Inter Press Service » Human Rights News and Views from the Global South Sun, 29 Nov 2015 08:37:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opinion: Ending Child Marriage – What Difference Can a Summit Make? Thu, 26 Nov 2015 23:08:31 +0000 Samuel Musyoki

Samuel Musyoki is currently the Country Director of Plan International Zambia and the Chair for 18+ Ending Child Marriage in Southern Africa Programme.

By Samuel Musyoki
LUSAKA, Zambia, Nov 26 2015 (IPS)

The long-awaited African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage is here.

It presents an opportunity to share experiences and reflect on what we need to do differently if we want to step up our efforts towards ending child marriage, an issue close to my heart.

I’ve seen what being a child bride can do to a girl.

I have five sisters, three of whom were married as children. As such, my sisters did not get a good education. They gave birth at an early age and now they are faced with challenges and limited opportunities. Now I am a father to three girls. I want a different life for them and for all the other girls growing up across Africa – and the rest of the world.

The summit, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Zambia, is taking place in Lusaka this week. It follows the launch at the May 2014 Africa Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa of the campaign to end early and forced child marriage.

Both the campaign and summit are significant for a continent, home to an estimated 7 million child brides.

While we have made good progress working in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and national levels to influence policy and legal changes, more needs to be done at the grassroots level.

Long-term engagement with communities is key if we want to end child marriage across Africa.

Child rights organisation Plan International is dedicated to tackling child marriage and we’ve learnt time and time again, the perception of this issue is almost universally negative.

Yet why does it still happen?

Marriage for a 14 year old girl should not be seen as the only option for parents or for children. That’s fundamentally flawed.

If we want to make a difference, we need to look at how governments and civil society can change with communities to help them realise the impact of child marriage. We need to work with girls to help them understand the value of education and the benefits of the life they can have if they stay in school. But transforming attitudes and practices that have become acceptable over time requires investment in innovative approaches that draw on and build on the knowledge of all relevant actors at policy and grassroots levels.

Plan International has been working against child marriages alongside community-based organisations, regional traditional leaders, media and national governments. By creating local and regional platforms to raise awareness, to discuss and to take action, the pressure is building up to eliminate early child marriage in Africa.

Focusing on Southern Africa, Plan International´s “18+ Programme” on ending child marriages in Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique has been engaging with and transforming communities and societies. It contributed significantly to convince the Malawian Parliament, which recently passed a law to declare 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.

Now, more than ever, is the time to bring all actors together and tackle the issue of early child marriage across the continent. After all, we can neither keep the promise of the African Children’s Charter, nor attain the new Sustainable Development Goals if young girls and women continue to suffer early child marriage.

Progress is being made and it’s heartening to seeing discussions taking place across the board. It gives us hope that it is possible to end child marriage within a generation.


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Women Suffer Psychological Problems After Living Under Taliban Thu, 26 Nov 2015 07:19:14 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 World’s Poorest Nations Battle Rising Rural Poverty Wed, 25 Nov 2015 18:46:41 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, are fighting a relentless battle against rising rural poverty.

More than two thirds of the population of LDCs live in rural areas, and 60 per cent work in agriculture.

As a result, there is an urgent need for structural changes focused on the fight against poverty, says a new report released November 25 by the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

“This means developing the synergies between agricultural modernisation and diversification of the rural economy.”

Currently, the total population of the 48 LDCs is estimated at over 932 million people.

UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2015, subtitled “Transforming Rural Economies”, presents a road map to address rural poverty, lack of progress in rural transformation and the root causes of migration within and from LDCs.

The migration of poor people from the countryside into cities fuels excessive rates of urbanisation in many of the 48 LDCs, while many international migrants come from rural areas, says the report.

The theme of World Food Day last October was “Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty:” in line with FAO’s annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report that called for “sustained private and public investments and social protections for the rural poor.”

Rural women, the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, make up over a quarter of the total world population, according to the United Nations.

And in developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force, and produce, process and prepare much of the food available, thereby giving them primary responsibility for food security.

Since 76 per cent of the extreme poor live in rural areas, rural women are critical for the success of the new Sustainable Development agenda for 2030, according to the United Nations.

The eradication of poverty by 2030 is one of the main objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders last September.

Gauri Pradhan, the Nepali-based, International Coordinator of LDC Watch, an umbrella group of NGOs in LDCs, told IPS the means of Implementation in the SDGs is key to transforming rural economies and enhancing productive capacity in LDCs, which is primarily based on agriculture.

SDG 2a recognises this, and “it is imperative that we have both international cooperation and effective domestic measures that focus on LDCs,” he said.

SDG2 calls to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

The LDCs cover a wide range of countries, extending from Afghanistan, Angola and Bangladesh to Vanuautu, Yemen and Zambia.

Of the 48 LDCs , 34 are in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia Sudan and Uganda, among others.

Since the LDC category was initiated by the UN General Assembly in 1971, only four countries have graduated to developing country status based on their improved economic performance: Botswana in 1994, Cabo Verde, in 2007, Maldives in 2011, and Samoa 2014.

At least two more countries — Equatorial Guinea and Vanuatu – are expected to graduate in the coming years.

UNCTAD recommends placing more importance on non-farm rural activities instead of primarily focusing on increasing agricultural productivity, as well as increasing the production of higher-value agricultural products.

Since 2012, economic growth in LDCs has continued to slow, reaching 5.5 per cent in 2014 as compared to 6.1 per cent in 2013.

Demba Dembele, LDC Watch President based in Senegal, told IPS the UNCTAD report comes at a time when agricultural policies and migration issues are high on the African agenda, with a recent African Development Bank Conference on African agricultural policies, and an Africa-European Union Summit on Migration.

“So it is hoped that this report will gives direction on how to deal more effectively with these issues, particularly in Africa”, he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Did Argentina’s Elections Mark Start of Shift to the Right in South America? Tue, 24 Nov 2015 23:45:55 +0000 Mario Osava In the near future it will become clear whether the triumph of Mauricio Macri, to become president of Argentina on Dec. 10, marked the start of a new era in South America, with the emergence of conservative governments in a scenario where leaders identified as left-wing have been predominant so far this century. Credit: Mauricio Macri

In the near future it will become clear whether the triumph of Mauricio Macri, to become president of Argentina on Dec. 10, marked the start of a new era in South America, with the emergence of conservative governments in a scenario where leaders identified as left-wing have been predominant so far this century. Credit: Mauricio Macri

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2015 (IPS)

Different degrees of economic problems are a common denominator in South American countries where governments that identify as leftist may start to fall, in a shift that began in Argentina and could continue among its neighbours to the north.

“It is not possible yet to say whether this is the end of a cycle, because the reasons for it are still very present…but there is a very complex crisis affecting the governments that I call ‘distributionist’, which are facing difficulties, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela,” Professor Tullo Vigevani of the São Paulo State University told IPS.

For his part, retired diplomat Marcos Azambuja, a former Brazilian ambassador to Argentina and France, told IPS: “It’s not the end of a cycle in Latin America, but the waning of a group of governments tending towards populism associated with nationalism.”“My fear is that the dying Chavismo will come to an undemocratic end, given the fragile position of President Nicolás Maduro, while in Brazil the change will surely be democratic.” -- Marcos Azambuja

“Left” is a concept that has lost validity, he added, preferring to talk about populist governments, stressing the ones along South America’s Atlantic coast. “The ones along the Pacific coast are more modern,” he said.

Argentina is experiencing “the end of a cycle in a completely normal democratic manner, which should be celebrated,” after 12 years of presidency by the Kirchners, he said, referring to the consecutive terms of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his widow and successor Cristina Fernández, who steps down on Dec. 10. Both belonged to the Justicialista – Peronist – party.

“But any non-Peronist government will face great difficulties in that country,” Azambuja warned.

Neither of the last two non-Peronist presidents, Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) and Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), managed to serve out their full terms; they were both forced to resign.

That will be a challenge for Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires since 2007, who won the elections for president in the Nov. 22 runoff, representing the centre-right opposition Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, made up of his conservative Republican Proposal (PRO) party and the traditional Radical Civic Union (UCR).

Helping him win the elections were the division of the Justicialista Party, on the political front, and the economic crisis.

But now he will have to deal with the country’s economic woes.

The problems include stagnation and the subsequent high unemployment, high inflation – close to 30 percent, say analysts, but only half that according to the authorities – dwindling foreign reserves, and a black market where the dollar is worth nearly 50 percent more than the official exchange rate.

There are also distortions, such as protectionist measures in some sectors, export duties on agricultural products, and subsidies that affect national production and trade with Brazil, whose main market for industrial exports used to be Argentina.

The economic changes promised by Macri, such as the removal of currency controls and restrictions on foreign trade, will affect relations with Argentina’s neighbours. But it is his foreign policy that could drastically modify things in the region.

He wants, for example, to exclude Venezuela from the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) as long as the current government there remains in power, by citing the bloc’s democratic clause, which already led to the suspension of Paraguay’s membership for over a year, due to the impeachment and removal of former president Fernando Lugo in 2012.

A return to warmer ties with the United States, trade accords with the European Union and Pacific rim blocs, and greater openness to trade in general form part of Macri’s plans, in contrast to the protectionist tendencies of governments described as leftist, populist, “distributionist” or Bolivarian, depending on the vocabularies used by different ideological currents.

