Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 26 May 2016 04:18:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 New and Old Vaccines Still Out of Reach for Manyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 04:18:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145308 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-and-old-vaccines-still-out-of-reach-for-many/feed/ 0 Least Developed Countries Still Face Significant Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 20:28:29 +0000 Gyan Chandra Acharya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145304 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/least-developed-countries-still-face-significant-challenges/feed/ 0 The Caracas Crunchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-caracas-crunch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-caracas-crunch http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-caracas-crunch/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 17:37:16 +0000 Mahir Ali http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145303 By Mahir Ali
May 25 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

After Uruguay`s former president José Mujica last week declared that Nicolás Maduro was `mad as a goat`, the latter chose to wear the insult as a badge of honour, announcing at a rally: `Yes, I`m as mad as a goat, it`s true. I`m mad with love for Venezuela, for the Bolivarian revolution, for Chavez and his example.

In other words, he pretty much bore out Mujica`s diagnosis. With most Venezuelans embroiled in a daily struggle to obtain commonplace necessities, amid dire shortages and a rate of inflation purportedly in the vicinity of 500pc (by any measure the highest in the world), whatever remains of the Bolivarian revolution clearly isn`t delivering the goods. And the example of Hugo Chavez, notwithstanding his various flaws, can only be sullied by association with the unsustainable state of affairs in Venezuela today.

Small wonder, then, that even long-standing Chavistas are expressing their disenchantment with Maduro in increasing numbers. As one of them told a foreign correspondent earlier this month, `We voted for Maduro because of a promise we made Chavez, but that promise has expired. Either they solve this problem, or we`re going to have to take to the streets.

A little more than three years af ter Chavez sadly succumbed to cancer, there can be little question that his designated successor`s administration has been an unmitigated disaster. This may not purely be a consequence of poor governance, but the latter has undoubted contributed considerably to the current disarray.

Among oil-producing nations, Venezuela has been worst hit by the precipitous decline in the international price of the commodity.

The failure to diversify is a key culprit here: it was never wise to assume that oil prices would remain high. The energy sector has also been hit by a particularly grievous drought, leading to increasingly common power blackouts and pleas from Maduro that women should relinquish hairdryers for the time being.

A 60-day emergency the president instituted at the start of the year remains in place.

The working week for many government servants has been cut down to two days. There were, meanwhile, huge military exercises last week, amid hints from Maduro that the army would be deployed to maintain law and order.

There has thus far been no indication of military disloyalty despite overtures from the opposition which won a decisive majority in last December`s parliamentary elections amid spiralling popular dismay over the government`s spectacularineffectiveness-butthere can be no guarantee this won`t change, especially if Maduro proves to be stupid enough to contemplate a direct blow against democracy.

He has hinted that parliament can be overridden, amid an opposition effort to curtailMaduro`s six-year term by instituting a recall referendum. Chavez, too, faced such a move, and was able to emerge triumphant from a popular vote. His successor is presumably well aware that he would fail to pull off a similar victory, and his administration apparently is keen to put off a vote until next year, past the halfway mark of Maduro`s presidency, when defeat would merely lead to his replacement by his deputy whereas his loss in a recall referendum this year would automatically lead to a fresh presidential election.

Maduro is doing his ostensible side of polltics no favours by clinging on to power, though. That`s not to suggest that the opposition is a desirable alternative. Many of its components represent forces that resisted Chavez`s policies precisely because they were progressive: they saw nothing advantageous in initiatives to abolish illiteracy or to bring healthcare, with large-scale Cuban assistance, to the favelas where many families had never before encountered a doctor. Theydetested the social programmes that kept Chavez afloat: the beneficiaries of his government`s reforms were sufficiently numerous to guarantee anunprecedented string of electoral successes.

Last December`s result wasn`t so much an anomaly as an indication that something had gone very wrong. And almost everything Maduro has attempted since then merely reinforces that impression. Were he to face up forthwith to a recall referendum and promptly bow out thereafter, the seeds sown during the heyday of Chavismo may well survive to bear fruit in the aftermath of the next inevitable failure of neoliberalism.

Anti-democratic measures, on the other hand, would merely serve to bury whatever remains of the so-called Bolivarian revolution.

The comment by Mujica cited at the outset came in the context of a spat between Maduro and the secretary general of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, Mujica`s formerforeignminister,whomtheVenezuelan leader derided as a traitor and a CIA agent after he warned Maduro against dictatorial tendencies.

The CIA was, no doubt, once keen to depose Chavez and would be delighted to see the back of his successor. And it may well be taking a keen interest in the current goings-on in Caracas, but the fact is that the Maduro administration has effectively dug its own grave.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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OPINION: Central America, Still Caught Up in the Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:29:10 +0000 Lina Barrantes Castegnaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145301

In this column, Lina Barrantes Castegnaro, executive director of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, denounces the arms race in Central America and calls for the implementation of the Costa Rica Consensus, which urges rich countries to increase development aid to countries that cut military spending.

By Lina Barrantes Castegnaro
SAN JOSE, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The recent announcement of the Nicaraguan government’s 80-million-dollar purchase of 50 Russian tanks caught the attention of the press in Latin America and caused alarm in the international community.

The purchase, not an isolated acquisition, is part of an arms race seen in Latin America in recent years.

The rise in military spending stands in contrast to the realities in a poor region like Central America, where the levels of defence spending are as shocking as the poverty rates.

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that in 2015, in Belize 1.1 percent of the annual budget (19.6 million dollars) went toward military expenditure, in El Salvador 0.9 percent (223 million), in Guatemala 0.4 percent (274 million), in Honduras 1.6 percent (324 million) and in Nicaragua 0.6 percent (71.6 million).

(Costa Rica and Panama, which don’t have armies, do not declare military expenditure.)

While these funds are being spent on weapons, the specter of hunger and underdevelopment hangs over the region. In the 2015 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index , Guatemala ranked 128th, Honduras 131st, El Salvador 116th, Nicaragua 125th and Belize 101st, out of 188 countries.

Costa Rica was in 69th place and Panama 60th.

The worst performers in the region, in the HDI, are Honduras and Guatemala, the two countries with the lowest level of human development in Central America.

That is, the poorer the country, the more the government spends on war toys. But the question is: Who will these toys be used to wage war against?

One possible answer is that the upgrading of weaponry is aimed to give countries the capacity to respond in case of war or invasion. But it’s not clear which war or invasion that might be.

Another hypothesis that could be set forth is that they could be used against the countries’ own citizens deported from the United States, who return after graduating from intensive courses in violence and crime in Latino neighbourhoods.

The UNDP Human Development Report 1994 formally introduced a new concept that had been debated for years in the international arena: if the world spent money on development instead of military expenditure, poverty could be eradicated in just a few years.

From that standpoint, poverty doesn’t just have to do with war, but with military spending itself.

In the period 1987-1994 global military expenditure declined by an estimated 935 billion dollars. Unfortunately, this money did not go towards social spending or development; actually the way these funds were used is not clear.

Spending on armament is deplorable, but it is even more so in the case of poor countries like those of Central America.

For that reason the concept of peace dividends, presented to the world by then Costa Rican president Oscar Arias in 2006 as the “Costa Rica consensus”, is so important.

According to this idea, countries that spend more on development than on death would be given priority when it comes to international financial resources.

Just as the Arms Trade Treaty proposes linking human rights and ethics with military spending, the Costa Rica consensus is aimed at creating mechanisms to condone debt and support, with financial resources, developing countries that spend more on health, education and housing for their people, and less on arms and soldiers.

In other words, the international financial community would reward not only those countries that spend in an orderly fashion, as it does now, but those that spend ethically.

When the Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance was created earlier this month, at U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome, Arias proposed taking up the Costa Rica consensus again as an alternative for fighting hunger in the world, to support countries that use their budget funds for the lives of their citizens rather than their deaths.

We hope the day this will happen is not too far off.

Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Water Woes Put a Damper on Myanmar’s Surging Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-woes-put-a-damper-on-myanmars-surging-economy/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:10:46 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145291 People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

People fetch water from the new well in the village of Htita, Myanmar. It is 600 feet deep and was built thanks to private donations. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
HTITA, Myanmar, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The central plains of Myanmar, bordered by mountains on the west and east, include the only semi-arid region in South East Asia – the Dry Zone, home to some 10 million people. This 13 percent of Myanmar’s territory sums up the challenges that the country faces with respect to water security: an uneven geographical and seasonal distribution of this natural resource, the increasing unpredictability of rain patterns due to climate change, and a lack of water management strategies to cope with extreme weather conditions.

Using water resources more wisely is critical, according to NGOs and institutional actors like the Global Water Partnership, which organized a high-level roundtable on water security issues in Yangon on May 24. UN data shows that only about five percent of the country’s potential water resources are being utilised, mostly by the agricultural sector. At the same time, growing urbanisation and the integration of Myanmar into the global economy after five decades of military dictatorship are enhancing demand.

The new government of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi now faces the major challenge of delivering solutions to support the country’s rapid economic growth.

