Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 ‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138357 Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kachipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

While Raghu Raja’s dream will take some time to come true, his fellow fisherman Varadaraj Madhavan is already there: two of his three children have attended the “cyclone college”.

His 22-year-old daughter Vijaya Lakshmi has already graduated from the college – the first graduate in Madhavan’s entire clan – and 18-year-old son Dilli Ganesh is expected to follow suit next year.

During her three years of college, Laxmi studied English, Computer Applications and Disaster Management. Among her greatest achievements as a student has been creating a “Hazard Map” of her village. The map, prepared after an extensive study of the village, its shoreline and soil structure, shows the level of vulnerability the village faces.

“This is a real time status,” says Ignatius Prabhakar of SEEDS India, an NGO that trains vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness. “There are different colours indicating different types of sea storms and the levels of threats they pose. The map, meant to be updated every three months, is for the villagers to understand these threats and be prepared.”

There are seven neighbourhoods in Nemmeli and a copy of the hazard map stands at the entrance of each of them. Laxmi, who worked alongside a team of engineering students from Chennai on the mapping project, describes is as a great learning experience.

“I learnt a lot of our village, the environment here. For example, I learnt how disappearance of sand dunes, overfishing and garbage disposal can increase the threats of flooding. I also learnt where everyone should go in time of a disaster and how exactly we should evacuate,” she says.

The young woman is now also a member of the Village Residents Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction – a community group that actively promotes disaster preparedness.

From cyclone shelter to learning hub

Though highly popular now, it was an uphill task to set up the college, recalls Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Madras and the founder of the college.

To begin with, the state government had asked the college to be operational from the year 2011. It was summer already, but there were no buildings to hold the classes in and no land allocated yet to build one. After several rounds of intense lobbying of local government officials, Krishnamurthy was offered the cyclone shelter to run the college.

The next big step was to convince the villagers to send their children to the college.

“We hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) and fixed a loudspeaker on top on it. My assistant would drive the vehicle around the neighbourhood all day, calling on the villagers to send their children to the college. I would wait right here, under a tree, waiting for a parent to turn up,” says Krishnamurthy, says who was the principal until recently and is credited for the college’s current popularity and its successful disaster risk reduction programme.

In the first year of the college, 60 students enrolled. After four years, the number has gone up to 411 and half of them are women, says Krishnamurthy.

Sukanya Manikyam, 23, who recently graduated, was one of the first students to enroll. She is now planning to join a post-graduate course. “I would like to teach at a university one day,” she says.

According to Krishnamurthy, since the tsunami, the rate of erosion along the shore has been visibly increasing. The topography of the sea bed has changed, the sand dunes are disappearing and houses are caving in, slowly rendering the villagers homeless and causing internal displacement.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like,” says Krishnamurthy.

As the danger of displacement from the advancing sea grows greater, so does this fishing community’s need for alternative livelihoods. The ‘cyclone college’ is catering to this need, providing knowledge and information that can help residents find new jobs and build new lives.

Tilak Mani, a 60-year-old villager, is optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago, the tsunami had left all of us in tears. Today, our children have the skills to steer us towards safety in such a disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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What the U.S. Should Learn from Russia’s Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:35:18 +0000 Miriam Pemberton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138354 Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

By Miriam Pemberton
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December. Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea. It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defence downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defence cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history. It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defence industry’s modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the 10-year cuts, many more communities will be affected. This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognising the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what’s going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously. Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can’t be done in a day.

This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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GDP and the Unaccounted for 82 Percent of National Wealthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/gdp-and-the-unaccounted-for-82-percent-of-national-wealth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gdp-and-the-unaccounted-for-82-percent-of-national-wealth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/gdp-and-the-unaccounted-for-82-percent-of-national-wealth/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:20:42 +0000 Anantha Duraiappah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138348 Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Mismanagement of India’s vast river system has caused severe water stress in urban and rural landscapes, with many water bodies too polluted for human use. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Anantha Duraiappah
NEW DELHI, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

Virtually all countries use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as their primary measurement of economic progress and overall societal progress. At the same time, countries express allegiance to the doctrine of sustainable development. This exposes an obvious disconnect.

GDP measures the value of all the goods and services a country produces. Thus, maximising production is the best way of achieving high GDP. And increasing production is fine as long as it is within one’s means to maintain that production.When climate change, oil price fluctuations and total factor productivity is included, less than 50 percent of the 140 countries assessed are on a sustainable trajectory; more than half are consuming beyond their means.

But relate this in terms of personal spending patterns: our list of desirables are seemingly infinite –- the majority of us have insatiable appetites constrained only by personal budgets.

You can increase your spending by taking on debt, but this too is determined by your ability to pay. We are constrained!

At the country level, the situation is no different. A nation can’t produce goods and services without the required assets. It can borrow or buy from other countries but again, consumption is constrained by an ability to pay, which in a well-behaving market is determined by national assets.

Granted, the system of national accounts upon which GDP is computed tracks changes in capital assets such as infrastructure, transport and communications, among other types of national capital produced.

But the skills and education of people determine a country’s output. So too do natural assets, like land, minerals, fossil fuels, and forests, and the many other goods and services nature offers as direct production inputs.

Where are these assets accounted for in GDP?

The Inclusive Wealth Report, first introduced at the Rio+20 summit and welcomed by The Economist magazine as an ambitious effort, provides fresh insights.

This year’s second edition, IWR2014, created in a collaboration with the UN Environment Programme and the UN University, provides a comprehensive analysis of 140 countries, up from 20 two years ago. And the results are sobering, to say the least.

When climate change, oil price fluctuations and total factor productivity is included, less than 50 percent of the 140 countries assessed are on a sustainable trajectory; more than half are consuming beyond their means.

A key factor, according to the report: a lack of effort in promoting creativity and innovation, primarily in developed countries.

As well, the 2014 report further substantiates an earlier finding: Human capital in a country’s asset base is most highly valued by policymakers, followed by natural capital. Produced capital comes in third.

What does this mean?

Using a combination of market prices, when appropriate, and social prices when no market prices are available or are imperfect, the data shows people in most countries place highest value on human capital, key to which is education.

This is followed by natural capital — energy sources and timber, for example — but also the many ecosystem services nature provides to humankind.

Using these values, the IWR2014 report finds that the produced capital our national accounts help to track and manage only represents 18 percent of the total value of a country’s asset base.

In other words, some 82 percent of a nation’s productive base — its “inclusive” wealth — is not reflected in national accounts. This simply makes no economic sense. And, as the popular saying goes, “you manage what you measure.”

The remedy?

Let’s build momentum to revise the system of national accounts, expanding it to include education and natural resources as part of the core accounts.

While there has been some movement to develop satellite accounts for these categories, the scale of their contribution to the asset base of an economy makes it imperative that they be an integral part of core accounts. They can no longer be treated as externalities.

Developing inclusive wealth accounts is complex and challenging, involving some strong assumptions and projections of the future flows of existing asset bases for our offspring and theirs. Despite this degree of uncertainty, initial reactions from national statisticians have been positive.

The former prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, a prominent economist, established a high level panel under his national statistics office and the intellectual leadership of Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta to explore the development of inclusive wealth accounts.

The initial report was a innovative and intellectually robust national document identifying possible actions over the short, medium and long terms.

If a country such as India with its myriad challenges can acknowledge such a need, every country can embrace the challenge and start to revise its system of national accounts.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Soil, Silent Ally Against Hunger in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-soil-silent-ally-against-hunger-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:41:31 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138346 The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The fertility of tropical soil can be appreciated at this market stall in the Amazon city of Belem do Pará in northern Brazil. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO , Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

Latin America and the Caribbean should use sustainable production techniques to ensure healthy soil, the basic element in agriculture, food production and the fight against hunger.

“Keeping the soil healthy makes food production possible,” said Raúl Benítez, regional director for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “Without good soil, food production is undermined, and becomes more difficult and costly.”

“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil,” he said in an interview with Tierramérica.

Despite its importance, 33 percent of the planet’s soil is degraded by physical, chemical or biological causes, which is reflected in a reduction in plant cover, soil fertility, and pollution of the soil and water, and which leads to impoverished harvests, FAO warns.

Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest amount of potential arable land in the world.“We are often not aware that it can take 1,000 years to generate one centimetre of healthy soil, but we can lose that centimetre in a few seconds as a result of pollution, toxic waste, or misuse of the soil.” -- Raúl Benítez

The worst degradation of soil is in Central America and southern Mexico, where it affects 26 percent of the land. In South America that proportion is 14 percent.

According to FAO statistics, four countries account for more than 40 percent of the degraded land in the region, and in 14 countries between 20 and 40 percent of the national territory is affected by degradation.

Forty percent of the most degraded land is in parts of the world with high poverty rates.

On Dec. 5, FAO launched the International Year of Soils 2015 as part of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with the world’s governments and the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

Latin America “is highly aware of the fundamental role played by the soil in the fight against hunger, which means it takes this issue extremely seriously,” Benítez said in the central FAO offices in Santiago.