But regional organisations like Mercosur, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbbean States (CELAC) will not fall into crisis as a result of the political changes in the region, according to Vigevani.

These kinds of organisations are slow to react, which “has adequately served a few limited objectives,” he said.

The change in Argentina and the crises in Brazil and Venezuela, which have political as well as economic aspects, point to a probable wave of right-leaning, neoliberal governments in Latin America, that put a higher priority on the economy than on the social policies of their predecessors.

The situations are different. In Venezuela, where the economy is virtually in a state of collapse, “my fear is that the dying Chavismo will come to an undemocratic end, given the fragile position of President Nicolás Maduro, while in Brazil the change will surely be democratic,” Azambuja predicted in his conversation with IPS.

In those three countries along the Atlantic coast of South America governments “did not adequately administer economic policy, leading to low levels of investment, low savings rates, and scarce technological training, and failed to develop policies to expand, rather than reduce, consensus. Thus, the capacity to prevent neoliberal advances was decisively reduced,” said Vigevani.

Brazil has been suffering from an economic recession since late 2014, aggravated by nearly 10 percent annual inflation and a fiscal deficit that scares off investors. To all of this was added a corruption scandal involving the state oil giant Petrobras as well as all of the country’s major construction companies and around 50 politicians.

In addition, the campaign that led to the reelection of left-leaning President Dilma Rousseff in October 2014 was marked by an unprecedented degree of violence, with clashes and accusations that destroyed the chances of dialogue and negotiation.

As a result, the contradictions between the government’s election promises and its actual practices became so obvious that they undermined the legitimacy and popularity of the president, who had the approval of less than 10 percent of the population according to the latest polls, and is facing the threat of impeachment.

The political bickering has made it impossible to cobble together a stable majority in Congress, which has stood in the way of a fiscal adjustment programme that requires legislative approval of public spending cuts and a rise in taxes.

The economic crisis, blamed by the government on an adverse international environment and by the opposition on mistakes by the government, thus drags on.

“Economic results are important factors in the shift in favour of conservative candidates,” said Vigevani. “But besides the crises and the recession, there are underlying theoretical problems to be addressed, which the neoliberals don’t have answers to either, and this leads to a balance, even in the case of Argentina.”

“Distributionism without a capacity for investment, innovation and adjustment of the productive system is not sufficient, although it is necessary,” he said.

Underestimating or poorly managing economic questions would seem to be the Achilles’ heel of governments seen as leftist or populist in Latin America.

That curse has not affected leaders who, even though they are distributionist or “Bolivarian”, adopted orthodox economic policies, such as Evo Morales, in power in Bolivia since 2006, or Rafael Correa, who has governed Ecuador since 2007.

At the same time, it does not seem to be possible for new or future leaders, even right-leaning ones, to eliminate or even reduce social programmes that “populist” governments have used to pull millions of families out of poverty. Macri has already announced that he will keep them in place.

Everything would seem to indicate that these programmes are now a new dimension incorporated into regional politics, while poverty and social inequality remain unacceptably high in a majority of the countries in Latin America which, despite these “inclusion policies,” remains the world’s most unequal region.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Gay Rights Activists Hope for The Pope’s Blessings in Uganda Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:19:21 +0000 Amy Fallon 0 Cubans Seeking the American Dream, Stranded in Costa Rica Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:16:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of Cubans heading for the United States have been stranded at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border since mid-November, waiting for the authorities in Managua to authorise their passage north.Just over 2,500 Cubans are waiting in northern Costa Rica, the majority in temporary shelters opened by the local authorities. After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance when they reached Nicaragua, which closed the border and denied them passage.

“We’re desperate to get to the United States because we want a better future for our children and for ourselves,” said Arley Alonso Ferrarez, a Cuban migrant, in a video provided by the Costa Rican government’s National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission.

Alonso and the other Cubans stuck at the Nicaraguan border are seeking refuge under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

The exodus was fuelled once again this year by the fear that the thaw between the Cuban and U.S. governments, which began in December 2014 and has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties, would result in the modification or elimination of the special treatment received by Cuban immigrants to the United States.

Cubans have been making their way to the United States through Central America for several years now, but the phenomenon had gone unnoticed until the Costa Rican government adopted measures in early November to fight the trafficking of persons through this country.

That cut short the flow of undocumented immigrants and revealed the scale of the movement of Cubans from Ecuador to the United States.

“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” Cuban migrant Ignacio Valdés told the local newspaper La Nación, referring to the dangers faced along the lengthy journey. “We’ve been robbed, we were forced to jump into the sea between Colombia and Panama, some girls were even raped, and the police stole from us.”

After the Nov. 10 arrest of members of the trafficking ring which smuggled migrants through Costa Rican territory, Cubans began to be stranded in groups along the southern border of the country.

That forced the authorities to issue seven-day safe conducts, to regulate their passage to Nicaragua. But that country completely sealed its border on Nov. 15, and blocked the entrance of Cubans when it reopened the border the next day.“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants.” - Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González

The migrants are awaiting the results of a meeting to be held Tuesday Nov. 24 in El Salvador, where the countries of Central America, as well as Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, will try to hammer out a joint regional response.

The meeting will explore options to create a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the passage of Cubans to the United States – which has not been invited to the meeting, while Cuba has failed to confirm its participation, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry reported.

In recent years, more and more Cubans have been going through Ecuador, which grants them three-month tourist visas and to which they arrive by plane. The route – by land and sea – is much less frequently used and less well-known than the Florida Straits.

It is 5,000 km as the crow flies between Ecuador and the U.S. border, but the routes used by the trafficking gangs are much longer.

In April 2014, the Ecuadorean government eliminated the requisite that Cubans applying for visas present a letter of invitation, thus allowing them to remain in the country for up to three months without any additional requirements.

Once they make it to the South American continent, the migrants go by land across the border between Ecuador and Colombia, before taking a boat along Colombia’s Pacific coast to Panama, where they are smuggled, once more by land, to the Costa Rican border.

“These people are brought in by the mafias, the international people trafficking networks; without a doubt they are risking their lives,” said the foreign minister. “We have received reports of women who have been raped, who have crossed through jungles, and of children who are put in danger. The conditions are deplorable.”

According to Costa Rica’s immigration office, around 13,000 Cubans have travelled through this country since last year.

But they have mainly gone unnoticed, because most of them are smuggled by people traffickers, who charge between 7,000 and 13,000 dollars per person.

Carlos Sandoval, an expert on immigration issues, told IPS that the trafficking rings operate throughout Central America, and are also involved in smuggling migrants from the region who are trying to make it into the United States.

And, he added, while a solution for the stranded Cubans is urgently needed, Central America has long been in debt to its own citizens who try to reach the United States.

“An ironic aspect of this humanitarian corridor initiative is that it’s happening in a region that spits out migrants. Around 300,000 people a year set out from Central America in an attempt to make it to the United States,” said Sandoval, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica’s Social Research Institute.

The Central American migrants heading towards the United States face situations just as complex as what the Cubans are going through.

“The case of the Cubans is just one more instance of what is a day-to-day reality in Central America,” said the Costa Rican expert, who for years has studied Central American migration to the United States, carrying out fieldwork in this region, in Mexico, and in the U.S.

Sandoval said the situation requires a regionwide response – something Costa Rica should have had in mind when it issued the first safe-conduct passes. He argued that it is the region’s governments themselves that create the conditions that allow trafficking networks to operate.

“What makes their business possible? It is possible to the extent that the borders are closed: it is so difficult to get there that without the support of these people (traffickers), it is even more complicated and dangerous,” Sandoval said.

Costa Rica plans to open new shelters in the northern town of Upala, because the ones already set up are full, the minister of human development and social inclusion, Carlos Alvarado, told IPS.

“Many of these people (the Cubans) are professionals, others are skilled workers. They are between the ages of 20 and 45. There are more men than women, some 30 children, and around 10 women who are pregnant,” said Alvarado.

Cubans continue pouring into the country, said the minister. On Friday Nov. 20, for example, some 200 people arrived.

On Saturday Nov. 21, Costa Rica’s authorities reported that there are more than 2,500 Cubans in transit in this country.

“Most of them report that they came using their own funds – they sold all they had and left everything behind to go to the United States,” the minister said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Latin American Legislators Find New Paths to Fight Hunger Thu, 19 Nov 2015 22:40:02 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peruvian lawmaker Jaime Delgado reads out the final declaration of the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima. From left to right: John Preissing, FAO representative in Peru; Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle; and Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, with other participants in the meeting. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Nov 19 2015 (IPS)

With eight specific commitments aimed at pushing through laws and policies on food security and sovereignty, family farming and school feeding programmes, legislators from 17 countries closed the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean.

During the Nov. 15-17 Forum in the Peruvian capital, the delegates of the national chapters of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) reasserted their determination to promote laws to “break the circle of poverty and enforce the right to food” in the region.

The more than 60 legislators who took part in the Forum, including guests from Africa and Asia, stated in the final declaration that of all of the world’s regions, Latin America and the Caribbean had made the greatest progress in reducing hunger, cutting the proportion of hungry people by more than half, in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which had a 2015 deadline. “After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity.” -- María Augusta Calle

But after stressing these results, John Preissing, representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Peru, called on the legislators not to be content “with averages” that hide inequalities between and within countries.

