Inter Press Service » Headlines News and Views from the Global South Sun, 23 Oct 2016 12:47:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Limitless Cigars and Rum for U.S Tourists in Cuba Sun, 23 Oct 2016 12:47:04 +0000 Rose Delaney2 Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

Bolivar Belicoso Fino, Cohiba Siglo IV, Cuaba Distinguidos, Trinidad Robusto Extra and Hoyo Churchill brand cigars. Credit: Alex Brown/cc by 2.0

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Oct 23 2016 (IPS)

After more than a half-century of a commercial, financial and economic embargo, U.S.-Cuban trade relations took a significant step forward this month.

On Oct. 14, the Barack Obama administration announced a round of executive actions designed to increase trade and travel with Cuba. One of these included lifting restrictions on Cuban rum and cigars for U.S. travelers in Cuba.

The executive actions were taken following a series of changes made since Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014 that they were committed to normalise relations after decades of enmity.

The lifting of trade restrictions signifies the willingness of both policymakers and the public to form a positive relationship between the U.S and Cuba. Many hope the breakdown of trade barriers will lead to a new era of economic vitality for Cuban citizens.

The Obama administration has called for a rescinding of the 50-year-old economic embargo on the island. The U.S. administration’s ultimate goal would be to make Obama’s trade policy with Cuba irreversible through the establishment of a wide network of trade relationships strong enough to defeat any future opposition from the public or Republican lawmakers alike.

Although lifting restrictions on cigars and rum may seem like a small step, these reforms could pave the road to open trade between the nations. There is just as much demand in Cuba for U.S commodities such as rice, wheat, and corn as there is in the U.S. for organic fruit, seafood and sugar produced in Cuba. With over 11 million citizens just 90 miles off the Florida coast, Cuba presents itself as a prosperous market for U.S food and agricultural exports.

Advocates of normalising trade relations say it would not only enhance Cuban citizens access to affordable food, it will also provide the U.S agri-business sector with a host of new trade opportunities with the island nation. Lifted restrictions will also make it easier for U.S. companies to import Cuban-made pharmaceuticals and for Cuban citizens to purchase affordable, high-quality products from the U.S online.

“The Treasury Department has worked to break down economic barriers in areas such as travel, trade and commerce, banking, and telecommunications,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew explained in a statement.

“Today’s action builds on this progress by enabling more scientific collaboration, grants and scholarships, people-to-people contract, and private sector growth. These steps have the potential to accelerate constructive change and unlock greater economic opportunity for Cubans and Americans.”

Many believe this lift could rebuild the booming rum and cigar trade relations the U.S. shared with Cuba in the past. In fact, cigars are widely considered to be Cuba’s most prized export. The island is renowned for being one of the world’s best tobacco producers.

In the 18th century, tobacco was the second most exported product in the nation, after sugar. Before the embargo, the U.S and Cuba shared a close trade relationship with the U.S having consumed some 300 million Cuban cigars by the mid-19th century, and many Cuban cigar-makers migrating to nearby Florida, where Tampa became known as “Cigar City” by the early 20th century.

Now, U.S citizens can also enjoy the limitless consumption of what has made Cuba’s known as the ‘Isle of Rum’. Through an age-old tradition of rum-making using a combination of world-famous sugar cane (first introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1493), a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and the unique know-how of Cuban “Maestro Roneros” (master rum-makers) this distinctly Cuban beverage is sought after the world over.

Lawrence Ward, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, an international law firm focused on U.S. national security law, international trade compliance law and licensing, said that, “Today’s announcement is a massive development in further opening trade between the United States and Cuba. The Obama Administration has been committed to normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations and these new changes come at an interesting time when U.S.-Russian relations are quite tense.”

Ward added that Cuban tobacco and alcohol products are two of the most sought after commodities for U.S. tourists to bring home for personal use.

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Learning from Past Mistakes: Rebuilding Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Sun, 23 Oct 2016 03:46:05 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN is providing assistance to residents of Les Cayes in Western Haiti. Credit: Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

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

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Byproduct of the International Development System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investing in Local Institutions and People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Emilio Godoy
QUITO, Oct 21 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Student Struggle in South Africa Gains Momentum Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:12:45 +0000 Desmond Latham Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Hundreds of #FeesMustFall protesters gather outside the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa, to demand free education on Oct. 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

By Desmond Latham

When #FeesMustFall began to trend on social media platforms in South Africa in October 2015, government shrugged it off as an example of isolated hotheads, while political pundits predicted the student campaign wouldn’t last.

But a year later and the protest movement has gained traction across the country, with all major tertiary institutions partly shut down or barely functioning, and civil society warning that the effect on various sectors of the economy will carry over to 2017.Black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

In the latest action, hundreds of students marched to the Union Buildings on Thursday, Oct. 20, and called on government to take their complaints about the high cost of education seriously.

The University of the Witwatersrand student movement began in 2015 when students shut down the campus on the eve of exams after it was announced that fees would increase by 10.5 percent in 2016, citing the weak rand which lost a third of its value against the dollar in 2015 as one of the main reasons.

Since then protestors have taken aim at government as well as their local institutions and have called for action against the ruling African National Congress after its leaders told the country’s parliament this week that education could not be “a free for all”.

Posters emerged of students calling for the ruling party to “Fxxx Off” and the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be fired. Speaking to media on Oct. 14, Nzimande said government could not afford free education demands.

“In South Africa it is the taxpayers who give you money up-front and then say when you are working bring it back in order to assist others,” he said. “Somebody is paying… So we must understand these slogans properly.”

Students have rejected this view and mediation between the students and state by church and other NGO’s has failed so far. South Africa spends 5.4 percent of its 100-billion-dollar budget on education, and earlier in 2016 allocated an additional 1.1 billion for higher education over the next three years, with 400 million specifically aimed at keeping fees for tertiary institutions as low as possible. However, this has failed to address the students’ demands.

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

Police face off with student protesters near the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2016. Credit: Denvor DeWee/IPS

The call for education to be free comes as South Africa’s economy flounders and its currency, the rand, lost a third of its value against the U.S. dollar. The country’s high youth unemployment rate of over 45 percent has exacerbated the problem, while South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world in terms of the rich/poor divide.

The Wits Student Representative Council warned that its members can no longer afford the tuition fees and early memoranda included the demand for free education, the scrapping of registration fees and for all security forces to vacate the university campus.

But arson has been reported at the University of Johannesburg, Wits University, Cape Town University and a host of other small campus around South Africa. End of year exams have been affected and the University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences has suspended its academic year.

An impasse has now developed, with government saying it can’t allow unruly elements to destroy property and stepping up the number of police patrolling these venues.

Students have long led the struggle for change in the country. The most famous example is the 1976 Soweto uprising against apartheid linked to Afrikaans being used in education. Twenty-two years after democracy, students once again are making themselves heard and are focusing on higher education.

