Inter Press Service » Headlines News and Views from the Global South Fri, 30 Sep 2016 18:39:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 My Hawai’i Commitment Fri, 30 Sep 2016 18:11:31 +0000 Enayetullah Khan By Enayetullah Khan
Sep 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

There are two schools of thought on the current debate regarding the global conservation of natural resources agenda: one is a pessimistic view of our future which thinks that it is already too late to avoid a catastrophe – and therefore, we must now focus on survival and recovery – which puts people in despair. Others feel that humanity has faced and overcome many challenges in the past and will continue to do so. With these views in mind, over ten thousand conservation leaders from government, civil society, indigenous communities, faith and spiritual traditions, the private sector, and academia from about 200 countries gathered in an historically important IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i, from September 1-10, 2016.

iucn_world_conservation_The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has about 1,300 members and over 1,600 experts who assess the state of the world’s natural resources from over 160 different countries. The members decide the global conservation agenda every four years. This year the World Conservation Congress was held in Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA. The UN estimates that today’s some 7.3 billion people on earth, under a medium growth scenario, will be more than 8.4 billion by 2030. It is alarming to note that over half the world’s population is already living in urban areas, increasingly disconnected from the complex systems of nature and the biodiversity that keep us all alive. So this year’s theme was rightly chosen as Planet at the Crossroads.

Discussions focused on how to reverse environmental decline and secure a healthy, livable planet for our future generations. The meeting came to the conclusion that we have an opportunity to move to sustainability and harness nature-based solutions for conservation. As global citizens, we all need to address the major threats to species loss, ecosystem decline and climate change. The congress kept the following in mind: the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Promise of Sydney, Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the Earth Charter, and the Honolulu Challenge on Invasive Alien Species. These gave the global leaders to find ways to alleviate the spirit of partnership and collaboration. Eradicating corruption, we could save the world from ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss and stop eroding traditional bio-cultural relationships.

Healthy and sustainable future is synonymous to healthy ecosystems. To ensure a healthy environment for all and to eradicate poverty, Bangladesh needs to establish an environment court to address ecological, political, economic and legal issues related to environment and biodiversity conservation.

The Hawai’i Commitments highlight nature-based solutions to climate change. The document also gives emphasis on the role of indigenous people, and women from local communities, as critical to successfully implementing the Paris Agreement. This Congress for the first time voted to create a new category of membership for indigenous people’s organisations. This would not only strengthen the presence and role of Indigenous organisations in the IUCN but would also help achieve equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. We should begin to relearn the wisdom of indigenous traditions, how to live in communion with, rather than in dominance over, the natural world.

The Hawai’i Congress also emphasised that the environmental rule of law is essential and needs to be cultivated and strengthened. The establishment of environment courts in more than 50 nations is an encouraging and necessary development in today’s world. Today there is a growing trend to sue for climate change damages. I understand that lawsuits have been filed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Peru, Washington, Philippines, Massachusetts, and Oregon. The Dutch were perhaps the first government to lose a lawsuit against climate change litigators.

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and we may think of this.

Hawi’i Congress tells us to engage and empower youth to nurture a new generation across all sectors of society to connect with nature and take action to support conservation. The Congress is committed to address the challenge of sustaining the global food supply and conserving nature. Traditional farming practices are under pressure and associated knowledge is being lost. It is committed to face the challenge of preserving the health of the world’s oceans. The world’s oceans, and the communities that depend on them, are under immense and unprecedented human pressures. Sea level rise not only affects livelihoods but threatens human security. It’s very encouraging to note that President Obama designated the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, protecting fragile deep-sea ecosystems off the coast of New England as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on September 15 this year.

In his speech, Obama says: “Over the past several decades, the nation has made great strides in its stewardship of the ocean, but the ocean faces new threats from varied uses, climate change, and related impacts. Through exploration, we continue to make new discoveries and improve our understanding of ocean ecosystems. In these waters, the Atlantic Ocean meets the continental shelf in a region of great abundance and diversity as well as stark geological relief. The waters are home to many species of deep-sea corals, fish, whales and other marine mammals.”

The WildTeam delegation, composed of three, was headed by me, its chairman. WildTeam, through its poster presentation (…) and knowledge café, informed the audience how it has been working closely with the Bangladesh Forest Department and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to protect the tigers in the Sundarbans. WildTeam is now implementing USAID’s Bengal Tiger Activity under the guidance of the Forest Department and with technical assistance from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, and Bangladesh Centre for Advancement of Science. We had the opportunity to interact with many participants who showed great interest in tiger conservation in Bangladesh. One gentleman said: “Bangladeshi cricketers are known as tigers, why don’t they then raise their voices and say NO to tiger and deer poachers, and come forward to save tigers?”

The world community feels that Bangladesh should turn the tiger from an ‘umbrella species’ to a ‘flagship species’, as this is the national animal of Bangladesh. In our knowledge café, we discussed how to raise funds for tiger conservation. We need the support from business people and the civil society. All conservation efforts need good investment. One speaker at a business session asserts: “Conservation measures would cost $100-200 billion year, or about one percent of all new and reinvested capital. This sum is beyond the capabilities of governments, and therefore businesses are the solution to protecting species.” WildTeam urges upon all to join us to save our national pride: the Bengal Tiger. I reassure my commitment to give all out support for this good cause.

The writer is Editor-in-Chief, UNB and Dhaka Courier.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Industrialization for a Sustainable Future Fri, 30 Sep 2016 17:19:41 +0000 Li Yong LI Yong is Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)]]> Credit: Bigstock

Credit: Bigstock

By Li Yong
VIENNA, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

World leaders are recognizing the crucial role of industrialization in eliminating absolute poverty and promoting sustainable development. This was especially evident at the recent G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, which I attended as a member of the delegation of the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. The gathering demonstrated the growing consensus on the need for renewed efforts to facilitate inclusive and sustainable industrialization as one of the main drivers of economic growth and structural transformation in Africa, and especially the least developed countries (LDCs).

Before the summit, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which I currently head, received a request from the G20 Presidency to take the lead on a report on Industrialization in Africa and LDCs.

LI Yong

LI Yong

The paper presented the challenges and opportunities that Africa and least developed countries are facing in the process of industrialization, and proposed policy recommendations for the G20 to take actions in the future to extend their support for the continent and the LDCs. It provided a comprehensive framework and underlined the fact that increased investments in infrastructure and industry, access to finance, the transfer of technologies, as well as trade facilitation and capacity building, can support the transformation needed in this respect.

The report, which benefited from contributions from other international organizations and financial institutions, highlights the important benefits of inclusive and sustainable industrial development. This extends to inclusive and sustainable structural transformation and industrialization for diversifying the economy, creating jobs and building equitable societies, without prejudice to the environment. It also shows the benefits of leveraging trade in intermediate goods, investment, and regional and global value chains.

The report also highlights the new Programme for Country Partnership approach, which UNIDO is currently piloting in Ethiopia, Peru, and Senegal, as a model for pursuing inclusive and sustainable industrialization at the country level. This approach brings together actors in a multi-stakeholder platform to coordinate and optimize the contribution of each other. The objective of such a partnership is to accelerate and deepen the impact of the national industrial development agendas.

The report recommended that the G20 Group of leading economies promotes inclusive and sustainable industrialization through various mechanisms, such as knowledge-sharing platforms for peer-to-peer learning, the sharing of best practices, policies, measures and guiding tools as well as multi-stakeholder discussions.

Other recommendations included calls for the G20 to support agriculture and agribusiness development; to deepen, broaden and update the local knowledge base; to encourage industrialization through trade and deeper regional integration, and to promote the new industrial revolution, including the internet of things, big data, cloud computing, 3D printing, nanotechnology and biotechnology, in order to improve productivity.

The summit in Hangzhou demonstrated the commitment of G20 countries to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 goals, and their associated targets, frame the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the vision and ambition to both achieve a balance among the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development, and to integrate them into a universal and transformative framework for global cooperation and action.

A communiqué issued by G20 Leaders announced a package of policies and actions designed to achieve strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth. These include the launch of the G20 Initiative on Supporting Industrialization in Africa and LDCs. The communiqué also emphasized the need to tap into the potential of new sources of growth and to harness the opportunities brought about by innovation, the new industrial revolution and the digital economy.

It became evident during the interactions at the summit that the business community has a major role to play in the uptake of new innovative technologies and business practices. However, government support in addressing market failures is also crucial for increasing the social and environmental impact of new technologies and practices along the value chain.

Translating the G20’s commitment to investment in sustainable development into reality will depend on the ability of governments to create the right mix of incentives for private financing, as well as on the roles of leaders in leveraging multi-stakeholder partnerships in a coordinated and effective way.

I am especially pleased that the consensus reached in Hangzhou is based also on the principle of inclusiveness, ensuring that economic growth serves the needs of everybody and that no one is left behind. This is reflected in the support that the G20 Member States expressed for the initiative on industrialization in developing countries, especially in Africa and LDCs.

I was pleased to see G20 leaders reiterate the support for enhancing the role of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and women and young people in business growth. This includes the participation of SMEs in global value chains, an issue discussed during the B20 Summit. Therewith, the G20 has recognized the interconnectedness of economic development and the importance of public-private partnerships, and linking the business community to policy makers.

The world needs our joint commitment to defeat poverty and create shared prosperity. This is why we must all join hands and turn this commitment into action.

For further information, please see:

G20 Leaders Communiqué Hangzhou Summit
B20 2016 Policy Recommendations to the G20

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To Effectively Combat Climate Change, Involve Women Fri, 30 Sep 2016 16:33:52 +0000 Esther Ngumbi Photo courtesy of Esther Ngumbi.

Photo courtesy of Esther Ngumbi.

By Esther Ngumbi
ATLANTA, Georgia, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

London’s Waterloo Bridge over the River Thames is famously known as the “Ladies Bridge,” for it was built largely by women during the height of World War II.  On another continent, women fighting a different war have built an equally remarkable structure: a 3,300-meter anti-salt dyke constructed by a women’s association in Senegal to reclaim land affected by rising levels of salt water.