He also stressed that “it will be much more difficult” for the region to reduce the proportion of hungry people to two or three percent, than what they already managed to do: to cut the percentage from 32 to seven percent.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, some 37 million of the region’s 600 million people are still hungry, of a total of 795 million hungry people around the world, the Forum participants were told.

The final declaration emphasised that it is essential that the PFH work together with the governments of each country to create programmes and pass laws aimed at eradicating hunger, and to promote the three main areas for doing so: food security and sovereignty, family farming, and school feeding.

To advance in these three complementary areas, eight specific accords were reached, including the need for PFH legislators to participate in the debate on public budget funds, in order to guarantee that governments finance programmes against hunger.

The final declaration included the conclusions of the working groups on these three central themes, where one of the key issues was the importance of promoting public policies to benefit small farmers.

In another agreement, the lawmakers committed themselves to backing a new concept of food sovereignty.

“After six years of debate, we understand the concept of food sovereignty to mean eliminating injustice to preserve the environment and biodiversity,” Ecuadorean lawmaker María Augusta Calle, who the Forum ratified in her post as regional coordinator of the PFH, told IPS.

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean sign the final declaration of the Sixth Forum at the end of the Nov. 15-17 gathering in Lima, Peru. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The next step, according to Calle, is to deliver the accords – especially the ones linked to food sovereignty – to the heads of state and government of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), during the summit to be held in January 2016 in Ecuador.

“They asked us to draw up the concept of food sovereignty that has been debated here,” said Calle.

The parliamentarians also agreed to support CELAC’s plan for its member countries to reach the goal of “zero hunger” by 2025 – five years before the deadline established by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the international community in September.

Uruguayan legislator Bertha Sanseverino, the subregional coordinator of the PFH in South America, told IPS that the Forum established long-term commitments to “eradicate hunger by 2025” in the region.

She said that meeting this goal will require “a complex effort to design public policies and laws.”

One hurdle standing in the way of the many initiatives launched by the PFH national chapters, said Sanseverino, is the inevitable and democratic renewal of parliament. “Sometimes they have a good Parliamentary Front, but those legislators serve out their terms, and the following year you come up against the need to put the Front together again,” she said.

The FAO’s Preissing said eradicating hunger in the region is “an uphill task….But we can do it, there is evidence here, there are commitments,” he added optimistically.

The Forum expressed its support for small-scale community agriculture, as well as traditional knowledge and practices of Latin America’s indigenous peoples, as instruments of healthy, diverse diets.

It also warned about a food-related problem that is new in the region, and has begun to affect the population of Latin America – the junk food craze, which is bringing problems that did not previously exist, like widespread obesity.

Before the Sixth Forum came to an end, all of the participants sent a communiqué to the president of the host country, Ollanta Humala, urging him to approve the regulations for the bill on the promotion of healthy eating, which was signed into law in May 2013, and whose implementation has been blocked by his failure to do so.

“This law has been a pioneer in Latin America, and they (the participants in the Forum) are surprised that since we were pioneers, the law has not been codified,” the coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS, pointing out that the law had served as a model for countries like Ecuador.

He added that the PFH is trying to make sure that the 2016 budget about to be approved includes funds earmarked for the fight against poverty, while he complained that “there are programmes that do not benefit small farmers,” who are the main link in the country’s food security chain.

Next year, the members of the regional front will meet in Mexico, in a new edition of the parliamentary forum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Paris, the Refugees and Europe Wed, 18 Nov 2015 21:27:22 +0000 Roberto Savio

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

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 18 2015 (IPS)

The focus on terrorism is obscuring the issues of refugees, and it is important to consider its impact on Europe, after the shock of Paris.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Of course, the impact of terrorism in the daily life of ordinary citizens is going to increase the culture of checks and controls in place since September 11, 2001. Since the New York massacre, the 10,000 planes that take off daily carry citizens who go through vexing security checks, and cannot bring liquid on boards, etc. Osama Bin Laden has changed totally our way of travelling. It is no small achievement, and Paris will increase that trend.

Let us not forget that we have ample literature from ISIS making it clear that its strategy is to get the West to react against the Muslim living in their countries, by erecting a wall of distrust and discrimination, so as to radicalise them as much as possible. There are 44 million Muslims living in the West: if they felt shunned and discriminated against, they would be a formidable force, well beyond the 50,000 fighters who now carry the ISIS project of domination. Since at least 50 per cent of them now come from the West (there were only Iraqi and Syrians at the beginning), the jihad is becoming much more globalised Estimates say now that ISIS is recruiting about 3,000 foreigners every month. The massacre of Paris will only increase this confrontation.

Writing in the Washington Post’s opinion pages last weekend, counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir said ISIS has set a dangerous trap for Europe with the Paris attacks. He recalls that, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, its website said that such attacks “compel the Crusaders (the West) to actively destroy the grey zone themselves… Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatise…or they will join the Caliphate”.

The fact that near one of the kamikaze was found a Syrian passport that could show that he came as a refugee is going to have a deep impact on the present policy on refugees. In the US, already about half the 50 state governors have declared that they will not admit Syrians. And Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, has already declared that in view of the Paris attacks Poland will not accept European Union (EU) quotas for asylum seekers.

This is a final blow for the Syrians. They have lost 250,000 people during the war, and they have now over 4 million refugees. To view all of them as terrorists is a total nonsense. But it is a nonsense which plays well in the hands of xenophobic and right wing parties, which have sprouted all over Europe, as well as of the Republicans during the US electoral campaign. In the polls, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and all right wing parties, with their speeches on security and controls, are finding consensus among a scared population. The German nationalist party will now certainly sit in the Parliament. Xenophobes and nationalists play a very irresponsible game, but it pays, and that is enough. No media are debating the ISIS trap, busy with their ritual stories on Paris. But this is medium term problem.

In the short term, Europeans will probably lose the benefits of the Schengen agreement: free circulation inside Europe. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, and now Austria is doing the same. And, if Europe becomes a fortress and closes its borders, thousands of refugees will remain blocked in the Balkans, exasperating an already difficult situation. Eastern Europe has made clear that they will resist EU quotas. But the EU plan of resettlement of 120,000 men and woman, has so far resettled a grand total of 327 people all over Europe. The chairman of EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has calculated that at this speed it will take until 2100 to implement the plan.

And Europe, even with right wing parties in power, will have to conduct a very difficult war with terrorism and refugees, at the same time. Until now it gave to Syrians priority in entering Europe. The Syrian passport found near one of the kamikaze is going to reopen that rule. It is irrelevant that the Syrian refugees are the consequence of a conflict started by Europe (like Libya). Fear will win over solidarity, if the latter was ever really available. A sense of guilt and remorse are hardly visible in European history.

We have now 60 million refugees. They would make the 23rd country of the world. But refugees are coming not only from war, but also because of sex discrimination (homosexuals in Africa, girls in Boko Harama and Yazhid territories); religions (just think of the Rohinga in Myanmar); climate refugees (they will grow exponentially, after 2020, since the coming conference of Paris will not solve climate warming). Today, somebody from Yemen is not accepted as a refugee. Yet there is a war, which is destroying its cities, under Saudi bombing. And Europe sticks to the definition of refugee as somebody escaping conflicts, then decides which conflicts are acceptable? And what about economic migrants, who escape hunger, not war? Does the distinction between refugees and immigrants make sense any longer?

By now, we know that the second or third generations of immigrants do not accept hardship for integration as their parents did. They are educated to a European standard of life and, if left out, they feel humiliated. The Caliphate becomes a way to get dignity, and escape the sad frustrations of a life without a future. And the reality is that Europe is not culturally prepared to accept people from different religions and different cultures.

There is a longing for a homogenous Europe (very much the way Japan goes). Of course, in schools that is changing, but young people are not in power. The demographic decline of the continent (it would lose 10 per cent of its population by 2030, according to United Nations projections, without immigrants or refugees), does not seep into collective consciousness. We will see, in the near future: a) a change of policy on refugees, b) a political success of the xenophobic parties, c) a decline of the European dream, and d) a new impossible challenge for Europe: how to keep out millions of people, without losing its identity, which is traditionally based on solidarity, tolerance and human values.


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Latin America to Push for Food Security Laws as a Bloc Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:41:22 +0000 Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

A panel in the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, held Nov. 15-17. Second from the right is indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who represented rural communities in the Forum. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

By Milagros Salazar and Aramis Castro
LIMA, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Lawmakers in the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean decided at a regional meeting to work as a bloc for the passage of laws on food security – an area in which countries in the region have show uneven progress.

The Nov. 15-17 Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH) in Lima, Peru drew more than 60 legislators from 17 countries in the region and guest delegations from parliaments in Africa, Asia and Europe.

The coordinator of the regional Front, Ecuadorean legislator María Augusta Calle, told IPS that the challenge is to “harmonise” the region’s laws to combat poverty and hunger in the world’s most unequal region.

Calle added that a number of laws on food security and sovereignty have been passed in Latin America, and the challenge now is to standardise the legislation in all of the countries participating in the PFH to strengthen policies that bolster family farming.“We have reduced hunger by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.” -- María Augusta Calle

In Latin America, 81 percent of domestically consumed food products come from small farmers, who guarantee food security in the region, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which has advised the PFH since its creation in 2009.

