Inter Press Service » Headlines News and Views from the Global South Mon, 23 Jan 2017 17:48:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Guess How Much Water Your Daily Food Consumes Mon, 23 Jan 2017 15:49:31 +0000 IPS News Desk Millions of family farmers in developing countries already suffer from lack of access to freshwater. Photo: FAOMillions of family farmers in developing countries already suffer from lack of access to freshwater. Credit: FAO

Millions of family farmers in developing countries already suffer from lack of access to freshwater. Photo: FAOMillions of family farmers in developing countries already suffer from lack of access to freshwater. Credit: FAO

By IPS News Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

The facts are clear. So are the consequences. And the facts are that it takes between one and three tonnes of water to grow one kilogramme of cereal; that a kilogramme of beef takes up to 15 tonnes of water to produce; and that it is estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 litres of water are needed to produce a person’s daily food.

Meantime, the consequences are that growing water scarcity is now one of the leading challenges for sustainable development, and it is poised to intensify as the world’s population continues to swell and climate change intensifies.

José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), while presenting these findings, warned that competition for water will intensify as humanity’s numbers exceed 9 billion people around 2050.

In fact, already millions of family farmers in developing countries suffer from lack of access to freshwater, while conflicts over water resources already surpass those tied to land disputes in some regions, the FAO chief said at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture which took place on Jan. 19-21 in Berlin.

Additionally, climate change is already altering hydrological regimes everywhere, he added, citing estimates that around one billion people in dry regions may face increasing water scarcity in the near future. These are regions with a high concentration of extreme poverty and hunger.

“Agriculture is both a major cause and casualty of water scarcity. Farming accounts for around 70 per cent of fresh water withdrawals in the world today, and also contributes to water pollution due to pesticides and chemicals.”

To tackle these challenges, the international community created a standalone sustainable development goal (SDG) on water and wove better management of this key natural resource throughout the entire architecture of the SDGs, Graziano da Silva said.

He urged participants to rise to the food security challenges posed by water scarcity on two fronts: first, promoting ways to both use less water and use it more efficiently, and secondly, by taking steps to secure access to water — especially for poor family farmers.

“Doing so will not prevent a drought from occurring, but it can help in preventing droughts from resulting in famine and socioeconomic disruption.”

One-Third of Food Either Lost or Wasted

Graziano da Silva also said that cutting back on food waste has an important role to play in using water more wisely. Each year, one-third of world food production is either lost or wasted — that translates into a volume of agriculture water wasted equal to around three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

At the last UN Climate Change Conference FAO launched a global framework for coping with water scarcity in agriculture to support such efforts, he added.
This framework seeks to support the development and implementation of policies and programmes for the sustainable use of water in agriculture and encourage cooperation among different stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, financing institutions and development organisations.

The Berlin Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, organised by the German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL), takes place every year, bringing together high-level decision makers, technical experts, researchers and farmers to discuss pressing issues affecting agriculture worldwide.

The Forum’s theme this year is “Agriculture and Water – Key to Feeding the World.”

It is in fact so key to feeding the world that FAO projects that irrigated food production will increase by more than 50 per cent by 2050, but the amount of water withdrawn by agriculture can increase by only 10 per cent, provided that irrigation practices are improved and yields increase.

The world contains an estimated 1.400 million cubic kilometres of water. But only 0.003 per cent of this amount, about 45.000 cubic kilometres, are “fresh water resources” that can be used for drinking, hygiene, agriculture and industry. Not all of this water is accessible because part of it flows into remote rivers during seasonal floods.

In California, wastewater is sanitized and blended with groundwater, supporting large-scale crop production. Credit: FAO

In California, wastewater is sanitized and blended with groundwater, supporting large-scale crop production. Credit: FAO

Using Wastewater in Agriculture?

Now that food demand and water scarcity are on the uptick, it’s time to stop treating wastewater like garbage and instead manage it as a resource that can be used to grow crops and help address water scarcity in agriculture, according to FAO.

Properly managed, wastewater can be used safely to support crop production — directly through irrigation or indirectly by recharging aquifers — but doing so requires diligent management of health risks through adequate treatment or appropriate use.

How countries are approaching this challenge and the latest trends in the use of wastewater in agriculture production was the focus of discussions by a group of experts in Berlin’s annual Global Forum for Food and Agriculture.

“Although more detailed data on the practice is lacking, we can say that, globally, only a small proportion of treated wastewater is being used for agriculture, most of it municipal wastewater, “ said Marlos De Souza, a senior officer with FAO’s Land and Water Division.

But increasing numbers of countries –Egypt, Jordan, Mexico, Spain and the United States, for example– have been exploring the possibilities as they wrestle with mounting water scarcity.

“So far, the reuse of wastewater for irrigation has been most successful near cities, where it is widely available and usually free-of-charge or at low cost, and where there is a market for agricultural produce, including non-food crops. But the practice can be used in rural areas as well –indeed it has long been employed by many smallholder farmers.”

Water is of course fundamental for food production, and the intensifying scarcity of this important natural resource –likely to be more intense in a context of climate change– has very significant implications for humanity’s ability to feed itself.

Globally, population growth and economic expansion are placing increasing pressure on freshwater resources, with the overall rate of groundwater withdrawals steadily increasing by 1 per cent per year since the 1980s. And those pressures are now increasingly being exacerbated by climate change.

Already, agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals — with demand for food estimated to grow by at least 50 per cent by 2050, agriculture’s water needs are poised to expand. Yet demand from cities and by industries is on the rise as well.

Untreated wastewater, however, often contains microbes and pathogens, chemical pollution, antibiotic residues, and other threats to the health of farmers, food chain workers, and consumers –and it also poses environmental concerns.

A number of technologies and approaches exist that are being utilised around the globe to treat, manage, and use wastewater in agriculture, many of them specific to the local natural resource base, the farming systems in which they are being used, and the crops that are being produced, De Souza said.

]]> 0
A Crisis of Overweight and Obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:41:44 +0000 Eve Crowley The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

The change in the eating habits in Latin America and the Caribbean has led to an increase in overweight and obesity in the region. Credit: Eduardo Bermúdez / FAORLC

By Eve Crowley
SANTIAGO, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Obesity and overweight have spread like a wildfire throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, threatening the health, well-being and food and nutritional security of millions of people.

According to the new publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security, close to 58 percent of the inhabitants of the region are overweight (360 million people) while obesity affects 140 million people, 23 percent of the regional population.

In almost all countries of the region, overweight affects at least half the population, with the highest rates observed in the Bahamas (69 percent), Mexico (64 percent) and Chile (63 percent).

Over the last 20 years there has been a rapid increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity across the population, regardless of their economic, ethnic or place of residence, although the risk is higher in net food-importing regions and countries, which consume more ultra-processed foods.

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

Eve Crowley, acting regional representative of FAO for Latin American and the Caribbean. Credit: Max Valencia/FAORLC

This situation is particularly serious for women, since in more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the rate of female obesity is 10  percentage points higher than that of men. The impact has also been considerable in children: 3.9 million children under 5 live with overweight in our region, 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200 000 in the Caribbean.

How did we get here? According to FAO and PAHO, a key factor has been the change in the region’s eating habits.

Economic growth in recent decades, increased urbanization, higher average income and the integration of the region into international markets reduced the consumption of traditional preparations based on cereals, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and increased consumption of ultra-processed products, with high amounts of sugars, salt and fats.

To curb the rise in overweight and obesity, countries in the region can draw on some of the valuable experiences they gained in their fight against hunger. Today, undernourishment affects only 5.5 percent of the regional population, while stunting in children has also dropped from 24.5 percent in 1990 to 11.3 percent in 2015, a reduction of 7.8 million children.

However, it should be noted that although hunger has declined, it has not been eradicated: there are still 34 million people unable to access the food they require for a healthy and active life, which means that the region faces a double burden of malnutrition.

According to the FAO / PAHO Panorama, combating both malnutrition and obesity requires a healthy diet that includes fresh, healthy, nutritious and sustainably produced foods. The key to progress is to promote sustainable food systems that link agriculture, food, nutrition and health.

In order to eradicate all forms of malnutrition, States should encourage the sustainable production of fresh, safe and nutritious foods as well as ensuring their diversity, supply and access, especially for the most vulnerable in regions that are net importers of foods.

These measures should be complemented with policies to strengthen family farming, short production and food marketing circuits, public procurement systems linked to healthy school feeding programs and nutritional education programs.

Fiscal measures should also be implemented to discourage the consumption of junk food, improve food labeling and warnings with regard to high sugar, fat and salt content, and regulate the advertising of unhealthy foods to reduce their consumption.

These policies are more urgent than ever in light of the current signs of stagnation in regional economic growth, which pose a significant risk to food and nutrition security.

Governments should maintain and increase their support to the most vulnerable to avoid undoing their advances in the fight against hunger and to reverse the current rise in obesity and overweight, working together through initiatives such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States’s Plan for Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication.

Although there are significant variations according to subregions and countries, Latin America and the Caribbean considered as a whole has a food availability that far surpasses the requirements of all its population, thanks to its great agricultural performance. However, in several countries, this process of agricultural development is currently unsustainable, due to the consequences it is having on the ecosystems of the region. The sustainability of food supply and its future diversity are under threat unless we change the way we do things.

The region must make more efficient and sustainable use of land and other natural resources. Countries must improve their techniques of food production, storage and processing, and put a stop to food losses and waste, as 127 million tons of food end up in the trash every year in Latin America and the Caribbean.

To meet the Sustainable Development Goals, and especially SDG2 / Zero Hunger, which aims to eradicate undernourishment by 2030, the region needs to act on the complex interactions between food security, sustainability, agriculture, nutrition and health, to build a hunger and malnutrition free Latin America and the Caribbean.

The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is not a task that can be left to the indifferent hand of the market. On the contrary, governments must exercise their will and sovereignty to develop specific public policies that attack the conditions that perpetuate hunger, overweight and obesity, as well as their consequences on the health of adults and children. Only by turning the fight against malnutrition into State policy can we put a stop to the rise of malnutrition in the region.

]]> 0
Zambia’s Armyworm Outbreak: Is Climate Change to Blame? Mon, 23 Jan 2017 14:05:01 +0000 Friday Phiri Zambian farmer Surrender Hamufuba inspecting a maize plant in his field. Experts say a changing climate is bringing more crop pests to parts of Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Zambian farmer Surrender Hamufuba inspecting a maize plant in his field. Experts say a changing climate is bringing more crop pests to parts of Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
PEMBA, Zambia, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

Surrender Hamufuba of Mwanamambo village in Pemba district recalls how he battled Armyworms in 2012. Fast-forward to 2016 and it is a similar story — another pest infestation on an even larger scale.

“I am not sure why, but there could be more to the increased frequency of these pest attacks, maybe weather changes,” speculates the 48-year-old farmer, who seems quite knowledgeable about climate smart agricultural fundamentals.“As temperature is projected to rise, insects like stalk borers will develop faster and this could lead to earlier population growth than expected.” --Researcher Donald Zulu

Out of the five hectares he planted, Hamufuba estimates the damage to be up to 1ha. In Pemba alone, at least 5,000 smallholders have reported some stalk borer damage in varying proportions.

Aside from the stalk borers, the Armyworm invasion has caused larger damage across the country. According to Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya, at least 124,000 hectares of maize have been invaded, representing just under 10 percent of the 1.4 hectares of maize planted this farming season.

National Coordinator of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) Patrick Kangwa said “the pests were under control” as government bought and delivered 87,000 litres of pesticides for spraying in the affected farmers’ fields.

While farmers are being supported in every way possible to safeguard their crops in the short term, the long-term concern is the frequency — and unpredictability — of these devastating pests.

Donald Zulu, a lecturer and researcher at the Copperbelt University, says climate change may complicate the pattern of infestations.

“Outbreaks of Armyworms are highly dependent on the seasonal patterns of wind and rainfall. With global warming, the weather pattern in Africa will continue to change, which could mean more or fewer Armyworm outbreaks,” says Zulu, prescribing long-term integrated approaches built around “robust, country-wide surveillance and early warning systems” considering the devastating nature and feeding pattern of Armyworms.

