Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:38:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: World Leaders Lack Ambition to Tackle Climate Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-world-leaders-lack-ambition-to-tackle-climate-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-world-leaders-lack-ambition-to-tackle-climate-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-world-leaders-lack-ambition-to-tackle-climate-crisis/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:38:45 +0000 Dipti Bhatnagar and Susann Scherbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139984 “Poor and rural communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is them – who did the least to create this problem – who are suffering the most from it”. Photo credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Poor and rural communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is them – who did the least to create this problem – who are suffering the most from it”. Photo credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

By Dipti Bhatnagar and Susann Scherbarth
BRUSSELS/MAPUTO, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

World governments expect to agree to a new global treaty to combat climate change in Paris in December. As the catastrophic impacts of climate change become more evident, so too escalates the urgency to act.

Mar. 31 should have marked a major milestone on the road to Paris, yet only a handful of countries acted on it. Unfortunately, the few plans that were announced before that date show that our leaders lack the ambition to do what it takes to tackle the climate crisis.

National plans for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will most likely form the basis of the Paris agreement. These plans – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – are meant to indicate a government’s self-stated commitment to solve the global climate crisis through domestic emission reductions as well as through support for the poorest and most vulnerable countries.“People on the frontline of climate impacts are burning while governments fiddle. People are paying and will pay for the devastation of climate change with their lives, livelihoods, wellbeing, communities and culture”

This architecture will result in an agreement that is weaker than each country being legally mandated to reduce emissions based on their fair share, determined through science and equity.

Yet, even with this architecture, the idea was that national governments would declare these plans by the end of March so that they could then be scrutinised.

Only six pledges had been received by the United Nations by the deadline – from the European Union, the United States, Norway, Mexico, Russia and Switzerland. These nations, with the notable exception of Mexico, are among the worst historical carbon emitters, yet these pledges do not reflect that immense historical responsibility and do not show any real willingness to address the scale of the climate crisis.

The commitments are well below what science and climate justice principles tell us is urgently needed to avoid hitting climate tipping points. The European Union announced target to cut emissions by ”at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030” is merely re-hashed from last year’s announcement.

The United States has cobbled together a plan for a meagre reduction of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels, by 2025. If these insignificant pledges are an indication of what is to come, we are on track to a world which will be 4-6°C warmer on average. To put this into context, the climate impacts we are facing today are the consequence of a planet which is only 0.8°C warmer than it was.

So far, none of these countries’ announcements would contribute their ‘fair share’ according to science and equity. All parties are capable of much greater ambition, and it is high time to bring it to the table.

The deadlines that matter most are not set by governments, but by our planet and its natural boundaries, which have already been stretched considerably by the impacts of the climate crisis, for instance by the lethal and extreme weather events from Vanuatu to the Balkans to the Sahel.

Climate change is already happening now, bringing more floods, storms, droughts, rising seas and more devastating typhoons and hurricanes.

The mockery made of this latest Mar. 31 deadline is just another revelation of our governments’ inaction – under the influence of powerful polluting corporations – in the face of impending disaster.

People on the frontline of climate impacts are burning while governments fiddle. People are paying and will pay for the devastation of climate change with their lives, livelihoods, wellbeing, communities and culture.

Poor and rural communities are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is them – who did the least to create this problem – who are suffering the most from it.

We need a just and drastic transformation of our societies, our energy and food systems, and our economies. Proven and workable alternatives exist and are already being implemented.

Key decisions about our energy systems are made regularly, and will of course be made long after the Paris summit. Take for instance U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring planet-wrecking tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

A decision is expected soon and a rejection of the pipeline project would send a strong signal that our long-term future is not founded on the exploitation and burning of more and more fossil fuels.

European Union governments announced their INDCs back in February with their new ‘Energy Union’ vision for meeting the region’s energy needs. The bloc has recognised the need to reduce energy consumption and help citizens take control of clean, local renewable sources. But these moves towards the good must not be negated with new investments in the bad – new gas pipelines are also on the menu.

Throughout 2015, Friends of the Earth International and others will be bringing more and more people together to fight against the power of the polluters and make sure politicians hear the voices of the voiceless and take real action.

In the run-up to Paris, and along the road beyond, we, together with thousands of others, will be promoting the wealth of real solutions and proven ideas that are already delivering transformation around the world.

We will be on the streets throughout 2015, in 2016, and as long as it takes to realise community-owned renewable energy solutions that benefit ordinary people, not multinational corporations.

The Paris deadline will come and go, like others before. But the energy transformation is under way and, whatever our governments will pledge or not pledge at the climate summit in Paris, the transformation will not be stopped.

Edited by Phil Harris

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

* Dipti Bhatnagar is Climate Justice & Energy Co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International, based in Maputo.

* Susann Scherbarth is Climate Justice & Energy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, based in Brussels.

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Lesbians Receiving Unequal Treatment from Cuban Health Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/lesbians-receiving-unequal-treatment-from-cuban-health-services/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 07:41:50 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139969 Two women hugging at a Day Against Homophobia in Havana organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Two women hugging at a Day Against Homophobia in Havana organised by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

In addition to other forms of discrimination, lesbian and bisexual women in Cuba face unequal treatment from public health services. Their specific sexual and reproductive health needs are ignored, and they are invisible in prevention and treatment campaigns for women.

Many lesbian and bisexual women are afraid of gynaecological instruments and procedures which they experience as particularly distasteful given their sexual orientation. Many are unaware of their risks of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI) and postpone attending gynaecology appointments in order to avoid questions about their love life, activists and health experts told IPS.

Dayanis Tamayo, a 36-year-old education specialist who lives in Santiago de Cuba, 862 kilometres from Havana, feels that health professionals are judgmental when they discover that her partner is a woman. They make lesbophobic comments and give her disapproving looks.

“Sometimes I get by unnoticed because I don’t fit the stereotype of a butch lesbian, but otherwise I always feel judged,” said Tamayo, who is engaged in research at Universidad de Oriente.

Recent studies back up Tamayo’s statement, pointing to prejudice against lesbian and bisexual women among the country’s health personnel, and ignorance about their particular sexual health needs.

Cuban psychiatrist Ada Alfonso presented a report on “Salud, malestares y derechos sexuales de las lesbianas” (Lesbians’ sexual health, illnesses and rights) at the 2014 Cuban Day Against Homophobia. She said that when they go to see the doctor, these women are asked more about their sexual experiences than about their reason for seeking treatment.

“If we look at women’s health through the lenses of inequality, the gap between lesbians and heterosexuals in regard to health services has a lesbophobic subtext hidden behind the discourse on ‘social needs’,” said Alfonso, an expert with the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX).

In her view, social pressure on women who are not heterosexual, amounting to homophobia, causes various forms of psychological and sexual malaise.

Alfonso interviewed women in several of the island’s provinces. She found that ethical deficiencies in the system are leading women to postpone clinical tests until they can see a doctor who has been recommended, or a health professional sharing their own sexual orientation.

The women are particularly averse to gynaecological tests because of the instruments used and invasive procedures such as pelvic and vaginal examinations.

Gynaecology outpatient consultations total 925,549 a year, for a population of 4.7 million women aged over 15, according to the National Office of Statistics.

Personnel working in preventive screening services for cervical and uterine cancer told Alfonso that lesbian women tend to come forward for testing too late for any therapeutic action to be taken.

“We generally think that since we do not have sex with men, we are exempt from those risks, because the information campaigns in the media only portray heterosexual couples,” an accountant resident in the Diez de Octubre neighbourhood of Havana told IPS, requesting anonymity.

The 39-year-old accountant, who works in the state sector, has never had a Papanicolau (Pap) test, which involves collecting cells from the uterine cervix and checking them for abnormalities. The Pap test is recommended for women aged over 25 to prevent cervical and uterine cancer and in Cuba it is offered free to women every three years.

“Although I do know that it is important, I find it psychologically difficult to face this test because I feel so exposed, assaulted even, and I personally do not like penetration,” she said.

All Cubans enjoy health coverage by a local family clinic, which is responsible for reminding women when it is time for their next Pap test. However, many women put it off.

In 2013, a total of 765,822 Cuban women aged over 25 had a Pap test done, a take-up rate of 195.8 per 1,000 according to the most recent figures from the Cuban Annual Health Statistics.

All treatment in the Cuban health system is free of charge and is delivered without institutionalised discrimination. But prejudice against non heterosexual people continues to grow.

“Health personnel are part of society, and society rejects lesbians,” José Martínez, a medical doctor in the eastern province of Granma, told IPS.

According to Martínez, medical training in Cuba is too narrowly focused on a biological approach and makes hardly any reference to psychosocial determinants of health.

“When a lesbian woman goes to see a gynaecologist, the doctor will probably assume that she is at lower risk (of cervical or uterine cancer) because penetration is not involved in her relationship, because this is what they have been taught,” Martínez said.

Yenis Milanés, who has a degree in hygiene and epidemiology, told IPS that “medical students are not required to take a single course on sexuality” during their training.

Women who have intimate relations with women tend to have a low perception of their own risk, and seldom take protective measures during sex, Milanés and Martínez said.

They both collaborated in a 2013 study of 30 lesbian and bisexual women in the province of Granma, which found these women thought they were unlikely to acquire sexually transmitted infections.

Another study in 2014 by Martínez and Milanés confirmed that sexual and reproductive health programmes in Cuba generally do not include information about the risks of contracting STI and HIV/AIDS that specifically addresses lesbian women’s issues.