Twelve of the 17 Latin American countries participating in the PFH already have food security and sovereignty laws, Calle said. But it has not been an easy task, she added, pointing out that several of the laws were approved only after long delays.

During the inauguration of the Sixth Forum, she said the region has reduced hunger “by 50 percent (since 1990), but this is still insufficient. We cannot continue to live in a world where food is a business and not a right. It cannot be possible that 80 percent of those who produce the food themselves suffer from hunger.”

The fight against hunger is an uphill task, and the forum’s host country is a clear illustration of this.

In Peru, the draft law on food security was only approved by Congress on Nov. 12, after two years of debate. The legislature finally reacted, just three days before the Sixth Forum began in the country’s capital. But the bill still has to be signed into law and codified by the executive branch, in order to be put into effect.

“How can it be possible for a government to put forth objections to a law on food security?” Peruvian Vice President Marisol Espinoza asked during the opening of the Sixth Forum.

Espinoza, who left the governing Peruvian Nationalist Party in October, took the place of President Ollanta Humala, who had been invited to inaugurate the Sixth Forum.

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Display of native varieties of potatoes at a food fair during the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. Defending native products forms part of the right to food promoted by the legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

The coordinator of the Peruvian chapter of the PFH, Jaime Delgado, told IPS that he hopes the government will sign the new food security bill into law without setting forth observations.

Indigenous leader Ruth Buendía, who took part in the Sixth Forum in representation of rural communities in Peru, said the government should pass laws to protect peasant farmers because they are paid very little for their crops, even though they supply the markets in the cities.

“What the government has to do is regulate this, for the citizens,” Buendía, who belongs to the Asháninka people, told IPS. “Why do we have a government that is not going to defend us? As we say in our community: ‘why do I have a father (the government)?’ If they want investment, ok, but they have to regulate.”

Another controversial question in the case of Peru is the more than two-year delay in the codification and implementation of the law on healthy food for children and adolescents, passed in May 2013, which requires that companies that produce food targeting this age group accurately label the ingredients.

Congressman Delgado said food companies are lobbying against the law, which cannot be put into effect until it is codified.

“It would be pathetic if after so much sacrifice to get this law passed, the government failed to codify it because of the pressure from business interests,” said Delgado.

He said that in Peru, over 200 million dollars are invested in advertising for junk food every year, according to a 2012 study by the Radio and Television Consultative Council.

Calle, from Ecuador, said the members of the PFH decided to call for the entrance into effect of the Peruvian law, in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration.

“The 17 countries (that belong to the PFH) are determined to see the law on healthy food codified in Peru. We believe it is indispensable. It is a wonderful law,” said the legislator.

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

Peasant farmers from the Andes highlands dancing during one of the opening acts at the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger held Nov. 15-17 in Lima. More than 80 percent of the food consumed in the region is produced by small farmers, while the same percentage of hungry people are paradoxically found in rural areas. Credit: Aramís Castro/IPS

She explained that in her country food and beverage companies have been required to use labels showing the ingredients, despite the opposition from the business sector.

“In Ecuador we have had a fabulous experience (regarding labels for junk food) which we would like businesses here in Peru to understand and not be afraid of,” Calle said.

The regional coordinator of the PFH said that to address the problem of food being seen as business rather than a right, “we need governments and parliaments committed to the public, rather than to transnational corporations.”

Another country that has made progress is Brazil, where laws in favour of the right to food include one that requires that at least 30 percent of the food that goes into school meals is purchased from local small farmers, Nazareno Fonseca, a member of the PFH regional consultative council, told IPS.

Calle said Brazil’s efforts to boost food security, in the context of its “Zero Hunger” programme, marked a watershed in Latin America.

The PFH regional coordinator noted that the person responsible for implementing the programme in the crucial first two years (2003-2004) as extraordinary food security minister was José Graziano da Silva, director general of FAO since 2011.

Spanish Senator José Miguel Camacho said it is important for legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean to act as a bloc because “there is still a long way to go, but these forums contribute to that goal.”

The commitments in the Sixth Forum’s final declaration will focus on three main areas: food security, where the PFH is working on a single unified framework law; school feeding; and efforts to fight overnutrition, obesity and junk food.

Peru’s health minister, Aníbal Velásquez, said the hope is that “the commitments approved at the Sixth Forum will translate into laws.”

And the president of the Peruvian Congress, Luis Iberico, said people did not enjoy true citizenship if basic rights were not guaranteed and hunger and poverty still existed.

The indigenous leader Buendía, for her part, asked the PFH legislators for a greater presence of the authorities in rural areas, in order for political declarations to produce tangible results.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Analysis: More Countries Want More Babies Tue, 17 Nov 2015 16:07:47 +0000 Joseph2

Joseph Chamie is former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin
NEW YORK, Nov 17 2015 (IPS)

Concerned with the consequences of demographic decline and population ageing, especially with respect to economic growth, national defence and pensions and health care for the elderly, a growing number of governments are seeking to raise birth rates. Whereas nearly 40 years ago 13 countries had policies to raise fertility, today the number has increased four-fold to 56, representing more than one-third of the world’s population.

The most recent and largest addition to this pronatalist group of countries, which includes Australia, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey, is China. The Chinese government announced that it will change its controversial one-child policy to a two-child policy per couple in order to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population.

Assuming a slight increase in its current fertility level, China’s population of 1.38 billion is projected – according to the UN medium variant – to peak by 2030 at 1.42 billion and then decline to 1 billion by the end of the century (Figure 1). However, if fertility were to remain constant at its current level, China’s population would soon begin declining, reaching around 0.8 billion by the year 2100. If fertility were to instantly reach the replacement level, an unlikely event, China’s population would grow to 1.51 billion by midcentury.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

China’s population age structure is also becoming older than any time in the past. Whereas in 1950 less than five per cent of the Chinese were aged 65 years or older, today the proportion has doubled to 10 per cent. By 2035 China’s proportion elderly is expected to double again and reach one-third by around midcentury.

Similar to China, 82 other countries – accounting for almost half of the world’s population – are experiencing fertility rates below the replacement level of about two births per woman. As a result, the populations of 48 of those countries, including Germany, Japan, Russia and South Korea, are projected to be smaller and older by midcentury, even assuming modest gains in birth rates. If fertility rates were to remain constant at their current levels, the declines and ageing would be even more pronounced than currently expected (Figure 2).

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In an attempt to counter those two major demographic trends, many governments have adopted a variety of policies to raise birth rates. At one extreme are draconian measures such as prohibiting contraception, sterilization, abortion and the education and employment of women. As those measures violate basic human rights, few governments are prepared to take such drastic steps to raise fertility. Moreover, such measures have undesirable demographic consequences, including higher levels of unintended pregnancy, illegal abortion and maternal mortality.

Some governments are promoting marriage, childbearing and parenting through public relations campaigns, incentives and preferences. Such programs highlight the vital role of motherhood and its valuable contribution to the welfare and growth of the country. Australia and South Korea, for example, are among those making appeals to women to have one more child. Also, Iran is considering legislation that would encourage businesses to prioritize the hiring of men with children.

Perhaps the most common pronatalist policies aim to reduce parent’s considerable financial costs for childbearing and child rearing. Those policies include cash bonuses at the time of a child’s birth and/or recurrent cash supplements for dependent children

In Turkey, for example, parents are entitled to 300 Turkish lira (108 dollars) for the birth of their first child, 400 Turkish lira (144 dollars) for the second and 600 Turkish lira (215 dollars) for the fourth and subsequent child. One consequence of this legislation, however, has been the need for the provision of government financial assistance to needy families with large families.

Additional policies, especially popular among many Western countries, focus on making employment and family responsibilities “compatible” for working couples, especially mothers. In addition to extended maternity leave as well as paternity leave, other measures include part-time work, flexible working hours, working at home and family-friendly workplaces, including nurseries, as well as pre-school and after-school care facilities.

However, the costs of family friendly policies are not insignificant. For example, with fertility at two children per woman, France’s extensive scheme of family benefits is estimated to cost four per cent of gross domestic product, one of the highest percentages in the European Union.

Some governments are also looking to selective immigration to maintain the size of their workforce and slow down the pace of population ageing. However, a recent United Nations study concluded that international migration at current levels would be unable to compensate fully for the expected population decline. Between 2015 and 2050, the excess of deaths over births in Europe is projected to be 63 million, whereas the net number of international migrants to Europe is projected at 31 million, implying an overall shrinking of Europe’s population by about 32 million.

In addition, the financial costs, social integration and cultural impact of immigration have come to the political forefront in recent months. A growing tide of refugees and economic migrants – mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, estimated at over 800,000 – have arrived on the shores of the European Union since the beginning of 2015 to escape war, repression, discrimination and unemployment.

As part of its response, the EU is considering a plan to offer aid money and visas to African countries that agree to take back thousands of their citizens who are unlawfully residing within its borders. Also aiming to stem the record inflows of refugees, various EU members have put up fences, imposed border controls and tightened asylum rules.