Farmers in the northern Peruvian department of Piura show native sedes they preserve. Credit: Sabina Córdova/IPS

Farmers in the northern Peruvian department of Piura show native sedes they preserve. Credit: Sabina Córdova/IPS

He pointed out that Latin America has made the most progress in achieving food security, as the region in the world with the greatest number of countries that have met the hunger target of the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – a series of anti-poverty targets agreed by governments in 2000.

According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report, the proportion of people suffering from hunger in the region fell from 15.3 percent in 1990-1992 to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

“For that reason, I don’t have the slightest doubt that this International Year of Soils will help draw the attention of governments, organisations and the population, and Latin America is sure to assume a commitment and act in accordance with the region’s needs,” he said.

The regional FAO office has forged alliances with a variety of social organisations working to restore the soil.

In Chile, one of them is the Centro Comunal de Medio Ambiente Naturaleza Viva, an environmental organisation of the municipality of Estación Central, on the west side of Santiago.

Community organiser María Contreras, the president of the centre, led the struggle to recover 40 hectares from the old garbage dump of Lo Errázuriz, in the municipality of Maipú, also to the west of Santiago, where all of the municipalities of the Chilean capital dumped their trash in the 1970s and 1980s.

“That’s where the dump was, it was the Fundo San José de Chuchunco dump, and in some parts they would extract materials [rocks, gravel, sand, etc],” Contreras told Tierramérica.

The government of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago owns 30 hectares of the land, and the rest belongs to the municipality of Estación Central.

“We now have 10 hectares that have been restored, with trees planted, and the regional government has hired security and irrigation services,” said the community leader, who explained that the plan is to extend the green forested area to another 20 hectares, with walking and bike paths.

The area is now called the Forests of Chuchunco, a word that means “between the waters” in the Mapuche indigenous language.

“This experience arose out of a need for survival,” said Contreras, who pointed out that 30 years ago, “Maipú supplied Santiago with fresh vegetables.”

Two years ago, FAO financed the construction of a small greenhouse there, “and today we produce seeds,” she said.

The project got underway in 2010. But to extend the reforestation effort, studies are needed to investigate what lies under the surface – presumably biogas or leachate.

“Without soil we would all die,” the activist said. “The life we don’t see is below ground.”

Contreras called for strengthening social networks and citizen participation to protect the soil, and stressed the need for environmental education in schools to make projects like the Forests of Chuchunco sustainable.

“We want children to have basic education on the environment so they will be responsible citizens tomorrow,” she said.

Another example is the Vermiculture Research and Development Centre (Ceilom), which seeks to promote and expand worm farming by creating a culture of household recycling of organic material.

The centre was founded in 1980 when the first red Californian earth worms (Eisenia foetida) were brought to Chile. The centre offers vermiculture courses with the aim of reducing the amount of garbage and recycling 100 percent of organic material produced in a household, which averages 700 kg a year for a family of four.

“We currently have an agreement with a vegetable market in Recoleta [north of Santiago] to recover and treat their waste. And this kind of arrangement could be made with many street markets,” the head of Ceilom, Marcela Campos, told Tierramérica.

She also cited the Santiago Metropolitan Park, a “green lung” in the middle of the city, which houses the zoo and “produces so much waste that could be treated.”

“That way it would not need to use chemical fertilisers to restore its green areas, for example,” she said.

Today, at a global level, 12 percent of land is used for crops, a total of 1.6 trillion hectares, which means “we have to redouble efforts and preserve our soil using production techniques that make it possible to conserve our natural resources,” Benítez said.

Sustainable soil is “a silent ally” in the erradication of hunger, he concluded.
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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Uzbekistan Gears Up to Vote for Rubberstamp Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:02:14 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138344 The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Dec 19 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections on Dec. 21 will offer voters a choice, but no hope for change.

Only four staunchly pro-regime parties – the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, as well as the National Revival and the Justice parties – can field candidates for the elections to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber.“People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be." -- A Tashkent-based businessman

They will be joined by representatives of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, which has a “green” quota of 15 seats reserved under electoral law.

No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing.

“The state of political freedoms [in Uzbekistan] is non-existent,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told EurasiaNet.org. “Genuinely independent voices have not been allowed to register and participate in this election, as in all previous ones.”

HRW and other watchdog groups routinely rank Uzbekistan as among the most repressive states on earth. That reputation is not stopping strongman President Islam Karimov from touting this election as evidence that Uzbekistan – which he has led for over two decades, brooking no opposition to his iron rule – is on the path to democracy.

Uzbekistan is “building an independent democratic state” and “creating a civil society” that prioritises “human interests, rights, and freedoms and the supremacy of the law,” he claimed in his Constitution Day speech earlier in December.

Critics say Karimov is merely attempting to add a democratic veneer to a dictatorial system. Thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail, the media is muzzled, and most civil society activists are “either in prison or in exile,” said Nadejda Atayeva, a France-based human rights campaigner exiled from Uzbekistan.

“The Uzbek government is doing all it can to portray this election as legitimate, without actually making it legitimate – without making the election free and fair,” Swerdlow says, adding that Tashkent is harnessing the vote “as an act of consolidation and public mobilisation around the regime.”

Observers expect a high turnout. “Uzbekistan has never had free and fair elections, but the government will ensure that the turnout is sufficiently high,” Alexander Melikishvili, a Washington-based analyst at the IHS Country Risk think-tank, told EurasiaNet.org.

“The government will organise voting drives among public sector employees, and local administrations will compel people to vote through the community (mahalla) councils.”

Voters in Uzbekistan readily acknowledge that mahallas – state-sponsored residents’ councils that control local affairs – rely on coercive measures to get out the vote.

“Mahalla committees will be going round the houses asking people to go to vote,” one Tashkent-based businessman told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity. “That’s exactly what happened last time there were parliamentary elections.”

The public will dutifully turn up at polling booths to avoid reprisals, he added, but will cast their votes without enthusiasm. “People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be,” he said.

In practical terms, the parliamentary elections mean little for day-to-day affairs in Uzbekistan. As David Dalton, an Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, points out, “Voting to parliament is heavily controlled, and the real levers of power are anyway located elsewhere.”

International observers will be in Uzbekistan on election day, but the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR, the election-monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will field only a limited mission, partly due to what it describes as “the limited nature of the competition” in the election.

ODIHR has never deemed conditions conducive to sending a full observation mission to Uzbekistan, or judged an election in the Central Asian nation to be free and fair.

Meanwhile, Karimov has been on what Swerdlow describes as a “media blitz” in an attempt to legitimise “an electoral process that’s genuine in form, but not in substance.”

That may be designed to help bolster the legitimacy of another, far more important vote next year: a presidential election due in the spring, in which Karimov has not stated if he will stand, although he has hinted he will.

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Changes to World Bank Safeguards Risk “Race to the Bottom”, U.N. Experts Warnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/changes-to-world-bank-safeguards-risk-race-to-the-bottom-u-n-experts-warn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=changes-to-world-bank-safeguards-risk-race-to-the-bottom-u-n-experts-warn http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/changes-to-world-bank-safeguards-risk-race-to-the-bottom-u-n-experts-warn/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 01:11:37 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138341 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

An unprecedented number of United Nations special rapporteurs and independent experts are raising pointed concerns over the World Bank’s ongoing review of its pioneering environmental and social safeguards, particularly around the role that human rights will play in these revamped policies.

In a letter made public Tuesday, 28 U.N. experts raise fears that the Washington-based development funder could foster a “race to the bottom” if proposed changes go forward. The document accuses the bank of selective interpretation of its own charter and its obligations under international law.“The bank is not just any old actor in relation to these issues. It is the gorilla in the room.” -- U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston

“[B]y contemporary standards the [safeguards revision] seems to go out of its way to avoid any meaningful references to human rights and international human rights law, except for passing references,” the letter, addressed to World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, states.

“[T]he Bank’s proposed new Safeguards seem to view human rights in largely negative terms, as considerations that, if taken seriously, will only drive up the cost of lending rather than contributing to ensuring a positive outcome.”

The World Bank says its safeguards constitute a “cornerstone of its support to sustainable poverty reduction”, and the institution is currently updating these policies for the first time in two decades. Yet when the bank released a draft revision of those changes in July, the proposal set off a firestorm of criticism across civil society.

Critics warn that the revisions would allow the World Bank to shift responsibility for adherence to certain social and environmental policies on to loan recipients, while prioritising self-monitoring over up-front requirements. The new guidelines could also exempt recipient governments from abiding by certain aspects of the policies.

The bank has since extended the period intended to gather response to the draft, which was supposed to end this month, through this coming spring.

“The bank is not just any old actor in relation to these issues. It is the gorilla in the room,” Philip Alston, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told IPS. “What it does on safeguards, and what it doesn’t do on human rights, makes a huge difference in terms of setting global standards.”

The letter, which Alston spearheaded, is a rarity in multiple ways. Not only are formal missives from the U.N. human rights system to the World Bank uncommon, but close observers say that no such previous letter has garnered the support of so many U.N. rights experts.

Those who signed the letter “are deeply concerned that the bank is planning to turn the clock back 20 years or more,” Alston says, “and replace its existing standards with a system that will simply pass the blame for ignoring human rights considerations on to others, thus letting the bank off the hook.”