Lesbians receive less information about STI prevention than other population groups and they have fewer welcoming institutional spaces where they can socialise and discuss their problems, said the report, to which IPS had access.

The research study debunks the myth that engaging in lesbian sex avoids all infection risks, although these are indeed much lower than for other sexual behaviours.

Depending on the sexual practices of a same-sex lesbian couple, unprotected contact with exchange of vaginal secretions and menstrual blood can lead to infection with the HIV/AIDS and Herpes simplex viruses, bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhoea, syphilis, vaginal parasites and other diseases.

Women represented 18.5 percent of the 2,156 new HIV-positive cases diagnosed in Cuba in 2013, bringing the total number of people living with the virus to 16,400, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Training health professionals to be sensitive to sexual diversity has been a long-established demand by groups of lesbian women supported by CENESEX in the provinces of Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Cienfuegos, Granma, La Habana, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Villa Clara.

Through community activism, these groups are struggling for their rights to responsible enjoyment of sexual health, including equality of treatment in the health services and access to assisted reproduction technology.

Editado por Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Opinion: Brazil at the Crossroadshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-brazil-at-the-crossroads/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 06:45:17 +0000 Fernando Cardim de Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139936

In this column, Fernando Cardim de Carvalho, economist and professor at the Federal University of Río de Janeiro, looks at the political and economic context within which newly re-elected President Dilma Rousseff is operating and argues that Brazil is living through a very dangerous period, with neither the government nor the parliamentary opposition led by leaders that the population trusts.

By Fernando Cardim de Carvalho
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 1 2015 (IPS)

Even moderately well-informed analysts knew that the Brazilian economy was in dire straits as President Dilma Rousseff initiated her second term in office in January.

Unlike her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), Rousseff had not the same luck with the situation of the international economy. But also, unlike Lula, Rousseff showed herself a poor saleswoman for Brazilian goods and an even poorer manager of domestic economic policy.

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho

There was a strong suspicion that economic policy, especially in the last two years of her first term, had been conducted in ad hoc ways and that serious adjustments would be needed to steer the economy back to working condition anyway. Still, the situation seemed to be even worse than most analysts feared.

More surprising, however, is to find out that Brazilian politics is also in dire straits. Caught off guard by the Petrobras corruption scandal, federal authorities, beginning with Rousseff herself, seemed to become paralysed by the rapid fall in public support, completely losing the power of initiative and creating a dangerous political vacuum in the country.

It is a vacuum rather than a political threat because the opposition seems to be as lost as the president. The political right, never very fond of democratic institutions any way, seemed to be more interested in making the president “bleed” – as stated by Senator (and former vice-presidential candidate) Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party – than with fighting for political hegemony.

Economic problems were certainly fostered by the quality of economic policy-making in the second half of Rousseff’s first term. The realisation that tailwinds created by the Chinese demand for raw materials were no longer blowing led the government to implement a series of measures to stimulate the economy that turned out to be largely useless.

It was not “heterodoxy” that characterised the policy, it was uninformed wishful thinking. A plethora of measures were taken in isolation, without any apparent unifying strategy behind them, distributed mostly as “gifts” from the federal government (which later contributed to the public perception that corruption became a system of government). “Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts”

Plagued by semi-structural exchange rate problems, whereby Brazilian producers lose competitiveness in the face of imported goods in domestic markets and of other sellers in international markets, the federal administration tried to deal with them piecemeal, mostly through instruments like tax reductions or changes in tax rates.

Obsessed with car production, the government burned resources trying to stimulate production (only to meet increasing resistance of other countries to import them, most notably Argentina), again without any strategy thinking about how these newly-produced automobiles would be used in polluted and traffic-jammed Brazilian cities.

The federal government was not deficient only in terms of strategic thinking but also in terms of home caretaking: all available evidence points to the high probability that tax reductions and other similar measures were decided without any calculation of costs, lost fiscal revenues, and so on.

Anti-cyclical macroeconomic policy in late 2008 relied to a large extent on the expansion of consumption expenditures fuelled by increasing household indebtedness. The increase in non-performing loans and income stagnation made this option more and more unsustainable. Investment, in contrast, public and private, repeatedly frustrated expectations.

Unable to finance badly needed infrastructure investments, the government showed itself to be extraordinarily slow in devising appropriate strategies to attract private investors to implement them. Apparently lost in their own inability to define a way out of the mess, the government “muddled through” situations where more forceful definitions were required, as was the case of electric power.

The list of failures or of situations where the government showed inability to lead is long and well known. What was surprising to some extent was to find out that all evidence suggests that the government itself was unaware of what was going on.

Winning re-election by a narrow margin, President Rousseff, characteristically after a long period of hesitation, decided to take a 180-degree turn, asking a known orthodox and fiscal conservative economist to head an empowered Ministry of Finance, surprising even her supporters who seemed to be perplexed by the need to defend policies that they hotly denounced when presented by opposition politicians.

This picture would be difficult enough to manage without the Petrobras scandal. But Petrobras is not only the largest company in the country, it is practically a symbol of the nationality. Besides, energy was supposed to be Rousseff’s area of expertise and she was in fact responsible for the company’s policies for a while, as Minister of Mines and Power.

An increasingly loud murmur of a possible impeachment of the president led her to equivocal political decisions, beginning with the definition of her cabinet, widely considered to be particularly low quality, and alienating not only her major party in government, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, but even the majority of her own Workers’ Party.

The result of such initiatives was illustrated by the twin public demonstrations of Mar. 13 and 15.

On Mar. 13, nominal supporters of Rousseff marched through the streets of most of the largest cities in the country. Speaking to the press, most of the leaders of the march (Lula did not participate) declared conditional support for Rousseff – that is, conditional on the firing of the Minister of Finance and change of newly announced austerity policies.

On Mar. 15, an even larger crowd marched in the same cities declaring unconditional opposition to the president.

Brazil is living through a very dangerous period right now. Neither the government, nor the parliamentary opposition are led by leaders the population trusts. The president is slow and generally equivocal when making fateful decisions. The right-wing opposition seemed to be more interested in enjoying the possibility of enacting a “third” ballot to obtain at least a moral condemnation of the president.

This would be bad enough for a country that has just celebrated thirty years of civilian government. When the economy adds its own heavy problems to the political vacuum, it is impossible not to fear the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST  SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid to Syria Fall Short of Target by Billionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-to-syria-fall-short-of-target-by-billions/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 23:20:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139976 More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

More than 12 million people inside Syria are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stood before 78 potential donors at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait Tuesday, his appeal for funds had an ominous ring to it: the Syrian people, he remarked, “are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation, he said.

And the devastated country, now in its fifth turbulent year of a seemingly never-ending civil war, has lost nearly four decades of human development.

Nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid to the Syrian humanitarian effort in 2014 based on the size of their economies. --Oxfam
A relentless, ruthless war is destroying Syria, the secretary-general continued. “The violence has left so many Syrians without homes, without schools, without hospitals, and without hope,” Ban added.

Still, his appeal for a hefty 8.4 billion dollars in humanitarian aid fell short of its target – despite great-hearted efforts by three major donors: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

At the end of the day, the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria was able to raise only about 3.8 billion dollars against an anticipated 8.4 billion dollars.

Without expressing his disappointment, Ban said the kind of commitments made at the conference will make a profound difference to the four million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries and the five million still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach besieged areas in the war ravaged country.

The U.N. chief also praised the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, for hosting the pledging conference – for the third consecutive year.

The first conference in 2013 generated 1.2 billion dollars in pledges and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars – with Kuwait as the major donor at both conferences.

“This is yet another example of the vital, life-saving leadership that Kuwait has [shown] to help those in dire need around the world,” he added, describing the Emir as one of the world’s “humanitarian leaders.”

In his address, the Emir implicitly criticised the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – for their collective failure to bring about a political settlement in Syria.

“The international community, and in particular the Security Council, has failed to find a solution that would put an end to this conflict, and spare the blood of our brethren, and maintain the entity of a country, which [has] been injured by the talons of discord and torn apart by the fangs of terrorism,” he added.

Valerie Amos, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said people have experienced “breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria.”

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

After announcing his pledge, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the situation in Syria is worsening every day and it is becoming increasingly difficult for humanitarian organisations to reach those in need.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 11.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including 3.9 million who fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 12 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance inside Syria alone – an increase of 30 percent compared to one year ago, he added.

The countries where Syrians have sought refuge include Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s regional programme manager based in Jordan, told IPS the whole exercise “is not a game of numbers” – it involves people’s lives.

He said those caught up in the conflict have to make difficult choices: either take a leaking boat to Europe, ask the children to be breadwinners, or arrange early marriages for their daughters.

“The ultimate choice for them is to take that leaking boat,” he said.

In a “full fair share analysis for funding,” Oxfam has calculated that nearly half the world’s top donors didn’t give their fair share of aid in 2014, based on the size of their economies, including Russia (seven percent), Australia (28 percent), and Japan (29 percent).

Governments that gave their fair share and beyond included Kuwait (1,107 percent), United Arab Emirates (391 percent), Norway (254 percent), UK (166 percent), Germany (111 percent) and the U.S. (97 percent).

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Water Report Not “Doom And Gloom”, Says Authorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-water-report-not-doom-and-gloom-says-author/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:51:41 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139975 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The lead author of a United Nations water report has spoken out about media depictions of his findings, denying the report lays out a “doom and gloom” scenario.