 

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A hydroponic greenhouse allows farmers in Myanmar’s Dry Zone to grow vegetable saving up to 90 percent of water. The project is promoted by NGO Terres Des Hommes using technology developed by the University of Bologna and involves over 40 villages. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

A water carrier in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A water carrier in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

The arid village of Htita, in Bago region, Myanmar. The artificial ponds traditionally used to collect water are empty at the end of the dry season. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Members of Myanmar's Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Members of Myanmar’s Htee Tan village community. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

A temporary water tank in Myanmar's Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

A temporary water tank in Myanmar’s Dry Zone. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

 

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Speakers at the high level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals held at Inya Lake Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar on May 24, 2016. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

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Bangladeshi Shrimp Farmers See Big Money in Small Fryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshi-shrimp-farmers-see-bright-future-in-small-fry/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 12:29:18 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145288 Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, holding up his catch. Ali used new techniques for increased shrimp production in his gher, seen behind him. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
BAGERHAT, Bangladesh, May 25 2016 (IPS)

Frozen tiger shrimp exports from Bangladesh, mainly to the United States and the European Union, have grown substantially over the years and the demand keeps increasing.

The industry is now getting an extra boost from the introduction of better technology that uses pathogen-free shrimp larvae or fry and the use of improved shrimp farming practices.

Introduction of the modern technology is predicted to further boost frozen shrimp exports from Bangladesh, lifting current export earnings from 600 million to 1.5 billion dollars, and putting the shrimp industry at third place in terms of foreign exchange earnings. Currently, Bangladesh is ranked fifth in the world for farmed tiger shrimp production.

More than 65,000 shrimp farmers, located mostly in the southwestern districts of Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira, are adopting the technology known as Extensive Shrimp Farming (ESF), with 20,000 practicing Modified Traditional Technology (MTT).

With technical support from WorldFish, a nonprofit research group that works to reduce poverty in the developing world, many farmers have already learned how to produce quality shrimp in abundant quantities on the same piece of land – although environmentalists have repeatedly warned of adverse consequences from the use of agricultural land for the saltwater shrimp farming."The news of increased production spread like a wildfire. Hundreds of local farmers visited my gher and expressed interest in adopting the improved technology.” -- A shrimp farmer in Panirhat

Unlike integrated shrimp farming, where small freshwater prawns are grown with other fish and vegetables, ESF replaces indigenous practices with more modern methods that promise greater yields per hectare of land.

Currently, around 20,000 shrimp farmers in the region practice the new technology on about 30,000 hectares of land covering some 25,000 registered low depth enclosures with raised embankments popularly known as ghers.

Situated in a specific geographic locality stretching hundreds of kilometers, these ghers depend on the same seawater source channeled from the Bay of Bengal and captured during storm surge seasons.

Sujit Mondol, 28, is one of the farmers in Khulna’s coastal area of Borodanga village who was selected in 2012, among many, for a one-year training on ESF under a WorldFish project called Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition, or AIN. He told IPS how he and others benefited from the training programme held in the village he lives in.

“It was in my gher where WorldFish had set up demonstration for learning for a group of farmers. We received hands-on training of different stages of the technique from nursing post larvae to growing the adult tiger shrimps which grow on average six to eight inches, each weighing 35 to 40 grammes,” Mondol said confidently.

“The specialty in MTT method is the use of deeper enclosures that are dug about four feet deep and are maintained very clean. Traditional farming is done in lowlands and canals. But the new technology requires carefully laid-out embankments in a controlled environment so that the temperature, which of course is a major factor in shrimp cultivation, can be controlled to avoid shrimp being exposed to heat and diseases.”

Shrimp post larvae are packed for shipment from MKA Hatchery in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. New technology is helping shrimp farmers increase profits. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Shrimp post larvae are packed for shipment from MKA Hatchery in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. New technology is helping shrimp farmers increase profits. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

As the name itself suggests, MTT (or ESF) uses some modifications like the use of nurseries, deeper water bodies and cleaner environments. Traditional shrimp farming practices place larvae directly in the ghers instead of in nurseries. But the nursery phase has some added advantages – the survival rate of the larvae increases and so does productivity.

A farmer in Panirhat in Bagerhat said, “We have already noticed the increase in production of the shrimps. MTT method of shrimp farming gives at least 25-35 percent more shrimps than the traditional ghers practices. The news of increased production spread like a wildfire. Hundreds of local farmers visited my gher and expressed interest in adopting the improved technology.”

Sujit earned 5,600 dollars last year from cultivating shrimp on his gher on about 350 decimals of land in just one season. The following year, Mondol, not surprisingly, made more money – 7,500 dollars from ghers on about 200 decimals of land. During the same period in previous years, Sujit earned less than half of the amount he disclosed.

Quazi A Z M Kudrat-E-Kabir, AIN’s project manager, told IPS, “Our efforts are intended to facilitate capacity building of the shrimp farmers. Initially we had tough time pursuing farmers about their doubts over encouraging harvest. Our challenge was to clear the clouds. In less than two years farmers are now showing tremendous enthusiasm as uncertainties disappeared in practical life.”

Like Mondol, Moslem Ali Sheikh, a veteran shrimp farmer in Bishnupur village in Panirhat in neighbouring Bagerhat district, also made fortune from using the modified technology.

“At the beginning, I had doubts on additional yield,” Sheikh said. “They say that they got double yield in the deeper enclosure ghers than the traditional ghers that uses low depth (about two feet). The result was more obvious when I applied the technique.”

In just the last few months, more than 6,000 shrimp farmers in Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira have adopted the new technology, and the demand keeps increasing.

With the help of USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), in 2014 WorldFish introduced pathogen-free post larvae or shrimp fries called specific pathogen free (SPF) which gives farmers extra security against loss from diseases, in particular the most common, the White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV), which poses a serious threat to the industry.

“It is indeed splendid to have such innovative technology that really benefits us,” said Munir Hussain, a shrimp farmer in Jewdhara village in Morolganj of Bagerhat district who introduced SFP larvae in the same gher where ESF is introduced.

Before introduction of the globally recognized SPF, farmers suffered heavy losses from infected shrimp. Hundreds of ghers would suffer as the virus spread among them.

“It is important that all farmers in a community stock SPF shrimp,” Hendrik Jan Keus, Chief of Party, AIN Project in Bangladesh, told IPS. “If some farmers stock diseased shrimp seed, they may infect other ghers also.”

Nihar Ranjan Halder, a local service provider from WorldFish, told IPS, “The most common infection is WSSV and we had no remedy. However, since SPF was introduced, farmers no longer complain of any diseases. Introduction of SPF larvae would give thousands of farmers economic security.”

The biggest advantage of using SPF shrimp larvae is that they grow 20-25 percent faster than the conventional ones and above all, the SPF larvae are free from the 10 known deadly virus that are said to attack and destroy adult shrimp.

M K A Hatchery, a state-of-the-art shrimp hatchery in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, is the plant where pathogen-free larvae are produced. The hatchery, in operation since 2014, is the only one in the country. One to two million SPF post larvae are produced daily to feed the ghers in southwestern region.

Taslim Mahmood, chief consultant of M K A Hatchery, told IPS, “After months of trial and error we are now commercially producing and meeting the supply of SPF post larvae in the country. We have a capacity of producing well over 500 million such larvae every year.”

The blend of the two (SFP and ESF) technologies is expected to generate huge economic benefits as more farmers take an interest.

A total of 140,261 metric tons (MT) of farmed shrimp was produced in 2012- 2013, which was 137,175 MT in the previous year. The total value of the shrimp was 4.6 billion and 4.2 billion dollars, respectively. The shrimp industry benefits three to four million, mostly poor Bangladeshis while providing livelihoods directly to some 1.1 million people.

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Humanitarian Summit, The Big Fiascohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-the-big-fiasco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-summit-the-big-fiasco http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-the-big-fiasco/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 18:44:42 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145286 UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 24 2016 (IPS)

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) held in Istanbul on May 23-24, managed to send a strong wake-up call to the world about the unprecedented human suffering now in course, but failed to achieve the objective of attracting the massive funds needed to alleviate the humanitarian drama, as none of the leaders of the Group 7 of the richest courtiers nor of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council attended, with the exception of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At the summit’s closing session, while recalling that the WHS achieved its main objective of addressing the conscious of the world towards the growing human drama, both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong “disappointment” on the absence of leaders of the most powerful countries.

Though they reiterated their appeal for solidarity to rescue the most vulnerable people on Earth–130 million victims of conflicts and natural disasters and growing, none of them could hold out or offer any hope soon.

“Their absence (G-7 and Security Council leaders) is not an excuse for inaction,” Ban said. The resources required to rescue the lives of tens of millions of human beings represent only 1 per cent of the total world military expenditure, he added.

Ban showed no signs of optimism regarding an end soon of conflicts in Syrian, Yemen, South Sudan, among others, while recalling that every year the United Nations organised a pledging conference and “countries are tired of that.” He also stressed that currently 80 per cent of the UN humanitarian resources are spent on made-made crises.

For his part, Erdogan reiterated veiled threats to the European Union (EU), saying that if this bloc does not fulfil its agreements with Ankara, the “law of returnees” (refugees deported from EU countries to Turkey) may not be passed at the Turkish Parliament.

The EU promised Turkey 3.000 billions in 2017, to add to an equal sum promised last year, in its refugees deportation deal with Ankara, sealed in March.

