Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:07:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138868 Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Young People in Latin America Face Stigma and Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:43:39 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138864 Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Young people in Latin America now enjoy greater access to education. But in many cases their future is dim due to the lack of opportunities and the siren call of crime in a region where 167 million people are poor, and 71 million live in extreme poverty.

“We are concerned, even alarmed, at the situation facing Latin America’s youth,” Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

“We believe young people should be the central focus of the next regional meetings, but with a different vision this time, not just focusing on drugs and violence,” she added.

According to ECLAC figures, one out of four of the 600 million inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean is between the ages of 15 and 29.

Despite that, spending on the young is relatively low, especially if you compare the region’s public and private investment on post-secondary education with what is spent in emerging countries of Southeast Asia, or in Europe.“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas.” -- Alicia Bárcena

The report, Social Panorama of Latin America 2014, presented Monday Jan. 26 in the Chilean capital, revealed significant advances in educational coverage among Latin America’s young people, but also found that they continue to suffer from higher unemployment rates and lower levels of social protection than adults.

They are also the main victims of homicides in the region, where seven of the 14 most violent countries in the world are located.

The ECLAC report shows that the progress in reducing poverty has slowed down. Poverty continues to affect 28 percent of the population in the region, while extreme poverty grew from 11.3 to 12 percent, based on the 15 countries that provided up-to-date statistics.

However, inequality has been reduced in nearly every country.

There are some 160 million young people in this region of 600 million. And although the population has begun to age, the young will remain a significant proportion of the population over the next few decades.

The report says that “Despite these major attainments in terms of education coverage and lower inequality, there are still large structural divides in capacity-building opportunities between the region’s young people.”

Bárcena said it’s not just about achieving greater social spending on education, housing or health, but also about things that are less tangible but no less important, such as improving participation by young people in the design of public policies.

“Transparency and information have to go farther than what is happening today,” she said.

Although they have greater access to education, inequality is still a problem for young people in the region.

For example, people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the three lowest income quintiles have unemployment rates between 10 and 20 percent, compared to rates of five to seven percent among young people in the two highest income quintiles.

And only 27.5 percent of young wage earners between the ages of 15 and 19 are enrolled in the social security system, compared to 67.7 percent of adults aged 30 to 64.

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

“The idea is to advance in social policies that take into account the complete cycle of life and the different priorities that arise throughout a person’s life,” Daniela Trucco, social affairs officer with ECLAC’s Social Development Division, told IPS.

She said the assessment and analysis of public policies in the region should take into account the differences between sub-regions, because Latin America is very diverse.

For example, “the Southern Cone countries are much more advanced, with a much more educated young population that has unemployment problems similar to adults,” she said.

By contrast, “in the countries of Central America young people aren’t even finishing secondary school. A large proportion of adolescents and young people are outside the educational system, and that is where we have the worst problems of violence and gangs.”

Trucco said there are key areas to be addressed among the young, such as education and employment. But although these are the most important, they are not the only ones, she added.

“There is a proportion of young people who don’t fall into these areas, but it’s not because they aren’t doing anything; they’re often employed without pay, for example, in domestic or care work in the home, a very important question for young and adult women,” she said.

The Social Panorama reports that 22 percent of people aged 15 to 29 in Latin America were neither studying nor in paid employment in 2012. Of that proportion, a majority were women engaged in unpaid care and domestic work.

Another essential area to be addressed, besides health, is participation, with the aim of involving young people themselves in the formulation of better public policies targeting that segment of the population.

“We have to think about the issue of participation in a modern, up-to-date manner,” Trucco said.

“There is a great deal of interest in political participation, but not the traditional politics linked to political parties. The question of social networks, and digital inclusion, also has to be considered,” she said.

She stressed the work carried out by ECLAC to combat two kinds of stigmas faced by young people: those who neither work nor study, and the question of youth violence.

And although the main victims of homicide are between the ages of 15 and 44, the stigma of youth violence distorts public policy options, the report says.

“We see that adolescents do participate significantly [in the violence], but young adults do too,” said Trucco. “They are young people not incorporated in other forms of social inclusion, or maybe they are, but with different expectations, and caught up in contexts of violence or inclusion in other groups.”

The expert called for “a change in approach to the problem of violence to figure out how society can overcome it and what alternatives can be offered in terms of development and opportunities.”

A prejudiced approach makes people forget that young people are the principal victims of crime, as shown by the fact that on average, 20 percent of young people in the region say they have been the victims of crimes, four percentage points higher than adults.

The proportion of victims who are young people is higher in the countries with the highest crime rates, such as the seven that are on the list of the world’s 14 most violent countries: Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and Colombia, in that order.

Mexico is in the process of joining that list of violent countries, Bárcena said in her interview with IPS.

The head of ECLAC said greater comprehension is needed with respect to violence among the young.

“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Zimbabwe Battles with Energy Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/zimbabwe-battles-with-energy-poverty/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:59:47 +0000 Tonderayi Mukeredzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138847 Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

Wood market in Chitungwiza. Twenty percent of the urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs. Credit: Tonderayi Mukeredzi/IPS

By Tonderayi Mukeredzi
HARARE, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Janet Mutoriti (30), a mother of three from St Mary’s suburb in Chitungwiza, 25 kilometres outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, frequently risks arrest for straying into the nearby urban forests to fetch wood for cooking.

Despite living in the city, Janet’s is among the 20 percent of the urban households which do not have access to electricity, and rely mainly on firewood for their energy needs.

Worldwide, energy access has become a key determinant in improving people’s lives, mainly in rural communities where basic needs are met with difficulty.

In Zimbabwe, access to modern energy is very low, casting doubts on the country’s efforts at sustainable development, which energy experts say is not possible without sustainable energy.

In an interim national energy efficiency audit report for Zimbabwe issued in December, the Sustainable African Energy Consortium (SAEC) revealed that of the country’s slightly more than three million households, 44 percent are electrified.“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country” – Chiedza Mazaiwana, Practical Action Southern Africa

They consumed a total of 2.7 million GWh in 2012 and 2.8 million GWh in 2013, representing 34 percent of total electrical energy sales by the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Transmission Company.

According to SAEC, of the un-electrified households, 62% percent use wood as the main source of energy for cooking, especially in rural areas where 90 percent live without access to energy.

A significant chasm exists between urban and rural areas in their access to electricity. According to the 2012 National Energy Policy, 83 percent of households in urban areas have access to electricity compared with 13 percent in rural areas.

Rural communities meet 94 percent of their cooking energy requirements from traditional fuels, mainly firewood, while 20 percent of urban households use wood as the main cooking fuel. Coal, charcoal and liquefied petroleum gas are used by less than one percent.

Engineer Joshua Mashamba, chief executive of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which is crusading the country’s rural electrification programme, told IPS that the rate of electrification of rural communities was a mere 10 percent.

“As of now, in the rural areas, there is energy poverty,” he said. “As the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), we have electrified 1,103 villages or group schemes and if we combine that with what other players have done, we are estimating that the rate of rural electrification is at 10 percent. It means that 90 percent remain un-electrified and do not have access to modern energy.”

Since the rural electrification programme started in the early 1980s, Mashamba says that 3,256 schools, 774 rural centres, 323 government extension offices, 266 chief’s homesteads and 98 business centres have also been electrified.

Zimbabwe Energy Council executive director Panganayi Sithole told IPS that modern energy services were crucial to human welfare, yet over 70 percent of the population remain trapped in energy poverty.

“The prevalence of energy of poverty in Zimbabwe cuts across both urban and rural areas. The situation is very dire in peri-urban areas due to deforestation and the non-availability of modern energy services,” said Sithole.

“Take Epworth [a poor suburb in Harare] for example. There are no forests to talk about and at the same time you cannot talk of the use of liquefied petrol gas (LPG) there due to costs and lack of knowledge. People there are using grass, plastics and animal dung to cook. It’s very sad,” he noted.

Sithole said there was a need to recognise energy poverty as a national challenge and priority, which all past and present ministers of energy have failed to do.

Zimbabwe currently faces a shortage of electrical energy owing to internal generation shortfalls and imports much its petroleum fuel and power at great cost to close the gap.

Demand continues to exceed supply, necessitating load shedding, and even those that have access to electricity regularly experience debilitating power outages, says Chiedza Mazaiwana, an energy project officer with Practical Action Southern Africa.

“In rural Zimbabwe, the economic driver is agriculture, both dry land and irrigated. The need for energy to improve productivity in rural areas cannot be over-emphasised but current power generated is not sufficient to support all the energy-demanding activities in the country. The percentage of people relying entirely on biomass for their energy is 70 percent,” she adds.

According to the World Bank, access to electricity in Southern Africa is around 28 percent – below the continental average of 31 percent. The bank says that inadequate electricity access poses a major constraint to the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the region.

