Inter Press ServiceHeadlines – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 18 Jan 2019 20:26:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 Quenching Humanity’s Freshwater Thirst Creates a Salty Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/quenching-humanitys-freshwater-thirst-creates-salty-threat/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 15:09:54 +0000 Edward Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159704 Vladimir Smakhtin is Director, and Manzoor Qadir is Assistant Director, of the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) in Canada, hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University. Edward Jones, who worked on the paper at UNU-INWEH, is now a researcher at Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Desalination plant, UAE: http://bit.ly/2Rbco3H

By Edward Jones, Manzoor Qadir and Vladimir Smakhtin
HAMILTON, Canada, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

Starting from a few, mostly Middle Eastern facilities in the 1960s, today almost 16,000 desalination plants are in operation in 177 countries, producing 95 million cubic meters of freshwater every day – equal to about half the flow over Niagara Falls.

Falling economic costs of desalination and the development in membrane technologies, particularly reverse osmosis, have made desalination a cost-competitive and attractive source of freshwater around the globe.

The increase in desalination has been driven by intensifying water scarcity due to rising water demands associated with population growth, increased water consumption per capita, and economic growth, coupled with diminishing water supplies due to climate change and contamination.

Worldwide, roughly half a billion people experience water scarcity year round; for 1.5 to 2 billion people water resources are insufficient to meet demands for at least part of the year. Desalination technologies can provide an unlimited, climate independent and steady supply of high quality water, predominantly used by the municipal and industrial sectors.

In particular, desalination is an essential technology in the Middle East and for small island nations which typically lack renewable water resources. In coming decades, according to predictions, the number of desalination plants will increase to quench a growing thirst for freshwater in homes, industrial facilities, and on farms.

This fast-growing number of plants, however, creates a salty dilemma: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine?

We analyzed a newly-updated dataset — the most complete ever compiled — to revise the world’s badly outdated statistics on desalination plants. Most startling was our finding that the volume of hypersaline brine produced overall is about 50% more than previously estimated.

Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day — enough in a single year (51.8 billion cubic meters) to cover Florida under 1 foot (30.5 cm) of brine.

Considered another way, the data shows that for every unit of freshwater output, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 units of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity, the desalination technology used, and local conditions).

Some two-thirds of desalination plants are in high-income countries, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa. And over half — 55% — of global brine is produced in just four countries: Saudi Arabia (22%), UAE (20.2%), Kuwait (6.6%) and Qatar (5.8%).

Middle Eastern plants, which largely operate using seawater and thermal desalination technologies, typically produce four times as much brine per cubic meter of clean water as plants where river water membrane processes dominate, such as in the US.

Brine disposal methods, meanwhile, are largely dictated by geography but traditionally include direct discharge into oceans, surface water or sewers, deep well injection and brine evaporation ponds.

Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment.

Brine raises the salinity of the receiving seawater, and brine underflows deplete dissolved oxygen needed to sustain life in the marine environment. This high salinity and reduced levels of dissolved oxygen can have profound impacts on marine ecosystems and organisms, especially those living on the seafloor, which can translate into ecological effects observable throughout the food chain.

Furthermore, the oceans are polluted with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major concern).

There is a clear need for improved brine management strategies to meet this rising challenge. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar.

In fact, we can convert this environmental problem into an economic opportunity. Brine has many potential uses, offering commercial, social and environmental gains.

It has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to irrigate salt tolerant species, to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, to generate electricity, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinization).

With improved technologies, a large number of metals, salt and other minerals in desalination plant effluent could be mined.

These include sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, boron, strontium, lithium, rubidium and uranium, all used by industry, in products, and in agriculture.

The needed technologies are immature, however; recovery of these resources is economically uncompetitive today.

UNU-INWEH is actively pursuing research and ideas related to a variety of unconventional water sources, all of which need to be scaled up urgently to meet the even greater deficit in freshwater supplies looming in much of the world.

In particular, we need to make desalination technologies more affordable and extend them to low-income and lower-middle income countries.

Thankfully, costs are falling from continued improvements in membrane technologies, energy recovery systems, and the coupling of desalination plants with renewable energy sources.

At the same time, we have to address potentially severe downsides of desalination — the harm of brine and chemical pollution to the marine environment and human health.

The good news is that efforts have been made in recent years and, with continuing technology refinement and improving economic affordability, we see a positive and promising outlook.

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Excerpt:

Vladimir Smakhtin is Director, and Manzoor Qadir is Assistant Director, of the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) in Canada, hosted by the Government of Canada and McMaster University. Edward Jones, who worked on the paper at UNU-INWEH, is now a researcher at Wageningen University, The Netherlands

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Davos, Inequality & the Climate Emergencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/davos-inequality-climate-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-inequality-climate-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/davos-inequality-climate-emergency/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 14:39:54 +0000 Daniel Mittler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159702 Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International and is on the steering committee of the global Fight Inequality alliance.

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Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International and is on the steering committee of the global Fight Inequality alliance.

By Daniel Mittler
BERLIN, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

Four of the top five most impactful threats in this year’s World Economic Forum´s Global Risks report are related to climate change. The report warns that we are “sleepwalking to disaster” . But that is not true.

The disaster is already here, it´s not something we are still walking towards. Climate change is no future threat, it´s a current one. We have entered a new phase, one in which the impacts are coming faster, with greater intensity.

Already this year, Thailand has seen its worst storm in 30 years rip through coastal areas. In the Alps, just east of Davos, extreme weather is causing snow chaos.

The climate crisis also isn´t caused by sleep or ignorance. The rich and powerful gathered in Davos brought us to the existential brink wide awake. The “profit first” neoliberal economic model has dominated policy making around the world for too long.

It has resulted in national laws, trade and finance rules that drive our current overconsumption of resources, lead to climate disruption – and bring about more and more inequality.

The world’s richest 1% took home an obscene 82% of all new wealth last year and, according to the World Bank, almost half of all people worldwide are one medical bill or crop failure away from destitution. Inequality continues to rise as the world warms and the causes of both are linked.

As Oxfam has shown, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half carbon emissions caused by consumption. And yet all around the world it’s the poor and marginalised that are most at risk from the devastating effects of climate change.

The failure by governments to prioritize climate action and the fight against inequality is caused by state institutions and decision-makers – in South as well as North – being captured by specific corporate interests.

Statue of Justice Activity in Davos

The report Justice for People and Planet, for example, showcases 20 examples of how the rules that govern our global economy (and sometimes the lack thereof) result in environmental destruction and corporate human rights abuses.

The sad truth is, that those cases are just the tip of the iceberg. They merely illustrate the systemic problem we face.

Because the crises we face are the result of our current economic and political rules, neither the climate emergency nor inequality can be fixed by public private partnerships, as Klaus Schwab, the founder and director of the World Economic Forum tries to make us believe.

To the contrary. We only have a chance to stop walking towards catastrophe if we force our governments to adopt new rules – nationally and globally – that have ending climate pollution and inequality at their heart.

This is certainly possible. At the global level, we do have some regulations with teeth. The World Trade Organisation, for example, can sanction countries that break its rules.

Those very rules have prevented many positive laws and changes – because the threat of the WTO overruling a social or environmental measure always looms.

We need similarly strong rules to counter the climate emergency and to fight inequality. Environmental and social bodies should be able to impose sanctions and fines. Corporate accountability and liability needs to extend to all corporate impacts on people and the environment around the world. Trade rules, similarly, need to be revamped to put people and planet first.

At the national level, we need binding targets to at least halve global emissions by 2030, and we need tax rules that ensure that the corporations and the rich pay their fair share. We can take heart in some rules that are already on the statute books.

France, for example, requires corporations to identify potential risks to people and the environment as a result of their activities, and act to prevent harm to people and the environment.

The UK’s Modern Slavery Act meanwhile require businesses to tackle slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains – one extreme part of the inequality crisis.

We need more such laws, in more countries. Urgently. And that´s, luckily, what grassroots movements are demanding around the world.

As the World Economic Forum gathers in Davos, January 22-25, people are mobilizing in many countries to put an end to inequality as part of the Fight Inequality alliance week of action.

Feminists, workers, environmentalists and many more movements have come together in this alliance in the knowledge that we do not need nice words or acts of charity from the Davos elite but fundamentally different rules for our global economy if we are to survive.

As the global Fight Inequality alliance manifesto says: “We stand together to build a world of greater equality – where all people’s rights are respected and fulfilled, a world of shared prosperity, opportunity and dignity, living within the planet’s boundaries.”

That world is possible. Via collective mobilization around the world we are making it a little bit more real every day.

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Excerpt:

Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International and is on the steering committee of the global Fight Inequality alliance.

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Q&A: 17 Percent of the Problem, but 30 Percent of the Solutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/qa-17-percent-problem-30-percent-solution/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 10:46:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159697 IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch TIM CHRISTOPHERSEN

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If forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be impossible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius as pledged in the Paris Agreement. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2019 (IPS)

From expansive evergreen forests to lush tropical forests, the Earth’s forests are disappearing on a massive scale. While deforestation poses a significant problem to the environment and climate, trees also offer a solution.

After a series of eye-opening reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) were published in 2018, it was clear that international action is more urgent than ever to reduce emissions and conserve the environment.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for approximately 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.

Tropical deforestation alone accounts for 8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. If it were a country, it would be the world’s third-biggest emitter, just behind China and the United States of America.

In fact, according to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the land-use sector represents between 25 to 30 percent of total global emissions.

If such forest loss continues at the current rate, it will be impossible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius as pledged in the Paris Agreement.

While forests represent a quarter of all planned emissions reductions under Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, there is still a long way to go to fulfil these goals.

The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) is among the international groups working to reverse deforestation. It supports countries’ REDD+ processes, a mechanism established to promote conservation and sustainable management of forests.

IPS spoke with UNEP’s Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch Tim Christophersen about the issues and solutions surrounding deforestation. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What is the current state of deforestation globally?

Tim Christophersen: The rate of deforestation has slowed since 2000 globally. At some point, it had even slowed by about 50 percent. We still have a lot of deforestation—it’s just that the rate has gone down so that’s partially good news.

The good news side is we see a lot of restoration and reemergence of forests on deforested land. But often those forests of course cannot replace the biodiversity or ecosystem values that they once had.

The bad news is that in some countries, deforestation has accelerated.

This picture is mixed but it is not all gloom and doom.

IPS: Where have you seen improvements and what cases are most concerning to you? 

TC: In general, the picture is quite positive in Europe where forest area is increasing by a million hectares per year.

In Asia and the Pacific, the picture is quite mixed with China investing heavily in restoration and planting millions of hectares of new forests and other countries such as Myanmar where the pace of deforestation is accelerating.

Recently, an area of concern is of course Brazil with changes in leadership there that will probably weaken protections of the Amazon rainforest. We expect they might not be able to keep their positive track record that they had especially in the years between 2007-2012 where deforestation of the Amazon dropped by 70 percent.

IPS: What has UN-REDD and REDD+’s role in this issue? What are some successful case studies or stories that REDD had a direct role in? 

TC: REDD has, for example, put the issue of indigenous rights front and center to the entire debate about forests and land use.

That is largely thanks to the strong role of indigenous communities in the climate discussions and the strong safeguards that were part of the REDD+ package. So these safeguards have triggered, also across other infrastructure projects, the knowledge and awareness of indigenous communities that they have rights, that they can determine national resource use within their jurisdictions—that was not so much the case before.

For example in Panama, we have worked together with indigenous communities to map forest cover and priority areas for REDD+ investments. In Ecuador, indigenous communities have been involved from the start in the design of the REDD+ framework.

There are [also] other potential buyers that are out there and willing to invest in verified and clearly demonstrated reductions in deforestation.

We have not seen the amount of funding flow into REDD+ that we had anticipated to date but it is picking up now. We also hope that more countries will come online with their emissions reductions that they properly verify with the UNFCC process.