Other countries that are averse to encouraging immigration, such as Japan and South Korea, have instead opted to boost labour productivity as a means of compensating for a shrinking labour force. Those governments are also reviewing legislation to encourage more women to join and remain in the labour force by offering them family friendly work environments, improved career mobility and promotions to management and senior positions.

While family-oriented measures may encourage some women to have children, those policies are costly and their overall effect on fertility is weak or unclear. The many forces pushing fertility to low levels are simply too powerful for governments to overcome with dictates, financial incentives and public relations campaigns.


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Gay Cruising Spots a Challenge for HIV/AIDS Prevention in Cuba Fri, 13 Nov 2015 22:21:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

At night, groups of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community gather in meeting spots like this one in the El Vedado neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Others go to cruising spots for quick anonymous sex. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 13 2015 (IPS)

When night falls, young men can be seen sitting on a dismantled bus stop on a remote hill far from the centre of the Cuban capital. Later they climb uphill to have sex with other men in the thick forest.

“On my way home from work, I go by that place, and I always see people gathered at the old bus stop,” 36-year-old biologist Daniel Hernández told IPS. The spot he was talking about is near the Calixto García Hospital in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood.

“People have lost their inhibitions. I can see they’re more out in the open in that area, where everyone knows why people go there. They’re not so afraid anymore,” said Hernández, who is himself gay and says he has occasionally gone there and to similar gay cruising spots in Havana.

Remote, isolated spots in Cuba’s cities, like forests, coastal areas or abandoned buildings, are colonised at night by men seeking quick anonymous sex with other men.

These cruising spots, known here as “potajeras”, represent a challenge for the work of prevention of HIV/AIDS, say activists, researchers and men who have sex with men (MSM) who spoke to IPS.

“I have witnessed unprotected group sex. All kinds of people go there, and not everyone has an awareness about the epidemic,” said Hernández, who described the potajeras as “key to the spread” of HIV/AIDS.

In his view, gay meeting places are necessary, but “not the remote spots that exist, where people are extremely unprotected due to the risk of infection and violence.”

The HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate is low – just 0.1 percent, or 19,500 people – in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, up from 16,479 in late 2013.

MSM make up 70 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS. But women represent a growing proportion: 21 percent today, up from 18.5 percent in 2013, according to official figures.

Curbing the slow steady growth of new cases is a challenge that requires a greater prevention effort in this socialist island nation where healthcare is free and universal, including antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The good news is that on Jun. 30, Cuba became the first country across the globe to receive World Health Organisation (WHO) validation for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“In health promotion interventions we emphasise the risks of having sex in a place without minimum conditions,” said Avelino Matos, coordinator of community work with the MSM-Cuba Project, a network of 1,800 volunteer health promoters who have been working for 15 years to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable segment of society.

In these remote areas, “there’s no light and people are nervous, so it’s impossible to negotiate the use of a condom,” Matos told IPS.

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The entrance to a nightclub in Havana’s El Vedado neighbourhood, which offers drag queen shows and is a meeting place for people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) community. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The project, which falls under the umbrella of Cuba’s National Center for the Prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS and is active in all 15 provinces, monitors MSM cruising and gathering spots, with an emphasis on the 49 municipalities that have top priority because they have the highest HIV/AIDS rates.

Matos described gay hangouts or socialising places – by contrast with cruising spots – as public spaces where MSM gather to meet each other, chat, and arrange dates.

He said the project’s health promoters are present around the country, although the ones in the capital are the best-known.

According to Matos, the project’s prevention work does get results, and today is using new strategies, targeting gay meeting spots in parks and on city street corners and in the growing number of gay bars, cafes and private parties.

But he lamented that they barely reach the potajeras, although in some provinces ingenious interventions have been carried out.

In the daytime, activists hang bags of condoms on tree branches, for example, in cruising spots in the central province of Villa Clara and the eastern provinces of Holguín and Granma.

And in a shantytown in the western province of Mayabeque, the project provided training in health promotion to two-seater bicycle taxi drivers, the form of transportation used to reach the cruising spots. The drivers were also given condoms, to hand out to their passengers.

Matos said it is difficult to reach bisexual men with HIV/AIDS prevention messages, because they face more prejudice than homosexuals. “That’s why they are less likely to admit to their sexual orientation; many hide their meetings with men and maintain relationships with women,” he said.

Homophobia is a major factor contributing to the spread of HIV and others STDs in the cruising sites.

“These are places in the here and now. But with this I don’t mean that everyone who engages in cruising has unprotected sex,” said Jorge Carrasco, a young journalist who in 2013 reported on the main cruising spots in Havana, such as the Playa del Chivo beach and areas around the Calixto García Hospital.

“Because of the anonymity, a lot of sick people feel better there, because they can have quick sex without the need to talk about their lives with the other person,” said the 25-year-old reporter, who defends these places as “cultural spaces” that are legal under Cuba’s current laws.

Carrasco warned of other dangers in these places, where assaults and even murders are reported, as well as police abuses. “The police, instead of only arresting the thieves, also arrest the homosexuals,” said the reporter, who recommended more training for the national police.

Amaya Álvarez, a legal adviser at the governmental National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX), told IPS that “the largest number of legal complaints by the homosexual and transgender population in the meeting places are in response to the interaction with law enforcement bodies like the police.”

For that reason, she said, CENESEX organises awareness-raising workshops for police officers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Nepali Farmers Get Climate Smart Fri, 13 Nov 2015 20:15:47 +0000 Shahani Singh By Shahani Singh

Bimala Bajagain, a farmer and mother of three, wears a fading red kurta and appears older than her age at 35. She offers us plates of salted guavas at the porch of her quake-damaged house.

By mid-day, October’s warm sun boils over Kalchebesi village of Kavrepalanchok district. Bajagain insists we also savour a plate of cucumbers.

“We managed to build our temporary shelter from initial government funds and assistance from an INGO,” Bajagain shares, nodding toward a small hovel constructed of corrugated steel, right beside her cow shed.

“But this structure will have to be rebuilt for winter – the steel heated up unbearably in the summer and now it will turn very cold.”

Bajagain plans to reinforce her shelter with plywood for insulation, which she will fund with a loan from a local cooperative, and eventually pay with income from selling her vegetables, if the water holds out.

“We have scarcity of water during the summer due to erratic rainfall. This year, it poured torrentially for a day but halted for the rest of the season.”

Rows of bitter gourds hang from climbers suspended atop a wired roof. They look ripe for picking, and Bajagain explains that mulching has helped her crops retain moisture through dry spells, sustaining her income.

“It involves nothing more than digging a hole for placing organic manure, sowing the seed and covering it with hay as a protective layer,” she says. The results are obvious: “I had sown my bitter gourd seeds in February this year – six months on, I am still harvesting, whereas last year, the manure dried quickly and the harvest lasted only four months.”

Bajagain says her income has nearly doubled compared to the year before, thanks to the extra water. Donor funds for reconstruction still haven’t been distributed by the government, even eight months since the quake.

The extra money from her increased harvest of potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and bitter gourd will be all she has to fund both the better winter shelter and support her children’s education.

Bajagain may have high hopes, but she has good reason to remain concerned.

“The total annual rainfall in Kavrepalanchok is not changing, and it is not projected to change,” says Laxmi Dutta Bhatta, ecosystem management specialist at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu.

“It is the pattern of rainfall that is changing – there are heavier, more intense downpours which lead to flooding. What we need is sustainable rainfall that the soil can absorb and which re-charges the ground water.”

Farmers in the neighbouring village of Patlekhet have also found climate-smart ways to adapt.

“Plastic ponds have greatly assisted the irrigation needs of my home garden,” says Saraswati Dhital, a farmer who was helped by a climate-smart project run by the Centre for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a local NGO.

Dhital’s pond is lined with plastic sheeting. Waste-water from wash basins and excess water from torrential downpours are channelled into a small plastic-lined pond that irrigate Dhital’s turnips, cardamom, lemon and coriander. Saplings are already starting to sprout.

Each household in Patlekhet village has its own plastic-lined collection pond, while a bigger community pond sits higher up the hill. Having a local irrigation source means Saraswati no longer has to hike to the next hill for potable water; it’s a big time-saver.

“Our main intervention is for waste-water management,” says Keshav Dutta Joshi, programme director, CEAPRED.

“According to our research, a typical family that grows vegetables using waste-water irrigation and keeps cattle can earn more than a migrant labourer working in the Gulf.”

CEAPRED aims to have a scientific basis to design and apply a well-packaged programme for the entire mid-hill agro-ecological region of Nepal that will tell farmers how much water can be harvested.

It will even work out the amount of investment required, the crops that can be grown and the amount of income that can be earned. “But, we will need data from at least three consecutive years of action research for this.” Joshi says.

Japan’s Kochi Technology University (KTU) surveyed over a 1000 farmers in Nepal’s western mid-hill agro-ecological zone. They found that vegetable production and income could increase more than 30 per cent by simply deploying water-conservation techniques like lining ponds with plastic.

The study expects plastic-pond technology to “…contribute to poverty reduction for smallholder farmers…and shall be a promising technology not only in Nepal, but also many other developing nations.”

It seems mulching and water harvesting by using plastic ponds have a good basis for scientific validity as adaptive practices against extreme weather. This will also help alleviate poverty in the mid-hills region in Nepal.

