Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 European Residents Offer Support, Homes to Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/european-residents-offer-support-homes-to-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-residents-offer-support-homes-to-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/european-residents-offer-support-homes-to-refugees/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142265 Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

As the migration crisis in Europe continues to grow and government response remains slow, European citizens have taken it upon themselves to act by opening up their homes to those in need.

In a Facebook group entitled ‘Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is Calling’, over 15,000 Icelanders have signed an open letter calling on their government to “open the gates” for more Syrian refugees.

The open letter, initiated by author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir on Aug. 30, addresses Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðar and calls on the government to reconsider capping the number of refugees at a mere 50.

The week-long campaign, which ends on Sep. 4, aims to gather information about available assistance and to create pressure on the government to increase its quota.

“Refugees are our […] best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine’,” the open letter states.

Many have posted their own open letters, offering their homes, food, and general support to refugees, to enable them to integrate into Icelandic society.

One Icelander posted on the group: “I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son […] we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The open letter has sparked more people around the world to express words of support and to offer their homes to those in need.

One mother of a 19-month-old baby from Argentina wrote in the group: “I want you to know that I would like to help in any way I can, even if it is looking at the possibility of hosting some boy or girl in my house […]. I don’t have a comfortable financial position, but I can provide what is necessary and a lot of love.”

Similar efforts to house refugees have begun in other parts of Europe.

Refugees Welcome, a German initiative, matches refugees from around the world with host citizens offering private accommodation.

Once hosts sign up to offer their homes, Refugees Welcome works with local refugee organizations to reach out to find a “suitable” match.

Though only Germany and Austrian residents can currently be hosts, over 780 people have already signed up to help and more than 134 refugees from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been matched with families in the two countries.

Refugees Welcome also stated that the initiative has been picked up and may be expanded to the United States and Australia.

“We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome,” says Refugees Welcome on its website.

European Union’s border agency Frontex revealed that in July 2015 alone, over 100,000 people migrated into Europe. Germany has stated that it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/europe-invaded-mostly-by-regime-change-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-invaded-mostly-by-regime-change-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/europe-invaded-mostly-by-regime-change-refugees/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:23:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142262 The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” -- James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum
Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight.  Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Italy Joins Internet Rights ‘Club’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/italy-joins-internet-rights-club/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italy-joins-internet-rights-club http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/italy-joins-internet-rights-club/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 19:01:31 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142258 By Andrea Pettrachin
ROME, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

Italy has finally joined the restricted club of states in the world that have chosen the constitutional path for regulating the Internet – or at least has taken a significant step in that direction – by adopting a Declaration of Internet Rights.

It is now looking to present the Declaration at the Internet Governance Forum scheduled for November in João Pessoa, Brazil.

The drafting process lasted more than one year, which is quick by normal Italian bureaucratic standards, and observers were surprised that it had seen the light of the day given what they says is the backwardness of the country’s digital infrastructures.Many questions related to access and use of the Internet go well beyond national borders because of the very nature of the Internet and therefore call for a coordinated effort at the international level

A number of progressive Italian media hailed the Declaration as of “historical significance” in view of the visibility and prestige that it will give Italy on internet governance issues within the global community.

Unlike other countries, where proposals for Internet Bills of Rights or Declarations have been promoted mainly by scholars, associations, dynamic coalitions, enterprises, or groups of stakeholders, the Declaration’s promoters have stressed that the drafting process was characterised by “peer-to-peer relations between institutions and citizens, so that the whole construction has become horizontal.”

In fact, the Declaration is the outcome of a complex and open multi-stakeholder process, which ended with the direct involvement of Italian citizens through a four-month public consultation on the Internet.

Nevertheless, momentum for the Declaration is closely associated with the figures of Laura Boldrini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and former spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Stefano Rodotà, an Italian jurist and politician and long-time advocate of a “Magna Carta” for the networked society who headed the committee of experts which drafted the document.

Explaining the contents of the Declaration, Rodotà said that unlike almost other similar initiatives,  the Italian Declaration : “does not contain specific and detailed wording of the different principles and rights already stated by international documents and national constitutions” but attempts to “identify the specific principles and rights of the digital world, by underlining not only their peculiarities but also the way in which they generally contribute to redefining the entire sphere of rights.”

The Declaration covers a wide range of issues, from the “fundamental right to Internet access” and net neutrality to the notion of “informational self-determination”. It also includes provisions on the security, integrity and inviolability of IT systems and domains, mass surveillance, the right to anonymity and the development of digital identity. It also deals with the highly-debated idea of granting online citizens the “right to be forgotten”.

The Declaration is critical of the opacity of the terms of service devised by digital platform operators, who are “required to behave honestly and fairly” and, most of all, give “clear and simple information on how the platform operates.”

Rodotà pointed out that the set of rights recognised in the Declaration “does not guarantee general freedom on the Internet, but specifically aims at preventing the dependency of people from the outside” through, for example, “expropriation of the right to freely develop one’s personality and identity as may happen with the wide and increasing use of algorithms and probabilistic techniques.”

The importance of needs linked to security and the market are taken into consideration but, according to the promoters of the initiative, there cannot be a balance on equal terms between these interests and fundamental rights and freedoms. In particular, “security needs shall not determine the establishment of a society of surveillance, control and social sorting.”

Renata Avila of Guatemala, who heads the “Web We Want” campaign launched by the World Wide Web Foundation, expressed her satisfaction with the section of the Declaration dedicated to net neutrality and free software, but said that it should have had more explicit and stronger recognition of “the right of people to communicate in private and the right to anonymity.”

The next step for the Italian Declaration concerns it status. It is currently simply a political document with no legal value, although Boldrini has said that it will be the subject of a parliamentary “motion” in the coming months.

As the basis for a legally-binding document, it has much in common with national legislation concerning the Internet in Brazil and the Philippines. However, it promoters note that the Italian declaration was created with an international framework in mind.

Its rationale, they say, is that “the many questions related to access and use of the Internet go well beyond national borders because of the very nature of the Internet and therefore call for a coordinated effort at the international level.”

According to the promoters, the main aim of the Declaration is not limited to being a text for the creation of new national legislation, but aims at being a contribution to public debate that points to possible legislative developments at all levels, “from national legislation to international treaties.”

For his part, Rodotà hoped that the Italian Declaration of Internet Rights would serve as an instrument for the “consolidation of a common international debate and of a culture highlighting common dynamics in different legal systems”.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Can Nuclear War be Avoided?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-can-nuclear-war-be-avoided/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-can-nuclear-war-be-avoided http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-can-nuclear-war-be-avoided/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 15:58:53 +0000 Gunnar Westberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142255

Gunnar Westberg, Professor of Medicine in Göteborg, Sweden, and Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) from 2004 to 2008, describes himself as “generally concerned about with what little wisdom our world is governed”

By Gunnar Westberg
GÖTEBORG, Sweden, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons had as members former leading politicians or military officers, among others a British Field Marshal, an American General, an American Secretary of Defence and a French Prime Minister.

The commission unanimously agreed in its report in 1996 that “the proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never be used – accidentally or by decision – defies credibility. The only complete defence is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.”

Gunnar Westberg

Gunnar Westberg

So that’s it: Nuclear weapons will be used if they are allowed to remain with us. And even a “small” nuclear war, using one percent or less of the world’s nuclear weapons, might cause a worldwide famine leading to the death of a billion humans or more.

Lt Colonel Bruce Blair was for several years in the 1970s commander of U.S. crews with the duty to launch intercontinental nuclear missiles. “I knew how to fire the missiles, I needed no permission,” he states. In the 1990s he was charged with making a review for the U.S. Senate on the question: “Is unauthorised firing of U.S. nuclear weapons a real possibility?”

Blair’s answer was “Yes”, and the risk is not insignificant.

On Hiroshima Day, Aug. 6, this year, a major newspaper in Sweden, Aftonbladet, carried an interview with Colonel Blair, now head of the Global Zero movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The reporter asked: “Mr Blair, do you think that nuclear weapons will be used again?” Mr Blair was silent for a while and then responded: “I am afraid it cannot be avoided. A data code shorter than a Twitter message could be enough.”

Blair reminds us of the story of the ‘Permissive Action Link’, a security device for nuclear weapons, the purpose of which is to prevent their unauthorised arming or detonation.

When Robert McNamara was U.S. Secretary of Defence in the mid-1960s, he issued an order that to be able to fire missiles from submarines, the commanding officer must have received a code which permitted the launch.