The issue is that land use and forests are about 30 percent of the climate problem and solution—it is a problem that can be turned into a solution. It is currently causing 25 percent of emissions and it could absorb as much as one-third of all the emission sequestration that we need.

But it has only received about 3 percent of climate finance so there’s a huge mismatch between the opportunity that natural solutions provide and the funding that goes into it.

IPS: Over the last year including during the recent COP, many have brought up and discussed nature-based solutions. What are these, and what could such solutions look like on the ground? 

TC: Nature-based solutions are solutions to climate change or other challenges we face where we use the power of nature to restore or improve ecosystem services.

An example would be using forests for flood prevention or purification of drinking water for cities. This is quite widespread in fact but it is not always recognised. About one-third of all major cities in developing countries receive their drinking water from forested watersheds.

If we lose those forests, that would have detrimental impacts on a lot of people’s drinking water supply. It can often be cheaper or at least more cost-effective for cities, provinces or nations to invest in keeping and restoring their forests rather than other solutions for water purification or drinking water supply.

Another example that is often cited is the role of mangroves in storm protection in coastal areas. Again, this can be cheaper to invest in planting and conserving mangroves than building sea walls or other grey infrastructure projects that we have to increasingly invest in for climate adaptation.

IPS: There are many initiatives around the world that involve planting trees as a way to address climate change and land degradation and many have received mixed reviews in terms of its usefulness. Is it enough just to plant trees?

TC: Planting trees is never enough because trees are a bit like children—it’s not enough to put the in the world, you also have to make sure they grow up properly. That’s often overlooked that you cannot just plant trees and then leave them to their fate.

Because often the reasons for landscape degradation, for example overgrazing, will very quickly eliminate any trees that you plant. So it’s more about a longer-term, better natural resource management.

Planting trees can be one activity in a longer process of restoring degraded forests and landscapes.

There are other ecosystems that are also very important—peatlands, wetlands—but forests and trees will play a major role in the next decade. I am convinced there will be more and more investments into this area because if trees are planted and properly looked after, it is a huge opportunity for us to get back onto the 2 degree target in the Paris Agreement.

IPS: Since the planet is still growing in terms of population size and food needs, is there a way to reconcile development and land restoration? And do wealthier countries or even corporations have a responsibility to help with land restoration?

TC: Absolutely. I would even say land restoration on a significant scale is our only option to reconcile the need for increasing food production and meeting the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well most notable goal 13 on climate action.

Without restoration, we are probably not going to achieve the Paris Agreement. That part of nature-based solutions, massive investments in ecosystem restoration is absolutely essential and we see that more and more corporations are recognising that.

The aviation industry is one of those potential buyers with their carbon reduction offset scheme which is called CORSIA.

It certainly is an option to channel financing for forest protection but there are of course limits as to how much emissions we can realistically offset.

Offsets are absolutely no replacement for very drastic, highly ambitious emission mitigation measures. We have to very drastically and quickly reduce industrial emissions.

Offsets can maybe tip the balance in favour of offsetting only those emissions that can otherwise not be reduced or avoided but they are not a replacement for strong action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all industrial sectors including agriculture.

The biggest part of corporate interest we see in restoration is from large agri commodity investors and food systems companies because they want to secure their supply chains and that’s quite encouraging.

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity

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Excerpt:

IPS Correspondent Tharanga Yakupitiyage interviews United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Coordinator of Freshwater, Land, and Climate Branch TIM CHRISTOPHERSEN

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Wasting & Dining: the New Water Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/wasting-dining-new-water-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wasting-dining-new-water-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/wasting-dining-new-water-dilemma/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 11:12:02 +0000 Jan Lundqvist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159653 Professor Jan Lundqvist is Senior Advisor at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

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By Jan Lundqvist
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

Concerns about the supply side of food systems are shifting from insufficient production and supply, to issues likely to affect food production in the medium and long term, such as water risks, global warming and environmental consequences.

To produce an average diet in rich communities, water budgets are typically estimated to be around 5 tons per capita per day. Even lean diets can hardly be produced with less than a ton of water per person and day.

The range in water budgets for diets of body builders and other big eaters, to vegetarian diets as well as between social groups and individuals is huge.

Based on available crude assumptions of how much water is required to produce the vegetarian and animal components in an average food basket, estimates can be calculated about the human imprints on water and other resources.

Compared to the situation some fifty years ago, the water budget to cater for contemporary food preferences, has increased by about a ton per person and day.

Professor Jan Lundqvist

The difference is due to an amazing increase in average food production/supply and a higher share of animal-based foods in the preferred diets.

Average food supply, i.e. what is available on the market, has increased by about 30 per cent per capita over a fifty-year period, from the beginning of the 1960s to 2011, parallel with a global population increase from about 3 to 7. 5 billion.

Never before have so many been exposed to such an abundance in food supply, from all parts of the world, at all time.

While the poor still have to spend half, or much more than that, of their minute income, a growing number of people may access food which is readily available. The price tag and the display in stores signal the illusion that food is cheaper and cheaper and easier and easier to produce and in turn that it is OK to throw away part of it.

Equally true, but much more disturbing: never before have the losses and waste of food been so large and never before has the triple malnutrition (with obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases) been at the level reported today.

With an abundance in production and lavishness in supply, it is but logical that overeating and the throwing away of food, even food that is fit to eat, is increasing.

Combining figures on losses, waste and overeating, suggests that roughly half of the food produced in the world is misused and that the intended benefits are forgone while negative externalities have increased. It is true and well that the unit cost of food production has been reduced, but there is no such a thing as a free lunch: all food produced has required water, energy, land, investments and generated greenhouse gases and other downstream negative consequences.

Let us be clear that water scarcity is both absolute (e.g. seasonal and in arid areas) and relative; it is more sensible to recognize the implications of demographic trends and lavish spending than blaming water for being scarce.

Food systems and changing habits can make or break the dictum of a water wise world. The world, the poor as well as the rich, needs more nutritious food and efficient and fair distribution, rather than more energy dense food.

Farmers must be given economic and other incentives and support to contribute to a transformation where more nutrition is produced per drop. It is not only farmers that are key players in the required transformation.

With more and more money in our pockets, consumers are drivers in food systems and they are both victims and culprits in the triple malnutrition. Policies are required to align the supply and demand sides with due recognition of water, nutrition and other realities.

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Excerpt:

Professor Jan Lundqvist is Senior Advisor at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

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Experience With Irregular Migration is the Best Teacherhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/experience-irregular-migration-best-teacher/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=experience-irregular-migration-best-teacher http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/experience-irregular-migration-best-teacher/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 10:41:04 +0000 Sam Olukoya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159675 The International Organization For Migration (IOM) has taken its campaign against irregular migration to schools in Nigeria. The school campaigns are meant to educate children who are among victims of human traffickers. After being recruited, victims of traffickers are made to embark on dangerous irregular journeys through the desert and by sea in an attempt […]

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Students of the Itohan Girls Secondary School in Benin City, Nigeria sing during their morning assembly. Courtesy: Sam Olukoya

By Sam Olukoya
BENIN CITY, Nigeria, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

The International Organization For Migration (IOM) has taken its campaign against irregular migration to schools in Nigeria. The school campaigns are meant to educate children who are among victims of human traffickers. After being recruited, victims of traffickers are made to embark on dangerous irregular journeys through the desert and by sea in an attempt to reach Europe. Many children die in the course of these journeys while many others are enslaved. Some young girls end up in the sex trade.

Students of the Itohan Girls Secondary School in Benin City, Nigeria sing during their morning assembly. The students have been joined by a team from the IOM and a group of young Nigerians who returned home after their failed attempt to migrate to Europe. With young girls at great risk of being targeted by traffickers who need them for the sex trade, Marshall Patsanza of the IOM says a girls’ school like this is an ideal place for the organization to carry out its campaign.

 

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Survey on UN Sexual Abuse Shifts Focus on Virtual Fugitives from Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/survey-un-sexual-abuse-shifts-focus-virtual-fugitives-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survey-un-sexual-abuse-shifts-focus-virtual-fugitives-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/survey-un-sexual-abuse-shifts-focus-virtual-fugitives-justice/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 10:36:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159677 A survey of sexual harassment at the United Nations has uncomfortably shifted the focus to some of the senior UN officials who have either escaped censure – or punishment– despite a rash of charges against them, including abuse and misconduct. Paula Donovan, a women’s rights activist and co-Director of AIDS-Free World and Code Blue Campaign, […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

A survey of sexual harassment at the United Nations has uncomfortably shifted the focus to some of the senior UN officials who have either escaped censure – or punishment– despite a rash of charges against them, including abuse and misconduct.

Paula Donovan, a women’s rights activist and co-Director of AIDS-Free World and Code Blue Campaign, told IPS it is interesting that the wires (Reuters, AFP), in citing the fact that Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, will step down in June, appear to be implying that the UN, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in particular, have held senior staff accountable.

But the reality, she pointed out, is that the Secretary-General has never uttered a word about Sidibé, even after a six-month inquiry by an Independent Expert Panel reported last month that he “created a patriarchal culture tolerating harassment and abuse of authority” at UNAIDS and recommended his removal.

“Radio silence from the Secretary-General, who allowed Sidibé to decide when and whether he’d leave — and then let him return to the workplace, uncensured, to continue his documented behavior,” said Donovan, a former Senior Advisor in the office of the UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The panel called for his dismissal. But Guterres has not suspended Sidibé, asked for his resignation, nor made any comment, according to Donovan.

The survey, which was carried out by the consulting firm Deloite Touche Tomhatsu, hired by the UN, said that 10,032 UN employees had reported that they had suffered harassment. They were among the 30,364 of the UN system’s total global workforce of 105,000 who responded to the survey.

The survey, released January 15, found that 12 percent of the harassers were senior leaders in the UN.

Donovan said that in April 2018, Guterres announced that he was initiating a new investigation, through UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), into sexual assault and harassment charges lodged against the former Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Luiz Loures. Nothing has been announced since about this “new investigation.”

She said the Secretary-General has also never commented on any of the recent public reports of sexual misconduct in several other UN organizations —including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) while the Secretary-General’s senior-level Task Force is headed by Jan Beagle, who was promoted to Under-Secretary-General by Guterres while she herself was under investigation for workplace harassment at UNAIDS.

Meanwhile, the UN’s heavily-hyped “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse was reduced to mockery with the abrupt resignation in mid-December of the head of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) who faced charges of sexual harassment and was the subject of an inquiry by the OIOS.

The resignation of the ICSC chairman, Under-Secretary-General (USG) Kingston Rhodes, who held one of the highest ranking jobs in the UN system, followed the release of the OIOS report to the ICSC. But the contents of the report are still under wraps since neither the OIOS nor ICSC have announced plans to go public with the results of the months-long investigations.

The official stance was that neither the UN nor the Secretary-General could intervene because the ICSC and its staff are the creation of the General Assembly.

Senior UN Official Resigns Undermining Sexual Abuse Charges

Asked to respond to the survey, which found that 12 percent of the harassers were senior leaders in the UN, Peter A. Gallo, a former investigator at the Investigations Division of OIOS, told IPS the whole thing is an exercise in the usual UN hypocrisy.

He said there is nothing materially wrong with the regulations (ST/SGB/2008/5) but the problem is in the enforcement:

– most staff members are (understandably) unwilling to report sexual harassment, and
– the “investigations” are carried out by the deaf, dumb, blind and stupid, and they do not want to find misconduct, because that would reflect badly on the Organization, he added.

“The result is that the UN is quite happy because they can claim that the low level of reporting is a sign of there being no problem, and the even lower rate of investigations actually substantiating the complaint reinforces this image of there not being a problem,” he noted.

In cases of “sexual exploitation and abuse” there is an obligation on the UN to report the numbers to the General Assembly (GA) every year. (They manipulate those numbers, but never mind.)