Bajagain is acutely aware that climate change and Nepal’s recent devastating earthquakes means age-old farming methods are going to have to adapt to a new reality. “We need self-sufficient practices to help ourselves. Mulching and plastic ponds have certainly helped us abate losses in the face of unexpected weather and climate change.”

“My crops would dry up and wilt in previous years,” she tells me calmly. “Thankfully, such is not the case this year, given our financial struggles after the quake.”

The story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to @RNW

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Maternal Deaths Decline by 44 Percent, Says New Study Thu, 12 Nov 2015 20:10:31 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When world leaders adopted a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at a summit meeting in September 2000, one of the heavily-publicised goals was the commitment to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by the end of 2015.

But an equally important goal– that drew less attention– was Goal number Five aimed at improving maternal health – and reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio, by the end of 2015.

A new report, released Thursday, focuses specifically on maternal deaths, which have fallen by 44 per cent since 1990— described as a significant improvement, but still falling short of total success.

World-wide, maternal deaths dropped from about 532,000 in 1990 to an estimated 303,000 this year, according to the report, the last in a series surveying progress under the MDGs.

This equates to an estimated global maternal death ratio of 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 385 in 1990, says the joint report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Bank Group and the UN’s Population Division.

Maternal death is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy, childbirth or within 6 weeks after birth.

Despite global improvements, however, only nine countries achieved the MDG 5 target of reducing the maternal death ratio by at least 75 per cent between 1990 and 2015.

Those countries include Bhutan, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Maldives, Mongolia, Rwanda and Timor-Leste.

Despite this important progress, the maternal death ratio in some of these countries remains higher than the global average, says the report titled ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015’.

“The MDGs triggered unprecedented efforts to reduce maternal mortality,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health.

“Over the past 25 years, a woman’s risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes has nearly halved. That’s real progress, although it is not enough. We know that we can virtually end these deaths by 2030 and this is what we are committing to work towards.”

Achieving that goal will require much more effort, according to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of UNFPA.

“Many countries with high maternal death rates will make little progress, or will even fall behind, over the next 15 years if we don’t improve the current number of available midwives and other health workers with midwifery skills,” he said.

“If we don’t make a big push now, in 2030 we’ll be faced, once again, with a missed target for reducing maternal deaths.”

The report also points out that ensuring access to high-quality health services during pregnancy and childbirth is helping to save lives.

Essential health interventions include: practising good hygiene to reduce the risk of infection; injecting oxytocin immediately after childbirth to reduce the risk of severe bleeding; identifying and addressing potentially fatal conditions like pregnancy-induced high-blood pressure; and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services and family planning for women.

“As we have seen with all of the health-related MDGs, health-system strengthening needs to be supplemented with attention to other issues to reduce maternal deaths,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta.

“The education of women and girls, in particular the most marginalized, is key to their survival and that of their children. Education provides them with the knowledge to challenge traditional practices that endanger them and their children.”

By the end of this year, about 99 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths will have occurred in developing regions, with sub-Saharan Africa alone accounting for two in three (66 per cent) deaths.

But that represents a major improvement: sub-Saharan Africa saw a nearly 45 per cent decrease in maternal death ratio, from 987 to 546 per 100,000 live births between 1990 and 2015, according to the report.

The greatest improvement of any region was recorded in Eastern Asia, where the maternal death ratio fell from approximately 95 to 27 per 100,000 live births (a reduction of 72 per cent).

In developed regions, maternal deaths fell 48 per cent between 1990 and 2015, from 23 to 12 per 100,000 live births.

Besides poverty and hunger, the MDGs also included goals to eliminate HIV/AIDS, provide adequate shelter, promote gender equality, achieve universal education, protect the global environment and build a global North-South partnership for development.

At a summit meeting in September, world leaders adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a successor to MDGs, with the objective of meeting these new goals by 2030.

The SDGs have a target of reducing maternal deaths to fewer than 70 per 100,000 live births globally.

Reaching that goal will require more than tripling the pace of progress – from the 2.3 per cent annual improvement in maternal death ratio that was recorded between 1990 and 2015 to 7.5 per cent per year beginning next year.

“The SDG goal of ending maternal deaths by 2030 is ambitious and achievable provided we redouble our efforts,” said Dr. Tim Evans, Senior Director of Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group.

“The recently launched Global Financing Facility in Support of Every Woman Every Child, which focuses on smarter, scaled and sustainable financing, will help countries deliver essential health services to women and children,” he said.

The writer can be contacted at

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Climate Change Bites Kenyan Tea Farmers Wed, 11 Nov 2015 22:24:38 +0000 Diana Omondi               Alice Muthoni picking tea in Makomboki, central Kenya. @DW/D. Omondi

              Alice Muthoni picking tea in Makomboki, central Kenya. @DW/D. Omondi

By Diana Omondi
NAIROBI, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

You wouldn’t typically expect heavy rainfall and frost in East Africa. But the Earth’s climate is changing – and this is affecting one of the world’s largest tea-producing regions, in central Kenya.

For Joseph Mwangi and his wife, picking tea early in the morning has become more difficult lately. “We have been experiencing frost on the leaves,” Mwangi says. “This makes it hard to work, because the frost stings our hands,” he added.

Mwangi and his wife Alice Muthoni earn their living as tea-pickers in Makomboki, central Kenya. Due to the frost, they have had to start picking tea leaves two hours later. But this presents new problems to the couple.

“When I start working late, I only manage to pick 40 kilograms of tea leaves a day, as compared to 70 kilograms in the past,” Muthoni says. “This reduces my pay for the day,” she points out. To earn $1, she has to pick 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of tea leaves.

The tea that the couple picks is delivered to the Makomboki Tea Factory. Evans Muchiri, a production manager at the factory, says that due to weather changes, they have recorded a 16 percent drop in tea harvested so far in 2015, compared with 2014.

Local experience backed by international research
Kenya used to provide the ideal climate for tea cultivation: tropical, red volcanic soils and long, sunny days. In fact, central Kenya is the the world’s third-largest tea-producing region.

In 2013, tea farming contributed up to $1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros) to the national economy, while more than half a million smallholder farmers depend on the cash crop for income.

Tea grows best in mountainous regions, so Makomboki – at an altitude of just more than 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) – used to provide good conditions. But tea also requires temperatures of 16 to 29 degrees Celsius (60 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit), along with stable rainfall – and this has become increasingly unreliable in recent years.

A study by the Kenya’s Tea Research Institute indicates that in 2012, the worst year recorded, almost one-third of the harvest was lost.

“Climate change is already having a negative impact on the lives of tea farmers in Africa,” says Alexander Kasterine, who heads the Trade and Environment Unit at the International Trade Centre (ITC).

“Rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions are reducing tea productivity,” Kasterine adds.

The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) – a not-for-profit organization that works toward making the tea industry more sustainable – says climate change is expected to reduce the land suitable for tea production in tea-growing areas 40 percent by 2050.

Planting trees for tea
To enhance the tea farmers’ livelihoods, ETP created a partnership with ITC and other nongovernmental organizations, and founded a project to help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change effects.

Among other things, the program trains farmers and tea factory managers in both carbon standards compliance and adaptation to climate change.

One of the partners is Makomboki Tea Factory. Farmers here are trained on conservation and management of water, including drip irrigation and soil conservation. They use biogas instead of wood, reducing carbon emissions.

“We are encouraging farmers to plant trees and mulch their crops,” says Joseph Gitau, an assistant at Makomboki Tea Factory. The Rainforest Alliance then issues certificates to participants upon completion.

Gitau explains that planting trees at tea farms helps in reducing the effects of frost on the tea leaves. It’s quite simple: The frosts falls on the tree leaves instead of the tea leaves. Meanwhile, mulching improves soil fertility, preventing soil erosion and frost at the roots.

Successful solutions
The Makomboki factory is not only trying to adapt to climate change, but also to mitigate it. Earlier on, the factory had been using 2,000 cubic meters (2,600 cubic yards) of wood per month as fuel for drying tea, contributing to regional deforestation.

But now, the factory has switched to alternative energy sources. “We use sawdust, rice husks, biomass, and macadamia and cashew nut shells, as well as briquettes made from sawdust and rice husk,” says Evans Muchiri.

The new initiative has saved more than 30,000 trees, while lowering operational costs of the factory by 20 percent.

Kenya’s Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Authority recently awarded the Makomboki factory for its best practices on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

And as the factory comes up other strategies to adjust to changing climatic conditions, this not only helps the environment and the agriculture sector at large: It also makes the lives of tea-pickers like Jospeh Mwangi and his wife Alice Muthoni a lot easier, right away.

This story was sourced through the Voices2Paris UNDP storytelling contest on climate change and developed thanks to @dwnews.

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Latin American Legislators, a Battering Ram in the Fight Against Hunger Wed, 11 Nov 2015 16:24:36 +0000 Marianela Jarroud A girl in traditional festive dress from Bolivia’s highlands region displays a basket of fruit during a fair in her school in central La Paz. Fruit is the foundation of the new school meal diet adopted in the municipality, which puts a priority on natural food produced by small local farmers in the highlands. The alliance between family farming and school feeding is extending throughout Latin America thanks to laws put into motion by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

A girl in traditional festive dress from Bolivia’s highlands region displays a basket of fruit during a fair in her school in central La Paz. Fruit is the foundation of the new school meal diet adopted in the municipality, which puts a priority on natural food produced by small local farmers in the highlands. The alliance between family farming and school feeding is extending throughout Latin America thanks to laws put into motion by the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Nov 11 2015 (IPS)

Lawmakers in Latin America are joining forces to strengthen institutional frameworks that sustain the fight against hunger in a region that, despite being dubbed “the next global breadbasket”, still has more than 34 million undernourished people.