These women are on the front-line of the fight against climate change, and their ingenuity and resolve resulted in a singular victory. The project allowed the revitalization of rice-growing activities and the re-generation of natural vegetation over 1,500 hectares, and benefiting over 5,000 people in Senegal.Women are a minority on every major committee of the United Nations’ own top climate change decision making group.

Yet, women continue to be excluded from climate change solutions for agriculture.  A look at United Nations report on female representations in main climate change decision bodies shows that women are a minority on every major committee of the United Nations’ own top climate change decision making group. For example, women hold only 6 percent of positions in the Advisory Board of the Climate Technology Centre and Network. At the same time, women smallholder farmers have limited access to agricultural training, credit, seeds, and inputs – all of which are essential for the development and adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.

Most affected by climate change are the world’s 1.3 billion poor people, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers, women and their families. Furthermore, women make up an average of 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce and produce as much as 90 percent of the food supply in African countries, where they are also mainly responsible for providing water and fuel for their families.  All this makes them exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Not only does women’s disempowerment prevent us from understanding the true extent to which climate change is disrupting the way of life for our most at-risk communities, it also perpetuates the antiquated narrative that women are victims, rather than agents, of change.

But, as seen in Senegal, women bring novel perspectives and solutions to the fight against climate change. Furthermore, studies have found that women in leadership improve organizations’ financial performance, strengthen the organizational climate, increase corporate social responsibility and reputation, leverage talent and enhance innovation and collective intelligence.  Therefore, across every level of society, women’s leadership in addressing climate change must be supported.

While there are signs of change—including the recently announced appointment of Patricia Espinosa as Executive Secretary to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—much remains to be done, whether in the Board room or on the threshing floor.

Small-scale women farmers must beassisted with tools, technologies and other resources to effectively deal with the changing climate. These include portable modern stoves that do not require large amounts of firewood and biogas digesters that can turn waste from animals into gas for cooking.

Water conservation technologies, such as micro-dams, rain storage systems,  and drip irrigation technologies that  grow more crop per drop are a prerequisite for dealing with more variable rainfall. Such climate-smart agriculture techniques could potentially allow small-scale women farmers to grow crops and feed their families throughout the year and avoid the “hungry season.”

When women gain access to such resources and tools on a large scale, whole communities and regions can benefit. In India, for example, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group and the Women’s Earth Alliance launched a yearlong India Women, Food Security, and Climate Change Training program.  Through this program, women were trained on a wide array of conservation agricultural practices including agroforestry, conservation tillage and mixed farming. These practices strengthen resilience of the land base to extreme events, broaden sources of livelihoods, and have positive implications for climate change adaptation.

As a result of the initiative, over 5,000 women were trained and over 6,000 trees were grown. The trainees were further tasked with implementing what they had learned. Many of the 5,000 trained women launched their own small-scale agribusinesses and continued to be leaders in the fight against climate change, reaching out to more than 750,000 people.

Another example is the work of late Nobel Prize winner Prof. Wangari Maathai. Through the greenbelt movement, she empowered women to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, and provide food and firewood. Since its inception, the organization has planted over 51 million trees, helping to protect Kenya’s forests. This program not only addresses climate change, but it also creates jobs for women while improving water and food security.

Efforts towards empowering women with tools and resources to fight climate change must be intensified and accelerated at local, national and regional levels.  Echoing the words of former President of Finland Tarja Halonen: “Women are powerful agents whose knowledge skills and innovative ideas support the efforts to combat climate change.” Including women in top decision-making organs on issues of climate change and empowering them on ground to take action is essential, and will surely facilitate a more stable and prosperous planet.

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Wave Energy on the Horizon in the Pacific Islands Fri, 30 Sep 2016 14:27:35 +0000 Catherine Wilson The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

The ocean energy research team, including Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed, at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji have been using waverider buoys to conduct research into wave activity and its energy potential in the Pacific Islands region. Photo courtesy of Dr R Ahmed

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Sep 30 2016 (IPS)

Waves are ubiquitous in the more than 20 island states scattered across 165 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. But only this year, following a ground-breaking study by oceanographic experts, are they now seen as an economically viable source of renewable energy in the region.

The significance of the wave energy cost analysis report recently released by the Pacific Community (SPC) is that it presents tangible costs of purchasing, installing, operating and maintaining wave energy devices in the region for the first time and concludes that “the costs of generating energy using waves are on par with other renewable energies, such as wind and solar.”Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed of the Renewable Energy Group, University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji, agrees that ocean energy is an important alternative given “the cost of electricity generation in Pacific Island countries is currently very high, considering that most are dependent on imported fossil fuels.”

In the Cook Islands and Tonga, for example, imported petroleum products account for an estimated 90 percent and 75 percent of the national energy supply respectively, while fossil fuel imports account for about 10 percent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Yet today only 20 percent of households in the Pacific Islands region, home to more than 10 million people, have access to electricity. Hardship, including poor access to basic services, persists for many islanders with most of the 14 Pacific Island Forum countries not achieving Millennium Development Goal 1, the eradication of poverty.

Experts say that the reliability of ocean energy makes it a strong choice for supporting sustainable development.

“Wave energy is available 90 percent of the time at a given site compared to solar and wind energies, which are available 20-30 percent of the time. The power flow in waves is up to five times compared to the wind that generates waves, making wave energy more persistent than wind energy,” Dr Ahmed told IPS.

Waves are formed when wind, as it traverses the ocean, transfers energy to the water.

However, sea conditions vary across the Pacific and optimum sites for pursuing wave energy, according to the report, lie south of latitude 20 degrees South. Specifically French Polynesia, Tonga, Cook Islands and New Caledonia benefit from exposure to the larger southern ocean swells.

The SPC study analysed the costs of using a Pelamis wave energy converter, which is typically installed 2-10 kilometres offshore and capable of meeting the annual electricity demand of about 500 homes.

The cost of generating wave energy is estimated to be 209-467 dollars per MWh (megawatt hour) on Eua Island, Tonga, and 282-629 dollars per MWh in South Raratonga, Cook Islands, comparing well with the cost of solar and diesel generation which can reach a maximum 700 dollars per MWh and 500 dollars per MWh, respectively.

Given the large numbers of Pacific Islanders who live along coastlines and the need for standalone power generation in rural communities, where the power deficit is greatest, “wave energy is certainly one of the strong candidates for powering remote islands,” Dr Ahmed said. In New Caledonia and Fiji only 45.5 percent of the rural population is electrified, declining to 17.8 percent in Vanuatu and 12.6 percent in the Solomon Islands.

Yet Associate Professor Anirudh Singh of the USP’s School of Engineering and Physics, who is also involved in Project DIREKT, the Small Developing Island Renewable Energy Knowledge and Technology Transfer Network, remains cautious about the report’s findings.

“The energy density available in waves is generally quite low in the Pacific compared, for instance, with the Northern Hemisphere countries and, secondly, despite all assurances to the contrary, the technology has still not been adequately market-tested,” Singh commented.

He continued that wave energy would be appropriate for rural coastal communities “once the technology of the single wave energy device has been perfected, but that will take some time.”

Work on ocean energy technology began in the 1970s, but most devices are yet to achieve commercial application, even though prototypes are being tested around the world. The Pelamis, which can produce grid-connected electricity, is only one of two wave energy devices to have reached commercial readiness, the report claims.

New concepts are also being evolved by the USP’s ocean energy research team, including a rectangular Oscillating Water Column (OWC) which channels bi-directional wave flow onto the blades of a Savonius rotor (wind turbine).

“An Oscillating Water Column (OWC) device can be constructed locally with local materials, except for the turbine. Its operation and maintenance costs are also low and it has a very long life. It will certainly compete with other renewable energy sources in locations of good potential,” Dr Ahmed claimed.

Sites with significant wave energy potential include Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, the country’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and nearby Eua Island. The Tonga Government’s strategy to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels includes the renewable options of landfill gas, wind and solar PV without storage. But, according to the country’s Energy Roadmap (2010-2020), ocean energy ‘could provide energy throughout the Tongan archipelago when proven cost effective technology becomes available.’

Numerous challenges will have to be overcome before the potential of ocean energy is transformed into reality, including lack of local technical expertise in renewable energies and securing private sector investment for the commercial scale up of the technology. Building investor confidence, according to the World Bank, also requires clarity from governments in the region on investment options, incentive schemes and associated policy, governance, legal and regulatory frameworks.

The SPC report’s recommendations are yet to be acted upon. But it is now clear that wave energy could play a key role in increasing people’s access to health, education and economic opportunities, particularly in rural coastal communities, and reduce the financial strain of expensive fossil fuels on small Pacific Island economies.

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A New ‘enemy’ Thu, 29 Sep 2016 18:37:14 +0000 Zeenat Hisam By Zeenat Hisam
Sep 29 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

THE US elections have stoked excitement and fear among all, in and outside the country. The liberals hate Trump whom they think is dangerous and reckless and backed by uncouth rednecks; they say he would play havoc with civil rights if in power. A white Democrat American said (jokingly) to me that she would seek political asylum in Pakistan if Trump won.

Zeenat Hisam

Zeenat Hisam

Europe is concerned about his poor self-control and quick temper and worries he may “make snap decisions on national security — with the world’s most powerful army, navy and air force at his command and nuclear-launch codes at his disposal”, as put by The Economist.

Win or lose, the damage has already been done to American politics and society: Trump has ruined the Republican party, according to political pundits, brought out the worst in people, sharpened divisions and amplified the fear of ‘the enemy’ of America.

His call for a ban on Muslims entering the US, and for racial profiling has given a boost to the grand narrative of ‘Islam-(and Muslims) as an enemy of the-West’. Buffeted by political rhetoric, news coverage, social media and Hollywood movies, the meta-narrative is churning out localised hate crimes against Muslims. It may appear ridiculous to us but a recent research says that 30 per cent of white Americans think that the Muslims want Sharia laws (in the US). Perceived as a ‘threat to Western values’, Muslims are a mere 1pc of the total US population.

Hate crimes against Muslims in the US have increased.