While making up around 80 percent of the population, black South Africans only account for around 25 percent of those studying at universities and the call for transformation underpins the Fees Must Fall movement.

But the protest movement has gained impetus in recent months and government has been largely unable to cope with the increased violence associated with the uprising. South African police officers have also claimed that criminals have infiltrated the protest movement, with a few to cashing in on the chaos.

‘‘It is evident that criminality has taken advantage of young people in the universities under the disguise of the #FeesMustFall initiative,” said police chief Lieutenant General Khomotso Phahlane on Oct. 6, although he provided no substantive proof to back up this view.

The state has also hardened its attitude toward the students, and succeeded in having former Wits SRC president Mcebo Dlamimi denied bail during a court hearing on Oct. 19 in Johannesburg. He’s charged with malicious damage to property and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm after footage emerged of Dlamini allegedly assaulting a police officer.

He’s also accused of ignoring a previous court order obtained by Wits University to restrain students from disrupting normal activity.

The protest has turned more violent with a security guard battling for his life after being beaten by youths in Cape Town, while in Johannesburg the head of the local Fees Must Fall organisation, Shaeera Kalla, was rushed to hospital on Oct. 20 after being shot numerous times with rubber bullets.

Soon after, Kalla thanked supporters on her Facebook page and vowed: “Even as we sit in hospital beds and others languish in prisons, I take strength from students across the country who are continuing the fight. Onwards and Upwards. Towards the immediate realisation of free, quality and decolonized education now.”

In a statement earlier in the week, the Wits SRC warned that “as the days go on, the brutality against students and repression at our universities continues to increase. Since Friday night, the levels of violence at Wits University have increased. Students, regardless of their involvement in the protest action, are being violated in ways we thought were unimaginable in a post-apartheid South Africa.”

The students have called on members of the public to denounce “the apartheid tactics that are being used, to speak out against the violations and brutality” while reiterating that their call for “free, quality, equal and decolonized education” was a legitimate one.

Civil society leaders, including the Council of Churches, have been mediating between the two sides and continue to try to solve what is now being called an impasse.

An inter-ministerial committee on university fees was set up by government but it initially only included the Higher Education Minister and leaders of the security cluster managed by President Jacob Zuma.

Finally, on Thursday, following the upsurge in violence, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was added to the list, which is regarded as a crucial step in order for the state to approach international donors of the bond market in order to find cash to cover student demands.

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Innovate to Save Lives Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:28:20 +0000 Syed Saad Andaleeb By Syed Saad Andaleeb
Oct 21 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

I recently went to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a city hospital. One of my students at BRACUniversity suffered a serious brain injury while travelling in a tempo that overturned. The boy eventually succumbed to his fatal injury. Deep within, I felt a sense of loss not only on account of the student and his family, but also for the university, as well as for the nation which lost a fine human asset. Three things occurred to me as I made my pensive way back home.

 Image: Peachinfomatics

Image: Peachinfomatics

First, when the accident occurred, some good Samaritans stepped forward and tried to save the student. But they were turned away from several hospitals, while his life was ebbing. For one thing, the Samaritans had no information regarding which hospital had ICU facilities and which one had an available bed to offer. As a result, when they reached a hospital, they either learnt that it did not have an ICU or were told that the ICUs were full. In one case, the hospital was reluctant to admit the student based on the seriousness of his condition. A staff member apparently remarked in cavalier fashion, “Take him away; you will only spend lakhs, but not take him back alive.” From what I learnt, there was no effort to admit the patient for a comprehensive evaluation and make any attempt to save the life. The frantic rush from one hospital to another may have been ultimately responsible for the loss of a precious life.

Given that the student was from the Computer Science and Engineering department, it dawned on me that an app could be developed (perhaps by his friends in remembrance) that would immediately show which hospitals have ICUs and available beds. This idea can later be expanded to other hospital services. To save precious time, one must be able to reserve a bed immediately via the app and regardless of the condition of the patient, the ICU must give a professional opinion after admitting the patient. This should be a law! Admittedly, the details of the app need to be worked out; for example, against false bookings, pranks, etc. Perhaps a substantive fee may be charged upon booking the space, although this may make the good Samaritans balk from making the reservation. Surely, these matters are not insoluble and will have to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

The second issue is that of costs. Who is to pay for the exorbitant cost of intensive care? As things stand, the family of the student will now be responsible for bearing the huge costs – a bolt from the blue – for the fault of someone else, namely the tempo driver. As reported, the haste, belligerence and carelessness of the tempo driver should make it his responsibility to pay. Perhaps the owner of the vehicle also bears some responsibility for hiring a reckless and unduly aggressive driver. But this idea is likely to go nowhere: too many ifs and buts, including the financial status of the tempo driver and the raw power of the owner’s groups that likely includes members from powerful coteries.

This particular student had a very high CGPA and was a promising star – in fact, a national asset. Students who come so far to study at the university level are decidedly national assets. They will be contributing to the nation’s growth and need to be supported to the extent possible. Suppose the student had survived, the burden of medical expenses could have cost him his education.

A suggestion, therefore, is to contemplate a nation-wide insurance plan for students in higher education (or even at lower tiers or all students). For their protection, as well as the protection of their families, a three-way insurance scheme may be envisaged where the student and his family pays a part, the university pays another, while the nation pays a third part. This proposal could be the starting point of a conversation on how to protect the most vital of our country’s assets: human assets. Insurance companies also ought to look at how best to craft policies that protect these assets. While these companies are entitled to make profits, their policies often keep out a significant proportion of the population, especially those in need, even from basic coverage. There are universal health coverage schemes in other nations that could be studied for adaptation and adoption.

Finally, the tempo (and other public vehicle) drivers really need to be reined in. They are far too aggressive, far too callous, and often hostile when let loose on our streets. In their rush to get to places, they are pushy, change lanes on a whim, and are utterly callous of where they pick up or drop off passengers, oblivious to the risks to which the passengers are exposed. Can a national programme be developed to train and certify the drivers of public (and even private) transportation vehicles? In addition, can a database be developed to track those drivers who have a record of bad driving to be able to keep them off the streets? An app could be developed for this as well. For example, each vehicle would have a highly visible code to which the driver of the vehicle is connected. Suffering passengers could report the driver using the code on a set of violations using the app that would automatically go into a database, resulting in accumulation of negative points. Using the database as a tracking mechanism about the driver and the owner, disciplinary penalties could be imposed on both driver and owner to bring about much needed behavioural changes in those who run riot on our streets.

Catastrophic events deliver many families into the clutches of poverty from which there may be no coming back. As the nation continues to make steady economic progress, its social innovations must keep pace. Social protection via innovative apps and a national insurance policy, crafted properly, can protect many families faced with a life-changing event. Anticipating the challenges driven by development and designing innovative provisions are the need of the day. Academia, especially, can and must join hands with other stakeholders to lead the way.