Competitive pressures

Since the 1970s, the World Bank has been a pioneer in working to ensure that its development assistance does not lead to or exacerbate certain forms of discrimination or environmental degradation.

Yet the institution has never mandated that the programmes it funds comply with international human rights standards, largely on the concern that politicising the bank’s lending could complicate its country-by-country anti-poverty focus. (Others, including Alston, maintain that human rights can no longer be considered a political issue.)

Consensus is growing, however, around the idea that sustainable development is impossible without a specific focus on human rights. Other multilateral institutions, including the U.N. Development Programme, have explicitly brought their assistance guidelines in line with international human rights obligations.

At the same time, the World Bank is experiencing greater competitive pressure. According to many analysts, including this week’s letter, this is due to the recent creation of several new multilateral development lenders, funded particularly by fast-rising economies including China, Russia and India.

These entities are widely expected to put less emphasis on prescriptive and at times laborious requirements such as the World Bank’s environmental and social safeguards. In such a context, however, Alston and others say the bank has an added responsibility to focus on the results that, they suggest, only core respect for human rights can bring.

The bank’s management counters that the institution has been a leader in highlighting the interdependence between respect for human rights and development outcomes for at least two decades. Today, officials involved with the safeguard review maintain that both human rights and non-discrimination principles have been expanded upon in the new draft.

“Our draft proposal goes as far or further than any other multilateral development bank in the degree to which it protects the vulnerable and the marginalized,” Stefan Koeberle, the bank’s director of operations risk, told IPS in a statement.

“We are currently engaged in extensive consultations on the draft, and we have received a variety of constructive proposals to strengthen the language further. We will continue to carry out our role as an organization charged with achieving poverty reduction and shared prosperity, through sound policies that achieve beneficial environmental, social, and economic outcomes for all concerned.”

U.S. leadership?

The concerns voiced by the U.N. experts come just after three U.S. lawmakers told the Obama administration that the World Bank’s safeguards revision were resulting in a “dilution of existing protections”.

In a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, the lawmakers note that a November evaluation by an Asian Development Bank (ADB) auditor had “foreshadowed” some of these concerns. The trio urged U.S. intervention.

“The Department of Treasury has a history of successfully leading coalitions that call upon regional and national development banks to implement strong safeguards,” the letter states.

“We expect the Treasury to demonstrate similar leadership in this case, so that the World Bank’s safeguards are at least as strong as the strongest safeguards of the ADB and other multilateral financial institutions.”

The United States is the World Bank’s largest member, and watchdog groups say the new flurry of formal critical response is significant.

“U.N. human rights experts and the U.S. Congress have joined the chorus of voices trying to shake the World Bank into finally recognising that human rights should be central to all that it does, and particularly in safeguarding against harm,” Jessica Evans, a senior advocate with Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

If the bank refuses to institutionalise “rigorous human rights due diligence,” Evans continues, “the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the World Bank wants to retain an ability to finance violations of international human rights law while complying with its own policies.”

Bank officials say the next draft of the safeguards revision should be made public by mid-2015.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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The Day Anti-Castro Forces Tried to Bomb the U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/the-day-anti-castro-forces-tried-to-bomb-the-u-n/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:29:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138337 Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

When the politically-charismatic Ernesto Che Guevera, once second-in-command to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was at the United Nations to address the General Assembly sessions back in 1964, the U.N. headquarters came under attack – literally.

The speech by the Argentine-born Marxist revolutionary was momentarily drowned by the sound of an explosion.

The anti-Castro forces in the United States, backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had mounted an insidious campaign to stop Che Guevera from speaking.

A 3.5-inch bazooka was fired at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River while a CIA-inspired anti-Castro, anti-Che Guevara vociferous demonstration was taking place outside the U.N. building on New York’s First Avenue and 42nd street.

First Phase Digital

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Minister of Industries of Cuba, addresses the General Assembly on Dec. 11, 1964. UN Photo/TC

But the rocket launcher – which was apparently not as sophisticated as today’s shoulder-fired missiles and rocket-propelled grenades – missed its target, rattled windows, and fell into the river about 200 yards from the building.

One newspaper report described it as “one of the wildest episodes since the United Nations moved into its East River headquarters in 1952.”

With the United States resuming full diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday – after a 53-year hiatus – will there be a significant change in its attitude towards the politically-ostracised Caribbean nation in the world body?

The United States has routinely led or co-sponsored scores of U.N. resolutions critical of human rights violations in Cuba and consistently voted against every single General Assembly resolution calling on Washington to lift the economic embargo on Havana imposed in 1960.

At the last General Assembly vote in October 2014, an overwhelming majority – 188 out of 193 members – voted to end the embargo, for the 23rd consecutive year.

As in most previous years, the only two countries to vote against the resolution were the United States and Israel.

And three other countries that have traditionally voted with the United States – Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands – abstained on the vote this year.

After the vote, and as if anticipating a change in the political horizon, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez invited the United States to establish “mutually respectful relations.”

“We can try to find a solution to our differences through respectful diplomacy. We can live and deal with each other in a civilised way despite our difference,” he added.

Asked about the historic U.S.-Cuba agreement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had been informed in advance of the announcement by the U.S. government.

“This news is very positive. And I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and Cuban President Raul Castro for taking this very important step towards normalising relations,” Ban said.

“As much of the membership of the United Nations has repeatedly emphasised, through General Assembly resolutions during the last many, many years, it is time Cuba and the United States normalise their bilateral relations,” Ban told reporters Wednesday.

“The United Nations stands ready to help both countries to cultivate their good neighbourly relations,” he declared.

As longtime U.N. staffers would recall, the failed 1964 attack on the U.N. building took place when Che Guevera launched a blistering attack on U.S. foreign policy and denounced a proposed de-nuclearisation pact for the Western hemisphere, as he addressed delegates.

It was one of the first known politically motivated terrorist attacks on the United Nations.

After his Assembly speech, Che Guevera was asked about the attack aimed at him. “The explosion has given the whole thing more flavour,” he joked, as he chomped on his Cuban cigar.

When he was told by a reporter that the New York City police had nabbed a woman, described as an anti-Castro Cuban exile, who had pulled out a hunting knife and jumped over the wall, intending to kill him, Che Guevera said: “It is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.S. Flag Can Be Seen Again in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-flag-can-be-seen-again-in-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:51:53 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138335 The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The U.S. and Cuban flags adorn a bicycle-taxi in Havana, a few hours after the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were broken off in 1961. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

The announcement that the United States and Cuba would reestablish diplomatic relations took most Cubans by surprise. Over half of the population was born after the severing of ties in 1961 and the start of the embargo that has marked their lives.

“I wasn’t expecting it; it’s the news of the century and a step that will put in gear many changes,” a journalist who has followed the question for years told IPS.

Groups of university students took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate the return of the three Cuban agents serving out lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons on charges of spying.

A U.S. contractor serving time in a Cuban prison, Alan Gross, was also released. His arrest and sentencing to 15 years in prison on charges of involvement in subversive plans in Cuba was seen by Washington as a major hurdle to the normalisation of relations with Havana.

Nor was the Cuban government willing to move in that direction unless the Cuban agents were freed.

Antonio Guerrero, whose sentence ended in 2017; Ramón Labañino, sentenced to 30 years; and Gerardo Hernández, who had been given two life sentences, arrived in Havana on Wednesday.

The other two members of the group known as “the Cuban five”, René González and Fernando González (no relation), had served out their sentences and have been back in Cuba since 2013 and February of this year, respectively.

In a televised speech – broadcast simultaneously with U.S. President Barack Obama’s address in Washington – President Raúl Castro said that his openness to dialogue with the U.S. gave continuity to his brother Fidel’s (president from 1959 to 2008) willingness to negotiate.

Observers see that statement as targeting segments of society and even within the government who could be opposed to the normalisation of relations. “The conflict with the United States, and especially the embargo, has served for decades to justify our shortcomings,” a researcher who wished to remain anonymous told IPS.

The reestablishment of diplomatic ties does not include the lifting of the trade and economic embargo against Cuba, a decision that is up to the U.S. Congress. But Castro urged Obama to “modify its application by use of his executive powers.”

More than seven million people in this country of 11.2 million were born under the embargo.

But the move towards normal relations with Cuba’s powerful neighbor only 90 miles away will pose enormous challenges to this country’s socialist development model, which Castro says he will not abandon.

Luis Emilio Aybar, a sociologist, says Cuba should follow a pragmatic policy of economic and political ties like the ones it has with many other countries, while maintaining its “alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist policies” – but without forgetting that the U.S. will continue to be the main enemy of this form of government.

Vulnerability to different kinds of foreign influences “will now be multiplied manyfold, and will be added to the loss of hegemony that socialist values are suffering in our country. The U.S. government understands the situation clearly; that’s why it took this step,” said Aybar, who believes the solution to the dilemma “lies in understanding that you can be pragmatic and radical at the same time.”

