Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Changes to World Bank Safeguards Risk “Race to the Bottom”, U.N. Experts Warn Fri, 19 Dec 2014 01:11:37 +0000 Carey L. Biron By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 19 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Competitive pressures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. leadership?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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REDD and the Green Economy Continue to Undermine Rights Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:03:45 +0000 Jeff Conant Dawn on the border of the Juma Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon. Activists say some new conservation policies are undermining traditional approaches to forest management and alienating forest-dwellers from their traditional activities. Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)/cc by 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflicting views on the green economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutions Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Sad Future of Our Planet Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:22:22 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that – in the light of the agreement reached at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – the world’s governments have once again demonstrated their irresponsibility by failing to come up with a global remedy for climate change.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

It is now official: the current inter-governmental system is not able to act in the interest of humankind.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima – which ended on Dec. 14, two days after it was scheduled to close – was the last step before the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, where a global agreement must be found.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In Lima, 196 countries with several thousand delegates negotiated for two weeks to find a common position on which to convene in Paris in one year’s time. Lima was preceded by an historical meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which the world’s two main polluters agreed on a course of action to reduce pollution.

Well, Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen, including the energy corporations.

This is an act of colossal irresponsibility where, for the sake of an agreement, not one solution has been found. The “big idea” is to leave to every country the task of deciding its own cuts in pollution according to its own criteria.“Lima has produced a draft climate pact, adopted by everybody, simply because it carries no obligation. It is a kind of global gentlemen’s agreement, where it is supposed that the world is inhabited only by gentlemen”

And everybody is aware that this is most certainly a disaster for the planet. “It is a breakthrough, because it gives meaning to the idea that every country will make cuts,” said Yvo de Boer, the Dutch diplomat who is the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). ”But the great hopes for the process are also gone.”

To make things clear, all delegates knew that without some binding treaty to reduce emissions, there is no way that this will happen. But they accepted what it is possible, even if it does not solve the problem. It is like a hospital where the key surgeon announces that the good news is that the patient will remain paralysed.

The agreement is based on the idea that every country will publicly commit itself to adopting its own plan for reducing emissions, based on criteria established by national governments on the basis of their domestic politics – not on what scientists have been indicating as absolutely necessary.

This, of course, is the kind of treat that no country in the world objects to. The real value of the treaty is not the issue. The issue is that the inter-governmental system is able to declare unity and common engagement. The interests of humankind are not part of the equation. Humankind is supposed to be parcelled among 196 countries, and so is the planet.

This act of irresponsibility is clear when you look at all the countries producing energy, like Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, Iran or Ecuador, Nigeria or Qatar, whose governments are interested in using oil exports to keep themselves in the saddle. And take a look at what the world’s third largest polluter, India, is doing in the spirit of the Lima treaty.

Under the motto: “We like clean India, but give us jobs”, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is moving with remarkable speed to eliminate any regulatory burden for industry, mining, power projects, the armed forces, and so on.

According to the high-level committee assigned to rewrite India’s environmental law system, the country’s regulatory system ”served only the purpose of a venal administration”. So, what did it suggest? It presented a new paradigm: ”the concept of utmost good faith”, under which business owners themselves will monitor the pollution generated by their projects, and they will monitor their own compliance!

The newly-appointed Indian National Board for Wildlife which is responsible for protected area cleared 140 pending projects in just two days; small coal mines have a one-time permission to expand without any hearing; and there is no longer any need for the approval of tribal villages for forest projects.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar boasted: ”We have decided to decentralise decision making. Ninety percent of the files won’t come to me anymore”. And he said that he was not phasing out important environmental protections, just “those which, in the name of caring for nature, were stopping progress.” He also plans to devolve power to state regulators, which environmental expert say is akin to relinquishing any national integrated policy.

It is, of course, totally coincidental that Lima conference took place in the middle of the greatest decrease in oil prices in five years. The price of a barrel of oil is now hovering around the 60 dollar mark, down from over 100 two years ago. This price level has basically been decided by Saudi Arabia, which did not agree to cut production to increase the cost of a barrel.

The most espoused explanation was that the low cost would undercut schist gas exploitation which is making the United States energy self-sufficient again, and soon an exporter. But this will equally undercut renewable energies, like wind or solar power, which have higher costs and will be abandoned when cheap oil is available.

Again coincidentally, this is creating very serious problems for countries like Russia and Venezuela (U.S. irritants) and Iran (a direct enemy), which are now entering into serious deficit and serious political problems. And, again coincidentally, this is making use of fossil energy more tempting at a moment in which the world was finally accepting that there is a problem of climate change.

In March, countries will have to present their national plans and it will then become clear that governments are lacking on the very simple task of arresting climate change, and this will lead us to irreversible damage by our climate’s final deadline, which was identified as 2020.