The writer is the Vice-Chancellor of BRAC University.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Social Unravelling Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:19:32 +0000 Faisal Bari By Faisal Bari
Oct 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Recently I asked a colleague, who has been living in Pakistan for a couple of decades but had spent the early part of his life in the West initially studying and then working there, if he missed being abroad and regretted his decision to move back to Pakistan.

Faisal Bari

Faisal Bari

“No, no regrets, but I miss having access to good bookshops, coffee shops, pubs, parks and cinemas. But if I think more deeply about it, it is not just the goods and services that these places provide that I miss, it is the social and public space these places offer that I miss.” The answer was intriguing and so I pressed him to say more.

“I can get the books I want from Amazon and other sources in Pakistan too, but the joy of browsing through a large bookshop that is well organised and looked after is what I miss. It gave me the freedom to explore my options; when I am ordering books I am restricted to purchasing the ones I know about. Coffee shops and pubs gave me freedom to discuss a lot of issues with a lot of different types of people in public spaces.

When we think of development and quality of life, we should also consider our social fabric.

“Here, I feel more restricted to family and a smaller circle of friends. Our social lives are more restricted to our homes, and the homes of friends and relatives. What those places provide is very different; they allow for a very different interaction with others and even facilitate interaction with relative strangers. Those sort of public spaces are still not as readily available in our cities.”

He added: “Most importantly, though, I miss the relative calm of everyday existence in the West. The everyday certainties of life, which remain in the background and are taken for granted over there — but not in Pakistan — is what I miss the most. The predictability of water and electricity supplies, the ease of public transport, the quality of services you can expect from both public- and private-sector providers — all of these reduce base-level anxiety in the West. Your life becomes easier due to that.”

He gave me an interesting example. One of his sons, born in Pakistan, was admitted to a public school when they moved abroad. While in Pakistan, the child had attended one of the country’s top private schools. Within a month of enrolment abroad, his son’s teacher had called my friend in for a discussion; she thought the child might have a learning disability. His son was referred to the appropriate experts who identified the learning impairment within weeks and the school, with the parents’ help, had devised appropriate coping mechanisms for him within a matter of months.

Even though the child had already been experiencing issues in Pakistan, the school did nothing nor alerted the parents to any issue, instead suggesting that he should get extra coaching as he appeared to be careless or unable to understand.

“The few years my son spent in that public school abroad saved him and us. All of us learnt how to manage his learning disability and these lessons have helped us even after we moved back to Pakistan. Can you imagine what would have happened to him if he had continued in Pakistan? Most likely, he would have eventually been thrown out of school, or he would have had to rely on rote learning to pass his examinations.”

My colleague said that he always felt more ‘on edge’ in Pakistan than he ever did abroad. “More things go wrong in our daily lives and everything takes longer to fix or address. And there is a base-level ‘breathlessness’ to living in Pakistan; a lot more happens in our lives and in society every day. In a way, it feels like entropy levels are higher in our society and so, if you want to improve in either your personal/family space or in national life, you have to work a lot harder to do that than in other places.”

I asked him if he felt that all of this might be true of any developing society, and that this might be the ‘cost’ we have to pay for living in societies that are still struggling to get their institutions right. He was not sure about that. He had not travelled enough within developing countries to be able to say with certainty whether this was just a consequence of a lack of institutional development. But he did mention that he had spent some time in Sri Lanka some time ago, and he felt that the base-level issues were not the same there. But his stay was not long enough for him to form a firmer judgement.

“I know you do not regret the decision to come back despite all that you’ve said, but would you advise young people who have a choice of moving or staying abroad to come back or stay in Pakistan?” I asked.

“It is a personal decision, but I do feel that people who are fortunate enough to have the choice should think a lot harder before making their decision. If you decide to stay in or come back to Pakistan, be prepared to deal with a higher level of entropy. It will impact your personality, your relationships as well as your ability to do things in life.”

I am not a psychologist; I do not know how deeply our personalities are impacted by our environments. But the conversation, I thought, did point out some important issues in our society and the impact they have on us that makes it worth reporting. Maybe when we think of development and quality of life, we should also be thinking about some of the factors mentioned here, and not just about the GDP, infrastructure and capital.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Funding Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities in Developing Countries Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:45:10 +0000 Lindah Mogeni 0 Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazil Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Privatization the Problem, Rarely the Solution Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:02:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

Privatization has been one of the pillars of the counter-revolution against development economics and government activism from the 1980s. Many developing countries were forced to accept privatization as a condition for support from the World Bank while many other countries have embraced privatization, often on the pretext of fiscal and debt constraints.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Privatization generally refers to changing the status of a business, service or industry from state, government or public ownership to private control. It sometimes also refers to the use of private contractors to provide services previously delivered by the public sector.

Privatization can be strictly defined to include only cases of the sale of 100%, or at least a majority share of a public or state-owned enterprise (SOE), or its assets, to private shareholders. The definition of privatization in some contexts is so broad that it includes cases where private enterprises are awarded licences to participate in activities previously the exclusive preserve of the public sector.

Why the turn to privatization?
The balance of payments problems arising from oil shocks in the 1970s and the US Fed’s increase of the interest rate to well over 20% precipitated sovereign debt crises in Latin America and elsewhere from the early 1980s, forcing many developing countries to seek credit support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The World Bank and IMF’s ‘neo-liberal’ policy prescriptions involved liberalization, deregulation and privatization. Collectively, they later came to be known as the Washington Consensus to refer to the common position of three Washington DC based institutions – the US Treasury, the IMF and the World Bank.

Main arguments for privatization
Privatization was advocated as an easy means to:
1) reduce the ‘financial and administrative burden of the government’, particularly in undertaking and maintaining services and infrastructure;
2) ‘promote competition, improve efficiency and increase productivity’ in the delivery of public services;
3) ‘stimulate private entrepreneurship and investment’, and thus accelerate economic growth;
4) help reduce ‘the presence and size of the public sector, with its monopolistic tendencies and bureaucratic support’.

Public or consumer welfare
Since a significant portion of state-run activities are public monopolies, privatization will hand over such monopoly powers to private interests likely to use them to maximize profits. The privatization of public services tends to burden the public, especially if charges are raised for privatized services which may not improve with privatization.

Private interests are only interested in profitable or potentially profitable activities and enterprises. Thus, the government will be saddled with unprofitable and less profitable activities, reinforcing the impression of SOE inefficiencies. Consequently, privatization may worsen overall enterprise performance. ‘Value for money’ may go down, despite improvements used to justify higher user charges.

Privatization in many developing and transition economies has primarily enriched a few with strong political connections who ‘captured’ lucrative opportunities associated with privatization, while the public interest has been increasingly sacrificed to such powerful private business interests. This has, in turn, exacerbated problems of corruption, patronage and other related problems.