The United Nations World Water Development Report 2015, released on Mar. 20 in conjunction with World Water Day, lays out a number of troubling findings.

The report predicts a world water shortage of 40 percent by 2050, largely due to a forecasted 55-percent rise in water demand, spurred by increased industrial demands.

It is estimated 20 percent of the world’s aquifers are over-exploited, and that shortages may lead to increased local conflicts over access to water. Water problems may also mean increased inequality and barriers to sustainable development.

Despite the grim outlook, the report’s lead author, Richard Connor, laid out a different picture at the U.N. headquarters in New York Monday.

“Most of the media attention [on the report] has focused on one message, a bit of a doom and gloom message, that there is a looming global water crisis,” Connor told a U.N. press briefing.

“The report is not a gloom doom report. It has a road map to avoid this global water deficit.”

Connor conceded, “[If] we don’t change how we do things, we will be in trouble,” but found many positives in the report.

Much of the report focuses on how institutional and policy frameworks can, and must, protect and promote water security.

“The fact is there is enough water available to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the report stated.

“The global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability, and this is where the bulk of the action is required in order to achieve a water secure world.”

Technology to improve water sanitation, recycling and efficiency is outlined as a major pathway to ensuring water security, to ensure water is used and reused as effectively as possible.

Rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and more effective water storage facilities to safeguard against the effects of climate change are also detailed as important areas for investment.

On a government level, financing for water projects is also envisioned as a key component in a water secure future.

“The benefits of investments in water greatly outweigh the costs,” Connor said.

Also speaking at the briefing was Bianca Jimenez, director of hydrology for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

She too called the report “positive,” but stressed that swift action was needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages.

“This calls for greater determination from all stakeholders involved, to take responsibility and take initiative in this crucial moment,” Jimenez said.

The U.N. is currently reviewing progress made in the implementation of the International Decade of Action ‘Water For Life’, which ran from 2005 to 2015.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter at @JoshButler

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Former Military Man Declares Victory in Nigerian Pollshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/former-military-man-declares-victory-in-nigerian-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=former-military-man-declares-victory-in-nigerian-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/former-military-man-declares-victory-in-nigerian-polls/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 21:31:24 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139973 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Showing a “commendable determination to register their vote and choose their leaders,” Nigerians by the hundreds of thousands lined up at polling stations across the country to select the next president and National Assembly of their country, U.S. and British witnesses to the hotly-contested presidential polls observed.

In a joint statement by the British Foreign Secretary and the U.S. Secretary of State, the observer governments “welcomed the largely peaceful vote on March 28.”

Concerns over the possibilities of fraud were quietly swept away when the national election commission called the winner of the country’s presidential poll as Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Buhari edged out his rival by around two million votes. A phone call from the defeated president, Goodluck Jonathan, reached Buhari’s headquarters about five minutes before five with congratulations on the victory.

After 35 of the 36 states’ vote totals were tallied, Buhari appeared to have captured 14.9 million votes compared to Jonathan’s 12.8 million.

The massive balloting and collection was marred by missteps as the new voter cards failed, sensitive materials were snatched, election officials were held captive, and protestors were tear-gassed.

Thousands of ballots were rejected and some polling stations were closed without notice including in major cities such as Lagos.

Even before preliminary tallies were recorded, the opposition APC rejected the process in Rivers state and denounced the vote there as “a sham and a charade”.

A similar complaint came from Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who complained of soldiers harassing voters, shootings, ballot boxes mishandled, and the arrest of his senior special advisor. “This is the worst act of militarisation of democracy,” the governor said.

The new imported biometric machines “largely failed to read voter cards,” commented Kayode Idowu, spokesman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Even the president was affected as three machines failed to recognise the fingerprints of Goodluck Jonathan and his wife.

Unlike in previous years, social media captured many of the conflict images, which were quickly uploaded on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This moved one commentator, Daniel M. Bijimi, to call out on Twitter: “Everyone with an internet enabling phone is now a journalist in #NigeriaDecides and #Nigeria2015!”

Among the citizen photos were two from Rivers state where women are seen in clouds of teargas as they struggled to reach the office of INEC to demand suspension of the electoral commissioner who they claimed was rigging the election for the outgoing president.

In southern Akwa Ibom state, citizen journalists captured the governorship candidate from the opposition displaying sheets of ballots discarded allegedly by rogue staff of INEC and officials of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The number of rejected ballots around the country was disturbingly high. Nassarawa, in the nation’s center, registered 10,094 rejected ballots – enough to put either of the candidates way over the top.

In the final hours before victory was called, the major contenders – President Jonathan of PDP, seeking re-election, and Muhammadu Buhari of APC, an ex-military man seeking a return to power – were running neck and neck.

In addition to the PDP and APC, 13 other parties were vying for the nation’s top job in polls across 36 states and 68 million registered voters.

Among those commenting on the polls was Nigeria’s foremost man of letters, Wole Soyinka, who lamented: “This has been one of the most vicious, unprincipled, vulgar and violent election exercises I have ever witnessed…I just hope we won’t go down as being the incorrigible giant of Africa.”

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A “Year of Eye-Catching Steps Forward” for Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/a-year-of-eye-catching-steps-forward-for-renewable-energy/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 13:00:07 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139953 Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy leapt in 2014. Photo credit: Jürgen from Sandesneben, Germany/Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

Driven by solar and wind, world investments in renewable energy reversed a two-year dip last year, brushing aside the challenge from sharply lower oil prices and registering a 17 percent leap over the previous year to stand at 270 billion dollars.

These investments helped see an additional 103Gw of generating capacity – roughly that of all U.S. nuclear plants combined –around the world, making 2014 the best year ever for newly-installed capacity, according to the 9th annual “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments” report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released Mar. 31.

Prepared by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the report says that a continuing sharp decline in technology costs – particularly in solar but also in wind – means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014."Climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent" – Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

In what was called “a year of eye-catching steps forward for renewable energy”, the report notes that wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1 percent of world electricity generation in 2014, up from 8.5 percent in 2013.

This, says the report, means that the world’s electricity systems emitted 1.3 gigatonnes of CO2 – roughly twice the emissions of the world’s airline industry – less than it would have if that 9.1 percent had been produced by the same fossil-dominated mix generating the other 90.9 percent of world power.

“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP. “These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments last year – a record 83.3 billion dollars, up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at 38.3 billion dollars, up seven percent on the year (although below its all-time high reached in 2011). Third came Japan at 35.7 billion dollars, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.

According to the report, a prominent feature of 2014 was the rapid expansion of renewables into new markets in developing countries, where investments jumped 36 percent to 131.3 billion dollars. China with 83.3 billion, Brazil (7.6 billion), India (7.4 billion) and South Africa (5.5 billion) were all in the top 10 investing countries, while more than one billion dollars was invested in Indonesia, Chile, Mexico, Kenya and Turkey.

Although 2014 was said to be a turnaround year for renewables after two years of shrinkage, multiple challenges remain in the form of policy uncertainty, structural issues in the electricity system and even the very nature of wind and solar generation which are dependent on breeze and sunlight.

Another challenge, says the report, is the impact of the more than 50 percent collapse in oil prices in the second half of last year.  However, according to Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, the price of oil is only likely to dampen investor confidence in parts of the sector, such as solar in oil-exporting countries and biofuels in most parts of the world.

“Oil and renewables do not directly compete for power investment dollars,” said Steffens. “Wind and solar sectors should be able to carry on flourishing, particularly if they continue to cut costs per MWh. Their long-term story is just more convincing.”

Of greater concern is the erosion of investor confidence caused by increasing uncertainty surrounding government support policies for renewables.

“Europe was the first mover in clean energy, but it is still in a process of restructuring those early support mechanisms,” according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “In the United Kingdom and Germany we are seeing a move away from feed-in tariffs and green certificates, towards reverse auctions and subsidy caps, aimed at capping the cost of the transition to consumers.

“Southern Europe is still almost a no-go area for investors because of retroactive policy changes, most recently those affecting solar farms in Italy. In the United States there is uncertainty over the future of the Production Tax Credit for wind, but costs are now so low that the sector is more insulated than in the past. Meanwhile the rooftop solar sector is becoming unstoppable.”

A media release announcing publication of the UNEP report said that if the positive investment trends of 2014 are to continue, “it is increasingly clear that major electricity market reforms will be needed of the sort that Germany is now attempting with its Energiewende [energy transition].”

The structural challenges to be overcome are not simple,” it added, “but are of the sort that have only arisen because of the very success of renewables and their over two trillion dollars of investment mobilised since 2004.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Nicaragua’s Future Canal a Threat to the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nicaraguas-future-canal-a-threat-to-the-environment/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:45:01 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139956 Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese company HKDN and members of the Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, behind a large banner on Dec. 22, 2014, in the Pacific coastal town of Brito Rivas, during the ceremony marking the formal start of the gigantic project that will cut clean across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The new interoceanic canal being built in Nicaragua has brought good and bad news for the scientific community: new species and archeological sites have been found and knowledge of the local ecosystems has grown, but the project poses a huge threat to the environment.

Preliminary reports by the British consulting firm Environmental Resources Management (ERM) revealed the existence of previously unknown species in the area of the new canal that will link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The study was commissioned by Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND Group), the Chinese company building the canal.

Among other findings, the study, “Nicaragua’s Grand Canal”, presented Nov. 20 in Nicaragua by Alberto Vega, the consultancy’s representative in the country, found two new species of amphibians in the Punta Gorda river basin along Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast.