In the case of sexual harassment however, Under ST/SGB/2008/5 section 6 – the staff member is told to send a copy of the complaint to the ASG/OHRM (assistant secretary-general for human resources) for “monitoring” purposes, “but I do not believe they ever report the number of complaints publicly to the GA, said Gallo, an Attorney and director of the non-governmental organization ”Hear Their Cries”.

Antonia Kirkland, Legal Equality Global Lead at Equality Now, a non-governmental organization advocating women’s rights, told IPS that the survey points out, proactive measures to prevent sexual harassment, as well as the way the UN responds when staff members report allegations, are good indicators that a zero tolerance policy is in place and actually being effectively implemented.

But she pointed out that “proactive measures to prevent and respond to sexual harassment should be undertaken with regard to all who work with UN staff members regardless of their position, including appointees of the General Assembly, on the pay roll of the United Nations.”

Meanwhile, when the proposed survey was announced, Donovan wrote a letter to the Secretary-General expressing concerns about the validity of the UN’s Safe Space survey data.

In it, she informed Guterres that staff had alerted the UN that it was possible for anyone to take the survey, and to take it as many times as they wished, so long as they used a unique device each time. Some concerned staff had succeeded in doing that.

Guterres’ office sent a one-line email acknowledging receipt, “and we heard nothing more — which at a minimum, seems to fall short of “civility”, but also demonstrates the seriousness with which this Secretary-General undertakes efforts to solve this longstanding crisis.”

“We are left with the indisputable fact that the design of the system-wide Safe Space survey does not prevent external parties from responding and does not protect against multiple entries from respondents with malign motives. Whether or not the survey has been compromised enough times by enough people to render it statistically invalid is uncertain. The risk that data has been manipulate significantly seems high enough to invalidate this survey,” the letter said.

Ian Richards, President, of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS that a survey, conducted in December by the CCISUA on harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of authority, differed from the current UN survey, in that it covers all forms of prohibited conduct.

“We believe that focusing on sexual harassment, the tip of the iceberg in terms of prohibited conduct at the UN, avoids discussion of other types of abuse of power and prevents accountability at senior levels,” he added.

The key findings of the CCISUA survey were:

    • • Sexual harassment, while abhorrent, constitutes only 16 percent of all forms of harassment and abuse of authority.

 

    • • The results show a worrying trend in terms of complaints not investigated. Where an investigation was conducted, a significant proportion of staff was kept waiting more than six months to get the results. Most who complained were not kept informed of progress on the investigation.

 

    • Twenty percent of staff felt they were retaliated against for reporting misconduct.

“While the UN’s actions are very much focused on sexual harassment, which is important, this shouldn’t divert energies away from addressing the UN’s broader problem with abuse of authority,” declared Richards.

He also said: ” We feel the Deloitte survey missed an important opportunity’

”By restricting itself to sexual harassment, abhorrent in itself, it neatly avoided topics such as discrimination, bullying and abuse of power that would have raised serious questions about how our organisations are managed and run”.

This, Richards said, would also address the biggest finding, that staff continue, perhaps rightfully, to fear retaliation for reporting such behaviours and are far from satisfied with how complaints are treated.

“These are fundamental to the problems of international organizations, which operate something of a legal vacuum.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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A New Spectre is Haunting Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/new-spectre-haunting-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-spectre-haunting-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/new-spectre-haunting-europe/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 10:16:26 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159673 Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

After Theresa May’s defeat in the British parliament it is clear that a new spectre is haunting Europe. It is no longer the spectre of communism, which opens Marx’s Manifesto of 1848; it is the spectre of the failure of neoliberal globalisation, which reigned uncontested following the fall of the Berlin Wall, until the financial crisis of 2009.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In 2008, governments spent the astounding amount of 62 trillion dollars to save the financial system, and close to that amount in 2009 (see Britannica Book of the Year, 2017), According to a US Federal Reserve study, it cost each American 70,000 dollars.

Belatedly, economic institutions left macroeconomics, which were until then used to assess GNP growth and started to look at how growth was being redistributed. And the IMF and the World Bank, (also because of the prodding of civil society studies, foremost those of Oxfam), concluded that there was a huge problem in the rise of inequality.

Of course, if the 117 trillion dollars had gone to people, that money would have led to a jump in spending, an increase in manufacturing, services, schools, hospitals, research, etc. But people were totally absent from the priorities of the system.

Under the Matteo Renzi government in Italy, 20 billion dollars went to save four banks, while in the same year total subsidies for Italian youth could be calculated at best at 1 billion dollars.

Then after the crisis of 2008-9, all went haywire. In every country of Europe (except for Spain, which has now caught up), a populist right-wing party came to life, and the traditional political system started to crumble.

The new parties appealed to the losers of globalisation: workers whose factories has been delocalised for the cheapest possible place to maximise gains; small shop owners displaced by the arrival of supermarkets; those made redundant by new technologies, by Internet like secretaries; retired people whose pensions were frozen to reduce the national deficit (in the last 20 years public debts have doubled worldwide). A new divide built up, between those who rode the wave of globalisation and those who were its victim.

Obviously, the political system felt that it was accountable to the winners, and budgets were stacked in their favour. Priority went to towns, where over 63% of citizens now live. The losers were more concentrated in the rural world, where few investments were made in infrastructure. On the contrary, in the name of efficiency, many services were cut, railway stations closed, along with hospitals, schools and banks.

In order to reach work, people often had to go several kilometres from home by car. A modest increase in the cost of petrol fuelled the rebellion of the ‘yellow jackets’. It did not help that out of the 40 billion that the French government obtains from taxes on energy, less than one-quarter went back into transportation infrastructure and services.

Universities, hospital and other services in towns suffered much less, were points of excellence, public transportation was available, and a new divide arose between those in towns and those from the rural world, those with studies and education and those who were far away and atomised in the interior.

A new divide had come about, and people voted out the traditional party system, which ignored them. This device brought Trump to power and led to the victory of Brexit in the United Kingdom. This divide is wiping the traditional parties, and bringing back nationalism, xenophobia and populism. It is not bringing back the ideological right wing, but a gut right and left with little ideology …

All this should be obvious.

Now, for the first time, the system is turning its attention to the losers, but is too late. The left is paying the dramatic illusion of Tony Blair who, considering globalisation inevitable, decided that it would be possible to ride its wave. So, the left lost any contact with the victims, and kept the fight on human rights as its main identity and difference with the right.

That was good for towns, where gays and LGBTs, minorities (and majorities like women), could congregate, but it was hardly a priority for those of the interior.

Meanwhile, finance continued to grow, become a world by itself, no longer linked to industry and service, but to financial speculation. Politics became subservient. Governments lowered taxes on the who stashed the unbelievable amount of 62 trillion dollars in tax havens, according to the Tax Justice Network. The estimated yearly flow is 600 billion dollars, double the cost of the Millennium Goals of the United Nations.

And the Panama Papers, which revealed just a small number of the owners of accounts, identified at least 140 important politicians among them from 64 countries: the prime minister of Iceland (who was obliged to resign), Mauricio Macri of Argentina, President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, a bunch of close associates of Vladimir Putin, David Cameron’s father, the prime minister of Georgia, and so on.

No wonder that politicians have lost their shine, and are now considered corrupt, or useless, or both.

In the current economic order, Emmanuel Macron acted rationally by lowering the tax on the rich people to attract investments. But he totally ignored that for those French who have difficulty in reaching the end of the month, this was proof that they were being totally ignored. And sociologists agree that the real ‘Spring’ of the yellow jackets was their search for dignity.

Ironically, British parties, and especially the Conservative and Labour parties, should be thankful to the debate on Brexit. It is clear that the United Kingdom is committing suicide, in economic and strategic terms. With a ‘hard’ Brexit, without any agreement with the European Union, it could lose at least seven percent of its GDP.

But the divide which makes Brexit win with all towns, the City, the economic and financial sector, academics, intellectuals and all institutions has confirmed the fear of those of the interior. Belonging to the European Union was profitable for the elites, and not for them. Scotland voted against, because it has now a different agenda from England. And this divide is not going to change with a new referendum.

That the cradle of parliamentarian democracy, Westminster, is not able to reach a compromise is telling proof that the debate is not political but a clash of mythologies, like the idea of returning to the former British Empire. It is like Donald Trump’s idea of reopening coal mines. We look at a mythical past as our future. This is what led to the explosion of Vox in Spain, by those who believe that under Franco life was easier and cheaper, that there was no corruption, woman stayed in their place, and Spain was a united country, without separatists in Catalonia and the Basque Country. It is what Jair Bolsonari in Brazil is exploiting, presenting the military dictatorship at a time when violence was limited. Our future is the past …

So this divide – once in one way or another the United Kingdom solves its Brexit dilemma – will pass into normal politics, and will bring about a dramatic decline, like elsewhere, of the two main traditional parties. Unless, meanwhile, populist, xenophobe and nationalist parties take over government and show that they do not have the answer to the problems they have rightly identified.

In that sense, the Italian experience could be of significant help … look how the government has performed with the European Union.

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Excerpt:

Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Climate Change Threatens Mexico’s Atlantic Coasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/climate-change-threatens-mexicos-atlantic-coast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-threatens-mexicos-atlantic-coast http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/climate-change-threatens-mexicos-atlantic-coast/#respond Thu, 17 Jan 2019 08:52:40 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159669 “I couldn’t plant my cornfield in May, because it rained too early. I lost everything,” lamented Marcos Canté, an indigenous farmer, as he recounted the ravages that climate change is wreaking on this municipality on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. The phenomenon, caused by human activities related especially to the burning of fossil fuels, has altered the […]

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Ecosystems such as the Síijil Noh Há (where water is born, in the Mayan tongue) lagoon, in Felipe Carrillo Puerto on the Yucatán peninsula, are suffering the impacts of climate change in one of the most vulnerable of Mexico's municipalities to the phenomenon. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Ecosystems such as the Síijil Noh Há (where water is born, in the Mayan tongue) lagoon, in Felipe Carrillo Puerto on the Yucatán peninsula, are suffering the impacts of climate change in one of the most vulnerable of Mexico's municipalities to the phenomenon. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO, Mexico, Jan 17 2019 (IPS)

“I couldn’t plant my cornfield in May, because it rained too early. I lost everything,” lamented Marcos Canté, an indigenous farmer, as he recounted the ravages that climate change is wreaking on this municipality on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

The phenomenon, caused by human activities related especially to the burning of fossil fuels, has altered the ancestral indigenous practices based on the rainy and dry seasons for the “milpa” – the collective cultivation of corn, pumpkin, beans and chili peppers, the staple crops from central Mexico to northern Nicaragua.

It has also modified the traditional “slash and burn” technique used to prepare the land for planting.

Canté, a representative of the Xyaat ecotourism cooperative, told IPS that “climate change affects a lot, the climate is changing too much. It’s no longer possible to live off of agriculture.” As he talks, he prepares for the new planting season, hoping that the sky will weep and water the furrows.

The farmer lives in the Señor eijido in the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto (FCP) in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. Señor is home to about 450 “ejidatarios” or members of the ejido, a traditional Aztec system of collectively worked lands that can be sold.

This state and its neighbors Campeche and Yucatán comprise the Yucatán peninsula and are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as are the states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Tabasco, on the Gulf of Mexico which, along with the Caribbean Sea, make up Mexico’s Atlantic coast.

These consequences include rising temperatures, more intense and frequent hurricanes and storms, rising sea levels due to the melting of the Arctic Ocean, droughts and loss of biodiversity.

The Yucatan peninsula has a population of 4.5 million people, in a country of 129 million with a total of 151,515 square kilometers and a Caribbean coastline of 1,766 square kilometers.