The legislators, grouped in national fronts, “are political leaders and orient public opinion, legislate, and sustain and promote public policies for food security and the right to food,” said Ricardo Rapallo, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Food Security Officer in this region.

The members of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger also “allot budget funds, monitor, oversee and follow up on government policies,” Rapallo told IPS at FAO regional headquarters in Santiago, Chile.

A series of successful public policies based on a broad cross-cutting accord between civil society, governments and legislatures enabled Latin America and the Caribbean to teach the world a lesson by cutting in half the proportion of hungry people in the region between 1990 and 2015.“The Parliamentary Front Against Hunger is a key actor in the implementation of CELAC’s Food Security Plan, for the construction of public systems that recognise the right to food.”-- Raúl Benítez, regional director of FAO

But the 34.3 million people still hungry in this region of 605 million are in need of a greater effort, in order for Latin America to live up to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is aimed at achieving zero hunger in the world.

The Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger (PFH), to be held in Lima Nov. 15-17, will seek to forge ahead in the implementation of the “plan for food security, nutrition and hunger eradication in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) by 2025.”

The plan, which sets targets for 2025, is designed to strengthen institutional legal frameworks for food and nutritional security, raising the human right to food to the highest legal status, among other measures.

“The Parliamentary Front Against Hunger is a key actor in the implementation of CELAC’s Food Security Plan, for the construction of public systems that recognise the right to food,” the regional director of FAO, Raúl Benítez, told IPS.

The PFH was created in 2009 with the participation of three countries. Six years later, “there are 15 countries that have a strong national parliamentary front recognised by the national Congress of the country, which involves parliamentarians of different political stripes, all of whom are committed to the fight against hunger,” Rapallo said.

As a result, “laws on family farming have been passed, in Argentina and Peru, and in the Dominican Republic there are draft laws set to be approved. To these is added the food labeling law in Ecuador,” the expert said, to illustrate.

Bolivia sets an example

In Bolivia, the School Feeding Law in the Framework of Food Security and the Plural Economy, passed in December 2014, is at the centre of the fight against poverty in an integral fashion, Fernando Ferreira, the head of the national Parliamentary Front for Food Sovereignty and Good Living, told IPS in La Paz.

This model, which draws on the successful programme that has served school breakfasts based on natural local products in La Paz since 2000, is now being implemented in the country’s 347 municipalities.

The farmer “produces natural foods, sells part to the municipal government for distribution in school breakfasts, and sells the rest in the local community,” said Ferreira, describing the cycle that combines productive activity, employment, nutrition and family income generation.

The school breakfast programme has broad support among teachers because it boosts student performance and participation in class, Germán Silvetti, the principal of the República de Cuba primary school in the centre of La Paz, told IPS.

“They didn’t used to care, but now they demand their meals,” Silvetti said. “Some kids come to school without eating breakfast, so the meal we serve is important for their nutrition.”

In the past, students didn’t like Andean grains like quinoa. But María Inés Flores, a teacher, told IPS she managed to persuade them with an interesting anecdote: “astronauts who go to the moon eat quinoa – and if we follow their example we’ll make it to space,” she said to the children, who now eat it with enthusiasm.

Appealing to the appetites of the 145,000 students served by the school breakfast programme is a daily challenge, but one that has had satisfactory results, such as the reduction of anemia from 37 to two percent in the last 15 years, Gabriela Aro, one of the creators of the programme and the head of the municipal government’s Nutrition Unit, told IPS.

Authorities in Bolivia say the government’s “Vivir Bien” or “Good Living” programme will reduce the proportion of people in extreme poverty which, according to estimates from different national and international institutions, stands at 18 percent of the country’s 11 million people.

In the Mexican Congress, lawmakers with the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger are pushing through laws that boost food security and sovereignty, to guarantee “the right to sufficient nutritional, quality food” that was established in the constitution in 2011. Credit: Emilio Godoy/ IPS

In the Mexican Congress, lawmakers with the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger are pushing through laws that boost food security and sovereignty, to guarantee “the right to sufficient nutritional, quality food” that was established in the constitution in 2011. Credit: Emilio Godoy/ IPS

Mexico, another case

In Mexico, a nation of 124 million people, meanwhile, poverty has grown in the last three years, revealing shortcomings in the strategies against hunger, which legislators are trying to influence, with limited results.

“Legislators must be more involved in following up on this, one of the most basic issues,” Senator Angélica de la Peña, coordinator of the Mexican chapter of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, told IPS in Mexico City. “Even if we define budgets and programmes, they continue to be resistant to making this a priority.”

There are 55.3 million people in poverty in Mexico, according to official figures from this year, and over 27 million malnourished people.

The increase in poverty reflects the weaknesses of the National Crusade Against Hunger, the flagship initiative of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, which targets undernourished people living in extreme poverty.

The Crusade is concentrated in 400 of Mexico’s 2,438 municipalities, involves 70 federal programmes, and hopes to reach 7.4 million hungry people – 3.7 million in urban areas and the rest in the countryside.

The Senate has not yet approved a “general law on the human right to adequate food”, which was put in motion by the Parliamentary Front and involves the implementation of a novel constitutional reform, which established in 2011 that “everyone has a right to sufficient nutritional, quality food, to be guaranteed by the state.”

The draft law will create a National Food Policy and National Food Programme, besides providing for emergency food aid.

But in spite of the limitations, Mexico’s social assistance programmes do make a difference, albeit small, for millions of people.

Since February, Blanca Pérez has received 62 dollars every two months, granted by the Pension Programme for the elderly (65 and older), which forms part of the National Crusade Against Hunger.

“It helps me buy medicines and cover other expenses. But it is a small amount for people our age – it would be better if it was every month,” this mother of seven told IPS. She lives in the town of Amecameca, 58 km southeast of Mexico City, where half of the 48,000 inhabitants live in poverty.

Pérez, who helps her daughter out in a small grocery store, is also covered by the Popular Insurance scheme, a federal government programme that provides free, universal healthcare. “These programmes are good, but they should give more support to people like me, who struggle so much,” she said.

Two urgent regional needs

Above and beyond the progress made, Rapallo said Latin America today has two urgent needs: reduce the number of hungry people in the region to zero while confronting the problem of overnutrition – another form of malnutrition.

Overweight and obesity “are a public health challenge, a hurdle to national development, and a moral requisite that we must address,” said Rapallo.

In that sense, he added, “parliamentarians are essential” to bring about public policies that contribute to good nutrition of the population and their growing demands.

“There are parliamentarians that are real leaders in their respective countries. But if all of this were not backed by a strong civil society that puts the issue firmly on the agenda, we wouldn’t be able to talk about results,” he said.

With reporting by Emilio Godoy in Mexico City and Franz Chávez in La Paz.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Climate Change May Increase World’s Poor by 100 Million, Warns World Bank Tue, 10 Nov 2015 17:47:42 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The UN’s heavily-hyped Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were approved by more than 160 world leaders at a summit meeting in September, are an integral part of the world body’s post-2015 development agenda, including the eradication of hunger and poverty by 2030.

But that ambitious goal, warns the UN’s sister institution, the World Bank, can be thwarted by the devastating impact of climate change on the world’s poorest people.

In a new study released Monday, the World Bank says climate change is already preventing people from escaping poverty.

“And without rapid, inclusive and climate-smart development, together with emissions-reductions efforts that protect the poor, there could be more than 100 million additional people in poverty by 2030.”

The report, released ahead of the international climate conference in Paris November 30-December 11, finds that poor people are already at high risk from climate-related shocks, including crop failures from reduced rainfall, spikes in food prices after extreme weather events, and increased incidence of diseases after heat waves and floods.

Titled ‘Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty’, the study says such shocks could wipe out hard-won gains, leading to irreversible losses and, driving people back into poverty, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

According to the report, the poorest people are more exposed than the average population to climate-related shocks such as floods, droughts, and heat waves, and they lose much more of their wealth when they are hit.

In the 52 countries where data was available, 85 per cent of the population live in countries where poor people are more exposed to drought than the average.

Poor people are also more exposed to higher temperatures and live in countries where food production is expected to decrease because of climate change, the report notes.

“This report sends a clear message that ending poverty will not be possible unless we take strong action to reduce the threat of climate change on poor people and dramatically reduce harmful emissions,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“Climate change hits the poorest the hardest, and our challenge now is to protect tens of millions of people from falling into extreme poverty because of a changing climate,” he added.

Asked for a response, Harjeet Singh, Climate Policy Manager at ActionAid, told IPS the World Bank’s analysis of poor people’s vulnerability to climate impacts is not new, but it rightly highlights that poverty cannot be addressed without tackling climate change.

He said poor people and poor countries are most vulnerable to climate change as they have limited assets, skills and knowledge to overcome the effects.

“However, the World Bank is coming late to the game with its talk of improving social protection to fight the effects of climate change”, Singh said.