To end the dearth of power, Zimbabwe has joined the global effort to eliminate energy poverty by 2030 under the United Nation’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative.

The country has abundant renewable energy sources, most of which are yet to be fully utilised, and energy experts say that exploiting the critical sources of energy is key in closing the existing supply and demand gap while also accelerating access to green energy.

By 2018, Zimbabwe hopes to increase renewable energy capacity by 300 MW.

Mashamba noted that REA has installed 402 mini-grid solar systems at rural schools and health centres, 437 mobile solar systems and 19 biogas digesters at public institutions as a way to promote modern forms of energy.

A coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) led by Zero Regional Environment Organisation and Practical Action Southern Africa is calling for a rapid increase in investment in energy access, with government leading the way but supported in equal measure by official development assistance and private investors.

Though the current output from independent power producers (IPPs) is still minimal, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) says that contribution from IPPs will be significant once the big thermal producers come on stream by 2018.

At the end of 2013, the country had 25 power generation licensees and some of them have already started implementing power projects that are benefitting the national grid.

Notwithstanding the obvious financial and technical hitches, REA remains optimistic that it will deliver universal access to modern energy by 2030.

“By 2018, we intend to provide rural public institutions with at least one form of modern energy services,” said Mashamba. “In doing this, we hope to extend the electricity grid network to institutions which are currently within a 20 km radius of the existing grid network. Once we have electrified all public institutions our focus will shift towards rural homesteads.”

For CSOs, achieving universal access to energy by 2030 will require recognising the full range of people’s energy needs, not just at household level but also enterprise and community service levels.

“Currently there is a lot of effort put in to increasing our generation capacity through projects such as Kariba South Extension and Hwange extension which is good and highly commended but for us to reach out to the rural population (most affected by energy poverty, according to our statistics, we should also increase efforts around implementing off grid clean energy solutions to make a balance in our energy mix,” says Joseph Hwani, project manager for energy with Practical Action Southern Africa.

Practical Action says that on current trends, 1.5 billion people globally will still lack electricity in 2030, of whom 650 million will be in Africa.

This is some fifteen years after the target date for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which cannot be met without sustainable, affordable, accessible and reliable energy services.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Africa’s Rural Women Must Count in Water Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:58:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138833 Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

More women’s voices are being heard at international platforms to address the post-2015 water agenda, as witnessed at the recently concluded international U.N International Water Conference held from Jan. 15 to 17 in Zaragoza, Spain.

But experts say that the same cannot be said of water management at the local level and countries like Kenya are already suffering from the impact of poor water management as a result of the exclusion of rural women.

“At the Zaragoza conference, certain positions were taken as far as water is concerned, but the implementers, who are often rural women, are still in the dark,” environment expert Dismas Wangai told IPS.

Wangai gives the example of the five dams built around the Tana River, the biggest in Kenya. “It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices” – Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania

He says that the dams have not been performing optimally due to poor land management as farmers continue to cultivate too close to these dams.

“This is a major cause of concern because about 80 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from these dams, as well as 60 to 70 percent of hydropower,” he says.

According to Wangai, there is extensive soil erosion due to extensive cultivation around the dams and as a result “a lot of soil is settling in these dams and if this trend continues, the dams will produce less and less water and energy.”

Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women rights,  and one of the speakers at the Zaragoza conference, told IPS that women must be involved in water management at all levels.

“It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices,” she said.

According to Rusimbi, across Africa women account for at least 80 percent of farm labourers, and “this means that if they are not taught best farming practices then this will have serious implications for water management.”

Alice Bouman, honorary founding president of Women for Water Partnership, told IPS that a deficit of water for basic needs affect women in particular, “which means that they are best placed to provide valuable information on the challenges they face in accessing water.”

She added that “they are therefore more likely to embrace solutions to poor water management because they suffer from water stresses at a more immediate level.”

According to Bouman, the time has come for global water partners to begin embracing local women as partners and not merely as groups vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

Water partnerships, she said, must build on the social capital of women because “women make connections and strong networks very easily. These networks can become vehicles for creating awareness around water management.” She called for developing a more comprehensive approach to water management through a gender lens.

Noting that rural women may not have their voices heard during international water conferences, “but through networks with civil society organisations (CSOs), they can be heard”, Rusimbi called for an end to the trend of international organisations bringing solutions to the locals.

This must change, she said. “We need to rope the rural women into these discussions while designing these interventions. They have more to say than the rest of us because they interact with water at very different levels – levels that are very crucial to sustainable water management.”

Wangai also says that rural women, who spend many hours looking for water, are usually only associated with household water needs.

“People often say that these women spend hours walking for water and they therefore need water holes to be brought closer to their homes” but, he argues, the discussion on water must be broadened, and proactively and consciously address the need to bring rural women on board in addressing the water challenges that we still face.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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After Nine Years of Foot-Dragging, U.N. Ready for Talks on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/after-nine-years-of-foot-dragging-u-n-ready-for-talks-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Sun, 25 Jan 2015 16:43:49 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138808 Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

Like a ghost in the night this jellyfish drifts near the seafloor in Barkley Canyon, May 30, 2012, at a depth of 892 metres. Credit: CSSF/NEPTUNE Canada/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2015 (IPS)

After four days of intense negotiations – preceded by nine years of dilly-dallying – the United Nations has agreed to convene an intergovernmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The final decision was taken in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the United Nations was fast asleep.

The open-ended Ad Hoc informal Working Group, which negotiated the deal, has been dragging its collective feet since it was initially convened back in 2006.

The High Seas Alliance, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) plus the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty.

Karen Sack, senior director of international oceans for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the coalition, told IPS a Preparatory Committee (Prep Com), comprising of all 193 member states, will start next year.

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

A grey nurse shark at Shoal Bay, New South Wales, Australia. Credit: Klaus Stiefel/cc by 2.0

“As part of reaching consensus, however, there was no deadline set for finalising the treaty,” she said.

Asked if negotiations on the treaty would be difficult, she said, “Negotiations are always tough but a lot of discussion has happened over almost a decade on the issues under consideration and there are definitely certain issues where swift progress could be made.”

The Prep Com will report to the General Assembly with substantive recommendations in 2017 on convening an intergovernmental conference for the purpose of elaborating an internationally legally binding instrument.

The four-day discussions faced initial resistance from several countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and South Korea, and to some extent Iceland, according to one of the participants at the meeting.

But eventually they joined the large majority of states in favour of the development of a high seas agreement.

Still they resisted the adoption of a time-bound negotiating process, and “setting a start and end date was for them a step too far,” he added.

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS: “Regarding the United States in particular, we are very pleased to see them finally show flexibility and hope that moving forward they find a way to support a more ambitious timeline.”

In a statement released Saturday, the High Seas Alliance said progress came despite pressure from a small group of governments that questioned the need for a new legal framework.

“That minority blocked agreement on a faster timeline reflecting the clear scientific imperative for action, but all countries agreed on the need to act,” it added.

The members of the High Seas Alliance applauded the decision to move forward.

Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defence Council said many states have shown great efforts to protect the half of the planet that is the high seas.

“We know that these states will continue to champion the urgent need for more protection in the process before us,” she added.

Daniela Diz of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Saturday’s decision was a decisive step forward for ocean conservation. “We can now look to a future in which we bring conservation for the benefit of all humankind to these vital global commons.”

Mission Blue‘s Dr Sylvia Earle said, “Armed with new knowledge, we are taking our first steps to safeguard the high seas and keep the world safe for our children.”

The outcome of the meeting will now have to be approved by the General Assembly by September 2015, which is considered a formality.

The high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the Alliance.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas ‑ and therefore the entire global ocean ‑ from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:51:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138792 One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the U.N. Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (U.N.) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the U.N. Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the U.N. Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138790 President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:48:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138787 Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a “lawless state”, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.

South Sudan?"The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms." -- Meg Gardinier

Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.

But the United States?

Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).

Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”

But still held out hope, adding, “Future ratification is not to be ruled out.”

Somalia became the 195th State Party to the CRC, described as “the most ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake applauded Somalia’s ratification of the CRC and said he looks forward to supporting the nationwide effort to translate the rights of the Convention into practical action for every child in that country.

He said by ratifying the Convention, the government of Somalia is making an investment in the wellbeing of its children, and thus in the future of its society.

“The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life,” said Lake. “What can be more important than that?”

The CRC, which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and came into force in 1990, commemorated its 25th anniversary last year.

Asked about U.S. objections, Meg Gardinier, chair of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC, told IPS U.S. opposition to ratifying the Convention is largely centered on two arguments.

First, the CRC will undermine the role of parents in raising their children and, second, the U.S. ratification of international human rights treaties will weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Asked about the chances of future ratification, she said, “We are hopeful that the U.S. will eventually ratify the CRC, but it is a question of when?”

When U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008, he said, “It is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties.”

But to date, there has been no “review” of the CRC, an important first step before submitting this to the Senate.