The EU also is to authorise the entry to its member countries without visa. Nevertheless, thus authorisation will not be implemented soon as promised, as the EU now demands that Turkey fulfils a long list of requirements.

A Foretold Political Failure
During the two-day summit, leaders of 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, promised to do more for the 130 million civilians who are victims of conflicts and natural disasters.
Nevertheless, the community of humanitarian organisations have shown scepticism about½ such announcements that would end up in effective commitments and if the expected funds will be employed in the right way.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a leading humanitarian organisation with over 5000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries, was one of the strongest voices in this regard.

The humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians from violence, Egeland said, while commenting how humanitarian aid has to be more efficient and cost-effective not to fail those most in need.

According to Egeland, humanitarian assistance does not reach thousands of victims who are among the most vulnerable of all. “In Fallujah, Iraq, there are now over 50,000 civilians who are besieged, prey to the Islamic State (IS), Engeland cited as an example.

“Nobody is helping them, nobody is reaching them, he warned. The Iraqi government is not helping them, the humanitarian organisations cannot reach them.”

There are thousands of victims like them who are in dire need but are not reached. In Yemen, Engeland said, there are 20 million civilians among the most vulnerable, while stressing that coalitions supported by Western countries are attacking civilians.

Egeland expressed hope that leaders can ask themselves if they can at least stop giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating the humanitarian law, and bombing hospitals and schools, abusing women and children.

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Fighting parties, be they governmental or militias or opposition or rebels, still get weapons that they use to blow up hospitals and kill civilians, he warned. “Let’s blacklist that armed group and that army and that government.”

“We lack governments saying they will also uphold humanitarian law and the UN refugee convention, keeping borders open and keeping the right of asylum sacrosanct,” Egeland added.

The NSC Secretary General emphasised that “all borders should be open… in Europe, in the Gulf states… in the United States. “As Europeans, when we initiated the refugee convention we really felt that asylum was important when we were the asylum seekers. Why don’t we think it’s equally important now, when we are those to whom people come for asylum?”

From 2011 to 2013, he was the Europe Director of Human Rights Watch, prior to joining NRC where he took up his post as Secretary General in August 2013. In 2006, Time magazine named Jan Egeland one of the 100 “people who shape our world.”

“More resources are sorely needed… but more resources will not solve the problem,” said for his part Francesco Rocca, Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Speaking on behalf of 190 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Rocca demanded more support to strengthening national and local actors, who are key to the solution.

“Strengthening local and national capacity would have an impact,” he said “Yet, scant resources have been channelled though those key local actors or invested in their long-term capacities.”

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned, “the less we help in conflict zones, the more people will move,” and that “sticking people in camps is not the solution.”

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Debate Over Bangladeshi Militants’ External Connectionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/debate-over-bangladeshi-militants-external-connections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-over-bangladeshi-militants-external-connections http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/debate-over-bangladeshi-militants-external-connections/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:59:44 +0000 Ali Riaz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145282 By Ali Riaz
May 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As targeted killings of individuals with unorthodox views and members of minority communities continue unabated in Bangladesh, so does the debate on whether international terrorists have made inroads to the country. The question has been whether the claims of the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) of their presence in Bangladesh should be taken at face value. In the past months, both these organisations have been claiming responsibility for a series of killings. Until recently, these claims have not been accompanied by justifications, but that pattern seems to be changing. The AQIS affiliate Ansar-al Islam, issued a long statement after the murder of Xulhazs Mannan, an LGBT activist and USAID staff member. The government, on the other hand, has continued to deny the existence of these organisations and insists that these are the acts of ‘homegrown’ militants. In April, the English magazine of the IS, Dabiq, published an interview with the so-called Amir of the Bangladeshi chapter of the IS to bolster its presence. Ansar-al Islam claims to represent the AQIS in Bangladesh. This is a mutated version of the organisation Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which came into being in 2007.

Both the denial of any external connections of Bangladeshis, and insistence that the IS/AQIS has recently made inroads in the country, seem to disregard the historical background of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi militants had regional and extra-regional connections since their inception in the mid-1990s. It is worth recalling that the genesis of Islamist militants can be traced back to the Afghan War (1979-1989) in the late 1980s. The fountainhead of the militant groups in Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HuJIB), emerged in public on April 30, 1992 through a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka. A group of so-called volunteers, who participated in the Afghan War in the previous years, arranged a press conference in the wake of the fall of Kabul to the Afghan Mujahedeen. Although the rudimentary form of the HuJI began in Pakistan in 1980, it was formally established in 1988. It expanded in the following four years, as the HuJI leadership wanted to reach out to other parts of South Asia. This led to the establishment of the HuJI in Bangladesh. The initial goal was to use Bangladesh as the launching pad for destabilising neighbouring Myanmar.

The operation of the HuJIB expanded further after it established relationships with the local militant organisation Jamaat-ul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). The JMB was founded in 1998 but was named as such three years later. The founding of the JMB was a culmination of a series of meetings between Sayekh Abdur Rahman and a number of Islamist leaders and Ulema in 1996. These meetings brought Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rahman together. On January 19, 1996, law enforcement agencies busted a training camp in a remote part of Cox’s Bazar and arrested 41 armed militants. The camp was originally thought to be a training camp of Rohingya rebels based in Bangladesh. When these militants were being tried at a local court in Cox’s Bazar, Abdur Rahman was sent as the HuJIB representative to monitor and help the accused. This turned out to be the beginning of a long relationship between JMB and the HuJI-B.

The external connections of the potential militants of Bangladesh began in earnest in 1997-98. The connection established between Indian citizen Syed Abdul Karim Tunda and Abdur Rahman is a watershed moment in the history of militancy in Bangladesh. Tunda, who has been in Indian custody since 2013 on a number of terrorism charges, is alleged to be an operative of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT). Indian intelligence sources insist that Tunda entered Bangladesh in 1994 and operated from there for quite some time. In any case, he was the bridge between Abdur Rahman of the JMB and the LeT and Hafiz Saeed. Indian intelligence agencies had claimed that Thadiyantavide Nazir of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, allegedly connected to the 2008 bomb blasts in Bangalore, had travelled to Bangladesh.

The presence of regional militants in Bangladesh became publicly known in 2008 and 2009. Abdur Rauf Merchant and Jahed Sheikh, two Indian militants, were arrested in Bangladesh. Between May and September 2009, six members of the so-called Aref Reza Commando Forces (ARCF), including Mufti Obaidullah were arrested. Some of these militants admitted that they were living in Bangladesh for some time; for example, Obaidullah claimed to be in Bangladesh since 1995 and another member of the group Habibullah claimed to be residing since 1993.

The other source for the connections between the Bangladeshi militants and outside groups was the presence of the Rohingya rebel groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts. HUJI’s primary goal was to establish contact with these rebel groups. Interestingly, Rohingya rebel groups, Bangladeshi militants and northeast Indian rebel groups, such as the ULFA, had reportedly worked together to procure weapons from black markets in Southeast Asia and used Cox’s Bazar’s remote shoreline as the drop-off point before being distributed. This shows that cooperation among militant groups across the border does not have to be based on ideological affinity; instead other factors can and do bring these groups together.

In the age of globalisation, exportation of terrorism does not require physical presence of operatives of international terrorist groups in a country. There are many ways of indoctrination and recruitment. Ideas of extremism to identification of targets can well be coordinated from distant lands. A number of attacks in various parts of the world have already demonstrated that the internet as a vehicle is quite effective. The phenomenon called ‘lone wolf’ is pertinent here. As such, the characterisation of ongoing militancy as a combination of global and local – a ‘glocal’ phenomenon, as Habibul Haque Khondoker writes in a local English daily – is apt.

There is no denying that there are Bangladeshi citizens willing to join the ‘Global Jihad’ and bring it home. A survey of newspaper reports published between July 2014 and June 2015, shows that law enforcing agencies arrested 112 alleged ‘militants’. Of these, 22 individuals were identified as either connected to or aspiring to be connected to ISIS, 12 reportedly tried to travel to Syria. Two rounds of arrests of Bangladeshis in Singapore, in December last year and in March this year, also show that expatriates can become vehicles for radicalisation. There have been instances of British-Bangladeshis joining the Syrian war from the United Kingdom. Indian investigators have claimed that Bangladeshi militants, particularly the JMB, have been known to operate from India, particularly in West Bengal.

As such Bangladeshi militants’ external connections should not be viewed as an entirely new phenomenon. This is not to underestimate the significance of connections with the IS or AQIS, instead to underscore that given the history such links would require few efforts. If individual acquaintances of the past metamorphose into an organisational tie, the situation will take a turn for the worse, perhaps slide down to an unmanageable level. The IS/AQIS is capable of providing additional resources and a global stage for these menacing groups. It is a matter of time and opportunity before such a tie can flourish. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge that denial cannot be a strategy, and that it is necessary to act in earnest.

The writer is professor and chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA. He is the co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Bangladesh (2016).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Middle-Class Ethoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/middle-class-ethos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-class-ethos http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/middle-class-ethos/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:47:45 +0000 Niaz Murtaza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145279 By Niaz Murtaza
May 24 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The middle class is viewed as a positive force for progress given its higher education, mobility and wealth. But this view is based on its role in developed states in fostering egalitarian progress, democracy and the rule of law by initiating social movements.

