Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Climate Change Agreement in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-chief-seeks-equity-in-climate-change-agreement-in-paris/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141357 The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Black Women in the Americas Launch Decade of Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/black-women-in-the-americas-launch-decade-of-struggle/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:03:04 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141353 Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Delegates to the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas taking part in one of the working groups organised during the three-day gathering held Jun. 26-28 in Managua, Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

They say they are tired of waiting for justice after centuries of neglect and contempt due to the color of their skin. Black women leaders from 22 countries of the Americas have decided to create a political platform that set a 10-year target for empowering women of African descent and overcoming discrimination.

“We’re going to fight with all of our strength to break the chains of racism and racially-motivated violence,” Shary García from Colombia told IPS at the end of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas, which drew 270 delegates to Managua Jun. 26-28.

García said the three days of debates in the Nicaraguan capital gave rise to the Political Declaration of Managua, whose 17 demands and central themes are aimed at eradicating discrimination based on a combination of racial and gender reasons in the Americas.

“It wasn’t easy to sum up in 17 ideas the complaints and demands of 270 women and their families, who have experienced discrimination, violence and the denial of their rights all their lives. But each and every one of us who came here knows that this is how the beginning of the end of discrimination starts.”

Altagracia Balcácer from the Dominican Republic told IPS that the 17 main themes are cross-cut by concepts like fighting racism, demanding a decent life and anti-poverty policies, demanding the right to make decisions about the future, and freedom of choice regarding sexual and reproductive rights.

“The demands include halting violence towards black women, giving the population of African descent visibility in the national statistics and census, protecting black children and adolescents, and offering opportunities to youngsters in this population group,” she said.

Other concerns, she said, are “protecting the environment, expanding access to natural and economic resources, and guaranteeing food security and sovereignty.”

In addition, the delegates called for “protection and decent treatment of immigrants, salvaging and acknowledging our cultural heritage, respect from the media, the non-stigmatisation of black people, expanding access to justice and guaranteeing safety for women and their communities.”

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The Jun. 26 opening of the first Summit of Women Leaders of African Descent of the Americas Américas, when ended two days later in Managua with a declaration outlining the next decade of struggle for their rights. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women (RMAAD), told IPS that the document does not demand the recognition of rights, but the enforcement of all treaties, laws and international conventions referring to black women that have been signed since the 2001 World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa.

The Political Declaration of Managua “is not an expression of good intentions; it is an official document demanding the implementation of public policies in all countries of the Americas…to start once and for all to recognise and give their rightful place to the black populations on the continent,” said Wilson, from Nicaragua.

“With this platform, our aim is to move towards compliance with all of our rights in the context of the U.N. International Decade for People of African Descent,” added the head of the Managua-based RMAAD, which is active in 24 countries.

In January the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, to promote respect for their rights and freedoms and greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and cultures.

According to the U.N., some 200 million people in the Americas identify themselves as being of African descent.

Wilson explained that over the next decade, black women in Latin America will document, with clear, reliable indicators, the real situation of people of African descent. They also hope to see poverty levels drop.

“We say ‘reliable’ because we don’t exist in the existing statistics, we’re invisible,” said Wilson. “Another of the summit’s achievements is that in each country in the Americas we will set up an observatory to follow up on the demands set forth here.”

To that end, they have technical and institutional support from U.N. agencies, European donor countries, non-governmental organisations, and defenders of human rights and gender rights.

They will also try to get their list of demands accepted by the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

Dorotea Wilson of Nicaragua, the head of the Network of Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women, during a working session in the summit held in Managua. Credit: Courtesy of RMAAD

The idea, said Wilson, is to press countries to design public policies targeting women and people of African descent, and to create follow-up mechanisms to make it possible to gauge the progress made by the time the next summit is held five years from now.

The head of RMAAD said the women who took part in the summit made it clear that there is a perception that police brutality and violence in general against black people are on the rise, especially in the United States and Brazil, two of the countries that were represented in the summit.

“Hate crimes in the United States make the international headlines,” Wilson said. “But because the population of African descent is invisible in Latin America, racially-motivated killings in the region do not come to public attention.”

As a panelist in the forum on human rights, Nilza Iriaci said that “in my country, Brazil, hate crimes happen every day, but there is no sense of scandal.” Brazil is the Latin American country with the largest black population.

A 2010 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), “Afrodescendant Population of Latin America”, which was updated two years later, found that despite the creation of new legal frameworks and institutions to protect the rights of people of African descent in the region, most of the black population lived in poverty and suffered from discrimination.

Vicenta Camusso, a representative of black women in Uruguay, said things had not changed since the study was carried out. “It’s the same as always – our rights and the poverty we suffer have not improved one bit,” she told IPS.

She said that although every country in the region has legal frameworks protecting the rights of women and blacks, no specific budget funds are allotted.

“Partly because of this, most black women continue to live in inferior living conditions compared to women of other races, and young black people experience the same exclusion and violence as the older generations did,” she said.

“Since Durban, little to nothing has changed for women of African descent in the Americas,” 7she complained. “More than 80 percent of black people in the region live in a state of poverty and social inequality, with few opportunities for improvement, because of ethnic-racial reasons.”

Camusso pointed out that the 2001 global conference emerged from official efforts by the international community to design actions aimed at fighting racism, racial discrimination, ethnic conflicts, and associated violence.

In the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, the international community, U.N. agencies, development aid institutions, private organisations and society in general pledged “to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Urged to Ramp up Aid for Agent Orange Clean-Up Efforts in Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:54:42 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141347 An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

A key senator and a D.C.-based think tank are calling for Washington to step up its aid in cleaning up toxic herbicides sprayed by the United States in Vietnam during the war that ended 40 years ago.

Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank here, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who has long led the efforts in the U.S. Congress to compensate Vietnamese war victims, called on Washington to do more, arguing that it will further bolster renewed ties between the two countries.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get to. We need more assistance.” -- Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh
Leahy’s remarks were echoed by Charles Bailey, former director of Aspen Institute’s Agent Orange in Vietnam Program – a multi-year initiative to deal with health and environmental impacts of the estimated 19 million gallons of herbicides that were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1970.

Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh expressed similar sentiments at the event.

Hanoi’s ambassador said his government has been spending 45 million dollars every year to deal with the many problems created by Agent Orange and other herbicides used by U.S. military forces during the war.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get,” he said. “We need more assistance.”

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese people were affected, including 150,000 children born with birth defects.

Those who bore the brunt of the chemical spraying suffered cancer, liver damage, severe skin and nervous disorders and heart disease. The children and even grandchildren of people exposed to Agent Orange have been born with deformities, defects, disabilities and diseases.

Huge expanses of forest and jungle, including the natural habitats of several species, were devastated. Many of these species are still threatened with extinction.

In some areas, rivers were poisoned and underground water sources contaminated. Erosion and desertification as a result of the herbicide sprays made barren fields out of once-fertile farmlands.

The United States currently funds aid operations in Vietnam through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). According to Bailey, 136 million dollars have been appropriated to date. But some observers of the programme say still more should be done.

Merle Ratner from the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign said that too little of the aid has gone to the people. Most of it is given to international NGOs, who are then contracted to do the work, she said.

“We are suggesting that the aid go directly to NGOs in Vietnam because who knows the people better than their own organisations?” Ratner told IPS.

“People should be involved in their own solutions to the situation.”

The renewed attention comes at a time when the U.S. and Vietnam have moved closer together, particularly in light of the two nations’ growing concerns over China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“I want to turn Agent Orange from being a symbol of antagonism into an area where the U.S and Vietnamese governments can work together,” Leahy said. “At a time when China is actively seeking to extend its sphere of influence and United States has begun its own re-balance towards Asia, these Vietnam legacy programs have taken on greater significance.”

The general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phy Trong, is scheduled to visit the United States this year, the first such trip by the nation’s ruling party chief.

The warming relationship has helped Leahy further his cause. Leahy met with much resistance in the early 2000s when Washington was clearly reluctant to take responsibility for the destruction wrought by its forces during the war in which an estimated two million Vietnamese and some 55,000 U.S. troops were killed.

Vietnam, on the other hand, put the issue on the backburner as it focused on gaining preferential trade status (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) for exports to the huge U.S. market.

While Washington and Hanoi established full diplomatic relations in 1995, it wasn’t until 2002 that the two governments held a joint conference on the impact of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam and its people.

In Dec. 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Act that specifically makes available funds for the remediation of dioxin contaminated areas in Vietnam.

Much of those funds have been earmarked for a clean-up project at the former giant U.S. military base at Da Nang, which is 824 km from the capital, Hanoi. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides over many parts of rural Vietnam, destroying millions of hectares of forests in an attempt to deny the Viet Cong insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies cover and food.

Two-thirds of the herbicide contains dioxin. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, dioxin is a compound found to cause cancer and diabetes, as well as a host of other diseases.