Armyworms are serious migratory crop pests that feed on young maize plants, and also attack other cereal crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum, millet and most grass pastures, affecting both crop and livestock production. They feed with such devastating speed that by the time they are discovered, notable damage would already have been caused. Stalk borers on the other hand, have the habit of boring into stalks, affecting plant growth.

There are several types of Armyworms, among them the African Armyworm, which occur in Africa. While the 2012 attack was the African Armyworm, this year’s outbreak is different.

“This particular pest is the Fall Armyworm, and not the African Armyworm,” says Dr. Eliot Zitsanza, chief scientist at the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRCO-CSA). “The two are closely related though. The Fall Armyworm is native to the Americas and may have been introduced to Zambia accidentally.”

Coincidentally this year, the Armyworm outbreak is occurring alongside stalk borers. Both belong to the same scientific family, called ‘Noctuidae’, of moths. From a scientific perspective, the two types of pests depend on weather for their production and growth, highlighting another importance of reliable early warning systems.

One of the most notable early warning systems uses an extensive network of pheromone traps that attract male armyworm moths using the artificial scent of mating female armyworms. The catches of Armyworm in the traps are used in combination with local weather reports to forecast armyworm outbreaks and help to alert farmers much faster to the need for control.

But with global warming causing massive weather unpredictability, is it to blame for increased incidences of pests? Professor Ken Wilson of Lancaster University, who has been studying Armyworms for 25 years, says it is very likely that over a few decades, the pattern of outbreaks has changed.

“It is very likely that climate change will affect the incidence of this pest because the armyworm is dependent on weather, so it feeds on crops and grasses that are dependent on the amount of rainfall, and the pattern of outbreaks depends very much on where rain storms occur and how frequently they occur,” Prof. Wilson told IPS, pointing out however, that the relationship is not simple as “we don’t have very good data and information to validate this hypothesis.”

As for stalk borers, just like most insects, they are directly under the control of temperature for their growth and it is the most important environmental factor influencing insect behavior, says Donald Zulu. “As temperature is projected to rise, insects like stalk borers will develop faster and this could lead to earlier population growth than expected.”

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report confirms this strong linkage between warming and increased pest and disease. In highlighting the major risk posed by climate change to agriculture — reduction in crop productivity associated with heat and drought stress — the report cites increased pest and disease damage and flood impacts on food system infrastructure as key indicators.

Similarly, in identifying key adaptation issues and prospects, the report highlights adoption of stress-tolerant crop varieties, irrigation, and enhanced weather observation systems.

While several arguments may have emerged since the outbreak, Southern Province Agricultural Coordinator Max Choombe points to mono-cropping as a major reason, especially for the stalk borer outbreak.

“I believe mono-cropping has brought about this burden because our farmers grow maize after maize, they don’t change,” laments Dr. Choombe, insisting on the importance of crop rotation for breaking the cycle of pests.

Dr. Choombe also believes climate change is a precursor to pest infestations and does not rule out the linkage between the current outbreak and global warming. “Climate change also is a problem, is a precursor for certain pests attack and I believe the attack this season could be as a result of the extreme weather changes we have been experiencing.”

With a looming outbreak of Red Locusts as forecast by the IRCO-CSA, there could be more work ahead in identifying long-term solutions to the rising challenge of pests in a changing climate. Further, the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which places obligations on individual countries to contribute to a global transition to green growth, means that Zambian policy makers would have to double their efforts considering that agriculture is at the forefront of the country’s vulnerability to climate change.

But while they do, Donald Zulu strongly believes in the following premise: “It is generally agreed that the earth is warming. And temperature influences insect development and is the most important environmental factor that affects insect pests. Because of this, climate change is more likely to influence insects’ geography distribution and affect crops.”

]]> 0
Harvesting Peace: How Rural Development Works for Conflict Prevention Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:18:59 +0000 Josefina Stubbs Josefina Stubbs is candidate for President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She has served in IFAD as Associate Vice-President of Strategy and Knowledge from 2014 to 2016 and as Director of Latin America and the Caribbean from 2008 and 2014.]]> Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

Fair and regulated access to the Mount Kenya’s national Park helps diffuse tensions among the members of Mount Kenya’s neighboring communities competing for the forest’s natural resources. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

By Josefina Stubbs
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic and ROME, Jan 23 2017 (IPS)

The year 2016 has seen a massive population flow, unprecedented in its range and reach. Millions of people have fled war-torn communities, natural disasters and violence, some overflowing neighboring countries’ refugee camps, some crossing perilous seas and walking hundreds of miles to reach safer grounds, others seeking refuge in countries half a world away. Thousands have died on their way to safety, countless more were victims of violence and abuse, among them many women and children.

Conflict and violence force people out of their communities, leaving them without resources or means to start afresh. They stall the lives of millions of people, depriving adults of their dignity and children of their childhood. According to the most recent UNHCR data available, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced in 2015 and that figure has been growing at a rate of 34,000 people per day. Of these, 21.3 million are refugees and half of them under the age of 18. Refugees put enormous pressure on receiving countries, where this sudden population increases puts their host countries at risk of food shortages and competition for limited employment opportunities.

In rural areas, conflict has devastating consequences. Being more sparsely populated and more difficult to police, rural spaces offer relatively safe havens for violent groups to gain ground and base their operations, terrorizing rural communities in the process.

This is one way that conflict and rural development are related. In fact, the relationship between the two is complex and tightly intertwined. In addition to brutally affecting rural communities, conflict often stems from competition for land and natural resources, such as water. Poverty, lack of employment and opportunities of a better future fuels resentment and offers extremists fertile recruiting grounds. When conflict erupts, rural development becomes difficult, if not impossible. Conversely, prosperous rural areas are more resilient to conflict. Investing in rural areas with the aim to strengthen rural communities in food production, business creation, productive as well as basic infrastructure and conflict mitigation helps prevent conflict escalation, promotes stability and reduces food insecurity that results from massive displacement of famers.

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

In Burundi, a community-owned livestock project contributed to build solidarity and reduce conflict between village members despite a raging civil war. Credit: Anna Manikowska Di Giovanni

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has considerable experience in preventing conflict and buffering its impact through investments in inclusive, sustainable rural transformation in Africa, the Middle East and in Latin America. By investing in rural development, we can provide rural people the option to stay and the strength to resist the onset of violence. By focusing on agriculture production and rural business development, countries become more resilient to food shortages and natural resource degradation. This is particularly important in countries that heavily depend on food imports and who have little or no autonomy in food production. On the other hand, rural business development offers alternatives to farmers and producers to diversify their activities and income sources, and invest in their territories, making them more likely to survive bad harvest as well as natural or man-made disasters. Building rural centers of diverse economic activities is key to reducing the pressure from highly populated urban areas and to creating opportunities for youth to plan their future in the countryside.

Development is a complex process – a social, cultural, religious, political, economic and technological puzzle in which the pieces constantly change shapes. Investment in inclusive rural transformation strengthens the fabric of the society that will build the puzzle and hold the pieces together for years to come. In conflict zones, the coordinated work and investment of the international community is crucial and should be geared toward providing the tools and knowledge to rural organizations and local institutions to take ownership of their communities’ development. It should support local and national authorities how represent the people to create policies that favor sustainable and peaceful growth, and to gain the skills and tools to negotiate, enforce and maintain peace and security. While contributing to achieving Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, it is also a moral obligation.

]]> 0
Please, Do Not Get Offended, But: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 17:49:36 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2017 (IPS)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump on Jan. 20, the new leadership of the most powerful nation has signaled it is breaking away from the rest of the world. Here, a few thoughts…

a) Those who voted Trump are generally totally unaware of what happens beyond their immediate surroundings. So it will take a long time before they will realize that Trump is not about their real interest. This means that the polarization and the division of the U.S. will continue for a long time to come. And in the end, disillusionment and frustration will result in a further decline of democracy, and with a possible new populism coming up.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

b) The American democratic system is incomprehensible for us foreigners. We understand the history, the constitution, everything. But we think that a system where somebody who with 3 million votes less than his opponent becomes president, on the basis that this was adequate two centuries ago, needs to be updated urgently. And then you find out that this is not possible, because the smaller states are majority, and can block any constitutional change, like direct democracy. This, for us, looks like an inadequate democratic system.

c) Since the Supreme court did install George W. Bush, and then gave a vote to the corporations because they have equal rights as the people, we foreigners look at the Supreme Court as a partisan place, not as the Supreme institution that is there to act in defense of the citizens. Add to this the permanent fight between the legislative, judicial and executive, and instead of the balance of power that the founding fathers wanted, we have a dysfunctional democracy.

d) Elections now cost over 2 billion dollars. To be elected in the senate, you need a war chest of least 40 million dollars. You have two brothers who can invest in the elections 800 million dollars. That is not democracy, it is oligarchy.

All this are structural problems, and for me Trump is the proof that democracy in the U.S. is in crisis. Yet, I ceased to discuss this with my American friends, because they are not only convinced to be in a democracy, but many, as George W Bush said, the only democracy….

Maybe Trump will bring debates and reflections on the state of democracy in the US. But I doubt that the system will be able to evolve. Especially if Trump stays eight years….

But that said, a crisis of democracy is when people stop believing in it. And in Europe this is what is happening, and Brexit is a clear signal of that. Today the European leaders of populist and xenophobe parties met in Coblenz, to coordinate themselves, in view of the next elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. And here two points, to echo somehow David:

1) All the right wing parties look to Putin as a point of reference. Defence of the family, religious values, national interests and identity, etc. Putin has been funding Le Pen, and Wilders, Farage, Salvini and so to look on him as a leader: not only Trump.
2) Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has declared that part of his job is to create an international Alliance of populist and xenophobe parties, and he has indicated Farage as the example of a European whom the White House is looking up to.

My conclusion: we are in for a hell of a time. And the best example that we have is that the compass is lost and that we all live in an Anglo world, with values of democracy, human rights, common gods, sustainable development, woman empowerment and so on, which all come from the Anglo world. Pax Britannia lasted until 1914. It was replaced by Pax Americana. And in 11 months, both countries abdicated their role in the world…knowing well that we are in a multipolar world, with China, India and so on in the race…this is simply crazy…

]]> 0
360 Million of 625 Million People Are Overweight in Latin America and Caribbean Fri, 20 Jan 2017 18:36:14 +0000 Orlando Milesi FAO acting regional representative Eve Crowley (C) during the launch of the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, at FAO headquarters in Santiago. The report , where it was warned that overweight affects 360 million people in the region. Credit: FAO

FAO acting regional representative Eve Crowley (C) during the launch of the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, at FAO headquarters in Santiago. The report , where it was warned that overweight affects 360 million people in the region. Credit: FAO

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

In Latin America and the Caribbean 360 million people are overweight, and 140 million are obese, warned the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Panamerican Health Organisation (PAHO).

“The rise in obesity is very worrying. At the same time the number of people who suffer from hunger has diminished in the region. We need to strengthen our efforts and have food systems with improved nutrition based on sustainable production methods to reduce those figures,” Eve Crowley, FAO acting regional representative, said Thursday at the organisation‘s headquarters in Santiago.

At the regional FAO office in Santiago on Thursday Jan. 19 the two organisations launched the Panorama of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean 2016, which sounded the alarm about the phenomenon in this region of just over 625 million people.

The problem, highlighted the report, largely affects children and women, increasing chronic diseases, driving up medical expenses for countries and individuals, and posing a threat to the quality of the future labour force that national development plans will require.

At the same time, the region has considerably reduced hunger: today only 5.5 per cent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean is undernourished, the Caribbean being the area with the highest prevalence (19.8 per cent), largely because Haiti has the highest malnutrition rate in the world: 53.4 per cent.

Chronic child malnutrition (low height for age) in Latin America and the Caribbean also dropped, from 24.5 per cent in 1990 to 11.3 per cent in 2015, which translates into a decrease of 7.8 million children.

Despite the progress made, currently 6.1 million children still suffer from chronic malnutrition: 3.3 million in South America, 2.6 million in Central America, and 200,000 in the Caribbean. About 700,000 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, 1.3 per cent of them under the age of five.

Asked whether the difficulty of access to natural, good quality foods is due to the high prices or to a flawed production and distribution system, Crowley told IPS that it is “a combination of factors“.