In lower-income states like Pakistan, the middle classes usually eschew this role. They become passive agents under unfair systems or even their partial supporters. Why is this so? As a social scientist, I believe in structural explanations. Structural approaches view widespread negative traits not as coincidentally rampant individual moral failings but the result of broader structural factors which shape societal behaviour potently.

Western middle classes played positive roles within rapidly growing and transforming post-Second World War economies. Such change reduced the conflict between middle-class personal progress and broader egalitarian national progress. Thus, they easily adopted liberal outlooks and supported egalitarian struggles. In contrast, middle classes in places like Pakistan face anemic economies. As such, their personal progress can often only be achieved under unfair national systems which marginalise the masses.

Sections of the middle classes in such situations often become conservative. In fact, as Western economies have stagnated, their middle classes too have done so.

The Pakistani middle class, though small proportionately, totals tens of millions of people because of our large size. This and the lack of concrete data make sweeping generalisations hazardous. But though my daily interactions do not yield a random sample, I come across some conservative traits so frequently that I feel they afflict large sections of middle-class people because of the structural factors that have been mentioned.

The first trait is skewed knowledge of economic and political development issues among many. This has two sides. Firstly, many largely define development in narrow physical terms such as big malls, sleek motorways etc. or narrow economic measures like GDP growth rather than egalitarian, propoor and sustainable development.

Secondly, they view the drivers of development simplistically in terms of single causes like the presence of an honest leader, especially a military one. There is often insufficient appreciation of the multiple, complex causes of development encompassing historical and current, national and global, social, economic and political factors.

Obviously, people from other fields cannot have such deep knowledge. However, even when such information is presented in simple terms, many show little interest in absorbing it, subconsciously knowing it runs counter to their class economic interests. The second issue related to their analytical skills. Social science analysis on complex phenomena like national development involves painstakingly identifying multiple causes and their interrelationships, collecting data about how they have co-evolved in the past in similar contexts and then making tentative predictions and recommendations for effecting gradual future change.

But a large section of the middle class seemingly believes that huge changes can happen instantaneously and the future has little to do with the past. Within such a historical views, there is a firm belief that immediate glory is waiting just around the corner for Pakistan if we could do some simple tasks like electoral reforms or punishing Panama leaks villains under a non-elected regime.

The third trait is illiberal values. Many educated people claim Pakistan`s problems can only be solved by the danda and killing thou-sands of people.

There is widespread support for crude tools like the death penalty, public hangings and military courts. Anyone challenging them on human rights basis is dismissed as impractical.

The final issue isattitudes that can be seen as arrogant, passive and elitist. Despite incomplete knowledge on development and governance issues, there are many among the middle classes that are loath to admit that they could be wrong, and resent being asked for logic and proof. This reveals a faulty view that every-day analysis need not be based on evidence but unsupported opinions.

Even though the corruption scandals of upper-class politicians are a source of great outrage for them, this will still not drive the majority to join social movements. They expect generals and judges will deliver them a clean system in the comfort of their homes.

Finally, they look down upon the masses as lazy, untrustworthy and part of the problem.

Fortunately, some change is evident and one at least sees some desire among a growing number of middle-class people to support progressive causes benefiting the masses.

But even so, those interested in progressive change can only expect at best partial support from the middle class immediately.

Turning them into steadfast allies will require a huge awareness-raising exercise to neutralise the impact of structural causes making them conservative.

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, an economic and political change initiative. murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Water Security Critical for World Fastest-Growing Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-security-critical-for-world-fastest-growing-economy/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 17:36:42 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145277 Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

Water tanks and pots are used to store water all over Myanmar. Credit: Sara Perria/IPS

By an IPS Correspondent
YANGON, Myanmar, May 24 2016 (IPS)

Lack of water management and limited access to data risk hindering Myanmar’s economic growth, making water security a top priority of the new government.

Climate change and increased urbanisation, along with earthquakes, cyclones, periodic flooding and major drought, require an urgent infrastructural upgrade if the country is to undergo a successful integration into the global economy after five decades of economic isolation under military rule.

“Water resources are abundant in Myanmar. However, we need to manage it properly to get adequate and clean water,” said Yangon regional government chief minister U Phyo Min Thein, attending a high-level roundtable on water security organised by Stockholm-based facilitator Global Water Partnership on May 24 in Yangon.

According to IMF data, Myanmar is the fastest growing economy in the world, following an easing of sanctions in 2011, when the military handed power to a semi-civilian reformist government.

“Water security is a priority for the new government,” said Myanmar’s deputy minister of Transport and Communication U Kyaw Myo.

The challenges inherited by the now de facto leader of the country Aung San Suu Kyi, however, are enormous. An expected industrial development and urbanisation boom are only going to make more urgent the need for efficient water management solutions in one of the most challenging areas of South Asia.

Water in Myanmar is plentiful, but regional and seasonal differences are so striking that the country covers the whole range of threats posed by water insecurity: flooding in the delta’s numerous rivers, flash floods in the mountains and Dry Zone, droughts and deadly cyclones. Malnutrition and illnesses are the first consequences.

Safe drinking water is also limited. Groundwater sources are highly unexploited, but those available are often saline or contaminated, mainly by natural arsenic. Villages rely extensively on open air communal ponds to collect fresh water during the rainy season. These, however, dry out quickly during the summer.

“It is important to activate stakeholders and trigger a snowball effect at this stage,” said Global Water Partnership chair Alice Bouman. It is equally important, she said, to act only once all parties have been involved and listened to. “The emphasis has to go in particular to the so-called intrinsic indigenous knowledge: only locals have a long understanding of their environment and can help to avoid expensive mistakes.”

Action should focus on how to avert disasters in the first place, not just react afterwards – that was the message coming from the Japanese and the Dutch officials sharing their countries’ knowledge at the conference.

“Investments should happen in advance and go in the direction of disaster reduction, by building better for example, or consider climate change adaptation in time,” said Japan’s vice minister of Land, infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Koji Ikeuchi.

However, said Myanmar Water Think Tank secretary Khin Ni Ni Thein, money is currently not enough. “First we need to build trust between communities and the government. It becomes easier to access to international donors when there is this connection,” she said. “But it is also important that communities pay for the service, to guarantee the structure.”

Informative statistics but also toponomastic data that would support reforms are scarce in Myanmar. This is partly due to poor infrastructure and fragmented institutions, with up to six ministries in charge of water issues. But the limited access is primarily a consequence of the military still being in charge of three key ministers, including Defence, and reluctant to handover precise toponomastic information.

The high-level roundtable on Water Security and the Sustainable Development Goals was held less than two months after the government was sworn in. Speakers from Korea, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands stressed how new policies should refer to the framework of the UN 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. Among these are no poverty, food security, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation and also gender equality.

“A lack of gender perspective is systemic to the region and many countries. We should always target an indicator, such as water and land laws, from a gender perspective. Some women, for example, cannot interact with the institutions without a male presence, [despite the fact that it’s the women in most societies who take care of the water],” said Kenza Robinson, from the UN’s department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Poverty is especially evident in rural areas. According to a 2014 census, 70 percent of the 51.5 million population live in the countryside. Life expectancy is one of the lowest of the entire ASEAN region and much of this is due to water and food security, impacting also on child and maternal mortality.

Over 40 percent of houses in rural areas are made of bamboo, with only 15 percent using electricity for lightening. A third of households in the country use water from “unimproved” water sources. A quarter of the population has no flush toilet.

“Water access is essential to economic development and effective water management requires sound institutions,” concluded Jennifer Sara, global water practice director at the World Bank.

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Water: An Entry Point for SDG Implementation in Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-an-entry-point-for-sdg-implementation-in-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-an-entry-point-for-sdg-implementation-in-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/water-an-entry-point-for-sdg-implementation-in-myanmar/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 10:13:59 +0000 Alice Bouman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145275 Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener, is Chair, interim, Global Water Partnership ]]>

Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener, is Chair, interim, Global Water Partnership

By Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener
YANGON, Myanmar, May 24 2016 (IPS)

All people, economies, and ecosystems depend on water. Yet water is often taken for granted, overused, abused, and poorly managed. The way we use and manage water leaves a considerable part of the global population without access, and threatens the integrity of ecosystems that are vital for a healthy planet and people.

Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener

Dr. Alice Bouman-Dentener

Water insecurity keeps millions of people in poverty; it hampers human development and is a drag on economic growth. Water insecurity is worsened by population growth, economic growth, urbanisation, conflicts, and climate change. Such trends increase competition over water and put water resources at risk, just as water presents risks to growth and society if not managed sustainably.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed by countries at the UN General Assembly in September 2015 recognises these trends and calls for an “all-of-society engagement and partnership” to address development challenges in a transformative and inclusive way, with the intention of “leaving no one behind.” At the core of the 2030 Agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are ambitious, aspirational, and interconnected: to have any chance of success they demand tailor-made approaches and collaborative action.