A scientific report in 1969 also concluded that the herbicide can cause birth defects in laboratory animals, thus leading U.S. forces to halt the use of Agent Orange in 1970.

A 1994 Institute of Medicine study records that there was a growing number of Vietnam veterans who have fathered handicapped children. Many still dispute the link between Agent Orange and birth defects—Vietnam veterans in the United States still cannot claim benefits for birth defects in their children.

While welcoming Washington’s new aid programme, some activists who have long called for the U.S. to help Vietnam address the problems left behind by Agent Orange insist that U.S. should both do more and provide more direct assistance to Vietnamese groups on the ground who believe that the United States’ funds could be better distributed.

Susan Hammond, executive director of the War Legacies Project, said she hopes to see more of the money go to rural Vietnam.

“U.S. funding, at this point, is pretty much limited to the Da Nang area,” Hammond said. “In rural areas, families are pretty much left on their own.”

Tim Rieser, Leahy’s chief staffer with the Senate subcommittee that deals with foreign aid, recalled that it was initially very difficult to obtain any funding from the government.

“The State Department and Pentagon were very resistant to the idea of any kind of action by the U.S. that might be interpreted as reparations or compensation,” he said.

“It took over a year to reach an agreement with them that what we were talking about was not either of those things, but it was of trying to work with the Vietnamese government to address the problems that we obviously have responsibility for.”

Rieser said he is currently urging the Pentagon to help fund the cleanup of the Bien Hoa airbase, 1,702 km from the capital. He said the area could well contain even higher levels of dioxin than Da Nang. And he urged Obama to include additional money in his proposed 2016 budget.

“Ideally, if the president would include money in the budget, it would make our lives much easier,” he said. “But at the very least when there are opportunities – like when the president goes to Vietnam or the general secretary comes here – to reaffirm the commitment of both countries to continue working on this issue. [That] is almost as important as providing the funds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Emissions Cutshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-supreme-court-deals-blow-to-obamas-emissions-cuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-supreme-court-deals-blow-to-obamas-emissions-cuts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-supreme-court-deals-blow-to-obamas-emissions-cuts/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:43:55 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141348 The rule affects about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal. Credit: Bigstock

The rule affects about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal. Credit: Bigstock

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

In a setback to the Barack Obama administration’s clean energy plans just five months ahead of a critical climate change summit in Paris this December, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked an initiative to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

In a five-four decision, the majority of the sharply divided court declared that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had failed to take into account the high costs its rules would impose.

The new rules had been challenged by industry groups and 21 Republican-led states in which hundreds of the older plants are operating.

“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia said from the bench. “No regulation is ‘appropriate’ if it does significantly more harm than good.”

Long stymied by the U.S. Congress on issues related to climate change, Obama has tried to circumvent Republican lawmakers by offering dozens of regulatory tweaks and targets that his administration could implement without Congressional approval.

Last June, Obama said the new measures would get the United States back on track to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The president originally set this goal three years before, but Congress failed to institute policies that that could allow for such a decrease.

The centrepiece of the plan was a crackdown on carbon pollution from power plants, both planned and existing. In the United States, power plants are responsible for some 40 percent of carbon emissions.

“We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulphur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free,” the president stated. “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”

Much of Obama’s vision revolved around the ability of the EPA to enforce regulations under a key piece of decades-old legislation known as the Clean Air Act.

Under Monday’s Supreme  Court ruling, the EPA’s rule will stay in effect for now, but a final decision has been kicked down to the DC Circuit Court with instructions to consider costs in the initial stage of implementation.

While many newer power plants have technology to curb toxic releases, the rules target plants that still do not capture those emissions. They affect about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal.

“The Court has sided with the Dirty Delinquents  – the small percentage of coal-fired plants that haven’t cleaned up – and against the majority that are already protecting our children from mercury and other toxic pollutants,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp in a statement.

“It’s critically important for our nation that these life-saving protections remain in place while EPA responds to the Court’s decision, and EDF will focus its efforts on ensuring these safeguards are intact.”

Earthjustice DC Senior Associate Attorney Neil Gormley, whose group filed a brief in support of the EPA, said the court’s ruling “doesn’t change EPA’s authority to protect the public from toxic air pollution.”

“It just gives the agency another hoop to jump through. Now EPA should act quickly to finalise these crucial health protections,” Gormley said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: “Slight Deceleration” in G20 Trade Restrictions but Continued Vigilance Neededhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-slight-deceleration-in-g20-trade-restrictions-but-continued-vigilance-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-slight-deceleration-in-g20-trade-restrictions-but-continued-vigilance-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-slight-deceleration-in-g20-trade-restrictions-but-continued-vigilance-needed/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 06:43:56 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141284

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, sixth Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), writes that the continuing increase in the G20’s stock of new trade-restrictive measures since the financial crisis of 2008 remains of concern in the context of an uncertain global economic outlook; individually and collectively, he says, the G20 must show leadership and refrain from implementing new measures taken for protectionist purposes while removing existing ones.

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

The latest report by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on G20 trade measures shows a slight deceleration in the application of new trade-restrictive measures by G20 economies, with the average number of such measures applied per month lower than at any time since 2013.

According to the thirteenth such WTO report, issued on Jun. 15, G20 economies had applied 119 new trade-restrictive measures since mid-October 2014, an average of 17 new measures per month over the period.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

A slight decrease in the number of trade remedy investigations by G20 economies has also contributed to this overall figure.

But it is not yet clear that this deceleration will continue and the WTO calls on G20 leaders to show continued vigilance and reinforced determination towards eliminating existing trade restrictions.

The longer term trend remains one of concern, with the overall stock of trade-restrictive measures introduced by G20 economies since 2008 continuing to rise.

Of the 1,360 restrictions recorded by this exercise since 2008, less than one-quarter have been eliminated, leaving the total number of restrictive measures still in place at 1,031. Therefore, despite the G20 pledge to roll back any new protectionist measures, the stock of these measures has risen by over seven percent since the last report.

The broader international economic context also supports the need for continuing vigilance and action. According to the WTO’s most recent forecast (14 April 2015), growth in the volume of world merchandise trade should increase from 2.8 percent in 2014 to 3.3% percent 2015 and further to four percent in 2016, but remaining below historical averages.“The longer term trend [vis-à-vis protectionism] remains one of concern, with the overall stock of trade-restrictive measures introduced by G20 economies since 2008 continuing to rise”

The overall response to the 2008 financial crisis has been more muted than expected when compared with previous crises. The multilateral trading system has proved an effective backstop against protectionism.

During this period, G20 economies also continued to adopt measures aimed at facilitating trade, both temporary and permanent in nature.

These developments confirm that G20 economies overall have shown a degree of restraint in introducing new trade restrictions. However, it is not yet clear that the deceleration in the number of measures introduced will continue in future reporting periods. It is also relevant that the slow pace of removal of previous restrictions means that the overall stock of restrictive measures is continuing to increase.

The broader international economic context also supports the need for continuing vigilance and action.

Trends in world trade and output have remained mixed since the last monitoring report, as merchandise trade volumes and GDP growth picked up in the second half of 2014 but appear to have slowed in the first quarter of 2015.

Economic activity remained uneven across countries as the United States and China slowed in the first quarter, while growth in the Euro area and Japan picked up.

Plunging oil prices and strong exchange rate fluctuations, including an appreciation of the U.S. dollar and a depreciation of the Euro contributed uncertainty to the economic outlook.

Lower prices for oil and other primary commodities were expected to provide a boost to importing economies, but reduced export revenues weighed heavily on commodity exporters.

In light of these developments, our most recent forecast (14 April 2015) predicted a continued moderate expansion of trade in 2015 and 2016, although the pace of recovery was expected to remain below historical averages.

In the area of government procurement, work from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), identifying 65 measures implemented since the financial crisis, suggests that discriminatory government procurement policies have become increasingly popular and potentially affect 423 billion dollars of government procurement in the implementing economies.

This report shows that G20 economies implemented 48 new general economic support measures during the period under review, with the majority targeting the manufacturing and agricultural sectors through various incentive schemes, often, but not exclusively, in the context of exports.

The overall assessment of this thirteenth report on G20 trade measures is that the continuing
increase in the stock of new trade-restrictive measures recorded since 2008 remains of concern in the context of an uncertain global economic outlook.

Individually and collectively, the G20 must show leadership and deliver on the pledge to refrain from implementing new measures taken for protectionist purposes and to remove existing ones. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Afghanistan: No Place for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/afghanistan-no-place-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-no-place-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/afghanistan-no-place-for-children/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 03:56:46 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141344 Aid from the UK is supporting a network of orthopaedic centres across Afghanistan to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Aid from the UK is supporting a network of orthopaedic centres across Afghanistan to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

No one will deny that when a child – any child – is killed, it is a tragedy. Imagine, then, the extent of the tragedy in Afghanistan where, in just four years, 2,302 children have lost their lives as a result of ongoing fighting in this country of 30 million people.