Adverse consequences
Some other adverse consequences of privatization include:
– The social and political implications of two types of services, i.e. one for those who can afford more costly, private – including privatized – services, and the other for those who cannot, and hence have to continue to rely on subsidized public services, e.g. medical services and education.
– The effects of minimal long-term investments by private owners narrowly focused on maximizing short-term profits.
– Increased living costs as well as poorer services and utilities – especially in remote and rural areas – due to ‘economic costing’ of services, e.g. telecommunications, water supply and electricity.
– Reduced jobs, overtime work and real wages for employees of privatized concerns.

Flawed arguments
Arguments for privatization can be refuted on the following grounds:
• The public sector can be more efficiently run, as demonstrated in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.
• Greater public accountability and a more transparent public sector can ensure greater efficiency in achieving the public and national interest while limiting public-sector waste and borrowing.
• Privatization may postpone a fiscal crisis by temporarily reducing fiscal deficits, but the public sector would lose income from profitable public sector activities, and be stuck with financing and subsidizing unprofitable ones. As experience shows, the fiscal crisis may even deepen if the new owners of profitable SOEs avoid paying taxes with creative accounting or due to the typically generous terms of privatization.
• Privatization gives priority to profit maximization, typically at the expense of social welfare, equity and the public interest. It tends to adversely affect the interests of public-sector employees and the public, especially poorer consumers.
• Public pressure to ensure the equitable distribution of share ownership (e.g., ‘voucher privatization’) may inadvertently undermine pressures to improve corporate performance since each shareholder would then only have small equity stakes, and would therefore be unlikely to incur the high costs of monitoring management and corporate performance.
• By diverting private capital from productive new investments to buying over public sector assets, economic growth would be retarded rather than enhanced.

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The New Urban Agenda: What Our Cities Can Be Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:27:22 +0000 Nick Beresford and Ashekur Rahman By Nick Beresford and Ashekur Rahman
Oct 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The future is urban and nowhere is that more true than in Bangladesh. If current rates of urbanisation continue, the country’s urban population will double by 2035. Around the Bay of Bengal, a mega city would join Dhaka to Chittagong, creating one of the world’s largest conglomerations. Whether that process produces a congested toxic unlivable mess of concrete and steel, or whether it becomes a thriving, connected, wonderful city to live in, is almost entirely down to the political and policy choices we make.

Photo: Star

Photo: Star

This week a critical meeting in Quito, Ecuador, will look at those critical political and policy choices. The Habitat III conference to adopt a “New Urban Agenda” builds on the Habitat Agenda of Istanbul in 1996 (Habitat II).

The new agenda is intended to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanisation. The conference is expected to result in a concise, focused, forward-looking and action-oriented outcome document on making cities and human settlements equitable, prosperous, sustainable, just, equal and safe until 2030. By the middle of the century, a majority of the world’s citizens —four out of five people — could be living in towns or cities. Indeed, in the time since the Habitat Agenda was adopted, the world has become majority urban, lending extra urgency to the New Urban Agenda.

Habitat III is one of the first major global conferences to be held after the adoption of two key agreements, last year. Agenda 2030, a new development plan for the world; and a new Climate Change agreement adopted in Paris. It offers a unique opportunity to discuss the important challenge of how cities, towns and villages are planned and managed in a sustainable manner, to meet the new global agenda and climate change goals.

The New Urban Agenda, agreed upon at Habitat III in Quito, will guide the efforts around urbanisation of a wide range of actors — nation states, city and regional leaders, international development funders, UN programmes and civil society — for the next 20 years. Inevitably, this agenda will also lay the groundwork for policies and approaches that will have long lasting impact.


Forty years later, after both Habitat I and II, there is wide consensus that towns’ and cities’ structure, form, and functionality need to change as societies change. Especially, slums and related informal settlements that have become a spontaneous form of urbanisation, consisting of a series of survival strategies by the urban poor, most borne out of poverty and exclusion.

Habitat III represents an opportunity to make concrete the ideals of Habitat II in designing policies, planning urban spaces for all, and providing affordable urban services and utilities through adopting a ‘New Urban Agenda’ this October.

Towards the New Urban Agenda

The core issues of the Habitat II Agenda — adequate housing and sustainable human settlements — remain on the table, as the number of people worldwide living in urban slums continues to grow. There is also an increasing recognition that cities have morphed into mega-regions, urban corridors and city-regions whose economic, social and political geographies defy traditional conceptions of the “city”.

Impact of the agenda

The Agenda will seek to create a mutually reinforcing relationship between urbanisation and development. Several core ideas form the ideological underpinnings of the New Urban Agenda. Democratic development and respect for human rights feature prominently in the draft agreements, as does the relationship between the environment and urbanisation.

The new agenda also places importance on establishing a global monitoring mechanism to track progress on meeting commitments. As an “agenda”, it will provide guidance to nation states, city and regional authorities, civil society, foundations, NGOs, academic researchers and UN agencies. However, this guidance is not binding. This arrangement is different from, for example, the December 2015 climate negotiations in Paris, which resulted in a legally binding agreement.

Let’s take a practical example. The new urban agenda calls for mass transit systems and to cut back our dependence on vehicles. In recent years in Dhaka, our response to traffic congestion has been to build flyovers. This has been compared to an overweight person addressing the need to lose weight by loosening their belt. You feel better at first, but it doesn’t last. The underlying issues are not addressed. The government recently broke ground on metro rail link between Uttara and the airport. With policy choices like this, we can move Dhaka to the fore of the New Urban Agenda.

The New Urban Agenda and Bangladesh

A broad range of actors in Bangladesh were involved in contributing to developing the New Urban Agenda. The Government of Bangladesh, through the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, is engaged in both the Habitat III conference and related academic discussions through various national and international forums.

It is estimated that 60 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP is produced in urban areas. Having laid out an urban vision in the 7th Five-year Plan as “compact, networked, resilient, competitive, and inclusive and smart,” Bangladesh still has considerable work ahead to meet international goals set by the New Urban Agenda. Certainly, in Bangladesh the stakes are high, since it is the third most urbanised nation in South Asia.

The ‘new urban agenda’ will clearly influence policymakers as they consider cities, urbanisation and sustainable development, and set priorities at the national levels. With the global perspectives on managing urbanisation for making cities and human settlements equitable, prosperous, sustainable, just, equal and safe, Bangladesh can finalise the long awaited national urban sector policy. And it can begin drafting a ‘New Urban Agenda’ to tackle the country’s rapid urbanisation in order to maximise the benefits of urbanisation for the people of Bangladesh.

The writers are Acting Country Director of UNDP Bangladesh and Urban Programme Specialist of UNDP Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Freedom for National Good Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:03:57 +0000 I.A. Rehman By I.A. Rehman
Oct 20 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Several international rights organisations have jointly issued a global civic charter for the defence of four basic freedoms — the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly and association — and Pakistan is among the countries for which the campaign is especially relevant.