In addition, this peninsular region suffers the highest rate of deforestation in the country, and government subsidies have failed to change that, according to the report “Forest subsidies without direction,” released in December by the non-governmental Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Agriculture.

The peninsula is home to the largest remaining tropical rainforest outside of the Amazon, and is a key area in the conservation of natural wealth in Mexico, which ranks 12th among the most megadiverse countries on the planet.

María Eugenia Yam, another indigenous resident of FCP, a municipality of 81,000 inhabitants, concurred with Canté in pointing out to IPS with concern that “the rains are no longer those of the past and it is no longer possible to live off of the milpa.”

Yam, an employee of the Síijil Noh Há (where water sprouts, in the Mayan tongue) cooperative, owned by the Felipe Carrillo Puerto ejido, in the municipality of the same name, lamented that agricultural production is declining, to the detriment of the peasant farmers in the area who also grow cassava and produce honey.

A trail in the Síijil Noh Há (where the water is born, in the Mayan tongue) community reserve in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, part of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. The conservation of the jungle is a climate change adaptation measure, because it contributes to maintaining steady temperatures and curbing the onslaught of hurricanes. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A trail in the Síijil Noh Há (where the water is born, in the Mayan tongue) community reserve in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, part of the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico. The conservation of the jungle is a climate change adaptation measure, because it contributes to maintaining steady temperatures and curbing the onslaught of hurricanes. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The three states of the peninsula produce a low level of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The biggest polluter is Campeche, producing 14.5 million tons of GHGs, responsible for global warming. It is followed by Yucatán (10.9 million) and Quintana Roo (3.48 million), according to the latest measurements carried out by the state governments.

In 2016, Mexico emitted 446.7 million net tons of GHG into the atmosphere, according to the state-run National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC).

Within the peninsula, the state of Yucatan has 17 municipalities vulnerable to climate change, Campeche, 10, and Quintana Roo, three, including FCP. In total, 480 Mexican municipalities are especially vulnerable to the phenomenon, out of the 2,457 into which the country is divided, according to an INECC report.

In Campeche, the State Climate Change Action Programme 2030 predicts a temperature increase of between 2.5 and four degrees Celsius between 1961 and 2099, with impacts on communities, economic activities and natural wealth.

Also, the 2012 study “Impacts of the increase in mean sea level in the coastal area of the state of Campeche, Mexico”, prepared by the World Bank and the state government, warns that vulnerability to the rising sea level affects 440,000 people, more than half of the local population.

“Climate change will increase flooding and coastal erosion in the future” and the probability of extreme storm surges on the coasts will increase, according to the study, which predicts a rise in water level between 0.1 to 0.5 meters in 2030 and from 0.34 to one meter in 2100.

In Quintana Roo, annual rainfall will become more and more irregular. The rainy season will be shortened by five to 10 percent in 2020, while it will range from a 10 percent increase to a 20 percent drop in 2080. In addition, the temperature will rise between 0.8 and 1.2 degrees Celsius in 2020 and between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees Celsius in 2080.

The state of Yucatan faces a similar scenario, with the average annual temperature rising between 0.5 and 0.8 degrees for the period 2010-2039. Annual rainfall will alternate drops of up to nearly 15 percent and rises of one percent in that period.

Although the three states have instruments to combat the phenomenon, such as climate change laws -with the exception of Campeche-, special programmes and even a regional plan, the situation varies widely at a local level, as many municipalities lack such measures.

The Climate Change Strategy for the Yucatan Peninsula, drawn up by the three state governments, aims for the development of a regional adaptation strategy, the implementation of the regional programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the creation of a climate fund.

The plan seeks to reduce emissions from this region by 20 percent by 2018 and 40 percent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

The region launched the Yucatan Peninsula Climate Fund in September 2017, but it is just beginning to operate.

So far, the scrutiny of the implemented actions has been a complex task.

The “Strategic Evaluation of the Subnational Progress of the National Climate Change Policy,” published by INECC in November, which investigated three municipalities on the peninsula, concluded that state and municipal authorities report multiple adaptation actions, but without clarifying how vulnerability is addressed.

For this reason, it considers the creation and promotion of capacities to face climate change to be an “urgent need”.

“We have to make everything more sustainable, but it’s a local effort. If those who govern and make decisions had more awareness, we would be able to do it,” said Canté.

Yan proposed reforesting, reducing garbage generation, conserving biodiversity and educating children about the importance of environmental care. “Maintaining the forest is a good adaptation measure. But the municipalities should have climate programmes and appoint officials who know” about the issue, he suggested.

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Acts of Terror Will Not Undermine Our Resolvehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/acts-terror-will-not-undermine-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acts-terror-will-not-undermine-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/acts-terror-will-not-undermine-resolve/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 14:29:49 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159666 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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President Kenyatta addresses the Nation on 16 Jan 2019. “I also commend the civilians who looked after one another. For every act of evil that led to injury yesterday, there were a dozen acts of compassion, overflowing patriotism and individual courage,” Credit: KBC

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

On 15 January 2019, terror struck Nairobi’s 14 Riverside Drive.

Kenya is in mourning following a senseless act on innocent and defenseless civilians by individuals preoccupied with contemptible and misplaced ideology; who hope to intimidate others through violent acts of terror. Like in their other past attempts, they have failed, and Kenya remains unbowed.

As President Kenyatta has noted in his address; “We will allow no one to derail or frustrate our progress….We have prevailed and shall always prevail over evil. Let us now go to work without fear and continue with our work of building our nation.”

Our thoughts are with all the affected and families who are experiencing the most inconsolable pain and trauma of this heinous act. The UN Country Team in Kenya stands in solidarity with the families who are suffering the most inconsolable pain and will live for a long time with the trauma of this terrible attack.

As the intelligence and security apparatus continue with investigations, our message to Kenyans remains that, we cannot give in to fear or the temptation to define the attack as a war between races or religions. That has always been the narrative that the perpetrators of terror would wish to spread.

Fortunately, they have always been on the losing side of history. The attack on 14 Riverside Drive should not deter Kenya’s resolve, but should further strengthen the country’s determination to overcome adversity and challenges that threaten its social fabric.

We applaud the work of Kenya’s security emergency rescue services and first responders, who mobilised in remarkable timeliness, demonstrated exceptional professionalism and heroism, thereby keeping the number of fatalities to a minimum. We also commend Kenyans for their heroic acts and solidarity for one another during this time.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in his message “has strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Nairobi and extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a swift recovery. The Secretary-General expresses his solidarity with the people and Government of Kenya(GoK)”.

Terrorism remains a global threat and presents a challenging test for intelligence and law enforcement agencies worldwide. No country is immune. Kenya has done remarkably well in preventing numerous other attacks.

The reality is that a multitude of stresses impact vulnerable populations around the world, leaving many disproportionately susceptible to extremist ideologies — driven by factors such as surging youth unemployment — which terror groups take advantage as a considerable reservoir for recruits. There is a need for concerted efforts to weaken the terror groups’ narrative and win the battle of ideas.

The UN remains steadfast in its support to Kenya’s development agenda, including commendable initiatives by the government based on a long view of the prevention of violent extremism in line with the UN Development Assistance Framework.

Together we can pursue smart, sustainable strategies that augment security with what the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner describes as the triple nexus, “Achieving the 2030 Agenda and ensuring no one is left behind requires a pro-active, evidence-based and holistic approach to risk, resilience and prevention across humanitarian, development and peace effort.” This approach will be a long-term antidote to terrorism and the key to preventing violent extremism.

Already our partnership is underway with several local initiatives that are bearing fruit. Previously characterized by belligerence based on competition for resources, the border regions of Eastern Africa are slowly changing the narrative, replacing aggression with dialogue and socio-economic transformation.

A stand-out initiative is the Kenya-Ethiopia Cross Border Programme, launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia. This initiative is supported by IGAD, the European Union and Japan and implemented by the United Nations family in Kenya and Ethiopia together with local authorities on both sides.

Such initiatives represent determination and hope. They are a declaration that the soul of those on the right side of humanity can never be destroyed or prevented from living freely by terrorists.

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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A Salty Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/a-salty-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-salty-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/a-salty-dilemma/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2019 11:57:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159655 As the threat of water scarcity increasingly grows, many have turned to the Earth’s plentiful oceans for a solution. However, this has created a new risk threatening public and environmental health: brine. In a new study, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH) assessed the state of desalination around the world […]

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A desalination plant. Across 177 countries, there are now 16,000 desalination plants, many of which are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa where water scarcity is already a reality.As desalination plants continue to pop up, so does a hypersaline, chemical by-product known as brine. Credit: RoPlant

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

As the threat of water scarcity increasingly grows, many have turned to the Earth’s plentiful oceans for a solution. However, this has created a new risk threatening public and environmental health: brine.

In a new study, the United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH) assessed the state of desalination around the world as countries increasingly convert sea water into freshwater for its citizens.

“There is an increasing level of water scarcity across the globe, but there are hot spots of water scarcity like those in the Middle East and parts of Africa. They really need an additional supply of water that they can use to meet the requirements of their population,” one of the report’s authors Manzoor Qadir told IPS.

Across 177 countries, there are now 16,000 desalination plants, many of which are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa where water scarcity is already a reality.

As desalination plants continue to pop up, so does a hypersaline, chemical by-product known as brine.

In fact, for every litre of freshwater a plant produces, 1.5 litres of brine is produced, a figure that is 50 percent more than previously estimated.

Globally, desalination plants produce enough brine in one year to cover all of Florida in one foot of the waste.

“Historically what we used to see was the equal volumes of brine versus desalinated water—that is not true…there is more brine produced than desalinated water. It really needs efficient management,” Qadir said.

Countries are increasingly turning to the oceans as a solution to water scarcity. Pictured here is Sri Lanka’s southern coast near Hikkaduwa town. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The study, which is the first to quantify brine production across the world, found that just four countries are responsible for 55 percent of global brine: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar.

Almost 80 percent of brine is produced in plants near the ocean and are often discharged back into the ocean, posing major risks to ocean life and marine ecosystems.

According to the UNU-INWEH report, untreated brine increases both the temperature and salt concentration of sea water. Together, these conditions decreases the water’s oxygen levels, impacting sea organisms and the food chain.

The desalination process also uses toxic chemicals such as copper and chlorine, polluting oceans when released.

As desalination plants are predicted to increase in number, the assessment highlighted the need for improved brine management strategies to avoid further and future environmental damage.

The report’s authors pointed to the various economic opportunities to use brine including in the irrigation of salt tolerant crops,  electricity generation, and even aquaculture.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains.  Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300 percent achieved,” Qadir said.

“”There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity,” he added.

But first and foremost, countries need to minimise the volume of brine produced including the adoption of more efficient modern technologies, Qadir noted.

“[Middle Eastern countries] especially need to take concrete action just to make sure that there is an environmentally feasible management of brine,” he told IPS, while also acknowledging the importance of desalination.

UNU-INWEH found that eight countries including the Maldives, Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda and Qatar can meet all their water needs through desalination. And it is predicted that more and more countries will rely on such plants for their water needs.

“We need to raise the importance of global water scarcity and the key contributions of desalinated water, but at the same time we should not just ignore the other part of desalinated technology which is brine production,” Qadir concluded.

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Why We Should Care about Vulnerable Coastal Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/care-vulnerable-coastal-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=care-vulnerable-coastal-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/care-vulnerable-coastal-communities/#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 11:47:24 +0000 Nigel Brett http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159661 Nigel Brett is Director of the Asia and Pacific Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development

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Meity Masipuang is a member of an enterprise group in Papusungan village, Lembeh island, Indonesia. Their women’s group purchases fish to smoke and resell. They are participants of the IFAD-funded Coastal Community Development project in Indonesia. Credit: IFAD/Roger Arnold

By Nigel Brett
ROME, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

According to UN statistics, approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast, and overall the world’s coastal population is increasing faster than the total global population. At the same time, global warming is causing sea levels to rise and increasing extreme weather incidents on coastlines.