Rita María García Morris, executive director of the independent Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue, said it was important for civil society institutions to keep their doors open to a conciliatory dialogue, even if it is difficult and painful. “It has never been easy to acknowledge differences,” she said.

The reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro, such as an expansion of private enterprise and a new foreign investment law, enabled the government to optimise relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and to renew negotiations with the European Union.

Havana and Brussels are involved in talks towards a political and cooperation agreement that would further diversify the diplomatic ties of the Cuban government, which is keen on drawing larger flows of investment to ensure growth, particularly in the Mariel special economic development zone.

Against that backdrop, the United States appeared to be increasingly isolated in its stance towards Cuba, which was officially invited to take part in the next Summit of the Americas, in Panama in April, despite Washington’s resistance. Now that things have changed, Castro and Obama will be able to use that occasion to strengthen the direct dialogue that they began with a phone conversation on Tuesday Dec. 16.

Pope Francis’s mediation in the process that led to the new relations between the U.S. and Cuba did not come as a surprise, given the dialogue in recent years between Castro and the Catholic Church leadership in Cuba, which helped bring about the release of several dozen political prisoners.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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REDD and the Green Economy Continue to Undermine Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/redd-and-the-green-economy-continue-to-undermine-rights/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:45 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138330 Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Dercy Teles de Carvalho Cunha is a rubber-tapper and union organiser from the state of Acre in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, with a lifelong love of the forest from which she earns her livelihood – and she is deeply confounded by what her government and policymakers around the world call “the green economy.”

“The primary impact of green economy projects is the loss of all rights that people have as citizens,” says Teles de Carvalho Cunha in a report released last week by a group of Brazilian NGOs. “They lose all control of their lands, they can no longer practice traditional agriculture, and they can no longer engage in their everyday activities.”The whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

Referring to a state-run programme called the “Bolsa Verde” that pays forest dwellers a small monthly stipend in exchange for a commitment not to damage the forest through subsistence activities, Teles de Carvalho Cunha says, “Now people just receive small grants to watch the forest, unable to do anything. This essentially strips their lives of meaning. ”

Her words are especially chilling because Teles de Carvalho Cunha is not just any rubber tapper – she is the president of the Rural Workers Union of Xapuri – the union made famous in Brazil when its founder, Chico Mendes, was murdered in 1988 for defending the forest against loggers and ranchers.

Mendes’ gains have been consolidated in tens of thousands of hectares of ‘extractive reserves,’ where communities earn a living from harvesting natural rubber from the forest while keeping the trees standing. But new policies and programmes being established to conserve forests in Acre seem to be having perverse results that the iconic leader’s union is none too happy about.

Conflicting views on the green economy

As Brazil has become a leader in fighting deforestation through a mix of  public and private sector actions, Acre has become known for market-based climate policies such as Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) schemes, that seek to harmonise economic development and environmental preservation.

Over the past decade, Acre has put into place policies favouring sustainable rural production and taxes and credits to support rural livelihoods. In 2010, the state began implementing a system of forest conservation incentives that proponents say have “begun to pay off abundantly”.

Especially as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continues to fail in its mission of bringing nations together around a binding emissions reduction target – the latest failure being COP20 in Lima earlier this month – REDD proponents highlight the value of “subnational” approaches to REDD based on agreements between states and provinces, rather than nations.

The approach is best represented by an agreement between the states of California, Chiapas (Mexico), and Acre (Brazil).

In 2010, California – the world’s eighth largest economy – signed an agreement with Acre, and Chiapas, whereby REDD and PES projects in the two tropical forest provinces would supply carbon offset credits to California to help the state’s polluters meet emission reduction targets.

California policymakers have been meeting with officials from Acre, and from Chiapas, for several years, with hopes of making a partnership work, but the agreement has yet to attain the status of law.

Attempts by the government of Chiapas to implement a version of REDD in 2011, shortly after the agreement with California was signed, met strong resistance in that famously rebellious Mexican state, leading organisations there to send a series of letters to CARB and California Governor Jerry Brown asking them to cease and desist.

Groups in Acre, too, sent an open letter to California officials in 2013, denouncing the effort as “neocolonial,”:  “Once again,” the letter read, “the former colonial powers are seeking to invest in an activity that represents the ‘theft’ of yet another ‘raw material’ from the territories of the peoples of the South: the ‘carbon reserves’ in their forests.”

This view appears to be backed up now by a  new report on the Green Economy  from the Brazilian Platform for Human, Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. The 26-page summary of a much larger set of findings to be published in 2015 describes Acre as a state suffering extreme inequality, deepened by a lack of information about green economy projects, which results in communities being coerced to accept “top-down” proposals as substitutes for a lack of public policies to address basic needs.

Numerous testimonies taken in indigenous, peasant farmer and rubber-tapper communities show how private REDD projects and public PES projects have deepened territorial conflicts, affected communities’ ability to sustain their livelihoods, and violated international human rights conventions.

The Earth Innovation Institute, a strong backer of REDD generally and of the Acre-Chiapas-California agreement specifically, has thoroughly documented Brazil’s deforestation success, and argues that existing incentives – farmers’ fear of losing access to markets or public finance or of being punished by green public policies – have been powerful motivators, but need to be accompanied by economic incentives that reward sustainable land-use.

But the testimonies from Acre raise concerns that such economic incentives can deepen existing inequalities. The Bolsa Verde programme is a case in point: according to Teles de Carvalho Cunha, the payments are paltry, the enforcement criminalises already-impoverished peasants, and the whole concept fails to appreciate that it is industrial polluters in rich countries, not peasant farmers in poor countries, who most need to reduce their climate impacts.

A related impact of purely economic incentives is to undermine traditional approaches to forest management and to alienate forest-dwellers from their traditional activities.

“We don’t see land as income,” one anonymous indigenous informant to the Acre report said. “Our bond with the land is sacred because it is where we come from and where we will return.”

Another indigenous leader from Acre, Ninawa Huni Kui of the Huni Kui Federation, appeared at the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru this month to explain his people’s opposition to REDD for having divided and co-opted indigenous leaders; preventing communities from practicing traditional livelihood activities; and violating the Huni Kui’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consents as guaranteed by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.

One of the REDD projects the report documents (also documented here) is the Purus Project, the first private environmental services incentive project registered with Acre’s Institute on Climate Change (Instituto de Mudanças Climáticas, IMC), in June 2012.

The project, designed to conserve 35,000 hectares of forest, is jointly run by the U.S.-based Carbonfund.org Foundation and a Brazilian company called Carbon Securities. The project is certified by the two leading REDD certifiers, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Standard (CCBS).

But despite meeting apparently high standards for social and environmental credibility, field research detected “the community’s lack of understanding of the project, as well as divisions in the community and an escalation of conflicts.”

One rubber tapper who makes his living within the project area told researchers, “I want someone to explain to me what carbon is, because all I know is that this carbon isn’t any good to us. It’s no use to us. They’re removing it from here to take it to the U.S… They will sell it there and walk all over us. And us? What are we going to do? They’re going to make money, but we won’t?”

A second project called the Russas/Valparaiso project, seems to suffer similar discrepancies between what proponents describe and what local communities experience, characterised by researchers as “fears regarding land use, uncertainty about the future, suspicion about land ownership issues, and threats of expulsion.”

The company’s apparent failure to leave a copy of the project contract with the community did not help to build trust. Like the Purus Project – and like many REDD projects in other parts of the world whose track record of social engagement is severely lacking – this project is also on the road to certification by VCS and CCB.

Concerns like criminalising subsistence livelihoods and asserting private control over community forest resources, whether these resources be timber or CO2, is more than a misstep of a poorly implemented policy – it violates human rights conventions that Brazil has ratified, as well as national policies such as Brazil’s National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Traditional Peoples and Communities.

The report’s conclusion sums up its findings: “In the territories they have historically occupied, forest peoples are excluded from decisions about their own future or—of even greater concern – they are considered obstacles to development and progress. As such, green economy policies can also be described as a way of integrating them into the dominant system of production and consumption.

“Yet, perhaps what is needed is the exact opposite – sociocultural diversity and guaranteeing the rights of the peoples are, by far, the best and most sustainable way of slowing down and confronting not only climate change, but also the entire crisis of civilization that is threatening the human life on the planet.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Non-Violence and the Lost Message of Jesushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:22:12 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138311

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that in a world that has moved far from the Christic life of non-violence, a clear message and unambiguous proclamation is needed from spiritual or religious leaders that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

I recently visited Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, two great spirits whose lives have inspired us and millions of people around the world.

St. Francis, a man of peace, and St. Clare, a woman of prayer, whose message of love, compassion, care  for humans, animals and  the environment comes down through history to speak to us in a very relevant and inspirational way.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Today, in the 2lst century, as we the human family face increasing violence, we are challenged to admit that we are on the wrong path, and that we need to find new ways of thinking and doing things from a global perspective.

Peace is a beautiful gift to have in life, and it is particularly treasured by those who have known violent conflict, war, famine, disease and poverty.  I believe that Peace is a basic human right for every individual and all people.