According to his latest report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that more kids were killed or maimed in 2014 than in any previous year under review.

During the reporting period from Sep. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2014, an additional 5,047 young people were badly injured, leaving many crippled for life.

Ground engagements were reportedly the number one cause of child casualties, leaving 331 children dead and 920 injured in 2014; these figures represent a doubling of the number from the previous year.

Armed groups’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas resulted in 664 casualties, while suicide attacks took the lives of 214 children – an increase in 80 percent compared to 2013.

The report also stated that “explosive remnants of war killed or maimed 328 children”, while international military airstrikes left 38 kids either dead or injured – including eight from drone strikes alone.

The biggest culprits appear to have been the Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami, followed closely by the Afghan National Securities Forces, who were responsible for 126 killings and 270 injuries.

Five kids were killed and 52 injured in cross-border shelling from Pakistan. The U.N. was unable to verify the cause of death in 163 cases, and chalks up a further 505 injuries to “crossfire”, without being able to attribute responsibility to any particular group.

“These tragically high casualty numbers show that children are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and unfortunately this trend continues with the deterioration of the security environment into 2015,” Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s special representative for children and armed conflict said in a press release last week.

Various actors, primarily the Taliban and similar armed groups, forcibly recruited an estimated 68 children into their ranks. In an even more troubling trend, kids continue to carry out suicide attacks for the Taliban and perform a range of dangerous or potentially life threatening tasks like planting IEDs or acting as spies.

Detention and torture of children is also a major cause of concern for rights activists, with the ministry of justice reporting 258 boys held in juvenile detention centres on charges relating to national security, including “association with armed groups”.

Between February 2013 and December 2014, the U.N. interviewed 105 child detainees, 44 of who claimed they had experienced ill-treatment or torture.

Another aspect of the conflict that directly impacts children here is the systematic and sustained attack on schools throughout the country.

U.N. researchers verified 163 incidents, including the placement of explosive devices within school premises, attacks on schools used as polling stations, threats against protected personnel or teachers, and the targeting of girls’ education by way of intimidation, propaganda, or physical attacks.

The U.N. believes that 469 Afghan schools are closed as a result of the shaky security situation, with an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 Taliban fighters reportedly active in most provinces around the country.

Children are also at risk of sexual assault – in the review period, eight boys and six girls were victims of sexual violence, with four of the verified cases traced back to the national police and one to a “pro-government militia commander.”

Furthermore, “Twenty-four boys and two girls were abducted in 17 separate incidents, resulting in the killing of at least four boys by the Taliban, the rape of two girls by the local police, and the rape of a boy by a pro-Government militia,” according to the U.N.

As a new government attempts to gain control over the situation, U.N. experts are hopeful that the deadly tide can be reversed.

“I look forward to working with the Government of Afghanistan even more intensively in the months ahead as we move towards fully implementing the country’s Action Plan for ending recruitment and use of children,” Zerrougui said at the report’s launch this past Thursday.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The ACP at 40 – Repositioning as a Global Playerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-acp-at-40-repositioning-as-a-global-player/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 16:25:36 +0000 Patrick I. Gomes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141340 ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

By Patrick I. Gomes
BRUSSELS, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Sir Shridath Ramphal, then-Foreign Minister of the Republic of Guyana, who played a leading role in the evolution of the Lomé negotiations that lead to the birth of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, pointed to the significant lessons of that engagement of developed and developing countries some 40 years ago and had this to say:

“As regards the Lomé negotiations, the process of unification – for such it was – added a new dimension to the Third World’s quest for economic justice through international action. Its significance, however, derives not merely from the terms of the negotiated relationship between the 46 ACP states and the EEC, but from the methodology of unified bargaining which the negotiations pioneered.

Never before had so large a segment of the developing world negotiated with so powerful a grouping of developed countries so comprehensive and so innovative a regime of economic relations. It was a new, and salutary, experience for Europe; it was a new, and reassuring, experience for the ACP States.

“Forty years later, that lesson remains retains its validity. Unity of purpose and action remains the touchstone of ACP’s meaning and success.”

With a conscious appreciation of that founding unity of purpose and action, the ACP Group convened a high-level symposium at its headquarters in Brussels on Jun. 6. The event marked the milestone of four decades of trade and economic cooperation, vigorous and contentious political engagements and a range of development finance programmes – all aimed at the eradication of poverty from the lives of the millions of people in its 79 member states.“The ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975”

In 1975, it was 46 developing countries that met in the capital city of Guyana, to sign the Georgetown Agreement and give birth to the ACP Group. They had recently embarked on their post-colonial path of independence following successful negotiations of non-reciprocal trade arrangements with the then nine-member European Economic Community (EEC) in February.

Known as the Lomé Agreement, after the capital of Togo where it was signed, this legally-binding, international agreement had a life-span of 25 years to 2000. Essentially, it comprised three pillars of trade and economic cooperation, development assistance – mainly through grants from the European Development Fund (EDF) – and political dialogue on issues such as human rights and democratic governance.

During that period, the preferential trade and aid pact undoubtedly gave an impetus to various aspects of economic and social development in the ACP Group. Substantial revenue was received from preferential access to the European market for exports of clothing, banana, sugar, cocoa, beef, fruit and vegetables, for example, and with the accompanying aid programmes.

The benefits were seen in the economies of Mauritius, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Guyana and Fiji, to name a few. Member states of the ACP Group, less-developed countries (LDCs), landlocked states and small island developing states (SIDS), had access to returns from trade for improved social services and in this sense, the first decades of Lomé were certainly gains for development in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

But these gains entrenched an aid-dependency of commodity export economies with minimal structural transformation through value-added manufacturing and related service sectors in ACP countries.

The fierce trade-liberalising world of the late 1990s, rising indebtedness due to enormous increase in the cost of energy and pressure from the challenge of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to the European Union’s discriminatory practice of preferential trade and aid to this exclusive set of developing countries meant that post-Lomé ACP-EU trade relations had to be WTO-compatible.

Finding compatibility for “substantially all trade” between the economies of the ACP’s 79 members – grouped in six regions of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – and Europe, and ensuring that development criteria take precedence over tariff reductions and WTO rules have proven contentious in this long-standing partnership.

With this overhang of tensions in its troubled access to its principal market, the ACP faces the conclusion of the 20-year Agreement signed in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin, in 2020.

A soul-searching and vigorous process to be repositioned as a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality is the singular task on which the ACP now concentrates.

Such a task has entailed a series of actions that are informed by the report of the Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives for the ACP Group of States that was approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2014.

The main thrust of the transformation and repositioning of the ACP is captured in the strategic policy domains identified in the report.

These are in five thematic areas that address:

a) Rule of Law & Good Governance;

b) Global Justice & Human Security;

c) Building Sustainable, Resilient & Creative Economies; and

d) Intra-ACP Trade, Industrialisation and Regional Integration;

e) Financing for Development.

In each of these, and in ways that are mutually reinforcing, very specific programmed activities of an annual action plan are being prepared and will be executed.

For example, the annual plan will address the thematic area of “sustainable, resilient and creative economies” through the mechanism of an ACP Forum on SIDS with financial resources, mainly from the intra-ACP allocation of the EDF and the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of the partner agencies of the UN system with which the ACP Group works very closely.

Conceptualised so as to address systemic and structural factors affecting sustainable development, the ACP emphasises South-South and triangular cooperation as a major modality for implementation of its role as catalyst and advocate.

The current stage of rethinking and refocusing provides an opportunity for 40 years of development through trade by which the ACP Group and the European Union could recast the world’s most unique and enduring North-South treaty of developed and developing countries to effectively participate in a global partnership where no one is left behind.

The ACP has social and organisational capital accumulated from a rich experience on trade negotiations with the world’s largest bloc of Europe and its 500 million inhabitants.

Undoubtedly marked by contentious issues on trade provisions to satisfy the WTO’s non-discriminatory behaviour among its member States, ACP-EU relations reveal the persistent battle of poor versus rich with a view to finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

The 40th anniversary celebration by the ACP Group at a High-Level Inter-regional Symposium on Jun. 4 and 5 witnessed reflections on achievements and failures, as well as limitations in the performance of the ACP Group, in itself as a group and among its member states, as well as in its partnership with the European Union and the wider global arena.

The theme of the symposium covered the initial Georgetown Agreement and the ambitious objectives that were set in 1975. The high point was the keynote address by H.E. Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly.

Interestingly, discussions revealed how relevant and timely they remain and of special note was the “promotion of a fairer and more equitable new world order”.

This retrospective conversation has been recognised as fundamental for how, and in what direction, the ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975.