Though Islamophobia has existed in the US since earlier times, after 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims spiked to 1,700pc nationwide resulting in 481 incidents in just four months in 2001, according to a 2002 report. Since last year, violent anti-Muslim acts have increased by 78pc, says a 2016 report released by the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism. The spike came particularly after Trump’s call for banning Muslims’ entry in 2015 though the Paris attacks also played a role. In 2015 there were 418 hate crimes. In the second week of September the Huffington Post Islamophobia tracker reported 261 hate crimes in 2016.

As a Muslim visiting the US, I wonder about this hatred of the common people for the Muslim community. Generally one finds Americans to be nice and friendly; on the surface the society appears to believe in the dictum ‘live and let live’. But one wonders what goes on beneath the surface — if Islamophobia is being manufactured like any other consumer item and people are being made to buy it.

According to a June 2016 report released by the University of California Berkeley’s Centre for Race and Gender and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamophobia has become a multi-million-dollar business. The report has identified 74 organisations that contribute in one way or another to Islamophobia in the US. Of these groups, the main purpose of 33 “is to promote prejudice against, or hatred of, Islam and Muslims” among the populace. The report states that these organisations had access to $206 million funding between 2008 and 2013.

What if Trump wins? What will be their future in the country they made home one or two generations ago?

“Anything can happen. Remember the US government interned the Japanese in 1942,” says an old friend of mine who made America her home in the late 1970s. A committed professional who loves her job, is 60 plus and content with her life, my friend feels integrated in society. Nonetheless, she thinks the situation for the Muslims in the US is turning from bad to worse.

Young Muslim Americans learn in grades 8 and 11 about the internment of the ‘enemy’ en masse: 120,000 Japanese-American citizens were forcibly relocated and incarcerated in camps. It was in 1988 that the Civil Liberties Act conceded that “the government actions were based on ‘race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership’.”

The ‘enemy’ of the US keeps changing. When it defeated its enemy, Japan, and devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it found a ‘new’ enemy, Russia, whom Europe had always perceived as the ‘other’. The overriding image of Russians, writes historian Paul Sander, since Early Modern Age, was that of the “barbarians at the gate”. After the Cold War, Islamophobia replaced Russophobia. Trump has now warned his nation that “radical Islam is coming to our shores”.

I find the second-generation Muslim Americans to be different from the first generation of settlers like my friend. The young Muslim Americans, born and bred in the US, are assertive about their identity as Muslims and their rights as American citizens. They consider America as their only home and do not feel connected to the country of their parents.

The writer is a researcher in the development sector.

Published in Dawn September 28th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Take a Deep Breath? But 9 in 10 People Worldwide Live with Excessive Air Pollution! Thu, 29 Sep 2016 14:08:51 +0000 Baher Kamal Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul ” Source: UN News Centre

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

The warning is sharp and the facts, alarming: 92 per cent of the world’s population live in places where levels exceed recommended limits. And 6.5 million people die annually from air pollution.

And the warning comes from the leading United Nations agency dealing with health, which rolled out its most detailed profile of the scourge ever in a bid to slash the deadly toll.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” the Geneva-based UN World Health Organization (WHO) top environmental official Maria Neira on 27 September said of the new air quality model, which includes interactive maps that highlight areas within countries exceeding WHO limits.

The world’s population reached 7.35 billion last year, according to UN figures.

What to Do Then?

“Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions,” Dr. Neira added.

Nearly 90 per cent of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly two out of three occurring in the South-east Asia and Western Pacific regions.
“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” WHO’s Assistant Director General Flavia Bustreo said for her part. “For people to be healthy, they must breathe clean air from their first breath to their last,” she added.

Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. But not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts.

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

Credit: Radek Kołakowski CC | UNEP

“The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combating it,” Dr. Bustreo said.
Developed in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom, it represents WHO’s most detailed outdoor air pollution-related health data ever, based on satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3,000 locations, both rural and urban.

Indoor Air Pollution as Deadly as Outdoor Exposure

Some three million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6 per cent of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together.

Ninety-four per cent of the deaths are due to non-communicable diseases – notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections.

“This new model is a big step forward towards even more confident estimates of the huge global burden of more than six million deaths – one in nine of total global deaths – from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution,” said Dr. Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

The Ambient Air quality guidelines of WHO limit annual mean exposure to particulate matter with a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, posing the greatest health risks.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda, adopted at a UN summit in 2015, call for substantially reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from air pollution.

The issue of sustainable cities, which is one of the SDGs, will be at the heart of a media and civil society organisations training workshop, organised by IPS and the UN Foundation, scheduled to take place in Quito on October 27-28.

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

WHO interactive maps. Credit: World Health Organization

The Quito workshop is part of a series of IPS-UNF training events in two European and one Asian country, all of them taking place during October and November, under the common title: Decoding the Future.

Disconnection Between People and the Environment

Anyway, no region is safe. For instance, in prosperous Europe, air pollution, climate change, unhealthy lifestyles and disconnection between people and the environment are increasingly affecting human health in the pan-European region, according to the latest report by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Economic Commission in Europe.

The report, which was released on June 8, calls for greater cooperation and a more integrated approach to tackle the transboundary challenges in the pan-European region, which comprises the 53 countries spanning Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia, and Israel.

Of these challenges, air pollution is the greatest threat with more than 95 per cent of the European Union (EU) urban population exposed to levels above World Health Organisation guidelines, according to latest Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) assessment released today by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Over 500,000 premature deaths in the region were attributed to outdoor air quality and 100,000 to indoor air quality in 2012, according to the assessment.
UNEP and UNECE have alerted that an urgent shift from incremental to transformational change will help to reverse some of these indicators.

“The GEO-6 assessment for the pan-European region highlights how the transition to an inclusive green economy in the region must be built on resilient ecosystems, sound management of chemicals and clean production systems, and on healthy consumption choices,” Jan Dusik, Head of UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe, said.

The report also finds that environmental challenges in the region have become more systemic and complex, while resilience to these will be affected by megatrends largely outside the region’s control.

“This report provides fresh information on the region’s emerging environmental issues and it will help governments shape their future policy,” said UNECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach.

Other challenges discussed in the assessment include climate change, considered one of the largest threats to human and ecosystem health, and to achieving sustainable development in the pan-European region.

“It is also an accelerator for most other environmental risks, with impacts affecting health through floods, heat waves, droughts, reduced agricultural productivity, exacerbated air pollution and allergies and vector, food and water-borne diseases.”

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Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladesh Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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Making the Goals: Why Sustainable Development Must Be Integrated Development Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:10:48 +0000 Roger-Mark De Souza and Sono Aibe Malala Yousafzai (centre) addresses the General Assembly during the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015.

Malala Yousafzai (centre) addresses the General Assembly during the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015.

By Roger-Mark De Souza and Sono Aibe
Washington, DC, Sep 28 2016 (IPS)

By recognising how closely connected the different aspects of sustainable development are, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) create an important opportunity – and challenge – for a more coordinated approach to implementing development policies.

The multi-faceted, interlinked nature of the 17 categories represented by the SDGs reflects our complicated world. We will need to work together to meet these goals while facing an increasingly complex set of challenges to human rights, equity, and security. The battle against terrorism and its horrors, for example, requires people working together across each and every one of the 17 categories.

However, traditional policy responses to these challenges have been divided into distinct policy sectors. If we are to achieve these goals, build peace, and increase world security, we must recognise that past efforts that were confined to individual sectors have failed. We must use new but proven tools that move the integrated SDG framework from concept to action. If the implementation phase of the SDGs defaults to the same old methods, the new goals will be meaningless.

One successful tool – what a World Bank expert called a “do-able miracle” in a speech at the Wilson Center — is the integrated Population, Health and Environment (PHE) approach, where many of the SDGs are addressed simultaneously in a coordinated, strategic manner.

PHE projects work concurrently to improve access to health services (especially family planning and reproductive health), protect and manage natural resources, generate income from alternative livelihoods, and provide women and men with the skills and tools to plan for a sustainable future. Key to its success is the strong buy-in from and engagement with local communities and their leaders, which is credited with its unusually rapid, widespread success in East Africa, Madagascar and the Philippines.

The battle against terrorism and its horrors, for example, requires people working together across each and every one of the 17 categories.

For example, Pathfinder International’s “HoPE-LVB” (Health of People and Environment in Lake Victoria Basin) project, based in Kenya and Uganda, is an integrated, community engagement initiative providing primary health care (including sexual and reproductive health, and maternal and child health services), along with the supply of clean water, training on sanitation and hygiene practices, natural resource management, and sustainable income generation opportunities.

Pathfinder and its partner organizations work to make the farms and fisheries that the communities depend on more sustainable, support environmentally friendly alternative livelihoods, and increase gender equality. Throughout the project, partners emphasize the inter-relatedness of people, their health, and their environment. The project is helping other organizations to replicate HoPE’s model and supporting local governments to plan integrated activities that meet the needs of their communities in a holistic way

The rapid acceptance of the PHE approach from concept to scalability in just five years has now created strong regional momentum for its expansion in East Africa. In fact, at a recent meeting, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission included a recommendation to its members to “mainstream PHE programming into national and institutional plans and set aside funds for PHE Integration and the implementation of the EAC PHE strategic plan.”

The results from these projects offer strong evidence that the PHE approach is working, growing, and primed for scale-up across other regions. PHE programs provide compelling, real-world, grounded evidence that UNGA policymakers would do well to consider as they seek to achieve the SDGs.

PHE can also be a powerful pathway to fight extremism and improve stability. By increasing communities’ resilience in a rapidly changing economic, environmental, and political landscape, integrated development can provide the foundation for increased security. For example, PHE programs focus on engaging youth in building their own sustainable futures, and thus building their resilience to recruitment by extremists. In this way PHE can also be considered a peacebuilding strategy in fragile and developing states. Research by Wilson Center experts has found that the PHE approach addresses challenges often missing from other resilience-building efforts, such as social dynamics, power structures, gender and reproductive health.

