepper raid.

As the country’s Africa Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has stated: “Our defense of the tabloid is not to endorse its approach to journalism, but rather to highlight what Uganda’s Supreme Court has called ‘the greater danger of smothering alternative views of fact and opinion”.

“Those who are celebrating the silencing of Red Pepper should remember that some of the offences preferred against the directors and editors, such as ‘offensive communication’, are as much a threat to ordinary Ugandans …. If these charges are allowed to stand against Red Pepper, we shall be in trouble because they can easily be preferred and allowed to stand against any of us,” said ACME executive director, Peter Mwesige.

Police accused Red Pepper of publishing information prejudicial to “national security” in its November 20 edition. It reproduced an article by a Rwandan online publication Rushyashya under the headline ” M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame“. M7 is a nickname for Museveni who has ruled Uganda for 31 years.

The original charge of treason was dropped, but the journalists face seven other counts, including offensive communication, libel and disturbing the peace of Museveni, his brother Gen. Salim Saleh and Security Minister Henry Tumukunde.

The police’s anti-terrorism unit raided the offices and some editors’ homes; arrested management and senior staff; confiscated their tools of the trade, including computers and cellphones forced staff to hand over their passwords, sealed the office premises and declared it a crime scene.

More than three weeks after the arrests, Red Pepper has not been allowed to resume publishing, its staff, including those who were not charged, cannot earn a living and the company is unable to conduct business and pay the bills. The eight also remain in jail.

Police spokesman Emilian Kayima rejected criticism that the police were heavy-handed, saying its action was “very proportional and very professionally done”.

The effect of the State’s sledgehammer approach is felt beyond Red Pepper and is widely regarded as a tool to intimidate other journalists into self-censorship and to toe the government line, according to editors interviewed by CPJ, as well statements by media freedom organisations, cited above.

Haruna Kanaabi, the executive secretary of the Independent Media Council of Uganda, told CPJ: “What they (the authorities) did was to take the hammer to beat the mosquito.”

The Daily Monitor’s executive editor Charles Bichachi, said the “state seems to be using the detention to intimidate them, to harass them, and send a message to the rest of the media”.

“That is why we should speak out …because if the government gets away with holding Red Pepper editors, they will come for the rest,” he told CPJ.

However, Information Minister Frank Tumwebaze does not believe that the arrests are a threat to media freedom.

“When people have been charged in courts of law then it means that the state has given them an opportunity to get justice and defend themselves. Nobody is above the law, whether a journalist or any other citizen,” Tumwebaze told CPJ.

The State’s apparent bullying tactics appears to be succeeding. The Observer reported on December 7 that the management of Top Radio & TV had banned opposition politicians & other voices critical of government from all its shows.

Meanwhile, the Uganda Communications Commission, has directed various media houses to suspend programs or dismiss presenters considered critical of government, The Observer reported.

Police have also recently summoned editors of the Monitor publications and New Vision and interrogated them about articles they published.

It is clear that Uganda’s media, not only Red Pepper, is under siege and ordinary Ugandans are the poorer for it.

[Additional reporting by Muthoki Mumo, CPJ East Africa correspondent]

The post In Defense of Uganda’s Imprisoned Journalists appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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