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Rome March Celebrates Pope’s Call for Urgent Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 13:06:28 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141337 March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

People of faith, civil society groups, and communities affected by climate change marched together in Rome Sunday Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment, and call for bolder climate action by world leaders.

Under the banner of ‘One Earth One Family’, the march brought together Catholics and other Christians, followers of non-Christian faiths, environmentalists and people of goodwill. The march ended in St. Peter’s Square in time for the Pope’s weekly Angelus and blessing.“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience” – Arianne Kassman, climate activist from Papua New Guinea

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City in September last year.

“As we stand at this critical juncture in addressing the climate crisis, we are particularly grateful to the Pope for releasing this encyclical as an awakening for the world to understand how climate change impacts people across all regions,” said Arianne Kassman, a climate activist from Papua New Guinea who took part in march to speak about the reality of climate change in the Pacific.

“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience,” she added.

Among the messages relayed to the Pope during the march was a request to make fossil fuel divestment part of his moral message in the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

“The fossil fuel divestment campaign is hinged on the same moral premise communicated by Pope Francis in his encyclical,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines.

“The campaign serves to highlight the immorality of investing in the source of the climate injustice we currently experience. This is why we hope that moving forward and building on this powerful message, Pope Francis can make fossil fuel divestment a part of his moral argument for urgent climate action.”

A petition urging Pope Francis to rid the Vatican of investments in fossil fuels has already gathered tens of thousands of signatures.

Over recent months, dozens of religious institutions have divested from coal, oil and gas companies or endorsed the effort, including the World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christians in 150 countries.

In May 2015, the Church of England announced it had sold 12 million pounds in thermal coal and tar sands and just this week the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) announced that it will exclude fossil fuel companies from its investments and call on its member churches with 72 million members to do likewise.

More than 220 institutions have commitments to divest from fossil fuels, with faith institutions making up the biggest segment.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris later this year for U.N. climate talks, the growing divestment movement will continue to fuel the ethical and economic revolution needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality, a key message from Pope Francis’ encyclical.

“The clear path required to address the climate crisis is one that breaks humanity free from the current stranglehold of fossil fuels on our lives and the planet,” said Hoda Baraka, Global Communications Manager for 350.org, one of the organisers of the march.

“This encyclical reinforces the tectonic shift that is happening – we simply cannot continue to treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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High Hopes in Iran as Nuclear Talks Head Into Final Roundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/high-hopes-in-iran-as-nuclear-talks-head-into-final-round/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 21:07:03 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141334 Iran's lead negotiator and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was greeted by a cheering crowd back home in Tehran after a framework for a final nuclear deal was reached Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Geneva. Credit: ISNA/Borna Ghasemi

Iran's lead negotiator and foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was greeted by a cheering crowd back home in Tehran after a framework for a final nuclear deal was reached Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Geneva. Credit: ISNA/Borna Ghasemi

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

A final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme wouldn’t only make non-proliferation history. It would also be the beginning of a better life for the Iranian people—or at least that’s what they’re hoping.

Iranians, who are keeping a close eye on the talks, which resumed Saturday in Vienna amidst the looming June 30 deadline, believe that significant economic improvements would result from a final accord in the near term, according to a major new poll and study released here last week.“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani's promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalisation.” -- Farideh Farhi

Majorities of the Iranian public say they expect to see better access to foreign medicines and medical equipment, significantly more foreign investment, and tangible improvements in living standards within a year of the deal being signed, according to the University of Tehran’s Center for Public Opinion Research and Iran Poll, an independent, Toronto-based polling group working with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM).

Asked how long they believed it would take for changes resulting from a deal to materialise, 61 percent of respondents said they would see Iranians gaining greater access to foreign-made medicines and medical equipment in a year or less while a similar number—62 percent—thought they would see “a lot more foreign companies making investments in Iran” in a year or less.

A slightly lesser 55 percent thought they would see “a tangible improvement in people’s standard of living” within a year.

The poll—based on telephone interviews with over 1,000 respondents between May 12 and May 28—found strong support for a nuclear deal, but that support appears to be contingent on the belief that the U.S. would lift all sanctions as part of the deal, not just those related to Iran’s nuclear activities, and that economic relief would come relatively quickly.

The timeframe for and extent of sanctions removal remains, however, a major obstacle in the negotiations, the exact details of which are being kept private while talks are in progress.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—who holds the final say on all matters related to the state—reportedly demanded in a major speech Tuesday that all U.S. sanctions be lifted as of the signing of a deal, a demand that could further complicate the negotiations.

“While there is majority support for continuing to pursue a deal,” said Ebrahim Mohseni, a senior analyst at the University of Tehran’s Center and a CISSM research associate, “it is sustained in part by expectations that besides the U.N. and the E.U., the U.S. would also relinquish all its sanctions, that the positive effects of the deal would be felt in tangible ways fairly quickly, and that Iran would continue to develop its civilian nuclear programme.”

He added that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might have “difficulty selling a deal that would significantly deviate from these expectations.”

Tempered expectations

A 34-page study conducted by the New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) also found that civil society, which continues to support the negotiations even while criticising the government’s domestic policies, is hopeful for an agreement that will end years of sanctions and isolation.

Of the 28 prominent civil society members interviewed by ICHRI between May 13-June 2, 71 percent of respondents expect economic benefits from an accord, citing increased investment and oil revenues, and gains to employment, manufacturing, and growth.

However, one-fifth of those expecting economic gains believe these benefits could be lost to ordinary Iranians due to governmental mismanagement.

In fact, a significant number of the civil society leaders were skeptical of the Rouhani government’s ability to deliver tangible results from a final deal to the general public.

Thirty-six percent of the interviewees expected no improvement in political or cultural freedoms, citing either Rouhani’s lack of authority or lack of willingness, while 25 percent of all respondents said they expected economic benefits to reach only the wealthy and politically influential.

“Mr. Rouhani is not in control,” Mohammad Nourizad, a filmmaker and political activist told ICHRI. “Whatever he wants to implement, he would first have to seek permission from the Supreme Leader’s office.”

“The expectations we have of Mr.Rouhani do not match his capabilities,” he added.

However, 61 percent of the respondents still believe a deal would grant the Rouhani administration the political leverage required to implement political and cultural reforms.

“It may take a while, but the aligning of Rouhani’s promises with the people’s expectations regarding the resolution of the nuclear issue will give him more tools to pursue his other agenda items regarding cultural and political opening and economic liberalisation,” Farideh Farhi, an independent scholar at the University of Hawaii, told IPS.

“He will still face still resistance and competition but there is no doubt he’ll be strengthened,” she said.

While the ICHRI’s civil society respondents expressed a greater degree of scepticism and nuance than the general population surveyed by the CISSM, a substantial majority in both polls argued that sanctions were significantly hurting ordinary Iranians, an effect that would only increase if no deal is reached.

“[Failed negotiations] would cause terrible damage to the people and to social, cultural, political, and economic activities,” Fakhrossadat Mohtashamipour, a civil activist and wife of a political prisoner, told ICHRI.

“The highest cost imposed by the sanctions is paid by the people, particularly the low-income and vulnerable groups.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Donors Pledge Over 4.4 Billion Dollars to Nepal – But With a Caveathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/donors-pledge-over-4-4-billion-dollars-to-nepal-but-with-a-caveat/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 20:24:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141332 Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

Nepalese people carry UK aid shelter kits back to the remains of their homes, 10 days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on 25 April 2015. Credit: Russell Watkins/DFID

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

Blessed with more than 4.4 billion dollars in pledges at an international donor conference in Kathmandu on Thursday, the government of Nepal is expected to launch a massive reconstruction project to rebuild the earthquake-devastated South Asian nation.

But the pledges came with a caveat.“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on." -- Caroline Baudot of Oxfam

“While donors were generous, many of them strongly emphasised the need for Nepal to strengthen efficiency, transparency and accountability in handling international assistance,” Kul Chandra Gautam, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS..

“They also emphasised the need for political stability, early local elections and speedy completion of the long pending Constitution drafting process,” said Gautam, a native of Nepal and a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, who is based in Kathmandu.

A jubilant finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, told reporters the donors’ meeting, titled the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, was “a grand success”.

“The total pledge made today was 4.4 billion, which was more than expected… 2.2 billion in loans and 2.2 billion in grants,” he said.

India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged 1.0 billion dollars while China promised 3.0 billion yuan (483 million dollars) in assistance.

Additional pledges included 600 million from the Asian Development Bank, 260 million from Japan, 130 million from the U.S., 100 million from the European Union and 58 million from Britain, supplementing an earlier offer of up to 500 million dollars from the World Bank.

Nepal had a projected goal of 6.7 billion dollars for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure and services.

This was a rather conservative or realistic needs assessment, considering that the estimated loss and damage from the earthquake was over 7.0 billion dollars, and it usually costs more to “build back better” than just the replacement cost of the destroyed and damaged infrastructure, Gautam said.