“We talk about a food system because it involves a set of factors – from supplies to which foods are available at a national level. For example in Latin America there is a great availability of sugary foods and meat. But ensuring physical availability and access to nutritious, healthy, affordable fresh food in every neighborhood is still hard to achieve,” she said.

“There is evidence that food high in bad calories, from ultra-processed sources, is less expensive than healthy food, and this poses a dilemma to guaranteeing good nutrition for the entire population, particularly people in low-income households,” she said.

Crowley said there are changes in consumption patterns, with people shifting away from their traditional diets based on legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables toward super-processed foods rich in saturated fats, sugar and sodium, which are backed by extensive advertising.

A girl wearing traditional dress from Bolivia’s highlands region shows a basket with fruit during a school exhibit in La Paz to promote good eating habits among students.. Programmes to promote healthy eating are spreading through schools in Latin America, to address problems such as malnutrition and overweight. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

A girl wearing traditional dress from Bolivia’s highlands region shows a basket with fruit during a school exhibit in La Paz to promote good eating habits among students.. Programmes to promote healthy eating are spreading through schools in Latin America, to address problems such as malnutrition and overweight. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

She called for better information, nutrition warnings, taxes on unhealthy foods, and subsidies for healthy foods necessary for the population.

With the exception of Haiti (38.5 per cent), Paraguay (48.5 per cent) and Nicaragua (49.4 per cent), overweight affects more than half of the population of the countries in the region, with Chile (63 per cent), Mexico (64 per cent) and the Bahamas (69 per cent) showing the highest rates, states the report.

Erick Espinoza, a physical education teacher in a private school in a middle-class neighborhood in Santiago, sees the problem of the change in eating and behavioural habits of his students, aged six to 10, which is a reflection of what is happening throughout the region, and in particular in the countries with the highest overweight and obesity rates.

“As snacks, they don’t bring fruit, only potato chips, crackers or cookies, fizzy drinks, juice or milk high in sugar. And they don’t just bring a small package, but sometimes two or three packages or even a big one,” he told IPS, referring to the snack during recess.

Since 2016, kiosks that sell food in Chilean schools have been prohibited from selling foods high in sugar, sodium or fat. “They have to sell fruit, but the kiosk is not doing well because the children don’t buy fruit or yoghurt, but bring other things from home,“ said the teacher.

Alexandra Carmona, a teacher at a municipal school for children aged four to 17 in a low-income neighborhood in Santiago, pointed to a different problem.

“There was an obese boy who was really bullied. Everybody would say ‘hey fattie‘, ‘hey grease ball‘. So I called the parents to tell them what was happening, but they didn’t give it any importance,“ she told IPS. The boy ended up in a special school even though he had no learning disability.

At her school, the school provides meals, but many children won‘t accept the legumes and balanced diet that is offered.

The Panorama reports that 7.2 per cent of children under five years old in the region are overweight, which means a total of 3.9 million children, including 2.5 million in South America, 1.1 million in Central America and 200,000 in the Caribbean.

The countries with the highest rates of overweight in children under five years old are Barbados (12 per cent), Paraguay (11.7 per cent), Argentina (9.9 per cent), and Chile (9.3 per cent).

The report also points out that several countries have adopted taxes on sugary beverages, including Barbados, Chile, Dominican Republic and Mexico, while others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile have laws on healthy nutrition which regulate advertising and labeling of food products.

With respect to the countries that stand out in sales per person of ultra-processed products, the report says that Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay exceed the regional average of 129.6 kilograms per inhabitant. Mexico ranks first, with 214 kg per inhabitant, and Chile is second with 201.9 kg.

In 30 of the 33 countries studied , more than half of the population over 18 is overweight, and in 20 of them obesity among women is at least 10 percent higher than among men.

According to PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne, “the region is facing a two-fold burden of malnutrition, which has to be fought with a balanced diet which includes fresh, healthy and nutritious foods, produced in a sustainable manner, besides addressing the main social factors that lead to malnutrition.”

In addition to the lack of access to healthy foods, she mentioned the difficulty of access to clean water and sewage services, education and health services, and social protection programmes, among others.

]]> 0
Sailing on Antiques Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:00:58 +0000 Nilima Jahan Photo: Prabir Das

Photo: Prabir Das

By Nilima Jahan
Jan 20 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When the Rocket Steamers service was introduced almost a century ago, it was used mostly by the elite classes and considered the fastest mode of water transport; thus, many believe that it is the reason behind the name.

They were basically ships, motorised by steam engines that drive paddle wheels to help the ships run through the water. Rocket steamers are designed in a way that there are very rare chances of sinking. However, in the mid nineties, the steam engines were converted into diesel-run engines; and afterwards, were replaced by electro-hydraulic engines. The roofs have also been replaced with tin sheets that have now rusted and retain an archaic look.

Currently, after so many ups and downs, rocket steamers—namely PS Ostrich, PS Lepcha, PS Tern, MV Madhumati and MV Bangali are being operated once a day (starts at 4 pm), from Badamtali Ghat, Sadarghat to Morelganj. Apart from these, another significant steamer, PS Mashud has been kept in the dockyard, as it is undergoing repair. Each steamer has an arrangement to accommodate around 700-800 passengers at a time.


At first sight, the dilapidated torpedo-shaped two storey vessels may generate a simple question in your mind –how can this be a sign of aristocracy? The wide-loaded junks, damp decks, the bad odour from the contaminated waters may seem to be just the opposite.

However, a closer look at the ramshackle ships will give you a splendid idea of their unique designs. Most of them were made in the Garden Rich Workshop of Calcutta, nearly a hundred year ago, while the PS Ostrich was made in the dockyards of Clydebank, Scotland.

“If we want to give them a very glamorous look, we will lose the heritage value”, says Nazrul Islam Misha, Public Relation Officer, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC). “As they are being operated since nearly a hundred years ago, the outlook has lost it’s prior glint, but we have already introduced ships–MV Bangali and MV Madhumati, which were made according to the paddle steamer patterns”, he adds. “We try our best to maintain maximum cleanliness, which is very difficult.”

These steamers have a distinct style of operation. While leaving the ghaat, they play a majestic whistle known as the ‘Bhepu’, and move forward plying the water. There was a time when many butlers wearing special attires, would wait in front of the 1st class cabins to take orders from passengers. In addition, there used to be special arrangement of mouth-watering dishes at a very reasonable price. But, over the years, the scenario has changed immensely. Now, along with the decks, the steamers offer AC and Non AC cabins, and little snack-shops and eateries have been placed.


In most of the steamers, one might find the small-cabins open off to either side, having two narrow beds and a television. Also, the toilets are maintained by a man with a key and one needs to find him in order to use them. On the contrary, the decks are still populated by those who cannot afford the cabins. The sunset accompanying the departure helps create beautiful landscapes for the travellers.

As these steamers were very hyped about earlier, many renowned personalities, for instances – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, Hason Raja, popular Bengali poet and songwriter, Kazi Nazrul Islam, our national poet, and many others have travelled on them. (Source: BIWTC)

“Today we can see thousands of speedy modern water transports, but rocket steamers are always different”, believes 65-year-old Khizir Hayat Khan, a retired government employee who was travelling to Hularhat, Pirojpur. “It’s like an ancient relic in a modern world– full of memories for people of all ages”, he adds.


“In 1972, after we got married, we always preferred coming to Dhaka by rocket steamers. Coming out of the 1st class cabin that we would always hire, we used to spend the whole night without a wink of sleep, enjoying the calmness of the rivers Kirtanakhola, Arial khan, Padma, Meghna, Shitalakshya and Buriganga”, reminisces 57-year-old Ismat Ara, wife of Khizir Hayat.

Like Khizir Hayat Khan and Ismat Ara, there are so many people around the country who have nostalgia associated with this steamer service. Even today many foreigners who come to Bangladesh find this journey quite appealing, so they make sure to have it in their itinerary.

“It happens many a time that people from abroad come to visit Bangladesh only for a rocket steamer trip”, says 30-year-old Ariful Islam Arif, a ticket seller of the rocket steamer service.

Upon entering the small control room on the roof, you will find that the entire system is mainly operated by three people—the master, the sukani (the man who turns the steering wheel from the center) and the pilot.


“Many love this service for the unquestionable safety assurance, as we operate very cautiously”, says 50-year-old Nurul Islam, a sukani, who has been working for the rockets for past eight years. “Besides, we ensure maximum safety measures and equipment.”

Nonetheless, compared to the faster modern modes of water transports, the rocket steamers may take 20 hours to reach Morelganj from Dhaka. Nevertheless, a trip in a rocket steamer will give you an unforgettable experience—the river banks, lush greeneries adjacent to the rivers, under-siege paddy fields and much more. You can even get a chance to visit the Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world. As a matter of fact, every year, BIWTC, the authority responsible for maintaining the service, offers a free of cost rocket ride for freedom fighters and their family members to enjoy the serenity of the beautiful Sundarbans.


Unfortunately, as the number of the passengers is decreasing because of the growing competition and high maintenance cost; the service is running on the Government’s subsidy. Nonetheless, if we all come forward and travel through the rocket steamers frequently, the service will get the prior lively ambience. It is our duty to preserve these historic rocket steamers that can be a gift of antiquity for our future generations.

According to historians, the paddle steamer service was introduced in the late 18th century by the British India General Navigation Railway Company (IGNRC).
After the partition of Bengal, Pakistan River Steamers Company introduced this rocket steamer service in 1952, which familiarised as a symbol of speed, safety and nobility. At that time, six rockets were operated twice a week, from Narayanganj to Khulna, via Chandpur, Barisal and Jhalakathi. Later, in 1972, BITWC was formed and it took all the responsibilities of this service.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
Regional Solutions Key for Asia-pacific’s Transition to Sustainable Energy Fri, 20 Jan 2017 15:36:24 +0000 Dr Shamshad Akhtar Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). ]]>

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar is a Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

By Dr. Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region is at a turning point in its energy trajectory. The energy solutions that have fuelled growth in the region over the past few decades are no longer compatible with the sustainable development aspirations of our nations and their people. In transitioning to a new era of sustainable energy, policymakers across the region face complex decisions. Supplies must be secure and affordable, and they must fill the energy access gap which leaves half a billion people across the region without access to electricity. At the same time mitigating the local impacts of energy generation and use will be vital in resolving problems such as the air pollution choking our cities and the global consequences of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Solutions exist, but only through regional cooperation and integration can Asia and the Pacific transition to sustainable energy in time to meet the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Goals.

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar

Countries have committed to moving towards a more diverse and low carbon energy mix through the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. However, fossil fuels stubbornly remain a major part of the regional energy mix, making up three-quarters of electricity generation. Unless the region’s countries work together to accelerate the incorporation of sustainable energy into their strategies, business-as-usual approaches will result in a continuation of fossil fuel use and associated impacts.

While some countries suffer from energy shortages which limit their economic and social development, others enjoy energy surpluses, such as hydropower and natural gas. Trading these resources through new cross-border power grids, drawing on renewable energy when possible, as well as gas pipeline infrastructures, can open up enormous opportunities for both economic growth and decarbonisation.

The energy technology renaissance already underway in some countries is playing a vital role in the transition. New technologies are reducing the cost of clean energy and renewable power. Smart grids and electric vehicles are rapidly gaining market share. Since 2010, the cost of solar power generation has declined by 58 percent, with the cost of wind power down by one-third. The International Renewable Energy Agency projects cost reductions of 59 percent in solar power and 12 percent in wind power within 10 years, edging below fossil fuel electricity costs in most Asia-Pacific countries. Advances in long-distance power transmission technologies enable the linking of renewable energy resource-rich areas such as the Gobi Desert, Central Asia and far eastern Russia, with distant population centers. Asia-Pacific has emerged as an engine for clean energy, both as a manufacturing center for renewable energy technologies and as the leading region for deployment, with $160 billion invested in renewables in 2015.

On the demand side, energy efficiency technologies have an important role to play in the energy transition. Better energy efficiency is a key driver in decoupling energy use and GDP growth in many economies. With 15 percent of the world’s electricity consumed by lighting, efficient LED lighting technology, which consumes up to 85 percent less energy, will make substantial savings. Energy storage technologies for vehicles and power applications have also leapt ahead, offering flexibility in power usage and balancing variable electricity generation from renewables. Here again, regional cooperation, technology transfer and south-south collaboration will play a vital role in the transition.