Gardinier said the Campaign for U.S. Ratification led an important effort urging the president to send the CRC to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result, executives of some 125 national and global organisations signed onto a letter to President Obama pressing this request.

This includes a diverse group of U.S. organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, Child Welfare League of America, Covenant House, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and United Methodist Church – all of them supporting U.S. ratification of the CRC.

Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.

In total, the United States initiated seven articles, including Article 10 (family reunification), Articles 14 (freedom of religion), 16 (right to privacy), 19 (protection from abuse) 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (freedom of association and assembly) and 25 (review of placement.)

The provisions contained in the CRC are largely consistent with U.S. law, while additional provisions would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a manner and timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process.

“The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms,” Gardinier told IPS.

“It is the Campaign’s conviction that the CRC protects children, preserves and strengthens families and is unquestionably improving the lives of children,” she declared.

Contrary to U.S. misgivings, the Convention strongly defends the need for families and the importance of parents, say human rights experts.

The treaty underscores that a strong family is crucial for children and for societies and there is ample language throughout the CRC to support the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.

In fact, 19 articles of the CRC explicitly recognise the importance of parents and family in the lives of children.

The rights for children in the CRC mirror both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the insistence of the two former administrations – under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations – that worked on this treaty.

“They are not meant to set children against parents,” said Gardinier.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Three Minutes Away from Doomsdayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=three-minutes-away-from-doomsday http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:29:53 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138784 Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

Unchecked climate change and the nuclear arms race have propelled the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to midnight, from its 2012 placement of five minutes to midnight.

The decision was announced in Washington DC by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the body behind the calculations and creation of the 1947 Clock of Doom.“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation." -- Alyn Ware

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations were described by BAS as having “reached their iciest point in decades”.

Today’s polemic takes into account the immutable laws of science in relation to the “climate catastrophe” as well as the activities of modernisation of massive nuclear arsenals, which come with inadvertent risks.

“The question gets much more complicated than someone with their finger on the button,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of BAS.

Another major problem is the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, said BAS.

Climate change and nuclear tensions were placed on equal footing in this year’s warning.

“And while fossil-fuel burning technologies may seem like a less kind of abrupt way to ruin the world, they’re doing it in slow motion,” said Benedict.

Citizen’s potential

“Negotiators on the international treaty of climate change or any international treaty are working within the fairly narrow latitude afforded them by their governments. And the governments themselves are working within the latitudes afforded them by their constituencies,” said BAS member of the Science and Security Board Sivan Kartha, senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Real cooperation on the international front, he said, “will rely on there being a demand for that, a mandate for that, from constituencies within countries,” also noting “today’s extremely daunting political opposition to climate action”.

President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff described a series of global existential challenges that could accelerate the arrival of doomsday, including the stability of the climate, the acidity of the oceans, and biodiversity, as well as widespread goals of strategic stability and the pursuit of dominance.

“Remember we are extinguishing species at up to one thousand times faster than what would be the normal evolutionary base rate,” he told IPS. “The backdrop of these challenges arising from science, technology, and social organisation is the immature relationship between states in their pursuit of security through the application of the threat or use of force. The most dangerous tool of the pursuit of security through force are the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“…On the other hand, a growing consensus within informed members of global governance and civil society is rapidly coming to understand that no nation can be secure in an insecure world. And the business community has rapidly integrated in such a fashion that they have demonstrated the capacity of cooperation, if driven by recognised self-interests,” he said.

“I am reminded that in the 17th Century, the world moved from the predominance of the city-state into the modern world of the nation state. Such a phenomena required national identity. National identity occurred largely because of national grammar and language, which rested on the technological innovations of the printing press.

“Today, the technology that will allow us to have global cultural grammar and identity is being provided by the Internet. And thus, the tools, to move from the dis-functionality of posing national interest against the global common good has the potential to be overcome.”

In light of his analysis, the clock’s minute hand can be influenced for the better or for the worse, and 2015 will present opportunities for progress to be made.

The simple truth

Alyn Ware is a member of the World Future Council and the coordinator of Global Wave 2015, an initiative on “Global Action to Wave Goodbye to Nukes”.

Ware spoke to IPS ahead of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars that’s wasted on nuclear weapons is needed in order to shift our economy from a carbon-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy,” he told IPS, also explaining that “the competition and the confrontation and conflicts that are perpetuated by nuclear weapons prevent the type of cooperation that’s required for addressing climate change.

“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation. Threatening to annihilate cities, innocent people, future generations, is not consistent with humanity,” Ware told IPS.

“And then there’s also a simple truth with climate change,” he added. “The simple truth is we have to move from a carbon-based economy to one that’s focused more on renewable energies.”

He also acknowledged the nuances surrounding the implementation of these simple truths.

“At the moment, we don’t have sufficient political commitment to either of them,” he said, addressing vested interests preventing that kind of action, including corporations making nuclear weapons or selling oil, coal or gas.

“What we’re looking at is empowering people,” he said.

For that reason, he thinks the Doomsday Clock is very good. “Because it’s simple, it’s really understandable, and it gives the idea that, hey, we can all be involved in this.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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A “Rosetta Stone” for Conducting Biodiversity Assessmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/a-rosetta-stone-for-conducting-biodiversity-assessments/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:56:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138781 Species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Credit: Biodiversity Act/cc by 2.0

Species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Credit: Biodiversity Act/cc by 2.0

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

This month saw an important milestone reached by the U.N.’s young Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): Publication of its first public product.

It wasn’t a biodiversity-related trend analysis nor a policy prescription, however. The first of those from IPBES will appear at about this time next year.Its first assessment will focus on the issue of pollination and the threats to insect pollinators essential to much of the world’s food production.

What the organisation published was something more fundamental — the result of two years collaboration by hundreds of experts. It is an agreed scaffolding for assessments that integrate the information and insights of indigenous and local knowledge holders as well as experts in the natural, social, and engineering science disciplines.

IPBES is akin to the U.N.’s Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in that it will carry out assessments of existing knowledge in response to governments’ and other stakeholders’ requests.

Some argue IPBES confronts a challenge as complex as its sister organisation, if not more so. That’s because species distribution and population health and protections vary greatly from one place to another. Solutions, therefore, need to be tailored to a fine local and regional degree.

And the relative contributions of efforts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss also vary enormously — complete success of efforts somewhere with little biodiversity might not be nearly as important as a little success in a megadiverse area in the tropics, for example.

Step 1 in the ambitious IPBES work programme, however, has been to agree on how to integrate diverse, strongly-held, culturally-formed attitudes and viewpoints in as simple and effective a way as possible.

The IPBES’ Conceptual Framework, published by the Public Library of Science, is the end result, connecting the dots and illustrating the inter-relationships between:

Nature (which includes scientific concepts such as species diversity, ecosystem structure and functioning, the biosphere, the evolutionary process and humankind’s shared evolutionary heritage). For indigenous knowledge systems, nature includes different concepts such as “Mother Earth” and other holistic concepts of land and water as well as traditions, for example.

Nature’s benefits to people (the framework underlines that nature has values beyond providing benefits to people — “intrinsic value, independent of human experience.”)

Anthropogenic assets (knowledge, technology, financial assets, built infrastructure. Most benefits depend on the joint contribution of nature and anthropogenic assets, e.g., fish need to be caught to act as food)

Indirect drivers of change (such as institutions deciding access to land, international agreements for protection of endangered species, economic policies)

Direct drivers of change (which are both natural, e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tropical cyclones; and human, e.g. habitat conversion, chemical pollution); and

“Good quality of life” (interpreted as “human well-being” by parts of humanity; to others it may mean “living well in harmony and balance with Mother Nature,” The framework recognises that fulfilled life is a highly values-based and context-dependent idea, one that influences institutions and governance systems.

To quote the paper’s authors: “There had been a struggle to find a single word or phrase to capture the essence of each element in a way that respected the range of utilitarian, scientific, and spiritual values that makes up the diversity of human views of nature.

“The conceptual framework is now a kind of ‘Rosetta Stone’ for biodiversity concepts that highlights the commonalities between very diverse value sets and seeks to facilitate cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural understanding.”

IPBES is now fully embarked on its work programme to produce coordinated assessments, policy tools, and capacity building actions.

Its first assessment will focus on the issue of pollination and the threats to insect pollinators essential to much of the world’s food production. Its second will explore biodiversity and ecosystem services models and scenarios analysis. Many others will follow in years to come.

The conceptual framework was created to change the way such assessments are approached from those before, and to inspire the community, though the changes are “likely to push all engaged parties well beyond their comfort zones,” say the authors.

For example, direct drivers of pollination change (such as habitat or climate change, pesticide overuse, pathogens) will be examined alongside their underlying causes, including institutional ones.