The impacts are well publicized and alarming. But what we may not realize is that the people who are the most vulnerable to climate change are often the poorest. It is essential that we act upon what we know in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and build resilience in the poorest communities. In all of our development work, we cannot regard climate change and the plight of vulnerable coastal communities as a niche issue.

A large portion of the world’s poor people live in Asia and the Pacific: 347 million people in the region live on less than US$1.90 a day, almost half of the 736 million people living in extreme poverty worldwide. Rising sea level exposes large areas of Asia and the Pacific to potential floods, coastline damage and increased salinity of agricultural lands. Climate change and environmental degradation (including in small island developing states, or SIDS) is harming the poor rural population’s ability to produce food and income, which calls for urgent action to help people safeguard their assets and fragile resources, while also diversifying their income base.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with people in vulnerable coastal communities across the world to build resilience and institute sustainable agricultural practices so that vulnerable people can make a living while also preserving the environment and the resources that are the foundation of their way of life.

Nigel Brett Credit: IFAD/Flavio Ianniello

Some livelihood practices are not sustainable and can exacerbate climatic vulnerability. For example, unsustainable fishing destroys corals and depletes fish stocks, and the cutting down of mangroves for firewood results in coastal land that cannot resist flooding, cyclones and coastal erosion. Since 66 per cent of the fish that is eaten worldwide is caught by small-scale fishers, it is in everybody’s best interest to help them to improve their ability to make a living while protecting the environment.

In over 180 villages in Indonesia, the IFAD-supported Coastal Community Development Project introduced aquaculture and supported initiatives to make fishing and processing techniques more efficient and sustainable. By providing rudimentary refrigeration techniques such as ice coolers, and by forming and training women’s groups to process some of the fish into fish paste and dried fish snacks, fishermen were able to fish less because they did not have to factor in the amount of fish wasted by lack of refrigeration or low market demand. These measures also had a substantial impact on food security and actually reduced acute child malnutrition in the areas by half. And through community-based coastal resource management groups, marine resources have been maintained or improved.

In the Asia and the Pacific region overall, vulnerable communities are a prominent focus of our investment portfolio. Just under one third of our current $2.7 billion portfolio in the region is invested in improving the lives of 15,360,000 poor rural people living within five kilometers of the coastline.

One thing we’ve learned is that there is no such thing as a one-size fits all approach in working with vulnerable coastal communities. Context matters. Bangladesh suffers from overcrowding on its limited land, while the Pacific Islands suffer from not only extreme weather but a remote and dwindling population. In Tonga the rural population is declining due to migration and a lack of incentives for youth to remain. It is also classified as the second most at-risk country in the world in terms of its exposure and susceptibility to natural hazards and the effects of climate change. Development approaches need to be different.

Up to 80 million people live in flood-prone or drought-prone areas in Bangladesh, and thousands of vulnerable families eke out a living on river islands known as chars. The Char Development and Settlement Project has developed roads that remain intact even after they have been repeatedly submerged in water. It has also helped communities (especially women) to develop small businesses that can withstand floods, such as raising ducks. But, one of the most important aspects of the project’s work is land titling—which is particularly important for women. With land as collateral, women can access credit and acquire labour-saving machinery, including small irrigation pumps and rice threshers, and build small storage sheds to protect harvested rice from rain and floods.

In Tonga, we are helping communities to develop high-value crops that can be exported in order to boost the rural export market. The project is also planting tree species that can protect the coastline from tornados and cyclones. The project is working with communities to identify where improved infrastructure is needed (such as weather-resistant roads and waterfronts), and get them directly involved in investing in and supervising construction and maintenance.

After 40 years of working with poor rural people around the world, IFAD has learned that no one can hope to face these challenges alone. In a rapidly changing world we need to work together to channel support where it is most needed. Rural transformation can increase production and incomes, reduce hunger, and at the same time protect natural resources. With the right support, vulnerable coastal communities can play a part in securing a sustainable future.

The post Why We Should Care about Vulnerable Coastal Communities appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Nigel Brett is Director of the Asia and Pacific Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development

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Honduran Crisis Produces New Caravanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/honduran-crisis-produces-new-caravan/#respond Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:34:52 +0000 Jan Egeland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159650 Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), visited Honduras in December 2018.

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The first caravan of Central American migrants reached the town of Matías Romero in Oaxaca state on November 1, 2018. The Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs estimates that 4,000 people spent the night there. Credit: IOM / Rafael Rodríguez

By Jan Egeland
OSLO, Norway, Jan 16 2019 (IPS)

A new caravan heading towards Mexico and the United States was reportedly set to leave San Pedro Sula in Honduras on 15 January. The large number of people expected to leave Central America is a true testimony to the desperate situation for children, women and men in this poor and violence affected region.

Instead of talking about a crisis at the US-Mexican border, North Americans must wake up and address the real humanitarian crisis in Central America. The long walk north will be extremely dangerous and exhausting for the thousands of families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that will join the caravans planned in 2019.

Obstacles on the way are likely to increase, as there is fatigue and frustration from communities who supported migrants during last year’s exodus. There is rising xenophobia in both the United States (US) and Mexico and increasingly tough border regulations in every country on the way.

Border controls, guards or walls will never stop people who are hunted by gang violence and flee for fear for their lives. Youth who have lost all hope for a better future in Central America will try repeatedly to reach a better life in the US, Canada or Mexico.

To tackle the current crisis, the more affluent American nations need to understand their own neighborhood and invest much more in bringing hope, security and good governance for people who currently see no other option than to flee.

Having spoken to many desperate Honduran families who have been or will be on the caravans, I am convinced that the current policies from the US through Mexico and Central America will only deepen the crisis, the desperation and the exodus. Investment in education, livelihoods and violence prevention are better alternatives to detention and deportation back to places where there is only misery and violence.

Hondurans who have managed to reach Mexico during previous journeys have told NRC staff that they were held in shelters, forced to sign deportation papers and deported without a fair hearing of their asylum claims. In spite of the hardships and the dangers many are still planning on leaving again even though they know of the slim chances of reaching the US.

“Dying here or dying there, it doesn’t make much difference. At least there I have a small chance to see that my life improves,” said one person who is planning to leave again for the north with the caravan.

If a gang is extorting you, if you are a witness to a crime or if your neighborhood is taken over by organized crime you may have no other option than to flee. People will only stay if they are protected from violence, lawlessness and crime and provided with education and livelihood opportunities.

Thousands of people remain stranded and blocked on the border between Mexico and the US where processing is extremely slow. The US and Mexico recently signed the agreement ‘Remain in Mexico’ in which the US will be able to send people back to Mexico while they go through the refugee status determination process.

This process can take years due to a backlog in the system. The agreement comes on top of President Trump’s attempts to build a wall, migrant children dying in US custody and last summer’s family separations crisis. 75,279 people were deported from Mexico and the US in 2018, according to a Honduran centre for migration: Observatorio Consular y Migratorio de Honduras (CONMIGHO).

The post Honduran Crisis Produces New Caravan appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), visited Honduras in December 2018.

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Bridging the Infrastructure Financing Gap in the Asia Pacific Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/bridging-infrastructure-financing-gap-asia-pacific-region/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 15:33:03 +0000 Tientip Subhanij and Daniel W. Lin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159647 Tientip Subhanij is Chief, Financing for Development, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP & Daniel W. Lin is Consultant, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP

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Credit: Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

By Tientip Subhanij and Daniel W. Lin
BANGKOK, Thailand, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

Infrastructure development is undoubtedly critical for a country’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness as it impacts economic activities by increasing productivity, facilitating trade, and promoting innovation.

Across the Asia Pacific region, however, economic growth as well as broader development goals are hindered by a shortage of roads, mass rapid transit systems, telecommunications, power plants, water and sanitation and other basic infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that the average infrastructure requirement for a representative group of 24 developing countries in the region for 2016 to 2020 is 8.2 per cent of the GDP when China is excluded.

However, their current investments average only 3.2 per cent of GDP, leaving the financing gap as large as 5 per cent of GDP. Notably, of the 3.2 per cent of GDP currently invested in infrastructure on average, only 1 per cent of GDP comes from the private sector.

Adding to this challenge, private sector participation in infrastructure investment in emerging markets dropped by 37 percent between 2015 and 2016 globally, reaching the lowest level in 10 years.

Understanding the decline in private investment and how countries can encourage more private sector participation will, therefore, be important in achieving sustainable infrastructure development in the region.

The most recent successful example of engaging private sector financing is from Thailand, where the government has launched a new way to raise private capital through Thailand Future Fund (TFF). Traded on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, the TFF is a 44.7 billion Baht infrastructure mutual fund that aims at raising capital from institutional and private retail investors for the country’s infrastructure development.

The fund invests in value-enhancing state agencies’ infrastructure assets and projects to create long-term distribution growth potential, including expressways, railways, electricity generation and distribution, airports, and deep seaports.

An IPO was made from October 12 to 19 with prices set at 10 Baht each. Since then, major local institutional investors have shown great interest in TFF.

The TTF has the advantage of reducing the government’s burden on public finance by providing fund raising alternative. This is expected to accelerate the Thai government investment in infrastructure projects, which can be injected into TFF in the future, thus, providing institutional and retail investors the opportunity to invest in high performing and stable income infrastructure projects.

The Fund also promotes the development of Thailand’s capital markets by facilitating private sector investment in infrastructure development, which is considered a low risk long-term investment, allowing greater diversification for private investors.

The mobilization of private resources, including through public-private partnerships (PPP) has indeed been attracting strong interest from governments in Asia and the Pacific.

Recognizing this potential, the Regional Road Map for Implementing the 2030 Agenda, endorsed by ESCAP member States in May 2017, highlights the need to undertake research, analysis and consensus-building initiatives to enhance regional knowledge of infrastructure financing, including PPP.

Subsequently, in December 2017 the Committee on Macroeconomic Policy, Poverty Reduction and Financing for Development, requested the ESCAP secretariat to consider developing a network on PPP and infrastructure financing to provide a regular platform where member States can exchange their experiences, disseminate knowledge, engage private sector and build consensus regarding good practices on infrastructure financing.

To this end, ESCAP took the initiative to serve member States’ needs and successfully organized the first meeting of PPP and infrastructure financing network with support from the China Public Private Partnerships Center at the City of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China on 12 and 13 September 2018.

This was the first regional event, among many more to come, that leverages on the fact that countries in the region are increasingly accumulating experience in engaging private sector for their infrastructure investment.

It gathered the heads of PPP units, infrastructure specialists and capital market experts from 22 countries in the region to enhance knowledge and capacity of PPP units on the effective use of PPP mechanisms as well as other infrastructure financing strategies to support the pursuit of sustainable infrastructure development.

Given that the Asia-Pacific region’s infrastructure investment requirement is immense and public resources are limited, it is important to carefully design financing strategies to fill the existing gaps and meet future infrastructure demand.

As highlighted by the recent Thai example, this can be supported by mobilizing more resources from institutional investors by further deepening capital markets in the regions as well as increasing the availability of investable assets.

Moving forward, member States in Asia and the Pacific would greatly benefit from sharing established good practices with other countries and engaging the private sector in addressing their infrastructure financing challenges, with ESCAP playing an enabling role in such endeavours.

The post Bridging the Infrastructure Financing Gap in the Asia Pacific Region appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Tientip Subhanij is Chief, Financing for Development, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP & Daniel W. Lin is Consultant, Macroeconomic Policy and Financing for Development Division, ESCAP

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Building Mongolia’s Green Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/building-mongolias-green-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-mongolias-green-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/building-mongolias-green-future/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 08:59:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage and IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159633 A country that has contributed least to global climate change now has to cope with and adapt to the very real effects they are faced with.