I.A. Rehman

I.A. Rehman

The civic charter has been strongly backed by Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. He says that the biggest difficulty in resolving the multiple crises faced by humankind is that billions of people — indeed the majority of the world — are prevented from contributing their talents, sharing their ideas and expressing their wishes.

Attempts to prevent citizens from contributing to the solution of national problems take many forms in Pakistan.

Pakistan is still caught in the post-9/11 wave that has undermined human rights worldwide.

Human rights activists are threatened, abused, intimidated and illegally confined in two Balochistan cities for mobilising citizens against extremism and violence, which is supposed to be the principal national concern.

The prime minister has thanked rights activists for facilitating legislation on ‘honour’ killings while security personnel have been hounding, harassing and intimidating women activists for voicing their concerns and preventing them from holding peaceful meetings.

And scores of Pakistani journalists, particularly in Balochistan and the Fata/ KP region, are facing serious threats to their rights to freedom of expression and information.

It is obvious that the right to freedom of expression is the most crucial of the four basic freedoms under attack because freedoms of information, assembly and association are means for citizens to record their concerns, voice their aspirations and offer solutions to national problems, including alternatives to official policies.

Although the right to freedom of expression belongs to all citizens including political parties, professional associations and NGOs, media persons have traditionally been identified as the principal party that should defend its and the people’s entitlements.

For Pakistan’s media community, defending the right to freedom of expression means protecting the fruits of nearly 200 years of struggle that began in the days of the East India Company when Raja Ram Mohan Roy closed down his newspaper instead of submitting to censorship. A large number of editions/ journalists followed him and suffered imprisonment, seizure of printing presses and forfeiture of security deposits for the sake of people’s freedom from alien rule. A couple of signposts on this journey are worth recalling.

The Quaid was chairman of the board of the Bombay Chronicle in 1919 when its editor, B.G. Horniman, was deported for supporting the Indian people’s cause. He was prevented from returning to India by being denied a passport. The matter was raised in the central assembly and the Quaid made a blistering attack on the governments of India and Britain for punishing Horniman through an arbitrary executive action. It was on this occasion that he declared that liberty of an individual was the dearest thing in any constitution and that could not be taken away by any executive authority.

Then there was the case of the reporter of The Times of London who offended the government of India by his somewhat truthful account of the suppression of the Quit India movement in 1942. The viceroy protested to secretary of state Amery in these words: we are facing a 1857-like crisis and hanging to power by the skin of our teeth. Kindly intervene with the editor.

Amery couldn’t meet The Times editor and the assistant editor who accepted his invitation to lunch declined to get the reporter gagged. In the end, Amery obliged the viceroy by sending a lightweight journalist, Beverley Nicholas, to keep the British national interest in mind. (Incidentally, Nicholas wrote a book, Verdict on India, which greatly pleased the Muslim League.) Even during an emergency, a British reporter was free to interpret the ‘national interest’ differently than the government of India.

The term ‘national interest’ was interpreted in Pakistan very broadly 50 to 60 years ago. The report of a patwari’s corruption could be suppressed in the ‘national interest’ and the same logic was applied to detain Sobho Gianchandani for holding communist ideas until Justice Lari of the Sindh High Court declared that this was no crime, and an article on Imam Husain’s resistance to Yezid could be censored in the 1980s.

Things have surely changed, but Pakistan is still caught in the post-9/11 wave that has undermined human rights and due process worldwide, even though the world is beginning to realise the havoc the wars waged in the name of ‘threats to security’ have caused over the last two decades.

The Pakistani journalists’ struggle to get the oppressive press laws — from Adam’s Regulation of 1867 and the Press Act of 1931, to the Press and Publication Ordinance of 1963 — rewritten so as to protect media persons against the executive’s punitive actions is recent history. The central issue all along has been the journalists’ right to be treated in accordance with normal laws if any offence has been committed.

Unfortunately, old-style legal steps to force media persons to fall in line have gone out of fashion. Incidents of covert arms-twisting, involuntary disappearance and even death after abduction have made Pakistan one of the most dangerous places for journalists. How to rid the country of this stigma and ensure that efforts in this direction, such as the Salim Shahzad commission report, are not suppressed should be at the top of the agenda for both the government and the media.

There will be a need to take care of some sticking points. First, neither the government nor the media can claim infallibility. Second, the official attitude of treating civil society, including the media, as pestilential will have to be discarded. Thirdly, the question of any restrictions on freedom of expression, through open censorship or otherwise, must be determined in accordance with the Johannesburg Principles, which oblige government to show not only that any restrictions are absolutely necessary but also that they do not violate fundamental due process obligations. It was this principle the US supreme court upheld while rejecting the Nixon administration’s bid to prevent The Washington Post from publishing the Watergate story.

Those who wish to ignore the cost paid by Pakistan for curbing freedom of expression — the state’s disintegration in 1971 — will be guilty of pushing the country towards a greater catastrophe.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Changing Climate Threatens World’s Smallholder Farmers Wed, 19 Oct 2016 13:45:07 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 1 Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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U.N. Urban Summit Gives Rise to a Mixture of Optimism and Criticism Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:30:44 +0000 Emilio Godoy 0 Reimagining South Asia in 2030 Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:52:26 +0000 Rehman Sobhan By Rehman Sobhan
Oct 18 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The future of South Asia, as a community does not look too promising in the wake of the postponement of the SAARC summit. As a person who has been engaged over 40 years in civil society initiatives to recreate a South Asian community, I have witnessed a number of such fluctuations in the fortunes of the SAARC process.

flag_2__At all such troubled moments it has remained important for civil society, across the region, to keep the idea of South Asia alive and moving forward. It is civil society, operating through the market place and through increasing movement of people across borders, who have continued to interact with each other. It is through such civic interactions that we have attempted to preserve our South Asian identity and ensured that set-backs at the inter-state level would not erode the concept of South Asia. Such civil society initiatives have fortunately been sustained by the commitment of particular governments, especially from the smaller states of South Asia, to retain their faith in the idea of a stronger South Asian community.

Within the long tradition of a pro-active civil society, I would invite South Asians assembled here today to let their minds roam free and try to imagine a South Asia in which our children and grandchildren may come of age. Through such an exercise in reimagination, let us cast our vision towards the Himalayan peaks of South Asia rather than tracking all the holes in the ground which have, in our recent history, threatened progress in our journey to a shared destination. The challenges I lay down before all the distinguished participants assembled at South Asian Economic Summit (SAES) IX from across the region is to apply your creative imagination to explore pathways which will help us to clear the obstacles to our ascent. This is an altogether different challenge from investing our time and energies in identifying the obstacles and then concluding that we had better not attempt such a forbidding journey.