It was understood, he pointed out, about one-third of the estimated needs would be met from national resources and two-thirds would come from donors.

Donors really opened their hearts for the suffering people of Nepal, he said.

“We were delighted that even small poor countries like neighbouring Bhutan and faraway Haiti were forthcoming with generous pledges of 1.0 million dollars each,” said Gautam.

The United Nations estimated that about eight million people – almost one-third of the population of Nepal – were affected by the earthquake in April, described as “the largest disaster the country has faced in almost a century.”

More than 8,600 people were reported to have died, and according to U.N. figures, more than 20,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged and about a million children and 126,000 pregnant women are estimated to have been affected.

Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Adviser, told IPS the proposed investment provides Nepal with a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future.

“Now that pledges have been made, Oxfam is calling for communities to be consulted when the reconstruction plan is developed and implemented, continued attention to livelihoods and access to services, and that future disaster risks are reduced through reconstruction.”

She said donors and the Government of Nepal must now ensure there is a long-term plan which listens to communities – putting people at the center of the reconstruction process, which builds improved basic services like hospitals and ensures new buildings are safe and earthquake resilient.

“It is critical that the international community and Nepal learn from the mistakes of past emergencies, where up to half of pledges are never delivered on. Donors must make good on their promises and ensure the finance they have committed reaches those who need it,” said Baudot.

In a message to the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Nepal has stood strong during this crisis.

“I commend the exceptional efforts of the country’s government and people – in particular the youth who have found new and innovative ways to help their country.”

He also said that the United Nations “stands ready to support the government and people of Nepal in this endeavor. I am confident that Nepal, with its resilient people will be able to recover from this devastating disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Ghosts Of War Give Way to Development in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:13:18 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/feed/ 17 German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141320 During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philiber Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

Launched by UNDP Egypt, the icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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Charleston Church Shooting Sparks Debate on Race in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/charleston-church-shooting-sparks-debate-on-race-in-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=charleston-church-shooting-sparks-debate-on-race-in-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/charleston-church-shooting-sparks-debate-on-race-in-south-africa/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:01:51 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141318 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

South Africa’s old guard of separatist whites who supported the racist policy of apartheid have been reading with interest about Dylann Roof, accused assassin in the deaths of nine churchgoers at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The right-wing Front National party was quoted to say that the photo of shooting suspect Roof, wearing a jacket bearing apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags, was photoshopped.

“…The liberal media in South Africa and a host of liberal social media platforms have been spitting acid about the young man who shot and killed a number of African Americans in a church in Charleston in the south of America”, they wrote in a Facebook post.

“Front National South Africa started questioning the picture … and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the Facebook profile ‘disappeared’, but not before we got hold of the original “un-photoshopped” picture. The REAL badge is rather reminiscent of the logo of the American Democratic Party of Barack Obama!”

Another view was expressed by South African writer Eusebius McKaiser who pleaded for understanding of a wayward young man.

“Dylann Roof isn’t a terrorist,” insisted McKaiser. “He isn’t a racist. He isn’t a monster. He isn’t a murderer. And he certainly isn’t singularly responsible for having allegedly killed nine people.

‘Roof is the product of a world that created him… We created the racist society into which poor Roof was born. It is our collective racism and hatred that are the building blocks of the Roof tragedy.

“Perhaps the saddest part of the whole tragedy is that Roof’s empathy for other people shone so brightly for an hour in that church,” the black South African lamented. “For a whole hour, he was in communion with people different from him. He reportedly tells us that he almost didn’t shoot any of them because they were so nice to him. I confess, I was moved to tears.

“What that shows is that it would be cruel for us to lock up Roof and scapegoat him for society’s ills.”

An opposing view appeared in the Mail & Guardian by Terri Barnes, history professor now at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who compared the controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes, founder of the policy of enforced racial segregation, at the University of Cape Town with the Confederate flag.

Barnes wrote: “After a great deal of pressure from many quarters and a lot of good, hard debate, the statue has since come down. (Still), the odious Confederate flag and versions thereof officially fly in seven US states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

“Cape Town University had the wisdom to remove a symbol of racist oppression, elitism, and callous barbarism from its campus. Will Americans have the wisdom to tackle their own outdated symbols of a horrible past?”

“It is heartbreaking,” the long-time resident of South Africa continued, “even in the midst of a killing season the likes of which America has perhaps never before witnessed — that the stench of the old South Africa and of racist Rhodesia still have the power to inspire someone like Roof.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Fracking Expands Under the Radar on Mexican Landshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fracking-expands-under-the-radar-on-mexican-lands/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 07:31:38 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141313 A Pemex gas distribution terminal. Shale gas will account for an estimated 45 percent of Mexico’s natural gas output by 2026. Credit: Pemex

A Pemex gas distribution terminal. Shale gas will account for an estimated 45 percent of Mexico’s natural gas output by 2026. Credit: Pemex

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

“People don’t know what ‘fracking’ is and there is little concern about the issue because it’s not visible yet,” said Gabino Vicente, a delegate of one of the municipalities in southern Mexico where exploration for unconventional gas is forging ahead.

Vicente is a local representative of the community of Santa Úrsula in the municipality of San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, some 450 km south of Mexico City in the state of Oaxaca, where – he told IPS – “fracking is sort of a hidden issue; there’s a great lack of information about it.”

Tuxtepec, population 155,000, and another Oaxaca municipality, Loma Bonita, form part of the project Papaloapan B with seven municipalities in the neighbouring state of Veracruz. The shale gas and oil exploration project was launched by Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, in 2011.

Papaloapan B, backed by the governmental National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), covers 12,805 square kilometres and is seeking to tap into shale gas reserves estimated at between 166 and 379 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

The project will involve 24 geological studies and the exploratory drilling of 120 wells, for a total investment of 680 million dollars.

But people in Tuxtepec have not been informed about the project. “We don’t know a thing about it,” said Vicente, whose rural community has a population of 1,000. “Normally, companies do not provide information to the local communities; they arrange things in secret or with some owners of land by means of deceit, taking advantage of the lack of money in the area.”

Shale, a common type of sedimentary rock made up largely of compacted silt and clay, is an unconventional source of natural gas. The gas trapped in shale formations is recovered by hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas on a massive scale.

The process generates large amounts of waste liquids containing dissolved chemicals and other pollutants that require treatment before disposal, environmental organisations like Greenpeace warn.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts Mexico in sixth place in the world for technically recoverable shale gas, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, based on the analysis of 137 deposits in 42 countries. And Mexico is in eighth position for technically recoverable shale oil reserves.

A map of the areas of current or future fracking activity in Mexico, which local communities say they have no information about. Credit: Courtesy of Cartocrítica

A map of the areas of current or future fracking activity in Mexico, which local communities say they have no information about. Credit: Courtesy of Cartocrítica

Fracking is quietly expanding in Mexico, unregulated and shrouded in opacity, according to the non-governmental Cartocrítica, which says at least 924 wells have been drilled in six of the country’s 32 states – including 349 in Veracruz.

But in 2010 the study “Proyecto Aceite (petróleo) Terciario del Golfo. Primera revisión y recomendaciones” by Mexico’s energy ministry and the CNH put the number of wells drilled using the fracking technique at 1,323 in Veracruz and the neighbouring state of Puebla alone.

In the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where 100 wells have been drilled, Ruth Roux, director of the Social Research Centre of the public Autonomous University of Tamaulipas, found that farmers who have leased out land for fracking knew nothing about the technique or its effects.

“The first difficulty is that there is no information about where there are wells,” Roux told IPS. “Farmers are upset because they were not informed about what would happen to their land; they’re starting to see things changing around them, and they don’t know what shale gas or fracking are.”

While producing the study “Diagnosis and analysis of the social impact of the exploration and exploitation of shale gas/oil related to culture, legality, public services, and the participation of social actors in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas”, Roux and her team interviewed five sorghum farmers and two local representatives from four municipalities in Tamaulipas.

The researcher said the preliminary findings reflected that locals felt a sense of abandonment, lack of respect, lack of information, and uncertainty. There are 443 homes near the 42 wells drilled in the four municipalities.

The industry sees the development of shale gas as strategically necessary to keep up production levels, which in April stood at 6.2 billion cubic feet per day.

But according to Pemex figures from January 2014, proven reserves of conventional gas amounted to just over 16 trillion cubic feet, while shale gas reserves are projected to be 141 trillion cubic feet.

By 2026, according to Pemex projections, the country will be producing 11 billion cubic feet of gas, 45 percent of which would come from unconventional deposits.

The company has identified five basins rich in shale gas in 11 states.

For the second half of the year, the CNH is preparing the tender for unconventional fossil fuel exploitation, as part of the implementation of the energy reform whose legal framework was enacted in August 2014, opening up electricity generation and sales, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

The historic energy industry reform of December 2013 includes nine new laws and the amendment of another 12.