State-of-the-art environmental, engineering, social and economic science knowledge will be augmented by and benefit from insights into the impacts of pollinator declines on subsistence agricultural systems, which provide much of the food in some world regions of the world — considerations typically under-represented in case studies.

Guided by the IPBES Task Force on Indigenous and Local Knowledge, assessments will consider trends observed by practitioners and their interpretations, and draw on local and indigenous knowledge that could contribute to solutions.

What IPBES is pioneering foreshadows the future of research — the convergence of different disciplines and knowledge systems to solve problems.

Integrative, cross-paradigm, co-produced knowledge is on the agenda of a growing number of national research agencies, international funding bodies, and some of the largest scientific networks in the world.

It is an essential step forward. To IPBES, in the words of the authors, “the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge is not only a matter of equity but also a source of knowledge that we can no longer afford to ignore.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa Needs to Move Forward on Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-needs-to-move-forward-on-renewable-energy/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:02:30 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138773 Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Kandeh Yumkella, U.N. Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, believes that Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
ABU DHABI, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Diversification of Africa’s electricity sources by embarking on renewable energy solutions – such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power – is being heralded as a solution to the continent’s energy poverty.

But although a number of countries are already reaping benefits from investment in renewables, there is concern that many of the countries are yet to exploit those resources.

African ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi International Renewable Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi from January 15-17 noted that a mere handful of countries in the continent are tapping into renewable energy resource.“People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid” – Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy

Some of the bottlenecks identified included lack of finance, lack of interest from investors and the desire by some to take on mega projects that could easily fail to attract private investors.

Davis Chirchir, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Energy, told IPS that for many sub-Saharan Africa countries, accessing financing for fossil fuel projects was much easier compared with renewable energy options. “It is a big problem even when the prices for renewable energy solutions like solar and wind are going down” said Chirchir, whose country is now seeing costs reducing as a result of investing in geothermal energy.

Kenya plans to generate up to three gigawatts (3GW) of power from geothermal energy alone from its Rift Valley area.

Chirchir said that despite the long-term benefits, many of the countries in the region lacked their own initial resources for investment in projects.

“While renewable projects are often cheaper, they tend to require up-front capital costs. So for many, we shall require more targeted financing if we are to kick off many from the ground,” said Chirchir.

“In Kenya, our investment in geothermal energy displaced some 65 percent of fossil fuels, and brought down the cost to the customer by about 30 percent,” he added.

Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy and CEO of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, decried the fact that despite the declining costs of generating energy from renewable energy sources, Africa was consuming only one-quarter of global average energy per capita.

“How do we help the majority of people in Africa that rely on charcoal and cow dung for their primary needs? How do we do that? This is where the context of off-grid really comes in,” he suggested.

According to Yumkella, Africa should focus on small and more decentralised renewable energy options that could quickly reach rural energy-poor citizens instead of waiting until funding is obtained for big renewable energy projects.

“Sometimes the project preparation costs before the investments come are about three to ten percent of project costs. For many African countries that is a lot of money. It takes a big time to get the big projects under way,” he noted.

For Yumkella, African governments urgently need to put in place policies that would support renewable energy power generation using private investments to construct off-grid power stations, especially in areas where it is hard to reconnect to the main grids.

We can have millions of energy entrepreneurs spreading the off-grid solutions while we wait for the big projects to take off,” he explained. “People don’t have to wait in darkness before the big projects come. We can have those solutions out today because the technologies are there. It is about markets and the spreading out of off-grid.”

Furthermore, said Yumkella, off-grid solutions would support Africa’s social development agenda at the community level and “that can be done now because off-grids can be in the hands of the poor communities to increase their productivity and help their social development.  But we will need millions of entrepreneurs in Africa in order to make energy poverty history.”

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), even with available renewable energy potential, Africa still has the lowest rate of rural electrification compared with other continents.

Globally, over the last two decades, rural electrification has increased from 61 to 70 percent but there are large disparities in rural access rates – in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, that rate is just 18 percent compared with over 70 percent in developing Asia.

IRENA says that Africa needs to double its rate of expansion of rural electrification and change the way it approaches rural electrification for it to achieve the universal electricity access for all target by 2030.

“And in this expansion, it is estimated that about 60 percent of additional generation will come from stand-alone and mini-grid solutions, with most of it being renewables because they can tap into locally available energy resources,” said Rabia Ferroukhi, IRENA Deputy Director in charge of Knowledge, Technology and Financing.

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Meanwhile, African energy ministers and delegates at the Abu Dhabi renewable energy conference called on IRENA and countries with greater knowledge in renewable energy to help them in supporting the Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative.

This initiative encourages the deployment of hydro, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar options from Cairo to Cape Town to increase capacity, stabilise the grid, and reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Ethiopia, one of the countries already investing in renewable energy, especially in wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power, is one of the proponents of financing for the Clean Energy Corridor.

The country plans to generate 800 megawatts of wind power, 1 gigawatt of geothermal power and is constructing a 6,000 MW hydroelectric plant, which will be the largest such facility in Africa costing about 4.8 billion dollars.

Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, told IPS that, if implemented, the Africa Clean Energy Corridor would help to advance renewable energy solutions to the corridor.

Adnan Amin, the Director-General of IRENA, told IPS that the Africa Clean Energy Corridor has gathered strong political support and engagement from within Africa and at the level of the United Nations.

“We have to make sure that we have regional programmes that can support countries to move in the clean direction and this is the concept behind our African Clean Energy Corridor,” said Amin.

“We want to interconnect African markets, create a larger regulated market, because when you have big markets, you can have big projects that pass the technology forward.”

With smart planning and prudent investment, Amin believes that all African countries can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and leapfrog into a sustainable future.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Final Push to Launch U.N. Negotiations on High Seas Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/final-push-to-launch-u-n-negotiations-on-high-seas-treaty/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:39:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138751 A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

A trawler in Johnstone Strait, BC, Canada. Human activities such as pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering and climate change have made an international agreement to protect the high seas more critical than ever. Credit: Winky/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations will make its third – and perhaps final – attempt at reaching an agreement to launch negotiations for an international biodiversity treaty governing the high seas.

A four-day meeting of a U.N. Ad Hoc Working Group is expected to take a decision by Friday against a September 2015 deadline to begin negotiations on the proposed treaty.“The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.” -- Lisa Speer of NRDC

Sofia Tsenikli, senior oceans policy advisor at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “This is the last scheduled meeting where we hope to see the decision to launch negotiations materialise.”

Asked about the timeline for the final treaty itself, she said “it really depends on the issues that will come up during the negotiations.”

In a statement released Monday, the High Seas Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups, said the high seas is a vast area that makes up nearly two-thirds of the ocean and about 50 percent of the planet’s surface, and currently falls outside of any country’s national jurisdiction.

“This means it’s the largest unprotected and lawless region on Earth,” the Alliance noted.

The lack of governance on the high seas is widely accepted as one of the major factors contributing to ocean degradation from human activities.

The issues to be discussed include marine protected areas and environmental impact assessments in areas beyond national jurisdiction, as well as benefit-sharing of marine genetic resources, capacity building and transfer of marine technology.

At the same time, the growing threat from human activities, including pollution, overfishing, mining, geo-engineering, and climate change, have made an international agreement to protect these waters more critical than ever, says the High Seas Alliance.

Lisa Speer, international oceans programme director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, says “The world’s international waters, or high seas, are a modern-day Wild West, with weak rules and few sheriffs.”

Kristina M. Gjerde, senior high seas policy advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told IPS U.N. member states have the historic opportunity to launch negotiations for a new global agreement to better protect, conserve and sustain the nearly 50 percent of the planet that is found beyond national boundaries.

The U.N. process, initiated at the 2012 Rio+20 summit in Brazil, has extensively explored the scope, parameters and feasibility of a possible new international instrument under the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), she added.

“It is clear that by now the vast majority of States are overwhelmingly in support,” Gjerde said.

Though some outstanding issues remain, IUCN is confident that once negotiations are launched, rapid progress can be made toward achieving an effective and equitable agreement, she added.

“With good luck, good will and good faith, negotiations, including a preparatory stage, could be accomplished in as little as two to three years,” Gjerde declared.

At the Rio+20 meeting, member states pledged to launch negotiations for the new treaty by the end of the 69th U.N. General Assembly in September 2015.

In a briefing paper released Monday, Greenpeace called on the 193-member General Assembly to take a “historic decision to develop an agreement under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond the jurisdiction of States.”

Unfortunately a few countries, including the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Iceland, have expressed opposition to an agreement going forward. But this could change, it added.

Norway – previously unconvinced – has now become supportive and calls for the launch of a meaningful implementing agreement for biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

For the United States in particular, said Greenpeace, standing against progress towards a U.N. agreement that would provide the framework for establishing a global network of ocean sanctuaries would be at odds with the U.S.’s leadership on ocean issues such as the establishment of marine reserves in EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zones) as well as the Arctic, Antarctic and fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

The environmental groups say there is overwhelming support for an UNCLOS implementing agreement from countries and regional country groupings across the world, from Southeast Asian nations, to African governments, European and Latin American countries and Small Island Developing States.