However, the navy did not want to be prevented from firing on its own initiative, such as in the case that contact with headquarters was interrupted. The initial code of 00000000 was for this reason retained for many years and was generally known. McNamara, however, did not know this until many years after he left the government.

A Soviet admiral once told me that as late as around 1980 he could fire the missiles from a submarine without a code.

When systems of control of the launch systems are discussed, we often learn – as a kind of post scriptum – that there is a Plan B: If all communication with HQ is dead and the commanders believe the war is on, missiles can be fired. We are never told how this works. But there is a plan B.

What is the situation today? Can an unauthorised launch of nuclear weapons occur? Colonel Blair says “Yes”. Mistakes, misunderstandings, hacker encroachments, human mistakes – there are always risks.

After the end of the Cold War, we have learnt about several “close calls”. There was the Cuban missile crisis and especially the “Soviet submarine left behind”. There was the Petrov Incident in September 1983. There was the possibly worst crisis – worst but little known – of the NATO exercise ‘Able Archer’ in November 1983 when the Soviet leaders expected a NATO attack any moment – and NATO had no insight into the Soviet paranoia.

There are numerous other dangerous incidents about which we have less information.

Martin Hellman, a mathematician and expert in risk analysis, guesses that the risk of a major nuclear war may have been as high as one percent per year during the 40 Cold War years. That sums up to 40 percent. Mankind thus had a slightly better than even chance of not being exterminated. We were lucky.

Maybe the risk is smaller today. But with the risk of proliferation, with new funds allocated to nuclear weapons research and with the increasing tension in international relations, the risk may be increasing again.

As long as nuclear weapons exist the risk exists. The risk of global omnicide, of Assured Destruction.

It is nuclear weapons or us. We cannot co-exist. One of us will have to go.

A prohibition against nuclear weapons is necessary. And it is possible.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* This article was originally published by the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF)

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Sustainable Settlements to Combat Urban Slums in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/sustainable-settlements-to-combat-urban-slums-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-settlements-to-combat-urban-slums-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/sustainable-settlements-to-combat-urban-slums-in-africa/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 09:19:36 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142251 Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Busani Bafana
LUANDA, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

Slums are a curse and blessing in fast urbanising Africa. They have challenged Africa’s progress towards better living and working spaces but they also provide shelter for the swelling populations seeking a life in cities.

Rural Africans are pouring into towns and cities in search of jobs and other opportunities, but African cities – 25 of which are among the 100 fastest growing cities in the world – are not delivering the much needed support services, including housing, at the same rate as people are demanding them.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) projects that nearly 1.3 billion people – more than the current population of China – will be living in cities in Africa in the next 15 years."We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture" – Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association

Africa’s urbanisation rate of four percent a year is already over-stretching the capacity of its cities to provide adequate shelter, water, sanitation, energy and even food for its growing population.

Safe and resilient cities and human settlements is one of the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed on in New York next month. As the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in September 2000, UN-Habitat has largely succeeded in meeting the target of taking 100 million people out of slums by the time the MDGs expired in Asia, China and part of India … but not in Africa.

However, Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association, believes that Africa can solve its slums situation by planning and developing towns and cities that strike a balance in the provision of housing, water sanitation, energy and transport while luring investments to create jobs.

According to Omisore, the problem lies in the fact that so far settlements have been developed for people but not with people, and he asks if Africa wants the humane aspects of its cultural values and heritage reflected in its cities or has to replicate the cities of developed nations to become classified as developed.

“Slums and sprawls demand understanding the reasons and problems resulting in their existence and identifying the class of people living there,” says Omisore.

“African governments focus on the infrastructural development of developed nations without consideration for the human development of our different communities and ensuring creation of employment opportunities which is key to the sustainability of our cities. People make the cities, not the other way around.”

By redefining slums, policy-makers in Africa can work more on understanding the rural-urban links to arrive at African solutions for African problems, he argues, calling for a “campaign of marketing Africa and appreciating what is African.”

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture.”

At a time Africa is grappling with the issue of land tenure, particularly in agriculture, limited and often expensive land in urban settlements is posing the question of whether Africa should build up or build across, and there are those who argue that densification is the answer to Africa’s housing woes.

At the 2nd Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum hosted by United Cities and Local Government-Africa (UCLG-A) and the government of Angola in Luanda in April,  Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat argued that densification is an avenue for the transformation of Africa and its cities.

“If urbanisation should be possible and if we are going to build landed housing without going up, it simply means it will be expensive, but if we have to densify then we need to go up,” said Kacyira.

“Yes, let us stick to our identity and culture, but let us stick to principles that make economic sense. We are not going to have vibrant cities by running away from the problem and spreading and sprawling.”

Kacyira also argued that by planning, reducing desertification and recycling waste, African cities can help reduce their carbon footprint, a key issue on the post-MDG agenda.

Meanwhile, a Kenya housing project could represent a model for the future of

Housing in Africa. Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, a federation of slum dwellers, has partnered with Shack/Slum Dwellers International to provide decent shelter for people living in slums by creating a low cost three-level house called  ‘The Footprint’, which costs 1,000 dollars.

The project has built 300 houses in two settlements this year. Dwellers pay 20 percent towards the structure and are given support to access a microloan covering 80 percent of the cost.

The UCLG-A network which represents over 1,000 cities in Africa, estimates that Africa needs to mobilise investments of 80 billion dollars a year for upgrading urban infrastructure to meet the needs of urban residents.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142243 Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Killing of Aid Workers Threatens Humanitarian Response in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/killing-of-aid-workers-threatens-humanitarian-response-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=killing-of-aid-workers-threatens-humanitarian-response-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/killing-of-aid-workers-threatens-humanitarian-response-in-yemen/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:53:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142247 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

With 21 million Yemeni civilians caught in the grips of a conflict that has been escalating since March, the killing of two local aid workers Wednesday could worsen their misery, as a major humanitarian organisation considers the future of its operations in parts of the war-torn country.

Both victims were employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and had been traveling in the northern governorate of Amran, between the Saada province and Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, when a gunman reportedly opened fire on the convoy.

One worker died at the scene; his colleague was rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to his injuries soon after.

In a statement released earlier today, Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, condemned “in the strongest possible terms what appears to have been the deliberate targeting of our staff,” and expressed sympathy with the families and loved ones of his colleagues.

“It is premature for us at this point to determine the impact of this appalling incident on our operations in Yemen,” Grand said. “At this time, we want to collect ourselves as a team and support each other in processing this incomprehensible act.”

This is not the first time in recent months that the ICRC has come under attack.

On Aug. 25 gunmen stormed the organisation’s offices in the southern seaport city of Aden, held staff at gunpoint and made off with cash, cars and other equipment – marking the 11th time ICRC staff and premises have been compromised.

The humanitarian group has been providing food, water and medical supplies to civilians caught between Houthi rebels, and fighters loyal to former President Abu Mansur Hadi who are supported by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Fighting has now spread to 21 out of Yemen’s 22 provinces. Over 4,500 people are dead and over 80 percent of the country’s population of 26.7 million is in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes have been largely responsible for civilian deaths and most of the property damage, though rights groups like Amnesty International say both sides in the conflict may be responsible for war crimes.

United Nations agencies and other humanitarian groups are struggling to meet the needs of civilians, a task made harder by the Aug. 20 bombing by Saudi military jets of the Red Sea port, a major entry point for relief supplies.

Large swathes of the country are virtually inaccessible. Last week, the ICRC was forced to relocate its staff in Aden owing to the attack on its offices, and today the organisation told the BBC that it would halt movement of its staff “as a precaution”.

Such restrictions on aid imperil huge groups of people, who are almost entirely reliant on the international community for food, fuel, shelter and medicines. Some 12 million people are food insecure and 20 million people have no access to clean drinking water.

A top U.N. relief official called Wednesday’s shooting “a despicable act” that “proves once again the urgent need for all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect the lives and rights of civilians and provide aid workers with a safe environment to work in.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Opinion: Women in the Face of Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-women-in-the-face-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:35:50 +0000 Renee Juliene Karunungan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142244

Renee Juliene Karunungan, 25, is the advocacy director of Dakila, a group of artists, students, and individuals in the Philippines committed to working towards social change, which has been campaigning for climate justice since 2009. Karunungan, who is also a climate tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator project, is in Bonn for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings currently taking place there.