As world leaders meet to decide how to shift from goals to action, they should look at what is already working. PHE increases environmental sustainability, economic opportunity, reproductive health, women’s empowerment, climate resilience, and regional stability—at the same time, for less investment, and with more success. A proven tool for implementing this ambitious agenda, PHE is a win-win-win for the sustainable development team.

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Ending Lingering Hunger in a World of Plenty Wed, 28 Sep 2016 13:45:00 +0000 Lindah Mogeni 0 Uncertainty Mars Potential for Peace in South Sudan Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:26:14 +0000 Jonathan Rozen A delegation from the UN Security Council visited South Sudan at the beginning of September 2016. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

A delegation from the UN Security Council visited South Sudan at the beginning of September 2016. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

By Jonathan Rozen

Nearly one month after UN Security Council members visited troubled South Sudan, disagreement reigns over even the limited outside measures proposed to try to bring the security situation in the world’s newest country under control.

“To fix South Sudan you will need 250,000 soldiers, you will need four or five billion dollars per year. Who is going to do that? Nobody.” Berouk Messfin, Senior Researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, told IPS.

While it is clear that neither an arms embargo nor an additional 4000 UN troops – two measures currently on the table – will be a panacea for troubled South Sudan, there is a slim hope that they may pressure the country’s leadership to act in the interests of its people.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting on South Sudan’s humanitarian situation on September 22: “Time and again, (South Sudan’s) leaders have resorted to weapons and identity politics to resolve their differences.”

For three days in early September Security Council members traveled to South Sudan. At the end of the visit a ‘joint communiqué’ was issued that seemingly brokered an agreement with the interim Transitional Government of National Unity. It outlined the strengthening of the existing 12,000-troop UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) through an additional 4000-troop Regional Protection Force, and the removal of restrictions to humanitarian access. But in the days since the communiqué, South Sudanese officials have insisted that specifics of the additional force remain unresolved.

“We have agreed in principle … but the details of their deployment, the countries that will contribute … that is the work that is left now,” Hussein Mar Nyuot, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for the South Sudan government told IPS. “I don’t see the difference that this [4000] will come and do.”

“To fix South Sudan you will need 250,000 soldiers, you will need four or five billion dollars per year. Who is going to do that? Nobody.” -- Berouk Messfin, Institute for Security Studies.

The proposed additional force would be under the command of UNMISS and was endorsed in July by the east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) body leading the South Sudan peace talks. Building on UNMISS’ existing mandate, which already calls for the “use all necessary means” to protect UN personnel and civilians from threats, the Security Council believes the additional troops would strengthen the security situation.

The force is to be deployed as soon as possible, Hervé Ladsous, Under Secretary General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters Friday. Though he also said they were trying to elucidate “contradictory statements” from the capital, Juba.

In this context, human rights advocacy groups, along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, have continued their calls for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo to stop both sides’ continued militarization.

“It’s going to be more difficult for parties to the conflict to get access to ammunition and supplies,” Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “Combine it with the boosting of UNMISS … [and] it’s going to make a difference for civilians.”

However, the South Sudanese government, whose soldiers have been implicated in ethnically motivated killings, rape, and looting, disagrees on the value of an embargo.

“[The] issue is not actually the arms that are coming … even if you have an arms embargo there are already arms in the hands of the local people … the arms that are coming in are not actually the ones causing any problems,” Hussein Mar Nyuot told IPS.

If they say they want to have [an] arms embargo, ok, but what will you do with the arms that are in the hands of the people?” he continued. “We should encourage the government to disarm the civilian population.”

Peacekeepers and UN police officers (UNPOL) with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

Peacekeepers and UN police officers (UNPOL) with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

As a party to the conflict, South Sudan’s government is not impartial in their position, however they are also not entirely alone in their hesitance. “[An embargo] has to be a last course … we are not there yet,” Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of IGAD, told IPS.

Despite the existing arms in the country and the potential for continued illicit inflows, targeted sanctions by the Security Council may signal deeper commitment to ending the violence and protecting civilians. Nevertheless, neither an embargo nor 4000 additional troops will cure the political divisions among South Sudan’s leadership, which lie at the heart of the conflict.

Paths forward

“The South Sudanese have a string to hang on now … and that is the implementation of the [August 2015] agreement,” Maalim said. “It has had some problems because of the July incident, but it’s going to come on track,” he added referring to violent clashes which took place in South Sudan in July, bringing the country to the brink of all-out war.

However, not everyone agrees on the viability of the previous agreement.

“You have two sides that are not negotiating in good faith … who do not understand how to implement peace agreements they have signed,” said Messfin.

So what is to be done? Beyond the intended value for the protection of civilians, additional troops and restrictions will only go so far without political commitment from the country’s leadership.

Conflict prevention in South Sudan is about strategically applied political leverage, Cedric de Conning, Senior Researcher at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, explained to IPS.

A protection force like a reinforced peacekeeping mission can only implement what is agreed to politically, and the warring parties are not committed and remain mistrustful. While immediate action is necessary to save lives, there will eventually need to be a “reset” and a new administration, he continued.

Meanwhile, civil society groups have also reported increased repression of their activities, indicating a further weakening of South Sudan’s social resilience.

“There has been a steady uptick in press freedom violations in South Sudan in recent months,” Murithi Mutiga, East Africa correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS. “We have seen a number of cases of newspaper outlets being arbitrarily closed down, the most prominent cases being the Nation Mirror and the Juba Monitor.”

Press freedom can support the pursuit of a sustained cessation of hostilities, urged CPJ, because accurate and accessible public information allows citizens to better understand how to react to crises without turning to violence. A well-informed population may also be better positioned to define a peaceful future for their country.

The importance of uninhibited civil society for conflict prevention also matches the priorities outlined in two identical resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly in April, which recognize pathways to “sustaining peace.” Notably, this includes the development and maintenance of social, political and economic conditions necessary for conflict to be prevented.

South Sudan has experienced persistent violence since 2013, when armed conflict broke out between groups loyal to president Salva Kiir and opposition leader in exile Riek Machar. Fighting escalated along ethnic lines, pitting Dinka against Nuer, until a peace agreement was signed in August 2015. But fighting continued and escalated in July 2016 with a series of clashes in Juba, which left approximately 300 dead. Over the last three years thousands have been killed, over 1.6 million people remain internally displaced, and roughly 4.8 million currently suffer from food insecurity, according to the UN.

While the implementation of September’s joint communiqué will be reviewed with next steps considered at the end of the month, South Sudan’s Humanitarian Response Plan is severely under-funded at just over 50 percent; despite there being no doubt that South Sudan needs immediate assistance.

But this will only serve as a stop-gap against man-made famine. While the Security Council may still unite for the application of an embargo, the fate of South Sudan ultimately lies with its leadership. Their ability to find a lasting agreement, with support from the UN, the African Union, and IGAD, hinges on their willingness to stop the conflict.

“The lives and future of an entire generation hang in the balance,” Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, said Thursday. “Literally the future of South Sudan.”

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Colombia Referendum – First Acid Test for Peace Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:52:15 +0000 Constanza Vieira Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs the peace agreement, observed by FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, Latin American presidents and other dignitaries, in an open-air ceremony in the city of Cartagena de Indias. Credit: Colombian presidency

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs the peace agreement, observed by FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, Latin American presidents and other dignitaries, in an open-air ceremony in the city of Cartagena de Indias. Credit: Colombian presidency

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

It was like a huge party in Colombia. “Congratulations!” people said to each other, before hugging. “Only 20 minutes to go!” one office worker said, hurrying on her way to Bolívar square, in the heart of Bogotá. And everyone knew what she was talking about, and hurried along too. Complete strangers exchanged winks of complicity.

Starting at 5:00 PM on Monday Sept. 26, the people in the square watched a live broadcast of the ceremony in Cartagena de Indias, 664 km to the north, where the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels signed a peace agreement, putting an end to 52 years of armed conflict.

Fifteen presidents, 27 foreign ministers and three former presidents, as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, took part in and witnessed the historic event.

The first big test for peace will come on Sunday Oct. 2, when Colombians will vote for or against the peace deal, in a referendum.

The ceremony began with one minute of silence for the Colombians who were killed or forcibly disappeared in the last half century, while dozens of white flags were raised.

This was followed by an a capella song by traditional singers from Bojayá, a town in the northwestern department of Chocó where 79 people were killed in May 2002, including 44 children. The United Nations blamed the FARC, the far-right paramilitaries and the army for the war crime.

“We are very happy/full of joy/that the FARC guerrillas/are laying down their arms,” they sang. During the war, “in our community/they didn’t even let/us go out to fish or work. We want justice and peace/to come from the heart/for health, peace and education to reach our fields.”

At 5:30 PM, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the “final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace”, agreed on Aug. 24 in Havana after five years of peace talks held with international observers.

Colombians are “bidding farewell to decades of flames and sending up a bright flare of hope that illuminates the world,” Ban Ki-moon said.

The two leaders signing the accord spoke next.

The former rebel leader apologised “to all the victims of the conflict for all of the pain that we have caused in this war,” receiving a standing ovation in Cartagena as well as Bogotá, while thousands of people chanted “Yes we could!”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony for the signing of the peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Credit: UN

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony for the signing of the peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Credit: UN

The FARC rebel organisation will now become a new political party. ““No one should doubt that we are moving into politics without arms,” Londoño said. “The war is over. We are starting to build peace.”

Santos said “I welcome you to democracy. Exchanging bullets for votes, weapons for ideas, is the bravest and most intelligent decision…you understood the call of history.”

“We will undoubtedly never see eye to eye about the political or economic model that our country should follow, but I will staunchly defend your right to express your ideas within the democratic regime,” the president said.

After 14 years, the European Union removed the FARC from its list of terrorist organisations. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said his government would “review” doing the same.

Ban confirmed that the signing of the agreement marked the start of the U.N. Security Council peacekeeping mission to verify and monitor the ceasefire and the laying down of arms within 180 days.

On the sunny afternoon in Bolívar square, 70-something Graciela Laverde, wearing a colourful cotton dress, told IPS her biggest wish was “peace, education and recreation for so many children, an end to all the corruption and the killing of so many innocent people….If God wills, there will be peace.”