Despite these encouraging developments, the success of the energy transition will require sustained commitment at national and regional levels through better policies, incentives and allocation of investments. The inertia of the existing energy sector is considerable, with its long-lived assets and entrenched institutional arrangements. Regional cooperation, through sharing of policy experiences, building capacity and mobilizing finance can play a significant role in assisting countries to implement their own energy sector reforms and capture the many co-benefits. The importance of regional energy cooperation is evident in the transboundary nature of many prominent energy challenges – improving regional energy security, managing air pollution and establishing cross-border energy infrastructure. ASEAN, South Asian and Central Asian countries as well as China, Russia and Mongolia are already embracing cross-border energy connectivity. Initiatives such as the CASA 1000 and the ASEAN Power Grid will allow low carbon energy from gas, hydropower, solar or wind to be traded across borders. Long-term regional dialogue is required to further develop these complex and infrastructure-intensive initiatives.

Connecting countries, finding regional solutions and promoting regional standards and guidelines has been at the core of the work of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the past 70 years. We recognize the need for regional energy cooperation, and with the support of our member States established an intergovernmental Committee on Energy that will meet for the first time in Bangkok, 17-19 January. Through the Committee, countries will help to map out key regional energy solutions for the region such as accelerating uptake of renewables and energy efficiency, establishing cross-border energy connectivity, promoting regional approaches to energy security, and providing modern energy access throughout the region to ensure a sustainable energy future for all. Through regional cooperation and integration I am confident that the countries of Asia-Pacific region can transform their energy trajectories to better serve their people, the region and the planet.

]]> 0
Why Polio Campaigns Must Reach Every Last Child in Kenya Fri, 20 Jan 2017 09:23:32 +0000 Rudi Eggers and Werner Schultink Credit: ©UNICEFKENYA/2011/MODOLA


By Rudi Eggers and Werner Schultink
NAIROBI, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

For a long time, no person in Kenya suffered the devastating disability that is caused by polio. In fact, the only reminder in the early 2000s was the victims in the streets of Nairobi, many of whom had been paralyzed as children and adults. Their lives were ravaged by this terrible, vaccine-preventable disease.

A five-day polio campaign that started on 18 January, 2017 targets more than 2.9 million children below the age of 5 years in fifteen counties. Children in high-risk areas -- some of whom have never had access to immunization services before -- will have an opportunity to be vaccinated against polio.
Sadly, in 2013 a large outbreak of polio in Nigeria spread across the continent, affecting several countries on its way east. Kenya was not spared.  Fourteen new polio cases were confirmed. The polio virus struck those that were unvaccinated – the most vulnerable and the most excluded — children in areas with poor access to health services, refugees, and nomadic communities.  Fortunately, a rapid response by the Kenyan Government brought the polio outbreak under control, and the last case was reported in July 2013.  At that time, it seemed that the country was well on the road to being declared polio-free.

However, recently, concerned scientists have pointed to the increasing risk of polio, particularly the large numbers of children who remain unvaccinated, especially those in vulnerable populations in the northern part of the country and in the informal settlements of Nairobi and Mombasa.  Furthermore, the notion that the African continent was free from the polio virus was shattered when four new polio cases were reported in northern Nigeria. Given the previous experience, health experts and Ministries of Health recommended that the areas with low vaccination rates should be targeted with vaccination campaigns, specifically designed to reach those that missed out on the routine vaccinations.

Since the establishment of the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) in 1980, Kenya deserves credit for reaching majority of the children with life-saving vaccines. But there is still a lot more work that needs to be done; progress in the country is very uneven and many children remain unvaccinated. It is estimated that 400,000 (3 out of 10) children still do not receive all the required scheduled doses of vaccines by their first birthday. This build-up of under-immunized children has previously contributed to outbreaks of polio. Most of these children come from poor families, the urban informal settlements and the hard-to-reach parts of the country, particularly arid and semi-arid (ASAL) regions where access to health services is limited.

A child receives vaccination against polio in a Mother and Child Health (MCH) Clinic at Mukuru Health Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya.  Credit: ©UNICEFKENYA/2016/NOORANI

A child receives vaccination against polio in a Mother and Child Health (MCH) Clinic at Mukuru Health Centre, in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: ©UNICEFKENYA/2016/NOORANI

As long as there is a child out there who has contracted this disease, no matter where they live or who they are – all children everywhere are not safe. The four cases confirmed in October 2016 in the current polio outbreak in Nigeria place other African countries, including Kenya, at risk of importing the wild polio virus, due to the unaccounted number of unvaccinated children across the continent as well as the high population movement.

In the final push towards eradicating polio by 2018, Kenya with its strict monitoring system for the safety and quality assurance of vaccines, has already proved that it has the capacity to make the whole country polio-free. A five-day polio campaign that started on 18 January, 2017 targets more than 2.9 million children below the age of 5 years in the fifteen counties of Bungoma, Busia, Garissa, Isiolo, Lamu, Mandera, Marsabit, Nairobi, Samburu, Tana River, Trans Nzoia, Turkana, Wajir, West Pokot and Uasin Gishu. Children in high-risk areas — some of whom have never had access to immunization services before — will have an opportunity to be vaccinated against polio.

To ensure that all vulnerable children are reached, the exercise will be relying on the steadfast commitment of vaccination teams and the communities they serve. These heroic women and men in most cases walk long distances from house-to-house, often in the most dangerous of circumstances to reach all children. Communities where the polio campaign is backed and encouraged by religious and community leaders have much higher rates of protection than those that lack this support.

As part of the worldwide campaign to eradicate polio, there is need for everyone to rally behind this polio vaccination campaign, to reach each and every child regardless of their geographical location of their status in society. We have a responsibility to protect hundreds of thousands of children in Kenya from being paralyzed for life; from being excluded from their communities; and from being denied their right to a full and productive life.

In 2017 and beyond, no child in Kenya should suffer the consequences of a vaccine-preventable disease, for every child deserves to live in a polio-free world.

]]> 0
A Women’s March on the World Fri, 20 Jan 2017 04:27:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Participants in the 2015 New York March for Gender Equality and Women's Rights. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jan 20 2017 (IPS)

Just one day after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to attend one of the largest demonstrations in history for gender equality.

Starting out as a social media post by a handful of concerned women, the Women’s March on Washington quickly transformed, amassing over 400 supporting organisations representing a range of issues including affordable and accessible healthcare, gender-based violence, and racial equality.

“It’s a great show of strength and solidarity about how much women’s rights matter—and women’s rights don’t always take the front page headlines,” Nisha Varia, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Women’s Rights Division told IPS.

Despite the variety of agendas being put forth for the march, the underlying message is that women’s rights are human rights, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Margaret Huang told IPS.

“All people must be treated equally and with respect to their rights, no matter who is in positions of authority and who has been elected,” she said.

Organisers and partners have stressed that the march is not anti-Trump, but rather is one that is concerned about the current and future state of women’s rights.

“It’s not just about one President or one candidate, there’s a much bigger banner that we are marching for…our rights should not be subject to the whims of an election,” Kelly Baden, Center for Reproductive Rights’ Interim Senior Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy told IPS.

The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“It’s about women, not Trump,” she continued.

The rhetoric used during the election is among the concerns for marchers as it reflects a troubling future for women’s rights.

During his campaign, President-elect Trump made a series of sexist remarks from calling Fox News host Megyn Kelly a “bimbo” to footage showing him boasting of sexual assault. Though Trump downplayed his remarks as “locker room talk,” his rhetoric is now being reflected in more practical terms through cabinet nominations.

Huang pointed to nominee for Attorney-General Jeff Sessions who has a long and problematic record on women’s rights including voting against the reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act, rejecting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 which addresses pay discrimination.

During her confirmation hearing, Nominee for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wouldn’t say if she would uphold title IX which requires universities to act on sexual assault on campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

The new administration has also recently announced cuts to the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Grants, which distribute funds to organisations working to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There is no question that we’re going to have some challenges in terms of increasing protections for women’s rights over the next few years,” said Huang to IPS.

Meanwhile, Varia pointed to other hard fought gains that risk being overturned including the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA, which U.S. Congress is currently working to repeal, provides health coverage to almost 20 million Americans by prohibiting insurers from denying insurance plans due to pre-existing conditions and by providing subsidies to low-income families to purchase coverage.

If repealed, access to reproductive services such as contraception and even information will become limited. The health system also risks returning to a time when many insurance plans considered pregnancy a pre-existing condition, barring women from getting full or any coverage.

“Denying women access to the types of insurers or availability of clinics that can help them get pre-natal checks and can help them control their fertility by having access to contraception—these are all the type of holistic care that needs to be made available,” Varia said.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where the number of women dying as a result of child birth is increasing, Varia noted.

In Texas, maternal mortality rates jumped from 18.8 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 to 35.8 deaths in 2014, the majority of whom were Hispanic and African-American women. This constitutes the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, closer in numbers to Mexico and Egypt than Italy and Japan, according to World Bank statistics.

A UN Working Group also expressed their dismay over restrictive health legislation, adding that the U.S. is falling behind international standards.

Though the ACA repeal and potential defunding of Planned Parenthood, another key reproductive services provider, threatens all women, some communities are especially in danger.

Francis Madi, a marcher and Long Island Regional Outreach Associate for the New York Immigration Coalition, told IPS that immigrant and undocumented immigrant women face additional barriers in accessing health care.

Most state and federal forms of coverage such as the ACA prohibits providing government-subsidised insurance to anyone who cannot prove a legal immigration status. Even for those who can, insurance is still hard or too expensive to acquire, making programs like Planned Parenthood essential.

“I can’t even do my job as an organiser asking for immigrant rights if I’m not able to access the services I need to live here,” Madi told IPS.

Madi highlighted the opportunity the march brings in working together through a range of issues and identities.

“I’m going because as a woman and an immigrant and an undocumented immigrant as well…it’s very important to attend this march to show we can work together on our issues,” she told IPS.

“If we don’t organize with each other, we can’t really achieve true change,” she continued.

In its policy platform, organisers of the Women’s March on Washington also stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion and intersectionality in women’s rights.

“Our liberation is bound in each other’s,” they said.

This includes not only women in the U.S., but across the world.

“There’s definitely going to be an international voice in this, not just U.S. activists,” Huang told IPS.

Marching alongside women in Washington D.C. on January 21st will be women in nearly 60 other countries participating in sister marches from Argentina to Saudi Arabia to Australia.

“Women are concerned that a loss of a champion in the U.S. government will have significant impacts in other countries,” Huang said. Of particular concern is the reinstatement of the “global gag rule” which stipulates that foreign organisations receiving any U.S. family planning funding cannot provide information or perform abortions, even with funding from other sources. The U.S. does not fund these services itself.

The policy not only restricts basic right to speech, but analysis shows that it has harmed the health of low-income women by limiting access to family planning services.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the world’s largest family planning bilateral donor.

Though the march is important symbolic act of solidarity, it is just the first step.

“We are also part of a bigger movement—we need to come together and be in solidarity on Saturday and then we need to keep doing the hard work [during[ the long days and months and years of organising that we have ahead of us,” Baden said.

]]> 0
Were UN Plans to Ban Nukes Pre-empted by Trump? Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:16:16 +0000 Andy Hazel A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Andy Hazel

UN member states wanting to ban nuclear weapons may make little headway in 2017, after US President-elect Donald Trump pre-empted their agreement by proposing to expand the United States nuclear arsenal.

In one of their final decisions of 2016, the UN General Assembly agreed to hold a conference in March 2017 to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

123 the UN’s 193 member states supported the General Assembly resolution which initiated the conference. Notable votes against the resolution included: France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, The United Kingdom and the United States. Aside from China, which abstained, the no votes included all of the countries permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the current UN non-proliferation treaty which was adopted in 1968.

"This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don't see Trump having a significant impact," -- Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The 1968 treaty bans all UN member states except China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States from owning nuclear weapons and commits those states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals, pledges that have been ignored. Iraq, North Korea, Iran (and, unofficially, Israel) have all violated the treaty by developing nuclear weapons, and it is widely seen as requiring renegotiation to be effective. Should Donald Trump pursue his ambitions, it could put the treaty in jeopardy.