Poverty reduction and growth are not possible without good water governance and management. Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 – “to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” – is inextricably linked to and mutually dependent on most other goals, including poverty reduction, gender equality, climate, food, energy, health, cities, and ecosystems. SDG 6 provides a high level political commitment to an integrated approach to water security.

That high level political commitment will be on display in Yangon, Myanmar, on May 24, 2016. Convened by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) together with a range of partners, the “High Level Round Table on Water Security and the SDGs” in Myanmar will attract Ministers, parliamentarians, national and regional leaders and organisations, civil society, among many other actors.

Myanmar is undergoing an important water sector reform, making it an ideal country in transition to link water reform to the SDGs. The main objective of the High Level Round Table is to contribute to the well-being of the people of Myanmar and South East Asia through setting the scene for improved governance and management of water resources and therefore sustainable and equitable development in the region. The outcomes of the meeting will be presented to the High Level Panel on Water to be held in June 2016.

Myanmar has frequently suffered from destructive earthquakes, water-related extreme weather events such as cyclones, flooding, as well as droughts, which resulted in losses and damages from landslides, with major challenges in terms water quality control and wastewater management – quite similar to challenges that other countries in South East Asia face.

With the decline of rainfall across the country and climate change impacts, underground aquifers are also declining, whereas water use continues to rise. Underground water supply will drop dramatically in the coming 30 years, according to the Myanmar Water Think Tank. Water is the basis of all economic development activities so the water-energy-food nexus must be understood. Integrated water resources management principles should be applied in order to alleviate poverty, which can happen if the Myanmar National Water Policy is implemented, according to the Water Think Tank.

Water, of course, is not the only issue facing a country in which about a third of the population still live in extreme poverty. Almost three quarters of children in rural Myanmar grow up in homes without electricity. Only 29 percent of children graduate from secondary school. Agriculture employs 65 percent of the country’s labour force, but suffers from low productivity. This is why the round table will address the links among five of the SDGs: SDG 5 (Gender), SDG 6 (Water and Sanitation), SDG 11 (Cities), SDG 13 (Climate Change), and SDG 17 (Partnerships).

Inclusive growth means greater investment in Myanmar’s greatest resource – its people – by ensuring education for all, health care for all, and energy for all. This will require policies to ensure public financing through tax collection, sound public spending, and investments that favour infrastructure and human development. Infrastructure investments can spur private sector job growth and support more productive and labour-intensive economic activities, such as manufacturing and textile production.

Myanmar has shown strides towards integrated and sustainable water resources management. The event in Yangon could become a milestone in Myanmar’s new democracy, accelerating the consolidated Integrated Water Resources Management, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene activities that are ongoing under the guidance of the Government.

Each country needs to decide on its own national processes of integrating the SDGs into national plans and strategies, and its own entry points. Maybe Myanmar is a model for other countries on how to start.

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Economic Interests Harming Global Health: WHO Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/economic-interests-harming-global-health-who-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-interests-harming-global-health-who-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/economic-interests-harming-global-health-who-chief/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 03:50:53 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145270 Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), during the WHO Executive Board's special session on the Ebola emergency. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), during the WHO Executive Board's special session on the Ebola emergency. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 24 2016 (IPS)

Putting economic interests over public health is leading the world towards three slow-motion health disasters, Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization’s warned the world’s health ministers on Monday.

Changes in the world’s climate, the failure of more and more antibiotic drugs and the increase in so-called lifestyle diseases caused by poor diet and exercise, are all growing health disasters related to the prioritisation of the economy over public health.

“These are not natural disasters. They are man-made disasters created by policies that place economic interests above concerns about the well-being of human lives and the planet that sustains them,” she said.

Chan’s warnings were part of her speech at the opening of the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva. Some 3500 delegates from the WHO’s 194 member states will participate in meetings at the assembly about some of the world’s most pressing health issues from May 23 to 27.

During her speech Chan also acknowledged the world’s many recent public health successes, however overall she argued that advances in health services and systems could not keep up with the global changes which mean health threats are increasingly traversing borders.

“We are on the verge of a post-antibiotic era in which common infectious diseases will once again kill." -- Margaret Chan, WHO.

“The burning of fossil fuels powers economies,” said Chan, contributing to changes in climate, which have led to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, as well as to air pollution which the WHO says kills millions of people every year.

“Highly processed foods that are cheap, convenient, and tasty gain a bigger market share than fresh fruits and vegetables,” she added, noting that the resulting non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease are now the “leading killers worldwide.”

However antibiotic resistance may be the problem that has the global health community most concerned, threatening to throw the world back into the dark ages of health care said Chan.

The over-prescription and incorrect use of antibiotics has led to the once wonder drug failing with increasing frequency.

Chan noted that infectious diseases are also becoming more volatile, and that the global health system was not as prepared as it should be for a true global health emergency.

She pointed to examples of recent surges in infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika, Dengue, Yellow Fever and Chikungunya.

She described the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue as “the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s.”

She noted the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly had taken the medical community by surprise.

“The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.”

“Confirmation of a causal link between infection and microcephaly has transformed the profile of Zika from a mild disease to a devastating diagnosis for pregnant women and a significant threat to global health.”

However she said that the re-emergence of Zika have decades of slumber in part reflected “changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet (that) have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit.”

Chan reserved some of her harshest criticisms for the world’s failure to prevent the current re-emergence of yellow fever in Africa, an outbreak the WHO is currently monitoring closely.

She described the conditions in urban environments fueling the current outbreak as a powder-keg.

“For more than a decade, WHO has been warning that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever,” she said.

Chan noted that beyond the failure to control mosquitos, the re-emergence of yellow fever also reflected a failure to adequately vaccinate against the disease.

“The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal. The world failed to use an excellent preventive tool to its full strategic advantage,” she said, noting that there has been a safe low-cost yellow fever vaccine available since 1937.

Chan’s speech is not the only recent stand taken by the medical community showing increasing frustration with the current state of global politics.

Chan also alluded to the medical community’s increasing frustration with the deteriorating conditions of warfare which have seen hospitals bombed, in violation of humanitarian law.

“It also falls to the health sector to show some principled ethical backbone in a world that, for all practical appearances, has lost its moral compass,” she said.

However the successes that Chan highlighted, proving the potential of the world’s health system to address global challenges. also showed that another reality is possible.

“We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44 percent drop in maternal mortality, and the 85 percent of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured,” said Chan.

She also highlighted the 60 percent decline in malaria mortality in Africa, showing that the fight against mosquito-borne diseases is having success, in at least one area.

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Natural Capital Investment Key to Africa’s Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 17:49:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145267 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/natural-capital-investment-key-to-africas-development/feed/ 0 Prickly Pears Drive Local Development in Northern Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:51:45 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145260 Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina , May 23 2016 (IPS)

Family farmers in the northern Argentine province of Chaco are gaining a new appreciation of the common prickly pear cactus, which is now driving a new kind of local development.

Hundreds of jars of homemade jam are stacked in the civil society association “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” (smallholders of Corzuela united), ready to be sold.

Until recently, the small farmers taking part in this new local development initiative did not know that the prickly pear, also known as cactus pear, tuna or nopal, originated in Mexico, or that its scientific name was Opuntia ficus-indica.

But now this cactus that has always just been a normal part of their semi-arid landscape is bringing local subsistence farmers a new source of income.

“The women who took the course are now making a living from this,” Marta Maldonado, the secretary of the association, which was formally registered in 2011, told IPS. “They also have their vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs and goats.”

“The prickly pear is the most common plant around here. In the project we set up 20 prickly pear plantations,” she said.

Local farmers work one to four hectares in this settlement in the rural municipality of Corzuela in west-central Chaco, whose 10,000 inhabitants are spread around small settlements and villages.

The initiative, which has benefited 20 families, made up of 39 women, 35 men and four children, has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The SGP, which is active in 125 countries, is based on the sustainable development concept of “thinking globally, acting locally”, and seeks to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems.

The aim of these small grants, which in the case of the local association here amounted to 20,000 dollars, is to bolster food sovereignty while at the same time strengthening biodiversity.

The SGP has carried out 13 projects so far in Chaco, the poorest province in this South American country of 43 million people.

In the region where Corzuela is located, “there are periods of severe drought and fruit orchards require a lot of water. The prickly pear is a cactus that does not need water,” said Gabriela Faggi with the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).

The large-scale deforestation and clear-cutting of land began in 1990, when soy began to expand in this area, and many local crops were driven out.

“The prickly pear, which is actually originally from Mexico but was naturalised here throughout northern Argentina centuries ago, had started to disappear. So this project is also important in terms of rescuing this local fruit,” said Faggi.

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

This area depends on agriculture – cotton, soy, sunflowers, sorghum and maize – and timber, as well as livestock – cattle, hogs, and poultry.

However, it is now impossible for local smallholders to grow crops like cotton.

“In the past, a lot of cotton was grown, but not anymore,” the association’s treasurer, Mirtha Mores, told IPS. “It’s not planted now because of an outbreak of boll weevils (Anthonomus grandis), an insect that stunts growth of the plant, and we can’t afford to fight it, poor people like us who have just a little piece of land to farm.”