The referendum

The first big step along the complex route to consolidating peace will be the Oct. 2 referendum in which Colombians will vote whether or not they back the final peace deal.

The campaigns urging people to vote “yes” have been diverse and have included initiatives too numerous to count. For example, grandmothers playing with their grandchildren cut out large signs reading “si” (yes) to tape in their windows.

The campaign for the “no” vote, meanwhile, was led first and foremost by the far right: former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and former attorney general Alejandro Ordóñez, who may be Uribe’s candidate in the 2018 presidential elections.

The campaign has targeted Colombians in urban areas, who make up 70 percent of the population. “The people living in rural areas are prepared to vote ‘yes’,” analyst Jesús Aníbal Suárez told IPS, adding that it was urban residents who had the most doubts.

Suárez expects low voter turnout of around 35 percent, which would still be high enough to meet the legal requirements for the referendum. He projects a 60-40 percent result in favour of “yes”.

President Juan Manuel Santos (R) shows FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño the symbolic pen that the two will use to sign the peace agreement putting an end to over half a century of conflict in Colombia. Credit: Colombian presidency

President Juan Manuel Santos (R) shows FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño the symbolic pen made from a bullet that the two used to sign the peace agreement putting an end to over half a century of conflict in Colombia. Credit: Colombian presidency

“There is a great deal of uncertainty, and that leads people to abstain from voting,” he said. “Uribe’s effort has made its mark, it has managed to confuse people,” by widely disseminating false information about the peace agreement, he added.

But there is a new segment of the population in favour of the “yes” vote: the military and police, who total nearly half a million people in this country of 48 million.

“The members of the military can’t vote, but their families, the people around them, can,” said Suárez. “I heard retired general (former police chief) Roso José Serrano say: ‘I don’t want one more police officer to die.”

“Soldiers and police officers feel like they have been cannon fodder. Their families will vote for the ceasefire, just as a matter of logic,” because the deaths in combat have been reduced to zero.

During the 2014 presidential elections voters were polarised between reelecting Santos, so he could continue the peace talks with the FARC, and voting for Uribe’s candidate Óscar Zuluaga, who wanted to suspend the negotiations and relaunch them on a different footing.

Today, the “no” camp is calling for a renegotiation of the accord.

Suárez believes that in 2014, the families and friends of the half million soldiers and police voted for Zuluaga, but will now vote “yes”.

At the same time, the “no” campaign has complained about the government’s new sex education for preteens.

Because the peace agreement has a gender perspective, an unprecedented aspect in any peace deal anywhere in the world, Ordóñez’s followers protested on the day of the signing ceremony, in a small demonstration in Cartagena, that the peace accord represented a threat to children because of its “gender ideology.”

Evangelical Christians, who number several million in Colombia, vote in a disciplined manner, and their preachers have told them to vote “no”. The local Catholic Church leaders, despite Pope Francis’ support for the peace talks, declared themselves neutral with regard to the referendum.

“The referendum will define which direction this will take,” said Carlos Lozano, director of the Communist weekly publication Voz, who was close to the Havana talks.

“If the ‘no’ vote wins, which I don’t believe will happen, things would change a great deal, even if the war didn’t break out again,” he told IPS.

“It would be very difficult to hold another process of peace talks and reach another agreement,” he said. “It’s a document that has consensus support, which is worthy of the state, worthy of the guerrillas, and was built with great care, in a very detailed manner.”

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South Sudan and Uganda’s Intertwined History of Violence Tue, 27 Sep 2016 17:25:54 +0000 Gabriel Odima South Sudanese President Salva Kiir with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

By Gabriel Odima
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

Uganda has and continues to play a major role in fueling the conflict in South Sudan. The recent events in South Sudan have brought that moral challenge into a very sharp focus.

The banishment of democracy from and suppression of the human rights of the citizens in South Sudan have persisted for the last five years since the birth of the nation. What appeared to be a hidden agenda is beginning to emerge in South Sudan.

These sad events in South Sudan have some similarities with events in Uganda. In 1981 thirty five years ago and fifteen days after elections in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni plunged Uganda – where peace had returned following the fall of Idi Amin – to war. Museveni launched the war in what became known as the Luwero Triangle, a district adjacent to and north of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

The war was a direct attack on democracy. It made the policy and work of the newly elected government in healing and reconciliation, development, rehabilitation, and transformation towards a culture of peace extremely difficult.

Like the case of South Sudan, the international community turned a blind eye. The continued support of Museveni’s rule in Uganda for the last 30 years raises very serious concern regarding the implications of U.S. foreign policy in Africa. The circumstance in which Museveni launched his war against the constitution and people in February 1981 exposed most clearly that he is a man of violent disposition who has a thirst for power in its most naked and atavistic form. Single handed, Museveni has exported this violent approach to South Sudan.  Indeed, all the subsequent wars which he waged in Luwero, Northern Uganda, Eastern Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo and South Sudan were totally unnecessary and cannot be justified.

During the Luwero war, Museveni and his army exhibited a very high degree of a most ignoble mendacity- not only as a war exigency but also as a means to conceal their crimes against humanity. They would, for instance, attack a village posing as government troops, cause much havoc, including massacres, and then on cue, the aggressors would hurriedly depart from the scene only for second unit of Museveni’s army to conveniently arrive to rescue the village from”government troops”. The second unit using a combination of persuasion and coercion would then cause the exodus of the villages to fortresses under the control of the insurgents after ransacking and destroying much of and in the village. The ignoble mendacity in the fact that at the time those atrocities were committed by Museveni’s army, road, foot paths and even  cattle tracks had been heavily manned by them and government troops were nowhere in the interior of Luwero District or in the village.

In 1971, the international media uniformly described Idi Amin repeatedly and for a whole year as " the gentle giant".

It became routine and an article of faith in Museveni’s subsequent wars in Northern Uganda, East, West Uganda, as well as in Rwanda, DR Congo and South Sudan, for atrocities committed by his army to be credited to his victims.

Those who are in the position to help the people of South Sudan to find and form a basis for harmony and rebuilding of South Sudan carry a very heavy burden and responsibility.

The Ugandan military regime, right from its installation in 1986 by the gun and bloodshed, has consistently, arrogantly and cynically suppressed and never permitted the citizens and their organized political parties to enjoy the freedom to hold opinions on political or public matters except the opinion of the regime. The fact that never, in the past, had the people of Uganda known so much death, oppression and repression as under the present military regime has been and is still being strenuously concealed by world leaders.

The cause of Democracy and the enjoyment by the citizens of human rights and freedoms have suffered in Uganda and South Sudan and will continue to suffer so long as politicians, church leaders and foreign governments and media give support and credibility to oppressive and repressive regimes established by the gun. The support and the credibility sometimes give the impression that the givers have removed the victims, that is, the oppressed citizens from the human race.

The general trend has been in many African countries for the Church leadership, politicians, the media and the international community to turn a blind eye on the atrocities in Uganda and South Sudan.

There are several reasons for the silence of these groups on democracy and observance of human rights in Uganda and South Sudan. Two of them stands out. The first is the tendency of both the spiritual and laity Christian leaders in a country faced with a difficult political or economic situation to accept wittingly or unwittingly a regime established by the gun and bloodshed. The second is the powerful influence of external forces namely, foreign governments, international media and human rights organizations when they give support and accolades to regimes established by the gun and bloodshed.

In 1971, the international media uniformly described Idi Amin repeatedly and for a whole year as “the gentle giant”. The evidence of massacres and terror by Amin’s soldiers was of no interest to the media until much later. Foreign governments also showed no interest in the evidence and Amnesty International, for instance, never reported even once throughout Amin’s rule of over eight years on the observance of human rights in Uganda.

In the case of South Sudan and Uganda, for instance, the military regime waged vicious wars to hold on to power and to ignore the lives of their citizens. There will be no peace in South Sudan as long as President Museveni of Uganda continues to play a role in fueling the conflict there.

The promotion and development of democracy and its attendant enjoyment of human rights by the citizen is under attack in Uganda and South Sudan not only by those holding the guns but also by the donors who provide funds indiscriminately. The donors know that no military regime in Africa, from Kampala through Juba is accountable to the people but still credit such regimes with accountability.

It is amazing and foreboding of hard and evil days ahead for Africa that although for the past 50 years, African countries have been largely ruled either by military dictators or single parties, opinions in the donor countries which have been in recent years strongly against single party rule are now shifting towards and in favor of military rule and against multiparty rule.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IPS’s editorial policy.

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AfDB Injects USD 1 Billion to End Youth Unemployment in Africa Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:47:28 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr IITA Youth Agripreneurs learning how to work in the field. Credit: IITA

IITA Youth Agripreneurs learning how to work in the field. Credit: IITA

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

The African Development Bank (AfDB) together with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is embarking on the initiative “Jobs for Youth in Africa”, aimed to put an end to youth unemployment in the continent by creating 8 million agribusiness jobs within five years. The president of the AfDB, a former Nigerian minister of agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina visited the Agripreneurs training centre at IITA today, and reiterated his commitment to the initiative.

Under Adesina’s leadership the AfDB has extended support to African youth through the IITA Youth Agripreneurs program that will be scaling up the model of youth engagement in agribusiness. In recognition of his continuous support and commitment to the cause of African youth, IITA will be preserving Adesina’s legacy by naming after him the state-of-the-art youth training centre at IITA headquarters in Ibadan and in Abuja, Nigeria.

The training centres and facilities provided by the AfDB and the IITA will assist African youths to take on work in the agricultural sector. The initiative also seeks to encourage the many unemployed African youths to become involved in agriculture in order to make it a driving force for development in Africa. "There is no reason for Africa to spend USD 35 billion importing food when the continent could feed itself"

Nigeria is not the only African country with high youth unemployment. Youth unemployment in South Africa was estimated at 51.5 percent in 2014; Namibia 40.1 percent; and Algeria 28.4 percent. Three in every five young workers in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have the level of education required for them to compete in the job market.