Love for others and respect for their rights and their human dignity, irrespective of who or what they are, no matter what religion – or none – that they choose to follow, will bring about real change and set in motion proper relationships.  With such relationships built on equality and trust, we can work together on so many of the threats to our common humanity.“For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill”

Poverty is one such threat and Pope Francis challenges us to take care of the poor, and has declared his desire that the Catholic Church be a church of the poor and for the poor. To meet this challenge, we can each ask ourselves ‘how will what I do today help the poor’?.

Pope Francis also has spoken about the need to build fraternity amongst the nations. This is important because building trust amongst people and countries will help bring peace to our interdependent, inter-connected world.

Violence begets violence as we witness every day on our television screens, so the choice between violence and non-violence, is up to each one of us.  However, if we do not teach non-violence in our education systems and in our religious institutions, how can we make that choice?

I believe that all faith traditions and secular societies need to work together and teach the way of non-violence as a way of living, also as a political science and means for bringing about social and political change wherever we live.

A grave responsibility lies with the different religious traditions to give spiritual guidance and a clear message, particularly on the questions of economic injustice, ‘armed resistance‘, arms, militarism and war.

As a Christian living in a violent ethnic political conflict in Northern Ireland, and caught between the violence of the British army and the Irish Republican Army, I was forced to confront myself with the questions, ‘do you ever kill?’ and ‘is there such a thing as a just war?’.

During my spiritual journey I reached the absolute conviction that killing is wrong and that the just war theory is, in the words of the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, “a phony piece of morality”.

I became a pacifist because I believe every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other. When we deepen our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters, it is not possible to torture or kill anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. 

I also believe that Jesus was a pacifist and I agree with McKenzie when he writes: “if we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we can know nothing of Jesus’ person or message. It is the clearest of themes.”

For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill.

During the last 1700 years, Christians have moved so far away from the Christic life of non-violence that we find ourselves in the terrible dilemma of condemning one kind of homicide and violence while paying for, actively participating in or supporting homicidal violence and war on a magnitude far greater than that which we condemn in others.

There is indeed a longstanding defeat in our theology. To help us out of this dilemma, we need to hear the full gospel message from our Christian leaders.

We need to reject the ‘just war’ theology and develop a theology in keeping with Jesus’ non-violence.

Some Christians believe that the ‘just war’ theory can be applied and that they can use violence – that is, ‘armed struggle/armed resistance’ – or can be adopted by governments to justify ongoing war.

It is precisely because of this ‘bad’ theology that we need, from our spiritual or religious leaders, a clear message and an unambiguous proclamation that violence is not the way of Jesus, violence is not the way of Christianity, and that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished and replaced with a more human and moral way of solving our problems without killing each other. (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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After 53 Years, Obama to Normalise Ties with Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/after-53-years-obama-to-normalise-ties-with-cuba/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:59:03 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138317 Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

Obama speaks on video about changes in Washington's Cuba policy.

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

In perhaps his boldest foreign-policy move during his presidency, Barack Obama Wednesday announced that he intends to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

While the president noted that he lacked the authority to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo against Havana, he issued directives that will permit more U.S. citizens to travel there and third-country subsidiaries of U.S. companies to engage in commerce, among other measures, including launching a review of whether Havana should remain on the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”."The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations." -- Michael Shifter

He also said he looked forward to engaging Congress in “an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than 50 years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalise relations between our two countries,” he said in a nationally televised announcement.

“Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

The announcement, which was preceded by a secret, 45-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, drew both praise from those who have long argued that Washington’s pursuit of Cuba’s isolation has been a total failure and bitter denunciations from right-wing Republicans.

Some of the latter had vowed, among other things, to oppose any effort to lift the embargo, open U.S. embassy in Havana, or confirm a U.S. ambassador to serve there. (Washington has had an Interest Section in the Cuban capital since 1977.)

“Today’s announcement initiating a dramatic change in U.S. policy is just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by President Obama to appease rogue regimes at all costs,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of a number of fiercely anti-Castro Cuban-American lawmakers and a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

“I intend to use my role as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee to make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuba people’s expense,” he said in a statement.

The outgoing Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, also decried Obama’s announcement.

“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline. With the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, Cuba is losing its main benefactor, but will now receive the support of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world,” said Menendez, who is also Cuban American.

But other lawmakers hailed the announcement.

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat and one of three lawmakers, including a Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who escorted a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, Alan Gross, from Havana Wednesday morning as part of a larger prisoner and spy swap that precipitated the announcement.

Part of that deal included the release of 53 prisoners in Cuba, including Gross, who the U.S. considers to be political prisoners.

“Those who cling to a failed policy [and] …may oppose the President’s actions have nothing to offer but more of the same. That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people,” Leahy said. “It is time for a change.”

Other analysts also lauded Obama’s Wednesday’s developments, comparing them to historic breakthroughs with major foreign-policy consequences.

“Obama has chosen to change the entire framework of the relationship, as [former President Richard] Nixon did when he travelled to China,” said William LeoGrande, a veteran Cuba scholar at American University, in an email from Havana.

“Many issues remain to be resolved, but the new direction of U.S. policy is clear.”

Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based hemispheric think tank that has long urged Washington to normalise ties with Havana, told IPS the regional implications would likely be very positive.

“Obama’s decision will be cheered and applauded throughout Latin America. The Cuba issue has sharply divided Washington from the rest of the hemsiphere for decades, and this move, long overdue, goes a long way towards removing a major source of irritation in US-Latin American relations,” Shifter said.

“Since his sensible and lofty rhetoric at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Latin Americans wondered where Obama has been in recent years.”

Indeed, Obama also announced Wednesday that he will attend the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama in April. Because Castro was officially invited, over the objections of both the U.S. and Canada, at the last Summit in Cartagena in 2012, there had been some speculation that Obama might boycott the proceedings.

Harvard international relations expert Stephen Walt said he hoped that Wednesday’s announcement portends additional bold moves by Obama on the world stage in his last two years as president despite the control of both houses of Congress by Republicans, like Rubio, who have opposed Obama’s efforts to reach out to perceived adversaries.

“One may hope that this decision will be followed by renewed efforts to restore full diplomatic relations with even more important countries, most notably Iran,” he told IPS in an email.

“Recognition does not imply endorsing a foreign government’s policies; it simply acknowledges that U.S. interests are almost always well-served by regular contact with allies and adversaries alike.”

Administration officials told reporters that Wednesday’s developments were made possible by 18 months of secret talks between senior official from both sides – not unlike those carried out in Oman between the U.S. and Iran prior to their November 2013 agreement with five other world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme — hosted primarily by Canada and the Vatican, although the Interests Sections of both countries were also involved.

Officials credited Pope Francis, an Argentine, with a key role in prodding both parties toward an accord.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

The Vatican’s strong endorsement could mute some of the Republican and Cuban-American criticism of normalisation and make it more difficult for Rubio and his colleagues to prevent the establishment of an embassy and appointment of an ambassador, according to some Capitol Hill staff.

Similarly, major U.S. corporations, some of whom, particularly in the agribusiness and consumer-goods sectors, have seen major market potential in Cuba, are likely to lobby their allies on the Republican side.

“We deeply believe that an open dialogue and commercial exchange between the U.S. and Cuban private sectors will bring shared benefits, and the steps announced today will go a long way in allowing opportunities for free enterprise to flourish,” said Thomas Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a statement.

Donohue headed what he called an unprecedented “exploratory” trip to Cuba earlier this year.

“Congress now has a decision to make,” said Jake Colvin, the vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, an association of many of the world’s biggest multi-national corporations. “It can either show that politics stops at the water’s edge, or insist that the walls of the Cold War still exist.”

Wednesday’s announcement came in the wake of an extraordinary series of editorials by the New York Times through this autumn in favour of normalisation and the lifting of the trade embargo.

In another sign of a fundamental shift here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill took some steps to ease the embargo during his tenure as president, disclosed in her book published last summer that she had urged Obama to “take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

That stance, of course, could alienate some Cuban-American opinion, especially in the critical “swing state” of Florida if Clinton runs in the 2016 election.

But recent polls of Cuban Americans have suggested an important generational change in attitudes toward Cuba and normalisation within the Cuban-American community, with the younger generation favouring broader ties with their homeland.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Anti-Gay Legislation Could Defeat Goal to End AIDS in Zimbabwe by 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/anti-gay-legislation-could-defeat-goal-to-end-aids-in-zimbabwe-by-2015/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 00:04:34 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138316 Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

Zimbabwe has criminalised gay relationships, striking fear into the hearts of many gays like these two walking side by side in the country’s capital, because they are being left out in strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite a mandate to eradicate HIV/AIDS under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Zimbabwe has done little or nothing to reduce the rate of infection among vulnerable gays and lesbians, say activists here.

The MDGs are eight goals agreed to by all U.N. member states and all leading international development institutions to be achieved by the target date of 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

Gays and lesbians activists here say more needs to be done because population groups such as men who have sex with men and transgender people remain at the periphery of the country’s intervention strategies.

“In as far as combatting HIV/AIDS is concerned, there are no national programmes targeted for minority groups or interventions that can easily be accessible by the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community on prevention and care within the public healthcare system,”Samuel Matsikure, Programme Manager of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), told IPS.“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease” – civil society activist Trust Mhindo

“There are knowledge gaps of healthcare workers on the needs and best methods on prevention, treatment and care for the HIV-positive LGBTI individuals,” adds Matsikure.