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January 2018 alone saw temperatures drop to -50 degrees Celsius. This has had vast impacts on Mongolia’s herders. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage and IPS Correspondent
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

The landlocked country of Mongolia sparks certain images in the mind—rolling hills with horses against a picturesque backdrop.

However, the East Asian country is facing a threat that will change its landscape: climate change.

“Climate change isn’t affecting everyone around the world evenly. Small island states is an example and another example is people who live in more norther climates like Mongolia,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox told IPS.

“The problem for Mongolia is, with respect to climate change, is that it contributes almost nothing to greenhouse gasses…so that means instead Mongolia has to be concerned with adaptation,” he added.

According to the Mongolian Ministry of Environment, the mean air temperature increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius between 1940 and 2014, more than twice the global average.

This has increased the frequency of natural disasters such as what is locally known as “dzud”—a summer drought followed by a severe winter, a phenomenon that has increased over recent years.

January 2018 alone saw temperatures drop to -50 degrees Celsius.

This has had vast impacts on the country’s herders.

Almost 50 percent of the Mongolia’s 3 million population are employed in animal husbandry. They produce 35 percent of agricultural gross production and account for 30 percent of the country’s export.

At the same time, 28 percent of the population live at or below the poverty line, making them dependent on this trade.

Almost 50 percent of the Mongolia’s 3 million population are employed in animal husbandry. They produce 35 percent of agricultural gross production and account for 30 percent of the country’s export. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

“Any adverse impact of a changing climate on pasture availability would threaten forage yield, livestock productivity, and, ultimately, local and national food production capacity. Hence, environment and climate condition play a key role in the sustainable development of the country,” said Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)’s Mongolia representative Romain Brillie.

Approximately 70 percent of grassland in the country is impacted by desertification while the area of barren land expanded 3 times between 1992 and 2006.

While overgrazing has contributed to the changes in the environment, climate change has exacerbated the impacts.

Without sustainable livelihoods, many have poured into the country’s cities including Ulaanbaatar where they live in informal settlements without basic facilities such as running water or sanitation.

And to cope with the long and harsh winters, families use coal-fired stoves, contributing to air pollution.

In fact, Ulaanbaatar has one of the highest rates of air pollution in the world, increasing the risk of acute and chronic respiratory issues.

According to U.N.’s Children Agency (UNICEF), the three diseases that have resulted in the most lost life-years in the East Asian countries are related to air pollution.

But steps are being taken to mitigate the crisis, Brillie noted.

“Mongolia has been very active in establishing a conducive policy environment for climate change mitigation and adaptation…for instance, Mongolia is one of the countries that has been the most successful in accessing the Green Climate Fund,” he told IPS.

In 2017, the government adopted a new law which aims to increase the country’s share of renewable energy in total primary energy sources to 25 percent by 2025, and 30 percent by 2030.

Mongolia has already started investing in wind power, establishing its first wind farm in 2013.

GGGI has also been working with the government to support its green development targets in energy and green finance.

In 2018, GGGI helped secure 10 million dollars from the Government of Mongolia and Mongolian commercial banks to invest into the Mongolia Green Finance Corporation, a vehicle to leverage investments by the financial sector.

Knox highlighted the importance of such civil society in efforts towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

“I think it’s at the individual and community level that we really see sustainable development take hold,” he said.

Brillie also pointed to the much needed role of the private sector, stating: “Financing Mongolia’s NDC’s alone would require 6,9 billion dollars and public investment alone cannot match the extent of the challenge…policy, regulatory and financial incentives and guarantees need to come together to help private companies invest into green projects.”

While there are now standards in place, Knox noted the need to implement and enforce them including in efforts to cut back on coal energy.

Currently, only seven precent of Mongolia’s energy production is renewable energy, and they will have to ramp up action if they are to reach their 2030 target.

And the Paris Agreement should be the light forward.

“In many ways, the threat of climate change in Mongolia can only be addressed by collective action by the major emitters of the world…The parties to the Paris Agreement need to surmount up their commitments as quickly as possible and they need to take more effective actions to implement the commitments they have already undertaken,” Knox told IPS.

Brillie spotlighted the role youth can and will play in the country’s sustainable, green future as GGGI works with Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment to promote green education.

“Young people are already driving change across the world. We must provide the skills to create new and green lifestyle,” he said.

The post Building Mongolia’s Green Future appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

A country that has contributed least to global climate change now has to cope with and adapt to the very real effects they are faced with.

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Journalism in Nicaragua Under Siegehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/159604/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=159604 http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/159604/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 08:31:06 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159604 Eight months of social and political crisis in Nicaragua have hit the exercise of independent journalism in the country, with 712 cases of violations of the free exercise of journalism, one murdered reporter, two in prison and dozens fleeing into exile, in addition to several media outlets assaulted by the security forces. A report by […]

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Presentation of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Prize for Excellence in Journalism by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation on Jan. 9 in Managua, where a report was also launched on the harsh repression of journalism in 2018. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (1924-1978) gave birth to a journalistic dynasty in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Presentation of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Prize for Excellence in Journalism by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation on Jan. 9 in Managua, where a report was also launched on the harsh repression of journalism in 2018. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (1924-1978) gave birth to a journalistic dynasty in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

Eight months of social and political crisis in Nicaragua have hit the exercise of independent journalism in the country, with 712 cases of violations of the free exercise of journalism, one murdered reporter, two in prison and dozens fleeing into exile, in addition to several media outlets assaulted by the security forces.

A report by the non-governmental Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, called “2018 Year of Repression against Press Freedom in Nicaragua”, published on Jan. 9, states that between April and December there were 712 violations of press freedom and the exercise of journalism.

Guillermo Medrano, author of the report, told IPS that the study reflects that journalism has become a high-risk profession in Nicaragua, “to the extent that journalism has been officially criminalised by charging two journalists who criticised the government with terrorism.”

Medrano refers to journalists Lucía Pineda and Miguel Mora, press director and owner of the television news channel 100% News, respectively.

They were arrested on Dec. 21 at the station’s headquarters and later charged with “provocation” and “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts”.

Before they were arrested and were incomunicados for several days, sympathisers of Daniel Ortega’s government filed a report against Pineda, Mora and other journalists from the channel at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, accusing them of “promoting hatred” because of their critical editorial line.

Their families and lawyers have not been able to see the journalists, who are to be tried later this month. The TV station was shut down, its signal taken off the air and its accounts and assets seized by the authorities.

The arrests of the two journalists triggered protests by international human rights and press freedom groups.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement backed by 300 leading journalists from around the world condemning the arrests and demanding their prompt release.

The document also includes a strong condemnation of the Nicaraguan government for the assault and seizure of the newsrooms of the Confidencial magazine, the Niú website and the television programmes Esta Semana and Esta Noche.

The magazine and TV programmes belong to journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro and the Dec. 14 seizure marked the beginning of Ortega’s last, radical offensive against independent journalism.

Apart from the criminalisation of the two journalists, the report details that a reporter was killed in April, at least 54 have been exiled because of threats and political persecution, and 93 were beaten and injured.

In addition, 102 media outlets and journalists were censored, 21 suffered judicial harassment or investigative processes and 171 have faced different forms of intimidation.

A policeman guards the closed building of the Confidencial magazine and other digital and television media owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, which was seized by the Nicaraguan police on Dec. 14. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

A policeman guards the closed building of the Confidencial magazine and other digital and television media owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, which was seized by the Nicaraguan police on Dec. 14. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

“It’s a situation we haven’t seen since the years of the Somoza (dictatorship), not even during the contra war against the United States. It’s terrifying,” writer Gioconda Belli, president of the Nicaraguan chapter of PEN-International, told IPS.

According to the writer, the regime of Ortega, a former Sandinistaguerrilla, “has surpassed the horrors of the dictatorships of the past that Latin America remembers” by targeting peasant farmers, students, feminists, religious sectors and, finally, journalists and the media.

“He has committed the atrocity of accusing journalism of terrorism; he has kidnapped and prosecuted two journalists, Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda, as criminals; he has assaulted newsrooms and confiscated private media outlets, such as the Confidential,” she denounced.

In addition, “now he wants to strangle La Prensa by denying it paper,” Belli warned.

The newspapers with the largest circulation in Nicaragua, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, both opposition papers, have reported that their paper reserves will be exhausted in a few months and that the customs authorities are blocking imports of raw material.

A small newspaper, Q´hubo, published by ND Medios, closed down in December due to a lack of paper.

The building where the Confidencial magazine operated was taken over by the National Police, after the legislature eliminated the legal status of several non-governmental organisations.

The government links the media to the Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación, one of the nongovernmental organisations whose legal status was repealed along with eight others on charges of “fomenting terrorism.”

However, Chamorro stated that both the office building and the censored media outlets belong to the company Invermedia and Promedia and have no relation whatsoever with the NGO that was shut down.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro (C), among a group of fellow journalists, filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office of the Republic of Nicaragua on Dec. 19 regarding the seizure of Confidencial and other media facilities and equipment by police officers five days earlier. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

Carlos Fernando Chamorro (C), in the middle of a group of fellow journalists, filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Nicaragua on Dec. 19 regarding the seizure of Confidencial and other media facilities and equipment by the police five days earlier. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

The raid and the confiscation of their equipment and facilities were, he denounced, “a direct attack against journalism and private enterprise.”

Arlen Cerda, editor-in-chief of Confidencial, who was granted precautionary protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said the publication is the victim of an “unprecedented” escalation of repression against modern-day Nicaraguan journalism, while he said its journalists planned to continue reporting, “even with their fingernails.”

“In the raid, the equipment, files and databases were taken away, we didn’t have a roof over our heads in order to work,” he said. “But also from the beginning we have maintained the firm conviction that we will not be silenced, and that we will do everything possible to continue to provide quality material to our public.”

In crisis since April

Ortega, 74, ruled the country between 1985 and 1990 as leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which defeated dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. After the triumph of the Sandinista revolution, he was also a member of the government junta.

The current crisis in this Central American country of 6.4 million people began in April 2018, triggered by a controversial social security reform that was later withdrawn, revealing broad discontent with the government.

The protests, led by university students, lasted until July, and according to the IACHR, 325 people were killed during the unrest, mainly at the hands of police and irregular forces organised by the government.

The government puts the number of casualties at 199, and blames “terrorist groups attempting to mount a coup d’état.”

Voices in exile

Luis Galeano, director of the program Café con Voz, which was broadcast on the 100% Noticias channel, left the country in December after the government issued an arrest warrant against him for “fomenting terrorism.”

“The accusations are absurd, they seek to silence critical voices, but they won’t succeed, because we as journalists are going to continue reporting from anywhere, from exile, from prison, from social networks, from clandestinity, from everywhere,” he told IPS from Miami.

Journalist Jeniffer Ortiz, director of the digital platform Nicaragua Investiga, told IPS that she left the country because of direct threats against her for her journalistic work.

“I have been away from Nicaragua for a couple of months. I left because of the constant threats and sieges of our house. They were also sending us messages through the social networks,” she said from San José, Costa Rica.

She said that due to the increasing repression, many of her sources stopped talking to her media outlet which, added to the economic crisis and threats, forced her to continue her work from outside Nicaragua.

“We are now in exile aware that our colleagues there are finding it increasingly difficult to do their work because of threats. The sources are afraid, and from here we can continue our work and contribute to the daily flow of information that people are asking for,” she told IPS.

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Gloom Ahead of World Economic Stormhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/gloom-ahead-world-economic-storm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gloom-ahead-world-economic-storm http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/gloom-ahead-world-economic-storm/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 07:50:43 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159629 In light of the uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, the IMF expects the US economic growth to slow from a three-year high of 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.5 per cent in 2019, while China’s expansion has already slowed in recent years, albeit from much higher levels. Trump stimulus dissipates US President […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY & KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

In light of the uncertainty caused by the US-China trade war, the IMF expects the US economic growth to slow from a three-year high of 2.9 per cent in 2018 to 2.5 per cent in 2019, while China’s expansion has already slowed in recent years, albeit from much higher levels.