The AfDB president set forth his five development priorities for the institution when he took office in September 2015. One of these priorities is the ‘Feed Africa’ initiative, an agricultural transformation strategy that aims to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential. The strategy also aims to boost job creation with the view of making the agriculture sector profitable and a starting point for industrialization. With the ‘Feed Africa’ strategy, Africa would be able to feed itself and reduce net food importation by 2025.

“There is no reason for Africa to spend USD 35 billion importing food when the continent could feed itself, said Adesina, adding Africa must become a global powerhouse in food and agriculture.” And indeed, it could. Africa disposes of some 400 million hectares of agricultural land, waiting to be cultivated. However, different laws, regulations, policies and institutions applying to each African country make it hard for local farmers to access seeds, modern technology and equipment, and to transport their goods in order to sell them on the market.

In order to make the agricultural sector in Africa profitable, it needs to be transformed. African countries need to increase trade amongst each other, maximising their production and getting the food to where it is needed, instead of buying it from outside the continent. Removing barriers to regional trade will benefit farmers, who will make more money from the rising demand, as well as consumers, who are able to buy food cheaper and have more job opportunities by engaging in the growing agriculture sector. In order to unlock Africa’s large agricultural potential, African governments need to take collective action and produce a set of common rules, standards and taxes. Lifting the barriers to food trade could not only increase Africa’s production, eventually becoming able to feed itself, but could also contribute to decrease the high youth unemployment and give millions of young women and men a future in which they are able to sustain themselves.

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Unregulated Promotion of Mining in Malawi Brings Hazards and Hardships Tue, 27 Sep 2016 08:01:37 +0000 Birgit Schwarz Nagomba E., 75, standing where her house used to be in Mwabulambo, Karonga district. She and her family were told to relocate in 2008 because the land was needed for coal mining. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Nagomba E., 75, standing where her house used to be in Mwabulambo, Karonga district. She and her family were told to relocate in 2008 because the land was needed for coal mining. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

By Birgit Schwarz
LILONGWE, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

Nagomba E. is no longer young; her hip is giving her trouble and her back is stooped from years of bending over her corn and rice fields. Yet every morning, at the crack of dawn, the wiry 74-year-old sets out on a strenuous half-hour walk to fetch water from a nearby river so that her ailing husband can take a bath. Despite her limp, Nagomba moves fast and with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

It would be easier for her to fetch her water from a borehole that is closer to her house. But the water is often “bad” she says, “you cannot even use it for bathing.” Besides, she adds, “if you oversleep, you are there till noon,” waiting for a turn at the pump.

Before coal was discovered in Mwabulambo, a remote rural community of Karonga District in northern Malawi, water was never something Nagomba and her neighbours would have to worry about or even line up for.

“I used to have two taps right at my house,” Nagomba says, “with running water in the kitchen and bathroom.” But then heavy trucks moved in — which turned out to belong to a mining company. The company, with government’s approval, claimed her land, forced her to relocate to the edge of the coal field further south, and tore down her house. With it went the taps and water pipes.

That was almost nine years ago. Since then, the coal mine, which Nagomba and her neighbours hoped would bring progress and development, has mainly caused regression, hazards, and hardship.

Over the past decade, Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, has promoted private investment in mining and resource extraction as a way to grow and diversify its largely agriculture-based economy. Karonga, where Nagomba lives, is the country’s test case for industrial mining.

Malawi’s first uranium mine and two of the country’s biggest coal mines are located here, on the western shores of Lake Malawi. The government said the mines would provide jobs and improve people’s livelihoods. Schools were promised, and clinics as well as boreholes to restore access to drinking water. Hardly any of these promises ever materialized.

Weak enforcement of existing laws and policies combined with lack of transparency and community involvement in decision making have left local communities unprotected and in the dark about their rights and about the risks mining activities might pose to their daily lives, Human Rights Watch says in a new report, “They Destroyed Everything.” Mining companies meanwhile are allowed to monitor themselves and are almost never held to account if they cause devastation.

When strangers knocked on her door during the 2008 rainy season and told her that she would have to move to make room for a coal mine, Nagomba was taken by surprise.

Nagomba, who supported three grandchildren and her sick husband with the income from farming a small but fertile plot of land, eventually accepted the inevitable, thinking that she would get “a lot of money.” She never asked how much, however. As it turned out, the compensation was not even enough to rebuild her house. The family had to sell two cows to put a roof over their heads again. She received no money for the land itself. It was “customary land” that her family had farmed for generations, but for which they held no individual title.

Mining machinery left behind at Eland coal mine at Mwabulambo after closure in 2015. Locals said that before the mine was closed, they were not informed about the closure or how the company intended to mitigate risks stemming from the abandoned mining site. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Mining machinery left behind at Eland coal mine at Mwabulambo after closure in 2015. Locals said that before the mine was closed, they were not informed about the closure or how the company intended to mitigate risks stemming from the abandoned mining site. Credit: Lauren Clifford-Holmes for Human Rights Watch

Over the years, Nagomba’s story repeated itself again and again in the mining areas of Karonga. In Mwabulambo alone, more than 30 households were relocated from their customary land between 2008 and 2015, when the mining company suspended operations. At times, the bulldozers moved in so fast that people had neither time to rebury their loved ones interred on the community’s land, nor to finish reconstructing their homes. One family spent weeks sleeping under a tree before they could move into their rebuilt house.

The mine is owned and operated by Eland Coal Mining Company, a subsidiary of the Isle of Man-based Heavy Mineral Limited, which in turn is owned by Independent Oil & Resources PLC – a company based in Cyprus. Although it has not been operational for more than a year, it continues to affect the area, its water resources, and Nagomba’s source of income, her crops.

“We used to grow corn, cassava and rice,” she recalls. “Now we are complaining of hunger.” The fields she was given lie on the edge of the mine. Every time it rains, blackish, potentially acidic, mine water runs into her fields, withering her crop and diminishing her yield. “We cannot afford to buy food. We need to farm,” she says. “But they have destroyed the land where we were producing fruit, and left us behind with nothing.”

Since the mine’s closure, the community has tried to get the company to clean up, restore their broken pipes, ensure that mine water no longer seeps into their borehole and onto their fields, and close the deep pits that were left behind. In 2015, the villagers went to the District Commissioner’s Office to air their grievances. Getting no help there, they marched to the gates of the company. “We told them ‘you are really wronging us,’” Nagomba recalls. “We don’t have water. We don’t have food. But we are still waiting for an answer.”

To this day, residents fear that the borehole and river water is putting their health at risk. Cows and even children have fallen into ill-secured, water-filled pits the company left behind. And villagers say the pits themselves have become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitos.

“If they had built a health center, they could at least have saved some lives from malaria,” says Rojaina, another community member who was forced to relocate. As the promised clinic was never built and the nearest hospital is miles away in town, “people die on the way,” she says.

Few are aware of the dangers the water in the pits itself poses. The government had the water tested last year. These tests confirmed that the water is acidic, the deputy director for water quality at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water told Human Rights Watch, which means that it is neither safe for consumption nor bathing. But the results have never been made public. Children regularly swim in the pits behind Nagomba’s house. And no signs warn of the dangers these pools pose to human health.

Now that Nagomba no longer has piped water, she depends on the river a lot, particularly during dry season, when borehole and well run dry, walking there up to four times a day to fetch water for bathing, drinking and cooking. She worries about the safety of the river water, too, but at least she can treat it with chemicals the government provided after a cholera outbreak at the beginning of the year.

The river Nagomba depends on flows into Lake Malawi, a fragile ecosystem and a key source of livelihood for over 1.5 million people. More than 10 extraction projects are located on the lake’s shores and tributaries, which are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not all are active yet. But the risks these mining activities pose to the lake’s ecosystem and to the bordering communities’ health and livelihoods are enormous without proper government oversight.

So far, Malawi’s law has failed to protect the needs and rights of mining communities like Nagomba’s and her neighbours’ from the adverse effect mining has had on their lives. It has also failed to protect their environment and water resources. A new mining bill being drafted could help change this, strengthening governmental control over mining projects and the communities’ right to know.

Malawi’s government has taken some steps in the right direction, and acknowledged the need to enforce a rehabilitation plan the owners of the defunct Mwabulambo mine had promised to carry out. So far the company has done nothing.

“I never had problems,” says Nagomba, recalling a time where there was enough to eat and safe water to drink. “The mining company brought me problems.” After nine years of suffering and hunger without protection from the government or the mining company, she has little hope that things will change for the better in her lifetime. “Time is already up,” she says in a voice that sounds as if she is reciting poetry. “We are just waiting to go to our graves now.”

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A Historic Day in Colombia Tue, 27 Sep 2016 06:46:42 +0000 Martin Santiago Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in Colombia and Resident Representative of UNDP]]>

Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in Colombia and Resident Representative of UNDP

By Martín Santiago
BOGOTA, Colombia , Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

Betsaida and her family abandoned their home and a small business in the port of Tumaco, in the Pacific of Colombia, and were forced to follow the road that more than 7 million displaced Colombians have as a result of the armed conflict.

Their story, and that of millions of victims of the war, is at the heart of what the United Nations Organization is and does. Seventy-one years after its creation, the universal aspiration to end war, reaffirm the fundamental human rights and promote social progress is latent and more crucial than ever.

Despite the progress we have made in the last quarter of the century, in which we achieved a significant reduction of armed conflicts, we have witnessed serious setbacks in the last four years: the number of civil wars and attacks by governments and armed groups against civilians have increased for the first time since 2005. More than fifty million people, the highest number recorded in history, have been uprooted from their homes around the world as a result of armed conflicts.

In the face of adversity by human tragedies, the Peace Agreement by the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP that will be signed today is of great significance for Colombia and for the world. With it, the possibility of ending 52 years of war in Colombia, and ending the scourge of armed political violence throughout the Americas, becomes real. Before this beacon of hope, the United Nations System in Colombia pays tribute to the victims of the conflict and to the many Colombians who have fought every day to build peace in their country.