GALZ is a voluntary association founded in 1990 to serve the needs and interests of LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe, pushing for social tolerance of sexual minorities.

But 24 years after GALZ was founded, Zimbabwe’s Sexual Offences Act still criminalises homosexuality. According to Section 4.78 of Zimbabwe’s new constitution, persons of the same sex are prohibited from consensual sex or marrying each other.

Civil society activists say the Zimbabwean government has to accept the reality that gays and lesbians exist.

“Whether the Zimbabwean government likes it or not, it has to face the reality that gays and lesbians exist and should therefore cater for their HIV/AIDS needs in emerging with strategies to combat HIV/AIDS just like it does for all other citizens, for how do we end the scourge if we ignore another group of people who will certainly spread the disease,” Trust Mhindo, a civil society activist, told IPS.

HIV/AIDS activists here rather want the legislation on gays and lesbians changed. “We need to fight for a change of laws so that gays and lesbians are given recognition, without which fighting HIV/AIDS among LGBTI will remain futile,” Benjamin Mazhindu, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV (ZNPP+), told IPS.

Globally halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 is part of the U.N. MDGs, but with members of the LGBTI sidelined in fighting the disease in Zimbabwe, the battle may be far from over.

“Most healthcare facilities in Zimbabwe are not friendly to LGBTI persons, hindering disclosures of ailments like anal STIs [sexually transmitted infections]while sexual and reproductive health information for the LGBTI community is non-existent, creating a vacuum with healthcare facilities for minorities,” GALZ director Chester Samba told IPS.

“If you today walk into any government healthcare centre, be sure not to find any information or literature on gays and lesbians in as far as HIV/AIDS is concerned,” he added.

And for many Zimbabwean gays like 23-year-old Hillary Tembo, living with HIV/AIDS amounts to a death sentence because he fears accessing medical help from government healthcare centres.

“I’m HIV-positive and ridden with STI-related sores in my anus and truly I’m afraid to show this to health workers, fearing victimisation owing to my sexuality,” Tembo told IPS.

But Zimbabwean Health Minister David Parirenyatwa told IPS: “When a person visits a healthcare centre, nothing is asked about one’s sexual orientation.”

According to Samba, although there are no reported cases of HIV-positive LGBTI people being denied antiretroviral treatment on account of their sexual orientation, “there is need for a national HIV/AIDS response to address the barriers preventing members of the LGBTI community from accessing services that address their HIV/AIDS health care needs, including access to information that is relevant to them.”

However, faced with a constitution forbidding gay relations, government here finds it an uphill task to consider a group of people that it constitutionally does not recognise in combatting HIV/AIDS.

“We can’t arm-twist our supreme law which does not condone homosexuality to fit in to the needs of a small group of people who are disobeying the law,” a top government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IPS.

And for gays and lesbians in this Southern African nation, whether the U.N. MDGs matter or not, to them suffering may continue as long as they remain a forgotten lot in fighting HIV/AIDS.

“As homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe, it is difficult for prevention programmes to reach men who have sex with men (MSM) and all MSMs living with HIV/AIDS are often unable to access HIV treatment, care and support,” Samba told IPS.

Asked how many HIV-positive LGBTI persons there were in Zimbabwe, the GALZ director said that he could not give figures because “there are no mechanisms at national level to capture data based on one’s sexual orientation.”

However, in its yet-to-be published 2014 research on the impact of HIV/AIDS on LGBTI persons, GALZ says that of the 393 MSMs tested for HIV/AIDS this year, 23.5 percent were found positive while of the 179 women having sex with women (WSWs) tested for HIV/AIDS, 32.6 percent were found positive in Zimbabwe.

According to the National Aids Council in Zimbabwe (NAC),1.24 million people in the country are living with HIV/AIDS, which is approximately 15 percent of the country’s over 13 million people. LGBTI persons are part of this percentage.

Statistics from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency this year show that LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe contribute about four percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

With a membership of 6,000 gays and lesbians, GALZ says 15 percent of these are living with HIV/AIDS, with five of its members having succumbed to HIV/AIDS since January. The organisation claims that it normally loses 5 to 10 people each year. “Statistics we have so far are of GALZ-affiliated members, not representative of the national statistics,” said the GALZ director.

For many HIV-positive Zimbabwean gays like Tembo, as the world rushes towards the deadline for attainment of the U.N. MDGs, without clearly defined strategies to fight HIV/AIDS within the LGBTI community, the war against the scourge may be far from over.

“How can we triumph over HIV/AIDS when among the LGBTI community we are without strategies from government to combat the disease?” Tembo asked rhetorically.

(Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris)

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Kenya’s Economy Sees Growth at Top But No ‘Trickle-Down’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kenyas-economy-sees-growth-at-top-but-no-trickle-down/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 23:03:42 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138313 David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

David Kamau on his farm in Nyeri County, Central Kenya. Although he now grows carrots for sale in addition to maize, he says his efforts are yet to pay off. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

David Kamau is a small-scale maize farmer in Nyeri, Central Kenya, some 153 kms from the capital Nairobi. He recently diversified into carrot farming but is still not making a profit.

He says that inputs cost too much and if this trend continues he will sub-divide and sell his five hectares.

This is the story of many small-scale farmers in this East African nation, where agriculture accounts for about one-quarter of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But small-scale farmers – accounting for about 75 percent of total agricultural produce – barely break even.

“A 150 kg bag of carrot is now going for about 27 dollars, up from 22 dollars, but as prices go up, so does the cost of inputs,” says Kamau.“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times” – Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi pro-poor social movement

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, an estimated five million out of about eight million Kenyan households depend directly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Yet agriculture fails to provide an adequate return to farmers because their sector is significantly underfunded, explains Jason Braganza, an economic analyst based in Nairobi.

The percentage of the budget for the agricultural sector is 2.4 percent, down 0.6 percent from the 3 percent in the 2012/2013 budget and well below the threshold of the 2003 African Union Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, which mandated that at least 10 percent the national budget should be allocated to agriculture.

The result, says Kamau, is that “farmers are slowly moving out of the farms and trying other economic ventures, Central Kenya used to be a breadbasket but farmlands are being replaced by residential and commercial complexes.”

Farming is not the only sector feeling an economic downslide. Small businesses in Kenya are faced with a lack of essential business support services, especially financial services. Two-thirds of Kenyans do not have access to basic financial services such as banking accounts.

“The growth of both urban and rural slums is an indication that more people are falling on hard times,” according to Dinah Mukami of the Bunge la Mwananchi [People’s Parliament] pro-poor social movement.

She says that the group is planning to hold the government responsible regarding the use of the information in the ‘Socio-Economic Atlas of Kenya’ which the government released last month. The report exposes significant disparities in poverty levels across the country.

“The Atlas is a powerful tool, but whether the government will use the information to change lives and improve living standards remains to be seen,” she says.

Felix Omondi, a resident of Kibera, a division of Nairobi considered the largest slum in Africa, and a member of the Unga Revolution, a local activist group, is one of those who believes that the Atlas is doing some good.

He told IPS that that a programme is under way to upgrade slums and said that this is “one of the ways that the government is using the Atlas to improve the lives of people in the slums.”

In the last three months, the government has been working with residents of the slums to establish income-generating projects and provide basic amenities such as toilets, lighting and drainage.

At least 3,000 youths in Kibera will benefit from these projects. Omondi, a beneficiary, says that he is running one of the posho (corn meal) mills set up by the government to generate income.

Kenya now officially a “middle-income country”

Meanwhile, in autumn the news came out that Kenya had seen its economy grow 25 percent after statistical revision and is now officially a “middle-income country”. A few months ago, a similar type of revision brought Nigeria’s economy to the top of African countries in terms of the size of the economy, surpassing South Africa for the first time.

A growing middle class population is an important driver of this growth, but what does that middle class look like? The recently revised Kenyan figures indicate that the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is 1,160 dollars against the World Bank’s “middle income” threshold of 1,036 dollars.

The latest income-distribution indicators for Kenya (which date back to 2005) show the following:

  • 45.9 percent of the population was at the national poverty line;
  • The income share held by the top 10 percent was 38 percent.

This out-of-date, official information excludes the informal economy, observes Africa Arino, professor of strategic management at the IESE Business School in Spain.

“A taxi driver makes KES 15,000 a month (about 178 dollars or 132 euro), and pays KES 3,500 (close to 25 percent of his income) to rent a room where he lives with his wife and two children,” Arino explains.

“They don’t have a kitchen or a bathroom: these are facilities shared with others in the same building lot. His income is pretty much the average salary of a driver, according to the Kenya Economic Survey 2014. Is he middle class?”

According to Braganza, one of the main challenges facing Kenya is that while the country’s economic growth is real and sustainable, the structure of the economy has remained unchanged. Resources have not shifted into the most productive sectors of the economy which would increase overall productivity and an increase in remunerative employment.