By Renee Juliene Karunungan
BONN, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

After surviving the storm surge wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013, women in evacuation centres found themselves again fighting for survival … at times from rape. Many became victims of human trafficking while many more did anything they could to feed their families before themselves.

Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home.

At the Road to Sendai conference held in Manila in March, women’s leaders shared their traumatic experience. For many affected by Typhoon Haiyan, simple decisions such as the freedom to decide when to evacuate could not be made without their husbands’ permission.

Renee Juliene Karunungan

Renee Juliene Karunungan

When typhoons come, women’s concerns rest with their children, but they remain uncertain of what to do and where to go. These are some of the crushing realities poor women live with in the face of climate change.

“We must recognise that women are differentially impacted by climate change,” according to Verona Collantes, Intergovernmental Specialist for UN Women. “For example, women have physical limitations because of the clothes they wear or because in some cultures, girls are not taught how to swim.”

“We take these things for granted but it limits women and girls and affects their vulnerability in the face of climate change,” she noted, adding that these day-to-day threats of climate change are only set to increase “if we don’t recognise that there are these limits, our response becomes the same for everyone and we disadvantage a part of the population, which, in this case, is women.”

Women’s groups have been active in pushing for gender to be included in the negotiating text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and according to Kate Cahoon of Gender CC, “we’ve seen a lot of progress in negotiations in the past decade when it comes to gender.”“Climate change has become one of the biggest threats of this century for women. But these ‘secondary impacts’ of disaster events are rarely considered, nor are the amplifying impacts of economic dependence, and lack of everyday freedoms at home”

However, this week in Bonn, where the UNFCCC is holding a series of meetings, there has also been growing concern that issues central to supporting vulnerable women have been side-tracked, and may be left out or weakened by the time the U.N. climate change conference takes place in Paris in December.

“We want to make sure that gender is not only included in the preamble,” said Cahoon, explaining that this would amount to a somewhat superficial treatment of gender sensitivity. “We want to ensure that countries will commit to having gender in Section C [general objectives].”

Ensuring that gender is included throughout the Paris agreement is essential to ensure that there will be a mandate for action on the ground, especially in the Philippines. This is the only way to ensure that Paris will make a change in women’s lives at the grassroots level.

“We want a strong agreement and it can only be strong if we account for half of the world’s population,” stressed Cahoon.

Meanwhile, Collantes noted that UN Women is working to ensure that women will not be seen as vulnerable but rather as leaders. She believes that we now need to highlight the skills and capabilities that women can use to support their communities in moments of disaster.

“Women are always portrayed as victims but women are not vulnerable,” said Collates. “If they are given resources or decision-making powers, women can show their skills and strengths.”

In fact, according to an assessment by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “women play a key role in adaptation efforts, environmental sustainability and food security as the climate changes.”

The women most affected by Typhoon Haiyan could not agree more.

“We are always seen as a group of people to give charity to. But we are not only receivers of charity. We can be an active agent of making our communities more resilient to climate change impacts,” a woman leader from the Philippine women’s organisation KAKASA said during the Road to Sendai forum.

What does a good climate agreement for women look like?

According to Collantes, it must correct the lack of mention of women in the previous conventions, and it must also be coherent with the goal of gender equality, the Post-2015 Agenda, Rio+20, and the Sendai Disaster Risk Reduction Framework.

“Without gender equality, the Paris agreement would be behind its time and will not validate realities women are facing today,” says Collantes.

For the three billion women impacted by climate change, we can only hope negotiators here in Bonn won’t leave them behind.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Who Will Pay the Price for Australia’s Climate Change Policies?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 21:43:34 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142239 Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Rowan Foley has spent many years as a ranger and park manager, caring for Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park Aboriginal lands in the spiritual heart of Australia’s Red Centre in the Northern Territory. He has been observing the effects of soaring temperatures and extreme weather events on his people, residing in some of the hottest regions of the country.

“There are hotter and more frequent fires. Salt water intrusion is leading to less fresh water. This is impacting on indigenous traditional owners of the land, who have contributed the least to global warming,” says Foley, who belongs to the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala people, Traditional Owners of Fraser Island and Hervey Bay in the state of Queensland.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts [of climate change] are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities." -- Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia
Australia, the driest inhabited continent, is on an average likely to experience more global warming than the rest of the world. Increasing drought, floods, heatwaves and bushfires are already impacting on the country’s environment and economy, further disadvantaging Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the most vulnerable in remote and island communities.

“The Coconut Islands in the Torres Strait are under threat from sea level rise. [For Indigenous people], their culture and heritage are tied to the island and they would have nowhere to go. We are also seeing spikes in heat related deaths,” says Kellie Caught, climate change national manager for the World Wildlife Fund-Australia.

Deaths from heatwaves are projected to double over the next 40 years in Australian cities and sea levels are projected to continue to rise through the 21st century at a rate faster than over the past four decades, according to a recent report by the independent organisation Climate Council.

To support the sustainable development of Aboriginal lands by combining traditional practices and business needs, Foley launched the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, a national not-for-profit company, in partnership with Caritas Australia, five years ago.

For thousands of years, Indigenous people have traditionally managed the land in the savannah regions of tropical northern Australia by making small fires in winter. This prevents uncontrolled late-season fires from destroying the land and also reduces the amount of carbon produced by wildfires in the atmosphere.

The Fund has set up a programme whereby farmers and land managers undertake carbon farming, which allows them to earn carbon credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or capture carbon in vegetation and soils.

These credits are then sold to organisations and businesses wishing to offset their own emissions. Payment for carbon credits is helping create sustainable livelihoods in remote communities.

“Carbon farming is an agribusiness and we urgently need a development package to support this industry,” says Foley, the Fund’s general manager.

Similarly, civil society advocates say that being one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world, Australia has huge potential for solar power and wind energy.

But the country’s Liberal-National coalition has slashed renewable energy targets and repealed carbon and mining taxes.

“Our government has gone to extreme lengths to repeal or undermine climate and clean energy policy,” Tom Swann, a researcher with the Canberra-based The Australia Institute, told IPS. “If Australia succeeds in its plans to double its exports in the next 10 years, the world loses in its plans to tackle climate change.

“More coal mines mean lower coal prices, less renewable energy and more climate impacts. Indeed, meeting the two-degrees centigrade target, to which Australia has signed up, means 95 percent of Australia’s coal must stay in the ground, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he can think of ‘few things more damaging to our future’,” Swann added.

Coal is Australia's second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second largest export and this year it is forecast to generate 346 billion Australian dollars (253 billion U.S. dollars) in foreign sales, according to Australia’s Department of Industry and Science. Australia exports 80 percent of the coal it mines and currently meets three-quarters of the country’s electricity needs from burning coal.

“We need new measures to shift from dirty coal to renewable energy, including a commitment from all parties to at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2030,” Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Chief Executive Officer Cassandra Goldie told IPS.

A survey by The Climate Institute released on Aug. 10 showed 84 percent of Australians prefer solar amongst their top three energy sources, followed by wind at 69 percent.

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to a 19 percent cut on 2000 levels).

WWF’s Caught says, “The Australian Government’s pollution reduction target is woefully inadequate and not consistent with limiting warming below two degrees centigrade. If all countries matched Australia’s targets the world would be on track for a 3-4 degree centigrade warming. The target puts Australia at the back of the pack on international action.”

The United States and the European Union proposals will mean emission reductions of around 2.8 percent a year whereas Australia’s proposals will yield a 1.8 percent reduction, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Environment groups argue that it is economically feasible for Australia to move to a low carbon economy.

“The Government’s draft 2030 target is estimated to reduce GDP growth by 0.2-0.3 percent over the next 15 years,” Caught told IPS.

“With a stronger 45 percent target, it would only reduce growth by 0.5-0.7 per cent over the same time. Our GDP would make up that small difference in growth in just a few months.”

Community sector organisations are especially concerned that people experiencing poverty and inequality will be hardest hit by sea level rise inundating low-lying coastal areas, reducing crop yields and forcing migration of millions of people; and they would be the least able to adapt.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities,” says Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia, an international aid and development agency of the Catholic Church.

“Given this denialism, our government is in no way ready or prepared to take in and support people and whole communities that will be forced to migrate due to the impacts of climate change.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) figures estimate a third of the global burden of disease is caused by environmental factors and children under five bear more than 40 percent of that burden, even though they represent just 10 percent of the world’s population. They are more at risk from waterborne diseases and more likely to be impacted by air pollution.