Before launching the project, the local branch of INTA trained the small farmers in agroecological techniques for growing cotton, and helped them put up fences to protect their crops from the animals.

They also taught them how to build and use a machine known as a “desjanadora” to remove the spines, or “janas”, from the prickly pear fruits, to make them easier to handle.

“It’s going well for us. Last year we even sold 1,500 jars of prickly pear fruit jam to the Education Ministry,” for use in school lunchrooms, Maldonado said proudly.

The association, whose work is mainly done by women, also sells its products at local and provincial markets. And although prickly pear fruit is their star product, when it is not in season, they also make jam and other preserves using papaya or pumpkin.

“It has improved our incomes and now we have the possibility to sell our merchandise and to be able to buy the things that are really needed to help our kids who are studying,” Mores said.

The project, which began in 2013, also trained them to use the leaves as a supplementary feed for livestock, especially in the winter when there is less fodder and many animals actually die of hunger.

“We make use of everything. We use the leaves to feed the animals – cows, horses, goats, pigs. The fruit is used to make jam, removing the seeds,” said Mores.

The nutrition and health of the families have improved because of the properties of the fruit and of the plant, said Maldonado and Mores. And now they need less fodder for their animals, fewer of which die in the winter due to a lack of forage.

At the same time, the families belonging to the association were also trained to make sustainable use of firewood from native trees, and learned to make special stoves that enable them to cook and heat their modest homes.

In addition, because women assumed an active, leading role in the activities of the association, the project got them out of their homes and away from their routine grind of household tasks and gave them new protagonism in the community.

“Living in the countryside, women used to be more isolated, they didn’t get out, but now they have a place to come here. They get together from Monday through Friday, chat and are more involved in decision-making. In the association they can express their opinions,” said Maldonado.

“When women get together, what don’t we talk about?” Mores joked.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why Mainstreaming Biodiversity Is the Call for the Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/why-mainstreaming-biodiversity-is-the-call-for-the-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-mainstreaming-biodiversity-is-the-call-for-the-day http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/why-mainstreaming-biodiversity-is-the-call-for-the-day/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:42:01 +0000 Reza Khan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145259 Photo: bludedotpost

Photo: bludedotpost

By Reza Khan
May 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

We have become familiar with the term biodiversity today due to the Convention of Biological Diversity [CBD] that was accepted by the UN Council on December 29, 1993, after which many nations, including Bangladesh, started becoming its signatories. As biodiversity is the foundation of life and is essential for the services provided by ecosystems, this year’s theme of the International Biodiversity Day is “Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods.”

Although Bangladesh is considered to be very rich in biodiversity, this scene seemed to have changed a lot since the 1950s. Nevertheless, if we reflect on the recorded biodiversity elements of the country, the list is still quite huge. For instance, the world total of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans and butterflies is 131,859 species, where India has 8,376 or 6.35 percent of the world species and Bangladesh is blessed with 2,242 species or 1.7 percent of the world.

In addition, we have quite a large tally of plant species. The world total of plants is around 465,668 species; India has 47,513 of that number or 10.20 percent, while we have 6,759 plant species or 14.23 percent of Indian flora, as recognised by our Department of Environment’s (DoE) report to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2015. However, at present these species seem to subsist only on paper; in fact, some of these species – which used to exist in the hundreds or even thousands in the country – only have a handful of their members still existing in Bangladesh. Moreover, some major species have already become extinct.

Bangladesh is one of the first countries to have signed almost all the protocols, treaties, conventions, etc., related to the biodiversity of the country. The country has been a pioneer in banning polybag use, promulgation of the Wildlife Act, Fisheries Act, Forest Act, Environment Act and several others that apparently help conserve the environment, thereby helping to prevent wide scale abuse against our existing biodiveristy.

While we can be thankful for these laws, I believe that these Acts mostly exist only on paper. In fact, some corrupt government officials and political touts often exploit these laws to harass people at the grassroots in the name of implementing these rules and regulations, while the real culprits who force labourers and downtrodden workers of fields to break the law, continue to operate with impunity. Only formulating Acts therefore does little to empower people at the grassroots, as nothing much is done to support them in their daily quest for livelihood.

Let’s take the ban of polybags for example. While this is a laudable initiative, instead of fining grocers or small store owners for using them, factories that produce polybags should be penalised. Moreover, we need to find cheaper alternatives for polybags which would encourage producers, vendors and users to stop using them, before enforcing a complete ban that is often disregarded by the concerned parties.

The jhatka ilish ban again looks great on paper. In practice, however, this appears to be a somewhat misguided initiative, as it will not work in its entirety unless all middlemen are removed, and fishermen get 100 percent subsidies given to them that will ensure that they do not breach the ban during jhatka season.

A recent example of a law that needs to be adjusted for better enforcement is the use of jute bags instead of polybags for commercial purposes. The government, unfortunately, failed to ensure the supply of jute bags to establishments responsible for packing rice, paddy, wheat or other grains. Thus, it makes little sense for law enforcers to punish grocers or wholesalers who do not use jute packaging, while companies, mills and factories that refuse to use jute bags mostly go unchecked and unpunished.

It goes without saying that tanneries which continue to operate within the city, hawkers and vendors selling their wares on footpaths and overpasses, illegal occupiers of temporary structures and land grabbers hinder environment conservation efforts. However, it will be difficult to stop their illegal activities until they are hit hard at the root. The best way to ensure that they stop polluting and encroaching our environment would be to apprehend them before they even have the chance to carry out their nefarious activities.

If we look at climate change, Bangladesh has promulgated all Acts, and placed the suggested rules and regulations to oblige the international authorities’ protocols on this issue. Funds have been given and supposedly used to conserve biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change. However, the actual scenario seems to be a little different from what appears on paper. While committees are formed, and officers, teachers and project directors are employed to make people aware of climate change, there is little development in areas which are most vulnerable to climate change risks.

At the grassroots and in remote villages, people are still unaware of the benefits – both economic and environmental – of biodiversity conservation or climate change mitigation. Fishermen at the Sundarbans, for example, continue their harmful pursuit of catching shrimp larvae just as they used to about a decade ago, killing millions of other fish eggs and larvae on a daily basis in the process. These discarded and unused fish are extremely important for commercial fishery and aquatic biodiversity. It’s unfortunate that due to these activities, the Sunderbans is gradually turning into a fish desert.

This continues to occur despite the fact that millions have been reportedly spent from biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation funds to provide alternative livelihood options to these impoverished, vulnerable people. In fact, people of the Sunderbans have even lost their fear of wild animals like tigers or snakes while fishing for fish eggs and larvae, thanks to the pressures of earning a livelihood for their family and dependents.

In conclusion, I would like to stress on the importance of a bottom-up approach in the discussions of conserving biodiversity, instead of continuing the top-down approach that is currently followed by the government, NGOs and donor agencies while formulating and implementing projects. It is only then that we can ensure that our environment is protected but not at the cost of people’s livelihoods.

The writer is an eminent ornithologist and Specialist in Wildlife and Zoo Management of Dubai Zoo.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Is it in Europe’s Interest to Push Russia into China’s Arms?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-it-in-europes-interest-to-push-russia-into-chinas-arms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-it-in-europes-interest-to-push-russia-into-chinas-arms http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-it-in-europes-interest-to-push-russia-into-chinas-arms/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 13:59:31 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145256 Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.]]>

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 23 2016 (IPS)

No mention in the media of the dangerous increase in the tension between Europe and Russia and yet Nato has just made operational in Romania a missile system, the ABM, which the United States has declared will protect it from “rogue” states, like Iran.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Russia, especially after the agreement reached with Iran on the control of its atomic industry, is convinced that the system is intended against its military force. The US has announced it will build another second site in Poland in 2018.The intention is to move from “reassurance” of eastern Nato allies to “deterrence” of the Kremlin. That means more troops and equipment, longer deployments, bigger exercises, and a “persistent” presence of Nato and American troops in countries like Poland and the Baltics.

In June, as many as 12 000 American troops will join servicemen from a number of European allies in Poland for an exercise called Anakonda, which will be the largest military exercise carried out in Europe for years. Altogether, 25 000 troops from 24 Nato and partner countries will be involved. US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Robert Work, has announced that 4 000 Nato troops, involving two US battalions, will be moved to the Russian border, permanently:” The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right against the border, with a lot of troops, in extraordinarily provocative behaviour”, he said. Germany is to provide one battalion.

For a long time, the official line of US military is to see in Russia a regime intent on aggression, after the annexation of Crimea, and the country’s intervention in Ukraine. When General Ray Odierno retired as Chairman of Staff, he declared,“Russia is the greatest threat to the United States. His predecessor, General Joseph Dunford, was more specific. He thought Rusia was a bigger threat than ISIS. Odierno said that he saw threats to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

It would be useful to remember that Putin started his tenure by continuing Boris Yeltsin’s line of total cooperation with the United States. As George W. Bush famously said: I have seen inside Vladimir Putin’s eyes, and finally we have a strong ally for US interests”. That was before Bush proceeded to take a number of actions without consultation, which convinced the Russian that he was only considered a marginal player.