To encourage all of you to look upwards I present my own vision for how I visualise South Asia in 2030. You are each free to challenge aspects of my vision and substitute your own but I would still encourage you to always look upwards.

My vision of an imagined South Asia is constructed around four challenges:

* Imagining a genuinely just, inclusive and democratic society

* Imagining a South Asian community living at peace with each other

* Imagining South Asia as a lynchpin in a wider Asian community which is emerging as the centre of the economic universe during the 21st Century

A just, inclusive and democratic South Asia

My vision of a just and inclusive society visualises exclusion as the outcome of an unjust society and international system. This injustice remains the source of poverty, income inequality and social disparity. This sense of injustice which permeates the more excluded segments of society across South Asiais expressing itself in social instability, alienation and resort to violence in our countries. Such tensions threaten to spill across national borders and disturb inter-state harmony. My idea of justice envisions a social universe where the more excluded segments of society, the resource poor, women, minority groups are provided with equitable opportunities to participate in the economic and political market place.

The right to economic justice can only be realised through a politically just order which demands a South Asia in 2030 where our elective bodies are competitively elected, free of the influence of money and the threat of muscle power or invocations to primordial loyalties and faith based identities. Such elective bodies would thereby include women representatives in numbers commensurate with their share of the population, working people, minorities and representatives from other excluded groups. These genuinely representative bodies should always remain responsive and accountable to their electorate who should be free to recall them if they fail to discharge their mandate to their constituents.

Fully representative elective bodies, should feel empowered to give voice to the concerns of the excluded and hold governments accountable to honour their commitments and for all their actions at all times. Corruption should be constantly challenged within institutions of governance which are kept fully transparent, accountable and non-partisan. Such a system of governance should always seek to draw upon and reward efficiency and integrity while punishing malfeasant conduct among public employees. To underwrite such a system we should look forward to a South Asia sustained by the rule of law.

Imagining a South Asian community

By 2030, we should aspire to construct an economic communitywhich would provide for the free movement of goods, people and capital across the region, through a common market backed by integrated labour and capital markets. A South Asian economic community would need to provide opportunities for the growth and diversification of the smaller economies of South Asia through leveraging the growth of the Indianeconomy which by 2030 would be the third largest in the world. We would accordingly need to construct value chains across the region in the same way that China has linked itself to its East and South East Asian neighbours and thereby stimulated their export and economic growth.

To underwrite the common market of South Asia we would need to integrate its economic infrastructure through establishing seamless connectivity which provides for uninterrupted movement of goods and people through rail, road, air and water transport across the region. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s dream of having breakfast in Dhaka, lunch in Delhi, tea in Lahore and dinner in Kabul must be realised. We further need to integrate energy grids which trade power across the region and are serviced by regional conduits which link the oil and gas fields of West and Central Asia with South Asia. We must finally work together to exploit the enormous energy potential of the Himalayan waters through cooperative action among South Asian countries served by these waters.

Imagining South Asia as the pivot of a new Asia

In conclusion, we should recognise that South Asia today serves as a pivotal link between the most dynamic economies in the world in China and East/South-East Asia with the enormous energy and natural resource of West and Central Asia. These linkages should be strengthened through building transport connectivity which permits for uninterrupted travel originating in China or Singapore, across Myanmar and North East India into Bangladesh, across India to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. China already has its own plans to establish such connectivity but South Asia should position itself as a pivotal route for the Asian Highway and Railway networks and link up with China’s belt and road initiative for building connectivity across Asia.

Within the Asian region, apart from its pivotal location, South Asia is possessed of a unique resource, its people. Given the rapidly aging populationsof China as well as in East Asia and the sparse populations of West and Central Asia, South Asia’s demographic dividend should emerge as one of Asia’s most important sources of wealth. South Asia’s citizens, equipped with universal quality education and democratization of economic opportunities, could leverage its partnership in the Asia region as the principal source of labour services which will remain integral to the sustainable growth of the region. We should also recognize that South Asia presides over one of the largest untapped markets in the region in the form of its millions of low income households. A policy agenda, which is targeted to significantly enhance the inclusion of these millions in the development process and in the process, significantly enhances their incomes, would generate market demand from the bottom of the pyramid which has not been witnessed since Chain’s managed to lift millions of its people out of poverty.

Ascending the mountain top

The challenge before us is to move beyond the realm of the imagination to explore what we need to do together and within our own boundaries to scale the Himalayan summit. The journey may look forbidding but it must begin. South Asia cannot condemn itself to travel towards 2030 moving sluggishly along the swamps and marshes which hold us hostage today. Let me therefore conclude with an uplifting message inspired by the immortal verses of Rabindranath Tagore from his epic poem, Gitanjali:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where South Asia is no longerbroken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand or dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action—

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let the countries of South Asia awake.

This is an abridged version of the speech delivered by Rehman Sobhan at the ninth South Asia Economic Summit (SAES).

The writer is Chairman, CPD.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Big Powers Set to Grab High Level UN Posts Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:27:32 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fighting Food Insecurity and Undernutrition in Urban Slums Tue, 18 Oct 2016 05:38:13 +0000 Christa Rader By Christa Räder
Oct 18 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As anyone trying to negotiate afternoon traffic in Dhaka can attest only too well, Bangladesh’s cities are growing quickly and wildly. If the current trend continues, the number of urban residents will be more than double over the next 25 years, and there will be more people living in cities than in villages by 2040.

food_insecurity_Urbanisation will no doubt further contribute to Bangladesh’s impressive economic progress and propel millions more out of poverty. That’s the good news.

But the mass migration from village to city is also bringing new concerns that reach far beyond rush-hour traffic. How will all these people get nutritious food to eat? And what about the slums, where six out of ten city dwellers actually live? This is the highest proportion in South Asia, and it’s where most newcomers and the poorest people live.

It’s clear that this scenario will carry significant challenges – but little has been known about the unique situation in the poorest parts of Bangladesh’s cities.

That is why the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) collected data on food security and nutrition in 2013 in the slums of Dhaka, Barisal and Sirajganj. The results, presented earlier this year, bring new, detailed insights into those dynamics.

The study reveals that the nutrition status of young children is far worse in urban slums than in other urban or rural parts of the country. An alarming 44 percent of urban slum children experience stunted growth and nearly one in five (16 percent) are too thin for their height.

Two out of five people in Dhaka slums are severely or moderately food insecure – which is not much worse than in other parts of Bangladesh. There is a paradox, though: although there is a wide range of food available to buy in the slums, and slum dwellers have similar incomes as people in other parts of Bangladesh, this does not translate to better nutritional outcomes. The critical issue still to be understood is how much of expensive, nutrient-dense foodstuff the slum-dwellers actually eat or can afford.

