Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse News and Views from the Global South Mon, 24 Oct 2016 05:23:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As Haiti reels from another disaster once again, many are questioning the humanitarian system and looking for long-term solutions with Haitians at the heart of response.

Since Hurricane Matthew made landfall in early October, over 500 Haitians have reportedly died, thousands of homes have been left destroyed, and vital farm land overturned. This devastation has affected over 19 percent, or 2.2 million, of the Caribbean nation’s 10 million citizens. More than 12 percent of the population is in need of immediate assistance, especially in the southern part of the country.

In response, the United Nations launched a flash appeal of $119 million to provide urgent life-saving aid to 750,000 people in the next three months. This appeal is in addition to $194 million for the 2016 Haiti Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requested early this year.

Neighboring nations however did not experience such devastation, with only 4 deaths in the Dominican Republic and none in Cuba. So why did Haiti take such a hard hit?

“Fundamentally, the problem is that Haiti is very poor,” David Sanderson, a Professor at the University of New South Wales specialising in humanitarian responses told IPS.

Haiti, a nation formed following a slave rebellion, has long struggled with extreme poverty, after beginning its existence in debt to its former coloniser France. Meanwhile aid delivered to Haiti has often been criticised for being insufficient and inefficient and at times even counter-productive.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with more than a quarter of its people living in extreme poverty. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction found that poverty and disaster mortality often go hand in hand, reporting that the majority of the 1.35 million killed by natural disasters between 1996 and 2015 occurred in low-income countries.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” -- France Francois.

Many have also noted the impacts of decades of political instability and corruption in creating a weak government that has not enacted key disaster preparedness policies such as necessary improvements to infrastructure.

According to a report from the American Institute of Architects, there is no national building code and a lack of enforcement of building construction standards. Instead, engineers often use standards from other countries that do not account for Haiti’s own context.

The government was only weakened further following the devastating magnitude 7 earthquake in 2010 which claimed over 200,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Now over six years after the earthquake, almost 60,000 people are still displaced.

A Byproduct of the International Development System

However, many are pushing back on this narrative, pointing to the international aid regime as a major source of the country’s inability to withstand and recover from such disasters.

“The weakness of the government is a byproduct of the entire international development system,” said France Francois, a former development worker in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, to IPS.

“It’s easy to point the finger and say well the Haitian government should have done this or should have done that, but what you have to look at is the larger structure…It’s not simply because [the government doesn’t] want to do things, it is because they don’t have the capacity and they don’t have the capacity because they only get one percent of foreign aid,” Francois continued.

Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the international aid regime has lead to very few assets being provided “in order to build the capacity of Haitians themselves to own the process of rebuilding.”

According to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti, the Haitian government received less than one percent of humanitarian aid after the 2010 earthquake while humanitarian agencies and international non-governmental organisations received the other 99 percent. Provisions for long-term recovery funding to the Government of Haiti was slightly higher at approximately 15 percent.

This failure to assist and coordinate with the government creates a “vicious cycle” in which Haitians are left relying on forces “outside of their control,” said Haiti-American development consultant Jocelyn McCalla to IPS.

“Haiti has become a Republic of NGOs—so international NGOs have created this complete parallel of government that always bypasses the Haitian government,” said Francois.

She also pointed to the disconnect between donor priorities and Haitians’ needs.

As part of efforts towards reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake, the Bush-Clinton Haiti Fund, created by former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, invested $2 million in the Royal Oasis Hotel aimed to house aid workers and foreign investors.

Though the project was meant to create jobs for Haitians, it failed to address the permanent, seismic-proof housing needs of thousands of Haitians.

“If you asked the Haitian people…they would have said that [being] safe during a hurricane is a priority for them, not hotels for foreigners,” Francois told IPS.

The Center for Global Development also found that donor concerns trumped the Haitian government’s post-earthquake priorities as funding requests for reconstruction, education and health fell significantly short.

The failure to focus on resilience and disaster preparedness is not isolated to Haiti. Sanderson, who is one of the editors of the 2016 World Disasters Report, found that only 40 cents to every $100 spent on development aid was invested in disaster risk reduction activities.

“That’s wrong—there should be way more going in advancement to stop disasters from happening in the first place,” Sanderson told IPS, adding that there is a shared responsibility towards such action.

As a result of past failures, many have said that greater transparency and accountability is “sorely needed.”

Francois particularly pointed to the American Red Cross’ alleged mismanaged funds and unfulfilled promises to build homes for Haitians. Though the group received nearly $500 million in donations following the earthquake, ProPublica and National Public Radio released an investigative report claiming the Red Cross only built six permanent homes.

In response, the Red Cross denied allegations and called the misrepresentation “disappointing.”

“Despite the most challenging conditions, including changes in government, lack of land for housing, and civil unrest, our hardworking staff—90 percent of whom are Haitians—continue to meet the long-term needs of the Haitian people. While the pace of progress is never as fast as we would like, Haiti is better off today than it was five years ago,” Red Cross said in a statement.

Francois said that beneficiaries must hold organisations and donors accountable for aid flows, and that organisations must work with and involve communities in every step of the way.

“That’s standard best practice,” she told IPS.

“What I hope will happen is that those who want to support Haiti and the Haitian government will sit down with the proper authorities and put together what the long term sustainable plan will look like for this reconstruction effort,” she continued.

McCalla highlighted the need to ensure there is no repeat of the cholera epidemic that was introduced to the waterways following the 2010 earthquake.

UN peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak which has so far killed over 10,000 people. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found “an exact correlation” between arrival of Nepalese peacekeepers to the appearance of first cases in the Meille river. In August, a UN spokesperson said that the UN was convinced it needed to do more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak, however the UN has continued to claim immunity

“Because of a number of past failures, we should respond clearly and say we are accountable…we want to work with the Haitian people to do it…and also make every effort possible to commit to remedying the situation,” McCalla told IPS. However, no effort has been made thus far, he added.

Investing in Local Institutions and People

As the three week mark approaches along with the fading interest and relief resources that often goes with it, the push for long-term solutions is underway, one that gives control to Haitians.

“Business as usual is not an option,” said Sanderson, urging for a focus on long-term recovery that puts local citizens in charge.

McCalla and Francois made similar comments, highlighting the need to invest in Haitians.

“When you cast (Haitians) aside, and say we’re going to take care of everything…that is demeaning,” McCalla told IPS.

He also stressed the need to challenge the “charity” narrative of Haiti.

Francois said that organisations should hire and train Haitians not only as a way to build trust, but also to show their investment in communities.

“You build the local capacity so that you are no longer needed…you are supposed to grow and change and show results but only in the development world, remaining stagnant is something to be proud of,” she told IPS.

Though Haiti will continued to need funds, “people are not helpless,” McCalla told IPS, noting that many are already trying to rebuild their livelihoods and country whilst asserting their position at the forefront of disaster relief and recovery.

Ambassador of Haiti to the U.S. Paul Altidor released a statement at the wake of the disaster, urging for a coordinated and strategic relief effort “to avoid mistakes from the past.”

“As the country continues to assess the extent of the damage, the state of Haiti strongly encourages all who wish to help to work with the local organisations and institutions on the ground in order to gain their input on the actual needs of the affected communities,” he said in a statement, adding that local institutions can also be good partners too and should not be bypassed.

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Governments and Social Movements Disagree on Future of Cities Fri, 21 Oct 2016 22:12:36 +0000 Emilio Godoy Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists protest during the Resistance to Habitat III social forum held at the Central University of Ecuador, which hosted the gathering held parallel to Habitat III, bringing together 100 NGOs from 35 countries, to debate on how to create cities for all. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 21 2016 (IPS)

The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development and the alternative forums held by social organisations ended in the Ecuadorean capital with opposing visions regarding the future of cities and the fulfillment of rights in urban areas.

On Thursday Oct. 20, the representatives of 195 countries taking part in the Habitat III conference adopted the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All, after four days of deliberations.

The basis of the declaration, also known as the New Urban Agenda, is the promotion of sustainable urban development, inclusive prosperity, and spatial development planning.“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes.” -- Fernando Carrión

In the 23-page declaration, the states commit themselves to fighting poverty, inequality and discrimination; improving urban planning; and building cities with resilience to climate change.

At the same time, academics and social movements laid out their visions of social development of cities in two alternative social forums held parallel to the Oct. 17-20 summit, criticising Habitat III’s approach to urbanisation and questioning how effectively it can be applied.

“If you see the New Urban Agenda as building international cooperation, agreed on by the countries and implemented by municipal governments, which did not take part in drawing it up, it’s heading for a crisis, because there will be clashes,” Fernando Carrión, the Ecuadorean activist who headed the Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 social forum, told IPS.

During this parallel forum, held at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), some 140 speakers from 32 nations and 40 organisations from around the region discussed urban rights; the dialogue with local governments and social movements; housing and spatial justice, a term similar to the right to the city.

Habitat III, the cities summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, drew around 35,000 delegates of governments, non-governmental organisations, international bodies, universities, and companies, and gave rise to the New Urban Agenda, which is to chart the course of political action aimed at sustainable urban development over the next 20 years.

After the United States and Europe, Latin America is the most urbanised part of the planet, as 80 percent of the region’s total population of 641 million people live in urban areas.

At least 104 million Latin Americans live in slums; worldwide the number of slum dwellers amounts to 2.5 billion, according to U.N.-Habitat.

This phenomenon poses the challenges of land title regularisation and the provision of basic services, while aggravating problems facing cities like pollution, increasing traffic, urban sprawl and inequality.

“We need to rethink how to organise cities. We have to organise and mobilise ourselves. We’re going to assess compliance by national and local governments, which are key, because many things will depend on their compliance,” Alison Brown, a professor at the University of Cardiff in the UK, told IPS.

 Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

Since the first Habitat conference, in Vancouver in 1976, the world has only fulfilled 70 percent of the commitments adopted at the first two summits, while progress has practically stalled since Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Credit: HCI

The Quito Declaration drew criticism on some points. One of the main concerns that arose in the debates was about the “post-Quito” implementation of the commitments assumed by the states and social organisations.

The Habitat III accords “cannot generate the urban reforms that we need, such as integral access to land with services. That can only be achieved through struggle. It is local political participation that makes it possible to press for urban reform,” Isabella Goncalves, an activist with the Brazilian NGO Brigadas Populares, told IPS.