Among them are Australia, New Zealand, the African Union, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Group of 77 developing nations plus China, the 28-member European Union, Philippines, Brazil, South Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico, Benin, Pakistan, Uruguay, Uganda and many more.

Karen Sack, senior director of The Pew Charitable Trusts international oceans work, said the upcoming decision could signal a new era of international cooperation on the high seas.

“If countries can commit to work together on legal protections for biodiversity on the high seas, we can close existing management gaps and secure a path toward sustainable development and ecosystem recovery,” she added.

According to the environmental group, the high seas is defined as the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Only an international High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, says the coalition, would address the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Caribbean Youth Ready to Lead on Climate Issueshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/caribbean-youth-ready-to-lead-on-climate-issues/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 21:21:30 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138726 Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Members of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CEYN) clean debris from a river in Trinidad. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

At 24 years old, Stefan Knights has never been on the side of those who are sceptical about the reality and severity of climate change.

A Guyana native who moved to Trinidad in September 2013 to pursue his law degree at the Hugh Wooding Law School, Knights told IPS that his first-hand experience of extreme weather has strengthened his resolve to educate his peers about climate change “so that they do certain things that would reduce emissions.”“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people." -- Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran

Knights recalled his first week in Trinidad, when he returned to his apartment to find “the television was floating, the refrigerator was floating and all my clothes were soaked” after intense rainfall which did not last more than an hour.

“When we have the floods, the droughts or even the hurricanes, water supply is affected, people lose jobs, people lose their houses and the corollary of that is that the right to water is affected, the right to housing, the right to employment and even sometimes the right to life,” Knights told IPS.

“I am a big advocate where human rights are concerned and I see climate change as having a significant impact on Caribbean people where human rights are concerned,” he said.

Knights laments that young people from the Caribbean and Latin America are not given adequate opportunities to participate in the major international meetings, several of which are held each year, to deal with climate change.

“These people are affected more than anybody else but when such meetings are held, in terms of youth representation, you find very few young people from these areas,” he said.

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Youth climate activist Stefan Knights. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Also, the countries that are not independent within Latin America and the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico which is still a territory of the United States, Montserrat, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the voices of those people are not heard in those rooms because they are still colonies.”

Knights, who is also an active member of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), said young people are ready to lead.

“They are taking the lead around the world in providing solutions to challenges in the field of sustainable development,” he explained.

“For instance, CYEN has been conducting research and educating society on integrated water resources management, focusing particularly on the linkages between climate change, biodiversity loss and unregulated waste disposal.”

CYEN has been formally recognised by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) as one of its Most Outstanding Partners in the Caribbean.

As recently as December 2014, several members of CYEN from across the Caribbean participated in a Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) Media Workshop on Water Security and Climate Resilience held here.

CYEN has been actively involved in policy meetings on water resources management and has conducted practical community-based activities in collaboration with local authorities.

CYEN National Coordinator Rianna Gonzales told IPS that one way in which young people in Trinidad and Tobago are getting involved in helping to combat climate change and build resilience is through the Adopt a River (AAR) Programme, administered by the National Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

“This is an initiative to involve the community and corporate entities in the improvement of watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago in a sustainable, holistic and coordinated manner,” Gonzales said.

“The aim of the AAR programme is to build awareness on local watershed issues and to facilitate the participation of public and private sector entities in sustainable and holistic projects aimed at improving the status of rivers and watersheds in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s potable water supply (60 per cent) comes from surface water sources such as rivers and streams, and total water demand is expected to almost double between 1997 and 2025.

With climate change predictions indicating that Trinidad and Tobago will become hotter and drier, in 2010, the estimated water availability for the country was 1477 m3 per year, which is a decrease of 1000 m3 per year from 1998.

Deforestation for housing, agriculture, quarrying and road-building has also increased the incidence of siltation of rivers and severe flooding.

“The challenge of water in Trinidad and Tobago is one of both quality and quantity,” Gonzales said.

“Our vital water supply is being threatened by industrial, agricultural and residential activities. Indiscriminate discharge of industrial waste into waterways, over-pumping of groundwater sources and pollution of rivers by domestic and commercial waste are adversely affecting the sustainability of our water resources.

“There is therefore an urgent need for a more coordinated approach to protecting and managing our most critical and finite resource – water,” she added.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran said there is an urgent need to protect human dignity and alleviate the sufferings of people because of climate change.

“We know that the urgency is now. Business as usual is not enough. We are not on track to meet our agreed 2.0 or 1.5 degree Celsius objective for limiting the increase in average global temperatures, so urgent and ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is absolutely necessary,” he told IPS.

Dookeran added that “there is no excuse not to act” since economically viable and technologically feasible options already exist to significantly enhance efforts to address climate change.

“Even with a less than two degrees increase in average global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, small island states like Trinidad and Tobago are already experiencing more frequent and more intense weather events as a result of climate change,” Dookeran said.

The foreign affairs minister said residents can look forward to even more mitigation measures that will take place in the first quarter of this year with respect to the intended nationally determined contributions for mitigation.

“Notwithstanding our minor contribution to this global problem we are taking a proactive approach, guided by the recognition of our vulnerability and the tremendous responsibility to safeguard the future of our people,” he said.

“Trinidad and Tobago has made important inroads in dealing with the problem as we attempt to ensure that climate change is central to our development. As we prepare our economy for the transition to low carbon development and as we commit ourselves to carbon neutrality, the government of Trinidad and Tobago is working assiduously towards expanding the use of renewable energy in the national energy mix,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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CORRECTION/Sustainable Energy Starts With the Sunhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/in-indias-western-gujarat-state-sustainable-energy-starts-with-the-sun/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 16:38:24 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138722 Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
BARODA, India, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

It began with an experiment to install photovoltaic cells over an irrigation canal that forms part of the Sardar Sarovar canal network – a massive hydel power project across the River Narmada that irrigates some 1.8 million hectares of arable land in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

After a successful pilot project, the Government of Gujarat has now invested some 18.3 million dollars replicating the scheme over a 3.6-km stretch of the irrigation canal in the hopes of generating 10 MW of power.

The project received endorsement from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 11, as it represents global efforts to move towards a new poverty-eradication framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of this year, putting sustainability at the heart of the global development agenda.

Given that no extra land had to be acquired for installation of the solar power panels, its uniqueness was lauded by the U.N. secretary-general.

“Looking out at the plant, I saw more than glittering panels—I saw the future of India and the future of our world,” Ban said, addressing the media at the site on Jan. 11.

With some 21,600 solar panels running over a length of the Vadodara branch of the canal, experts say the installation could generate power to the tune of 16.2 million units per annum, since the canal runs right over the Tropic of Cancer and receives bright sunlight for eight months out of the year.

Sceptics worry that without planning, the surplus power could be siphoned off by commercial enterprises unless there are concerted efforts to combine the sustainable energy initiative with poverty eradication.

All across India, stakeholders are taking stock of progress on the MDGs, keeping their eyes on the new era of sustainable development. Many gaps remain in the country’s efforts to improve the lives of millions, with water scarcity, lack of sanitation, and sprawling slums pointing to a need for better management of India’s human, economic and natural resources.

A view of the transformer, which transmits solar power generated at the canal-top solar power plant. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of the transformer, which transmits solar power generated at the canal-top solar power plant. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Such are the typical scenes in every slum area in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Such are the typical scenes in every slum area in India. Experts are hopeful that the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will succeed where the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Traditional systems of water harvesting and conservation have gained new-found respect in the era of sustainable development. Here, a woman uses her ox to churn a water mill in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Traditional systems of water harvesting and conservation have gained new-found respect in the era of sustainable development. Here, a woman uses her ox to churn a water mill in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Indigenous people, like this Soliga woman, all across India are in urgent need of far-reaching sustainable development plans that will improve the lives and habitats of forest-dwellers. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Indigenous people, like this Soliga woman, all across India are in urgent need of far-reaching sustainable development plans that will improve the lives and livelihoods of forest-dwellers. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A water crisis continues to plague both urban and rural areas across India. A solar power project recently inaugurated by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon promises to improve water and sanitation access for communities in the western state of Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A water crisis continues to plague both urban and rural areas across India. As the U.N. gears up to implement a new sustainable development agenda, hopes are running high that gaps in the MDGs will now be filled. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sunlight pours over a break in canal-top solar panels recently installed over the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar canal project in Gujarat. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of a polluted stream in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, points to an urgent need for better planning and management of the country’s scarce water sources. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

A view of a polluted stream in Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, points to an urgent need for better planning and management of the country’s scarce water sources. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Pacific Islands Call for New Thinking to Implement Post-2015 Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pacific-islands-call-for-new-thinking-to-implement-post-2015-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:23:54 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138710 Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Organisations in the Pacific Islands believe that achieving the post-2015 development goals depends on getting implementation right. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty-alleviation targets set by the United Nations, come to a close this year, countries around the world are taking stock of their successes and failures in tackling key developmental issues.