The report shows distinct problems for women living in urban slums. Those living in the poorest slum households are nearly twice as likely to be unhealthily thin than those in best-off slum households. Further, a worrying picture emerges for teenage girls aged 14-19 years, among whom about two in five (41 percent) are too thin for their height, compared to 20 percent of all women of childbearing age in urban slums.

None of this is particularly surprising – but the detailed information from the study should help policy makers fine-tune their efforts in addressing these issues. This is significant not just for the individuals affected, but for the country as a whole. Undernutrition carries significant consequences also for the economy and health systems, costing Bangladesh an estimated USD 1 billion annually in lost productivity.

So how to focus our efforts better to tackle this crucial issue?

First, by extending social safety nets to urban slums. Bangladesh has substantial and laudable social protection systems, but the urban slums are poorly covered.

The government may consider including women and children in its emerging core programmes. Experience in northern Bangladesh has shown that giving cash, along with nutrition training, to poor women with young children can have a great impact on child stunting. Empowering women really is one of the most effective ways to improve household food security and nutrition.

Second, as the government aspires to bring all 20 million primary school students into its school feeding programme by 2030, it may need to prioritise the high numbers of undernourished children in urban slums.

Granted, a daily snack or meal cannot reverse the damage done by nutritional deprivation in the earliest years of life, but it mitigates chronic hunger and helps children focus on their studies rather than their growling stomachs. Improved education for the present generation will greatly increase the chance of better nutritional outcomes for future generations.

Third, unequal pay and poor support structures for young women, who are increasingly driving the economic engines in cities, have a negative impact on food security and nutrition conditions. Enabling women also in this regard will benefit everyone.

Now is the time to take up the new challenge of food insecurity and undernutrition in urban slums. This will benefit the whole of the economy and society, and move Bangladesh along on its journey to fulfilling the national vision of becoming an inclusive upper-middle-income country by 2021.

The writer is WFP representative in Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Is This Counter-terrorism in a Far Deadlier Garb? Tue, 18 Oct 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Editor sunday By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Oct 18 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

A draft policy and legal framework aimed at a new law on counter-terrorism to replace Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) may well be a classic case of the cure being far worse than the disease.

kishali2A bare reading of the draft immediately gives rise to several questions that gravely impact on the protection of life and liberty. As reported, the Cabinet has forwarded the draft to a parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security. It is hoped that this Committee will give its most anxious consideration to the contents and breadth of what is proposed.

Whole range of new offences
The draft framework proposes a whole range of new offences, apart from the primary offence of terrorism. The additional offences include ‘terrorism related’ offences, ‘associated’ offences as well as an offence of Espionage. These encompass a variety of problematically broad acts.
Thus, for example, the definition of terrorism categorizes eleven acts including causing serious damage to the environment and the economy of (not only) this country (but also) any other sovereign nation. The one exception provided is when a person acts in good-faith in the lawful exercise of a fundamental right or following a lawful order or a judicial order. As (thankfully) declared, this is not tantamount to an act of terrorism. This safeguard however is qualified as will be discussed later.

The acts prohibited must be with the intent to, or with the object of or knowing or reasonably believing that they would bring about four listed objectives. These objectives include first, threatening, attacking, changing or adversely affecting the unity, territorial integrity, security or sovereignty of Sri Lanka or that of any other sovereign nation.

Prohibiting ‘ideological domination’?
Far more worryingly, the second ground relates to ‘illegally or unlawfully’ compelling the Government to ‘reverse, vary or change a policy decision’ or to do or abstain from doing any act relating to the defence, national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and the protection of the people. The same prohibition applies in relation to the government of any other sovereign nation.

It is a matter for most profound puzzlement as to why ‘reverse, vary or change a policy decision’ has been brought into the ambit of this proposed prohibition. The impact thereof in regard to advocacy on reforming government policies, which may be categorized as ‘illegal’ or ‘unlawful’, is troubling.

The third ground specifies ‘illegally’ causing a change of the Government of Sri Lanka or of any other sovereign nation. And arousing justifiable consternation is the fourth ground listing ‘committing any act of violent extremism towards achieving ideological domination.’ Using terms such as ‘ideological domination’ brings us to new and terrifyingly unfamiliar territory of the ‘thought police’ as it were.

Using the old terminology of offences
Punishments include the death penalty upon conviction by a High Court if a death has occurred as a reasonable consequence. In other respects, imprisonment up to a maximum extent of 20 years, imposition of a fine and the confiscation of property can follow. The proposed ambit of the four listed objectives are so wide that even the exercise of a fundamental right intending or knowing or reasonably believing that it would bring about these results will not be excused.

Meanwhile, the definition of ‘terrorism related’ offences proceeds on almost the same terminology reflected in emergency regulations under the Public Security Ordinance. Similarly stringent punishments are proposed in this regard. Restraining elements of necessity and proportionality laid down in numerous judicial decisions in the eighties to mid nineties appear to be absent.

Further, the inclusion of an offence of ‘espionage’ in regard to the gathering and providing of ‘confidential information’ relating to the listed offences is exceptionally chilling. There is an unacceptably broad definition of what constitutes ‘confidential information.’ This awakens echoes of the much unloved colonial-era Official Secrets Act. This does not bode well for the new information culture supposed to be a clarion call of the Unity Government.

Abandoning first principles
The draft framework merits meticulous and critical scrutiny which is not possible in these column spaces. Other overriding concerns are many. It permits confessions to be given to a police officer above the rank of a Superintendant of Police continuing a heavily critiqued tradition identified as the primary cause of torture by state agents. It is little comfort that a forensic examination of a suspect by a government forensic medical specialist supervised by a magistrate may be mandated.

As the Supreme Court itself has observed, the inability of judicial officers to properly perform their tasks is a regrettable reality. For example, in the Maximus Danny case (SC Application No. 488/98 SC Application No. 488/98), the Court noted that “unfortunately, the Magistrate has almost mechanically made an order of remand because the police wanted them to be remanded.” Such instances are the rule rather than the exception.

That the law must not enable the procuring of confessions by coercion has been reiterated in authoritative precedents by Sri Lankan judges before emergency law completely subverted our legal structure. Confessions given not only to police officers but also any individual standing in a position of authority were automatically shut out. That was how rigorous the legal standard once was, sternly enforced by judges of extraordinary ability at the time. Abandoning first principles such as these and providing crumbs from the state security table in the form of increased magisterial oversight is no solace.

Worrying replacement of the PTA
Neither is the draft’s stipulation that the prosecution has to prove the voluntary nature of the confession. Discharging that burden will not be difficult given the way that the criminal justice system works. And as in the case of the now deferred amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, access to counsel is only allowed after the recording of the first statement by the police, or the expiry of 48 hours from the time of arrest, whichever occurs first. These are all excellent aids to the disregarding of the Rule of Law.