Save the Children Campaigns Manager, Tim Norton, told IPS, “Wealthier nations such as Australia must scale up its contribution to international climate finance, such as The Green Climate Fund, to 400 million Australian dollars [285 million U.S. dollars], independent of its aid budget.

“This provides the best opportunity for Australia to actively contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities in the developing world. It also allows nations to transition to low-emission clean economies without the need of fossil fuels.”

Australia scores highest with 26.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) emissions per capita, contributing 1.3 percent of global emissions, according to 2011 data from the WRI, even though it has a relatively small population of 23.8 million people.

A 2015 poll conducted by the Lowy Institute of International Policy recorded the third consecutive rise in Australians’ concern about global warming, with 63 percent saying the government should commit to significant emissions reductions so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same at the Conference of States Parties (COP-21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris this December.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Urban Farming Mushrooms in Africa Amid Food Deficitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 15:28:42 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142235 Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

There is a scramble for unoccupied land in Africa, but this time it is not British, Portuguese, French or other colonialists racing to occupy the continent’s vacant land – it is the continent’s urban dwellers fast turning to urban farming amid the rampant food shortages that have not spared them.

Inadequate wages have aggravated the situation of many, like Agness Samwenje who lives in Harare’s high density Mufakose suburb, and they have found that turning to urban farming is one way of supplementing their supply of food.

Samwenje, a pre-school teacher who took over an open piece of land to cultivate in vicinity to a farm, told IPS that “this mini-farming here is a back-up means to feed my family because the 200 dollars I earn monthly is not enough to support my family after becoming the breadwinner following the death of my husband four years ago, leaving me to care for our three school-going children.”“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs” –Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga

“I now spend very little money buying food because crops from my small field here in the city supplement my food,” she added.

For others, like jobless 34-year-old Silveira Sinorita from Mozambique who now lives in the Zimbabwean town of Mutare, urban farming has become their job as they battle to feed their families.

“Without employment, I have found that farming here in town is an answer to my food woes at home because I grow my own potatoes, beans, vegetables and fresh maize cobs, whose surplus I then sell,” Sinorita told IPS.

Pushed to the edge by mounting food deficits, urban farmers in other African countries have even gone beyond mere crop farming. In cities such as Kampala in Uganda and Yaoundé in Cameroon, many urban households are raising livestock, including poultry, dairy cattle and pigs.

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa’s towns and cities at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 800 million people around the world practise urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity, although the U.N. agency also warns that the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion globally, with the “urban poor being particularly vulnerable.”

However, urban farming in Africa is often met with opposition from the authorities where land is owned by local municipalities and agricultural experts say that opposing it makes no sense in the face of growing food insecurity.

“Poverty is not sparing even people living in the cities because jobs are getting scarce on the continent and as a result, farming in cities is fast becoming a common trend as people battle to supplement their foods, this despite urban farming being prohibited in towns and cities here,” government agricultural officer Norman Hwengwere told IPS. Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

FAO has also reported that Africa’s market gardens are the most threatened by the continent’s growth spurt because they are typically not regulated or supported by governments, and a recent study has called for governments to become more involved.

In a 2011 research study titled ‘Growing Potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers’, Anna Plyushteva, a PhD student at University College London, argues that greater government involvement is needed for urban agriculture to emerge out of marginality and illegality and deliver greater environmental and social benefits.

“Without official regulation, urban farming can create some serious problems. At present, informal farmers and their produce are exposed to contamination with organic and non-organic pollutants, which is a serious threat to public health,” said Plyushteva.

For independent Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga, the more people flock to cities, the more pressure they add to the limited resources there.

“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs,” Nakalonga told IPS.

“Often when people migrate from rural areas anywhere here in Africa, they cling to their agricultural heritage of practices through urban agriculture which you see many practising in towns today to evade hunger,” Nakalonga added.

In the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, for example, urban gardens in some communities resemble those found in the country’s rural areas from which people migrated.

Despite the opposition elsewhere, some African cities are nevertheless supporting the urban farming trend. The Cape Town local authority in South Africa, for example, introduced its first urban agriculture policy document in 2007, focusing on the importance of urban agriculture for poverty alleviation and job creation.

As FAO projects that there will be 35 million urban farmers in Africa by 2020, it is supporting programmes in some countries to capitalise on the benefits. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, FAO’s Urban Horticulture Programme is building on the skills of rural farmers who have come to the cities.

The FAO programme in DRC started in response to the country’s massive rural-to-urban exodus following a five-year conflict and now helps local urban farmers to produce 330,000 tons of vegetables each year, while providing employment and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners in the country’s towns and cities.

The country’s urban farmers sell 90 percent of what they produce in urban markets and supermarkets, according to FAO, helping to feed a swelling urban population as Congolese flee the countryside in search of security.

Meanwhile, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, various groups and agencies have helped popularise the “vertical farm in a bag” concept in which city dwellers create their own gardens using tall sacks filled with soil from which plant life grows.

With hunger hitting both rural and urban African dwellers hard, an increasing number of them believe that urban farming is the way to go.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Latin American Scientists Call for More Human Climate Sciencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 23:47:49 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142232 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/latin-american-scientists-call-for-more-human-climate-science/feed/ 0 Impeachment Motion Stirs Political Waters in Somaliahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/impeachment-motion-stirs-political-waters-in-somalia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impeachment-motion-stirs-political-waters-in-somalia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/impeachment-motion-stirs-political-waters-in-somalia/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:16:05 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142222 Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seen in his presidential office inside Villa Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seen in his presidential office inside Villa Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

The impeachment motion Somali parliamentarians filed against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Aug. 12 has created a political standoff that might further threaten the country’s stability shortly ahead of planned elections in 2016.

Last week, the envoys of the United Nations, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement, calling for a rapid resolution of the crisis and expressing their concern that the motion “will impede progress on Somalia’s peace and state building goals”.

"The chronic bane of Somali elite politics, particularly in the past two decades, has been a toxic cocktail of tribalism, malfeasance, and incompetence. President Hassan Sheikh is the embodiment of this syndrome." -- Ahmed Ismail Samatar, former member of the Somali Federal Parliament
“While we fully respect the right of the Federal Parliament to hold institutions to account and to fulfill its constitutional duties, the submission of any such motion requires a high standard of transparency and integrity in the process and will consume extremely valuable time, not least in the absence of essential legal bodies.”

“Emerging institutions are still fragile. They require a period of stability and continuity to allow Somalia to benefit from the New Deal Somali Compact and to prepare for a peaceful and legitimate transfer of public office in 2016,” the text added.

As a matter of fact, there are important procedural irregularities as well as legal obstacles arising from insufficiently developed institutions that stand in the way of a smooth running of the impeachment process and might indeed cause further political turmoil.

In accordance with article 92 of the Federal Government of Somalia’s (FGS) provisional constitution, the impeachment motion has been submitted by one-third of the members of parliament.

However, as reported by the Somali Current, at least 25 members of parliament out of a total of 93 deputies endorsing the motion claimed their names were used without their consent.

After the submission of the impeachment motion, the following step provided for under articles 92 and 135 of the provisional constitution will be a decision by the Constitutional Court, within 60 days, on the legal grounds of the motion, followed by a two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament.

However, at the time of writing, no Constitutional Court exists in the country – a major obvious hindrance, even though some analysts invoke the possibility of a decision by the Supreme Court acting on the matter instead, following the legal precedent of former article 99 of the 1960 Somali Constitution.

Another major question of debate concerns the charges against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. As outlined in a press statement by the Somali Federal Parliament, the impeachment motion lists a total of 16 charges against President Hassan, including abuse of power, corruption, looting of public resources, failure to address insecurity, human rights abuses, detentions of political dissidents, interference with the independence of the judiciary and intentional failure to meet the requirements for elections in 2016.

Article 92 (1) states that a deposition of the Somali president can only occur if there are allegations of “treason or gross violations of the constitution”. There is ongoing discussion whether the charges put forth by the parliamentarians present enough legal grounds for the motion to pass.

In a press conference last week, President Mohamud dismissed the charges against him, adding it was not the right moment for an impeachment procedure and accusing individuals of having “special interests” – a possible allusion to deputies seeking term extensions.

This suspicion has also been brought up, in an indirect way, in the above-mentioned joint press statement by the international community:

“We also recall that Somalia and all member states are bound by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2232, which sets out the expectations of the international community on the security and political progress needed in Somalia, and the need for an electoral process in 2016 without extension of either the legislative or executive branch,” the statement said.