She attended the Oct. 14-20 Resistance to Habitat III social forum, which brought together delegates from about 100 social organisations from 35 nations to address issues such as opposition to evictions, the promotion of social housing, and defending the right to the city.

In its final declaration, the social forum called for strengthening the movements defending the right to land and territory and respect for the universal right to housing, and questioned Habitat III for pushing for urbanisation to the detriment of rural areas and their inhabitants.

The Habitat International Coalition criticised the New Urban Agenda’s “narrow vision”, and lamented that Habitat III had forgotten about protecting people from forced eviction and about the need to fight the shortage of housing and to achieve the right to universal housing.

It also urged countries to “regulate global financial transactions; end or limit opaque speculative financial instruments; steeply tax real-estate speculation; regulate rents; enhance the social tenure, production and financing of housing and habitat; and prevent privatisation of the commons, which is subject to attack under the neoliberal development model.”

Academics and social movements want to avoid a repeat of what happened post-Habitat II, which was held in 1996 in Istanbul, and whose implementation lacked follow-up and evaluation.

For that reason, the organisers of Towards an Alternative Habitat 3 agreed on the creation of an observatory for monitoring the decisions reached, biannual meetings, wide publication of the results of research and follow-up on the progress made by cities.

The Quito Declaration mentions periodic reviews, and urges the U.N. secretary general to assess the progress made and challenges faced in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, in his quadrennial report in 2026.

The decade between the summit in Istanbul and the one held this week in Quito serves as a demonstration of what could happen with the New Urban Agenda.

The Global Urban Futures Project’s Habitat Commitment Index, presented during Habitat III, shows how little has been achieved since 1996.

Between Habitat I, held in 1976 in Vancouver, and Habitat II, the global average score in terms of fulfillment of the commitments assumed was 68.68, according to the Project, a network of academics and activists based at the New School University in New York City, which created the Index based on infrastructure, poverty, employment, sustainability, institutional capacity, and gender indicators.

But since the 1996 conference, the global average only increased by 1.49 points. Latin America and Southeast Asia increased their scores, while North and sub-Saharan Africa showed extremes in both directions, with large increases and decreases in HCI scores.” India made no progress, and China saw a “significant decline” in its score.

With respect to the different dimensions taken into account by the Index, the greatest progress was seen in gender, modest progress was seen in poverty and sustainability, and minimal progress was seen in infrastructure.

“We didn’t manage to get a citizen monitoring mechanism or advisory committee included in the New Urban Agenda,” Luis Bonilla of El Salvador, who is the chief operating officer for TECHO International, told IPS.

“For that reason, we will create a follow-up mechanism. Concrete commitments are needed” within the agenda, he added.

Carrión, a professor at FLACSO and a coordinator of working groups in the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLASCO), said “the attention of many organisations was drawn, and now we will see what can be done from here on out.” For social movements, then, Quito marked the start of a long road ahead.

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Changing Climate Threatens World’s Smallholder Farmers Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:45:07 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 1 U.N. Urban Summit Gives Rise to a Mixture of Optimism and Criticism Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:30:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy 0 Big Powers Set to Grab High Level UN Posts Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:27:32 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, takes office as the new UN Secretary General on January 1, his top management team is likely to be dominated by nominees from the five big powers, namely the US, Britain, France, China and Russia (P5).

As befits tradition, the current management team of mostly Under-Secretaries-Generals (USGs) will submit their resignations – providing Guterres with a clean state before he takes over.

Asked about the longstanding custom, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “I believe there is a tradition for the most senior officials, like USGs, to turn in resignations.”

But heads of UN agencies, he pointed out, “are approved by the boards of those respective agencies for fixed terms, which do not necessarily end now, so they would continue on for the duration of their terms.”

According to an equally longstanding tradition, the P5 stake their claims to some of the most powerful jobs in the Organization, heading UN Departments overseeing Political Affairs, Peacekeeping, Economic and Social Affairs, Management and Humanitarian Affairs.

“For big powers, these high level posts are considered their political and intellectual birthrights,” said an Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

James Paul, who served for nearly 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum tracking the politics of the United Nations, told IPS that from the earliest days of the UN, the P5 have greatly influenced the selection of high-level posts in the Secretariat.

In theory, he said, the Secretary General fills these posts independently, drawing on the best candidates worldwide. The Charter mandates independence of UN staff from government interference.

Ban once told the press, he makes high-level appointments “in a transparent and competitive manner, based on merit, while taking geographical and gender balance into account.” In practice, key appointments are made quite differently.

Paul said the P5 carefully vet these appointments and in certain posts they literally name their own appointees. “Under this system, departments have been virtual fiefdoms, controlled over long periods,” he noted.

For the UN’s first 46 years, through a total of 14 appointees, the Under Secretary General heading the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) was always a citizen of the former Soviet Union (now Russian Federation).

Even former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld “named” a Russian to the post – or to be more accurate, accepted the Russian nominee. The US had its own fief over an equally long period, he added.

Paul said that after the end of the Cold War, Russian clout diminished. The Brits took over the DPA post for 13 years, through two appointees. Now, he pointed out, the United States has taken over the appointment, controlling it for the past eight years, through two appointees. “A US fiefdom is clearly in the making”.

Meanwhile, the Brits have been in charge of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since 2005, through eleven years and three appointees. “A UK fiefdom is definitely in place.”

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS that an incoming Secretary-General (SG) might want to appoint his/her own team of managers because he/she would prefer to have people who can be trusted in senior positions.

“SGs tend to appoint their closest confidants to senior positions in the inner cabinet. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that a new SG would want to continue with the same team of managers who served under Ban Ki-moon.”

Importantly, said Kohona, promises may have been made to influential countries in exchange for their support in the lead up to the appointment of the SG. These need to be honoured.

“Despite every effort made to ensure a more equitable representation of the Member States of the UN in senior positions, certain posts tend to be given to specific nationalities or to certain regional groups,” said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

For example, he singled out peacekeeping, political affairs, legal and humanitarian affairs. “While past appointees could be described as competent, there is no logical reason for perpetuating such a monopoly in a body that aspires to be truly representative.”

The current practice also enables the countries or groups concerned to influence UN activities to reflect their own interests, despite the requirement to maintain neutrality. While merit alone cannot be the only criterion, the need to be representative, must be, Kohona argued.

“Having emerged from within the Secretariat, Kofi Annan could be said to have been more sensitive to the wishes of the staff than Ban Ki-moon. Both attempted to reform the administration to be more reflective of contemporary needs. Both achieved limited success. Much remains to be done. “

A new SG must consider Secretariat reform to be a priority. There is no doubt that the Secretariat must reflect the needs of the contemporary world, and its attitudes and practices must be upgraded to ensure the more efficient delivery of services. Inevitably, the Secretariat will be asked to deliver more with less, he noted.

The selection of appropriate top managers will be a critical element in implementing the necessary changes, Kohona declared.

Paul told IPS France is seigneur of one of the most visible and long-lasting recent fiefdoms in the Secretariat. A French diplomat has now been chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations for nearly twenty years, through four successive appointees and two successive Secretaries General.

He said the Department’s culture has come to be visibly French and many of the appointees at a senior level have been French citizens or those of francophone countries.

“DPKO is a highly-prized position, since peacekeeping is a bigger-ticket operation that all the UN departments put together. France is happy to have such a top post under its control.”

Such fiefdoms, he said, do not mean that the incumbents are always less than competent or that they are automatically highly biased. Some appointees, however, would fit that description. The overall record is mixed, he noted.

“The system as a whole increases unfairness and dishonesty in the appointment system, greatly reinforces the control of the P-5 and tends towards mediocrity in the UN’s highest offices.”

Among the UN diplomatic community, such P5 leverage over top appointments is an open secret and cause for occasional fury, said Paul.

“Even the most effective incumbents serving in these P5-controlled posts symbolize a system of disregard for the Charter, disrespect for the opinions of other nations, and contempt for the very idea of neutrality of the international civil service,” declared Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG) who once headed the Department of Public Information told IPS for at least the first five SGs, it was indeed a traditional step for all USG’s to submit their resignations to allow for a new team.

They were mostly USGs who were Heads of Departments; others with similar rank were designated for special assignments, leaving after a specific accomplishment or lack of feasible outcome; an honorable example was Gunnar Jarring who made seven attempts to implement resolution 242 on the Middle East.

“Now there are dozens of envoys hanging around for years– -some for decades— on the pretext of pursuing a vague resolution or perplexed action,” said Sanbar, who served under five different Secretaries-Generals.

“It erodes the credibility of both the UN, its member states openly seeking posts, however symbolic.”.

“In the interest of a credible dynamic UN, it will be crucial for the new SG to announce new guidelines on senior appointments, limit their framework and-most important-maintain the position designated by the Charter as Chief Administrative Officer leading a dedicated competent International Civil Service, a unique UN asset,” declared Sanbar.

The writer can be contacted at

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Q&A: Land Degradation Could Force 135 Million to Migrate in Next 30 Years Tue, 18 Oct 2016 10:30:33 +0000 Manipadma Jena A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI/BONN, Oct 18 2016 (IPS)

One of the critical challenges facing the world today is that emerging migration patterns are increasingly rooted in the depletion of natural resources.

Entire populations are being disempowered and uprooted as the land that they rely on for their survival and for their future no longer provides sustenance.

Many people will move within their own region or to nearby cities, driving unplanned urbanisation. Up to 135 million people are at risk of distressed migration as a result of land degradation in the next 30 years, says a United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) vision document.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change both envision land rehabilitation and restoration as significant actions in development and addressing climate change.

Governments from all over the world are currently meeting in Nairobi in order to agree on the strategic direction of the Desertification Convention. IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviewed Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, ahead of the ongoing fifteenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) in Nairobi. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Q: With as many as 170 countries affected by drought or desertification, how could these factors drive conflicts and forced migrations?

A. Two Somali proverbs, nabadiyocaano meaning ‘peace and milk’ and col iyoabaar which means ‘conflict and drought’, illustrate the strong connection between stability and access to pasture and water. The world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.

But neither desertification nor drought on its own causes conflict or forced migration. But they can increase the risk of conflict and intensify ongoing conflicts. Converging factors like political tension, weak institutions, economic marginalisation, lack of social safety nets or group rivalries create the conditions that make people unable to cope. The continuous drought and water scarcity from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is a recent well-known example.