It is therefore a supreme irony that the motivation for Sri Lanka’s contemplating a new counter-terrorism law was the passionate argument that the PTA’s broad powers to search, detain and arrest is contrary to modern human rights protections. What the draft attempts to do is clothe the outmoded and somewhat clumsy substance of the archaic anti-terrorism law in modernistic and infinitely deadlier garb.

That surely must be a cause of considerable public concern in these unsettling times.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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From City 50/50 to Planet 50/50 – How to Step it Up for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Mon, 17 Oct 2016 17:41:38 +0000 Lakshmi Puri Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women]]> Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

By Lakshmi Puri
QUITO, Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Urban development ministers, mayors from all over the world, city planners, architects and municipal authorities, civil society and private sector will meet in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, for Habitat III, the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (17-20 October, 2016), to adopt the New Urban Agenda as well as to strategize and agree on its implementation.

Women’s and grass roots women’s organizations, youth champions for gender equality and UN Women, have consistently supported UN Habitat, the United Nations entity responsible for this agenda, in the three-year preparatory process, and will be at the Conference, to ensure that the historic gender equality and women’s empowerment compact agreed by the international community during 2015 is not only reflected in the outcome, but actually implemented where it matters most – on the ground at the local level, in communities and households.

Lakshmi Puri - UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women

Lakshmi Puri – UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women

HABITAT III is critical for the effective, accelerated and full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its transformative and comprehensive gender equality compact, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the outcome of the Financing for Development Conference and the Women, Peace and Security agenda in conflict and post-conflict countries.

It also comes at a time of unprecedented urbanization of the world with the large exodus of people from villages to haphazardly and rapidly growing cities in developing countries with inadequate infrastructure, services and social protection, transferring extreme rural poverty into vast city slums.

Studies indicate that there is a higher proportion of women within the urban population overall, and a concentration of women-headed households in urban centers.  Also, the population is becoming younger, and women and youth will continue to make up the majority of people living in poverty, with limited control over assets and with unequal access to economic and income generating opportunities and participation in public and private decision-making.

This population also faces greater vulnerability to gender inequalities, gender based violence and multiple forms of discrimination. For cities and human settlements it is increasingly more complex and challenging to meet the needs of women and young populations including for housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and employment, as well as for basic services such as education and health care.

Yet for many the trend towards the “feminization of urbanization” creates new opportunities for escaping the inequality trap and realizing their human rights, but it also poses new challenges.

The NUA is a collective vision and a political commitment to promote and realize sustainable urban development.

 It provides a strategic opportunity to support the implementation of the Agenda 2030 by improving the spatial configuration of cities and human settlements in a gender-inclusive way and by recognizing the crucial dimensions of women’s rights. In this regard, the Quito Implementation Plan envisions to develop cities that “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and in leadership at all levels of decision-making, and by ensuring decent work and equal pay for equal work, or work of equal value for all women, as well as preventing and eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces.”

In adopting «Leaving no one behind» and «Sustainable and inclusive urban economies» as part of its guiding principles, the NUA commits to ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all, end poverty and discrimination and promoting full and productive employment and decent work for all.

With the adoption of the NUA, Member States are pledging their commitment to adopt sustainable, people-centered, age- and gender- responsive and integrated approaches to urban and territorial development.

Efforts have been made throughout the grounds up and consultative process leading up to HABITAT III to reflect the imperative recognized in the 2030 Agenda and elsewhere that without realizing the human rights of half of humanity – that of women and girls – sustainable development, peace and security, or effective humanitarian action and resilience cannot be achieved.

In this case, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is both an end and a vital means to these ends.

Equally it should be noted that there is an inextricable link between the achievement of SDG 11 and its targets on making cities and human settlements sustainable, inclusive, safe and resilient, and SDG 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.

This link has been emphatically recognized as critical to unlock the power of cities to empower women and girls as well to transform gender power relations within cities and human settlements.

In this regard, the NUA draws on SDG-5 and the gender equality component of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, for example, by committing to promoting safety and eliminating discrimination and all forms of violence; ensuring public participation providing safe and equal access for all (SDG 5.1); eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence, and harassment against women and girls in private and public spaces (SDG 5.2); eliminating harmful practices against women and girls, including child, early, and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (SDG 5.3); recognize the contribution of the working poor in the informal economy, particularly women, including the unpaid, domestic, and migrant workers to the urban economies (SDG 5.4); ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal rights in all fields and at all levels of decision-making, including in local governments (SDG 5.5);  promoting access to adequate, inclusive, and quality public services, social infrastructure and facilities, such as health-care services, including universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services to reduce newborn child and maternal mortality (SDG 5.6).

Furthermore, to consolidate the transformative power of cities, the NUA promotes increased security of tenure for all with particular attention to security of land tenure for women as key to their empowerment; make information and communications technologies accessible to the public, including women and girls, children and youth; and promoting participatory age- and gender-responsive approaches at all stages of the urban and territorial policy and planning processes, from conceptualization to design, budgeting, implementation, evaluation.

The NUA also references age- and gender-responsive measures throughout, including in relation to sustainable, safe, and accessible urban mobility for all and resource efficient transport systems, goods, services, and economic opportunities; housing policies, water and sanitation, and climate change. It makes reference to paying special attention to the needs and rights of women in relation to services provision, full and productive employment, decent work, and livelihood opportunities in cities and human settlements. It also commits to promote gender-responsive urban territorial development, budgeting, and tenure security, among others.

We now have the strongest political commitment ever to embedding the gender equality and women’s rights agenda in the path-breaking twenty-first century New Urban Agenda.  All stakeholders of cities and of all human settlements – peri urban and rural areas – should implement this agenda without which we will not be able to localize and achieve the first-ever universal and ambitious sustainable development agenda; nor will we be able to make and build peace in fragile and war torn countries; nor deal with the enormous migration and refugee crisis, humanitarian and climate change related challenges effectively.

As Habitat III unfolds, the challenge now is to ensure significant frontloading effort in implementation. Gender equality advocates, including UN Women, have played a critical role both in setting the agenda and monitoring the insider process during the run-up to Habitat III.

Now, we must remain vigilant to ensure, with a sense of urgency, its full and effective implementation. Strong accountability mechanisms are to be in place with clear responsibilities for all stakeholders while also providing avenues for women’s and grassroots’ and other civil society organizations at all levels to hold decision-makers answerable for their actions, and seek redress when necessary.

The most transformative commitments of land tenure, violence against women in public spaces and equal access to productive resources and decent employment, will truly root if the age and gender-responsive integrated approaches that the NUA promises are spelled out ensuring that women and girls’ human rights and fundamental freedoms are fulfilled.

The cities have a huge responsibility in generating an enabling environment to grant women and girls equal access to opportunities and the benefits of urban development, including in relation to the sharing of care work, for example through the provision of child care which actually has been left out of the NUA.

City 50/50 is the foundation for building a Planet 50/50 so we need to get all actors – local and national governments, the private sector and civil society to step it up for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls!!

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