In an interview with Voice of America, U.N. Envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay repeated the international criticism of the impeachment motion.

He said, in the context of the upcoming election and ongoing attacks by al-Shabaab militants, Somalia shouldn’t “lose time [on] the political bickering that has brought down governments in the past.”

While some voices are more concerned about the impeachment motion itself as it will likely create further chaos and instability, others emphasise the validity of the charges and the need to hold the President and national institutions accountable.

Ahmed Ismail Samatar is former member of the Somali Federal Parliament. A candidate for the 2012 elections in Somalia, he is now working as professor and chair of International Studies at Macalester College.

Speaking to IPS, he said, “The chronic bane of Somali elite politics, particularly in the past two decades, has been a toxic cocktail of tribalism, malfeasance, and incompetence. President Hassan Sheikh is the embodiment of this syndrome.”

Unlike most international observers, Samatar does not necessarily see the elections in 2016 threatened by the motion: “If carried expeditiously and firmly, the proceedings need not thwart the mounting of the elections in September 2016.”

Last month, President Mohamud declared that he does not expect “one person, one vote” elections to be possible in 2016 due to persisting security challenges. However, he said in an interview with Voice of America, he is “aiming for the next best option” regarding transition of power in 2016.

Opposition parties have reacted angrily to the president’s statement, claiming that he uses the insecurity argument as a pretence to extend his mandate.

President Mohamud was elected in 2012 by a parliament made up of 135 clan elders in what the BBC described as a “U.N.-backed bid to restore normality to the country”.

However, instability, severe economic problems and continuing al-Shabaab attacks as well as the current political crisis seem to suggest that the country still has a long way to go to achieve normality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Treaty, Conventional Arms Fuel Ongoing Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/despite-treaty-conventional-arms-fuel-ongoing-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-treaty-conventional-arms-fuel-ongoing-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/despite-treaty-conventional-arms-fuel-ongoing-conflicts/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 20:36:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142219 SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

Despite last year’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the proliferation of conventional weapons, both legally and illegally, continues to help fuel military conflicts in several countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Described as the first international, legally binding agreement to regulate the trade in conventional arms, the ATT was also aimed at preventing the illicit trade in weapons.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment." -- Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
But the first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) to the ATT, held in Cancun, Mexico last week, was the first meeting to assess the political credibility of the treaty, which came into force in December 2014.

Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the failure of CSP1 to adopt robust, comprehensive reporting templates that meet the needs of effective Treaty implementation is disappointing and must be corrected at CSP2, which is to be held in Geneva in 2016.

She said the working group process leading up to CSP2 must be more transparent and inclusive with regards to civil society participation than the process that lead to the provisional reporting templates.

“CSP1 is over, but implementation of the Treaty is just beginning,” she said.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment,” said Acheson who participated in the Cancun meeting.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who also attended the Cancun conference, told IPS that CSP1 was intended to provide the administrative backbone for the implementation of the ATT.

States Parties (the countries that have completed the ratification or accession process) largely succeeded in this effort, she said.

Goldring said CSP1 accomplished a great deal, but the real tests still lie ahead.

The Conference agreed on the basic structures for the new Secretariat to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, but that’s simply a first step.

She said full implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty requires action at the national, regional, and global levels.

One indication of countries’ commitment to the ATT will be the extent to which the countries with substantive and budgetary resources help the countries that lack those capacities, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Some of the world’s key arms suppliers are either non-signatories, or have signed but not ratified the treaty. The ATT has been signed by 130 states and ratified by 72.

The United States, Ukraine and Israel have signed but not ratified while China and Russia abstained on the General Assembly vote on the treaty – and neither has signed it.

The major arms suppliers to sign and ratify the treaty include France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

The ATT Monitor, published by WILPF, quotes a U.N. report, which says South Sudan spent almost 30 million dollars last year on machine guns, grenade launchers, and other weapons from China, along with Russian armoured vehicles and Israeli rifles and attack helicopters.

The conflict in South Sudan has been triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar: a conflict “which has been fueled with arms from many exporters,” according to the Monitor.

China told the Cancun meeting it would never export weapons that do not relate to its three self-declared principles: that arms transfers must relate to self-defence; must not undermine security; and must not interfere with internal affairs of recipients.

Acheson said the ATT can and must be used as a tool to illuminate, stigmatise, and hopefully prevent arms transfers that are responsible for death and destruction.

By the end of the Conference, she said, States Parties had taken decisions on all of the issues before it, including the location and head of the secretariat; management committee and budget issues; reporting templates; a programme of work for the inter-sessional period; and the bureau for CSP2.

The CSP1 voted for Geneva as home of the treaty’s permanent Secretariat – against two competing cities, namely Vienna, Austria; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – while Dumisani Dladla was selected to head the Secretariat.

Acheson said while most of these items are infrastructural and procedural, they do have implications for how effectively the Treaty might be implemented moving forward.

On the question of transparency, unfortunately, states parties failed to meet real life needs, she added.

States parties also did not adopt the reporting templates that have been under development for the past year. But this is a relief, she added.

States that want to improve transparency around the international arms trade, and most civil society groups, are very concerned that the provisional templates are woefully inadequate and too closely tied to the voluntary and incomprehensive reporting practices of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms.

“As we conduct inter-sessional work and turn our focus to implementation, we must all act upon the ATT not as a stand-alone instrument but as a piece of a much bigger whole,” she noted.

ATT implementation must be firmly situated in wider considerations of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding.

Acheson also said the ATT could be useful for confronting and minimising the challenges associated with transparency and accountability.

“It could help prevent atrocities, protect human rights and dignity, reduce suffering, and save lives. But to do so effectively, states parties need to implement it with these goals in mind.”

Commenting on the prepared statements at the high level segment of the conference, Goldring told IPS the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies could save a great deal of time if countries submitted their opening statements electronically in advance of the relevant meetings instead of presenting them orally in plenary sessions.

States Parties were not successful in developing agreed procedures for countries to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements of the ATT.

The group was only able to agree on provisional reporting templates, deferring formal adoption to the second Conference of States parties. This is an extremely important omission.

Goldring said countries reporting on the weapons that were imported or exported or transited their territory is a critical transparency task.

She said reporting needs to be comprehensive and public, and the data need to be comparable from country to country and over time.

“The current templates do not meet these tests,” she said pointing out that another important task will be trying to convince leading suppliers and recipients to join the treaty.

In a pleasant contrast to many U.N. meetings, NGOs were included in both the formal plenary and informal working group sessions.

The Rules of Procedure focus on consensus, but provide sensible options if it’s impossible to achieve consensus. This is a welcome development, as it will make it much more difficult for a small number of countries to block progress, she said.

“But in the end, the most important measure of success will be whether the ATT helps reduce the human cost of armed violence. It’s simply too early to tell whether this will be the case,” Goldring declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OECD Paving Way for Costa Rica’s Membershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/oecd-paving-way-for-costa-ricas-membership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oecd-paving-way-for-costa-ricas-membership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/oecd-paving-way-for-costa-ricas-membership/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:46:04 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142217 By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), once a domain of the rich countries, is keen to extend its global membership and has set out a clear path for Costa Rica’s membership, within months of launching accession discussions with Colombia and Latvia.

As part of this strategy, the 34-nation OECD has in fact been strengthening cooperation with Brazil, India, Indonesia, the People’s Republic of China and South Africa through ‘Enhanced Engagement’ programmes.

According to OECD official sources, over time the organisation’s focus “has broadened to include extensive contacts with non-members and it now maintains cooperative relations with a large number of them.”

Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, paid a historic visit to the OECD on Jul 1, 2015, to sign cooperation agreements in a move that will bolster ongoing collaboration.

The visit to the OECD, the first by a Chinese state leader, coincided with the 20th anniversary of OECD-China relations, as well as China’s upcoming Presidency of the G20 in 2016.

Premier Li Keqiang delivered a keynote address in the context of the OECD Leaders Programme. He was accompanied by a number of ministers and high-ranking officials from the Chinese government.

OECD’s Global Relations Secretariat (GRS) develops and oversees the strategic orientations of OECD’s global relations with non-members. More than 15 Global Fora have been established to address trans-boundary issues where the relevance of OECD work is dependent on policy dialogue with non-members.

Regional initiatives cover Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia; Asia; Latin America; and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The Sahel and West Africa Club creates, promotes and facilitates links between OECD members and West Africa.