We are privileged to accompany this crucial moment in history, and, with the excitement, I also feel a deep sense of solemnity, characteristic of those historic moments that challenge us and urge us to step up the realization of the purpose to which we owe ourselves: that peace be translated into the real expansion of human freedoms for everyone, and, in particular, for those most severely affected by the conflict, and to whom development has bypassed: the rural population, peasants, women, indigenous groups, youth, Afro-Colombians and the displaced.

Experience demonstrates that it is not enough to sign peace. That building peace and, furthermore, making peace with each other, entail arduous work. The commitment of the United Nations System in Colombia is to work relentlessly, together with the national public and private stakeholders, for Betsaida, and thousands of families like hers, to restore their livelihoods and realize themselves with equal opportunities; to generate reconciliation and sustainable development that contributes to closing the gaps that originated the conflict; to promote that each community and municipality be a peacebuilding agent.

The prospect of a Colombia in peace invites us to walk the path firmly and decisively on the basis of reparations for the victims, of an inclusive democracy and a more equitable development in which no one be left behind.

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What Does Leaving No One Behind Really Mean? Mon, 26 Sep 2016 22:55:26 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands World leaders attending the UN General Assembly in NYC in September encountered a Rainbow Crosswalk to remind them of LGBT rights. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

World leaders attending the UN General Assembly in NYC in September encountered a Rainbow Crosswalk to remind them of LGBT rights. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Lyndal Rowlands

One year after UN member states adopted the ambitious 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda their repeated vow to “leave no one behind” seems almost as idealistic and impractical as ever.

2016 has so far proved a difficult year for the UN’s objective of including the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised in development efforts.

Last week’s UN Refugee and Migration summit fell short for child refugees; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) advocates were left out of an important HIV and AIDS meeting in June and no women were voted onto an important disability committee by UN member states also in June.

Danny Sriskandarajah Secretary General of CIVICUS told IPS that the objective of leaving no one behind will require governments to consider serious changes in both policy and social norms.

“If we’re serious about finding and helping those who are furthest behind that’s not a technical exercise that’s a deeply political exercise,” said Sriskandarajah.

“If our leaders say 42 times in their agreement that they are not going to leave anyone behind we now very quickly need to find out who is being left behind,” -- Danny Sriskandarajah.

The first step, says Sriskandarajah is making sure that we identify and include those at risk of being left out.

“If our leaders say 42 times in their agreement that they are not going to leave anyone behind we now very quickly need to find out who is being left behind,” he said.

However the marginalised and excluded are not always easy to reach, Vladimir Cuk, Executive Director of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) told IPS.

Truly for everyone means that you have implement for those that are hardest to reach, hardest to count, hardest to include in the programs, hardest to know anything about, and those are typically persons with disabilities,” he said.

Cuk noted that some efforts have been made to include persons with disabilities in the 2030 sustainable development agenda so far, a welcome change from the previous millennium development goals which did not refer to disability.

However reaching persons with disabilities will also be difficult since they are also over-represented among the extreme poor, he added.

This points to another reason why it will be difficult for UN member states to ensure no one gets left behind – different types of disadvantage and exclusion often overlap.

This is true of Indigenous peoples who are often the “minorities within the minorities,” Marama Pala Executive Director of INA (Māori, Indigenous & South Pacific) HIV/AIDS Foundation told IPS.

“Until countries address the inequalities and injustices for Indigenous Peoples reaching the Sustainable Development Goals will be impossible,” said Pala, who is also a civil society representative at UN meetings.

Yet Indigenous peoples are also at risk of being left behind because they can be adversely affected by so-called development encroaching on their land, from land grabbing for palm oil plantations to the construction of mega dams funded by multilateral development banks.

“Massive demand for food, fuel and other commodities continues to drive industry into new territories,” Alice Harrison, Senior Communications Advisor with Global Witness told IPS.

“Increasingly those communities are finding themselves in the firing line for taking a stand against the theft or destruction of their land and natural resources.”

Some forms of inequalities were considered too politically divisive to be included in the final 2030 agenda, which had to be agreed to by all 193 UN member states.

The final version of the text refers to rights “without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status.”

References to sexual orientation and migration status were removed from earlier drafts in order to reach consensus.

In order to address the inequalities which leave marginalised groups behind, political, social and economic change is needed at the national level as well as the multinational level.

“Once you start to commit to something like leaving no one behind you unearth a whole bunch of economic and social exclusion that’s happening in society that’s driven by corporate greed, political corruption, social exclusion which will need serious changes in both policy and social norms if we’re to track it,” Sriskandarajah said.

The Sustainable Development Goals themselves also address inequality between countries. Efforts to address these inequalities such as through a global tax cooperation body have also been stymied to-date.

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Two years on, Peña Nieto cannot brush off Ayotzinapa stain Mon, 26 Sep 2016 14:15:56 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas 43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

43 students were arbitrarily arrested on 26 September 2014 by local police in Guerrero state, Mexico. They haven't been seen since. Credit: Telesur / Amnesty.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
MEXICO CITY, Sep 26 2016 (IPS)

There are certain events that mark a turning point in a country. The way a government decides to handle them defines the way they will go down in the history books.

This week marks two years since 43 students from a rural school in southern Mexico were forcibly disappeared after a brutal confrontation with security forces.

The unresolved tragedy has become such a stain for the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto that it is now shorthand for the Mexican authorities’ reckless approach to human rights in the country – where those responsible for crimes such as torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are rarely brought before the courts.

The catalogue of failures in the way the Ayotzinapa case has been handled is so long, it beggars belief.

Six months after the students were forcibly disappeared, Peña Nieto’s then Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam came out publicly with an official explanation of what they believed had happened. In a press conference, he said the students had been killed by a powerful local drug gang and that their bodies had been burned in a dumpster.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

He called it the “historic truth”.

His speech caused such havoc and indignation – particularly after a team of international forensic experts said the explanation was scientifically impossible – that Murillo Karam was effectively forced to resign. But still, neither he nor the government ever retracted his theory.

A few months later and in a bid to show action was being taken to shed some light onto the tragedy, the Mexican government agreed to allow a team of world renowned experts appointed by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights to look into the case.

But a year into their investigation, and after two damning reports pointing at a catalogue of failures by the authorities in the way the investigations had been handled, they were invited to leave the country.

The Peña Nieto administration had been embarrassed internationally and it did not like it.

Authorities promised they would take the inquiries forward, they promised justice. They said international help was no longer needed, that Mexico could take on the task of determining the students’ fate and whereabouts.

Few believed them.

And they were right not to.

As was expected, in a country with an atrocious human rights record, progress on the Ayotzinapa investigation has reached a standstill.

As international pressure decreased and the world’s attention moved on, pressure lifted on the Peña Nieto administration.

Reports that dozens of those arrested for their involvement in the disappearances had been tortured to “confess” were never followed up.

The scandalous revelation by the group of experts that Tomas Zerón de Lucio, a public official who had been in charge of the investigation, tampered the crime scene in a bid to show a piece of bone belonging to one of the students had been found in the banks of a local river in late October 2014 has also gone unpunished. A shallow investigation into the accusation has not led to any concrete results and Zerón was moved from the Attorney General’s Office to a higher position in the Council of National Security.

The Peña Nieto administration’s barefaced denial of what happened to the Ayotzinapa students is so deep-seated the president no longer dares to utter the word in public.

And the disappearance of these 43 young men is emblematic of everything that is wrong in Mexico. Human rights are nothing but an illusion for the thousands of men, women and children who are tortured, murdered and disappeared every year and will continue to be so as long as the authorities insist on saying everything is fine.

The stories of the 43 Ayotzinapa students are a reminder of the more than 28,000 men, women and children who have vanished across Mexico over the last decade – most since Peña Nieto took office in 2012.

They are a reminder of the extent to which people are routinely tortured into “confessing” crimes they did not commit in a vile attempt to show the government is actually taking action against the brutal criminal gangs terrorizing the country.

Time and time again we have heard the stories of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children of those who have simply “vanished into thin air” and have no one to turn to in their desperate search for truth and justice.

On 29 July 2016, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights approved a mechanism to follow up on the findings and recommendations of the group of experts, with the aim of determining the whereabouts of the students

But without any real support from the Mexican authorities, there is no mechanism that will shed any light onto these crimes or ensure that those responsible will face justice.

The Peña Nieto administration seems to be relying on Mexico’s short-term memory; it hopes people will forget about the 43 students and many other human rights violations this country has seen over the decades have been forgotten.

What they are not counting on is the millions across this country, and around the world, who have had enough of empty promises. We will continue to fight, side by side, with all the brave human rights defenders and organizations who are not giving up hope to hold the Mexican authorities accountable and to ensure they fulfill their international obligations to protect human rights.

The time for political maneuvers is over. The relatives of the 43 young men of Ayotzinapa will never give up their fight until truth and justice for their children is achieved.

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Leading Towards a Better World? Mon, 26 Sep 2016 13:03:26 +0000 Fahmida Khatun By Dr Fahmida Khatun
Sep 26 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

President Barak Obama’s speech at the seventy first session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2016 carries great significance. This is not only because it was his last speech at the UN as the US president, but also for its content and message. While his speech has implications for the world today, some are probably more relevant for his own country. Emphasising that the world “must go forward, and not backward”, he spent a great deal of time highlighting the need for global integration and its benefits. He said that billions of people are now enjoying better lives, and the number of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced from about 40 percent to below 10 percent in the last 25 years, thanks to integration of the global economy. Reference to the contribution of immigrants to the US was another notable point of Obama’s speech, as he stated, “Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.”

leading_towards_a_better_As opposed to what President Obama reiterated within the UN building, a part of the US presidential election campaign has been giving a different message outside. The Republican party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has been crying for tighter immigration rules, building walls, dismantling trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and keeping the US economy closed for the rest of the world. Being the beneficiary of globalisation himself, Trump successfully imprinted the wrong explanation of globalisation in the hearts of a large number of voters. Trump told them that immigrants would take their jobs and create social problems. His supporters, many of whom have lost their jobs following the financial meltdown in 2008 and many of whom are yet to get a place in the job market due to slow economic recovery, believe Trump’s concocted theory. The other cheap and easy-to-sell propaganda is that of terrorist activity by Muslims. While doing so, Trump dangerously equated Muslims with IS militants.