The new law on fossil fuels leaves landowners no option but to reach agreement with PEMEX or the private licensed operators over the occupation of their land, or accept a court ruling if no agreement is reached.

Vicente said the law makes it difficult for communities to refuse. “We are worried that fracking will affect the water supply, because of the quantity of water required and the contamination by the chemical products used. When we finally realise what the project entails, it’ll be a little too late,” he said.

Local residents of Tuxtepec, who depend for a living on the production of sugar cane, rubber and corn, as well as livestock, fishing and trade, know what it is to fight energy industry projects. In 2011 they managed to halt a private company’s construction of the small Cerro de Oro hydroelectric dam that would have generated 14.5 MW.

The formula: community organisation. “We’re organising again,” the local representative said. “What has happened in other states can be reproduced here.”

Papaloapan B forms part of the Veracruz Basin Integral Project, which would exploit the shale gas reserves in 51 municipalities in the state of Veracruz.

Pemex has already drilled a few wells on the outer edges of Tuxtepec. But there is no data available.

Farmers in Tamaulipas, meanwhile, “complain that their land fills up with water” after fracking operations, and that “the land isn’t producing like before,” said Roux, who added that exploration for shale gas is “a source of conflict…that generates violence.”

The expert and her team of researchers have extended their study to the northern states of Nuevo León and Coahuila, where 182 and 47 wells have been drilled, respectively.

Each well requires nine to 29 million litres of water. And fracking uses 750 different chemicals, a number of which are harmful to health and the environment, according to environmental and academic organisations in the United States.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Billions Pledged for Nepal Reconstruction – But Still No Debt Reliefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/billions-pledged-for-nepal-reconstruction-but-still-no-debt-relief/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 03:08:06 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141317 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

A major donor conference in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, came to a close on Jun. 25 with foreign governments and aid agencies pledging three billion dollars in post-reconstruction funds to the struggling South Asian nation.

An estimated 8,600 people perished in the massive quake on Apr. 25 this year, and some 500,000 homes were destroyed, leaving one of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) to launch a wobbly emergency relief effort in the face of massive displacement and suffering.

Two months after the disaster, scores of people are still in need of humanitarian aid, shelter and medical supplies.

Speaking at the conference Thursday, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala assured donors that their funds would be used in an effective and transparent manner.

Rights groups have urged the government to focus on long-term rebuilding efforts rather than sinking all available monies into emergency relief.

In a statement released ahead of the conference, Bimal Gadal, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam in Nepal, warned of the impacts of unplanned reconstruction and stated, “The Nepalese people know their needs better than anyone and their voices must be heard when donors meet in Kathmandu. They have been through an ordeal, and now it is time to start rebuilding lives.”

“This conference is a golden opportunity to get people back on their feet and better prepared for the future,” he said.

“This can only happen if the government of Nepal is supported to create new jobs, build improved basic services like hospitals and clinics, and to ensure all new buildings are earthquake-resilient.”

Despite a huge thrust from civil society organisations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has announced that the country does not qualify for debt relief under its Catastrophe Containment and Relief (CCR) Trust, which recently awarded 100 million dollars in debt relief to Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.

The Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of over 75 U.S.-based organisations and 400 faith communities worldwide, has been pushing for major development banks, including the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to ease debt payments from Nepal, one of the world’s 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the IMF’s new fund.

According to Jubliee USA, “Nepal owes 3.8 billion dollars in debt to foreign lenders, including 54 million dollars to the IMF and approximately three billion dollars to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

“According to the most recent World Bank numbers,” said Jubilee USA in a statement, “Nepal paid 217 million dollars in debt in 2013, approximately 600,000 dollars in average daily debt payments, or more than 35 million dollars since the earthquake.”

Considering that the earthquake and its aftershocks caused damages amounting to about 10 billion dollars – about one-third of the country’s total economy – experts have expressed dismay that the country’s creditors have not agreed on a debt-relief settlement.

“This is troubling news,” said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. “Given the devastation in Nepal, it’s hard to believe that the criteria was not met.”

“This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference,” said LeCompte.‎ “Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about three billion dollars of Nepal’s debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Helping People with Disabilities Become Agents of Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/helping-people-with-disabilities-become-agents-of-change/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:14:04 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141310 Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

Disability and poverty are interrelated, due to discrimination and lower education and employment levels. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Participation, political and economic empowerment, inclusion, accessible technology and infrastructure as well as indicators for meaningful implementation are among the key issues persons with disabilities want to see reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In light of the ongoing negotiations on the post-2015 development framework, people with disabilities are calling upon governments to put an end to exclusion and discrimination by making persons with disabilities and their rights more visible in the SDGs.“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion." -- Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Rachel Kachaje, Deputy Chairperson for Development and Under-Represented Groups at Disabled People’s International (DPI) in Lilongwe, Malawi and former Malawian Minister of Disability and Elderly Affairs, told IPS: “I would want to see the SDGs turning persons with disabilities into productive citizens in their respective countries.

“It pains me most of the time seeing persons with disabilities struggling to be recognised in society,” she said.

Rachel Kachaje knows what she is talking about. Struck by polio at the age of three, she lost the use of her legs. As her family could not afford a wheelchair, mobility challenges significantly complicated her primary and secondary school education. When she had finished school and was unable to attend university, finding a job proved very difficult at a time when companies refused to hire persons with physical impairments.

Yet, in the end, due to her hard-working spirit and encouraging family environment, Kachaje managed to overcome these challenges and steadily moved up the career ladder, culminating in her appointment as Malawian minister of disability.

The personal story of Rachel Kachaje illustrates how existing physical, societal, educational and professional barriers often prevent persons with disabilities from attaining their real potential and fully participating in society, while positive empowerment and encouragement can have important enabling effects.

Empowerment of persons with disabilities is indeed one of the core demands the activist enunciates. Speaking to IPS, Kachaje emphasised the importance of facilitating access to education as a “master key that unlocks all doors to life” and providing livelihood to allow for agricultural activity and food security. Apart from that, she said, health care services, social activities and greater involvement in politics are steps that will help persons with disabilities who are struggling to become fully productive citizens.

“I would want persons with disabilities in general and more in particular women with disabilities and their representative organisations to participate and be fully involved and consulted in government processes. […] This should not be just on paper only. I would want governments to walk the talk.”

As pointed out by the activist, considerable progress has taken place in Malawi in terms of inclusive education and economic as well as political empowerment.

“Schools are being made accessible, special needs teachers are being trained. There are still a lot of challenges but still something is being done and political will is there to make education inclusive,” she said.

“People with disabilities also get social cash transfer as part of economically empowering persons with disabilities. Some persons with disabilities have been appointed into decision making bodies.”

Two weeks ago, measures to overcome exclusion and mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities across the sustainable development agenda were discussed at the Eighth Session of the Conference of the States Parties (COSP8) to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The focus of this year’s conference was on poverty reduction, equality and development. As underscored by many speakers, disability and poverty are interrelated, which is due mainly to discrimination and lower education and employment levels.

A few days ahead of the conference, the zero draft of the outcome document for the U.N. Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda was released. In this context, many participants deplored that persons with disabilities were not specifically referred to in the first SDG, aimed at ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

According to Venkatesh Balakrishna, honorary president of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Global Network, “being invisible from the goal means being invisible from the benefits”. He called upon governments to explicitly mention persons with disabilities in the first SDG and add specific targets and indicators.

“Give hope to millions of people. Please use your pen for justice,” he urged.

Yet, compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), persons with disabilities have gained visibility in the zero draft document.

Priscille Geiser, Head of Technical Unit ‘Support to Civil Society’ at Handicap International, told IPS: “We do welcome the Zero Draft in which the inclusion and recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities throughout the entire document is groundbreaking compared to the Millennium Development Goals, and we welcome the fact that references to persons with disabilities have been strengthened throughout the declaration.”

On the other hand, she said, there were still shortcomings in terms of accessible technology and concrete indicators to measure implementation. Also, more emphasis need to be put on active participation and involvement of persons with disabilities.

“It is critical that commitments are made so that the SDGs are implemented and reviewed through meaningful participation. Overall, the active role of people to be agents of change, rather than simply as beneficiaries, is highly underestimated in this new agenda.”

Throughout the conference, participants stressed the fact that inclusion should not be seen as charity, but as an investment in society that will generate economic benefits and improve life for everybody.

“We can no longer afford the cost of exclusion,” said Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, with an eye on the lost economic potential due to the exclusion of children with disabilities from school and ongoing labour market discrimination.

Speaking about future challenges, she emphasised the need to translate the provisions under the convention into legal action on the ground, provide persons with disabilities with accessible services, including accessible infrastructure and better social protection, collect data, set concrete targets and indicators and support the creation of institutions. According to her, the ultimate goal is the full participation of persons with disabilities in community life.