In reality, he pointed out, the World Bank has had a long and dubious record of forcing developing countries to reduce their public expenditure to provide basic services, and protecting socially and economically weaker populations.

“It will need to address this before it can reliably practise what the report preaches,” he declared.

Louise Whiting, senior policy analyst, water security and climate change at the UK-based WaterAid, told IPS the world’s poorest are most at risk from climate change and are receiving the least amount of climate-change financing to help them adapt to climate-related weather shocks including flood, drought and heat waves.

“Our research tells us that in Bangladesh alone, an estimated 38 million lives are at risk between now and 2050 because of climate-change related disasters,” she pointed out.

“The climate path we are on now means an end to development – an end to all progress on extreme poverty.”

She said for families living in extreme poverty, with fragile access to safe water, good sanitation and hygiene, these lengthening dry seasons and intensifying monsoons wipe out years of work and further entrench the cycle of poverty.

“Safeguarding basic services including clean water, sanitation and hygiene helps communities recover faster and become more resilient to climactic extremes.”

Whiting said national governments in developing countries need more support in designing and implementing projects to help eradicate poverty while building communities’ resilience to climate change, as well as financing.

Leaders at this month’s crucial talks in Paris must not forget the world’s poorest, and include a strong focus on helping them to adapt to this challenging new reality, she added.

The writer can be contacted at

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OPINION: Refugee Crisis – Diverting Funds From Civil Society is a Bad Idea Tue, 10 Nov 2015 07:22:05 +0000 Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire is a policy and research officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

By Teldah Mawarire

Europe is in the throes of a refugee crisis and it’s not difficult to see that it does not quite know how to respond to it. By mid-October more than 600,000 people had reached Europe by sea.

Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 3,100 people have died or are missing this year alone as they try to make their way to Europe. The flow is likely to continue with the UNICEF saying more Syrians could head to Europe as the conflict in their country continues.

The response to the crisis has been markedly different by different sectors and in different countries. On the whole, it is civil society and not governments or regional unions that have led the effort to help those escaping the horror of war. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have responded by providing food, water, shelter, health services and skills programmes for arriving migrants. CSOs are lobbying the European Union and its members intensely to tackle the intolerance towards refugees. Even the monitoring of refugee arrivals and the database on deaths is being done by CSOs.

The response from those in power however has been inadequate. From bickering in the European Union to hard-line stances taken by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his country must defend its borders from “migrants.”

There are, however, glimmers of hope. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more welcoming to refugees until the recent vote by Germany’s lower house of parliament to limit the number of refugees, although the country still projects to receive about 1.5 million refugee arrivals this year. The European Union last month agreed to share 120,000 refugees through a quota system to some member states.

The United Kingdom has promised that it would take in 4,000 refugees this year and 20,000 refugees over the next five years, although it is one of the European Union members that have refused to be part of the quota system. After unhelpful remarks by British lawmakers earlier this year that refugees must not make their way to London because its streets are “not paved with gold,” taking in refugees is a step in the right direction but it is still a “pitifully small” response, as stated by Green MP Caroline Lucas in the UK parliament.

Worryingly, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has said that the money to support refugees should be taken from the Department for International Development (DFID) – the United Kingdom’s official agency in charge of administering aid. DFID is involved in a wide range of projects that include preventing malaria deaths, improving child education and child immunisations, infrastructure development, humanitarian work, civil society support and research among others.

DFID substantially spends about 12 billion pounds per year on international aid. Although the bulk of DFID funding is disbursed through governments, there is a possibility of reduction in allocations to projects led by civil society that rely on funding from the United Kingdom if the Osborne proposal is implemented.

Given the important work being done by CSOs in dealing with refugee crisis, it makes little sense for the UK government to cut or divert aid budgets from CSOs especially when efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed to by world leaders in September this year, will need additional resources. Instead, the UK should make a greater effort to support refugees from its domestic budget.

While the current rules around Official Development Assistance (ODA) allow for donors to count some expenditure for resettling displaced people in their own countries as part of their aid allocation, only a relatively small amount of aid given to refugees has been counted as part of ODA in previous years.

The concern for civil society is that faced with the immensity of the current refugee crisis, coupled with fiscal austerity, donor countries will divert more aid in this way.

Reducing funding could set a bad precedent and lead to other donor governments reducing their funding of projects in the Global South. Already there are concerns in Sweden as the government is considering diverting development aid to refugee reception aid.

In an environment where civil society around the world already faces a funding crisis, while the demand for its work increases, diverting funding is the last thing that the sector needs.

Funding the response to the refugee crisis should be seen as separate from regular development assistance support. If anything, additional resources need to be made available for civil society organisations to continue the essential work they are doing to respond to the crisis, while governments do their best to help refugees in line with humanitarian principles.


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Analysis: Press Freedom Shaken in Zimbabwe Sun, 08 Nov 2015 07:33:10 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo 0 Parliamentary Forum to Set New Goals Against Hunger Sat, 07 Nov 2015 00:39:16 +0000 Milagros Salazar Two peasant farmers with a calf in the Andes highlands community of Alto Huancané in the southeastern department of Cusco. Small farmers like them provide around 80 percent of the food for the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Two peasant farmers with a calf in the Andes highlands community of Alto Huancané in the southeastern department of Cusco. Small farmers like them provide around 80 percent of the food for the inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Nov 7 2015 (IPS)

Undertaking the challenge of pushing for new legislation to guarantee food security in their countries, legislators from Latin America and the Caribbean, together with guest lawmakers from Africa and Asia, will hold the Sixth Forum of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger Nov. 15-17.

The Forum will provide an opportunity to share experiences, said Aitor Las Romero, in charge of organisation of the forum in the Peruvian office of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which provides support to the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, created in the region in 2009.

The list of participants in the forum is still open; “other countries of Latin America that have not yet formed their Parliamentary Front, but want to start working towards that goal, are even participating,” the FAO expert told IPS.

The central issues at the sixth Forum will be food security, healthy eating, and other proposals to fight hunger, Peruvian congressman Modesto Julca, who was the first coordinator of the Peru chapter of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger, told IPS.

FAO estimates that 34.3 million people in the region are hungry, according to the latest edition of the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security in Latin America and the Caribbean, released in May by the FAO regional office in Santiago, Chile.

Peruvian anthropologist Jorge Arboccó said “poverty and hunger are closely intertwined with land use, those who administer it, and the role of states in that relationship.”

In Latin America, 81 percent of food products come from small-scale family agriculture. “They are the farmers who generate the most employment in our countries, employing between 57 and 77 percent of the economically active population,” Arboccó has stated, based on FAO figures.

Although the fight against hunger transcends borders, each national chapter of the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger works at its own pace according to the political situation in each parliament.

In the case of Peru, the Front is made up of 13 members “and some participate more than others, but we are working for it to be represented better by all the political forces,” Las Romero told IPS.

The sixth Forum will focus on three main thematic areas, according to the agenda released Friday Nov. 6. The first will be “the plan for food security, nutrition and hunger eradication in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) by 2025.”

The other two are “parliamentary dialogue between the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger of Latin America and the Caribbean with parliamentarians from Asia-Pacific, Africa and other regions,” and “the construction of commitments and policies that strengthen the enforcement of the right to adequate nutrition and food and nutritional sovereignty and security.”

These three thematic areas will overlap during the discussions among the legislators in Lima with three issues considered a priority by the Front: family agriculture and its decisive weight in guaranteeing the right to food and food sovereignty; schools meals as an essential tool in the fight against hunger; and the new challenges presented by overnutrition, a form of malnutrition.

One of the last fronts formed in the region was Peru’s. After a year of work, it got the single-chamber Congress to approve a law on family agriculture. But it has not yet managed to push through two other draft laws, on food security and school meals.

Despite the difficulties, “the fact that parliamentary fronts have been set up throughout Latin America and that today we are the headquarters of that front is representative – it is recognition that we are a country with great diversity,” the coordinator of the Peruvian front, Jaime Delgado, told IPS.

Delgado said they have been working together with civil society on issues like agriculture and food controls under the question of hunger or malnutrition.

In Peru, more than 90 percent of agricultural producers are family farmers and 75 percent of the food consumed is grown on farms less than five hectares in size, said Arboccó, the anthropologist, based on statistics from the 2012 agricultural census.

Although hunger levels have been significantly reduced in Peru according to FAO, there are still 2.3 million hungry people in this country of 30 million.

Poverty affects 33.8 percent of the population in Peru’s Andean highlands, 30.4 percent in the jungle region, and 14.3 percent in the coastal areas, according to 2014 figures from the national statistics institute.

“As an indigenous woman, I am now in Congress, insisting on issues like food sovereignty, family farming, climate change, and healthy eating,” Claudia Coari, a congresswoman for the southeastern department of Puno, told IPS.

“So this is a strength that we are just starting to take into account,” said the lawmaker, who forms part of Peru’s parliamentary front.

Coari said the Forum to be held in Lima is an opportunity to “learn from other countries that have already made progress” and to reinforce what has already been done in Peru. “Now we have to all work together,” she said.

With additional reporting from Aramís Castro in Lima.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Kurdish Highlanders Fear the Sky Fri, 06 Nov 2015 07:01:06 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza 0