The two new kinds of frogs have not yet been fully studied, said Vega, who also reported 213 newly discovered archaeological sites, and provided an assessment of the state of the environment along the future canal route.

The aim of the study was to document the main biological communities along the route and in adjacent areas, and to indicate the species and habitats in need of specific conservation measures in order to identify opportunities to prevent, mitigate and/or compensate for the canal’s potential impacts.

The 278-km waterway, which includes a 105-km stretch across Lake Cocibolca, will be up to 520 metres wide and 30 metres deep. Work began in December 2014 and the canal is expected to be completed by late 2019, at a cost of over 50 billion dollars.

The environmental impact study will be ready in late April, Telémaco Talavera, the spokesman for the presidential Nicaraguan Grand Interoceanic Canal Commission, told Tierramérica.

“The studies are carried out with cutting-edge technology by an international firm that is a leader in this area, ERM, with a team of experts from around the world who were hired to provide an exhaustive report on the environmental impact and the mitigation measures,” he said.

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Three farmers study the route for the interoceanic canal on a map of Nicaragua, which the Chinese firm HKND Group presented in the southern city of Rivas during one of the meetings that the consortium has organised around the country with people who will be affected by the mega-project. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Víctor Campos, assistant director of the Humboldt Centre, told Tierramérica that HKND’s preliminary documents reveal that the canal will cause serious damage to the environment and poses a particular threat to Lake Cocibolca.

The 8,624-sq-km lake is the second biggest source of freshwater in Latin America, after Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo.

Campos pointed out that HKND itself has recognised that the route that was finally chosen for the canal will affect internationally protected nature reserves home to at least 40 endangered species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

The route will impact part of the Cerro Silva Nature Reserve and the Indio Maiz biological reserve, both of which form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (CBM), where there are endangered species like scarlet and great green macaws, golden eagles, tapirs, jaguars, spider monkeys, anteaters and black lizards.

Along with the Bosawas and Wawashan reserves, Indio Maíz and Cerro Silva host 13 percent of the world’s biodiversity and approximately 90 percent of the country’s flora and fauna.

This tropical Central American country of 6.1 million people has Pacific and Caribbean coastlines and 130,000 sq km of lowlands, plains and lakes. There have been several previous attempts to use Lake Cocibolca to create a trade route between the two oceans.

The Cocibolca Group, made up of a dozen environmental organisations in Nicaragua, has warned of potential damage by excavation on indigenous land in the CBM, on the country’s southeast Caribbean coast.

One site that would be affected is Booby Cay, surrounded by coral reefs and recognised by Birdlife International as an important natural habitat of birds, sea turtles and fish.

Studies by the Cocibolca Group say that dredging with heavy machinery, the construction of ports, the removal of thousands of tons of sediment from the lake bottom, and the use of explosives to blast through rock would have an impact on the habitat of sea turtles that nest on Nicaragua’s southwest Pacific coast.

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

Map of Nicaragua with the six possible routes for the Grand Canal. The one that was selected was number four, marked in green. Credit: Courtesy of ERM

The selected route, the fourth of the six that were considered, will run into the Pacific at Brito, 130 km west of Managua. A deepwater port will be built where there is now a beach that serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles.

ERM’s Talavera rejects the “apocalyptic visions” of the environmental damage that could be caused by the new waterway. But he did acknowledge that there will be an impact, “which will be focalised and will serve to revert possible damage and the already confirmed damage caused by deforestation and pollution along the canal route.”

The route will run through nature reserves, areas included on the Ramsar Convention list of wetlands of international importance, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) biosphere reserves, and water basins.

According to Talavera, besides the national environmental authorities, HKND consulted institutions like the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Birdlife International, “with regard to the feasibility of mitigating and offsetting the possible impacts.”

The canal is opposed by environmental organisations and affected communities, some of which have filed a complaint with the Inter-american Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In an IACHR hearing on Mar. 16, Mónica López, an activist with the Cocibolca Group, complained that Nicaragua had granted HKND control over the lake and its surrounding areas, including 16 watersheds and 15 protected areas, where 25 percent of the country’s rainforest is concentrated.

López told Tierramérica that construction of the canal will also lead to “the forced displacement of more than 100,000 people.”

In addition, she criticised “the granting to the Chinese company of total control over natural resources that have nothing to do with the route but which according to the HKND will be of use to the project, without regard to the rights of Nicaraguans.”

The 2013 law for the construction of the Grand Interoceanic Canal stipulates that the state must guarantee the concessionaire “access to and navigation rights to rivers, lakes, oceans and other bodies of water within Nicaragua and its territorial waters, and the right to extend, expand, dredge, divert or reduce these bodies of water.”

The state also gives up the right to sue the investors in national or international courts for any damage caused to the environment during the study, construction and operation of the waterway.

In the IACHR hearing in Washington, representatives of the government, as well as Talavera, rejected the allegations of the environmentalists, which they blamed on “political interests” while arguing that the project is “environmentally friendly”.

They also repeated the main argument for the construction of the canal: that it will give a major boost to economic growth and will enable Nicaragua, where 42 percent of the population is poor, to leave behind its status as the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, after Haiti.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Beginshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:46:40 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139934

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee – Edited by Phil Harris    

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

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

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U.N. Staffers Caught in Deadly Crossfire in Ongoing Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-staffers-caught-in-deadly-crossfire-in-ongoing-conflicts/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:13:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139957 This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

This bronze sculpture outside the United Nations in New York City symbolizes the organisation’s dedication to non-violence, but this does not mean U.N. staffers are immune to the deadly impacts of conflicts around the world. Credit: David Ohmer/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The deadly Syrian military conflict – now entering its fifth year – which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 mostly civilians, including women, children and aid workers, has not spared the United Nations either.

The world body has been mourning the loss of 17 of its staffers, with an additional 30 missing, probably held in detention either by the Syrian government or by rebel forces battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Unfortunately, we're no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.” -- Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA)
The agency most affected is the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), which has lost 14 of its staff, including five of them killed last year.

Asked if they were singled out because of their affiliation with the United Nations, Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson and director of advocacy and strategic communications, told IPS the staff killed in Syria died in many different ways “caught up in this pitiless conflict”.

“We have no evidence that they were singled out and killed because they work for the U.N. But their deaths illustrate the price UNRWA staff have paid for their dedication to the humanitarian cause.”

He said they were all local Palestinian staff, while the 18,000 civilians trapped in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are a mixture of Palestinian refugees and Syrians.

Many Palestinian refugees have been killed or seriously wounded, including in incidents that affected UNRWA installations.

“But UNRWA is not in a position to verify figures on the total numbers of Palestinian refugees killed,” said Gunness, on the eve of the third international conference on humanitarian aid to Syria to be hosted by the government of Kuwait.

The ongoing civil war in Syria – and the spreading conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Yemen – has made it increasingly difficult for U.N. staffers in humanitarian missions aimed at providing food, medicine and shelter to the ever-growing number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS, “Unfortunately, we’re no longer in an era when warring parties respected the U.N. flag and those who operated under it. As the figures show, U.N. staff are now a specific target by rebel groups.”

At the same time, he said, the U.N. has a policy of “stay and deliver” meaning that it is reluctant to pull out of conflict zones. This means it has a very real duty to protect its staff.

While security in the field is taken more seriously than before, the U.N. and its member states could do much more, Richards added.

“One example that we are keen to highlight is that the warring parties in Syria who kill or kidnap U.N. staff get their financing and support from sources located in U.N. member countries, yet this is rarely brought up.”

The treatment of local staff is also a worry, he said.

The U.N. argues that in contrast to international staff, local staff and their families were already located in the conflict zone.

However, by working for the U.N., local staff and their families are seen as a legitimate target, especially by some of the groups operating in Syria.

“Therefore the U.N. does need to do more for local staff and their families,” Richards noted.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a recent memorial ceremony to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia, he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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There’s No Such Thing as Equality in India’s Labour Forcehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/theres-no-such-thing-as-equality-in-indias-labour-force/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 19:04:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139948 Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Mechanisation and the incorporation of new technologies in sectors like the construction industry means that men are the preferred candidates for certain jobs. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

It calls itself the ‘world’s largest democracy’ but the 380 million working-aged women in India might disagree with that assessment.

Recent research shows that only 125 million women of a working age are currently employed, with the number of women in the workforce declining steadily since 2004.

"It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we [must] work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential." -- Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi
Experts say these figures should serve as a wake-up call for Asia’s third largest economy, adding that unless this nation of 1.2 billion people begins to provide equal opportunities for women, it will miss out on vital development and poverty-reduction goals.

According to a report released earlier this month by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is amongst the lowest among emerging markets and peer countries.

India’s FLFP – the share of employed women or job seekers among the working-age female population — is 33 percent, almost half of the East Asian average of 63 percent and well below the global average of around 50 percent.

The IMF’s findings amplify what has been already been identified as a disconcerting trend in India lately – the absence of a diverse and inclusive workforce.

A debate is currently raging across the country about the skewed gender balance in Indian corporate boardrooms where women hold barely five percent of seats – lower than all the other countries that comprise the BRICS group of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

A progressive new law was passed in 2013 that requires all companies listed on the national stock exchange to have at least one female board member by August 2014. However, the deadline had to be extended to April 2015 as only a few companies came forward to appoint women to these top positions.

The lack of women workers in India is a “huge missed opportunity” for the country’s economic growth, lamented IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on a recent trip to this country of 1.2 billion people.