These points were repeatedly raised by almost all participants, demonstrating remarkable consent on the steps that need to be taken. This gives cause for hope that further concerted procedures will increase the visibility of people with disabilities in the post-2015 development framework and steadily make the implementation of the CRPD a reality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/journalists-pay-the-price-in-egypts-crackdown-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 18:25:00 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141308 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990."The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn't seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient." -- Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Heat Wave Picking Off Pakistan’s Urban Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/heat-wave-picking-off-pakistans-urban-poor/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:23:52 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141304 Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Children from informal settlements in Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, are often sent out with large containers to fetch water from taps outside private homes, set up by wealthier residents as an act of charity. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

Over 950 people have perished in just five days. The morgues, already filled to capacity, are piling up with bodies, and in over-crowded hospitals the threat of further deaths hangs in the air.

Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, home to over 23 million people, is gasping in the grip of a dreadful heat wave, the worst the country has experienced since the 1950s, according to the Meteorology Department.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time." -- Mohammad Bilal, head of the Edhi Foundation’s morgue
Temperatures rose to 44.8 degrees Celsius on Saturday, Jun. 20, dropped slightly the following day and then shot back up to 45 degrees on Tuesday, Jun. 23 putting millions in this mega-city at risk of heat stroke.

Though the entire southern Sindh Province is affected – recording 1,100 deaths in total – its capital city, Karachi, has been worst hit – particularly due to the ‘urban heat island’ phenomenon, which climatologists say make 45-degree temperatures feel like 50-degree heat.

In this scenario, heat becomes trapped, turning the city into a kind of slow-cooking oven.

Every single resident is feeling the heat, but the majority of those who have succumbed to it come from Karachi’s army of poor, twice cursed by a lack of access to electricity and condemned to live in crowded, informal settlements that offer little respite from the scorching sun.

Already crushed by dismal health indicators, the poor have scant means of avoiding sun exposure, which intensifies their vulnerability.

Anwar Kazmi, spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s biggest charity, tells IPS that 50 percent of the dead were picked up from the streets, and likely included beggars, drug users and daily wage labourers with no choice but to defy government advisories to stay indoors until the blaze has passed.

Two days into the crisis, with every free space occupied and corpses arriving by the hundreds, the city’s largest morgue, run by the same charity, began burying bodies that had not been claimed.

“In all my 25 years of service, I’ve never seen so many dead bodies arriving in such a short time,” Mohammad Bilal, who heads the Edhi Foundation’s mortuary, tells IPS.

The government has come under fire for neglecting to sound the alarm in advance. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah issued belated warnings by ordering the closure of schools and government offices.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are groaning under the strain of attempting to treat some 40,000 people across the province suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Saeed Quraishy, medical superintendent at Karachi’s largest government-run Civil Hospital, says they have stopped all elective admissions in order to focus solely on emergencies cases.

Experts say this highlights, yet again, the country’s utter lack of preparedness for climate-related tragedies.

And as always – as with droughts, floods or any other extreme weather events – the poor are the first to die off in droves.

Energy and poverty

The crisis is shedding light on several converging issues with which Pakistan has been grappling: energy shortages, the disproportionate impact of climate change on the poor and the fallout from rapid urbanisation. In Karachi, the country’s most populous metropolis, these problems are magnified manifold.

Though a census has not been carried out since 1998, NGOs say there are hundreds of millions who live and work on the streets, including beggars, hawkers and manual labourers.

More than 62 percent of the population here lives in informal settlements, with a density of nearly 6,000 people per square kilometre.

Many of them have no access to basic services like water and electricity, both crucial during times of extreme weather. The ‘kunda’ system, in which power is illegally tapped from the electrical mains, is a popular way around the ‘energy apartheid’.

Just this month, the city’s power utility company pulled down 1,500 such illicit ‘connections’.

But even the 46 percent of households across the country that are connected to the national electric grid are not guaranteed an uninterrupted supply. With Pakistan facing a daily energy shortage of close to 4,000 mega watts, power outages of up to 20 hours a day are not unusual.

At such moments, wealthier families can fall back on generators. But for the estimated 91 million people in the country who live on less than two dollars a day, there is no ‘Plan B’ – there is only a battle for survival, which too many in the last week have fought and lost.

For the bottom half of Pakistani society, official notifications on how to beat the heat are simply in one ear and out the other.

Taking lukewarm showers, using rehydration salts or staying indoors are not options for families eking out a living on 1.25 dollars or those who live in informal settlements where hundreds of households must share a single tap.

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

The government has advised residents of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi to stay indoors until a deadly heat wave passes, but for daily wage labourers this is not an option: no money means no food. Credit: Zofeen T. Ebrahim/IPS

Lashing out at the government’s indifference and belated response to the crisis, Dr. Tasneem Ahsan, former executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), tells IPS that preventive action could have saved countless lives.

“The government should have taken up large spaces like marriage halls and schools and turned them into shelters, supplying electricity and water for people to come and cool down there.”

She also says officials could have parked water bowsers in poorer localities for people to douse themselves, advised the population on appropriate clothing and distributed leaflets on simple ways to keep cool.

The media, too, are at fault, she contends, for reporting the death count like sports scores instead of spreading the word on cost-effective, life-saving tips “like putting a wet towel on the head”.

Government inaction

Intermittent protests against power outages, aimed largely at the city’s main power company, K-Electric, served as a prelude to the present tragedy.

Though the country has an installed electricity capacity of 22,797 MW, production stands at a dismal 16,000 MW. In recent years, electricity demand has risen to 19,000 MW, meaning scores of people are either sharing a single power line or going without energy.

Meanwhile, civil society has been stepping in to fill the void left by the government, with far better results than some official attempts to provide emergency relief.

With most hospitals paralyzed by the number of patients, volunteers like Dr. Tasneem Butt, working the JPMC, have taken matters into their own hands. Using social media as a platform, she has circulated a list of necessary items including 100-200 bed sheets, 500 towels, bottled water, 15-20 slabs of ice and – perhaps most importantly – more volunteers.

“I got them immediately,” she tells IPS. “Now I’ve asked people to hold on to their pledges while I arrange for chillers and air-conditioners.

“The emergency ward is suffocating,” she adds. “It’s not just the patients who need to be kept cool, even the overworked doctors need this basic environment to be able to work optimally.”

Last week, the government of the Sindh Province cancelled leave for medical personnel and brought in additional staff to cope with the deluge of patients, which is expected to increase as devout observers of the Holy Ramadan fast succumb to fatigue and hunger.

The monsoon rains are still some days away, and until they arrive there is no telling how many more people will be moved from the streets into graves.

Interestingly, while other parts of the province have recorded higher temperatures, the deaths have occurred largely in Karachi due to urban congestion and overcrowding, experts say, with the majority of deaths reported in poor localities like Lyari, Malir and Korangi.

The end may be in sight for now, but as climate change becomes more extreme, incidents like these are only going to increase in magnitude and frequency, according to climatologists like Dr. Qamar-Uz-Zaman Chaudhry

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

While member states, weakened in the neoliberal era, have pulled back from the U.N. and cut its budgets, a charity mentality has arisen at the world body. Corporations and the mega-rich have flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. They have looked for a quietly commanding role in the organisation’s political process and hoped to shape the institution to their own priorities.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

The U.N. Global Compact, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999-2000 to promote corporate “responsibility,” was the first sign that the U.N. as an institution was beginning to work with the corporations and listen closely to them.

Critics point out that the corporations were getting branding benefits and considerable influence without any serious change in their behaviour, but the U.N. was happy to lend its prestige in exchange for proximity to the czars of the global economy.

The World Economic Forum, organisers of the Davos conferences, soon afterwards installed conferencing screens, disguised as picture frames, in the offices of top U.N. officials, so that corporate chieftains could have a spontaneous chat with their counterparts at the world body.Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

By that time, it was clear that Ted Turner’s dramatic donation of a billion dollars to the U.N. in 1997 was not a quirky, one-off gesture but an early sign that the U.N. was a target of Big Money. Today, the U.N. is riddled with “public-private partnerships” and cozy relations with the corporate world. Pepsico and BP are hailed as “partners.” Policy options have shifted accordingly.

As corporate voices have amplified at the United Nations, citizen voices have grown considerably weaker. The great global conferences, organised with such enthusiasm in the 1990s on topics like the environment, women’s rights, and social development, attracted thousands of NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of grassroots movements.

Broad consultation produced progressive and even inspiring policy statements from the governments. Washington in particular was unhappy about the spectacle of citizen involvement in the great matters of state and it opposed deviations from neo-liberal orthodoxies.

In the new century, the U.S. warned that it would no longer pay for what it said were useless extravaganzas. The U.N. leadership had to shut down, downsize or otherwise minimise the conference process, substituting “dialog” with carefully-chosen interlocutors.