Droughts are natural phenomena, they are not fated to lead to forced migration and conflict. Severe droughts also occur in countries like Australia and the United States, but government intervention has made these experiences bearable.

For poor countries where safety nets do not exist, the intervention of the international community is vital.

In Mali, for example, unpredictable and decreasing rainfall seasons have led to a decline in harvests. More and more herders and farmers’ are moving into cities searching for employment. In Bamako, Mali’s capital, population in just over 20 years has grown from 600,000 to roughly   2 million with living conditions becoming more precarious and insecure. As Lagos fills up with those fleeing desertification in rural northern Nigeria, its population now 10 million. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are easy prey for smugglers, organised drug and crime cartels, even for Boko Haram.

Pastoralists face similar challenges when they are compelled to move beyond their accepted boundaries in search of water and pasture and risk clashing with other populations unwilling to share resources. Clashes between pastoralists and farmer are a serious challenge for governments in Somalia, Chad and Niger.

Q: Which other countries are showing signs of vulnerability to extreme droughts in the near future?

A: Drought occurs in almost every climatic region. With climate change, droughts are expected to spread to new areas and to become more frequent and more intense. The vulnerable regions are Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-East and North Africa, South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, Brazil, India, U.S. and China. In the coming decades, most of the United States, the Mediterranean region, Southwest Asia, Western and Southern Africa and much of Latin America, especially Mexico and Brazil, will face extreme droughts.

The more important question, however, is “who is going to be affected and what can be done about it?” The livelihoods of the poor in developing countries will be the most impacted because they rely heavily on natural resources.  So, more investment is needed to incentivise them to adopt sustainable land management (SLM).

But frankly, the investments we have for land rehabilitation are insufficient. We must also improve land tenure security because farmers with secure ownership are more likely to adopt good practices. Improving access to markets and rural services will create alternative non-farm employment, reducing pressure on land and the impacts of droughts in turn.

Q: A lot now hinges on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) which requires a paradigm shift from ‘degrade-abandon-migrate’ to ‘protect-sustain-restore’. UNCCD aims to achieve LDN by 2030.  Given the tremendous and diverse pressures on land for economic growth, also from large populations in regions like Africa and Asia, where do you see their achievements in 14 years?

A. We want to move from business as usual to a future where the amount of productive land passing from one generation to the next remains stable.

In the current scenario, large numbers of people and a large share of national economies are tied to the land sector, particularly in the developing countries. So any degradation of the land reduces a country’s productivity. Unsustainable land use practices costs Mali about 8 percent of its gross domestic product, for example.

By 2030, along with a higher world population, a large middle class will emerge, accelerating the demand to draw more from these land-based sectors. For Africa and Asia to bridge these gaps, the farmers need to keep every inch of their land productive. This switch to sustainable land management however needs strong government support – to move farmers to scale up these good practices, to recover degraded lands and to prevent losing the most productive lands to urbanisation.

Reforms would move credit, market access and rural infrastructural development to ignite sustainable growth in agriculture. This is what it will take, to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative that seeks to restore degraded lands and create green jobs in the land-based sectors is a good example of this vision. The Desertification Convention is working with partners around the world to develop initiatives that are linked to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Q: Which countries are faring better in turning around land degradation and what is the key factor driving this achievement?

A. A 2008 global assessment showed that most of the land restoration since 1983 was in the Sahel zone. But we have seen a rise in global attention to land degradation through diverse initiatives. that include the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change,the Bonn Challenge on Forest and Landscape Restoration and the New York Declaration on Forests. There are also regional initiatives such as Initiative 20×20 in the Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa’s Great Green Wall and initiative AF100, also in Africa.

Once the SDGs were adopted last year, our ambition for 2016 was to have at least 60 countries committing to set voluntary national targets to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. We have surpassed that target. Today, we have more than 100 country commitments.

This achievement is due, in part, to the success of a pilot project that enabled 14 countries to assess and politically communicate the potential returns each would get by reversing land degradation in target areas. Armenia, Belarus and Ethiopia could quantify how they could meet their national obligations under the climate change agreement by pursuing land degradation neutrality.

Some common patterns among the countries that tend to fare better in fighting land degradation and drought (DLDD) is strong government leadership that values the socio-economic benefits accruing to their people and political commitment to make effective policies. They also have active champions of good land use practices which can be NGOs, development and private sector partners as well as small and large farmers.

Q: UNCCD is open to private business funding for projects under LDN. Which type of projects would businesses -for- profit show investment interest?

A. There is a growing appetite in the private sector for sustainable land use projects that can contribute to land degradation neutrality. More industry players have committed to LDN-related initiatives and other environmental targets. Companies committing to reduce the ecological impacts of their commodity supply chains rose from 50 in 2009 to nearly 300 by 2014, Supply Change reported in 2016. Many businesses dealing in agricultural and/or forestry commodities get raw materials from the land, and may be interested in investing in projects that make their supply chains more sustainable.

But there is no dedicated public funding pool investing globally in projects to combat land degradation, and public financing alone is not sufficient to protect our planet’s ecosystems. The private sector needs to step up. This is what created the need and opportunity for a new dedicated funding source –the LDN Fund. It combines public and private capital in support of the SDG target of land degradation neutrality.

The sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry (including agroforestry), land rehabilitation and conservation, and the ecotourism sectors can support profitable investments. Forestry has attracted 77 percent of all capital raised for LDN investments to date. Agriculture is expected to see the strongest increase in investments and to grow by nearly 350 percent by 2021. It is clear that projects that incorporate at least some component of food and/or timber production are more likely to generate a stable cash flow are more appealing to private investors in LDN.

In the developed countries, many of the conservation activities receiving private investment are backed by government legislation. A strong regulatory framework provides certainty to the market and helps to create end buyers. As a result, the investments attract steady flows of private capital.

Q: Do governments need to put in place smallholder-safeguard mechanisms for private investments in land?

A. Safeguard mechanisms that recognise the land rights of smallholders are vital, even when the farmers have no formal tenure. Smallholdings support billions of livelihoods, which makes these households extremely sensitive to land use change.

In developing countries, government policies designed to attract investment are often biased towards large-scale farming, and hardly offer the protection to smallholders require. Private investors should have their own safeguards but governments have a responsibility to implement and enforce mechanisms to protect smallholders. The LDN Fund is designed to align with progressive global environmental and social standards.

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Eradicating Poverty – a Lofty Ideal or Achievable Goal? Sun, 16 Oct 2016 20:00:24 +0000 Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze is President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)]]> IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze visits Fanose Assafa’s vegetable farm in Ethiopia, created with the help of an IFAD-supported small-scale irrigation project. She is now entirely self-sufficient and food secure. Credit: ©IFAD/Abate Damte

IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze visits Fanose Assafa’s vegetable farm in Ethiopia, created with the help of an IFAD-supported small-scale irrigation project. She is now entirely self-sufficient and food secure. Credit: ©IFAD/Abate Damte

By Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze
ROME, Oct 16 2016 (IPS)

The first Sustainable Development Goal calls for us to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030. The goal and the deadline are ambitious – and they need to be. We do not have the luxury of time.

Poverty is so intertwined with hunger, migration, forced displacement, conflict and environmental degradation that prioritising its eradication is not only a moral and economic imperative, but essential to address the most pressing global issues of our time.

To eradicate poverty, we have to focus our attention on the rural areas of developing countries where three quarters of the world’s poorest and hungriest people live.

The incomes of 2.5 billion people worldwide still depend directly on rural small farms, therefore developing smallholder agricultural production and market access is an essential starting point.

In terms of poverty, the plight of sub-Saharan Africa is particularly disturbing. Although, according to the World Bank, more than 1 billion people were able to escape extreme poverty globally between 1990 and 2012, in sub-Saharan Africa absolute poverty has actually increased since 1990 and an estimated 330 million people live below the poverty line.

Ines Terodoro dos Santos, 17, with her daughters, Eliara, 14-months, right, and Isabel, 3-years-old, in the family garden at home, in Aldeia Segredo Velho, near Ribeira do Pombal, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Credit: ©IFAD/Lianne Milton/Panos

Ines Terodoro dos Santos, 17, with her daughters, Eliara, 14-months, right, and Isabel, 3-years-old, in the family garden at home, in Aldeia Segredo Velho, near Ribeira do Pombal, in the state of Bahia, Brazil, on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Credit: ©IFAD/Lianne Milton/Panos

It is important to ask why the continent has not made progress in its fight against poverty, and what can be done about it.

Extractive natural resources account for three-quarters of sub-Saharan Africa’s total exports but the resulting billions of dollars in revenue have had a limited impact on poverty reduction.

In some cases, the promotion of these industries has been to the detriment of investments in agriculture. Yet studies show that growth in agriculture is up to 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

The potential of agriculture to create prosperity for millions of people cannot be underestimated. In fact, agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for close to 40 per cent of today’s workforce globally, and 60 per cent in Africa.

The untapped potential on the African continent is enormous. It has 25 per cent of the world’s arable land and half the world’s uncultivated land suitable for growing food crops.

The African population growth of 2.7 per cent annually means food demand will double every 30 years. Agriculture could lead African development, improve food security and job growth so that people can move out of poverty and will not need to leave rural areas in search of opportunities elsewhere.

But even with all this potential agriculture is, unfortunately, not the priority of many African leaders. In 2003, African governments pledged to allocate 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development within five years. Only 13 countries had met their targets by 2012.

Instead of developing its own agricultural sector, the continent spends US$35 billion on food imports annually – money that could be invested in creating domestic employment, particularly in rural areas.

Some members of Nnedima rice cooperative with their bagged processed rice. The cooperative is comprises of 10 women collectively farming and processing rice. The results have been less effort and higher yields of quality rice thanks to the support the cooperative benefits from the IFAD Value Chain Development programme. Credit: ©IFAD/Andrew Esiebo/Panos

Some members of Nnedima rice cooperative with their bagged processed rice. The cooperative is comprises of 10 women collectively farming and processing rice. The results have been less effort and higher yields of quality rice thanks to the support the cooperative benefits from the IFAD Value Chain Development programme. Credit: ©IFAD/Andrew Esiebo/Panos

Too often leaders expect economic growth alone to result in poverty reduction – but the one does not automatically lead to the other. Last month, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) released The Rural Development Report 2016, which analysed rural development, transformation, and poverty reduction in more than 60 developing countries.