While it is obvious that Putin suffers from paranoia, and uses confrontation to obtain popular support, it would be wise to see matters also from the Russian viewpoint. To start with, it has been established beyond doubt that Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to not intervene militarily in the European countries that were under USSR dominance, provided NATO kept the existing borders.

The fact that this engagement was not kept has always been present in the Russian psyche. When Reagan met Gorbachev in Reykavik in 1986, Putin was in his mid-30s. the USSR was a superpower, present in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, with important allies in Asia.

When Putin become 40, his country had been splintered into 15 nations. And when he come to power, in 1999, the USSR had lost one-third of his territory, and half of its population. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan, ihe Baltic States, Ukraine, Bielorussia, Moldova and Armenia were gone. At the same time, Nato continued its endless trend of encirclement with Russia. Putin saw the Ukrainian pro-Russian government overthrown in a US-backed coup. And the encirclement continues, asking even militarily insignificant countries, like Montenegro (some 3 000 soldiers in total), to join Nato.

“Russia has not accepted the hand of partnership “says Nato Commander, General Philip Bredlove, “ but has chosen a path of belligerence”. Well, it is significant that an impressive 80% of the Russian population shares Putin’s paranoia, and also does not see the “hand of partnership”. When Putin annexed Crimea and supported separatists in Ukraine, his popularity increased at home dramatically., especially because Crimea had always been part of Russia, until Nikita Khrushchev donated it to Ukraine, as a symbolic move in 1954. The 90% of Crimeans were Russian speakers, like those living in the Eastern part of Ukraine, a country that was created by joining Western Ukraine, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with Eastern Ukraine, which was part of the Russian empire. Putin very adroitly said that his task was to protect “Russian citizens, wherever they live”, and this struck a chord with the Russian people.

It should be made clear that there are no excuses in legal terms for Putin’s action. But in real life it is always useful to consider events by taking into account both sides of any story. The fact is that Putin reached the conclusion that Russia was considered, in Barack Obama’s words, “just a regional power”, and that to be admitted into the G7 and other Western fora was not giving him the chance to have Russia and himself considered an important player, and thus he decided to take a confrontational path in order to be taken seriously. He put a knife in the side of the West, by dividing again the two halves of Ukraine, obliging the West to sink hundreds of billions of dollars to sustain a deeply corrupt government in Kiev, and its ability to turn the knife when he wanted.

This move led to the establishment of sanctions by the West in 2014, with the declared goal of having Putin capitulate and abandon his intervention in Ukraine. However, Putin again interceded outside its borders, by intervening in Syria, where Russia has a naval base. The arrival of Russia has completely changed the situation in Syria, and now everybody agrees that there cannot be any military solution without Russia’s agreement.

Of course, one key principle behind US foreign policy is that nobody should challenge its power. Yet it is a principle, which is becoming increasingly unrealistic, as the emergence of China is showing. However, in the American psyche, the USSR is gone, and any attempt to recreate it, under any guise, is just a provocation. And while China has not had a direct clash yet with the US, Crimea and Ukraine were indeed a slap on the hand…

Now, seen from outside the western world, as many analysts have pointed out from Latin America and Asia, this situation does not make much sense. Let us take the sanctions. They have cost over $100 billion in lost exports to Russia. But this figure hides a difference: US exports to Russia dropped by 3.5%, while for Europe by as much as 13%, especially from the fragile European agricultural sector (which fell by 43%). Imports from Russia into Europe fell by 13.5%. According to the European Commission, the European Union’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is going to drop by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015 due to the sanctions. That is quite a considerable drawback, considering that Europe’s expected growth rate is expected to be just 1.5% on average, with countries, like Italy, barely making it over 1%.

Meanwhile a new trend is emerging that is largely being ignored by the media. Since 2104, Russia has been deepening its partnership with China, with which it had traditionally had difficult relations. The Chinese economic slowdown, due to its change of economic model based on exports to this latest shift towards internal market expansion, does not make this the best moment for economic cooperation. Yet, Russia and China have just signed a $25 billion deal, to boost Chinese lending to Russian firms, and a host of other accords. Russia has agreed a $400 billion deal, to supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually, from 2018 over the coming 30 years.

Russia’s Sberbank has received a $966 million credit line from the China Development Bank. China is launching a $2 billion-investment fund, targetig agricultural projects. And $19.7 billion will be used to open a rail link between Moscow and the Russian city of Kazan. At the same time, Russia agreed to increase its weapon’s sales to China, and a deal was done for the sale of the S-400 air defence system to China (to the great chagrin of the United States and Japan), for $3 billion, with another $2 billion for the sale of 24 Su-35 fighter planes. The two countries declared that they would increase their bilateral trade to $200 billion by 2020.

What is totally new and important is that both countries also decided to strengthen their military cooperation. This year they will take part in a joint Sea-2016 naval drill, hosted by China. The Deputy minister of Defence, Anatoly Antonov has declared: “Military cooperation between the two countries is highly diverse, and has improved significantly over the last three years .A more tight interaction between military departments corresponds to the national interest, and we expect this interaction to increase”.

This should lead Europeans to start reflecting seriously on events. Is it in the interest of Europe to keep pushing Russia into the hands of China? Is it not time to search for a settlement with Russia, that would include Ukraine, Syria, and an engagement to end “deterrence”, for an agreed status quo, which would reopen trade and cooperation, and satisfy the frustrated egos of Russian citizens? It should be recognized that even between allies, like the EU and US, sometimes there are different priorities…Maybe the American elections will change the rules of the game…

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Humanitarian Summit: Too Big to Fail?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-too-big-to-fail/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-summit-too-big-to-fail http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-too-big-to-fail/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 13:14:27 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145254 A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

With a line up of heads of state or government telling all what they did to alleviate human suffering and promising to do more, along with leaders of civil society and humanitarian
organisations denouncing lack of honest political will to act while governments continue spending trillions of dollars in weapons, the two-day World Humanitarian Summit kicked off today May 23 in Istanbul.

In fact, while the United Nations reports that the international community spends today around 25 billion dollars to provide live-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). estimates world’s military expenditure in 2015 was over 1.6 trillion dollars.

“Never mind–this Summit is too important to fail,” a high-ranking Asian diplomat on condition of anonymity said to IPS. “The leaders of the richest countries, especially in Europe and the Gulf Arab states, are perfectly aware of the magnitude of the humanitarian challenges facing them,” the diplomat added.

“Some of them will be sincerely sensitive to human suffering; others will be more concerned with their ‘political’ peace of mind… Most industrialised countries, in particular in Europe, are eager that the humanitarian crises are dealt with and solved out of and beyond their borders.”

It is about the fear that this unprecedented crisis, if it grows exponentially as predicted, would inevitably lead to more conflicts and more instability affecting their [those leaders] political and economic welfare, according to the diplomat.

In this regard, the facts before the 5,500 participants in this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit are that over the last years conflicts and natural disasters have led to fast-growing numbers of people in need and a funding gap for humanitarian action of an estimated 15 billion dollars, according to UN estimates.

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

“This is a lot of money, but not out of reach for a world producing 78 trillion dollars of annual Gross Domestic Product,” says the report of a UN promoted high-level panel on humanitarian financing. “Closing the humanitarian financing gap would mean no one having to die or live without dignity for the lack of money,” it adds.

The report addressing the humanitarian financing gap, says that this “would be a victory for humanity at a time when it is much needed.

As part of the preparations for the WHS, the UN Secretary-General had appointed a nine-person panel of experts to work on finding solutions about this widening financial gap.

The panel identified–and examined three important and inter-dependent aspects of the humanitarian financing challenge: reducing the needs, mobilising additional funds through either traditional or innovative mechanisms, and improving the efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

The report is also relevant in the context of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It states that only by focusing the world’s attention on the rapidly growing numbers of people in desperate need will we be able to achieve the SDGs.

The panel recognises that the best way to deal with growing humanitarian needs is to address their root causes. “This requires a strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts and to increase investment in disaster risk reduction.”

“Because development is the best resilience-builder of all, the panel believes that the world’s scarce resources of official development assistance (ODA) should be used where it matters most—in situations of fragility,” the report concludes.

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Bangladesh’s Urban Slums Swell with Climate Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/bangladeshs-urban-slums-swell-with-climate-migrants/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 11:34:55 +0000 Rafiqul Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145249 Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

Abdul Aziz stands with one of his children in Dhaka's Malibagh slum. He came here a decade ago after losing everything to river erosion, hoping to rebuild his life, but has found only grinding poverty. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
DHAKA, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Abdul Aziz, 35, arrived in the capital Dhaka in 2006 after losing all his belongings to the mighty Meghna River. Once, he and his family had lived happily in the village of Dokkhin Rajapur in Bhola, a coastal district of Bangladesh. Aziz had a beautiful house and large amount of arable land.

But riverbank erosion snatched away his household and all his belongings. Now he lives with his four-member family, including his 70-year-old mother, in the capital’s Malibagh slum.

“Once we had huge arable land as my father and grandfather were landlords. I had grown up with wealth, but now I am destitute,” Aziz told IPS.

Fallen on sudden poverty, he roamed door-to-door seeking work, but failed to find a decent job. “I sold nuts on the city streets for five years, and then I started rickshaw pulling. But our lives remain the same. We are still in a bad plight,” he said.