However the resolution – which was adopted on 23 December – was foreshadowed by a tweet by President-elect Donald Trump on 22 December where he stated: “United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. Trump also mentioned that dismantling Obama’s long-negotiated Iran nuclear agreement was his “number one priority”.

Some have seen these comments as an act of assertion aimed at strengthening his negotiating position upon arriving in the Oval Office, as Trump has already reversed his position on issues to which he pledged support.

Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has described these statements as ‘nuclear-sabre rattling’ and the challenge to implementing the treaty as imperative.

“The Obama administration was very hostile to the idea of a ban treaty,” Fihn told IPS, despite Obama’s comments to the contrary, “and there’s no expectation that Trump will be more friendly. This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don’t see Trump having a significant impact. However, his rhetoric should definitely serve as a motivation for all of us. It’s a signal that the nuclear-armed states are not interested in real progress.”

Chief among the issues that would comprise a treaty is the Iranian nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a long-negotiated tool many on the Security Council are seeking to protect.

Fihn and representatives from other non-proliferation organisations are awaiting clearer statements from Trump’s administration before establishing their strategies, an approach that may have worked when dealing with previous administrations but may face unprecedented difficulty today. Trump has spoken before about the value of being unpredictable when it comes to nuclear weapons as a means to keep other leaders, both friends and enemies, keen to appease.

Unpredictability is also the hallmark of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. In his New Year’s address, Kim warned that North Korean engineers were in the “final stage” of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Provoking a disbelieving response from Trump and more cautious tones from China and South Korea.

The most recent attempt at a nonproliferation review treaty in 2015 was unsuccessful, largely because of the failure of efforts to engage Iran and Israel. Both countries still absorb a disproportionate amount of the efforts to implement a treaty.

In an address to the IAEA Conference Commit to Further Strengthening Nuclear Security, Director General Yukiya Amano reinforced the socioeconomic value of nuclear technology as not remaining the preserve of wealthy countries. “Terrorists and criminals will try to exploit any vulnerability in the global nuclear security system, and any country could become the target of an attack. That is why effective international cooperation is vital.”

According to the findings of a congressional study into international arms sales that found that the sale of global arms dropped in 2015 to $80bn from 2014’s $89bn with the US responsible for around half of all sales.

Over the next decade, the United States is expected to spend around half a trillion dollars on maintenance and upkeep of delivery systems of its nuclear weapons armoury, considerably larger than the Department of Defence claims is required to deter a nuclear attack.

“The treaty needs a strong and clear prohibition on use and possession of nuclear weapons but it will be a challenge to make sure the prohibition will cover other relevant activities too,” says Fihn, “such as assistance to other states not party to the treaty.”

“It will also be a lot of work to get as many states as possible to engage in the negotiations and sign it. And of course a real challenge will be the implementation of the treaty, once it’s in place – we need to make sure the treaty has a real impact.”

The conference is scheduled to run from March 27-31.

Correction: an earlier version of the this article referred to Beatrice Kihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It should have read Beatrice Fihn.

]]> 0
Social Networks in Mexico Both Fuel and Fight Discontent Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:38:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The scene in the video is simple: a bearded man with a determined look on his face sitting in front of a white wall witha portrait of Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution.

“Mexicans to the battle cry, the moment has come to overthrow the corrupt political system we are under, it is now or never. We will show what we are made of. With just two steps we will be able to write a new history, which our children and grandchildren will also enjoy,” lawyer Amín Cholác says emphatically.

In the video titled “Mexicans to the cry of: Peña out!,” Cholác urges people to take part in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against the rise in fuel prices adopted Jan. 1 by the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“I made this video because we cannot stand it anymore, this country cannot take it any longer,” the founder of the non-governmental organisation Dos Valles Valientes, who lives in the southern state of Chiapas, told IPS.

The video has thousands of views on Youtube, and in other video networks, and has also spread over Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

“It has been well received, people from all over the country have joined, they have communicated via social networks or by phone. But I have also been threatened, they put an image of hitmen, they insulted my mother, but if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Cholác.

The activist, whose organisation fights increases in electricity rates, said “the networks are a double-edged sword. They have worked extraordinarily well for us, because they are very accessible and cheap. Whatsapp reaches every corner, as do text messages.”

But activists are also threatened through the networks, said Cholác, whose Facebook account was cloned twice. “I opened another one, and I promised myself that for every Facebook account that was cloned, I would open three,” he said.

The video’s wide dissemination reflects the growing use of the Internet in Mexico to drive political and social movements, such as the resistance to fuel price increases. But the social networks also serve to promote counter-attacks against citizen initiatives by the political powers-that-be and the spreading of misinformation and propaganda by the other side.

The up to 20 per cent hike in fuel prices unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, as well as a wave of lawsuits filed by trade unions and organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.

The simultaneous price rises for fuel, electricity and cooking gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over the public perception of growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which have waned somewhat but show no signs of stopping, have led to at least six deaths, the arrests of 1,500 people, and the looting of dozens of stores.

 Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks.  Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo

Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks. Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo

“The protests in response to the price rises arose from spontaneous calls disseminated on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. A call started to circulate for people to not fill their gas tanks for three days, and around new year’s day the calls for protests started, mainly along the border,” said Alberto Escorcia, with the group Loquesigue TV.

On Jan. 4, the group published an analysis of the rumours and calls to violence, which were fed by 650 Twitter accounts and more than 7,600 messages – allegedly false accounts used to fight back against the protests.

As a result of the group’s publications, Escorcia received threats, he told IPS.

According to a study carried out last year, in 2015 Internet penetration in Mexico was 59 per cent, in a population of 122 million, in spite of there being almost one mobile phone per inhabitant. This is an indication of the relative power of digital democracy in this country.

Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter are the social networks preferred by Mexicans.

“Between Jan. 2 and 3 the ‘gasolinazo’ (the price rise) was going to be an important trending topic, because it is a noble theme, in the sense that it attracts a variety of sectors and affects society as a whole,” expert Rossana Reguillo told IPS.

“But on Jan. 4, the countertrend started. ‘Bots’ and ‘trolls’ gained visibility, giving rise to other trends. The (protests against the) gasolinazo started to lose ground,” said Reguillo, the head of the interdisciplinary laboratory Signa Lab, at the private Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

The lab examined Twitter and detected more than 10,000 accounts involved in the dissemination of some 15,000 messages aimed at neutralising the social unrest. Standing out in this effort were the online groups Legión Hulk and SomosSecta100tifika (which translates into ‘We are a scientific sect‘). The latter promotes the trending topic #GolpeDeEstadoMx (Pro Coup D’etat Mexico).

This counteroffensive shows how the citizens‘ online mobilisation triggers a response from the powers under attack, as well as threats against activists, such as the ones received by Cholác and Escorcia.

“We have found a pattern of fear-mongering and anonymous calls similar to what we saw ahead of the inauguration of Peña Nieto (in December 2012), when weeks before, rumours of looting began to circulate,” said Escorcia.

In his opinion, “this time there was greater damage, because the fear of going out and the encouragement for people to get involved in the looting spread from the web to the streets,” he said.

A precedent to this was the reaction sparked by the notorious quote by then Attorney-General Jesús Murillo, who said “I´ve had enough“ in November 2014, referring to the unresolved case of the forced disappearance in September of that year of 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero.

That expression generated the trending topic on Twitter #YaMeCansé (“I‘ve had enough“), as well as an attempt to neutralise it.

A study “On the influence of social bots in online protests; Preliminary findings of a Mexican case study“, published last September by academics from Mexico and the United States, concluded that there was an important presence of bots, which simulate human beings, affecting discussions online about the case of the missing students.

This phenomenon is widespread, and in Latin America the experts consulted by IPS mention in particular the case of Brazil, during the lengthy process that lead to former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and removal from office, in August 2016.

Their hypothesis is that companies dedicated to these services work for governments and political parties to silence online dissent.

In the case of Mexico, Escorcia said “there are companies that generate anything from online attacks to fake news items and political campaigns, which have worked for all kinds of organisations: left-wing, right-wing, and obviously for the PRI,” the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party.

For Reguillo, who has also been a victim of social network attacks on several occasions, the main question is who is behind this cyber activity.

“There is money involved here, it’s not a group of young people who say ‘let‘s crash the web‘. There is a clear strategy to silence debate, to invade the public space and turn Twitter into a battlefield. They destabilise the space for discussion,” she commented.

“Nobody can stop this. People have become aware and are protesting,” said Cholác, who is calling for mass demonstrations on Feb. 5.

Another fuel price hike scheduled for early February will spark further online battles.

]]> 0
Right to Information Dead on Arrival at UN Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:32:48 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The 193-member UN General Assembly has been dragging its feet on a proposal that has been kicked around the corridors of the United Nations for over 10 years: a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) providing journalists the “right to information” in a sprawling bureaucracy protective of its turf.

world-press-freedom-dayIronically, nearly 100 countries – all of them UN member states – have approved some form of national legislation recognizing the right to information (RTI) within their own borders but still seem unenthusiastic in extending it to the press corps at the United Nations.

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which dates back to 1967, has provided the public and the press the right to request access to records from any federal agency—and has been described as “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government”.

In the US, federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

In Australia, the legislation is known as Right2Know; in Bangladesh, the Right to Information (RTI) Resources Centre provides resources for those seeking to file a request with government agencies; in Japan, the Citizens’ Centre for Information Disclosure offers help to those interested in filing requests; in India, the Right to Information: a Citizen Gateway is the portal for RTI; Canada’s Access to Information Act came into force in 1983 and Kenya’s Access to Information Act was adopted in August 2016, according to the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

The strongest law among the new countries on the RTI Rating is that of Sri Lanka, which scores 121 points, putting the country in 9th place globally, says CLD.

The passage of this law means that every country in South Asia apart from Bhutan now has an RTI law. The region is generally a strong performer, with every country scoring over 100 points except Pakistan, which continues to languish near the bottom of the rating, according to CLD.

And Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 has been described as the “oldest in the world.”

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), which provides media accreditation and doles out free office space to UN-based journalists, told IPS the right to information is an integral part of U.N. principles.

But providing that right—even the basic information available in the public domain– has been stymied both by member states and the UN bureaucracy, he added.

He pointed out that the need to “inform the peoples” of the United Nations is implicitly indicated in the Charter.

But implementing it was “a basic issue I had experienced throughout my work, with both certain government officials– including those publicly claiming open channels– and many senior U.N. Secretariat colleagues”.

Those who believed “Information is Power” were very hesitant, to what they perceived was sharing their authority with a wider public, said Sanbar who served under five different UN Secretaries-General.

“It was most evident that when I launched the now uncontested website, a number of powerful Under-Secretaries-General (USGs) and Permanent Representatives cautioned me against “telling everyone what was happening” (in the UN system) and refused to authorize any funds.”

“I had to raise a team of DPI volunteers in my office, operating from within the existing budget, to go ahead and eventually offer computers loaned from an outside source, to certain delegations to realize it was more convenient for them to access news releases than having to send one of their staffers daily to the building to collect material from the third floor.“

Eventually, everyone joined in, and the site is now recognized as one of the ten best official sites worldwide.

“We had a similar difficulty in prodding for International World Press Freedom Day through the General Assembly. It seems that even those with the best of intentions– since delegates represent official governments that view free press with cautious monitoring– are usually weary of opening a potentially vulnerable issue,” said Sanbar, author of the recently-released “Inside the U.N. in a Leaderless World’.

Matthew Lee, an investigative UN-based journalist who has been pursuing the story for over 10 years, told IPS he has been virtually fighting a losing battle.

“When I first got to the UN in late 2005, I noticed there was no FOIA. After asking around about it, I got then Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Management, Christopher Burnham, to say he would work on it. But he left. So I asked his replacement at Under-Secretary-General, Alicia Barcena, who said she would work on it. She never did.”

The UN Secretariat, he said, has continued to blame the General Assembly. But the Secretariat could easily adopt its own policy, for example, to disclose who pays for UN Secretary-General’s travel.