Helping improve public governance and management in European Union candidate countries, potential candidates and European Neighbourhood Policy partners is the mission of a joint OECD-EU initiative, the Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) programme.

The OECD’s current members are Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

On Jul. 8, 2015, OECD members adopted the Roadmap for the Accession of Costa Rica to the OECD Convention setting out the terms, conditions and process for its accession.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Launching the accession process of Costa Rica underlines the organisation’s commitment to broaden its global outreach. Our joint objective is to work together to bring Costa Rica’s policies and practices closer to OECD best policies and practices.”

Gurría, who hails from Mexico, added: “This process, through which standards and best practices are adopted, is as important as membership itself and will help improve the lives of all Costa Ricans. It will be mutually enriching, as it will also allow the OECD to learn from Costa Rica’s experience in various policy areas.”

The first step in the process will see Costa Rica submit an initial memorandum setting out its position on approximately 260 OECD legal instruments. This will in turn lead to a series of technical reviews by OECD experts, who will collect further information from Costa Rica through questionnaires and fact-finding missions.

As part of the accession process, the OECD will evaluate Costa Rica’s implementation of the organisation’s policies, practices and legal instruments. Its committees may make recommendations for adjustments to legislation, policy or practice to bring Costa Rica closer to OECD instruments or best practices, serving as a catalyst for reform.

There is no deadline for completion of the accession processes, said an OECD official. Final accession will depend on the candidate country’s capacity to adapt and adjust to meet the organisation’s standards. Once all the committees have given their opinion, a final decision will be taken by all OECD member countries in the Governing Council.

Created in 1961 as the successor to the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, which administered the Marshall Plan at the end of the Second World War, OECD serves as an economic, environmental and social policy forum for its 34 member countries, as well as partners worldwide, on the world’s most important global challenges.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Strong Words, But Little Action at Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:08:47 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142214 The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

After a one-day summit in the U.S. Arctic’s biggest city, leaders from the world’s northern countries acknowledged that climate change is seriously disrupting the Arctic ecosystem, yet left without committing themselves to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming.

The Aug. 31 summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, was organised by the U.S. State Department and attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States.

Political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who urged Arctic nations to take bolder action as the summit ended, came out with strong words, but stakeholders from civil society and scientific groups said the outcome came short of the tangible action needed.“This statement (from the one-day GLACIER Arctic summit] unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels” – Ellie Johnston, World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive

The summit attracted the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which criticised Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

All participating countries signed a joint statement on climate change and its impact on the Arctic, after the initial reluctance of Canada and Russia, which eventually added their names.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” the statement read, before going on to describe the wide range of impacts felt by Arctic communities’ landscapes, culture and well-being.

“As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”

However, the statement lacked concrete commitments, even on crucial topics like fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, leaving climate experts with the feeling that it could have been more ambitious or have offered more specific, tangible commitments on the part of countries.

“I appreciate the rhetoric and depth of acknowledgement of the climate crisis,” the World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, told IPS. “Yet this statement unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

“This is particularly relevant as nations and companies jockey for access to drilling in our historically icy Arctic seas which have now become more accessible because of warming,” she said. “Drilling for fossil fuels leads to more warming, which leads to more drilling. This is one feedback loop we can stop.”

Oil and gas companies were encouraged – but not required –to voluntarily take on more stringent policies and join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, an initiative to help companies reduce their emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed participants – members from indigenous communities, government representatives, scientists, and non-governmental organizations – at the opening of the summit. “The Arctic is in many ways a thermostat,” he said. “We already see [it] having a profound impact on the rest of the planet.”

Kerry also attempted to drum up action ahead of the COP21 United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December, urging governments to “try to come up with a truly ambitious and truly global climate agreement.”

He added that the Paris conference “is not the end of the road […] Our hope is that everyone can leave this conference today with a heightened sense of urgency and a better understanding of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the harmful impacts of climate change.”

In a closing address to summit participants, President Obama repeatedly said “we are not doing enough.” He outlined the stark impacts of a future with business-as-usual climate change: thawing permafrost, forest fires and dangerous feedback loops. “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair … any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that is not fit to lead,” he stated.

However, neither Kerry nor Obama acknowledged, as many environmental groups have pointed out, that the United States’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment falls nearly halfway short of what the country must do in order to stay within the Paris conference goal of a 2oC warming limit.

While participants emphasised engagement from affected communities, the summit itself did not manifest engagement with those communities: less than one-third of the panellists and presenters were either indigenous or female, and only one woman of colour was present.

“It would have been nice to hear more from indigenous women or women of colour,” Princess Daazrhaii, member of the Gwich’in Nation and strong advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told IPS. “The Arctic is more diverse than what I felt like was represented at the conference.”

“As life-givers and as mothers, many of us nurse our children. We know for a fact that women in the Arctic are more susceptible to the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are bound to the air we breathe. Violence against women is another issue that I feel gets exacerbated when there are threats to our ecosystem.”

All individuals talked to appreciated the conference’s emphasis on climate change as a significant problem, yet all of them also expressed a desire for the United States – and governments around the world – to do more.

“[Climate change] is what brings human beings together,” Daazrhaii said. “We’re all in this together. And we have to work on this together.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Officials Warn of Dengue Outbreak in War-Torn Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/health-officials-warn-of-dengue-outbreak-in-war-torn-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=health-officials-warn-of-dengue-outbreak-in-war-torn-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/health-officials-warn-of-dengue-outbreak-in-war-torn-yemen/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142212 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

An outbreak of dengue fever in Yemen’s most populated governorate has prompted urgent calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the flow of medicines to over three million civilians trapped in the war-torn area.

Taiz, located on the country’s southern tip, has been on the frontline of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition of Arab states supporting fighters loyal to deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015.

Three of Taiz’s major hospitals have either been destroyed or are inaccessible, leaving 3.2 million people – many of them sick or injured – without access to basic healthcare.

An estimated 832 people in the governorate have died and 6,135 have been wounded since the war broke out.

To make matters worse, in the past two weeks alone the number of suspected dengue cases has nearly tripled from 145 cases in early August to nearly 421 by the month’s end.

As the conflict escalates with both sides showing little regard for civilian safety, the WHO fears that the health situation will deteriorate in the coming months, worsening the misery of people caught between Houthi gunfire and Coalition airstrikes.

In a statement released on Aug. 27, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ala Alwan said: “All parties to the conflict must observe a ceasefire and demilitarize all hospitals and health facilities in Taiz, allow for the safe delivery of the supplies, implement measures to control the dengue outbreak, provide treatment and enable access to injured people and other patients.”

A mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus, this tropical fever causes flu-like symptoms including high temperatures and muscle pains.

If symptoms are not quickly identified and managed, the patient may experience dangerously low platelet counts, internal bleeding or low blood pressure. Undetected, the disease can be fatal.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus thrive in stagnant water, and dengue epidemics often spread quickly in densely populated areas where open sewer systems or uncollected garbage provide convenient homes for the larvae.

With huge numbers of displaced Yemenis living in cramped and unsanitary makeshift settlements, it is small wonder that the disease is moving so rapidly.

The WHO’s most recent situation report for Yemen reveals that the country has logged over 5,600 suspected cases of dengue fever since March, including 3,000 cases in the coastal city of Aden alone.

Incomplete levels of medical reporting as a result of heavy fighting suggest that the real number of cases could be much higher.

Children are more likely than adults to develop the severe form of the disease, known as the Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. With children accounting for over 600,000 of the nearly 1.5 million displaced in Yemen, health officials are on red alert.

Since there is no vaccine against the diseases, and no specific antiviral drug with which to treat the symptoms, prevention is the only long-term solution.

The WHO is partnering with other organisations and local health authorities to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets, educate families on the causes of the diseases, conduct indoor spraying to disrupt breeding grounds and secure necessary laboratory supplies for medical facilities.

These tasks are not easily accomplished in the midst of relentless air strikes and heavy fighting.

“We need protection and safety for all people working to control the worrying outbreak of dengue fever in Taiz,” the WHO said today, adding that parties to the conflict must stay mindful of their obligations under international law to protect medical facilities and health personnel during war-time.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Local Development, the Key to Legitimising Amazon Hydropower Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:23:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142206 The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

In the case of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil, the projects aimed at mitigating the social impacts have been delayed. But in other cases, infrastructure such as hospitals and water and sewage pipes could improve the image of the hydropower plants on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rivers, turning them into a factor of effective local development.