Gender diversity in the workplace isn’t just about political correctness; it is an economic imperative, economists say.

A study undertaken by the IMF in 2013 proves that India’s growth has been stunted by women’s exclusion from the workforce.

“Assuming the gender gap is halved by 2017 and cut to one-fourth of its 2008 value in 2027, India’s per capita income could be 10-13 percent higher than under the baseline scenario of unchanged gender inequality in 2020 and 2030, respectively,” the report stated.

Counting and accounting for women’s labour

Some say the primary explanation for the apparent ‘absence’ of working women is a dearth of national-level data on the informal sector. Since a majority of women perform mostly unpaid, domestic labour on a regular basis, their contribution to the economy does not ‘count’ when the country tallies up its records of the formal labour market.

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Because women primarily perform unpaid domestic labour, they do not always ‘count’ in the country’s records of the formal economy. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“A woman’s work in her own household is not counted as an economic activity, and does not get factored into the national income statistics,” explains Preet Rustagi, joint director of the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi.

“This situation is even worse than the case of services by a paid domestic help, which is at least considered an economic activity and is counted in the country’s income.”

Rustagi tells IPS that this is unfortunate, as women’s domestic duties in India cover a range of responsibilities like cooking, caring for the elderly, and rearing children, all work that is crucial to the economy and all of Indian society.

In the villages, women additionally engage in the vital task of animal husbandry, which is also excluded from enumeration, elaborates Rustagi.

Cultural norms also scupper women’s entry into the formal workforce, say analysts.

“The entrenched Indian patriarchal culture idealises women in, and restrict them to, the roles of housewives and mothers. Notions of socio-ritual superiority of a group or family can be directly linked to higher restrictions on women including their physical mobility and work outside homes,” explains Bhim Reddy, associate editor of the Indian Journal of Human Development who has researched extensively on recruitment practices in labour markets.

Reddy adds that a higher school enrolment rate, especially for women between the ages of 14 and 21, has also contributed to an asymmetrical workforce.

“A large section of females in this age group that used to be part of the work force earlier is now in schools and colleges, and this is getting reflected in a drop in the female LFPR,” elaborates Reddy.

But research by Everstone Capital, an investment management company, shows that while the number of women enrolling in college has grown manifold, it has not translated into a proportionate increase of women graduates in the workforce.

At 22 percent, the rate of India’s female graduates entering the workforce is lower than the rate of illiterate women finding jobs.

Worse, participation of Indian women in the workforce plummeted from 33.7 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 2012, according to United Nations statistics. In 2011-12, less than 20 percent of the total workers in non-agricultural sectors was women.

Surprisingly, female labour participation has been found to be particularly low even among urban, educated women — a demographic typically assumed to experience fewer social barriers.

According to government statistics, in 2009-10, the proportion of those attending to domestic duties (and therefore out of the formal labour force) was 57 percent among urban females with graduate degrees or higher, compared to just 31 percent among rural females with primary or middle school education.

Experts say the advent of mechanisation and incorporation of new technologies in agriculture and the construction industry have led to the ‘masculinisation’ (or preference for males for a certain job profile) of employment patterns.

Exploitation and harassment in the workplace have worsened the situation. India passed a new law against sexual harassment last year, under which organisations with more than 10 workers have to set up grievance committees to investigate all complaints.

However, according to a study by Jawaharlal Nehru University, less than 20 percent of employers in the capital, New Delhi, comply with the rules.

Household surveys show that a more welcoming environment would compel many stay-at-home women to take on regular work. At present, issues of transport, workplace safety and hostile attitudes result in many women opting out of full-time employment.

Apart from sensitisation campaigns, activists advocate greater investments in infrastructure, safe public transportation, better childcare facilities at work and tax breaks to lure Indian women into the workforce.

“It is imperative to acknowledge that we have a crisis at hand, and we then work towards female empowerment to help India realise its full economic potential,” says Rustagi.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: A Major Push Forward for Gender and Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-major-push-forward-for-gender-and-environment/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:23:00 +0000 Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139940 Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Bangladeshi women farmers prefer climate-proof crops varieties. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Joni Seager, Deepa Joshi, and Rebecca Pearl-Martinez
NEW YORK/NAIROBI, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Experts from around the world gathered in New York recently to launch work on the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO), the first comprehensive, integrated and global assessment of gender issues in relation to the environment and sustainability.

Never before has there been an analysis at the scale of the GGEO or with the global visibility and audience. It will provide governments and other stakeholders with the evidence-based global and regional information, data, and tools they need for transformational, gender-responsive environmental policy-making – if they’re willing to do so.The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

The writing workshop happened in the context of the recent 59th session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 20 years after 189 countries met in Beijing to adopt a global platform of action for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Beijing+20 offers a critical moment to assess how far we’ve come and put gender at the centre of global sustainability, environment and development agendas. Twenty years later, what have we accomplished?

In 2015, governments will be setting the development agenda for the next 15 years through the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as negotiating a new global climate agreement.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will be making a bold contribution to these global efforts by putting gender at the heart of environment and development analysis and action in the Global Gender Environment Outlook (GGEO). The GGEO will be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly in May 2016.

A recent flagship publication by UN Women, The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development (2014), reveals that 748 million people globally (10 per cent of the world’s population) are without access to improved water sources.

Women and girls are the primary water carriers for these families, fetching water for over 70 per cent of these households. In many rural areas, they may walk up to two hours; in urban areas, it is common to have to wait for over an hour at a shared standpipe.

This unpaid “women’s work” significantly limits their potential to generate income and their opportunities to attend school. Women and girls suffer high levels of mental stress where water rights are insecure and, physically, the years of carrying water from an early stage takes its toll, resulting in cumulative wear and tear to the neck, spine, back and knees.

The bodies of women, the Survey concludes, in effect become part of the water-delivery infrastructure, doing the work of the pipes. Not only in water, but also in all environmental sectors – land, energy, natural resources – women are burdened by time poverty and lack of access to natural and productive assets.

Their work and capabilities systematically unrecognised and undervalued. This is a long call away from the Beijing commitment to “the full implementation of the human rights of women and the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

On the one hand, our thinking about the inter-linkages between gender, sustainability, and development has progressed significantly since 1995. Innovative research and analysis have transformed our understanding so that gender is now seen as a major driver – and pre-requisite – for sustainability.

Gender approaches in U.N. climate negotiations are a good case in point. Thanks to persistent efforts on advocacy, activism, research, and strategic capacity building by many, it is more widely accepted that gender roles and norms influence climate change drivers such as energy use and consumption patterns, as well as policy positions and public perceptions of the problem.

These were acknowledged – albeit late – in negotiations, policies and strategies on the topic. One small indication is that references to “gender” in the draft climate change negotiating texts increased dramatically from zero in 2007 to more than 60 by 2010.

According to data by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) as of November 2014, 32 decisions under the climate change convention now include gender.

On the other hand, not much seems to have changed. In 1995, inequalities, foremost gender inequality, undermined economic prosperity and sustainable development. This is even more the case today.

Perpetuating gender inequality and disregarding the potential contribution of both men and women is short-sighted, has high opportunity cost and impacts negatively on all three the pillars of sustainable development – environmental, social and economic.

The course to achieving gender equality also remains plagued by a simplistic translation of gender as women and empowerment as ‘gender mainstreaming’ in projects and interventions that are not necessarily planned with an objective of longer-term, transformational equality.

Numerous studies point out the obvious links between social and political dimensions of gender inequality and the economic trade-offs, and that narrowing the gender gap benefits us all and on many fronts.

The World Bank, World Economic Forum and the OECD, for example, have all concluded that women who have access to education also have access to opportunities for decent employment and sustainable entrepreneurship – key components of an inclusive green economy. The education of girls is linked to its direct and noticeable positive impact on sustainability.

The facts are conclusive: addressing gender equality is both the right and the smart thing to do. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, around the world, gender inequality remains pervasive and entrenched.

And most global policies on environment and development remain dangerously uninformed by gendered analysis.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Why So Many Palestinian Civilians Were Killed During Gaza Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/why-so-many-palestinian-civilians-were-killed-during-gaza-war/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:19:41 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139941 The Qassem family from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, civilians whose home was targeted by Israeli air strikes during the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war, leaving them homeless. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

The Qassem family from Beit Hanoun in Gaza, civilians whose home was targeted by Israeli air strikes during the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war, leaving them homeless. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. investigation into Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza, from July to August 2014, has been delayed until June and in the interim Israel and the Palestinians are waging a media war to win the moral narrative as to why so many Palestinian civilians were killed during the bloody conflict.

The postponement of the investigation was announced at the Mar. 23 U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva.

Israel says it went out of its way to avoid civilian casualties but its critics, including Israeli human rights organisations, have questioned this claim.

“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack,” Makarim Wibisono, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, told the UNHCR meeting.“The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack" – Makarim Wibisono, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967

During the war over 2,300 Palestinians were killed, the majority of them civilians including more than 500 children, and over 10,000 injured. On the Israeli side, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed.

Many of the Palestinian civilians killed died after Israel targeted residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestinians inside as the buildings collapsed on them.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem released a report in January titled Black Flag: The Legal and Moral Implications of the Policy of Attacking Residential Buildings in the Gaza Strip, Summer 2014.

The report focuses on the policy that the Israeli military implemented of strikes on homes, attempting to explain if and how “policymakers’ claims about Israel’s commitment to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) provisions comport with the policy of attacking residential buildings.”