Asked about the FOIA, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS last year: “The secretary-general supports the idea of transparency. But this would be an issue for member states.”
Barbara Crossette, a former UN Bureau Chief for the New York Times and currently contributing editor and writer for PassBlue, an online publication covering the UN, told IPS: “I think you are right, to be sceptical about getting anything like this through the General Assembly. Or for that matter that the Security Council would be cooperative, if asked for information.”

As you would know, a lot of people who have worked in DPI see the General Assembly – and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in particular — as loathe to promote the sharing of information, even in the current setup, and assume that not enough countries would back making access to it a right, she noted.

“A FOIA would be a godsend to would-be spies. And how would it be legally crafted, I wonder?. It would be interesting to know if places like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have these policies.”

The new Secretary–General Antonio Guterres’ team “is supposed to be writing a new communications policy for the UN — making it more open and effective in outreach generally. But I don’t know if that will include journalists.”

In one of her recent pieces in PassBlue, Crossette said the DPI is also completely hamstrung by its mandate, officials acknowledge, and the head of the office, who ranks as Under Secretary-General, is not chosen primarily for his or her media skills, but is often a political appointee with little or no journalism experience.

He or she must work under tight budgetary conditions deliberately framed to not give the department the tools it needs, she added.

Sinha Ratnatunga, editor-in- chief of the Sunday Times, a major weekly newspaper in Sri Lanka, told IPS the RTI law was passed by parliament last June; signed into law by the Speaker in August and becomes operational on February 4 (independence Day).

“However, there is a provision to ‘stagger’ its implementation if the government isn’t ready”, he pointed out.

“In any event the law must be operational whether the government is ready or not by August 4 (one year after the Speaker signed it into law). But the government is rather silent on how prepared they are for February 4 which is hardly a fortnight or so away”, said Ratnatunga , Deputy Chairman, of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and Board Member of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

He said the law is pretty progressive but many people, including journalists “are pretty clueless about its power and reach and what difference it can make to empowering citizens and journalists in the quest of good governance.”

He said there’s a whole exercise of educating public servants, appointing Information Officers, educating the journalists and the citizenry ahead.

“Yes, the law took 12 plus years in the making, but the most difficult process of educating the country on the potential of the law lies ahead.”

“Hopefully, the media will play the role of whistleblower, but fewer journalists are now interested in investigative journalism; so we have to wait and see if all the trouble in bringing the law was worth it, after all,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Is Globalisation Reversible? Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:22:55 +0000 Biru Paksha Paul By Biru Paksha Paul
Jan 19 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Over every summer, I leave the US to visit my village in Nalitabari where I look after construction work and run an online class for the students of mainly upstate New York. This is called globalisation. Sometimes I go to the Garo Hills branching from Meghalaya, or travel by boat on the river of Vogai while responding to important emails or checking my balance after a mobile transaction – a scene beyond imagination in Bangladesh some 30 years back. All thanks to globalisation.

globalisation_2Of late, we are wasting more and more energy carrying out a confused propaganda against globalisation, claiming that it is in reverse gear. However, it never was and it never will be. The issue is how we see and define globalisation. The main strength of globalisation comes from technology that does not regress – whether we like it or not. The two major events on the global stage last year, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, seem to have once again solidified the conviction of those who have been anti-globalisation since long. But that is a misinterpretation of these two victories, which mainly banked on anti-immigration sentiments and some mistakes in state policies of the respective governments.

Many critics are now extremely hyperactive in their fight against globalisation, some of whom are Nobel laureates. Of course, they present facts but often these facts are honey-coated with their biases and prejudice. But globalisation has many wings; it is a comprehensive, complex dynamic. And only labour migration cannot explain the whole story. Among other dominant determinants are capital, technology, knowledge, and above all human psychology that helps us understand and learn about different cultures. Capital flows from one side of the globe to the other in a couple of seconds, and so do knowledge and technology. Resisting this phenomenon by a simple display of ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ is nearly impossible.

But why would we resist globalisation? It goes against the basic Darwinian motion of evolution. No one would like to get back to the age of clumsy typewriters when computers are readily available. I witnessed the death of two upstate New York cities, Endicott and Cortland, because they could not swim upstream against globalisation and the principles of profit maximisation. Cortland was noted as the origin of a world-class typewriter company, Smith Corona, whose slogan was ‘commitment for excellence.’ But any excellence that is myopic or does not figure in technological growth is doomed to perish.

Endicott, the birthplace of IBM, saw jobs being outsourced to China and India, and could do nothing to hold them back, because the company treated the whole world as a single village for the sake of greater output and profit. Basic economic laws have empowered globalisation to keep on moving. No mighty commander was able to dictate this march. Had it been possible for any force to block this forward motion, the US could have done that to save millions of jobs outsourced to other countries in the last 20 years. And a large segment of US businesses would rather outsource their jobs to further their cost-lowering drive.

It is better to brainstorm which institutions we need to build to face the growing challenges of globalisation rather than blindly believe that some ‘saviours’ will reverse globalisation to protect the inefficient local mills and factories. Businesses are the main force behind global integration. Capital travels from one country to another for the sake of a better interest rate. Modern kabuliwalas are around and we need to deal with them for direct portfolio investment. There is no point in waiting for the kind-hearted kabuliwala of a Rabindranath Tagore story; people like him are no longer a part of this world order.

Noted Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati initially believed in socialist closed-type planning, but later turned into a globalisation guru. His student and Nobel Laureate of Economics Paul Krugman believes that the good side of the big monopolistic competition that has spread over the world can guarantee lowest prices. Hence, fighting Walmart becomes almost impossible for local small businesses.

Some of us might be confused to see a drop in inter-country labour migration, which we immediately credit to a reversal of globalisation. New apps of Microsoft in Seattle can instantly be downloaded in Rangamati. But capital movements depend on how we handle a myriad of rules and regulations that we have bureaucratically built over time. The movement of labour is even more complicated, and therefore, the slowest. Capital does not have any choice, but workers have religion, taste, language barriers, and above all, family bonds. Hence, uprooting workers from one culture and asking them to adopt another is difficult. Capital from one country and workstations at various countries build a style, which makes globalisation even more sustainable today.

In the early 1990s, many were opposed to three terms: globalisation, liberalisation, and free market economy. Some critics bundle all three items together and associate a similar (negative) connotation to all of them. Needless to mention, all three terms differ slightly in their meaning. Liberalisation mainly refers to the easing of trade; the main rationale of a free market economy is efficient pricing; but globalisation mainly refers to global travelling of capital, labour, and technology – a prerequisite that eases global integration of production and consumption. Tagore’s hope for a borderless world is definitely far from reality, but inter-country dependence, as proposed by David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, is inevitable – and so is globalisation.

The writer is Associate Professor of Economics at the State University of New York at Cortland.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

]]> 0
World Focus on Disappearances Thu, 19 Jan 2017 16:16:32 +0000 I.A. Rehman By I.A. Rehman
Jan 19 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

THE government might have been surprised at some foreign governments’ expressions of concern at the enforced disappearance of five social activists/ bloggers. Instead of taking umbrage, it should look for the causes of friendly countries’ uneasiness.

I.A. Rehman

I.A. Rehman

Hitherto, security concerns have enabled Pakistan to escape censure for enforced disappearances through a policy of denial. The five activists now in the news do not belong to any conflict zone (like Fata/ Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) or the home ground of insurgents (Balochistan) or crypto-separatists/ nationalists (Sindh). There is no reason in Punjab for anyone to flout the law. Hence, gross violation of basic rights causes widespread concern.

Besides, the international community has been watching enforced disappearances in Pakistan for many years.

In 2012, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited Pakistan and made several recommendations, including calls for ratification of the convention on disappearances and criminalisation of enforced disappearances. In its report in July 2016, the WGEID regretted that most of its recommendations had not been implemented.

Pakistan’s third universal periodic review at the Human Rights Council is due.

Pakistan has also been asked to explain some issues arising from its initial report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. With reference to Articles 6, 7 and 9 of the covenant (the right to life, freedom from torture, and the right to liberty and security of person). Pakistan has been asked to “provide information on the measures taken to address the large number of allegations of enforced disappearance … comment on allegations that the practice of enforced disappearance is often used to target political or human rights activists. Please indicate what steps have been taken to implement the December 2013 judgement of the Supreme Court in the case of Mohabat Shah … Please provide information on the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, including on its mandate, power, composition and financial and human resources…”.

This year, Pakistan’s third universal periodic review at the Human Rights Council is due. Questions will be raised about implementation of the recommendations made after the 2012 review. Four recommendations relating to disappearances were made and Pakistan accepted all of them. Two recommendations that called for criminalisation of enforced disappearance and the strengthening of the Commission of Inquiry into Disappearances were included in the list of suggestions that “have already been implemented or [are] in the process of implementation”.

None of these recommendations have been implemented. It is not difficult to imagine the situation Pakistan will face at the coming universal periodic review. The government could say it does not mind becoming a pariah in the world. That will not harm any foreign party; only the people of Pakistan will be left to mourn the loss of their rights.

The government has itself to blame for the embarrassment it is going to face, for it had ample time to prevent it.

Six years ago, a commission of three retired judges found evidence of the intelligence agencies’ involvement in enforced disappearances and deplored the “uncivilised method adopted by the police and agencies’ personnel for arresting the victims” and denying them any contact with their families during their detention. The commission also recommended a fairly reasonable way out.

“In order to put an end to the issue of enforced disappearances/ missing persons,” the commission said, “the intelligence agencies should be restrained from arbitrarily arresting and detaining anyone without due process of law. Generally, it would be appropriate if the government evolves a mechanism for intelligence agencies to share information and leave it to the police to make arrests and proceed under the relevant law.”

What has prevented the government from accepting this sane piece of advice?

In January 2012, the Justice Saqib Nisar commission on the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad also tried to help the government. “If the agencies conduct their activities completely beyond the purview of the law, and without maintaining any sense of transparency and accountability in their conduct,” the commission said, “they risk losing their most precious strategic asset — the trust of the people, whose security they are supposed to ensure. Currently, it seems that we would be better off with more accountability than we presently have even when it means a little less of secrecy.”

Further, the commission suggested a mechanism for the accountability of intelligence agencies at three levels; “within the agency and before the minister-in-charge; before a Parliamentary Committee (and thus parliament and the public); and before a judicial forum”.

Now the Senate has forwarded to the government the draft of a law to regulate the working of intelligence agencies and declared that, if the government failed to sponsor the proposed legislation, it would be introduced in the house as a private member’s bill.

The government may ask itself a simple question: why does every attempt to probe the issue of enforced disappearance lead to calls for making the intelligence agencies accountable?

We are told now that the police are investigating a complaint that the five bloggers have been guilty of blasphemy. This reminds one of the strictures passed by the commission of 2010 on the police officers who were involved in such affairs and found guilty of “intellectual dishonesty by registering fake FIRs against the persons picked up by the intelligence agencies and handed over to the police after a long time”.

If those who picked up the five bloggers had good reason to deprive them of their right to liberty, they should have informed their families, allowed them to contact their counsel and produced them in a court of law within 24 hours, or explained the reasons for failing to do so. The foreign governments, the parliamentarians, and civil society are mature enough to respect proceedings held according to due process, and would only demand in such cases a fair trial and punishment of the guilty in proportion to the severity of their offence.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

]]> 0
Trump Trade Strategy Unclear Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:55:46 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in  US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement on the first day of his presidency in January 2017. Now, it is widely expected that Trump’s presidency will increase US trade protectionism, and consequently by others in retaliation, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with difficult to predict consequences.

After decades of denial by ‘free trade’ advocates, it is now widely agreed that many manufacturing jobs in the US have been lost to both automation and offshore relocation by US corporations. Free trade agreements (FTAs) are also being blamed for the US’s large trade deficits.

Trump trade strategy?

With the global economic slowdown of the last eight years associated by many with the slowdown of trade expansion, the surprise election of President-elect Trump has become the subject of much speculation and some dire predictions. Many are concerned that Trump has made various contrarian pronouncements on FTAs, while his appointments to trade related portfolios seem to contradict his trade rhetoric.

In early December 2016, the Wall Street Journal noted the unexpectedly high number of TPP advocates joining the Trump administration to serve in trade-related capacities. Although the hopes of some TPP advocates of a last-minute reprieve are probably misplaced, there is no indication that some amended version, perhaps with a different name, will not eventually emerge in its place.