One of the study’s central findings is that targeted policies focused on transforming rural areas are essential to eliminate poverty.

These are policies that promote increased agricultural productivity and marketable surpluses, expanded off-farm employment opportunities and better access to services and infrastructure. These policy and investment choices have to be made. They do not happen on their own.

IFAD’s experience over nearly four decades has shown that when rural people have reliable access to land and other natural resources, functioning infrastructure, technologies, finance and markets, then both their livelihoods and their communities flourish, contributing significantly to economic growth.

Once we see smallholder farmers as rural entrepreneurs and their farms as viable and profitable businesses, the importance of investing in agriculture to ensure those businesses thrive becomes evident.

The result: rural areas become vibrant centres of employment and prosperity and the estimated 600 million young people in developing countries who will be looking for jobs over the next decade will not need to migrate to urban areas or beyond their counties’ borders to find opportunities elsewhere.

Of course, achieving poverty eradication is not just the responsibility of governments. It will require all actors – farmers, domestic investors along food value chains, research institutions, development agencies, educational institutions and others – to work together towards this common goal.

With visionary leadership, targeted investments and policies, and coordinated effort, poverty eradication is not just a lofty ideal. It is achievable – but we must recognise the urgency and act now.

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The Elusive Woman Secretary-General Fri, 14 Oct 2016 06:37:32 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work. ]]>

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work.

By Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

United Nations’ apex forum, the General Assembly elected the next Secretary-General yesterday by acclamation rubber-stamping the recommendation of the Security Council (SC). I am appalled by the choice of 15 members of the Security Council of another man following eight others in 70 plus years of UN’s existence as if only men are destined to lead this global organization.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

The Council members were totally insensitive to a groundswell of support worldwide for a woman as the next Secretary-General. They advanced the legacy of ignoring the 50 per cent of humanity in their action. This is an absolute aberration of the system whereby the 15 members of the Council impose their choice prompted by P-5 pressure and manipulation upon the total membership of 193, not to speak of wide swath of civil society opinion and activism for a woman Secretary-General.

It is so very unfortunate that in the selection process politics has trumped women’s equality, violating UN Charter’s article 8 which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all its organs – principal or subsidiary.

The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates would get the post Deputy Secretary-General (D-SG) as a part of the deal about the new SG. This is not a big deal as we already had two woman DS-Gs in the past.

It should also be remembered that when the DS-G post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly, it was the understanding that if the S-G is from an industrialized country, the DS-G would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the S-G is a man, the DS-G should be a woman – no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years.

I would also underscore that the new S-G should bring in a true and real 50-50 gender balance at the level of Under Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs). This is an action which should be clearly laid down in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.

UN General Assembly’s 70th President Mogen Lykketoft’s praiseworthy initiative for exposure of the candidates to wider membership and civil society did not have any impact of the predominant political process in the Security Council. Doing well in a Q&A is not a shortcut to the world’s most demanding job.

I believe strongly that a most practical and feasible way to prevent such Security Council’s choice imposition– though the UN Charter envisages as such– the General Assembly should decide to also hold straw polls on all candidates the way Council does to send a signal about how the majority of UN membership is expressing their choice. This can be done informally like the SC straw polls but made public and transmitted to the Council.

This will at least tell the world how the UN membership as a whole is assessing the candidates and hopefully will have an impact on the Council’s choice. All this can be done without amending the Charter or disrespecting any of its provisions.

Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue. As in case of any new corporate CEO, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or reelected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?.

In that context, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments at ASG and USG levels should be more transparent and open. The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his (yes, still it is “his”) own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office. That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did. One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.

No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms.

Yes, opposition will be there, both from within his own Secretariat and from influential Member States, but the determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new S-G will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.

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Cultivating a Different Future for Rural Women in Argentina Thu, 13 Oct 2016 20:15:24 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Olga Campos (left), her grandson Jhonny and her sister-in-law Limbania Limache, on the three-hectare leased plot of land where they plant organic vegetables in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires.In cold, hot or wet weather they work every day in the vegetable garden. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

Olga Campos (left), her grandson Jhonny and her sister-in-law Limbania Limache, on the three-hectare leased plot of land where they plant organic vegetables in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires.In cold, hot or wet weather they work every day in the vegetable garden. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
EL PATO, Argentina, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

Her seven children have grown up, but she now takes care of a young grandson while working in her organic vegetable garden in El Pato, south of the city of Buenos Aires. Olga Campos wants for them what she wasn’t able to achieve: an education to forge a different future.

“I am 40 years old and I am just now going to school, something that I never thought I would do. As I was not able to go to school, to me as a mother the most important thing was that my kids got to go,” Campos told IPS in this town of 7,000 people in the municipality of Berazategui, 44 km from the capital of Argentina.

Her three-year-old grandson Jhonny, one of her five grandchildren, plays picking chives (Allium schoenoprasum) – a task that was not fun and games for his grandmother.“Rural women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training. Public policies are often designed by and for rural men, and women are left in the background.” -- Cecilia Jobe

“I would get up and take (my kids) to school, then I would work in the fields for a while,” said Campos. “At 11 AM I would pick them up at school, before making lunch that would be ready by 12:30, and at 1 PM I would go back to work. Now my children help me out but then I was alone because my husband had left me. It was tough raising my children on my own, but between the vegetable garden and work cleaning people’s homes, I managed to do it.

“It is tiring work, because in summer when it is really hot you have to work anyway; when it rains you have to work anyway; when it is cold you have to work anyway,” she said.

Campos grows crops on a leased three-hectare plot of land, together with her sister-in-law Limbania Limache.

In the city “people have transportation options. But here we have to walk or bike, even when it rains,” said Limache, a 30-year-old mother of two children, one of whom is disabled.

“It is hard when it rains because the roads are impossible. The kids sometimes don’t want to go to school because they end up all muddy, and as they are older they feel ashamed,” she said.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), rural women, whose international day is celebrated Saturday Oct. 15, represent one fourth of the world’s population but produce more than half the global food supply, while facing economic, social and gender inequality.

This is true in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Rural women do not have the same access as men to land tenure, credit, or training. Public policies are often designed by and for rural men, and women are left in the background,” Cecilia Jobe, in charge of gender issues in the FAO office in Argentina, told IPS.

“What kills us are the land leases. And on top of that we have to pay for ploughing since tractors are very expensive to rent. I would love to acquire my own land. We are asking for the possibility of paying for our own land, not for them to give it to us,” said Campos.

Obtaining loans is also hard. “They give you the runaround till you finally just get fed up,” said Limache, whose husband also farms, on a different plot of land.

Graciela Rincón, a poultry producer, prepares the eggs to be sold on her farm in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

Graciela Rincón, a poultry producer, prepares the eggs to be sold on her farm in El Pato, 44 km south of Buenos Aires. Credit: Guido Ignacio Fontán/IPS

According to the 2010 census in Argentina, of the country’s 40,117,096 people, 20,593,330 were women, of whom 651,597 worked in rural villages or towns and 1,070,510 in scattered rural settlements, for a total of 1,722,107 rural women.

“Rural women also produce most of the family’s food, which ensures a varied diet, minimises losses, and provides marketable products. Women also spend their incomes on food and children’s needs,” said Patricio Quinos, under-secretary of family agriculture programmes in Argentina’s Agribusiness Ministry.

The official told IPS: “Studies by FAO have shown that a child’s chances of survival increase by 20 per cent when the mother controls the household budget.”

“Women, therefore, play a decisive role in food security, dietary diversity and children’s health,” said Quino, whose department will open a “gender office” to deal with the specific needs of women.

FAO’s campaign in Argentina, “Rural Women, Drivers of Development”, seeks to engage the different branches of government to make public policies and laws with a gender perspective.

“Rural women are still invisible. The hardships that urban women face are exacerbated in the rural sphere. We are talking about unpaid reproductive and productive work,” said Jobe.

The concept of “rural women” includes those who live in the countryside and those who live in villages or towns but are involved in agricultural production.

It is not a “homogeneous” group, Quinos said.

“We understand that economically underprivileged rural women have the greatest difficulties with regard to the gaps produced by gender inequality. In many senses, they are made invisible as productive, economic and social subjects,” he said.

Graciela Rincón and her husband moved from the municipal seat, Berazategui, to set up a small poultry farm to produce eggs in El Pato.

Her job, she told IPS, is “from Monday to Monday, because the chickens need the water pump to be turned on every two hours, so they can drink water; you need to check if any cable is disconnected or watch out that the dogs don’t get in and cause a disaster, which has already happened to us.”

Access to health care is also difficult. “There is a hospital in Berazategui that is quite far away, or else there is a small first aid clinic that is closer, but sometimes the only doctor there is a pediatrician, and I’m a grown woman,” said Rincón.

For her part, Limache said “I would like my children to study and work in something else, because the countryside is hard.”

According to FAO, if the rights of rural women were guaranteed, between 20 and 30 per cent more food would be produced, meaning 150 million less hungry people worldwide.

Aware of that, agricultural engineer María Lara Tapia advises her neighbors in El Pato on organic vegetable production, which is in growing urban demand, and on its commercial distribution.

“I show them that there are different options. What happens sometimes in family agriculture is that producers do not leave the rural areas to see other alternatives, so they are subject to a truck that comes from the market, imposes a price and takes away the goods,” she told IPS.

To increase their incomes she teaches them for example how to make their own seedlings, adding “another link” to the “value chain”.

“Being a woman in the rural environment is hard. I think that it is a very conservative sector,” Tapia said, for whom it was not easy either to advise male farmers.

The situation for rural women is worse, she says.

“They are not seen to be working, but ‘helping’. The husband, father or brother tells them: ‘come help in the field’, when really they are working just like they are,” she stressed.

Limache said: “We are as much a part of the work as they are. We do the same work and on top of that, all the housekeeping. We are part of this.”

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Antonio Guterres: New UN Secretary General Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:28:57 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who takes office on January 1, arrives with strong credentials — both as a former Prime Minister of Portugal and an ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

As a senior UN official, he spearheaded an ambitious but politically intricate action plan to battle one of the world’s major humanitarian crises that threatened to unravel European unity as millions of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia landed on the shores of Europe last year.