Trump stimulus dissipates
US President Trump and the previous GOP-controlled US Congress claimed to be breathing new life into the US economy with generous tax cuts. The US economy is now overheating, with inflation rising above target, causing the Federal Reserve to continue raising the federal funds rate to dampen demand.

Anis Chowdhury

As most families hardly gained from the tax changes, US purchases of houses and consumer durables continued to decline through 2018. Instead of investing in expanding productive capacity, US companies spent much of their tax savings on a $1.1 trillion stock buy-back spree in 2018.

Hence, the positive impacts of tax cuts were not only modest, but are also diminishing. Nearly half of 226 US chief financial officers recently surveyed believe that the US will go into recession by the end of 2019, with 82 per cent believing that it will have begun by the end of 2020. Wall Street’s biggest banks, JP Morgan and Bank of America, are also preparing for a slowdown in 2019.

As if to confirm their concerns, both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 had their worst ever December performance since 1931, when stocks were battered after the Great Crash.

European recession
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is expecting sluggish 1.7 per cent regional growth in 2019. Europe is close to recession with the collapse of industrial output in Germany, France, UK and Italy.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Germany’s industrial output fell by 1.9 per cent month-on-month in November 2018, and was in negative territory in 5 of the 6 months before December. Its GDP fell by 0.2 per cent in the 3rd quarter of 2018. France’s industrial production fell 1.3 per cent in November 2018, reversing a 1.3 per cent growth recovery in October from a 1.7 per cent decline in September. Italy, Europe’s third largest economy, recorded negative growth in the 3rd quarter of 2018 as GDP fell by 0.1 per cent in July-September 2018 with weaker domestic demand.

As the UK remains mired in its Brexit mess, GDP growth was dragged down to 0.3 per cent in the three months to November with the biggest industrial output contraction since 2012. 2018 final quarter growth is expected to be 0.1 per cent, i.e., negligible.

Not preparing for the inevitable?
David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, warned in early January 2019, “The next recession is somewhere over the horizon, and we are less prepared to deal with that than we should be . . . [and] less prepared than in the last [crisis in 2008].”

Although the IMF had projected 3.7 per cent global economic growth for 2019 in October 2018, Lipton’s statement suggests that the IMF is likely to revise its 2019 growth forecast downward.

There have also been growing concerns over the continued efficacy of unconventional monetary policy since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC). Undoubtedly, countries now have less fiscal space than in 2009, and overall borrowing, including public debt has risen since.

Reaping what you sow
The policy blunders since the GFC have only made things much worse. The ideologically driven case for fiscal consolidation did not boost investor confidence for a robust recovery, as promised.

Despite acknowledging false claims cited to justify fiscal consolidation, including the IMF’s admission that its early advice was based on faulty calculations, there was no recommended change in policy course.

Instead, all responsibility for recovery was put on the monetary authorities who resorted to unconventional policies, especially ‘quantitative easing’ (QE). However, the global economic recovery since then has remained tepid and easily reversible.

Additional liquidity, made available by QE, has largely been used to buy financial assets and for speculation, amplifying the financial vulnerability of emerging market economies, which have experienced increased volatility.

Governments also failed to take advantage of historically low, even negative real interest rates to borrow and invest to boost productive capacity in the longer term.

By mainly benefiting financial asset holders, QE has exacerbated wealth concentration. Meanwhile, cuts in public services and social spending have worsened social polarization, as tax cuts for the rich have failed to generate promised additional investments and jobs growth.

The failure to achieve a robust recovery has not only worsened the debt situation, but also made lives harder for ordinary people. Growing polarization has also worsened resentments, eroding trust, undermining solidarity and progressive alternatives.

Ethno-populist jingoism undermines cooperation
But lack of preparedness can hardly be due to ignorance as there have been many such predictions recently, certainly more than in 2007-2008, before the GFC.

The cooperation that enabled co-ordinated actions to prevent the Great Recession from becoming a depression has not only waned, but major countries are now at loggerheads, preventing collective action.

National political environments are also more hostile. In Europe, the rise of ethno-populist nationalism is making it harder to pursue EU-level policies and to act together to prevent and mitigate the next financial crisis and downturn.

The “new sovereigntists” and false prophets of American exceptionalism are undermining multilateral cooperation when needed most. Thus, a recession in 2019 may well elevate geo-political tensions, exacerbating the negative feedback loop for a ‘perfect storm’.

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia), held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Is Love an Embarrassment?http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/is-love-an-embarrassment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-love-an-embarrassment http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/is-love-an-embarrassment/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 15:34:00 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159616
I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

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I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

I do not understand a word of Persian and cannot determine whether these lines, taken from a German translation, are a correct interpretation of Muhammad Hāfez-e-Shīrāzī´s original poem. Nevertheless, Hāfez, who lived 1315-1390 CE, was apparently one of those great writers able to provide bemused couples with points of reference after being struck by the tumultuous sensation of passionate love.

All over the world we find a wealth of poems that with tenderness and empathy express love and compassion. Several of them have been written by men to women, by women to women, and men to men. Such tenderness is easily forgotten when we are confronted with men’s cruelty towards women; their power abuse, contempt for “the weaker sex”, drunkenness and sadism, as well as men’s obsession with brutal sex and machismo and repeated claims about male reluctance to demonstrate affection. We are becoming used to consider men as warriors, playboys, or power-drunk world leaders, while offensive role models and ideologies by various media outlets are presented as guiding principles for male behaviour.

In spite of advocacy and involvement of many activist organizations, violence against women remains one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations worldwide. It ensues in both public and private spheres and may occur at any time in a woman´s life span. Violence against women might limit their contributions to social, economic, and political development, as well as it impedes them from exercising their human rights. Gender-based violence prevails regardless of age, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and specific geographical areas.

Since the issue of gender equality is present in both public and private spheres, affecting us all by influencing even our most intimate relationships, it is very difficult to address it in a balanced, objective and multi-faceted manner. We tend to limit problems related to gender equality to “neutral” spheres, like economic and social justice combined with a struggle to tear down barriers to equal participation, rights and possibilities for men and women. The thorny issue of human emotions is generally ignored, while men and women are bunched together as one-dimensional stereotypes.

While working with gender equality issues within development cooperation organizations, I actually never heard anyone talking seriously about love between men and women. Words like love, or compassion, were not mentioned during any of the countless meetings and gatherings I attended. If I mentioned such words in speech or writing, they were criticized, censored and obliterated. A word like compassion was for some reason considered to be “embarrassing”, “falsely emotional”, “disparaging”, or “overly sentimental”. On the contrary, words like fighting spirit and competition were welcomed. Do we not like love? Does the gender equality struggle have no need for positive role models, except for empowered, energized women, and tolerant, supportive men? Why is it often easier to recommend fighting and violent action, instead of negotiations and compromises? Patience and understanding, combined with an unselfish and benevolent concern for the good of others, i.e. love, may be considered as a prerequisite for peaceful cooperation and positive outcomes, like in the Beatles song:

Love, love, love.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game.
It’s easy.
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy.
All you need is love, all you need is love.
All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

To me it appears as if any official discourse about harmonious, respectful love between human beings tends to be considered as somewhat embarrassing. Is it not politically correct to talk about that kind of love? In the current debate about gender equality we seldom hear the word love (not in the sense of sexual satisfaction, but as a general, overarching concept), nor words like tenderness or compassion.

Maybe it would not be harmful to point out that there are indeed good men around, not only chauvinists and abusers. Positive male role models do exist. Everywhere we find men who are supportive of, respectful and affectionate to women. I assume we have to search for expressions of that kind of love and as poets and songwriters often do – praise it.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

The post Is Love an Embarrassment? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

I am no more. Once I was.
Away on yearning flames, I flew.
The delicate ash spun through the air
and sank – bright and slow
to your feet.
Do not tread too hard ‒ my heart is still alive.

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With All Things Equal Would the Ruling Party have Won the Elections in Bangladesh ?http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/things-equal-ruling-party-won-elections-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=things-equal-ruling-party-won-elections-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/things-equal-ruling-party-won-elections-bangladesh/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 15:29:06 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159613 It was the first time in the history of parliamentary elections in Bangladesh that a party won with such a huge margin. But according to local analysts familiar with Bangladesh’s political climate, the victory by the ruling Awami League (AL) led coalition—which won over 96 percents of seats in parliament in the country’s 11th national […]

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Women voters queue outside a local school polling centre in Tejgaon area in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Sheikh Hasan Ali/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

It was the first time in the history of parliamentary elections in Bangladesh that a party won with such a huge margin. But according to local analysts familiar with Bangladesh’s political climate, the victory by the ruling Awami League (AL) led coalition—which won over 96 percents of seats in parliament in the country’s 11th national elections on Dec. 30—was expected in the face of the country’s unprecedented development. 

Economic Growth Spurred on Ruling Party’s Win

Growth in this South Asian nation has overtaken that of many developing nations.

“Bangladesh’s economic growth rate hit record 7.86 percent, per capital income has reached 1,751 dollars, exports reached 42 billion dollars annually and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) indicators show we are on the right track. Now having said that, I think the overwhelming majority of the voters understand the development trends and so they chose rightly their leaders,” Professor Abu Ahsan Mohammad Shamsul Arefin Siddique, former vice chancellor of the University of Dhaka, told IPS.

According to the World Bank, the country is predicted to continue to have GDP growth in the 6.5 to 7 percent range well into next year, with key growth drivers being exports (the country’s ready made garments sector has driven this), manufacturing growth, and services.

A leading election analyst, Munira Khan, told IPS: “People have voted for AL to continue the huge social and economic development that we have observed in the recent past. And it is also true that those who voted for AL obviously wanted the spirit of the liberation forces to stay in power.”

Led by Sheikh Hasina, the victory of her ruling party confirmed her as the Prime Minister for a record third consecutive term.

In the final results AL and its allies won a total of 288 seats in parliament while the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP, which is a member party of the coalition Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front), secured only five. Jatiya Oikya Front is a coalition of opposition parties comprising BNP, Gono Forum, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal and Nagorik Oikya.

There had been criticism from many that BNP had ties to  banned Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami. However, Gono Forum leader and founder of the coalition, Dr. Kamal Hossain, acknowledged the negative impact on voters and added that he would not have wanted the alliance to include Jamaat if he had known about their inclusion by other party workers.

A further two seats went to members of the Jatiya Oikya Front alliance.

Hasina’s vision for women’s empowerment, educating girls and giving women a greater voice, has contributed to social changes and the country’s economic transformation.

The country, which according to the World Bank has considerably reduced poverty from 2010 to 2016 (the rate has since slowed), is expected to obtain the category of a Middle Income Country by 2021. The government also promised to generate 40,000 megawatts of electricity to fuel economic development.

While Hasina’s government has made huge economic progress, the Prime Minister has also been recognised by the global community for her role in giving shelter to the persecuted Rohingya refugees. She opened the doors for over a million Rohingya’s while many nations have been onlookers.

Claims of Irregularities in the Vote

The election was not without issues as BNP and it’s alliances claimed irregularities in the election process after violence was reported in 23 out of a total of 40,000 polling stations. Sixteen people died in clashes that ensued. Hossain, meanwhile, urged diplomatic mission heads in Dhaka to engage with the AL government to pursue holding fresh elections under a non-party administration immediately.

Many have questioned how AL received such a huge number of votes when the main rival, BNP, which was popular in previous polls and traditionally won seats, lost so miserably.

Reza Kibria, who contested the elections under Jatiya Oikya Front and lost, told IPS: “The so-called election was a farce and it was a shameful episode in the history of our country. The vote rigging took place in a wide scale and it was centrally directed.” Kibria is the son of the slain Shah AMS Kibria, who was the finance minister under the Sheikh Hasina-led government in 1996.