Under construction since 2011 on the Xingú river, Belo Monte has dedicated an unprecedented amount of funds to compensating for the impacts of the dam, through its Basic Environmental Project (PBA), which has a budget of 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate.

To that is added a novel 140-million-dollar Sustainable Regional Development Plan (PDRS), aimed at driving public policies and improving the lives of the population of the dam’s area of influence, made up of 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará.

These funds amount to 12.8 percent of the cost of the giant dam on the middle stretch of the Xingú river, one of the Amazon river’s major tributaries. If distributed per person, each one of the slightly more than 400,000 inhabitants of these 11 municipalities would receive 2,500 dollars.

But the funds invested by the company building the Belo Monte hydropower plant, Norte Energía, have not silenced the complaints and protests which, although they have come from small groups, undermine the claim that hydropower dams are the best energy solution for this electricity-hungry country.

“The slow pace at which the company carries out its compensatory actions is inverse to the speed at which it is building the hydropower plant,” complained the Altamira Defence Forum, an umbrella group of 22 organisations opposed to the dam.

The most visible delay has involved sanitation works in Altamira, the main city in the area surrounding the dam, home to one-third of the local population. Installed 10 months ago, the sewage and water pipes are not yet functioning, leaving the water and wastewater treatment plants partially idle.

The problem is that the pipes were not connected to the local homes and businesses, a task that has been caught up in stalled negotiations between Norte Energía, the city government and the Pará sanitation company, even after the company expressed a willingness to shoulder the costs.

“In addition, the storm drainage system was left out of the plans; the city government didn’t include it in the requirements and conditions set for the company,” the head of the Live, Produce and Preserve Foundation, João Batista Pereira, told IPS.

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The lack of storm drains is especially destructive for cities in the Amazon rainforest, where torrential rains are frequent.

The works and services included in the PBA respond to requirements of the Brazilian Environment Institute, the national environmental authority. Incompliance with these requisites could supposedly bring work on the dam to a halt. But the rules are subject to flexible interpretations, as recent experience has shown.

Pereira is one of the leaders of the PDRS, a “democratic and participative” programme where decisions on investments are reached by an administrative committee made up of 15 members of society and 15 representatives of the municipal, state and national governments.

The projects can be proposed by any local organisation that operates in the four areas covered by the plan: land tenure regularisation and environmental affairs, infrastructure, sustainable production, and social inclusion.

In these areas and some projects that the company finances, such as the Cacauway chocolate factory that processes the growing local production of cacao, the PDRS is distinct from the PBA, which addresses the immediate needs of people affected by the dam, such as indigenous people, fisherpersons or families displaced by the reservoirs.

The PBA’s activities were defined by the environmental impact study produced by researchers prior to the dam concession tender. Hospitals and clinics were built or refurbished to compensate the municipalities for the rise in demand for health services, while 4,100 housing units were built for relocated families.

These are responses to the immediate needs of affected individuals, groups or institutions, without integral or lasting planning. The only one responsible for implementation is the company holding the concession, even though they involve tasks that pertain to the public sector.

“The confusion between public and private is natural,” José Anchieta, the director of socioenvironmental affairs in Norte Energía, told IPS.

The delay in compensatory programmes generated chaos, the Altamira Defence Forum complains. Many of the initiatives were supposed to be carried out prior to construction of the hydropower plant.

The hospitals and health clinics were not delivered by Norte Energía until now, when construction of the dam is winding down. But they were most needed two years ago, when the floating migrant worker population in the region peaked as a result of work on the dam. The same is true for schools and urban development works.

This mistiming led to serious problems for the local indigenous population. The institutions protecting this segment of the population were not strengthened. On the contrary, the local presence of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs, was weakened during the construction of the dam, and the overall absence of the state was accentuated.

From 2010 to 2012 an “emergency plan” distributed processed foods and other goods to indigenous villages. This led to an abrupt change in habits, driving up child malnutrition and infant mortality among indigenous communities, which only recently began to be provided with housing, schools and equipment and inputs to enable them to return to agricultural production.

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The PBA and PDRS also have different timeframes. The former is to end before the reservoirs are filled, which is to be completed by the end of this year. The latter, meanwhile, involves a 20-year action plan.

The company’s social programmes are also “an important sphere of debate, definition of projects and redefinition of public policies, which should become permanent by being transformed into an institute or foundation,” said Pereira, defending “the adoption of their democratic administration by other development agencies.”

The question is of concern to Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which has financed 78 percent of the cost of the construction of Belo Monte.

Besides providing a team to accompany the PDRS, it promoted a study to organise its projects and ideas in an “initiatives file” and a Territorial Development Agenda (TDA) in the Xingú basin.

But this planning and promotion effort to bring about real development has come late, when it is difficult to neutralise the negative effects, which will stand in the way of the construction of new hydropower dams in the Amazon, even with the promise of a TDA.

Belo Monte has also highlighted the dilemmas and challenges of power generation, currently dramatised by severe drought in much of Brazil.

Belo Monte, which will be the second-largest hydropower plant in Brazil and the third-largest in the world, producing 11,233 MW, will aggravate the seasonal drop in hydropower in the second half of each year, once it becomes fully operational in 2019.

That is because the Xingú has the biggest seasonal variation in flow. From 19,816 cubic metres per second in April, the month with the strongest flow, it plummets to 1,065 cubic metres in September, the height of the dry season. This was the average between 1931 and 2003, according to the state-run Eletrobras, Latin America’s biggest power utility company.

There is probably no worse choice of river for building a run-of-the-river power station, whose reservoirs do not accumulate water for the dry months. Belo Monte will represent 12 percent of the country’s total hydropower generation, which means the effect of the plunge in electricity will be enormous, fuelling demand for energy from the dirtier and most costly thermal plants.

One alternative would have been a reservoir 2.5 times bigger, which would have flooded two indigenous territories – something that is banned by the constitution.

Another would have been the construction of four to six dams upstream, to regularise the water flow in the river, as projected by the original plan in the 1980s which was ruled out due to the outcry against it.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez

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Stop Food Waste – Cook It and Eat Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/stop-food-waste-cook-it-and-eat-it/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 18:39:32 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142201 Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
LEEDS, England, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

A new grassroots initiative born in the northern England city of Leeds has set itself the ambitious goal of ending food waste, once and for all.

Founded in December 2013, ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ (TRJFP), is the brainchild of chef Adam Smith.

It consists of a network of ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafés where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals that people can enjoy and give back what they can and wish, be it money, time or surplus food.

TRJFP is run on a volunteer basis through customers’, crowdfunding and private donations and with only a handful of paid positions at living wage level.

Sitting at a table in the first café opened by TRJFP, The Armley Junk-Tion in the struggling suburb of Armley, Leeds, 29-year-old Smith is still infectiously enthusiastic about it all.

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s something that has a positive impact,” he told IPS. “We believe that we can empower people and communities and inspire change across the whole system through the organic growth of these cafés.”

In under two years, TRJFP has grown into a worldwide network of 110 cafés: 14 in Leeds, one of which in a primary school, 40 across the United Kingdom and the rest in countries as diverse as Germany, Australia, South Africa or France.

“So far,” explained Smith, “the Armley Junk-Tion alone has cooked 12,000 meals for 10,000 people using food that would otherwise have gone to landfill.” As a network, in 18 months it has fed 90,000 people 60,000 meals and saved 107,000 tonnes of food from needless destruction.

TRJFP volunteers are out every day and at all hours intercepting food from households, food businesses, allotments, food banks, wholesalers, supermarkets and supermarket bins.“The [U.K.] government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people. We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money“ – Adam Smith, founder of ‘The Real Junk Food Project’

TRJFP has also been able to secure surplus chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain and part of the food ”waste” generated by local Morrisons supermarket branches.

“We ignore expiry dates or damage and use our own judgment on whether we think the food is fit or safe for human consumption,” said Smith.

The number of tonnes of food intercepted, though, pales in comparison with the amount of food that is still wasted each year. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food wastage globally at one-third of all food produced – that is 1.3 billion tonnes each year. This means that one in four calories produced is never consumed. On the other hand, FAO also reports that 795 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished.

‘Food waste’ is often described as a “scandal” and yet top-down actions seeking to put an end to it still treat the above statistics as two separate problems requiring two separate solutions – recycle more in rich countries and produce more food in and for developing countries – that effectively leave a faulty system intact and the interests of a multi-billion dollar industry unchallenged.