Guterres was elected mostly on merit – with a rare unanimous decision by the five veto-wielding permanent members at a time when the Security Council is sharply divided over Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and North Korea. The consensus in the 15-member Council, and the approval of his nomination by the 193-member General Assembly, underlined a strong affirmation of his appointment.

When both the Security Council and the General Assembly gave their overwhelming support to Guterres, they side-stepped two alternative options: picking the first woman Secretary-General or the first Secretary-General from Eastern Europe.

The lobbying for a female UN chief was initiated by more than 750 civil society and human rights organizations, while the proposal for an East European as UN chief came mostly from member states.

While there was a strong case for a woman Secretary-General in a 71-year-old male-dominated world body, Eastern Europe had less of a legitimate claim. As a geographical entity, it existed only within the confines of the UN, not outside of it. After the end of the Cold War, most Eastern European states became an integral partner of the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and often both

So, in effect, Guterres overcame both campaigns, as he was anointed the fourth Western European to hold the position.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will step down on December 31 after a 10-year tenure, will leave behind two legacies: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But it will be left to Guterres to ensure their implementation.

A member of the Socialist Party in Portugal, Guterres spent over 20 years in government and public service before he was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), serving for a decade until the end of 2015.

His work with the UNHCR was nothing short of groundbreaking. As High Commissioner, he oversaw the most profound structural reform process in UNHCR’s history and built up the organization’s capacity to respond to some of the largest displacement crises since the end of World War Two.

Guterres has already pledged to serve the “victims of conflicts, of terrorism, human rights violations, poverty and injustices of this world”. Ban Ki Moon rightly complimented Guterres as a “superb choice” and said “his experience as Portuguese prime minister, his wide knowledge of world affairs, and his lively intellect will serve him well in leading the United Nations in a crucial period”.

However, he acknowledged that the election was also a disappointment as his vision of a female successor did not become a reality. Ban Ki Moon, is not alone in his sentiments, as many consider the outcome of the election to be “bittersweet”. Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat and one of Guterres’ female rivals for the job, tweeted on 5 October, “Bitter:not a woman. Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres! We are all with you”.

Guterres takes over the UN at a time when the world body has remained paralyzed over several unresolved political problems, including the five-year-old devastating civil war in Syria, hundreds of civilian killings in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the emergence of North Korea as the world’s newest nuclear power in defiance of Security Council resolutions.

The new Secretary-General will also be entrusted with the task of resolving several lingering problems, including ongoing reports of sexual abuse of women by some UN peacekeepers and compensation for Haitian victims of cholera inadvertently brought in by UN peacekeepers, and address new challenges, such as helping muster the trillions of dollars needed to implement the 17 SDGs and the Climate Change agreement as well as ensuring a 50:50 gender parity in senior and decision-making positions in the UN Secretariat.

One of his first appointments should be to name a woman as his Deputy, preferably from the developing world.
We wish him well in his endeavors.

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Climate Change Adaptation – Key to Reaching Zero Hunger in Latin America Wed, 12 Oct 2016 19:37:58 +0000 Orlando Milesi Two farmers in Cobquecura in central Chile show visitors changes made in their subsistence crops to withstand the effects of global warming, with the support of public policies to strengthen food security in times of climate change. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

Two farmers in Cobquecura in central Chile show visitors changes made in their subsistence crops to withstand the effects of global warming, with the support of public policies to strengthen food security in times of climate change. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Oct 12 2016 (IPS)

Climate change is leading to major modifications in agricultural production in Latin America and the Caribbean, and if mitigation and adaptation measures of the productive system are not urgently adopted, threats to food security will be exacerbated.

This could reverse the significant progress made in the region by means of plans to achieve the Zero Hunger goal, the experts told IPS.

For example, to maintain coffee yields, crops had to be moved from 1,000 to between 1,200 and 2,000 metres above sea level, while many Chilean vineyards had to be moved south, to get more sun and rain.

Large companies can afford to buy other land, but many family farmers find their livelihood at risk and wonder if the time has come to change crops or even to leave their land and move to a city, in order to survive.“If the climate is no longer suitable for production, you have to move to other areas where the agroecological and climate conditions are adequate. For large companies this is not a big problem, but it is for small-scale producers with less technology, lower levels of investment and a more reduced capacity for stockpiling.” -- Adrián Rodríguez

“Climate change puts us in a situation of insecurity. If in the past we were able to more or less estimate average temperatures or humidity for a particular area, now we have lost the capacity to make forecasts based on a certain degree of probability,” Jorge Meza, an Ecuadorian expert in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office, told IPS.

“Considering that the effects could be either positive or negative, it has been estimated that by 2030 the impacts from climate change on the regional economy could reach an average of 2.2 per cent of GDP in damage,” he said.

“Some of the effects could be beneficial, like an increase in rainfall that would mean more water for crops,” said Meza, the senior forestry officer in the Santiago office.

But in general terms, he said, if the losses amount to 2.2 per cent of GDP, “there will be countries with zero economic growth, and beyond the economic factor, there will be a strong social impact, of four to five per cent.”

FAO’s aim is to underscore the links between climate change mitigation and adaptation and food security, with the slogan “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too”, for this year’s World Food Day, celebrated Sunday Oct. 16.

One example to be considered is the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) forecast for Central America.

If the necessary climate change mitigation and adaptation measures are not taken, production of basic grains could be reduced 25 per cent by 2050, the regional U.N. agency estimates.

“This is alarming for two reasons: first because it means a shortage of food, and second because the remaining food – that 75 per cent – will become more expensive. Both phenomena will have an impact on the poor: with less food available, and more costly food, there will be reduced possibilities of access to basic grains.” Meza said.

 A family farm in the state of Rio de Janeiro,Brazil, with a planting system adapted to the manifestations of climate change in the area. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

A family farm in the state of Rio de Janeiro,Brazil, with a planting system adapted to the manifestations of climate change in the area. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

Viviana Espinosa, a 60-year-old Chilean woman, grows a variety of crops for family consumption.

At her home in the Cajón del Maipo region, in the foothills of the Andes mountains, about 17 km from Santiago, Espinosa plants food that she puts on her table and also distributes among her children and grandchildren.

“Food is increasingly expensive. For example, the cost of a kilo of tomatoes soared to 2,500 pesos (3.7 dollars) in September. If I plant at home, I not only save that expense, but in addition, I get a natural, organic product, free of pesticides,” she told IPS.

Apart from tomatoes, this married mother of three grows beets, lettuce, carrots and onions.

“My goal now is for everything that I plant to be organic, and I hope the weather will be favourable. In November 2015 heavy rains destroyed everything we planted,” she said.

Climate change is seen in Latin America in some 70 annual weather events, including hurricanes, drought, fires, landslides, and mainly floods, which affect an average of five million people.

Meanwhile, one third of the 625 million people in Latin America live in high-risk areas, exposed to climate events that pose a threat to their livelihood.

At the same time, climate change has more long-term effects, such as declining productivity in agriculture and a greater need to shift crop production areas.

“They say that if you don’t move and continue planting in the same area, you will probably have lower yields, and that could require more inputs or technologies and more resistant seeds,” Costa Rican economist Adrián Rodríguez, head of the Agricultural Development Unit in the ECLAC regional office, told IPS.

“From the point of view of family farming or the production of crops that play an important role in food security, an increase in food prices could affect farmers and consumers,” he said.

He added that there is another effect that has already been seen: the need for relocalisation of productive activities.

“If the climate is no longer suitable for production, you have to move to other areas where the agroecological and climate conditions are adequate. For large companies this is not a big problem, but it is for small-scale producers with less technology, lower levels of investment and a more reduced capacity for stockpiling,” he said.

In 2015, Latin America became the first region in the world to reach the two global anti-hunger goals: the prevalence of malnutrition fell to 5.5 per cent and the total number of malnourished people dropped to 34.3 million.

Thus, the region reached the target set in the Millennium Development Goals – which were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals this year – and also at the last World Food Summit.

However, the challenge now is to reach zero hunger, a goal that could be affected by climate change, which has an impact on the four pillars of food and nutritional security: stability in food production, availability of food, physical access and affordability of food, and adequate use of food.

Meza called for mitigation actions that take into consideration a change in the energy sector towards renewable sources and, in agriculture, a shift towards organic practices, avoiding deforestation, the use of animal waste to generate biogas, and improvements in the diets of livestock with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among other measures.

Rodríguez said mitigation should start by providing farmers with timely meteorological information while developing varieties of crops more resistant to drought, moisture and variability in availability of water and sunlight, and optimising the use of water with more efficient irrigation systems.

He also proposed strengthening research based on the knowledge of “family farmers and indigenous people, who have traditional varieties better suited to certain climates or soils…It is important to take this knowledge into account.”

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Report Details UN Failings in Juba, South Sudan Violence Tue, 11 Oct 2016 23:52:31 +0000 Lindah Mogeni 0 UN Security Council’s “Perilous Interventions” in War Zones Fri, 07 Oct 2016 18:46:46 +0000 Thalif Deen Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen

When the UN Security Council last week discussed the “deliberate” attacks on medical facilities in war-ravaged Syria and Yemen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly criticized some of the warring nations lamenting that “even a slaughterhouse is more humane” than the ongoing indiscriminate killings of civilians in the two devastating conflicts.

The attacks on hospitals, he warned, were “war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law”.

But Joanne Liu, International President of Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), singled out “four of the five permanent members of the Security Council” for the continued atrocities and lambasted them for their role in the attacks against medical facilities.

“The conduct of war today knows no limits,” she regretted, pointing out that the failure of the Security Council “reflects a lack of political will among member states fighting in coalitions and those who enable them.”

The unidentified four “enablers” – the United States, Britain, France and Russia – are either directly or indirectly involved in the ongoing military conflicts either as participants or as key arms suppliers.

A recently-released 264-page book titled “Perilous Interventions” also takes a highly critical look at the Security Council whose military interventions have led, in some cases, to “chaos, destruction and destabilization” –specifically in the volatile Middle East—and helped create the Islamic State (IS), “arguably the most formidable extremist organization in history.”

Authored by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, the book lists all the mistakes made in the case of Libya and Syria, along with what happened in Yemen and Ukraine.

“This disastrous history,” Puri said in an interview with IPS “will repeat itself unless we learn from past mistakes and make the required corrections.”