Damage to residential buildings was enormous, with 18,000 homes either destroyed or badly damaged. More than 100,000 Palestinians were left homeless and with little to no reconstruction taking place, most of these Gazans remain displaced.

B’Tselem investigated 70 incidents involving attacks on civilian homes which killed 606 Palestinians, half of whom were women, 93 babies and children under the age of 5, 129 children aged 5 to 14, 42 teenagers and 37 elderly Palestinians.

B’Tselem said that a number of the cases it examined indicated that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) actions contravened IHL.

“A military objective, the only legitimate target for attack by parties to hostilities, is defined as one that makes an effective contribution to military action whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralisation, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage to the attacking side,” said the rights group.

“Over the course of the fighting that took place in the summer, both government officials and top military commanders refrained from spelling out the specific objective of most of the attacks.

“Instead, the IDF spokesperson provided only general figures on the number of strikes carried out each day against what the spokesperson defined as ‘terror sites’.”

The rights group added that the IDF also appeared to change its definition as the war progressed, with many of the residential homes targeted allegedly belonging to Hamas operatives.

Kamal Qassem, 43, his wife Iman, and their five children aged 6 to 12, from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza were forced to flee to an emergency U.N. shelter after their house was destroyed by Israeli bombs, which targeted their homes over two nights during the war.

“My wife Iman was injured during the bombing and spent two nights in hospital. She also requires regular hospital treatment for kidney problems,” Qassem told IPS

“My daughter Shadha, 9, was severely traumatised during the aerial assault and now suffers from epilepsy and soils her sheets at night. None of us were fighters.”

However, Israel’s newly appointed military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot’s contribution to the Dahiya Doctrine, established during the second Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, could provide some answers to the immense destruction wrought on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

The Dahiya Doctrine is a military strategy that envisages the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of hostile regimes, and endorses the employment of disproportionate force to secure that end.

The doctrine is named after a southern suburb in Beirut with large apartment buildings which were flattened by the IDF during the 2006 war.

“What happened in the Dahiva quarter of Beurut in 2006 would happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel,” stated Eizenkot.

“We will wield disproportionate power and cause immense damage and destruction.”

Former Rapporteur to the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, wrote that under the doctrine, “the civilian infrastructure of adversaries such as Hamas or Hezbollah are treated as permissible military targets, which is not only an overt violation of the most elementary norms of the law of war and of universal morality, but an avowal of a doctrine of violence that needs to be called by its proper name: state terrorism.”

Members of the U.N. fact-finding mission into the 2007/2008 Israel-Gaza war suggested that the Dahiya Doctrine had been employed while other analysts added it was also behind Israel’s 2014 military campaign.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilian towns, preceding last year’s war and one of the main reasons for Israel launching its assault on Gaza, could resume again should the siege on Gaza continue with no political breakthrough on the horizon – an ominous sign for Gaza’s civilians.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Crisis Resolution and International Debt Workout Mechanismshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-crisis-resolution-and-international-debt-workout-mechanisms/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:34:01 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139924

In this column, Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, looks at the role of international debt workout mechanisms in debt restructuring initiatives and argues, inter alia, that while the role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible, it cannot be placed at the centre of these debt workout mechanisms because its members represent both debtors and creditors.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Mar 30 2015 (IPS)

Debt restructuring is a component of crisis management and resolution, and needs to be treated in the context of the current economic conjuncture and vulnerabilities.

International debt workout mechanisms are not just about debt reduction, but include interim arrangements to provide relief to debtors, including temporary hold on debt payments and financing.

They should address liquidity as well as solvency crises but the difference is not always clear. Most start as liquidity crises and can lead to insolvency if not resolved quickly.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

Liquidity crises also inflict serious social and economic damages as seen in the past two decades even when they do not entail sovereign defaults.

International mechanisms should apply to crises caused by external private debt as well as sovereign debt. Private external borrowing is often the reason for liquidity crises. Governments end up socialising private debt. They need mechanisms that facilitate resolution of crises caused by private borrowing.

Only one of the last eight major crises in emerging and developing economies was due to internationally-issued sovereign debt (Argentina). Mexican and Russian crises were due to locally-issued public debt; in Asia (Thailand, Korea and Indonesia) external debt was private; in Brazilian and Turkish crises too, private (bank) debt played a key role alongside some problems in the domestic public debt market.

We have had no major new crisis in the South with systemic implications for over a decade thanks to highly favourable global liquidity conditions and risk appetite, both before and after the Lehman Brothers bank collapse in 2008, due to policies in major advanced economies, notably the United States.

But this period, notably the past six years, has also seen considerable build-up of fragility and vulnerability to liquidity and solvency crises in many developing countries."There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure”

Sovereign international debt problems may emerge in the so-called ‘frontier economies’ usually dependent on official lending. Many of them have gone into bond markets in recent years, taking advantage of exceptional global liquidity conditions and risk appetite. There are several first-time Eurobond issuers in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

In emerging economies, internationally-issued public debt as percentage of gross domestic product has declined significantly since the early 2000s. Much of the external debt of these economies is now under local law and in local currency.

However, there are numerous cases of build-up of private external debt in the foreign exchange markets issued under foreign law since 2008. Many of them may face contingent liabilities and are vulnerable to liquidity crises.

An external financial crisis often involves interruption of a country’s access to international financial markets, a sudden stop in capital inflows, exit of foreign investors from deposit, bond and equity markets and capital flight by residents. Reserves become depleted and currency and asset markets come under stress. Governments are often too late in recognising the gravity of the situation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending is typically designed to bail out creditors to keep debtors current on their obligations to creditors, and to avoid exchange restrictions and maintain the capital account open.

The IMF imposes austerity on the debtor, expecting that it would make debt payable and sustainable and bring back private creditors. It has little leverage on creditors.

There are problems with standard crisis intervention: austerity can make debt even less payable; creditor bailouts create moral hazard and promote imprudent lending, and transform commercial debt into official debt, thereby making it more difficult to restructure; and risks are created for the financial integrity of the IMF.

Many of these problems were recognised after the Asian crisis of the 1990s, giving rise to the sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, originally designed very much along the lines advocated by the U.N. Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD) throughout the 1980s and 1990s (though without due acknowledgement).

However, it was opposed by the United States and international financial markets and could not elicit strong support from debtor developing countries, notably in Latin America. It was first diluted and then abandoned.

The matter has come back to the attention of the international community with the Eurozone crisis and then with vulture-fund holdouts in Argentinian debt restructuring.

After pouring money into Argentina and Greece, whose debt turned out to be unpayable, the IMF has proposed a new framework to “limit the risk that Fund resources will simply be used to bail out private creditors” and to involve private creditors in crisis resolution. If debt sustainability looks uncertain, the IMF would require re-profiling (rollovers and maturity extension) before lending. This is left to negotiations between the debtor and the creditors.

However, there is no guarantee that this can bring a timely and orderly re-profiling. If no agreement is reached and the IMF does not lend without re-profiling, then it would effectively be telling the debtor to default. But it makes no proposal to protect the debtor against litigation and asset grab by creditors.

There is thus a need for statutory re-profiling involving temporary debt standstills and exchange controls. The decision should be taken by the country concerned and sanctioned by an internationally recognised independent body to impose stay on litigation.

Sanctioning standstills should automatically grant seniority to new loans, to be used for current account financing, not to pay creditors or finance capital outflows.

If financial meltdown is prevented through standstills and exchange controls, stay is imposed on litigation, adequate financing is provided and contractual provisions are improved, the likelihood of reaching a negotiated debt workout would be very high.

The role of the IMF in crisis management and resolution is incontrovertible. However, the IMF cannot be placed at the centre of international debt workout mechanisms. Even after a fundamental reform, the IMF board cannot act as a sanctioning body and arbitrator because of conflict of interest; its members represent debtors and creditors.

The United Nations successfully played an important role in crisis resolution in several instances in the past.

The Compensatory Financing Facility – introduced in the early 1960s to enable developing countries facing liquidity problems due to temporary shortfalls in primary export earnings to draw on the Fund beyond their normal drawing rights at concessional terms – resulted from a U.N. initiative.

A recent example concerns Iraq’s debt. After the occupation of Iraq and collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to implement stay on the enforcement of creditor rights to use litigation to collect unpaid sovereign debt.

This was engineered by the very same country, the United States, which now denies a role to the United Nations in debt and finance on the grounds that it lacks competence on such matters, which mainly belong to the IMF and the World Bank.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

* This article is partly based on South Centre Research Paper 60 by Yilmaz Akyüz titled Internationalisation of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies.

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Singapore Arts Fest Pushes Boundaries Beyond Traditionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:27:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139929 A scene from ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’ by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest, which aims to highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries”. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A scene from ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’ by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest, which aims to highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries”. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 29 2015 (IPS)

As Singapore mourns the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the late former prime minister’s vision of a dynamic and vibrant state is being reflected in a major arts festival in France.

‘Singapour en France – le festival’ was launched Mar. 26 in Paris, against the backdrop of a massive out-pouring of grief in Lee’s homeland, following his death three days earlier.