The Pacific Islands have made impressive progress in reducing child mortality, however, poverty or hardship, as it is termed in the region, and gender equality remain the biggest performance gaps.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation, which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries." -- Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu
Only two of fourteen Pacific Island Forum states, Cook Islands and Niue, are on track to achieve all eight goals.

Key development organisations in the region believe the new Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations are more on target to address the unique development challenges faced by small island developing states. But they emphasise that turning the objectives into reality demands the participation of developed countries and a focus on getting implementation right.

“The main criticism of the MDGs was the lack of consultation which resulted in a set of goals designed primarily to address the development priorities of sub-Saharan Africa and then applied to all developing countries,” Derek Brien, executive director of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP) in Vanuatu, told IPS.

The tropical Pacific Ocean is home to 22 diverse island states and territories, which are scattered across 15 percent of the earth’s surface and collectively home to 10 million people. Most feature predominantly rural populations acutely exposed to extreme climate events and distant from main global markets. Lack of jobs growth in many countries is especially impacting the prospects for youth who make up more than half the region’s population.

Brien believes the ambitious set of seventeen SDGs, to be formally agreed during a United Nations summit in New York this September, have been developed with “much broader input and widespread consultation.”

“From a Pacific perspective, it is especially welcome to see new goals proposed on climate change, oceans and marine resources, inclusive economic growth, fostering peaceful inclusive societies and building capable responsive institutions that are based on the rule of law,” he elaborated.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Most modern independent nation states emerged in the Oceania region relatively recently in the last 45 years. Thus, the PIPP argues that development progress also depends on continuing to build effective state institutions and leadership necessary for good governance and service provision. New global targets that promise to tackle bribery and corruption, and improve responsive justice systems, support these aspirations.

With 11 Pacific Island states still to achieve gender equality, post-2015 targets of eliminating violence against women and girls, early and forced marriages and addressing the equal right of women to own and control assets have been welcomed.

For instance, in Papua New, the largest Pacific island, violence occurs in two-thirds of families, and up to 86 percent of women in the country experience physical abuse during pregnancy, according to ChildFund Australia.

 

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Experts say community justice programmes in Papua New Guinea’s vast village court system could reduce the high numbers of female and juvenile victims of abuse. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Pacific Island nations say empowering women is the key to addressing population growth across the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Improvement is also hindered by entrenched stereotypes of female roles in the domestic sphere and labour discrimination. In most countries, the non-agricultural employment of women is less than 48 percent.

The major challenge for the region in the coming years will be tackling increasing hardship.

Inequality and exclusion is rising in the Pacific Islands due to a range of factors, including pressures placed on traditional subsistence livelihoods and social safety nets by the influence of the global cash and market-based economy, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported last year.

According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Pacific Islanders are unable to afford basic needs, while employment to population is a low 30-50 percent in Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu.

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Children sit outside an informal housing settlement in Vanuatu. Experts say a lack of economic opportunities is contributing to a wave of youth suicides in the Pacific Islands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Many people in Freswota, Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu, have spent more than 30 years or most of their lifetimes in informal housing settlements. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

 

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

In this community in Port Vila, capital of the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, one toilet and water tap serves numerous families. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rex Horoi, director of the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific, a Fiji-based non-governmental organisation, agrees that the SDGs are relevant to the development needs of local communities, but he said that accomplishing them would demand innovative thinking.

For example, in considering the sustainable use of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, “you have marine biologists working separately and then you have biodiversity experts and environmentalists working separately. We have not evolved in terms of trying to solve human problems with an integrated approach to development,” Horoi claimed.

He called for tangible implementation plans, aligned with national development strategies, to accompany all goals, and more integrated partnerships between governments and stakeholders, such as civil society, the private sector and communities in making them a reality.

At the same time, delivering on the expanded post-2015 agenda will place considerable pressure on the limited resources of small-island developing states.

“Many small island countries struggle to deal with the multitude of international agreements, policy commitments and related reporting requirements. There is a pressing need to rationalise and integrate many of the parallel processes that collectively set the global agenda. The new agenda should seek to streamline these and not add to the bureaucratic burden,” Brien advocated.

PIPP believes industrialised countries must also be accountable for the new goals. The organisation highlights that “numerous transnational impacts from high income states are diverting and even curbing development opportunities in low income countries”, such as failure to reduce carbon emissions, overfishing by foreign fleets and tax avoidance by multinational resource extraction companies.

Brien believes that “rhetorically all the right noises are being made in this respect” with the United Nations promoting the SDGs as universally applicable to all countries.

“However, it remains unclear how this will transpire through implementation. There remains a ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ divide with perhaps still too much focus on this being an aid agenda rather than a development agenda,” he said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Helpless as Saudi Flogging Flouts Torture Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:16:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138673 Raif Badawi.

Raif Badawi.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Flogging a dead horse, as the old idiom goes, is far removed from flogging a live Saudi blogger.

But the latest cruel punishment meted out by the rigidly conservative and authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia has triggered widespread condemnation.“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.” -- Sevag Kechichian of Amnesty International

The strongest criticism came Thursday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations, who said: “Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment.

“Such punishment,” he said, “is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.”

The Saudi decision makes a mockery of the international convention, as do other violations, including torture of terrorist suspects by U.S. intelligence agencies.

But the United Nations remains helpless and is unable to hold these countries accountable for violations or punish them for infractions because member states reign supreme in the world body – except when penalised by the Security Council.

The Saudi punishment was meted out to Raif Badawi, who was publicly flogged 50 times last Friday and is reportedly due to be flogged every Friday, the holy Sabbath for Muslims, until his sentence of 1,000 lashes has been fully carried out.

Sevag Kechichian, Amnesty International’s (AI) Saudi Arabia researcher on the case, told IPS, “Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, and he was simply trying to uphold his right to freedom of expression and he is being punished for it in a horrifying manner.

“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.”

Instead of announcing a second round of brutal floggings, the Saudi Arabian authorities must heed the international outcry over his case and order his immediate and unconditional release, he added.

Amnesty also noted that Saudi Arabia had condemned last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris as ‘cowardly’.

“The next day, they flogged Raif Badawi for exercising his right to free expression. We need to expose this hypocrisy. We need to embarrass them into action, now.”

Adam Coogle, Middle East Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the statement by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) correctly labels the flogging punishment as torture and calls on Saudi Arabia to abolish the practice.

“We welcome OHCHR’s press statement but call on him [Zeid] and the United Nations to continue to monitor and publicly criticise Saudi Arabia when they impose harsh and draconian punishments on peaceful activists and dissidents,” he added.

In what was described as an “unusual diplomatic rebuke,” the United States last week lashed out at Saudi Arabia, one of its closest allies in the Middle East, and urged the government to rescind its sentencing and review the case.

The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression and religion, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, told reporters.

Javier El-Hage, general counsel of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS the government of Saudi Arabia is making a mockery of that country’s obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

He said “the U.N. Committee against Torture should call on Saudi Arabia’s government to immediately cease flogging Mr. Badawi, as that type of punishment constitutes a clear violation of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the Convention against Torture.”

According to Article 20 of this Convention, he said, the U.N. Committee Against Torture has the power to carry out “ex officio investigations if it receives reliable information that appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of a State Party.”

While they don’t have the coercive power to force Saudi Arabia to stop the flogging, as is the case with most international law obligations, the committee can certainly report on the topic, condemn Saudi Arabia and issue recommendations, he noted.

In a statement released Thursday, Zeid appealed to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Badawi, and also to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.

Badawi, an online blogger and activist, was convicted for exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression on a website he founded called Free Saudi Liberals. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million riyals (266,000 dollars).

Badawi’s case was just one of a succession of prosecutions of civil society activists, said the statement.

On Monday, an appeals court upheld the conviction of Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu Al-Khair on charges that include offending the judiciary and founding an unlicensed organisation. Al-Khair’s sentence was extended from 10 to 15 years on appeal.

The U.N. Committee against Torture has repeatedly voiced concerns about states’ use of flogging and have called for its abolition.

Saudi Arabia’s report on its implementation of the Convention is up for review by the Committee against Torture next year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Humanity’s Future: Below Replacement Fertility?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/humanitys-future-below-replacement-fertility/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 19:51:42 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138669 A mother and her three children, part of the indigenous Hmong group, in Sin Chai, northwestern Viet Nam. The general trend in world fertility rates shows they are in decline - due to a combination of factors, including economic development and the improved social role of women. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

A mother and her three children, part of the indigenous Hmong group, in Sin Chai, northwestern Viet Nam. The general trend in world fertility rates shows they are in decline - due to a combination of factors, including economic development and the improved social role of women. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Is below replacement level fertility the future for humanity? The answer to this seemingly simple question regarding human reproduction is not only of considerable demographic concern, but also has enormous social, economic and environmental consequences for the planet.