According to Tristram Stuart, campaigner and author of ‘Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’, “all the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  

But our short-sightedness and unwillingness to change our habits are laid bare in laws such as the one approved last May by the French parliament. In France, large supermarkets will be forbidden from throwing away unsold food and forced to give it to charity or farmers.

Although hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against food waste, critics such as food waste activists ‘Les Gars’pilleurs’ say that such laws only circle around the problem, offering a quick fix. For starters, supermarkets are hardly the only culprits. For example, as the U.K. charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports, they produce less than two percent of U.K. food waste, while private households are responsible for roughly 47 percent of it and producers 27 percent.

“The government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people,” Smith cut short. “We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money.“

As a grassroots and independent initiative, TRJFP does not categorise food waste as an environmental, economic or social malaise. It tackles it holistically and works to educate the public but also lobbies ministers and parliamentarians to develop relevant policies.

“We have been to Westminster (seat of the U.K. parliament) a few times already to talk about this problem. There are many interests at stake but we will keep working until there is no more waste,” Smith said, adding that he hopes to prepare a waste-food lunch for members of parliament.

In Armley, the café fills up for lunch. On the menu are delicacies such as meat stew, steak and lentil soup. The clientele represents a cross-section of society that normally travels on parallel paths. Hipsters, homeless, professionals or unemployed all eat the same food, sit at the same tables and enjoy the same service. No referrals needed, no stigma attached, as often happens with other such services.

Richard, a recovering alcoholic, has been having lunch at The Armley Junk-Tion for a few months. “The café has been a real focus point for the community to come and eat together irrespective of background,” he told IPS. “It doesn’t matter what you want to eat. There’s always something on the menu for everybody.”

For 36-year-old Paul, with a history of mental illness, TRJFP offers an important safety net not guaranteed by social services. “Where I stay, my cooking facilities are restricted to a microwave. Due to cut backs and lack of support services, the only help I get is coming to places like this,” he told IPS.

Nigel Stone, one of the café’s volunteer co-directors, had no doubt the idea would catch on. “It is such an unbelievably common sense solution and the best part of it is how it brings the community together, especially in times of need.”

Slowly but steadily, TRJFP is changing norms around food waste and hopes to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to waste food. First off, though, they are proving that we must stop calling it waste, it just isn’t, it’s perfectly good food that every day we decide to throw away.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Faith Leaders Call for Debt Relief to Puerto Ricohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/faith-leaders-call-for-debt-relief-to-puerto-rico/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:16:09 +0000 S. Chandra http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142199 By S. Chandra
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

Puerto Rico’s religious leaders have called for debt relief of the Caribbean U.S. territory in the face of the 72 billion dollar liability that represents 20,000 dollars of debt for every man, woman and child.

In a statement issued Aug. 31, the clergy called on the U.S. Federal Reserve to intervene if Congress fails to pass bankruptcy protection to the financially-strapped island.

“This debt crisis threatens to push more of our people into poverty and put people out of work,” said San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, leader of Puerto Rico’s mostly Catholic population.

“The religious community stands with vulnerable people and we call for the crisis to be resolved in a way that protects the poor and grows our economy,” he added.

At a press conference in San Juan, leaders of the major religious groups laid out six principles to resolve the crisis.

“Puerto Rico’s religious leaders are fighting for the lives of their people,” stated Eric LeCompte, executive director of the faith-based development coalition Jubilee USA Network.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee’s mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable.

LeCompte visited Puerto Rico in mid-August to advise religious and political leaders on solutions to the crisis.  “We need to get Puerto Rico’s debt back to sustainable levels and ensure that the island has a path for economic growth,” he said

Some of the hedge funds, arguing for cuts in Puerto Rico’s economic growth, were or are currently involved in debt disputes in Greece, Argentina and Detroit, Michigan.

Two recent reports, one commissioned by a group of hedge funds which purchased the island’s distressed debt and the other authorised by Puerto Rico’s own government, suggest new austerity plans to pay off portions of the debt.

The reports note a range of “fiscal adjustments”, including reducing the minimum wage, education resources and healthcare costs. One of the principles promoted by the coalition of religious leaders is that any resolution to the financial crisis prevents further austerity plans.

The religious leaders raised concern over predatory hedge fund activity in their statement. Beyond the Catholic Church, other religious groups signing the statement include Methodists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and the Disciples.

“As religious leaders, we see how desperate the situation is for Puerto Rico’s people,” said Reverend Heriberto Martínez Rivera, secretary-general of Puerto Rico’s Biblical Society and the leader of the religious coalition confronting the debt crisis.

“Too many of our people are already suffering from austerity policies and many brothers and sisters have left for the United States hungry for work and a better quality of life,” he added.

Beyond calling for debt relief and criticising austerity policies, the religious leaders’ statement asserts the need for greater Puerto Rican budget transparency and participation in future debt negotiations by people negatively affected by the crisis.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Activists Criticise Offshore Drilling as Obama Prepares for Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:06:23 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142194 Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

A one-day summit taking place here on Aug. 31 hopes to bring Arctic nations together in support of climate action against a backdrop of criticism of offshore oil drilling in the region.

The meeting on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, is being organised by the U.S. State Department and will be attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to address the conference.

The conference comes at a time of significant changes to the ever-shifting Arctic: this year’s forest fires in Alaska reached record highs, blazing so rapidly that many were left unmanaged. Last week, thousands of walruses hauled up on Alaskan shores as the ice they depend on as habitat disappeared.“Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities” – Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska

“The evidence for climate change in the Arctic is visible from space as we observed declining sea ice and melting glaciers, and in the lived lives of Arctic residents who see coastlines eroding from sea level rise and reduced access to traditional foods from the land and sea,” said Ross Virginia, Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College and co-lead scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“These changes will be more evident to the rest of us,” he added. “The challenge is to learn from the Arctic and to work with the Arctic to adapt and prevent further climate change.”

The GLACIER summit is also taking place at a time of great public focus on the issue of climate change. Critiques of Arctic drilling, as well as the upcoming United Nations climate change negotiations in December in Paris, have helped bring global warming to the political forefront.

“In visiting the U.S. Arctic, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that the United States is an Arctic nation with a stake in the region’s future,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director of U.S. Arctic Programs at the World Wildlife Fund. “This trip provides the President with the perfect opportunity to define his vision of how all nations should work in unison to manage and conserve our shared Arctic resources.”

The conference has drawn the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which both praise the conference’s potential for ambitious leadership but also criticise Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

“The President needs to align his energy policy with his climate policy and put an end to Shell’s drilling for unburnable oil in the Arctic,” Turnbull said.

Dan Ritzman, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, stressed that the drilling decision “went against science, common sense, and the will of the people.” Many environmental groups pointed to the irresponsibility of drilling in the Arctic, one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change.

A senior State Department official responded to this criticism on Aug. 28 by stating that many “citizens of Alaska, and in particular, Alaskan natives” desire more drilling in an effort to develop their communities.

However, indigenous activists rejected the official statement. Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska, said: “Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities. Obama needs to start listening to the peoples of the Arctic who oppose Arctic drilling.”

One of the aims of the GLACIER conference is to be a stepping stone towards COP21, the U.N. climate change conference to be held in Paris in December. COP21 hopes to usher in a binding, ambitious agreement on climate change.

Observers said that GLACIER may be an important moment on the road to Paris because it hopes to bring together a small subset of countries – including China, Canada, India, Japan, Russia, the United States and many European nations – which together account for the overwhelming majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some suggested that the conference could be a moment for these polluting countries to step up their carbon emission reduction commitments.

“On climate change, President Obama has been good, but not good enough,” according to marine biologist Richard Steiner. “The U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent in the next 15 years is about half of what is urgently needed.”

Steiner said: “It is like we are on a sinking boat, taking on two gallons of water a minute, and we are bailing 1 gallon a minute. We are still sinking. We urgently need a U.S. and global commitment at the Paris climate summit of at least 60 percent carbon reduction by 2030. Otherwise, we’re sunk.”

With these challenges ahead, the GLACIER summit has high expectations for international cooperation on climate change. Among the diversity of opinions, one clear message has rung out – the need to engage young people in Arctic climate change discussions

“A real priority should be engaging youth at all aspects of the climate problem – education, research, leadership and activism,” said Virginia. “It is vital that they are ‘at the table’ and that they help shape the questions to be addressed by policy-makers. After all, they have the most at stake.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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