Aziz is too poor to rent a decent home, so he and his family have been forced to take shelter in a slum, where the housing is precarious and residents have very little access to amenities like sanitation and clean water.

“My daughter is growing up, but there is no money to enroll her school,” Aziz added.

About the harsh erosion of the Meghna River, he said the family of his father-in-law is still living in Bhola, but he fears that they too will be displaced this monsoon season as the erosion worsens.

Like Aziz, people arrive each day in the major cities, including Dhaka and Chittagong, seeking refuge in slums and low-cost housing areas, creating various environmental and social problems.

Bachho Miah, 50, is another victim of riverbank erosion. He and his family also live in Malibagh slum.

“We were displaced many times to riverbank erosion. We had a house in Noakhali. But the house went under river water five years ago. Then we built another house at Dokkhin Rajapur of Bhola. The Meghna also claimed that house,” he said.

According to scientists and officials, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change and rising sea levels. Its impacts are already visible in the recurrent extreme climate events that have contributed to the displacement of millions of people.

Cyclone Sidr, which struck on Nov. 15, 2007, triggering a five-metre tidal surge in the coastal belt of Bangladesh, killed about 3,500 people and displaced two million. In May 2007, another devastating cyclone – Aila – hit the coast, killing 193 people and leaving a million homeless.

Migration and displacement is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. But climate change-induced extreme events like erosion, and cyclone and storm surges have forced a huge number of people to migrate from their homesteads to other places in recent years. The affected people generally migrate to nearby towns and cities, and many never return.

According to a 2013 joint study conducted by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), Dhaka University and the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR), University of Sussex, riverbank erosion displaces 50,000 to 200,000 people in Bangladesh each year.

Eminent climate change expert Dr Atiq Rahman predicted that about 20 million people will be displaced in the country, inundating a huge amount of coastal land, if the global sea level rises by one metre.

The fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a similar prediction, saying that sea levels could rise from 26cm – 98cm by 2100, depending on global emissions levels. If this occurs, Bangladesh will lose 17.5 percent of its total landmass of 147,570 square kilometers, and about 31.5 million people will be displaced.

“The climate-induced migrants will rush to major cities like Dhaka in the coming days, increasing the rate of urban poverty since they will not get work in small townships,” urban planner Dr. Md. Maksudur Rahman told IPS.

Dr. Rahman, a professor at Dhaka University, said the influx of internal climate migrants will present a major challenge to the government’s plan to build climate-resilient cities.

Bangladesh is a disaster-prone country. Floods also hits the country each year. The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river basin is one of the most flood-prone areas in the world. Official data shows that the devastating 1998 flood alone caused 1,100 deaths and rendered 30 million people homeless.

Disaster Management Secretary Md Shah Kamal said Bangladesh will see even greater numbers of climate change-induced migrants in the future.

“About 3.5 lakh [350,000] people migrated internally after Aila hit. Many climate victims are going to abroad. So the government is considering the issue seriously. It has planned to rehabilitate them within the areas where they wish to live,” he said.

Noting that the Bangladeshi displaced are innocent victims of global climate change, Kamal stressed the need to raise the issue at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24 and to seek compensation.

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Species Loss, the Migration Hiding in Plain Sighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/species-loss-the-migration-hiding-in-plain-sight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=species-loss-the-migration-hiding-in-plain-sight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/species-loss-the-migration-hiding-in-plain-sight/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 09:34:48 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145248 The author is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification]]>

The author is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

By Monique Barbut
BONN, May 23 2016 (IPS)

Two months ago, I was in Agadez, a city in the middle of the famous Ténéré Desert of Niger. Agadez has become a major transit point on a hazardous journey for the hundreds and thousands of desperate people from all over West Africa trying to make it to the Mediterranean coast every year.

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

The loss of productive land and unpredictability of the rainy seasons has left many Sahelians with far too few options. Their livelihoods are under threat. When communities that are culturally nomadic and that practice seasonal migration as a coping mechanism resort to permanent migration and abandon the land, it signals an unfolding crisis.

Migration has become the ‘hot potato’ issue of our times. Alongside it, hidden in plain sight, is another threat that closely reflects this same abandonment dynamic. Plants and animals are also moving from their native homes to other parts of the world. A recent example is the mosquito carrying the deadly Zika virus. In a relatively short time, it has migrated from South to North America, and is now threatening to reach Europe.

The transformation occurring in ecosystems as a result of climate change, as plant and animal species selectively find new habitats, is difficult to fathom or explain to the public. It will be even harder to contain it.

The rate at which plant and animal life is migrating signals deepening trouble in the systems that support life on Earth – land, water, plants, climate, etc. Species migration, like human migration, has an impact in the new locations, but also in their places of origin.

An assessment in 2012 of the impacts of the ragweed species in Europe, for instance, shows it poses a risk to human health and agriculture. In future, more people may suffer allergies and maize, potato and sugar beet farmers, among many others, may be fighting a new weed.

On the other end is the predicted loss of food crops such as maize, beans, bananas and finger millet from much of sub-Saharan Africa. The loss of these crops, which are widely consumed in the region, could lead to new types of hunger crises.

Human migration is guided by reason and choice, and can be managed, even reversed, with the right policy incentives. For instance, if land is restored people may return. However, areas that are abandoned by humans are depopulated and eventually collapse and die for lack of investment.

By contrast, the migration of biodiversity is irreversible beyond a certain threshold. It is almost impossible to recover plants and animals that have become extinct or have migrated due to ecosystem change. Areas that are abandoned by species eventually die for lack of ecosystem services.

The forces driving species migration are strikingly similar to those driving people in West Africa’s Sahel region towards Agadez.

According to the local people, the forces driving their migration North are: land that is no longer productive; droughts and flash floods that are stripping much of the fertile top soil from the land; and population pressure in some of the most fertile areas of West Africa.

Climate change impacts, such as droughts that transform the local vegetation, the emergence of dust in new areas and migration of plants that are swept by floods, are some of the forces behind species migration and the disappearance of native species.

The damage already done to the climate system makes the transformation of ecosystems almost inevitable. Restoring degraded lands is the last hope we have to keep ecosystems functioning at the level they are in today. That window of opportunity, however, is closing fast.

That is why, in observing the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May, we must celebrate the countries leading the way in mainstreaming the biodiversity that has sustained us and our livelihoods for millennia.

Let’s celebrate and recognize the 90 countries that are setting national targets to restore degraded lands in order to ensure the fertile lands in use by 2030 stays stable and, in turn, sustains species and ecosystems.

Many of these are the poorest countries and communities of the world. But they have chosen to share their labor, knowledge and limited finances to maintain the integrity of an Earth that we all share.

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Humanitarian Summit Aims to Mobilise Up to 30 Billion Dollarshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-aims-to-mobilise-up-to-30-billion-dollars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-summit-aims-to-mobilise-up-to-30-billion-dollars http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/humanitarian-summit-aims-to-mobilise-up-to-30-billion-dollars/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 09:08:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145245 Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

The two-day World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), opening today May 23 in Istanbul, aims at mobilising between 20 and 30 billion dollars to face the on-gowing, worst-ever humanitarian crises, said Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs andEmergency Relief Coordinator.

“Let us not underestimate the gravity of what lies before us in these coming days: A once in a generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda to change the way that we alleviate, and most importantly prevent, the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people,” O’Brien added in an interview with IPS.

Asked about most civil society organisations increasing concern that the financial resources the WHS is aiming to moblise would come at the very cost of current, already extremely short funding to longer-term objectives, such as the sustainable development goals, O’Brien said, “Not at all; we expect the international community fo be more generous.”

The Istanbul Summit is both about fresh thinking and building on the best, and the change that’s necessary to deliver for our fellow men and women who need us most, said O’Brien.

“Disasters, both man-made and natural, are becoming more frequent, more complex and more intense. More than 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence. At this summit, humanitarian partners around the world will commit to take concrete action to address this,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliassonin at a press conference on the eve of the Istanbul Summit.

The United Nations estimates that more than 130 million people are in need of assistance and protection across the world today.

Every year, humanitarian needs continue to grow and more people need more help for longer periods of time. This also drives up the costs of delivering life-saving assistance and protection. UN-led appeals have grown six-fold from 3.4 billion dollars in 2003 to nearly 21 billion dollars today.

Representatives of 177 countries, including 68 heads of state and governments, and crises-affected communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and UN agencies attend this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

The WHS follows an extensive global consultation with 23,000 stakeholders world-wide to identify the key humanitarian challenges of our time.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General laid out the United Nations’ vision for the Summit in an Agenda for Humanity focusing on a set of core commitments: to prevent and end conflicts; uphold the norms that safeguard humanity; leave no one behind; change people’s lives – from delivering aid to ending need; and invest in humanity.

In addition to the Summit’s plenary sessions starting May 23, series high-level leaders’ round tables are scheduled on: Leaders’ Segment for Heads of States and Governments on day one.

The Leaders’ Segment will discuss the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity.

These five core responsibilities are: one, Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflict; two, Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity; three, Leave No One Behind; four, Change People’s Lives – from Delivering Aid to Ending Need; and five, Invest in Humanity.

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