Aside from a global mortality catastrophe, the future size of the world’s population is determined basically by the number of children women bear. If the average number of births per woman remains more than about two, world population continues to increase.

However, if women on average have less than two births, then world population eventually decreases. A fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman under low mortality conditions is the replacement level, which over time results in population stabilisation.

Throughout most of human history women bore many children. In addition to offsetting high rates of infant and child mortality, a large number of children provided valuable assistance, needed labour and personal meaning to rural households as well as old-age support to parents.

At the beginning of the 20th century average global fertility was still about six births per woman. By 1950 world fertility had declined slightly to five births per woman, with less than a handful of countries having rates below the replacement level (Figure 1).

Source: United Nations Population Division

Source: United Nations Population Division

At that time, most of the largest countries, such as Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey, had rates of six or more births per woman. In addition, 29 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Rwanda, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, had average fertility rates of seven or more births per woman.

As a result of the high fertility rates and comparatively low death rates, world population grew very rapidly during the 20th century, especially in the second half. World population nearly quadrupled during the past century, an unprecedented demographic phenomenon, increasing from 1.6 to 6.1 billion.

Also during the past 50 years, historic declines in fertility rates occurred, resulting in a halving of the world’s average rate to 2.5 births per woman. Those remarkable fertility declines are unequivocal and widespread, with lower rates in virtually every country.

In 1950, 101 countries, or 44 percent of world population, had a fertility rate of six or more births per woman. Today 12 countries – with all but two in sub-Saharan Africa, representing five percent of world population – have a fertility rate of six or more births per woman.

In addition, the transition from high fertility to below replacement levels took place in all European countries as well as in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. The transition to below replacement fertility also occurred across a broad and diverse range of developing countries, including Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Iran, Lebanon, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Tunisia and Vietnam. In sum, 75 countries, or close to half of the world’s population, are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level (Figure 1).

With regard to future fertility levels, two key questions stand out. First, will countries with below replacement fertility remain at those levels? And second, in the coming decades will the remaining 126 countries also end up with below replacement fertility?

While future fertility rebounds cannot be ruled out, the general pattern over the last five decades has been unmistakable: once fertility falls below the replacement level, it tends to stay there. That trend has especially been the case for the many countries where fertility has fallen below 1.6 births per woman, such as Canada, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Some countries consider sustained below replacement fertility as a threat to their economies and societies and have attempted to return to at least the replacement level through various pro-natalist policies, programmes and incentives, including reduced taxes, subsidised care for children and bonuses. However, such government attempts have by and large not achieved their objectives.

The forces that brought about declines in fertility to historic lows are widely recognised and include lower mortality rates, increased urbanisation, widespread education, improvements in the status of women, availability of modern contraceptives and delayed marriage and childbearing.

Other important factors include the costs of childrearing, employment and economic independence of women, divorce and separation, the decline of marriage, co-habitation, childless lifestyles and the need to save for longer years of retirement and elder care. Those forces and factors are likely to continue and become increasingly widespread globally.

According to United Nations medium-variant population projections, by mid-century the number of countries with below replacement fertility is expected to nearly double, reaching 139 countries (Figure 1). Together those countries will account for 75 percent of the world’s population at that time.

Some of the populous countries expected to fall below the replacement fertility level by 2050 include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey. Looking further into the future, below replacement fertility is expected in 184 countries by the end of the century, with the global fertility rate falling below two births per woman (Figure 1).

It is certainly difficult to imagine rapid transitions to low fertility in today’s high-fertility countries, such as Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where average rates are more than six births per woman. However, rapid transitions from high to low fertility levels have happened in diverse social, economic and political settings.

With social and economic development, including those forces favouring low fertility, and the changing lifestyles of women and men, the transition to below replacement fertility in nearly all the remaining countries with high birth rates may well occur in the coming decades of the 21st century.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Africa Must Prioritise Water in Its Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-must-prioritise-water-in-its-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-must-prioritise-water-in-its-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africa-must-prioritise-water-in-its-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 18:35:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138666 Africa must now go beyond household water access indices to embrace water as a key development issue, say experts at the Jan. 15-17 U.N. International Water Conference in Zaragoza. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa must now go beyond household water access indices to embrace water as a key development issue, say experts at the Jan. 15-17 U.N. International Water Conference in Zaragoza. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
ZARAGOZA, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Although African countries have been lauded for their efforts towards ensuring that people have access to safe drinking water in keeping with Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), they have nonetheless come under scrutiny for failure to prioritise water in their development agendas.

Thomas Chiramba, Head of Freshwater Ecosystems Unit at the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in Kenya, told IPS that in spite of progress on the third component of MDG7 – halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015 – water scarcity still poses a significant threat to sustainable development in Africa.

Attending the United Nations’ International Water Conference being held in this Spanish city from Jan. 15-17,  he said that “there is too much focus on household water access indices and not enough on linkages between water and sustainable development.”While there are now more people in Africa with improved sources of water and sanitation, experts say that this is not enough. The continent is still facing water scarcity, with negative implications for growth and health.

While there are now more people in Africa with improved sources of water and sanitation, experts say that this is not enough. The continent is still facing water scarcity, with negative implications for growth and health.

In view of the rapid and unpredictable changes in environmental systems, Chiramba said that unless Africa broadens its national and international water goals the region will find it difficult to remain economically resilient.

“Water is key to the agricultural and energy sectors, both critical to accelerating growth and development in Africa,” he added.

The theme of the Zaragoza conference is ‘Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action’ and is at the heart of adaptation to climate, also serving as a key link among climate systems, human society and environment.

One of the main aims of the conference is to develop implementing tools, with regard to financing, technology, capacity development and governance frameworks, for initiating the post-2015 agenda on water and sanitation.

More than 300 participants representing U.N. agencies and programmes, experts, the business community, and governmental and non-governmental organisations have converged with the main aim of addressing water as a sustainable development goal.

“Although water goals and targets were achieved under the MDGs, the main focus was on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), all geared towards poverty reduction,” said Chiramba. “But there was no explicit focus on addressing the sustainability aspect.”

As a result, say experts, water management issues were never comprehensively addressed at the national or international level, nor was the key role that water can play in growing the various sectors of the economy.

This year is also the last year of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ which began in 2005, and will set the tone for World Water Day to be marked on March 22, which will also focus on ‘water and sustainable development’.

The primary goal of the ‘Water for Life’ Decade has been to promote efforts to fulfil international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015. The Water Decade has served to forge cooperation at all levels so that the water-related goals of the Millennium Declaration are achieved.

The end of the Decade also marks the beginning of new water campaigns, “this time, with great focus on the impact of water on development,” said Chiramba.

The Zaragoza water conference has brought to the fore the fact that the Decade has achieved the difficult task of isolating water issues as key to the development agenda and has provided a platform for governments and stakeholders to address the threats that water scarcity poses to development, experts say.

“It has also been a platform for stakeholders and government to discuss the opportunities that exist in exploiting water as a resource,” said Alice Shena, a civil society representative at the event.

As a result of the Water Decade, Shena noted, a broader international water agenda has been established that goes beyond universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

“The agenda now includes the sustainable use and development of water resources, increasing and sharing the available benefits which have significant implications for every sector of the economy,” she said.

According to environment expert Nataliya Nikiforova, as a new era of development goals begins under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is clear that water will play a critical role in development.

She said  that if managed efficiently and equitably, water can play a key enabling role in strengthening the resilience of social, economic and environmental systems in the light of rapid and unpredictable changes.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Press Looks at Future After “Charlie”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-looks-at-future-after-charlie http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:33:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138664 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of last week’s attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, a heated battle of opinion is being waged in France and several other countries on the issue of freedom of expression and the rights of both media and the public.

On one side are those who say that freedom of expression is an inherent human right and a pillar of democracy, and on the other are representatives of a range of views, including the belief that liberty comes with responsibility for all sectors of society.

“I’m worried when one talks about our being in a state of war,” said John Ralston Saul, the president of the writers group PEN International, who participated in a conference here Jan. 14 on “Journalism after Charlie”, organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The war against fundamentalists isn’t going to work,” he said, arguing that education about freedom of expression has to start at a young age so that people know that “you have to have a thick skin” to live in a democracy.“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer” – Nasser David Khalili, Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist

PEN International, which promotes literature, freedom of expression and speaks out for “writers silenced in their own countries”, has strongly condemned the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the organisation is also worried about how politicians are reacting in the aftermath.

It called on governments to “implement their commitments to free expression and to desist from further curtailing free expression through the expansion of surveillance.”