If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, other plurilateral free trade agreements will also be affected. Trump has referred to the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as disasters for the US, and has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. His announced preference for negotiating “fair” bilateral trade deals favourable to the US has not given much comfort to prospective negotiation partners.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with US manufacturing jobs and the related international trade in goods, he is also expected to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, financial liberalization, investor rights and dispute settlement.

Already, most US FTAs include ‘non-trade issues’, many of which have raised costs to consumers, e.g., by further strengthening intellectual property monopolies typically held by powerful transnational corporations, whose chief executives seem likely to be very influential in the new administration.

Currency manipulation
During the presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Trump accused China of being a “currency manipulator”, despite market consensus that the Chinese renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time. Under US law, evidence of currency manipulation could be grounds to impose additional tariffs on imports from a country so deemed by the Treasury Department. Aware that this could exacerbate trade conflicts, President Obama avoided pressure to do so from many Congress members, lobbyists and economists.

However, Trump can easily revise this position on some pretext or other, by taking trade or other retaliatory actions against China on the ostensible grounds of alleged currency manipulation which would contravene World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, allowing China to successfully take a case against the US to the WTO for such an illegal action.

WTO trade rules abused
Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs of as much as 45% on imports from China and Mexico! But while an across-the-board tariff hike is unlikely, as it is prohibited by the WTO, the new administration is likely to consider invoking WTO trade-remedy actions on products from China, Mexico and other countries by claiming they are being dumped or subsidized. This has already happened, e.g., with solar panels and wind turbines from China, raising the costs of renewable energy, and thus undermining the global warming mitigation effort.

To be sure, WTO trade remedy rules have long been widely abused for protectionist purposes. A country can impose high tariffs on an imported item from another country by claiming its price has been artificially depressed or subsidized by the government in order to export – or ‘dump’ – them at a price lower than the domestic price. No deterrent is imposed against the offending country even if a WTO dispute settlement panel rules that the ostensibly anti-dumping tariff-raising action was wrongly taken, even though the exporting country has lost considerable export earnings in the interim.

Furthermore, similar actions can be repeated without impunity with no threat of penalty. Such ostensible trade-remedy actions are more likely than blatant tariff walls. These may, in turn, trigger retaliatory counter-actions by aggrieved governments, potentially leading to a spiral of trade protectionism, i.e., trade warfare.

Fair trade?
It is unclear how the new administration views FTAs more generally. The President-elect’s objection to the TPP and NAFTA focuses on the goods trade, and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to cheaper imports, often brought in by the same companies which have chosen to relocate production capacities abroad, and are already mobilizing to resist actions which may jeopardize their profits.
This view does not seem to recognize that technological change, particularly with automation, has been the major source of job losses. Many jobs remaining in the US have higher skill requirements, with fewer employees producing more goods with less labour-intensive techniques.

“Fair trade” will be subject to self-serving interpretations by the governments concerned, arguably further undermining trade multilateralism. While freer trade has undoubtedly improved consumer welfare with cheaper imports, it has seen some deindustrialization in the North and industrialization in the South in recent decades with important employment consequences which have been a major source of the current discontent over globalization.

Trade growth slower
To be sure, the trade growth slowdown following the 2008 financial crisis suggests that the U-turn has already taken place after an extraordinary period of trade expansion due to much greater international specialization with the popularization of international value chains.

In December 2015, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman threatened the already difficult Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations by trying to introduce TPP issues which had been kept off the agenda from the outset of the ostensibly Development Round after the Seattle WTO ministerial walkout of 1999.

Perhaps most worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the WTO. Trump’s much-trumpeted preference for bilateral deals favourable to the US is likely to test trade multilateralism as never before.

But President-elect Trump also has a penchant for the unpredictable, and may yet surprise the world with a new commitment to trade multilateralism to advance consumer, producer, and development interests for all.

]]> 1
Pacific Islanders Call for U.S. Solidarity on Climate Change Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:24:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Higher tides and coastal erosion are encroaching on homes and community buildings in Siar village, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The new political power of business magnate Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated Jan. 20 as the 45th President of the United States, will have ramifications for every global region, including the Pacific Islands.

Pacific leaders who are witnessing rising seas, coastal erosion and severe natural disasters in the region are alert to the new president’s declared scepticism about climate change and the contributing factor of human activities. His proposed policy changes include cutting international climate funding and pushing ahead fossil fuel projects.“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the president embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction.” -- Reverend Tafue Lusama

They say the United States’ solidarity on climate change action is vital to protecting people in developing and industrialised nations from climate-driven disasters, environmental degradation and poverty.

There are 22 Pacific Island states and territories and 35 percent of the region’s population of about 10 million people lives below the poverty line. One of the most vulnerable to climate change is the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, home to about 10,000 people spread over nine low lying coral islands.

“Tuvalu is among the poorest in the world, it is isolated, small and low in elevation. All aspects of life, from protecting our small land to food security, from our marine resources to our traditional gardens are being impacted by climate change. All the adaptation measures that need to be put in place need international climate funding. With Trump’s intended withdrawal pathway, our survival is denied and justice is ignored,” Reverend Tafue Lusama, General Secretary of the Tuvalu Christian Church and global advocate for climate action, told IPS.

Trump’s 100-day action plan, issued during last year’s presidential campaign, claims it will tackle government corruption, accountability and waste and improve the lives of U.S. citizens who have been marginalised by globalisation and ‘special interests’ of the political elite.

But his intended actions include cancelling billions in payments to United Nations climate change programmes, aimed at assisting the most vulnerable people in developing countries, and approving energy projects, worth trillions of dollars, involving shale, oil, natural gas and coal in the United States in a bid to boost domestic jobs.

Last December, 800 scientists and energy experts worldwide wrote an open letter to the then president-elect encouraging him to remain steadfast to policies put forward during the Barack Obama administration such as reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, which in association with industrial processes accounts for 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting renewable energy development.

“It is sad for us who rely on the United States to do the right thing and to hear the President embarking on the opposite path, which is ensuring our destruction,” Reverend Lusama added.

London-based Chatham House claims that a key success of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in 2015 was the supportive ‘alignment’ of the United States, the second largest emitter accounting for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Here the United States joined the High Ambition Coalition, a grouping of countries committed to rigorous climate targets, which was instrumental in driving consensus that global warming should be kept lower than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Increased global warming could be disastrous for Pacific Island states with many already facing a further rise in sea levels, extremely high daily temperatures and ocean acidification this century, reports the Pacific Climate Change Science Program.

In 2015 the region was hit by a severe El Nino climate cycle which ‘forced people to walk for days seeking sustenance…and, in some cases, to become severely weakened or die from malnutrition,’ Caritas reports. In Papua New Guinea, 2.7 million people, or 36 percent of the population, struggled with lack of food and water as prolonged drought conditions caused water sources to dry up and food crops to fail.

And a consequence of more severe natural disasters in the region is that their arc of impact can be greater.

“Kiribati is one country in the world that is very safe from any disaster….[but] during Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu [in 2015] and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji [in 2016], the effects also reached Kiribati, which has never happened in the past,” Pelenise Alofa, National Co-ordinator of the Kiribati Climate Action Network, told IPS.

The economic toll of natural disasters is well beyond the capacity of Kiribati, a Least Developed Country with the third lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world in a ranking of 195 countries by the World Bank.

“It is not in a position to meet its own adaptation needs because the climate change problems are too enormous for a small country like Kiribati to have enough resources to meet the problem head on,” Alofa said.

The economic burden extends to replacing coastal buildings at risk of climate change and extreme weather, which would cost an estimated total of 22 billion dollars for 12 Pacific Island nations, claims the University of New England in Australia. The risk is very high in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, where more than 95 percent of built infrastructure is located within 500 metres of a coastline.

Recently several Pacific Island countries benefitted from the United Nations-administered Green Climate Fund (GCF), the largest multilateral climate fund dedicated to assisting developing countries cope with climate change. Three grants, ranging from 22 million to 57 million dollars, were awarded for a multiple Pacific nation renewable energy programme, to enable Vanuatu to develop climate information services and Samoa to pursue integrated flood management.

But the GCF, to which the United States, its largest benefactor, has committed 3.5 billion dollars, could suffer if Trump follows through on his promise, given that international pledges currently total 10.3 billion.

Ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference, to be chaired by Fiji in Bonn, Germany, in November, Pacific Island leaders are keen that President Trump visits the region. President Bainimarama has already invited him to Fiji and the Reverend Lusama would like him to also “visit Tuvalu to witness firsthand the proof which is so obvious to the naked eye of climate change impacts.”

]]> 1
Trump’s UN Pick: “UN Could Benefit from a Fresh Set of Eyes” Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:46:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the UN, outlined her vision of a strong U.S. role in the human rights institution at a confirmation hearing today.

Noting her potential role as a “fresh set of eyes” and an “outsider,” Haley highlighted the need for a strong U.S. leadership position at the UN.

“When America fails to lead, the world becomes a dangerous place. And when the world becomes more dangerous, the American people become more vulnerable,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she will bring back the U.S.’ “indispensable voice of freedom.”

When asked about Russia, Haley expressed caution in trusting them but suggested that their government could be an asset.

“Russia is trying to show their muscle right now…and we have to continue to be very strong back. We need to let them know that we are not okay with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria, but we are also going to tell them that we do need their help with ISIS,” she said.

In her last major speech, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power similarly noted U.S. interest in solving problems and cooperating with Russia, but expressed dire concerns over Russia’s “aggressive and destabilizing actions” in Crimea, Syria and its interferences in numerous governments.

“Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against—having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism,” she said.

During her hearing, Haley acknowledged that Russia violated the international order when it invaded Crimea and its actions in Syria constitute war crimes, and that she supports preserving sanctions against the government. She also noted the need to stand up to any and all countries that attempts to interfere with the U.S.

This represents what could be perceived as a break with President-elect Trump who has previously denied intelligence pointing to Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections.

In recent comments, President-elect Trump also suggested easing sanctions against Russia in return for a deal to reduce nuclear weapons. He additionally criticised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), calling it “obsolete.”

When asked about these comments, Haley again differentiated her position from Trump’s:

“It is important that we have alliances…I think as we continue to talk to him about these alliances and how they can be helpful and strategic, I do anticipate he will listen to all of us and hopefully we can get him to see it the way we see it,” she said.

“I’m going to control the part that I can,” she continued.

Haley also blasted the UN for what she described as its “biased” position on Israel during the hearing, stating: “Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than its bias against our close ally Israel.”

Like President-elect Trump, Haley particularly criticised the recent passage of a Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, calling it a “terrible mistake” that makes a peace agreement even harder to achieve.

During the vote in December, the U.S. broke with long-standing foreign policy towards Israel by abstaining, rather than vetoing. The other 14 members of the 15 member council all voted for the resolution.

Haley vowed to never abstain when the UN takes action that comes in direct conflict with U.S. interests, including actions against Israel.

She highlighted the need for UN reforms, stating that the goal is to “create an international body that better serves the American people.” To bring about changes, Haley suggested using U.S. funding as leverage.

“We are a generous nation but we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we paid for?” she asked. She pointed to the Human Rights Council as an example, questioning their role in supporting and promoting human rights while countries such as Cuba and China are members.

The U.S. currently contributes 22 percent of the UN’s budget.

Recent legislation proposed by two U.S. Republican Senators would see the United States withdraw its funding not only to the UN Secretariat but also to the entire UN-system, including UNICEF, the UN Development Program and UN Women.

Though initially stating that she would not “shy away” from withdrawing U.S. funds to achieve reforms, Haley later backtracked and said that she does not support a “slash and burn” approach in terms of pulling funding from the UN when there are undesirable outcomes, but rather use funds as leverage to help make agencies more effective.

Haley is a South Carolina-born daughter of Indian immigrants and is the first female and first minority governor of her state. She gained national attention after calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol. Haley will replace Ambassador Power as the only woman on the 15-member council.