The most powerful governments have protected their domination of the policy process by moving key discussions away from the U.N. entirely to “alternative venues” for invitation-only participation. The G-7 meetings were an early sign of this trend.

Later came the G-20, as well as private initiatives with corporate participation such as the World Economic Forum. Today, mainstream thinkers often argue that the U.N. is not really a place of legislative decisions but rather one venue among others for discussion and coordination among international “stakeholders.”

The U.N. itself, in its soul-searching, asks about its “comparative advantage,” in contrast to these other events – as if public policy institutions must respond to “free market” principles. This race to the bottom by the U.N. is exceedingly dangerous.

Unlike the other venues, the U.N. is a permanent institution, with law-making capacity, means of implementation and a “universal” membership. It can and should act somewhat like a government, and it must be far more than a debating society or a place where secret deals are made. For all the hype about “democracy” in the world, the mighty have paid little attention to this most urgent democratic deficit.

Though the U.N. landscape is generally that of weakness and lack of action, there is one organ that is quite robust and active – the Security Council. It meets almost continuously and acts on many of the world’s most contentious security issues.

Unfortunately, however, the Council is a deeply-flawed and even despotic institution, dominated by the five Permanent Members and in practice run almost exclusively by the US and the UK (the “P-2” in U.N. parlance). The ten Elected Members, chosen for two-year terms, have little influence (and usually little zest to challenge the status quo).

Many observers see the Council as a power monopoly that produces scant peace and little enduring security. When lesser Council members have tried to check the war-making plans of Washington and London, as they surprisingly did in the 2003 Iraq War debates, their decisions have been ignored and humiliated.

In terms of international law, the U.N.’s record has many setbacks, but there have been some bright spots. The nations have negotiated significant new treaties under U.N. auspices, including major human rights documents, the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Disabled.

The Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced the release of CFC gasses and addressed the dangerous hole in the earth’s ozone layer. But the treaty bodies tasked with enforcement are often weak and unable to promote compliance.

Powerful states tend to flout international law regularly and with impunity, including treaty principles once considered inviolable like the ban on torture. International law, the purview of the U.N., is frequently abused as a tool of states’ propaganda, to be invoked against opponents and enemies.

Legal scholars question the usefulness of these “norms” with so little enforcement. This is a disturbing problem, producing cynicism and eating at the heart of the U.N. system.

The U.N. may not have solved the centuries-old conundrum of international law, but it has produced some good thinking about “development” and human well-being.

The famous Human Development Report is a case in point and there are a number of creative U.N. research programmes such as the U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, the U.N. University, and the World Institute for Development Economic Research. They have produced creative and influential reports and shaped policies in good directions.

Unfortunately, many excellent U.N. intellectual initiatives have been shut down for transgressing powerful interests. In 1993, the Secretary-General closed the innovative Center on Transnational Corporations, which investigated corporate behaviour and economic malfeasance at the international level.

Threats from the U.S. Congress forced the Office of Development Studies at UNDP to suddenly and ignominiously abandonment its project on global taxes. Financial and political pressures also have blunted the originality and vitality of the Human Development Report. Among the research institutions, budgets have regularly been cut and research outsourced. Creative thinkers have drifted away.

Clearly, the U.N.’s seventieth anniversary does not justify self-congratulation or even a credible argument that the “glass is half full.” Though many U.N. agencies, funds and programmes like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation carry out important and indispensable work, the trajectory of the U.N. as a whole is not encouraging and the shrinking financial base is cause for great concern.

As climate change gathers force in the immediate future, setting off mass migration, political instability, violence and even food supply failure, there will be increasing calls for action among the world’s people.

The public may even demand a stronger U.N. that can carry out emergency measures. It’s hard, though, to imagine the U.N. taking up great new responsibilities without a massive and possibly lengthy overhaul.

Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:52:45 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141296

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

It is hard to imagine today the public enthusiasm that greeted the founding of the U.N. in 1945.  After massive suffering and social collapse resulting from the Second World War, the U.N. seemed almost miraculous – a means at last to build peace, democracy, and a just society on a global scale.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Everywhere, hopes and aspirations were high.  Seven decades later, results have fallen far short.  On this anniversary, we can ask: what might have been possible and what is still possible from this institution that has inspired such passion, positive and negative, over the years?

The organisation, of course, was not set up by the United States and its allies to fulfill the wishes of utopian thinkers.  Though the Charter of 1945 invokes “We the Peoples,” the war victors structured the U.N. as a conclave of nation states that would express the will of its members – particularly themselves, the richest and most influential countries.

Despite statesmen’s pronouncements about noble intentions, the U.N.’s most mighty members have never seriously considered laying down their arms or sharing their wealth in an unequal world.  They have been busy instead with the “Great Games” of the day – like securing oil and other resources, dominating client states and bringing down unfriendly governments.Faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organisation’s overall expenditures.

Nevertheless, through the years, the U.N. has regularly attracted the hopes of reforming intellectuals, NGOs, humanitarians and occasionally even some governments – with ideas about improvement to the global system and well-being on the planet. In the run-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995, many reports, conferences and books proposed U.N. institutional reform, some of which advocated a direct citizen role in the organisation.

Among the ideas were a chamber of directly-elected representatives, a vitalised General Assembly and a more representative Security Council, shorn of vetoes.  Some thinkers wanted an institution “independent” from – or at least buffered against – the sordid arena of great power politics.  But most reforming ideas, including relatively moderate changes, have come to naught.

Governments of all stripes have had a very short-term perspective and a narrow, outmoded conception of their “national interest” in the international arena.  They have shown remarkably little creativity and far-sightedness and they have taken care not to threaten powerful status quo interests.

The U.N.’s seventieth anniversary has come at a moment of exhaustion and frustration among reformers that has sapped belief in creative change. We are at a low-point in U.N. institutional prestige and public support.  Not surprisingly, the organisation has attracted few proposals and initiatives this time around.

As we know, the planet is facing unprecedented problems that the U.N. is in business to address: poverty, gross inequality, civil wars, mass migration, economic instability, and worsening climate change.  Secretaries General have regularly appointed panels of distinguished persons to consider these “threats,” but member states have not been ready to produce effective solutions.

Most of the money and energy at the U.N. in recent years has poured into “peacekeeping,” which is typically a kind of military intervention outsourced by Washington and its allies. The organisation, dedicated in theory to ending war, is ironically now a big actor on the world’s battlefields. It has a giant logistics base in southern Italy, a military communications system, contracts with mercenaries, an intelligence operation, drones, armored vehicles and other accouterments of armed might.  Meanwhile, the Department of Disarmament Affairs has seen its funding and status decline considerably.

The richest and most powerful states like to blame the smaller and poorer countries for the U.N. reform impasse (fury at the “G-77” – the group of “developing” countries – can often be heard among well-fed Northern diplomats at posh New York restaurants).  But in fact the big powers (with Washington first among them) have been the most ardent “blockers” – strenuously opposed to a strong U.N. in nearly every respect, except military operations.

The big power blocking has been especially strong when it comes to global economic policy, including proposals to strengthen the Social and Economic Council.  The same powers have also kept the U.N. Environment Programme weak, while opposing progress in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.

Poor countries have complained, but they are not paragons of reform either: their  leaders are inclined to speak in empty populist rhetoric, demanding “aid” while pursuing personal enrichment. We are far from a game-changing “new Marshall Plan” or a global mobilisation for social justice that reformers rightly call for.  Well-meaning NGOs repeat regularly such ideas, with little effect, in comfortable conference venues.

The U.N. has weakened as its member states have grown weaker.  The IMF, the World Bank and global financial interests have pushed neo-liberal reforms for three decades, undermining national tax systems and downsizing the role of public institutions in economic and social affairs.  Governments have privatized banks, airlines and industries, of course, and they have also privatized schools, roads, postal services, prisons and health care.

The vast new inequalities have led to more political corruption, a plague of lobbying, and frequent electoral malfeasance, even in the oldest democracies.  As a result, nation states command less loyalty, respect and hope than they did in the past.  Traditional centrist parties are losing their voters and the public is sceptical about governing institutions at all levels, including the U.N.

When nations cut their budgets, they cut the budget of the U.N. too, small as it is.  Bold steps to improve the U.N. would require money, self-confidence and a long-term view, but member states are too weak, politically unstable, timid and financially insecure to take on such a task.  As states slouch into socially, economically and politically conservative policies, the U.N. inexorably follows, losing its public constituency in the process.

Tightening U.N. budgets have tilted the balance of power in the U.N. even more sharply towards the richest nations and the wealthiest outside players.  Increasingly, faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organization’s overall expenditures.

This “extra-budgetary” funding, enables the donors to define the projects and set the priorities.  The purpose of common policymaking among all member states has been all but forgotten.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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