Asked whether the Security Council has outlived its usefulness, judging by the unmitigated failures of Western-led military interventions— either directly or indirectly — in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Yemen, Puri said: “The use of force, in the interventions you have cited, was authorised by the Security Council only in the case of Libya (Resolution 1973).”

In the case of Afghanistan, he said, the “coalition of the willing did not even bother to approach the Council.”

In the case of Iraq, a sceptical Council refused to be persuaded, said Puri, who twice presided over Security Council meetings during 2011-2102.

Ukraine and Yemen, he noted, were “unilateral action with a helpless and ineffective Council being either manipulated or ignored.”

“The problem is, if you didn’t have the Council, you would have unilateral action only. The answer, therefore, is not to disband the Council but seek improvement in its functioning,” said Puri.

Asked if the proposed reform of the Security Council – still grounded after more than 10 years of negotiations – will help change the political landscape, Puri said an expanded Council will not suffice.

After all, the new members in an expanded Council will, in all likelihood, not have a veto.

Those who have the urge to use force should introspect about the consequences of their actions. Also, the veto should not be used in situations that potentially involve mass atrocities, he added.

“Security Council expansion and reform, by the way is not a lost cause. All it requires is for a group of countries to submit a framework resolution. Serious negotiations will follow,” he argued.

At a press briefing last September, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, was asked about his country’s stance on Council reform.

He told reporters he did not see, in the near future, any historic compromise being reached on the issue of admitting new permanent members.

“The Russian Federation did not support the French proposal on limiting veto use, as it was not a “workable scheme”; mass atrocity situations would be determined by the 15 Council members or the Secretary-General.”

“This is a political world,” and allowing the General Assembly to weigh in would only infringe on the Council’s purview, he warned.

But Puri told IPS that a veto restraint agreement is the need of the hour.

“I am confident that if it is packaged in terms of a voluntary restraint agreement, along the lines of the French proposal, no amendment let alone a Charter amendment would be required.”

Asked about Security Council decisions being dictated to by big power national interests, Puri told IPS the five permanent members ever so often place their own narrow national interest above considerations of peace and security.

“Some of them do so more blatantly than others. The Council is an intensely political institution”.

Asked about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent complaint that decisions by “consensus” lead to one or two member states exercising undue power over UN decision making, Puri said: “This SG’s time is over. Let us hope the incoming SG will assert leadership and prove it to ensure democratic functioning in the UN.”

“If consensus is interpreted in terms of unanimity, that will become the basis for the doctrine of inaction. In that case, we can kiss goodbye to the UN itself,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Reject Abusers from UN Human Rights Council: Advocacy Groups Fri, 07 Oct 2016 04:23:03 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN Human Rights Council chamber in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

The UN Human Rights Council chamber in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and the UN Watch have called on UN member states to oppose the bids of some of the major human rights abusing governments from joining the Human Rights Council (HRC).

“This is absurd and outrageous,” said UN Watch’s Executive Director Hillel Neuer on the potential reelection of certain member states to the HRC.

“[HRC] has failed when it elects some of the worst human rights abusers. Who speaks for citizens? Not the Human Rights Council,” he continued at a press conference.

Geneva-based UN Watch and New-York based HRF cited Resolution 60/251 to remind governments of their obligations to uphold human rights. According to the resolution, which established the council in 2006, General Assembly members must consider candidates’ contribution to the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Guided by this resolution and using criteria from various organisations including Freedom House and Reporters without Borders, UN Watch and HRF measured candidates’ suitability for election and found that eight out of 17 countries have poor human rights records and fail to qualify for a seat on HRC.

Among those countries is Saudi Arabia, currently one of 47 members of the Geneva-based council.

The Middle Eastern nation is notorious for its restrictions of freedom of speech and of the press, often prosecuting and imprisoning dissenters and government critics.

Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer and activist, was arrested in 2012 for insulting Islam and was sentenced to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison. He had expressed concerns on the lack of freedoms in the country through his blog.

“Petrol dollars and politics are once again trumping human rights,” -- Hillel Neuer

“Raif speaks the language of freedom fluently,” said Ensaf Haidar, a Saudi-Canadian human rights activist and wife of Badawi.

After the ruling, Haidar received anonymous death threats and escaped to Canada with their children. She continues to work towards the release of Badawi, stating: “Our wish is one—to be reunited again.”

Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, is also responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Yemenis.

The UN Human Rights Office has estimated that there have been over 9,000 casualties since military operations began in March 2015. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein noted that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian causalities as all other forces put together.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of recorded child deaths and injuries, and listed Saudi Arabia as party to conflict who commit grave violations against children. However, the country successfully pressured the UN to remove the listing after threatening to withdraw funding from critical UN programs.

“Petrol dollars and politics are once again trumping human rights,” Neuer told IPS.

He added that as long as they are in the HRC, Saudi Arabia is able to shield themselves from scrutiny and continue committing human rights violations.

“When human rights abusers get this false badge of legitimacy, they use it to strengthen their dictatorial regime and to crush the morale of political prisoners within their borders,” he stated.

In June, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also called for the expulsion of Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council, citing systematic violations of human rights.

“Failure to act on Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Yemen and its use of its membership to obstruct independent scrutiny and accountability threatens the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” said Director of AI’s Asia-Pacific Program Richard Bennett.

UN Watch and HRF have begun their appeals to UN member states including Canada, the United States, and European Union to comply with the minimum standards of the council by not voting for regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

It would not be the first time a member state was rejected from HRC due to its human rights record. In 2015, three-term HRC member Pakistan failed to win a reelection to the council, a shock that prompted “introspection” to its causes.

In a report prior to the 2016 elections, the UN Watch and HRF found Pakistan unfit as a HRC candidate due to its restrictions on freedom of expression, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and gender-based violence.

In order to achieve such a feat again, Neuer said that member states regarded as “leading champions” at the UN on human rights resolutions must take the lead.

“Samantha Power should be taking the lead but she’s silent—that is unacceptable,” he told IPS.

Samantha Power is currently the U.S. Ambassador to the UN.

“It would be meaningful if democracies not only vote quietly but would speak out and say that we created the human rights council to have a different kind of membership and we need to uphold that,” Neuer continued.

António Guterres, the newly nominated Secretary General, will have a important role to play by ensuring human rights criteria for those elected into HRC, he concluded.

The HRC is composed of 47 member states and will hold elections at the end of October for 14 positions. Alongside Saudi Arabia, UN Watch and HRF called to reject the candidacies of China, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia, Russia and Rwanda from the HRC.

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Developing Countries Share Sustainable Development Philosophies Thu, 06 Oct 2016 17:18:03 +0000 an IPS Correspondent General Prayut Chan-o-cha Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand chaired the meeting. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

General Prayut Chan-o-cha Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand chaired the meeting. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By an IPS Correspondent

Countries of the Global South, also known as developing countries, share many principles in common when it comes to implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

This was reflected at a special meeting of the 133 members of the Group of 77 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on 23 September, where countries participated in a lively discussion around development concepts originating in the Global South.

The main theme of the discussion was Sufficiency Economy – a philosophy of the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej.

“Thailand adopted the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) of His Majesty the King of Thailand as our guiding principle or ‘guiding light’ for the country,” said Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, whose country is currently Chair of the Group of 77, in a statement.

“‘Sufficiency’ here does not mean to be satisfied with living in poverty, but means to live our lives in a balanced manner and in moderation. People can still become prosperous, but must not exploit others in doing so,” he said.

“(The Philosophy’s) key principles of moderation, reasonableness and prudence and its people-centered approach to development find much support in many corners around the world including in my country.” -- Mongolia.

Chan-o-cha said that the philosophy has helped Thailand to “overcome challenges and to move forward on a secure footing,” he added.

Administrator of the UN Development Program Helen Clark observed the similarities between Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in her keynote speech:

“(We) are pleased to observe how the core principles of Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) relate to principles which are important for achieving the 2030 Agenda,” said Clark.

“The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy underscores, for example, the need to build resilience to internal and external shocks – something which is also essential for the success of the 2030 Agenda.”

“Sufficiency Economy can also be applied to a range of areas important to the SDGs, including agriculture, community development, water, forest, and private sector development.”

Many of the countries participating in the debate noted not only the relevance of Sufficiency Economy Philosophy to their own countries but also the similarities between this philosophy and development approaches originating in their own countries.

For example, Algeria noted the contribution that Algerian novelist and ecological agriculture pioneer Rabah Pierre Rabhi has made to sustainable development through his contribution of the concept of “La sobriété heureuse” – the happy sobriety.

Guillaume Long, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

Guillaume Long, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

Bhutan also drew parallels between sufficiency economy and their own national development philosophy of “Gross National Happiness Index.”

“At the heart of the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness is the belief that the ultimate end objective of development must be to promote happiness.”

While Ecuador noted the similarities of Sufficiency Economy to their national concept of “Buen Vivir” or Good Living in English.

Guillaume Long, Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs also observed that ways of thinking that reflect the principles of Good Living are found all around the world.

“Many of these elements are not only pillars the Andean world, but are in fact universal in many philosophies of peoples around the world,” he said.

“European Aristotelian tradition, but also paradigms that derive from the ancient wisdom of many Asian peoples allow us to find important parallels to the concept of Good Living in the world, and the importance not only of capital but of relationships,” he said.

Mongolia’s representative also noted the relevance of SEP around the world:

“(The Philosophy’s) key principles of moderation, reasonableness and prudence and its people-centered approach to development find much support in many corners around the world including in my country.”

Other countries shared Clark’s views on the relevance of the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“With a goal of achieving an economy, society, environment and culture in a balanced, stable and sustainable way, the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) is aligned with the 2030 Agenda’s vision of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Bayani Mercado, from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs.

“(The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy) approach focuses on a number of areas that cut across all the three dimensions of sustainable development in addressing the development issues in balanced manner,” said Amina Mohamed, from Kenya’s Ministry Of Foreign Affairs.

“The royal philosophy of Sufficiency Economy is consistent with the SDG goals and targets and it can be applied not only throughout the agriculture sector and rural area but also can be applied in many other sectors,” said the representative from Laos.

Some countries including Tonga, Timor-Leste and Laos noted that SEP had been applied in their own countries, thanks to the support of the Thai government:

“My country was provided the opportunity to successfully apply SEP in its agriculture and community development,” said Tonga’s Prime Minister ʻAkilisi Pōhiva.