Unfortunately, many Western media often portray Muslims in the same manner. Additionally, his foul and indecent remarks on several people – which he always terms as “jokes” later on – have made him a controversial person. Though initially surprised by even the nomination of Trump, people around the world have now started to realise that Hillary Clinton will have a tough competition with him in the race to the White House.

Is this only because there is a trust gap among voters regarding Hillary? Or because her policies failed? Maybe both. But there is much more to the story than just this. When Barack Obama contested for his presidency for the first time in 2008, history was created. The US could finally vote for a black president. Surely, it wasn’t easy for him to enter the White House. But trust the diverse and multicultural American society. America is the champion of diversity in the world. Its identity as a country of immigrants has been at the core of creation of such diversity. Trump, whose campaign is undermining this, is taking advantage of that diversity himself. His candidature reflects that the US can choose anyone as its president. Relying on this, Trump, however, is taking the opportunity to deviate from the values which America upheld even after the deadly attack of 9/11.

This is not to say that American policies towards immigrants are flawless or its treatment towards them is perfect. The attitude towards Muslims has changed post-September 2001. But apparent attempts of tolerance and plurality were eventually taken in the country. Even the Republican Bush administration maintained the tradition of accommodating diversity. But will it be the same after the November 2016 US election?

Obama’s remark at the UN General Assembly that “America has been built by immigrants from every shore” has been truly reflected in academia, the corporate sector, sports, culture, etc. Irrespective of their colour, race, religion and nationality, top universities including Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Stanford and similar centres of excellence continue to enrol students from the poorest countries of Africa or from the Muslim world. They look for talent and innovation. Many students from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) have been directly recruited by large IT companies in the US. Some even work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Here in our own country, many of Bangladesh’s change agents – from civil servants to engineers to professionals – have been educated and trained in the US. Millions of Bangladeshis follow Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Hundreds of Bangladeshi youths have learned speeches of Steve Jobs by heart. They are inspired by these iconic figures to pursue their own dreams and aspirations. It’s the same US that has recognised the talents of a diverse group of people, be it Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Sundar Pichai of Google, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Ginni Rometty of IBM, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook or US federal judge Abid Qureshi. Talent and professionalism overruled colour, sex and religion. This is also the reason why the US continues to attract the best from around the world. The US economy cannot sustain if this legacy of diversity and pluralism are discontinued.

The writer is Research Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Behind Closed Doors Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:50:05 +0000 Hajrah Mumtaz By Hajrah Mumtaz
Sep 26 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The availability of cheap labour and low levels of educational/ economic opportunity, to say nothing of the insufficiency of jobs and the surfeit of both poverty and people, make it one of Pakistan’s unsurprising realities that any household that can afford to employ domestic staff does so. ‘Afford’ is a relative term — those who live in posh mansions might require a small army to keep the place in order; their more modestly placed middle-income compatriots also generally have the luxury of employing someone to help out.

Hajrah Mumtaz

Hajrah Mumtaz

For most tiers of society, there is always someone on the lower rung whose purse is thinner, whose need for an income is such that they must work at whatever comes their way. Simply put, Pakistani society is divided into people who employ others to work in their homes, and people who constitute domestic labour. Between them, regardless of the income level of the household, is inequality so entrenched that hardly ever is an argument made to bridge it.

Further, the issue receives little attention — when compared to the gross inequities faced by labour in, say, the industrial or agricultural sectors — because the bulk of these work relations occur behind closed doors, in the privacy of the home.

Even so, tales of exploitation and abuse occasionally filter out. And they are harrowing, in most cases having come under the glare of public attention only when the most appalling of crimes has been committed. A maid makes it to the headlines only when she has died or has been assaulted, or has suffered some act of extreme violence that calls for the services of either a hospital or the police. The less horrifying stories never make it to the public domain, and the exploitation continues across the board — there in plain sight, rarely remarked upon.

Naming and shaming domestic help on social media is a favourite pastime.

Restricting this argument to those employed in the domestic sphere, the ways in which exploitation occurs are myriad. Apart from extreme transgressions against rights as outlined here, there is routine abuse such as salaries below the minimum wage mandated by the state, denial of off-time or weekly holidays, unfair working conditions or emotional abuse — consider those who are subjected to verbal violence or indignities, or a child who has nothing cleaning up after one who has everything.

The ways in which the rights of the powerless can be abused is endless, and in urban Pakistan, amongst some of the relatively well-off, the internet and the social media seem to have provided a new method. On the surface, the idea seems well intentioned; scratch it even slightly though and the problems become immediately evident.

In Karachi, I came upon a forum several months ago after running a web search based on an overheard conversation. One woman mentioned that she was considering hiring a new maid, but the references provided by the young woman in question did not seem to add up. She should, said the others, post the prospective employee’s picture and details up on the forum which has members from across the city, and if anyone had employed this person before or knew her, they’d be able to help.

Intrigued, I started following this group, and have found other similar forums on the web and on smartphone platforms. The idea could have been for people to be able to share information about domestic workers or potential employees — who is efficient, who might know a part-time cook, who is letting their driver go and would like to find him a new post.

Problematically, though, the reverse is being put up: pictures, names and in some cases, photographs of the identity cards of domestic workers with whom group members say they have had a bad experience: this girl stole from me, that one lies, this man is unreliable — don’t hire them.

This takes inequality and the denial of rights to another level altogether, with a pool of prospective employers sharing amongst themselves information that may or may not be true, that the potential employees have no way of being privy to. Most importantly, it constitutes a sentencing without trial where the person accused of misdemeanour has no chance of defending themselves.

The group I joined has over 600 members in Karachi, a small number for a city of millions. Yet it is not insignificant either, for a scroll through the members’ details provides a good sampling of the wealthier sections of society in this city. And, obviously, there are countless groups and platforms that can be used.

What Pakistan needs reminding, then, is that the issue of domestic labour and the ways in which too many can be and are exploited needs to be brought out into the open. This is a sector that accounts for the livelihood of millions across the country; surely, improvement in their lot must be lobbied for, just as it is for daily-wage or industrial or agricultural workers.

The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Canals Save Cambodian Farmers in Times of Drought Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:03:51 +0000 Amy Fallon Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Phal Vannak, a farmer from Amlaing commune in Cambodia, who has benefitted from the rehabilitation of a water irrigation scheme by FAO. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon

In Kampong Speu province, when the wet weather doesn’t come, as in other parts of Cambodia, it can affect whether food goes on the dinner table.

“When there’s drought, it strongly affects crop production,” Vann Khen, 48, a married father of three from Amlaing commune, who farms corn for his family’s consumption, and rice, cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks to sell, told IPS.Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with "millions" spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

What has been worsening the situation for farmers in Kampong Speu, some 40 miles west of the country’s capital Phnom Penh and with a population of at least 700,000, was that a 770-metre water canal, made during the reign of dictator Pol Pot, needed urgent restoration, so when it did rain farmers could access water.

In each irrigation scheme, a command area normally allows all farmers access to water. But in many instances lack of maintenance, destruction due to floods or animals, and culverts or other gates not working properly can prevent farmers from accessing water, stress officials with FAO Cambodia.

In other cases, if the irrigation scheme is not built correctly or if there is ineffective land levelling, the water won’t flow. Those not having water access, in both cases, rely mainly on rain patterns. During long dry spells and drought, they suffer more than farmers who have access to irrigation water.

“Last year wasn’t a good harvest, I got only about 500 dollars in total,” Phal Vannak, 28, a married father of three, who mainly farms corn and rice, told IPS.

For corn alone, he earned only about 100 dollars due to the delay in rainfall.

Kampong Speu has been on the other end of extreme weather, suffering from floods and storms.

But the province experienced severe droughts in 1987, 1999, 2000 and the last two years in a row.

“In 2015 and 2016, as in other countries, Cambodia has been hit by El Nino, affecting crop production,” Proyuth Ly, from FAO Cambodia, told IPS.

The dry periods are the “most prominent hazard” threatening the agriculture sector in Kampong Speu, says FAO Cambodia. The industry is one of the sectors most impacted by drought, and smallholder farmers particularly suffer. Tens of thousands of households are thought to be affected by drought every year, with “millions” spent saving lives and recovering livelihoods, according to FAO Cambodia.

Vannak is the president of a Farmer Water User Group (FWUG) for the Kampong Speu irrigation scheme.

There are 500 households from six villages who are members.  To effectively manage water use, they established six sub-committees (one for each village), and a sub-committee of between four to eight people.

“The farmers weren’t happy (last year) because they needed the water to get into the rice field,” said Vannak.

After a request for help from Cambodia’s ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, FAO Cambodia, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DIPECHO), rehabilitated the canal.

“Livelihoods would be affected as they could not grow intended crops,” Etienne Careme, in charge of operations at FAO Cambodia, told IPS. “FAO Cambodia rehabilitated the canal to ensure correct flow of water to needy farmers. It meant rehabilitating canal corridor, strengthening slopes, constructing or rehabilitating culverts.”

The 80,000-dollar, three-month project, completed last December, included setting up software to train farmer water user groups in water management (a figure that doesn’t include staff time and other travel costs).

Today, even though Kampong Speu is still experiencing a dry period, rice grows in lush green fields.

The irrigation scheme is connected from a stream located about 20 miles from the Aoral mountain, the main source, and can supply water to 400 ha of paddy fields.

“This water has really saved this rice crop,” said Ly on a recent field trip to Kampong Speu to monitor the irrigation scheme and the farmer’s needs, trips conducted regularly, as water rushed past him.

Vannak said this season’s harvest was already an improvement on last year.

“When I heard this (canal) was being fixed I was very happy because some people didn’t have water to save their crops,” he said, clutching a handful of corn in a field.

Khen said he was also happier. “We can open or close the water gate,” he said. “Also the small water gate is allowing us to better regulate water and better distribute it to farmers in the commune.”

Careme said the restoration of the irrigation scheme had improved rice yields.

“It allows better production and therefore increases incomes through sale of rice,” he said.

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