In the Jan. 7 assault, two hooded gunmen gained access to the offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and opened fire, killing cartoonists, other media workers, a visitor and two policemen. The attackers were in turn killed by police two days later, after a huge manhunt in the French capital, where related attacks took place Jan. 8 and 9.

In the other acts, a gunman killed a young female police officer and later held hostages at a kosher supermarket, where police said he murdered four people before he was killed by the security forces.

Charlie Hebdo had been under threat since 2006 when it republished controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad originally published in 2005, and in 2011 its offices were firebombed after an edition that some groups considered offensive and inflammatory.

Several critics accused the magazine of Islamophobia and racism, while the cartoonists defended their right to lampoon subjects that included religious leaders and politicians.

Before the attacks, the magazine’s circulation had been in decline, with readers apparently turned off by the crudeness of the drawings, but the publication is now being given wide moral and financial backing.

More than three million people of different ethnicities and faiths marched in Paris and other cities last Sunday in support of freedom of expression, including some 40 world leaders who joined French government representatives.

Among those marching, however, were officials from many countries active in “restricting freedom of expression”, according to PEN International and other groups. “This includes murders, violence and imprisoned writers on PEN’s Case List. These leaders, when at home, are part of administrations which are serious offenders,” said the organisation.

Saul told IPS that in the last 14 years, PEN International has noted a “shrinking in freedom of expression” in Western countries, “not only of writers and journalists but of citizens”. He said that the main problem for the organisation was impunity.

While everyone condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks, some participants at the UNESCO conference argued that the media need to act more responsibly, especially as regards the portrayal of minority or marginalised communities.

As the debates took place, the latest edition of the magazine was being distributed, with another cover portraying Muhammad, this time holding a placard saying “Je Suis Charlie” and with the caption “All is forgiven”.

“The media must mediate and refrain from the promoting of stereotypes,” said French senator Bariza Khiari, in a segment of the conference debate titled “Intercultural Dialogue and Fragmented Societies”.

She said that most adherents of Islam were “quietly Muslim”, keeping their religion to themselves while respecting the secular values of the countries where they live. “But we have to recognise the existence and importance of religion as long as religion does not dictate the law,” she argued.

Khiari told IPS that the radicalisation of some French youth was taking place because of their hardships in France and the humiliation they faced on a daily basis. These include Islamophobia, joblessness and stops by the police.

The senator said she hoped that young people as well as the media would reflect on what had happened and draw some lessons that would result in positive advances in the future.

Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, said that democracy meant that all newspapers of whatever belief or political learning could publish in France and that people have access to legal avenues. But she acknowledged that there was a failure of integration of everyone into society.

Regarding the protection of journalists, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told IPS that “now was the time” for the United Nations and particularly UNESCO “not just to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression” but to consider other initiatives.

“Something that is probably not so well known to the general public is that we are constantly in contact with governments where these cases (attacks on journalists) have happened in order to remind them of their responsibilities and asking for information on the follow-up measures, and I would say that even if they are not spectacular, we’ve still seen more and more governments who are taking this seriously.”

Alongside journalists and cartoonists, the UNESCO conference included Jewish, Muslim and Christian representatives who called on the state to do more to educate young people about the co-existence of secular and religious values and ways to live together in increasingly diverse societies.

“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer,” said Nasser David Khalili, an Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist who lives in London.

One topic overlooked however was the less discernible attacks on journalists, in the form of press conglomeration, cuts in income and a general lack of commitment to quality journalism.

“Freedom of expression has no meaning when you can’t find a job and when media is controlled by big groups,” said a former journalist who left the conference early.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Anemia in Eastern Cuba Reflects Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/anemia-in-eastern-cuba-reflects-inequality/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:40:20 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138646 Computer technician Gladys Pavón with her son Irving in Bayamo, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños IPS

Computer technician Gladys Pavón with her son Irving in Bayamo, in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños IPS

By Ivet González
BAYAMO, Cuba, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has met the United Nations goal of reducing hunger. But anemia caused by malnutrition is still a problem among infants, small children and pregnant women in this Caribbean island nation, which has been in the grip of an economic crisis for over two decades.

“Meat is the hardest thing to get,” said Gladys Pavón from the city of Bayamo, 730 km east of Havana. “The fruit and vegetables that we buy for the children are also difficult to get. We buy milk at the store [through the ration card system],” the 32-year-old mother of two small boys told IPS.

Pavón, a computer technician, is introducing new foods into the diet of nine-month-old Irving. “My little one is now eating fruit, tubers, pasta and all kinds of meat. I try to give him a balanced diet, like I do with two-year-old Javier Alejandro,” she said.

“My kids have never suffered from anemia,” the young mother said proudly, holding the chunky Irving, who is free of an ailment that still affects vulnerable parts of the population in the east – Cuba’s poorest region – despite the National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia and constant support from the international community to eradicate the problem.

“Nutritional deficiency anemia is among the main nutritional problems in the province of Granma [whose capital is Bayamo], as it is in the rest of eastern Cuba,” Dr. Margarita Cruz, who heads the local Food and Nutrition Monitoring System, told IPS.

“The main cause is iron deficiency in the diet,” Cruz said. “Children and pregnant women don’t consume the iron their bodies need.”

“There are problems with availability of and access to an adequate diet, but there are also bad nutritional habits, including a taste for junk food, which has begun to have a negative impact,” she said.

There are an estimated two billion people worldwide with micronutrient deficiencies, which undermine a healthy, productive life, according to the first ever Global Nutrition Report, published in November 2014 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).“Nutritional deficiency anemia is among the main nutritional problems in the province of Granma, as it is in the rest of eastern Cuba.” -- Dr. Margarita Cruz

And under-nutrition kills nearly 1.5 million women and children a year around the world.

In Cuba, which has met the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people who live in hunger, from 1990 levels, less than five percent of the population of 11.2 million is undernourished.

Every inhabitant receives a set quota of food purchased at subsidised prices through the “libreta” or ration book. The system is widely criticised, but it is essential for lower-income segments of the population. And pregnant women and children up to the age of 13 receive a special diet with extra supplies of meat, fortified milk, fruit compote and yoghurt.

But to put food on the table all month long, families have no choice but to pay the high prices charged for food in the farmers’ markets, state-run stores that only accept hard currency, and the black market, which survives despite police raids and prison sentences of up to three years for contraband.

Statistics from the state-run Centre of Studies on the Cuban Economy show that food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget, in a country where the state, by far the largest employer, pays an average salary of 19 dollars a month.

Eastern Cuba, which includes five provinces – Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo – has the worst development indicators in the country.

According to the latest population and housing census, from 2012, many more people leave the eastern provinces than arrive. In the remaining 10 provinces, more than 75 percent of outsiders have traditionally been from the east.

Although anemia is still a health problem, the situation has improved in recent years.

A study carried out in eastern Cuba from 2005 to 2011 found that the prevalence of anemia among children under five fell from 31.8 to 26 percent. The highest rates were found among babies and toddlers between six and 23 months of age, according to an article published in 2014 in the Cuban magazine MEDICC Review.

In Granma, which has 830,600 inhabitants, the prevalence of anemia among children under five has dropped below 25 percent and among pregnant women to under 20 percent, said Cruz, one of the authors of the article in MEDICC Review.

“An effort has been made, which is why we have seen results,” she said. “People are eating more vegetables and have learned how to combine certain foods to maximise the nutrients.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) financed two major projects, consecutively, from 2002 to 2014 in the five eastern provinces, in support of the Public Health Ministry’s National Plan for the Prevention and Control of Anemia.

The projects, carried out in conjunction with local institutions, included communicational and educational strategies targeting families; the setting up of anemia monitoring systems in the public health sector; the free distribution of cereals fortified with micronutrients; and measures to boost local production of the cereals.

Cuba and the WFP launched a new programme this month. It will run through 2018, and puts a priority on nutritional monitoring and aid for agriculture in Cuba, in line with the Raúl Castro government’s emphasis on agriculture and empowerment at a local level to reduce the country’s food imports, which total two billion dollars a year.

Using rice grown in Cuba, the state-run Dairy Products Company of Bayamo began this month to produce fortified rice, Nutriarroz. Rice is the most widely consumed cereal in this country.

“The product has been accepted well in the trials that have been carried out,” said Rauel Medina, director of the factory.

The company, the largest of its kind in the country, is to deliver 1,200 tons a year for free distribution among small children and pregnant women in the eastern provinces that still have a high prevalence of anemia, as part of the cooperation between the WFP and Cuba.

“This problem must be detected among women of childbearing age,” said Dr. Mariela Velis, head of the Maternal and Child Health Programme in Granma. “An anemic mother can have a child with the same problem, and a cycle is created.”

For that reason, hemoglobin screening for anemia is carried out among women in the province, starting in adolescence, she explained.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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