“It is our firm belief that such cooperation and partnership will greatly contribute towards the well-being and welfare of our people,” he said.

“The sufficiency village project that is targeting primary school students and vulnerable communities (is) bringing them … new hope and empowerment to unleash their potential in harmony with their environment and traditional way of life,” said Timor-Leste’s representative.

In total 21 countries participated in the interactive dialogue, discussing the relevance of sufficiency economy both to their domestic circumstances as well as to the global economy.

They were: Tonga, Timor-Leste, Mongolia, South Africa, Bhutan, Algeria, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tajikistan, Qatar, Ecuador, Cuba, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Egypt, Kenya and Cambodia.

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Antonio Guterres Selected as Next UN Secretary-General Faces Tremendous Challenges Wed, 05 Oct 2016 21:19:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Antonio Guterres will be the ninth UN Secretary-General from January 1 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

Antonio Guterres will be the ninth UN Secretary-General from January 1 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

By Lyndal Rowlands

The 15 members of the UN Security Council jointly announced Wednesday their decision to select Antonio Guterres of Portugal as the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations.

“We have a clear favourite and his name is Antonio Guterres,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Security Council President for the month of October told media, flanked on either side by his 14 counterparts on the council.

Per UN tradition, the UN Security Council’s decision, to be formalised on Thursday, is expected to be endorsed by the full 193 members of the UN General Assembly.

However this show of unity from Security Council members comes at a time when diplomacy over Syria is at a new low with US Secretary of State John Kerry announcing earlier this week that Russia and the United States were suspending talks on Syria.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is just one of the many challenges that Guterres will face as the world’s top diplomat.

Fortunately many believe that Guterres is among those best prepared for the task, as shown through his performance in what has been the most open and transparent selection process of a UN Secretary-General to date.

Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 Guterres was later UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015, during a time when the number of displaced people worldwide grew to its highest level since the end of the Second World War.

However Guterres’ selection has ultimately disappointed those who believed that the next Secretary-General should be the first woman to lead the international organisation or the first Eastern European to hold the job.

“Ultimately, the next UN secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way,” -- Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch.

While skipping the Eastern European rotation is a break with tradition, the inability to select a female candidate from seven highly qualified female contenders seems like an even deeper blow for an organisation which has long claimed to see gender equality as one of its central goals. However the gender break down of the Security Council itself, 14 men and one women, shows that for many UN member states gender equality is still a long way off. Guterres will also be the fourth European man to hold the position – although the first since 1981 – showing that Europe with just over 10 percent of the world’s population still has a firm grasp on global affairs.

Michel Gabaudan President of Refugees International who worked under Guterres at UNHCR told IPS that he was delighted that this year’s open selection process ultimately resulted in the selection of Guterres.

“I think we need a strong leader, we need a visionary leader and we need a diplomatic leader and I think Mr Guterres definitely has shown to have all of these qualities,” said Gabaudan.

“He brings countries together which is basically the job of the Secretary General so tremendous challenge ahead for Mr Guterres but I think the UN has selected the right person for that difficult job.”

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association, UK and co-founder of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign told IPS that she believes that Guterres selection also reflects the success of this year’s improved selection process.

“The announcement today is testament to the impact of the more open and inclusive process for which 1 for 7 Billion campaigned,” Samarasinghe told IPS.

“Guterres was not seen as a frontrunner at the beginning of the race – “wrong” gender and region for starters – but was widely considered to have done well in his General Assembly dialogue and in other events, with many commenting on his experience and ability to inspire.”

The 1 for 7 Billion campaign has called for improvements in the appointment of the Secretary-General, including calling for a single, longer term of office to remove the perceived pressures of pleasing the veto-wielding five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia the United States and the United Kingdom.

These perceived pressures were also noted by Louis Charbonneau, UN Director at Human Rights Watch.

“Ultimately, the next UN secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way,” noted Charbonneau.

However, like many others, Charbonneau also welcomed Guterres appointment:

“With Antonio Guterres, the Security Council has chosen an outspoken and effective advocate for refugees with the potential to strike a radically new tone on human rights at a time of great challenges.”

Guterres is considered likely to be a candidate willing and able to stand up for the voiceless at the UN. In April, he told journalists of how his experience volunteering with the homeless had inspired his career in politics.

The news of Guterres’ selection also coincided with the confirmation that the Paris Climate Change agreement has enough signatories to enter into force within 30 days. The important next stage of implementing the non-binding agreement will now fall to Guterres’ purview.

Guterres will replace outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.

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UN Unable to Fully Investigate Chemical Weapons Allegations in Sudan Wed, 05 Oct 2016 04:42:29 +0000 Lindah Mogeni By Lindah Mogeni

The UN has only limited access to Jebel Marra, the location in Sudan where Amnesty International alleges Sudanese government forces have used chemical weapons, UN Peacekeeping Chief Herve Ladsous said here Tuesday.

‘’We have not come across any evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra,’’ Ladsous told the UN Security Council, noting that UN mission’s consistently restricted access into Jebel Marra has hindered effective monitoring and reporting.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has also assessed that no conclusions regarding Amnesty’s conclusions can be made without further investigation.

In a report released on September 30, Amnesty pointed to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Sudanese government forces against civilians in Darfur, resulting in an estimated 200-250 deaths since January 2016.

Amnesty alleges that chemical weapons have been deliberately targeted towards civilians in the remote region of Jebel Marra in Darfur at least 30 times in the past eight months.

The Amnesty investigation was conducted remotely, from outside Jebel Marra, mostly due to access restrictions. It therefore relied upon satellite imagery, extensive interviews, and expert analyses of survivors’ injuries.

According to the report, interviewed survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid’’ during the attacks in their villages.

‘’It smells like someone burning plastic, mixed with the smell of rotten eggs…’’said Kobei, a senior armed opposition group commander, in an interview in the report.

Survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid.’’

Disturbing images from the investigation show injuries ranging from weeping blisters, bloody lesions and darkened skin peeling off. Other reported injuries include eye problems, severe respiratory problems, involuntary seizures, red urine, miscarriages, bloody vomiting and diarrhea.

The report mentioned that children were generally more affected than adults after the alleged exposure. Further, injured survivors have had ‘’no access to adequate medical care.”

Both chemical weapons experts who reviewed the evidence stated that the victims experienced a variety of symptoms that “strongly suggest an exposure to chemical weapon agents.”

Identifying the specific chemical agents requires collecting samples from those allegedly exposed, from the environment and from weapon remnants used during the attacks. Given the severe access restrictions into Jebel Marra, Amnesty have not been able to do this.

Sudan is currently a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention that bans the use of chemical weapons.

The Sudanese government has refuted the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and said that it will to cooperate with the OPCW investigation.

In a letter dated 27 September 2016, Sudan’s Minister of Justice, Awad Hassan Elnour, said that the evidence in the report is “unreliable, contradictory and unsubstantiated ’’ and alleged that ‘’the survivors and witnesses in the report were either members of the opposition or influenced under fear.”

Elnour questioned whether the satellite imaging relied on in the report showed government forces wearing protective suits and helmets against chemical weapons as they stood on the very ground supposed to be targeted with such weapons. She additionally questioned the alleged death toll of 200 people, considering no such information was available in any health centers in the country.

The report however alleges that the chemicals were released primarily through air bombs and rockets and that the victims had no access to medical treatment.

Peacekeepers from the UN-African Union force in Darfur have been denied access into Jebel Marra where the alleged chemical weapon attacks occurred, according to Ladsous, in his briefing to the UN Security Council on October 4.

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‘The Earth Is Not Flat; It Is Urban’ Tue, 04 Oct 2016 12:12:03 +0000 Baher Kamal Credit: UN Photo / Bikem Ekberzade / Iraq, 2011

Credit: UN Photo / Bikem Ekberzade / Iraq, 2011

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Oct 4 2016 (IPS)

When the United Nations elaborated its latest report on the impact of what it calls “the dramatic shift towards urban life,” it tried to draw a balanced portrait of both the opportunities and the challenges of the fact that 1 in 2 world inhabitant already lives in urban areas and what this implies.

Such a balance has clearly failed. While cities have emerged over the past 20 years as the world’s economic platforms for production and innovation, helping millions escape poverty through better jobs and improved quality of life, mass urbanisation has also led to overcrowding, deepened inequalities and triggered a raft of environmental and health challenges, according to the report.

“The dramatic shift towards urban life has profound implications for energy consumption, politics, food security and human progress,” on May 18 stated the inaugural edition of the World Cities Report, which has been compiled by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Although some of this change is positive, it says, poorly planned urbanisation can potentially generate economic disorder, congestion, pollution and civil unrest.

On the theme ‘Urbanization and Development: Emerging Futures,’ the report presents an analysis of urban development of the past 20 years and tries to reveal, with compelling evidence, that there are new forms of collaboration and cooperation, planning, governance, finance and learning that can sustain positive change.

Two-Thirds of World Population Living in Cities by 2030

While noting that two-thirds of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2030 and produce as much as 80 per cent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), the report unequivocally demonstrates that the current urbanisation model is “unsustainable” in many respects.

In the run up to HABITAT III – shorthand for the major global summit formally known as the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, set to be held in Quito, Ecuador, on 17-20 October 2016 – the report conveys a clear message that the pattern of urbanisation needs to change to better respond to the challenges of our time, to address issues such as “inequality, climate change, informality, insecurity, and unsustainable forms of urban expansion.”

Credit: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe / Mongolia, 2009

Credit: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe / Mongolia, 2009

On this, the UN-Habitat Executive Director, Joan Clos, said: “In the twenty years since the Habitat II conference, the world has seen a gathering of its population in urban areas. This has been accompanied by socioeconomic growth in many instances. But the urban landscape is changing and with it, the pressing need for a cohesive and realistic approach to urbanisation.

More facts: as the urban population increases, the land area occupied by cities is increasing at a higher rate. It is projected that by 2030, the urban population of developing countries will double, while the area covered by cites could triple.

“Such urban expansion is wasteful in terms of land and energy consumption and increases greenhouse gas emissions. The urban centre of gravity— at least for megacities, has shifted to the developing regions.“

Unstoppable Growth

In 1995, there were 22 large cities and 14 mega-cities globally; by 2015, both categories of cities had doubled, with 22, or 79 per cent of the megacities located in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The fastest growing urban centres are the medium and small cities with less than one million inhabitants, which account for 59 per cent of the world’s urban population.