Braganza says that for people to feel the trickledown effect of the economic growth, there must also be structural transformation. “There is a need for more investment in the more productive sectors, as well as investment in emerging sectors. This will contribute towards a reduction in unemployment and poverty.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138306 William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were on the bite when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

“The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish,” said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people."Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

“But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating,” Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

“We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island”, said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. “Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm,” Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

“On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle,” said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, “The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

“There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don’t have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity,” says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University’s Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, “Global warming isn’t just a theory in Torres Strait, it’s lapping at people’s doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government’s climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia’s second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world’s coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. “Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change,” she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UNIDO Development Initiative Gains Momentum in ACP Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:48:32 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138303 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. 

A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council of Ministers meeting in the Belgian capital where UNIDO Director-General Li Yong met with ACP representatives to explore how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in their countries and possible ways of scaling up investment in developing countries.

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers  meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

During the opening session of the ministers’ meeting, outgoing ACP Secretary-General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni had already highlighted the key role of the ISID programme in promoting investment and stimulating competitive industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

In December last year in Lima, Peru, the 172 countries belonging to UNIDO – including ACP countries – unanimously approved the Lima Declaration calling for “inclusive and sustainable industrial development”.

The Lima Declaration clearly acknowledged that industrialisation is an important landmark on the global agenda and, for the first time, the spectacular industrial successes of several countries in the last 40 years, particularly in Asia, was globally recognised.

According to UNIDO statistics, industrialised countries add 70% of value to their products and recent research by the organisation shows how industrial development is intrinsically correlated with improvements in sectors such as poverty reduction, health, education and food security.“We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people” – UNIDO Director-General Li Yong

One major issue that the concept of ISID addresses is the environmental sustainability of industrial development. “We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people,” said Li.

Economic growth objectives should be pursued while protecting the environment and health, and by making business more environmentally sustainable, they become more profitable and societies more resilient.

ISID in the Post-2015 Agenda

“For ISID to be achieved,” said Li, “appropriate policies are essential as well as partnerships among all stakeholders involved.” This highlights the importance of including ISID in major development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 development agenda that will guide international development in the coming decades.

With strong and solid support from the ACP countries, ISID has already been recognised as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the U.N. Open Working Group on SDGs – to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose deadline is December 2015 – and confirmed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in ‘The Road to Dignity By 2030’, his synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.

In fact, goal 9 is specifically devoted to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.”

In this context, Mumuni told the Brussels meeting of ACP ministers that “in building the competitiveness of our industries and facilitating the access of ACP brands to regional and international markets, UNIDO is regarded by ACP Secretariat as a strategic ally.”

ACP-UNIDO – A Strategic Partnership

A Memorandum of Understanding approved in March 2011 and a Relationship Agreement signed in November 2011 represent the solid strategic framework underlying the strategic partnership between ACP and UNIDO, and highlight how the two partners can work together to support the implementation of ISID in ACP countries.

Key is the establishment and reinforcement of the capacity of the public and private sectors in ACP countries and regions for the development of inclusive, competitive, transparent and environmentally-friendly industries in line with national and regional development strategies.

On the basis of these agreements, ACP and UNIDO have intensified their policy dialogue and concrete cooperation. One example reported during the ministers’ meeting was the development of a pilot programme entitled “Investment Monitoring Platform” (IMP), funded under the intra-ACP envelope of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) with the support of other donors.

This programme is aimed at managing the impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) on development, combining investment promotion with private sector development, designing and reforming policies that attract quality investment, and enhancing coordination between the public and private sector, among others.

This programme has already reinforced the capacity of investment promotion agencies and statistical offices in more than 20 African countries, which have been trained on methodologies to assess the private sector at country level.

Implementing ISID in ACP Countries

In Africa, the strategy for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) prepared with UNIDO expertise, is a key priority of Agenda 2063  – a “global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” – and of the Joint Africa-European Union Strategy.

In the Caribbean, high priority is being given to private sector development, climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and value addition in agri-business value chains, trade and tourism.

The CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum in London in 2013 clearly articulated the need for more innovation, reliable markets and private sector information, access to markets through quality and the improvement of agro-processing and creative industries.

In the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific-EU Business Forum held in Vanuatu in June this year called for stronger engagement in supporting the private sector and ensuring that innovation would produce tangible socio-economic benefits.

Finally, in all three ACP regions, interventions related to quality and value chain development are being backed in view of supporting the private sector and commodity strategies.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Cuba’s Reforms Fail to Reduce Growing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cubas-reforms-fail-to-reduce-growing-inequality/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:21:58 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138300 Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Mercado Amistad, one of the shops that only accept hard currency, officially called “foreign currency recovery stores”, in central Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

One of the major challenges assumed by President Raúl Castro when he launched a series of reforms in Cuba is improving living standards in a country still suffering from a recession that began over 20 years ago and has undermined the aim of achieving economic and social equality.

Inequality has been growing since the start of the crisis triggered by the break-up of the Soviet Union and East European socialist bloc – Cuba’s main trade and aid partners – in the early 1990s. The “special period” – the euphemistic term used to refer to the lengthy recession – “has even morally affected the concept of inequality,” economist Esteban Morales told IPS.

To ease the recession in the 1990s, the government of Fidel Castro (1959-2008) opened the doors to foreign investment, fomented tourism, legalised the dollar, and created the “foreign currency recovery stores”, among other measures whose economic benefits also came accompanied by greater social inequality.: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.” -- Cuban schoolteacher

However, María Caridad González appreciates the sense of equality that still exists in Cuban society, which she says has made social inclusion possible for her 10-year-old son, who knows that “to do well in life he just has to study and become a professional.”

Since the 1959 revolution, free universal healthcare coverage and education have been important tools for achieving social equality in Cuba.

González, who comes from a family of small farmers, moved to Havana in the mid-1990s. “It was hard at first. There were shortages of everything, but I stayed anyway and got married here. Now there are a lot of stores and farmers’ markets, and what is lacking is money to buy things,” said the 36-year-old, who works in the cleaning service at a company that is partly foreign owned.

Other people are worse off than González, who manages to add to her monthly income working as a domestic in the homes of families she knows, which brings her another 80 CUC – the Cuban peso convertible to dollars – or 1,920 pesos.

That is more than four times the average public sector salary of 470 pesos (19 dollars) a month. “Thanks to my income we survived the months when my husband, who is a cook in the tourism industry, was out of work,” said González.

She is in a much better position than her neighbor, a 55-year-old primary schoolteacher who earns 750 pesos a month and has no source of dollars or other foreign currency – a mainstay for many Cuban families, who receive remittances from relatives abroad or who work in tourism, where they earn tips.

The teacher, who is married and has two adult children aged 20 and 25, told IPS: “What is annoying is that people with less education and fewer responsibilities earn more than a professional. When I started studying in the 1980s that’s not how things were. People’s salaries stretched much farther.”

The inequality gap has widened as the differences in incomes have grown.

Those who only earn a public salary – the state is still by far the biggest employer, despite a reduction in the public payroll as part of the reforms – or who depend on a pension or are on social assistance find it impossible to meet their basic needs. According to statistics from the Centre for Studies of the Cuban Economy, food absorbs between 59 and 75 percent of the family budget in Cuba.

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A farmers’ market on Vapor street in Old Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

However, Cuba’s free universal healthcare and education, social security system, and social assistance for the poor have been preserved in spite of the country’s economic troubles, and were key to Cuba’s ranking in 44th place on the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) this year.

The HDI is a composite index that measures average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development: long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living.

The schoolteacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said “I understand and appreciate that, but it is no less true that the differences in income differentiate us when it comes to putting food on the table or buying clothes.”

Morales agrees with the government’s aim of “equal rights and opportunities” rather than egalitarianism. In his view, the distribution of income based on work is still unequal. “It would be ethical if people received in accordance with what they contributed, and those who needed assistance would receive it through social spending, to balance out the inequalities,” he argued.

The academic defends the idea of subsidising specific people rather than products, which is still being done through the ration card system that distributes a certain quantity of foodstuffs at prices subsidised by the state, to all citizens, regardless of their income.

The system covered the basic dietary needs of families until the 1980s. But that is no longer the case, and Cubans now have to complete their diet with products sold in the hard currency stores and the farmers’ markets, where one pound (450 grams) of pork can cost 40 pesos (1.60 dollars) – the same price fetched by a pound of onions at certain times of the year.

In its 2014-2020 pastoral plan, the Catholic Church complains that broad swathes of society are plagued by “material poverty, the result of wages that are too low to provide a family with decent living standards.”

That situation, it says, impacts semi-skilled workers as well as professionals.

After acknowledging that the expansion of opportunities for self-employment and for setting up cooperatives in non-agricultural sectors of the economy has opened up opportunities for some, the church warns that the current economic reforms “have failed to reactivate the economy in such a way that it benefits the entire population.”

Not all segments of society are in equal conditions to take advantage of the changes that have been ushered in. Researchers like Morales or Mayra Espina say women, people who are not white, and young people are at a disadvantage, whether due to a lack of formal training and education, or of assets and resources for starting up their own businesses.