]]> 0
Christian leaders praise UAE’s Tolerance strategy, promise to contribute Wed, 18 Jan 2017 14:07:53 +0000 Emirates News Agency H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance (C), stands for a group photo, with the participants of the Gulf Christian Fellowship meeting 2017, on Sir Bani Yas Island. - ( Mohamed Al Suwaidi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi )

H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance (C), stands for a group photo, with the participants of the Gulf Christian Fellowship meeting 2017, on Sir Bani Yas Island. - ( Mohamed Al Suwaidi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi )

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
SIR BANI YAS, UAE, Jan 18 2017 (WAM)

The UAE’s Minister of State for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, has invited leaders of the country’s Christian communities to play their part in contributing to the promotion of the country’s recently-announced National Programme for Tolerance.

She was speaking during a free-ranging discussion with participants in the annual meeting of the Gulf Christian Fellowship, GCF, on the UAE’s western island of Sir Bani Yas yesterday.

The visit was jointly organised by the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court and the National Programme for Tolerance.

The Minister outlined to participants in the meeting the pillars of the country’s philosophy of tolerance, as outlined in the National Programme.

It was built, she said, on a combination of the Islamic faith, the UAE Constitution, the legacy of the country’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and the ethics that underpin UAE society. It also included, she noted, the UAE’s heritage, as reflected through archaeology and history, the fundamental elements of human nature and the shared, common values of humanity.

“As we work in the Emirates to promote our commitment to, and understanding of, the philosophy of tolerance in all walks of life, we encourage those from expatriate communities, of all origins and beliefs, to play their part in helping us to strengthen our tolerant society,” Sheikha Lubna said. “We invite you, as leaders of the varied Christian communities in the UAE to encourage your communities to play their part Every day must be tolerance day. Be positive, open to all you meet, live and work with, and be enriched by every person in our diverse society.” In response, Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic for the UAE, Oman and Yemen for the Catholic Church, thanked Sheikha Lubna and asked her to pass the gratitude of participants in the meeting to His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, whose support had made it possible for the meeting to take place.

H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance speaks at the Gulf Christian Fellowship meeting 2017, on Sir Bani Yas Island.

H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance speaks at the Gulf Christian Fellowship meeting 2017, on Sir Bani Yas Island.

He went on to comment on the significance of Sir Bani Yas and its ancient Christian monastery in terms of events in the wider region.

“The visit to Sir Bani Yas Island has a deep meaning for me. That we are visiting the Island under the patronage of the Minister of State for Tolerance underlines the importance. The discovery of the Christian monastery at Sir Bani Yas reminds us that Christianity was present in the region very early and coexisted with Islam for a long period. This is a strong sign for what is again happening in recent times, thanks to the open-minded rulers of the UAE.”

“Looking at what is happening in the wider region, I have noticed,” Bishop Hinder said, “that where there is radicalism, one of the first things is to eradicate the memory of the others, as we have seen in Palmyra and in other places. And when I heard about the reaction of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan when he heard about the presence of the old monastery on this island, he had just the opposite reaction: to maintain this site in the memory of the history of this country. I think that this is important for all of us. It also points,” he said, “to the fact that there is a history that has common roots, not only here on this island, but in the whole region.”

“We, the expatriate Christians in the UAE, want to contribute to a society which shows that religions even in their diversity must not be a reason for war but can be a strong sign of building up justice and peace,” Bishop Hinder added.

“We are grateful for the hospitality we enjoy and willing to contribute our part so that the UAE remains a model of tolerance and mutual respect, founded in our common belief in God, which is for us all a constant incentive for goodness I can only pray that this is reflected in other parts, as I am also Bishop also for Yemen, I know that it can be tragic when people are no more able to accept one another, and we have to learn to exercise this every day.”

In another comment, Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Qatar, said that the GCF was “encouraged and enthusiastic about the steps that the UAE National Programme for Tolerance has taken toward promoting ethics and human values in terms of religious co-existence, in particular, its recognition of Christian heritage in this region and giving it its rightful place in the historical narrative.”

H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance (2nd from L) with participants at the Gulf Christian Fellowship meeting 2017, on Sir Bani Yas Island.

H.E. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of State for Tolerance (2nd from L) with participants at the Gulf Christian Fellowship meeting 2017, on Sir Bani Yas Island.

“To educate the world about the rich diversity that characterised this land long ago, is to do justice to those who came before us, and to set a critical example for our brothers and sisters around the world,” he added.

“At a time of violent tumult in the Middle East, which has devastated the vibrant cultural, ethnic, and religious tapestry, the Christian communities are willing to work in our respective capacities and locations, in conjunction with the National Programme for Tolerance to promote this region as a beacon of hope and tolerance,” he said. “We hope that all people of good will may visit the ancient Monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island to see the interaction between Christian and Muslim, and to witness the potential of humanity when mutual respect is our foundation.

The Very Reverend Mesrob Sarkissian, UAE and Qatar representative for the Catholicos of the Armenian Church, described the meeting as ‘extraordinary.’ Thanking His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for facilitating the visit to Sir Bani Yas, he added, “I would like to express my gratitude to the UAE government and leaders for their hospitality and for the respect they offer to the Christian communities in the region, and for the freedom that we enjoy to worship God through our churches. The UAE is a model country because of the way it provides land to Christian communities so that they may build their places of worship.”

In subsequent discussion, one participant commented that, “The value of tolerance is simple to understand but so elusive when putting it into practice. I was not prepared for the breadth and boldness of the National Programme for Toleranc +e. The UAE’s plan to strategically and intentionally implement the value of tolerance was deeply encouraging.”

The Gulf Christian Fellowship, founded in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in 2012, brings together leaders from a wide range of Christian churches, drawn from the five main groups of Christianity, the Catholic, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Episcopal Churches and the Anglicans.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the GCF Executive Committee said, “Leaders of Churches in the GCC countries welcome opportunities to increase cooperation between our Churches, and between peoples of different religious and social traditions within the incredibly diverse mix of nationalities who find themselves living and working in the Gulf. Although each ethnic and religious grouping strongly desires to be understood by others, the leaders of the Churches are working together to encourage movements toward mutual understanding, peaceful coexistence and strengthening the social dynamics that make up the societies where we live. The annual meeting of the Gulf Churches Fellowship is greatly facilitated by the intentional and direct policies of the UAE government regarding tolerance of non-Muslims living in the country, for which we are very grateful.”

The statement added, “We hail the efforts of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for his vision and commitment to building a society where the value of tolerance is not just mere talk but is a lived and shared experience. Giving thanks to God, we continue to pray for God’s blessings on the wise leadership of the nation with thanksgiving.”

The meeting was attended by over thirty participants from the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. Among them were several archbishops and bishops, including Dr. Joseph, the Metropolitan of the Indian-based Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, Archbishop Nathaniel, Patriarchal-Vicar in the Gulf of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Bishop Khoury Gregorios, Greek Orthodox Bishop in the Emirates, and Bishop Michael Lewis, Anglican Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf.

Other denominations present included the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church, the Evangelical Church and the Reformed Church in America.

]]> 0
Lubna, Christian leaders visit Sir Bani Yas monastery Wed, 18 Jan 2017 13:22:39 +0000 Emirates News Agency The Gulf Christian leaders at the Sir Bani Yas monastery site (Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)

The Gulf Christian leaders at the Sir Bani Yas monastery site (Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
SIR BANI YAS, UAE, Jan 18 2017 (WAM)

The UAE’s Minister of State for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, and around 30 Christian leaders from the Gulf, yesterday visited the site of the early Christian monastery on Abu Dhabi’s western island of Sir Bani Yas. The visit was the first part of a day of discussions on ways in which Christian communities in the Emirates can contribute to the promotion of the UAE government’s Tolerance Agenda.

The clergymen, including several archbishops and bishops, were drawn from a total of nine different denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Evangelical Church, the Reformed Church in America, the Coptic and Greek Orthodox Churches, the Mar Thoma Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church.

On arrival at the site of the monastery, they were briefed by archaeologists working for the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, TCA Abu Dhabi, which is responsible for investigations into and the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

While at the site, the visitors performed an impromptu prayer.

“This site is a symbol of the diversity we have in the UAE,” Sheikha Lubna told the visitors. “Nations develop and flourish when they accept differences and work on their similarities.”

“The emphasis being placed on this site is evidence of the commitment of the UAE towards its archaeology and history, particularly for sites such as this which represent our values of tolerance, co-existence and peace,” she added.

Early excavations at the Sir Bani Yas monastery (Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)

Early excavations at the Sir Bani Yas monastery (Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)

“We greatly appreciate the opportunity to visit this important site,” Archbishop Nathaniel , Patriarchal-Vicar for the Arabian Gulf of the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East of the Syrian Orthodox Church, commented. “Not only does it provide evidence of the presence of Christianity in the UAE just before and during the early years of Islam, but the way in which the leaders of the United Arab Emirates are devoting so much attention to its excavation and conservation is testimony to the way in which they, and the whole of the UAE, are devoted to the promotion of religious tolerance and freedom of worship today.”

Commenting on the significance of the visit, Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, TCA Abu Dhabi, said, “The archaeological sites on Sir Bani Yas Island which were part of the Church of the East, dated to the 7th and 8th century CE/AD, attest to the long history of religious tolerance in the UAE. The monastery and church are one of dozens of archaeological and heritage sites in this part of the country and this rich and unique history contribute to the cultural heritage of the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi.

“The excavations at the monastery and church, undertaken by TCA Abu Dhabi archaeologists, form part of a major publication of all archaeological and heritage sites on Sir Bani Yas, and have provided an excellent opportunity to engage and train a younger generation of Emirati archaeologists. They will be at the forefront of future work at the site and in so doing will play a critical role in investigating their country’s heritage.”

The site of the monastery was first identified in 1992 during a survey undertaken by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, on the instructions of former UAE President, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Studies of the finds from the excavations as well as other research suggests that the Sir Bani Yas church and monastery may have been founded some time in the early to mid- 7th Century CE, at a time when, prior to the coming of Islam, Christianity was present throughout eastern Arabia. Although there is evidence in ancient documents of the historical presence of Christianity in the UAE, the Sir Bani Yas monastery is, so far, the first physical evidence to have been discovered.

It is believed to have been part of a network of churches and monasteries spread throughout the Arabian Gulf at the time, with other sites having been found in Kuwait (Akaz and Al Qusur on Failaka Island), Saudi Arabia (Jubail) and Iran (Kharg Island).

Early excavations at the Sir Bani Yas monastery in 1995 (Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)

Early excavations at the Sir Bani Yas monastery in 1995 (Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority)

During the excavations at the Sir Bani Yas site, finds of particular importance were a number of plaster friezes that would formerly have decorated the church. Studies suggest that these date back to the mid-7th to 8th Century CE. The weathered surface of some of the pieces indicates they were used externally on the building although others were probably used inside the church. Some pieces have Christian crosses on them while others depict flowing scrolls connecting palm leaves and grapes. Decorations of this type are known to belong to the architectural style of the Church of the East, one of the Eastern group of churches.

Founded in the 5th Century CE, the Church of the East spread throughout Iraq and Iran, down through the Arabian Gulf and away to India. It also expanded throughout Central Asia as far as western China before beginning to decline in the 14th Century CE.

Three successor churches survive today, although much reduced in numbers, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Ancient Church of the East. They all use the Syriac language in their services.

The particular significance of the Sir Bani Yas site, and the plaster objects uncovered during the excavations, stems from their date and context, which roughly coincides with the beginning of Islam’s spread into southeastern Arabia. The discovery of the church and monastery, along with its series of associated courtyard houses and other buildings, is evidence that a significant Christian community was living on Sir Bani Yas at this time, living side by side with the country’s Muslim inhabitants. This reflects a prevailing spirit of religious tolerance and the peaceful coexistence of diverse religious communities. The excavations at the site have shown that it was eventually abandoned, with the buildings eventually collapsing.

Following the initial discovery, the late Sheikh Zayed personally encouraged the continued archaeological excavation and preservation of this internationally important site. Today, it is a central focus of plans by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority to promote Sir Bani Yas not only as a key element in the UAE’s cultural heritage but also as a tourist destination.

Other sites for tourists are also being developed on the island.

Sir Bani Yas, which has recently opened a dedicated terminal for cruise ships, is also home to a large collection of endangered species of animals, originally established by Sheikh Zayed, with special safari-type excursions for tourists through the island’s wildlife park.

]]> 0