Noting that urbanisation provides a great opportunity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the report warns that while in some cities, for some people, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “urban renaissance” is occurring, for most of the world this is absolutely not the case.

Spectacular Failure

“Urban policy failure has been spectacular in its visibility and devastating in its impacts on men, women and children in many cities,” says the report, stressing that there are too many people living in poor quality housing without adequate infrastructure services such as water, sanitation, and electricity, without stable employment, reliable sources of income, social services, or prospects for upward social mobility.

“Prosperity was once described as a tide that raised all boats, but the impression today is that prosperity only raises all yachts,” the report underscores, setting out the key elements of a comprehensive approach to a ‘New Urban Agenda’ which must be bold, forward looking, and tightly focused on problem-solving with clear means of implementation.

A Universal Human Right?

Then came the World Habitat Day on 3 October to stress the fact that “adequate housing is a universal human right” and therefore should be at the centre of the urban policy and in the physical centre of the city.

“The unplanned rapid expansion of towns and cities means an increasing number of poor and vulnerable people are living in precarious conditions, without adequate living space or access to basic services, such as water, sanitation, electricity and health care,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on the World Habitat Day.

Then Ban called world’s leaders attention to another dramatic fact–that around a quarter of these urban dwellers lives in slums or informal settlements. “They are often isolated from opportunities for decent work and vulnerable to forced evictions and homelessness,” he on 3 October said.

And he highlighted the need to provide access to adequate housing for all is high among the priorities of the New Urban Agenda,” which governments are expected to adopt at Habitat III later this month in Quito.

“Housing should be located in the physical centre of the city… By now this might sound utopian, a kind of wishful dream but on the contrary, it is an urgent step towards an effective solution to the most pressing issues of our modern society.”

According to a recent study by the UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory in collaboration with New York University and the Lincoln Institute, public housing represents less than 15 per cent of housing types both in developing and developed world.

“The tendency in the last two decades has been a rising cost of housing, forcing people to move far away to the outskirts of the city to find affordable housing.”

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Making Policy out of Scientific Bricks, not Straw Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:04:05 +0000 Zakri Abdul Hamid Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services]]>

Zakri Abdul Hamid is science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, and on the Governing Council of a new UN Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries. He co-chairs Malaysia's Global Science and Innovation Advisory Council, and was the founding Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

By Zakri Abdul Hamid
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

Given the enormity of the challenges confronting humanity, the world’s investment in science, technology and innovation is woefully inadequate.

Zakri Abdul Hamid

Zakri Abdul Hamid

That was a key message I helped deliver Sunday September 18 to Ban Ki-moon in a summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board — a group of two dozen scientists from around the world who met with Mr. Ban for one final meeting in New York before he steps down December 31.

In 2014, we had been asked to take stock of global challenges and provide recommendations related to science, technology and innovation (STI) that would enlighten the work and decisions of the United Nations.

And, at the end of our mission, the SAB’s labelled science an essential component – in many cases the bedrock – of an effective strategy for policy and decision-making that deserves to be valued more highly and used effectively at all levels and at three crucial phases: understanding the problems, formulating policies, and ensuring that those policies are implemented effectively. “Science,” the report says, “makes policy out of brick, not straw.”

Science is indeed a “game changer,” a good example being faster-than-expected improvements in the efficiency of solar panels and wind turbines, raising the hope that the world can reduce its dependency on fossil fuels thanks to scientists and engineers. However, to become the game-changer it could be in dealing with nearly all of the most pressing global challenges, science requires more resources.

In fact, all nations must invest more in science technology and innovation. Sadly, today just 12 countries — Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Qatar, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United States of America — dedicate the previously recommended benchmark of 2.5% or more of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to research and development (R&D).

This simply is not enough given the literally vital interests at stake. We have called on all countries, even the poorest, to invest at least 1% of their GDP on research. And the most advanced countries should spend at least 3%.

Reinforcing science education, most especially in developing countries, and improving girls’ access to science courses, must also be part of the effort. To ensure a continuing flow of creative scientists, countries should strongly promote education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for all children beginning at an early age.

Meanwhile, science should be accorded greater weight in political decision-making. To quote the report: “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Illustrating the point well: almost 25 years passed between the scientific community sounding its first alarm about climate change and the world’s adoption, in December 2015, of the Paris Agreement on that subject.

Enabling fair access to and the effective worldwide use of data has emerged as a new area in which the UN can play an important role.

The burgeoning flow of scientific data – the data revolution – has great potential for good if its availability, management, use, and growth are handled effectively.

The United Nations and its agencies can facilitate the gathering of all types of data while overseeing both quality and access. In its report, the SAB also calls for international collaborative projects in this area.

One other point worth underlining: Science has value beyond issues that are essentially “scientific.” To quote the report: “When tensions arise among nations, their leaders can respond far better if they understand and agree upon the scientific evidence for the root causes of those tensions.”

Our report was presented to Ban Ki-moon by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who chaired the Scientific Advisory Board.

It is hoped that whoever this year earns the trust of UN member nations and assumes the mantle of Secretary-General will promote the messages of this report internationally and help ensure that they’re accorded the importance they deserve.

Link to report:

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The UN’s Blind Spot for Conflict Prevention Mon, 03 Oct 2016 19:53:17 +0000 Jonathan Rozen A graphic at UN headquarters in New York compares daily spending on arms versus peace. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

A graphic at UN headquarters in New York compares daily spending on arms versus peace. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Jonathan Rozen

As the world struggles to respond to conflicts and the people fleeing them, UN insiders are also struggling to advance a ‘shift in mindset’ to help prevent these crises from happening in the first place.

“Part of the challenge is the way we have characterised the work of the UN as one of a first responder, fire-fighter, as an organisation that comes in when things fall apart,” Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, told IPS. “As a consequence all of the institutions in the UN tend to be more reactive than preventive.”

To change this, a group of diplomats and UN staff are seeking to bolster the UN Peacebuilding Fund. This fund operates with an annual budget of roughly 100 million dollars, making small yet targeted investments to avert crises over the long-term.

“Conflicts are pushing UN system to its limits,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Without the Peacebuilding Fund, we will be forced to stand by as we witness the preventable loss of countless lives.” But the fund is dramatically under financed.

‘Bang for buck’

On September 21, the UN Peacebuilding Fund held a pledging conference for the fund’s continued operation. The contributions of 30 countries, however, only amounted to 152 million dollars – just over half of the 300 million dollar funding target.

“The rhetoric that we have on peacebuilding is way ahead of the willingness to face up to the challenges of delivering on peace,” said Kamau, who also serves as the Peacebuilding Commission chairperson. “Something fundamentally different needs to happen.”

This year’s budget for the UN’s 16 Peacekeeping missions is roughly eight billion dollars. Looking ahead, small investments by the UN Peacebuilding Fund could save money by preventing the need for expensive missions that respond to what are often already dire circumstances, argue proponents of peacebuilding.

But improved foresight and proactive investments may also have impacts beyond countries’ chequebooks.

As the international body with the mandate to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN’s credibility rests largely on its ability to prevent and resolve conflict.

“If we are able to stop these conflicts from emerging in the first place, much of what we see today in the refugee situation putting a lot of pressure on individuals and countries would of course not have happened in the first place,” said Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN.

‘Sustaining peace’

The UN Peacebuilding commission is a relatively new arm of the UN, established only in December 2005. Its mandate widened in April this year with the adoption of two identical resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. These moved peacebuilding responsibilities beyond post-conflict recovery to include comprehensive efforts for more proactive conflict prevention and ‘sustaining peace.’

Sustaining peace is the “idea that this process of prevention is actually something that goes on from the early warnings … over the conflict stage … and the post-conflict,” Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, told the Peacebuilding Fund pledging conference. It involves consideration for the whole range of social, political, and economic factors that may contribute to peace.

This links conflict prevention to the achievement of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030). For example, Goal 1 and Goal 10 – “No Poverty” and “Reduced Inequalities” – will not be possible without sustained peace.

According to the World Bank, the world’s poorest people are becoming increasingly concentrated in fragile areas affected by conflict and violence, as peaceful areas reap the benefits of development. By 2030, 46 percent of people in extreme poverty will live in fragile and conflict affected areas, up from 17 percent today, says the Bank.

“We are still in early days to say what [Agenda 2030] will look like in terms of implementation,” Helder da Costa, General Secretary of the g7+ association of developing countries affected by conflict, told IPS after a meeting on Goal 16. “If you really want to build peaceful societies … we need practical implementation on the ground.”

One of the Peacebuilding Fund’s investments provided two million dollars to register births of 350,000 children in Côte d’Ivoire. Without registration, these children, many of whom were born just before or during the recent conflict, would be left in “legal limbo” without access to social services, advanced schooling or employment.

While the Peacebuilding Fund has been involved with various initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire since 2008, this registration effort aims to promote national identity for improved social cohesion, strengthening the social fabric of the country.

Investment in the SDG’s will support the social, economic, and political conditions that may prevent conflict and sustain peace. This process, however, will take time and the UN Peacebuilding Fund is looking to make the immediate and targeted investments that may curb the potential for conflicts.

“Lets not be impeded by bureaucratic challenges … lets think outside the box and then try to help things at the country level,” da Costa continued. But in a large and complex institution like the UN, new and innovative ways of thinking do not easily gain political traction or financial backing. In some cases they may even be directly opposed.

The UN Security Council initially resisted the Peacebuilding Commissions’ role in conflict prevention, said Eliasson. They believed it was an “infringement” on their primacy as the UN body for peace and security matters. Even now, with the world’s compounding crises of conflict, climate change, and refugees, countries’ investments remain focused on reacting to crises rather than preventing them.

It is important to cover the urgent humanitarian needs of today, Skoog explained to IPS. “At the same time, it’s very important to get this shift going to avoid these conflicts in the first place.”

As the international body with the mandate to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN’s credibility rests largely on its ability to prevent and resolve conflict. Nevertheless, too often violence is permitted to spiral out of control and endure.

The president of the General Assembly for 2016-2017 has said he will support the shift to a more proactive mindset of ‘sustaining peace’ and encourage additional contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund. But after January 1 2017, when the next UN Secretary General takes office, it remains to be seen how the new leadership will prioritise proactive conflict prevention and the ‘sustaining peace’ mindset.

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