According to the last official statistics on poverty published in Cuba, from 2004, 20 percent of the urban population was poor. In this Caribbean island nation, 76 percent of the population of 11.2 million lives in towns and cities. Experts worry that the proportion today is even higher, and they say decision-makers need to know the exact percentage in order to properly tailor social policies to the actual situation.

But Espina and other academics say the reforms approved in April 2011 do not put a high enough priority on social aspects, ignore the questions of poverty and inequality, and contain weak measures for guaranteeing equality.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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‘Record’ Illicit Money Lost by Developing Countries Triples in a Decadehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/record-illicit-money-lost-by-developing-countries-triples-in-a-decade/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:46:25 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138297 There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations.  Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

Developing countries are losing money through illicit channels at twice the rate at which their economies are growing, according to new estimates released Tuesday. Further, the total volume of these lost funds appears to be rapidly expanding.

Findings from Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a watchdog group based here, re-confirm previous estimates that developing countries are losing almost a trillion dollars a year through tax evasion, corruption and other financial crimes. Yet in a new report covering the decade through 2012, GFI’s researchers show that the rate at which these illicit outflows are taking place has risen significantly.“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes.” -- Eric LeCompte

In 2003, for instance, cumulative illicit capital leaving developing countries was pegged at around 297 billion dollars. That’s significant, of course, but relatively little compared to the more than 991 billion now estimated for 2012 – a record figure, thus far.

In less than a decade, then, these illicit outflows more than tripled in size, totalling at least 6.6 billion dollars. GFI reports that this works out to an adjusted average growth of some 9.4 percent per year, or twice the average global growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

One of the most common mechanisms for moving this money has been the falsification of trade invoices.

“After turning down following the financial crisis, global trade is going up again and so it’s increasingly easy to engage in misinvoicing – a lot more people are coming to understand how to do this and are willing to indulge,” Raymond Baker, GFI’s president, told IPS.

“These rates are not only growing faster than global GDP but also faster than the rate of growth of global trade.”

Further, these estimates are likely conservative, and don’t cover a broad spectrum of data that is not officially reported – cash-based criminal activities, for instance, or unofficial “hawala” transactions.

Baker emphasises that these capital losses are a problem affecting the entire developing world. Yet given that illicit outflows run in tandem with a country’s broader interaction with global trade, these rates are particularly strong in the world’s emerging economies, led by China, Russia, Mexico and India.

There are also significant differentials between regions, both is size and the rate at which they’re increasing. In the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, illicit financial flows are growing far higher than the global average, at more than 24 percent per year.

Even in sub-Saharan Africa, home to some of the world’s poorest communities, these rates are growing at more than 13 percent per year. Such figures eclipse both foreign assistance and foreign investment – indeed, the 2012 figure was more than 11 times the total development assistance offered on a global basis.

“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes,” Eric LeCompte, an expert to U.N. groups that focus on these issues, said Monday. “Countries need resources and if we curb these illicit practices, we can get the money where it’s needed most.”

Lucrative misinvoicing

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. And for the first time, certain of these key issues are receiving new and concerted international attention.

Multiple nascent multinational actions are now unfolding aimed at cracking down particularly on tax evasion by transnational companies. New transparency mechanisms are in the process of being rolled by several multilateral groups, including the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based grouping of rich countries.

Such initiatives are receiving keen attention from civil society groups, and would likely constrict these illicit flows. Yet in fact, GFI’s research suggests that the overwhelming method by which capital is illegally leaving developing countries is far more mundane and, potentially, complex to tackle.

This has to do with simple trade misinvoicing, in which companies purposefully use incorrect pricing of imports or exports to justify the transfer of funds out of or into a country, thus laundering ill-gotten finances or helping companies to hide profits. Over the past decade, the new GFI report estimates, more than three-quarters of illicit financial flows were facilitated by trade misinvoicing.

And this includes only misinvoicing for goods, not services. Likely the real figure is far higher.

Experts say that stopping misinvoicing completely will be impossible, but note that there are multiple ways to curtail the problem. First would be to ensure greater transparency in the global financial system, to eliminate tax havens and “shell corporations” and to require the automatic exchange of tax information across borders.

Efforts are currently underway to accomplish each of these, to varying degrees. Last month, leaders of the G20 countries agreed to begin automatically sharing tax information by the end of next year, and also committed to assist developing countries to engage in such sharing in the future.

GFI’s Baker says that developing countries need to bolster their customs systems, but notes that other tools are already readily available to push back against trade misinvoicing.

“There is a growing volume of online pricing data available that can be accessed in real time,” he says. “This gives developing countries the ability to look at transactions coming in and going out and to get an immediate idea as to whether the pricing accords with international norms. And if not, they can quickly question the transaction.”

Development goal

There is today broad recognition of the monumental impact that illicit financial flows have on poor countries’ ability to fund their own development. Given the centrality of trade misinvoicing in this problem, there are also increasing calls for multilateral action to take direct aim at the issue.

In particular, some development scholars and anti-poverty campaigners are urging that a related goal be included in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), currently under negotiation at the United Nations and planned to be unveiled in mid-2015.

Under this framework, GFI is calling for the international community to agree to halve trade-related illicit flows within a decade and a half. The OECD is hosting a two-day conference this week to discuss the issue.

“We’re not talking about an aspirational goal but rather a very measurable goal. That’s doable, but it will take political will,” Baker says.

“We think the SDGs should incorporate very specific, targetable goals that can have huge impact on development and helping developing countries keep their own money. In our view, that’s the most important objective.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Russian Arms Producers Move Ahead of Western Rivalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138293 The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

The world’s top 100 arms producing companies racked up 402 billion dollars in weapons sales and military services in 2013, according to the latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But this was a decrease of about 2.0 percent over the previous year, and the third consecutive year of decline in total arms sales by these defence contractors.

Still, Russian companies increased their sales by about 20 percent in 2013 compared with U.S. and Western arms manufacturers.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said “the remarkable increases” in Russian companies arms sales in both 2012 and 2013 are in large part due to uninterrupted investments in military procurement by the Russian government during the 2000s.

“These investments are explicitly intended to modernise national production capabilities and weapons in order to bring them on par with major U.S. and Western European arms producers’ capabilities and technologies,” he added.

But these gains, however, were registered long before the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea last February.

With economic and military sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Moscow this year, there is a possibility that Russian arms sales, particularly exports, may suffer when new figures are released for 2014.

Asked about a potential decline, Wezeman told IPS “it is almost impossible to make predictions.”

The sanctions will not have a great effect on the short term, but the Russian industry may feel them if the sanctions stay in place for some years, he added.

According to SIPRI figures, Western Europe offered a more mixed picture, with French companies increasing their sales, while sales by British companies remained stable, and sales by Italian and Spanish arms-producing companies continuing to decline.

The share of global arms sales for companies outside North America and Western Europe has been increasing since 2005, says Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The Russian company with the largest increase in sales in 2103 is Tactical Missiles Corporation, with a growth of 118 per cent, followed by Almaz-Antey (34 per cent) and United Aircraft Corporation (20 per cent), according to SIPRI.

Almaz-Anteys arms sales in 2013 make it the 12th-largest arms producer (excluding China) and bring it closer to the top 10, which has been exclusively populated by arms producers from the United States or Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The year 2013 also saw the introduction of a 10th Russian arms company, communication and electronics manufacturer Sozvezdie, to the SIPRI list of top 100.

Wezeman told IPS Russia has for some years realised it is technologically behind in many aspects of weaponry and that it will need foreign input to develop new generations of weapons.

It has been looking for Western companies to partner with in the development of new generations of weapons and key components, he noted. Russia has been negotiating with European companies on cooperation in wheeled armoured vehicles, jet engines and avionics.

“The sanctions have killed those talks and that leaves Russia in the position it was before – not having all the technology and not having the funds or the expertise to develop it all on its own,” Wezeman said.

He said sanctions have also put pressure on production and development of Russian weapons for export.

Some of the most advanced Russian export weapons (e.g. Su-30 combat aircraft) rely on Western components and the sanctions seem to also ban such components – but only if they are part of new agreements, since the European Union sanctions ban sales under agreements reached after the sanctions were agreed.

Wezeman also said Russian officials have complained for years that arms factories are outdated with worn-out production equipment. A major plan has been announced to modernise the factories, but Russia just doesn’t have the technology to do it on its own, he added.

“It needs input from more developed Western countries, but that is largely out of the question, with sanctions and the whole changed Western relations with Russia,” he noted.

Asked if Russian arms sales will be affected by sanctions, Wezeman said in the short term Russia’s exports are unlikely to take a hit.

Probably the first exports that could suffer would be helicopters and trainer aircraft using Ukrainian-produced engines, he predicted.

Ukraine seems to have stopped all arms deliveries to Russia, including components such as engines for Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters and Yak-130 trainer/combat aircraft (officially it has, but it is a bit uncertain if that embargo is 100 percent or if it excludes such components used in weapons that are meant to be exported from Russia), he said.

With India and China defying U.S. and Western sanctions, Russia now finds it even more important to look for partners in large markets in Asia, including joint technology agreements in the development of new weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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