“As Singaporeans grieve and reflect on our loss, we continue to honour Mr. Lee’s vision of establishing Singapore on the international stage,” said Rosa Daniel, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, who delivered a speech on behalf of her chief Lawrence Wong at the opening of the festival.“We used to be derided as just clean, green, safe and orderly, but dull and antiseptic. Now we have a lively city with the arts, culture, museums, art galleries, the Esplanade Theatre by the Bay, a Western orchestra, a Chinese orchestra ... And we have resident writers and artists” – Lee Kuan Yew, late former Prime Minister of Singapore

The event, which will run until Jun. 30, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Asian city state’s independence, as well as 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and France. It aims to showcase the art, culture and heritage of Singapore through more than 70 activities in cities throughout France.

“We’re a young nation … but we’re bold, modern and willing to experiment,” said Daniel, adding that the festival would also highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries.”

Lee himself recognised that Singapore had made its “share of mistakes” in the cultural heritage area by destroying buildings in its rush to modernise, but in his later political years he emphasised the importance of safeguarding this heritage and of having a “top-class” arts and entertainment sector.

“We used to be derided as just clean, green, safe and orderly, but dull and antiseptic,” he said in 2010. “Now we have a lively city with the arts, culture, museums, art galleries, the Esplanade Theatre by the Bay, a Western orchestra, a Chinese orchestra … And we have resident writers and artists.”

Some of those artists travelled to France for the opening of the festival and gave a view of the changing art scene in Singapore, pushing the boundaries in a region noted for traditional values and not particularly famous for freedom of expression.

In ‘Secret Archipelago’ at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo modern art museum, visitors can view a range of experimental and contemporary work, created by Singaporeans and artists from other Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

“Their works represent a bridging of the gap between past and future and the creative tension between memory and tradition on the one hand and contemporary Western influences on the other, while bringing their own particular languages to modern art,” say the curators.

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself” – AnGie seah, one of the Singaporean artists exhibiting at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest in Paris, March 2015. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself” – AnGie seah, one of the Singaporean artists exhibiting at the ‘Singapour en France – le festival’ arts fest in Paris, March 2015. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

AnGie seah, an artist who includes performance in her work, embodies these concerns – literally – in her presentation titled ‘Howl of the Hallows’ in the Palais de Tokyo’s huge basement gallery.

Here visitors can listen to the screams of various people through a headphone while watching seah (who prefers her name to be lower-cased) perform the screams on video.

“I think the human voice is powerful and I like to use it in my art,” said the artist, who has travelled around France asking people to scream for her, and taping the results.

Her installation included “mini shrines” with pottery or terra cotta representations of body parts such as a hand, with the middle finger sticking up. The shrines give the installation a traditional yet avant-garde feel, inviting visitors to question the symbolism.

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself,” seah told IPS.

Not far from her exposition, Vietnamese artists and twin brothers Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai, who go by the name of Le Brothers, showed a long rectangle of video screens with military-clad characters in a variety of activities. They told IPS that their work is a call for peace through the depiction of war and soldiers in their self-performed films.

Describing their art further, Singaporean curator Khairuddin Hori said it dissects and questions post-war consciousness of North and South Vietnam, as the brothers “exploit their twin identity as mirror and metaphor.”

Other artists incorporated everyday items such as plates and household figurines to question identity while also re-affirming their history and culture. An artist from Malaysia said he had listened to senior citizens and used their stories to create his installation, which covered a large part of one wall.

Alongside the ‘Secret Archipelago’ exhibition, the opening of the festival included a five hour-long multi-media performance titled ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’, with sound, dance, film, fashion and photography.

Specially commissioned for the festival, this ultra-modern work by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen features huge video screens, music technicians and live performances in a kind of visual and acoustic cacophony that still transmits harmony.

“Real-life border crossers who have never acted before are invited to be performers in this piece,” said the creator. “Sharing their everyday stories as incredible adventures, they inhabit the installation as singing, dancing and re-performing pioneer travellers.”

The “show” is described as an artwork that “envisions communications in a not-so-distant future megapolis.”

The visitor cannot help thinking that it captures something essential about Singapore, with its multi-ethnic population, its vibrant history as a trading post and its sometimes controversial efforts to build a cohesive, economically strong nation. The show also seems to evoke the late Lee’s vision of his homeland.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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The U.N. at 70: U.N. Reform Must Benefit All Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/the-u-n-at-70-u-n-reform-must-benefit-all-countries/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 Jayantha Dhanapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139927

This is the first in a series of articles on the U.N. turning 70 this year. Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the U.N. Office in Geneva 1984-87; Director of UNIDIR,1987-92; and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs 1998-2003.

By Jayantha Dhanapala
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

U.N. anniversaries are occasions for stocktaking – not all of it positive. But there is a lot of good that the U.N. has done and is doing and there are many good, dedicated people working silently but effectively within the U.N. system where I have also worked for a part of my long diplomatic career.

It is however, sadly, not always the moral compass of humankind such as when raisons d’etat dictate the U.N. Security Council resolutions to maintain international peace and security and vetoes frustrate the search for a wise consensus.

Credit: cc by 2.0

Credit: cc by 2.0

The Intellectual History Project of the U.N. led by Sir Richard Jolly and others has documented the ideas launched by the U.N. system in the area of economic and social development alone.

It is a glimpse of the remarkable vision and creativity of the founders of the U.N., which must remain to inspire us and guide us. It shows how the U.N. in its economic and social development work – especially through its specialised agencies – has often been significantly ahead of governments, academia and other international institutions that later adopted its ideas. The capacity to generate these ideas must continue.

As the U.N. Intellectual History Project stated in 2001 “Ideas matter. People matter”- and ideas that benefit the peoples of the United Nations matter the most. The U.N. is uniquely situated to be a vanguard of global public opinion.

Transcending individual state-centred approaches, the U.N. can take a synoptic view of issues highlighting a multilateral perspective with global interdependencies clearly delineated. And because these synoptic views are based on consensus, broader public acceptance is made easier.Whether it is a group enjoying the power of the purse or the power of the majority, we need to allow the equilibrium to remain as difficult as it may be. To upset it is to unravel the Charter.

Over the seven decades of the U.N.’s existence we have seen many successes although major challenges remain. The achievement of the decolonisation of scores of Asian and African countries; the focus on human rights and its mainstreaming in international relations; the emphasis on environment and sustainable development; on gender issues and the shaping of a co-ordinated response to globalisation, to terrorism, climate change and other global challenges like HIV/AIDS are some of them.

At the same time the U.N. has been engaged in the prevention of conflict and, where conflict has broken out, in peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace building and disarmament.

This is truly a collective achievement. But it also derives from a value base of the organisation. Legitimacy and universality are the two pillars of the U.N. Beginning with the Charter which sets out the purposes and principles of the U.N. in Chapter 1 there has also been an ethical foundation built over the years.

The Millennium Declaration adopted in September 2000 identified the shared values of the U.N. community as Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Tolerance, Respect for Nature and Shared Responsibility.

No change can affect these values, which represent powerful forces motivating humankind through history. They provide what might be called the collective legitimation of the U.N. helping the global body to build a normative structure.

They have been the accelerators of human progress and the benchmarks for assessing the performance of the U.N. The U.N. is not merely a platform or a forum. It is a depository of values and ideals and an incubator of ideas. It has to generate new thinking constantly and for this an effective Secretariat is essential.

There has also been a consensus established that the core areas of the U.N.’s work are in peace and security, human rights and development and that all three of these areas are interconnected and interlaced so that you cannot have one without the other. The budget of the U.N. must reflect this for the U.N.’s institutions to function effectively.

There is another guiding principle that must remain with us as we change the U.N. to make it a more effective vehicle of multilateral action. I am deeply convinced that the architects of the U.N. wisely built into the organisation an indispensable equilibrium amongst the principal organs of this world body benefiting from the experience of the League of Nations.

Thus while the General Assembly functions as the Parliament of Nations based on the democratic principle of the sovereign equality of nations (Article 2:1) making recommendations on a wide range of issues and approving the budget, it is the Security Council that acts on behalf of the U.N. members in its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security using the powers vested in it under Chapter VI – Pacific Settlement of Disputes – and Chapter VII – Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression.

Amidst the unfulfilled demands for the reform of the Security Council, and especially its enlargement, tensions appear to have grown between the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The current debate on U.N. reform has been seriously complicated by deep-seated concerns that, under the guise of reform, attempts are being made to change the equilibrium that is inherent in the Charter. The need for change is recognised.

That however should not be an occasion for a struggle for power over the organisation by one group of countries over the other. Whether it is a group enjoying the power of the purse or the power of the majority, we need to allow the equilibrium to remain as difficult as it may be. To upset it is to unravel the Charter.

Another important principle that has to be observed in implementing change is the need for equity as far as the member states are concerned. Changing the U.N. is not the object of one country or group of countries. It is the collective wish of the entire membership and consensus documents vouch for this.

Change must therefore benefit all countries. It is for the purpose of making the U.N. deliver public goods in a more efficient and effective manner. If changes are perceived as being asymmetrical in the benefits they will confer on the member states they will be controversial, as indeed some of them have been.

Often the problem is in the perception and that arises from the atmosphere of mistrust that prevails among the groups notably between the developing and developed countries.

Urgent confidence-building measures are necessary and they can be designed and led by a group of middle ground countries that enjoy the trust of all member states.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Activists Protest Denial of Condoms to Africa’s High-Risk Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/activists-protest-denial-of-condoms-to-africas-high-risk-groups/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:46:40 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139919 Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

Distributing condoms in prisons and schools has set off a heated debate, rendering the fight against HIV/AIDS a challenge ahead of this year's U.N. deadline for nations to halt its spread. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/ IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Mar 28 2015 (IPS)

Tatenda Chivata, a 16-year old from Zimbabwe’s Mutoko rural district, was suspended from school for an entire three-month academic term after he was found with a used condom stashed in his schoolbag.