He said that about 30 to 40 percent of the votes were cast before the voting opened at 8am and that polling agents from opposition parties were not allowed to enter the voting centres to check whether the ballot boxes were empty.

“In many centres we had reports that 80 to 90 percent of the voters had turned out to vote by midday, which is physically not possible.”

Kibria’s critical remarks, however, were not supported by any evidence or specific details or a record of the irregularities.

Authorities have denied the allegations. Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, the Press Adviser to the Prime Minister, and also editor of Daily Observer, told IPS that the Jatiya Oikya Front and BNP leaders had failed to act as a responsible political party and convince general people that the alliance, if voted to power, could be a better political party to steer the government.

The win was not a surprise to critics of the government. Sharmin Murshid, Chief Executive Officer of Brotee, an NGO for social change, and a leading election critic, told IPS: “We had expected AL to win the election but not at this rate of enormity.”

“It would be a huge challenge for the government to rule for the next five years without an opposition. So when there is no opposition there is hardly any healthy critique and without such criticism politics may be difficult,” Murshid added.

But she pointed out that since the government has huge confidence and a mandate from the people it must investigate the alleged election irregularities. It would give the government more credibility if they did so, she said.

The Prime Minister has stated that with regards to complaints of irregularities, legal processes will be followed. They are being investigated by the Election Commission of Bangladesh (EC).

Election Commissioner Begum Kabita Khanam, however, told IPS: “The election was largely satisfactory although we had several allegations of irregularities in some centres, which we are now in the process of investigating.”

“Since the EC did not receive any evidence of unfairness in voting, the EC considers the election to be fair,” Khanam added.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Human Rights Foundation, and the Election Monitoring Forum, two independent entities, described the election as ‘peaceful’ and ‘organised’.

And local political analyst and retired Major General, Abdur Rashid, told IPS: “We found the election credible as people voted without fear and independently. Throughout the voting period, we observed that the environment was peaceful in most of the centres in which people voted in festive mood.”

Asked why AL got such a huge mandate, Rashid said, “I think that AL should be credited for restoring the dignity and identity of the new generation in favour of the spirit of the (1971) liberation. BNP leaders, on the other hand, had launched propaganda against the pro-liberation forces trying to divide the nation. This is one of the main reasons why AL got such a huge mandate, apart from the development works of course.”

The Scale of the Elections  

Despite the allegations of vote rigging and sporadic violence, the election was considered generally well organised and monitored.

The scale of the election was enormous. In a nation of 160 million people, there were 106 million registered voters, including 20 million newly-registered youth voters. Voter turnout was above 80 percent. A total of 25,900 representatives from 81 local observer bodies, 38 foreign observers, 64 officials and diplomats from foreign missions, and 61 Bangladeshi nationals working in overseas organisations, were present.

However, there were fewer monitors than previous polls. Many election monitors were not allowed to participate in their professional duties as they reportedly did not register on time, according to the EC.

One of the prominent features of this election was the level of security. Over 700,000 security forces, including the army, were on tight vigil round the clock. Out of 40,051 polling centres, violence occurred in 23 centres, which statistically was less than 0.06 percent.

“I have never seen such a huge number of security men around polling centres,” remarked Mohammed Zakir Hossain, 73, who has been voting since 1970.
Such security measures perhaps raised the confidence and level of enthusiasm among the voters, which is why the queues at most of the centres, even in remote areas, appeared very long.

Amid cool weather, a group of five young ladies were found in festive mood in Dhaka’s uptown in Baridhara. Shirin Mahtab, 28, who was carrying her child, said: “You can see how safe I feel coming to vote bringing my young daughter along with me.”

Professor Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah who founded Jatiya Nirbachon Parjabekkhon Parishad (the National Election Observation Council), told IPS that the tight security meant that, “vote fraudulence was hardly possible due to tight vigilance by officials and heavy presence of security. Public movement was very restricted as only voters with valid ID card were allowed to approach the polling centres and throughout we noticed police checking on suspected movements while army patrolled at striking range.”

He also called the elections free and fair.

Despite the claims of irregularities, the election was well accepted internationally. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among the first world leaders who congratulated Hasina.

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UN Lambasted on High-Level Appointmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/un-lambasted-high-level-appointments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-lambasted-high-level-appointments http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/un-lambasted-high-level-appointments/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 11:15:11 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159611 The world’s developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, are complaining they are not being adequately represented in the higher echelons of the world body –- despite competent candidates with strong professional and academic qualifications vying for these jobs. The 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, […]

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António Guterres takes the oath of office for his five-year term as UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2019 (IPS)

The world’s developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 193 UN member states, are complaining they are not being adequately represented in the higher echelons of the world body –- despite competent candidates with strong professional and academic qualifications vying for these jobs.

The 134-member Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing countries, says “persistent imbalances in equitable geographic representation in the UN Secretariat are a major concern.”

While the UN is being commended for ensuring equitable representation of women in recent years, it still stands accused of neglecting qualified nationals of developing countries, including from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The high-level jobs go mostly to nationals of either Western nations, big donors or the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5), namely, the US, UK, France, Russia and China.

“Every Secretary-General, with no exception, caves into the demands of big powers,” one Asian diplomat told IPS, “These countries think high-ranking UN jobs are their political birthright”.

Addressing the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee), and speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Karim Ismail of Egypt, told delegates last November that equitable geographic representation is key to ensuring the Organization’s international character and its Member States.

Urging the Secretariat to expedite efforts in this direction, including the representation of troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs), he called for more transparency in how geographical representation is measured and the basis for such assessment.

“The Assembly needs more complete and easily understandable information on how gender parity and geographical representation are reflected in the 38,000 posts across the Secretariat,” he added.

The high-level posts include Under Secretaries-Generals (USGs), Assistant Secretaries-Generals (ASGs), Directors (categorized as D-1s and D-2s), heads of UN peacekeeping missions overseas, mostly based in Africa, and Special Envoys of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

According to a system of geographical balance, when the secretary-general is from a Western nation, the deputy secretary-general is from the developing world, and vice versa. Currently, Amina Mohammed from Nigeria, holds the second highest ranking job in the world body, next in command to Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal.

Ian Richards, president of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of the UN’s International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “The current situation in which staff from developing countries are less likely to make it to the top is unacceptable and unfortunately mirrors political and financial influence in the system.”

An organization cannot talk about putting performance at the heart of human resources management and selection, if nationality continues to be a key consideration at senior levels, he pointed out.

Linked to this, he said, is the ongoing revolving door between the General Assembly and senior staff positions, for which there is no cooling-off period, and which undermines the independence of the UN.

“Guterres needs to have a frank discussion on this,” declared Richards. Otherwise, he warned, the UN’s much-touted reforms will be an exercise in futility—
and will not mean much.

The biggest contributors to the UN’s regular budget, who stake their claims for top jobs, include: the US, China, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Russia. Amongst Asian countries, China (a member of the G77) and Japan (although Asian, but not a G77 member, still wielding economic clout as a major donor) are both favoured in senior UN appointments.

But Asia is not merely China, Japan or India, one of the world’s most populous nations.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS it is widely known that the UN adopts a pro-active policy towards recruiting Japanese by sending head-hunting teams to Japan acknowledging the major financial contribution Japan makes.

“This needs to be done with others too so that talent can be spotted. There are major gaps in Human Resource recruitment within the UN, with the West getting the plum jobs, although progress has been made with regard to the recruitment of women redressing the imbalances of the past”, he added.

Asked who should be blamed for the continued under-representation—whether it should be Guterres or member states, former UN Assistant Secretary-General Dr Ramesh Thakur, emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, told IPS: “Both– but mainly member states”.

He said Asian countries need to do two things. (1) lobby for their own nationals, and, (2) lobby for the Asian group as a whole.

For example, he said, they could demand that, as the UN University is the only part of the UN system that has its global headquarters in Asia, the Rector (USG rank) must always be an Asian.

In point of fact, only one Rector has been Asian, one Latin American, zero African, and four from West European and Other States (as categorized by the UN).

Dr Thakur said there should be a demand by member states for a report, every two years, by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on regional representation in the ranks of USG, ASG and D2.

“The very fact of having to provide this documentation will make the Secretary-General and the UN system much more sensitive to the inequitable representation,” he declared.

Samir Sanbar, a former Assistant Secretary-General and one-time head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS that “equitable geographical representation by developing members –as required by the U.N. Charter– has been eroding consistently over the last two decades, despite the availability of qualified candidates.”

In the current unusual situation, he pointed out, two UK citizens now head two Secretariat Departments (Humanitarian Affairs and Global Communications) while a citizen of New Zealand heads Management, Portugal heads the office of legal affairs, France keeps heading the Peacekeeping Department (since 1996) and China holds Economic/Social Affairs. The US traditionally heads the Department of Political Affairs, and Russia heads the UN office in Vienna, after earlier heading the office in Geneva.

Initially, appointments from key countries were made selectively by the Secretary-General based on the merit of presented candidates.

Sanbar also pointed out there were some illustrious USGs—irrespective of their nationalities—- because of their superlative credentials.

For example, he said, Brian Urquhart was the most distinguished head of the Peacekeeping Department regardless of his solid U.K. citizenship. So was Bernard Miyet of France.

Similarly, were other heads of departments from developing countries like Sergio Vieira de Mello (Brazil), Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka) and Nitin Desai (India), said Sanbar, who served under five different secretaries-general during his career at the UN.

So is Guterres’ highly regarded Chef de Cabinet

“Our inspiring Dag Hammarskjold reportedly quipped: The U. N. needs the big powers to survive and small powers to succeed,” declared Sanbar.

Meanwhile, the 53-member Asia Pacific Group accounts for about 27 percent of UN member states and over half the world’s population– but still constitutes only around 17 per cent of the Secretariat’s international staff.

Pointing out these discrepancies, Mahesh Kumar of India told the Administrative and Budgetary that while the UN Charter puts equitable geographical representation at the heart of human resources management, challenges continue to persist.

He said out of a total UN Secretariat staff of 38,000, less than 10 per cent are covered by the system of desirable ranges. Even for these 3,600 posts, 64 countries are listed as un-represented or under-represented and 50 of these 64 are developing countries.

Further, the number of member states in the category of un-represented or under-represented continues to increase since 2014.

In addition, nearly 60 more developing countries are close to the lower level of their desirable range of representation and remain at risk of slipping into the under-represented category, he said.

“These numbers paint a very stark picture of the current inequitable representation,” he said.

He complained that regional disparity remains especially stark at senior level positions, adding that in peacekeeping positions too, the regional disparity is glaring.

Nearly half of the Force commanders — six out of 14 – are from Western European and Others Group, comprising only 14% of total member states.

Currently, the five biggest troop-contributors to the 90,000-strong UN peacekeeping force overseas include: Ethiopia (7,597 troops), Bangladesh (6,624), Rwanda (6,528), India (6,445) and Nepal (6,098).

In contrast, among the P-5 countries, China is the 10th largest troop contributor with 2,515 troops, France ranks 31 with 729, UK ranks 36 with 618, Russia ranks 68 with 85 and the US ranks 77 with 51 troops.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Shedding Light on Forced Child Pregnancy and Motherhood in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/shedding-light-forced-child-pregnancy-motherhood-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shedding-light-forced-child-pregnancy-motherhood-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/shedding-light-forced-child-pregnancy-motherhood-latin-america/#respond Mon, 14 Jan 2019 08:35:45 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159601 Research and campaigns by women’s rights advocates are beginning to focus on the problem of Latin American girls under the age of 14 who are forced to bear the children of their rapists, with the lifelong implications that entails and without the protection of public policies guaranteeing their human rights. The Latin American and Caribbean […]

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