Regerai Chigodora, a 34-year-old prisoner at a jail in Harare, had his 36-year sentence stretched to 45 years after he was caught with used condoms in prison early this year.

With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered,

“It will be hard for Africa to win the war against HIV/AIDS if certain groups of people like students and prisoners are being skipped from preventive measures,” Tamasha Nyerere, an independent HIV/AIDS counsellor based in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, told IPS.

Human rights activists in Zimbabwe say more cases of youths like Chivata and prisoners like Chigodora may be going unreported in countries where condom use in jails and schools is anathema.With restrictions blocking the distribution of condoms in schools and prisons in Africa, health experts say the continent’s opportunity to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in line with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals may be squandered.

“It’s indeed disturbing how hard we have worked as Africa to fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS yet we have not been so pragmatic in our bid to institute preventive measures in schools and jails, where most of our African governments have vehemently refused to allow condoms to be distributed with the common excuse that they promote homosexuality in jails and sexual immorality in schools,” Elvis Chuma, a gay activist in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, told IPS.

Zimbabwean prisoner Chigodora agreed, telling IPS that “whether or not authorities here like it, homosexuality is rife in jails and even if we may smuggle in condoms to use secretly, if you get caught like in my case, you will be in for serious trouble.”

Schoolchildren in Africa like Zimbabwe’s Chivata have to contend with secret use of condoms in school. Their only crime is that they are underage, said Chivata.

“I’m serving a suspension from school because I was caught with a condom I used during sex with my girlfriend, but the same teachers teach us about use of protection if we get tempted to engage in sex. Now I’m wondering if I was wrong using a condom. Perhaps I could have gone undetected if I had opted to have unprotected sex,” he told IPS.

Under Zimbabwe’s Legal Age of Majority Act, any Zimbabwean under the age of 18 years is a minor, while a person between the age of 16 years and 18 years is defined as a young person under the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act.

Sodomy is also a punishable offence in Zimbabwe, which rights activists say, makes it difficult for this Southern African nation and other African nations to distribute condoms in prisons.

“African countries like Zimbabwe are being cornered by their own laws which bar them from dishing out condoms to prisoners and school children,” Tonderai Zivhu, chairperson of the Open Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a lobby group in Masvingo, Zimbabwe’s oldest town, told IPS.

South Africa and Namibia may be the only two out of Africa’s 54 countries that have adopted HIV/AIDS preventive measures in schools and jails.

In 2007, South Africa’s new Children’s Act came into effect, giving children 12 years and older the right to obtain contraceptives. The country’s Department of Correctional Services also provides condoms to inmates.

In Namibia, the country’s policy on HIV/AIDS states that all convicted prisoners awaiting trial and inmates are entitled to have access to the same HIV-related prevention information, education, voluntary counselling and testing, means of prevention, treatment, care and support as is available to the general population.

Other African countries, however, seem unclear about their position on condoms use in jails and schools.

Last year, the government of Rwanda confirmed the prevalence of homosexuality in prisons, but was non-committal on whether or not it would start distributing condoms in its correctional facilities.

This year, Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora told parliament that parents were free to pack condoms for their children in their schoolbags, but that the government would not allow them to be openly distributed at schools.

“We must say children are in school to learn and be initiated for certain life skills, and when it comes to condoms, you are the guardian of your child and you must have an intimate connection with your child so that when you pack their school luggage and prepare their books you can also pack condoms,” Dokora had said.

This laissez-faire approach has incensed certain African indigenous pro-culture activists who have been vocal in their calls against condom distribution in prisons and schools.

“Distributing condoms in prisons and in schools will render African governments accomplices to the commission of the crime of sodomy and sexual immorality among school-going children, which is against our cultural values and norms as Africans,” Bupe Mwansa, head of the Culture and Traditions Conservation Association in Zambia, an indigenous pro-culture lobby group, told IPS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 3.2 million children lived with HIV at the end of 2013, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 145,000 HIV-positive children from Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) states that Zimbabwe has a total of 18,000 prisoners, with 28 percent of these living with HIV and AIDS.

In South Africa, an estimated 41.4 percent of that country’s 166,267 prisoners are also living with HIV/AIDS, based on statistics from the Ministry of Health there, despite the country being the only African nation that does not outlaw homosexuality.

Although other African governments admit there are sexual activities going on in schools and prisons, they remain hesitant to allow condom distribution in them.

“School children engage in premarital and often unprotected sex, yes we know, and prisoners also have unprotected anal sex, but presently there is nothing we can do as government to address these challenges because our laws do not allow underage children to engage in sex while homosexual, now rife in our jails, is also unlawful,” a top Zimbabwean government official speaking on the condition of anonymity told PS.

But for human rights doctors like Nomalanga Zwane in Johannesburg, fighting HIV/AIDS in schools and jails requires drastic measures.

“If school kids are left on their own with the belief that they are not engaging in sex because they are barred by being underage, we are fighting a losing battle against HIV/AIDS because the same school pupils will spread the disease even outside school while prison inmates with no access to condoms will also one day come out of jail and further spread the disease,” Zwane told IPS.

Zimbabwe’s ex-convicts like 37-year-old Jimson Gwatidzo, now an ardent campaigner for the distribution of condoms in jails after he contracted HIV in jail, sees no credible reason why some African governments forbid condoms in prisons “in the face of rampant rape-induced HIV/AIDS infections behind prison walls.”

“It is time for governments across Africa to scrap anti-sodomy laws to allow for the distribution of condoms in prisons and be able to fight HIV/AIDS spread in jails without legal barriers,” Gwatidzo told IPS.

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetorichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139917 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Dr. Randy Rydell, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” -- The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” Dr. Rydell said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Rydell, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Cash-Strapped U.N. to Seek Funds for Syria at Pledging Conference in Kuwaithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/cash-strapped-u-n-to-seek-funds-for-syria-at-pledging-conference-in-kuwait/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:49:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139915 According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

A cash-strapped United Nations, which is struggling to reach out to millions of Syrian refugees with food, medicine and shelter, is desperately in need of funds.

The current status on humanitarian aid looks bleak: an appeal for 2.9 billion dollars for Syria’s Response Plan has generated only about nine percent of funding, and Syria’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan’s appeal for 4.5 billion dollars is only six percent funded, according to a statement released by the Security Council Thursday.

“Today, a Syrian's life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty." -- Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos
Still, the United Nations is hoping for a more vibrant response from the international community at a pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, scheduled to take place in Kuwait next week.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syrian people feel increasingly abandoned by the world as they enter the fifth year of a war that has torn their country apart and claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians.

The pledging conference, scheduled to take place Mar. 31, “is an opportunity to raise some of the resources required to maintain our life-saving work. I encourage governments to give generously,” the U.N. chief said.

According to the United Nations, the devastating five-year old military conflict in Syria has also triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times.”

Over half of Syria’s pre-war population — some 12.2 million people — and the more than 3.9 million Syrian refugees arriving in countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, “are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance”.

For the third consecutive year, the pledging conference is being hosted by the government of Kuwait, which has taken a significant role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The conference will be chaired by the U.N. secretary-general, and hosted by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The last two pledging conferences were held in January 2013 and January 2014. The total pledged in 2013 was about 1.5 billion dollars and in 2014 about 2.4 billion dollars.

The largest contributions came from the host country, Kuwait, which pledged 300 million dollars in 2013 and 500 million dollars in 2014, which included 200 million dollars from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kuwait, amounting to a total of 800 million dollars at both conferences.

Asked about the rate of delivery, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti Mission to the United Nations told IPS that Kuwait had delivered 100 percent of pledges to U.N. agencies, funds and programmes, plus international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Asked about next week’s conference, he said more than 78 countries and 40 mostly international organisations are expected to participate.

U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said a very big part of Ban’s message next week would be: “As long as the crisis in Syria is not solved, you’re going to see millions of Syrians travelling to other countries in the region, and that has a tremendous effect on the livelihoods and the services and the way of life for people in all of the countries in the region.”

“So, we need to solve the problem in Syria, but we also need to give support to these countries at this time of need.”

Addressing the Security Council Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Syria, which she described as “characterised by breathtaking levels of savagery.”

She said the secretary-general has submitted report after report highlighting the failure of the warring parties to meet their basic minimum legal obligations.

Amos pointed out indiscriminate aerial bombings, including the use of barrel bombs, car bombs, mortar attacks, unguided rockets and the use of other explosive devices in populated areas, are the hallmarks of this conflict.

“I have previously reported on the worsening socio-economic situation in the country, which has eroded the development gains made over a generation.

“Today, a Syrian’s life expectancy is estimated to be 20 years less than when the conflict started. Unemployment is around 58 percent, up from around 10 percent in 2010; and nearly two-thirds of all Syrians are now estimated to be living in extreme poverty,” she told the Council.

The inability of this Council and countries with influence over the different parties at war in Syria to agree on the elements for a political solution in the country means that the humanitarian consequences will continue to be dire for millions of Syrians, she warned.

Children are particularly badly affected with 5.6 million children now in need of assistance. Well over two million children are out of school. A quarter of Syria’s schools have been damaged, destroyed or taken over for shelter. It will take billions of dollars to repair damaged schools and restore the education system, Amos said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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