Thus the exercise of irresponsibility in Lima will also become an exercise in futility.

Is there any doubt that if the people, and not governments, were responsible for saving the planet, their answer would have been swifter and more efficient?

Young people, all over the world, have very different priorities from corporations and industry … but they also have much less political clout.


(Edited by Phil Harris)

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


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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women? Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Only Half of Global Banks Have Policy to Respect Human Rights Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice.

Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks.“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” -- Aldo Caliari

The findings, published by BankTrack, an international network of watchdog groups, come three and a half years after the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, specify a range of actions and obligations for all businesses, including the financial sector.

Yet banks have a unique role in underwriting nearly all of the business activity around the globe, even as they are typically shielded from the impacts of those investments.

“Banks covered in this report have been found to finance companies and projects involving forced removals of communities, child labour, military backed land grabs, and abuses of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination,” the report, released last week, states.

“Policies and processes, open to public scrutiny and backed by adequate reporting, are important tools for banks to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen, and that where they do, those whose rights have been impacted have the right to effective remedy … If these policies and procedures are to be meaningful, the finance for such ‘dodgy deals’ must eventually dry up.”

One of the banks studied in the new report, JPMorgan Chase, is one of the leading U.S. financiers of palm oil, through loans and equity investments. While the bank does have a human rights policy, BankTrack’s researchers find this policy applies only to loans, not investments.

“When it comes to reporting on implementation, the bank falls flat, making the policy little more than window-dressing,” Jeff Conant, an international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group that is working on palm-oil financing, told IPS.

“We’ve spoken with JPMorgan Chase about the need to give impacted people an opportunity to file complaints about the human rights impacts of its financing, with the belief that this is a first step towards accountability. Frankly, from the bank’s response, I don’t see them stepping up anytime soon.”

While private finance today facilitates almost the full range of corporate activity, Conant notes, “the finance institutions themselves are wholly unaccountable.”

Sobering results

According to the new study, a few banks appear to be well on their way to conformity with the Guiding Principles. The top-ranked institution, the Dutch Rabobank, received a score of eight out of 12, with Credit Suisse and UBS close behind.

These are the exceptions, however. Against a set of 12 criteria, the average score was only a three.

Many scored at or near zero. While those ranked at the very bottom include several Chinese institutions, they also include banks in the European Union and the United States.

Indeed, Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, scored just 0.5 out of 12, receiving a minor bump for having expressed some commitment to carrying out human rights-related due diligence. (The bank failed to respond to request for comment for this story by deadline.)

“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles,” Aldo Caliari, the director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“The Guiding Principles are the bare minimum of any human rights framework in the corporate sector, a framework that has the companies’ consent. So the fact that there is so little [adherence to] such a relatively weak tool, where every effort to court corporations’ support has been made, is, indeed, very telling.”

Despite the spectrum of findings on implementation, the financial services industry as a whole has taken note of the Guiding Principles.

In 2011, four European banks met to discuss the principles’ potential implications for the sector. Three more banks eventually joined what is now called the Thun Group, and in October 2013 the grouping released an initial paper on the results of these discussions, including recommendations for compliance.

A previously existing set of voluntary guidelines for the banking sector, known as the Equator Principles, were also updated in 2013 to reflect the new existence of the Guiding Principles. So far, the Equator Principles have been signed by 80 financial institutions in 34 countries.

“To date, banks’ efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward,” Ryan Brightwell, the new report’s author, said in a statement.

“BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation.”

Strengthening accountability

The new findings on lagging implementation will strengthen arguments from those who want to tweak or supplant the Guiding Principles. Some suggest, for instance, that the framework be changed to treat financial institutions differently from other sectors.

“[T]he financial sector requires an exceptional treatment when it comes to the application of the Guiding Principles,” the Center of Concern’s Caliari wrote last year in comments for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Financial companies, more than other companies, have the potential, with their change of behaviour, to influence the behaviour of other actors. That means they also should be upheld to a greater level of responsibility when they fail to do so.”

Caliari and others are also part of a movement to move beyond voluntary frameworks such as the Guiding Principles (at least in their current form), and instead to see through the creation of a binding mechanism.

This decades-long effort received a significant boost in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations. (This same session also approved a popular second resolution, aimed instead at strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles process.)

The new data on banks’ relative lack of compliance with the Guiding Principles, Caliari says, is one of the reasons the call for a legally binding treaty “has been gaining ground.”

He continues: “It is increasingly clear that mechanisms that rely on the consent of the companies cannot be the total of available accountability mechanisms. More is needed.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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“Indigenous Peoples Are the Owners of the Land” Say Activists at COP20 Sat, 06 Dec 2014 18:54:44 +0000 Milagros Salazar 2 Model Contract to Help Protect Developing Countries From ‘Land Grabs’ Fri, 05 Dec 2014 19:01:35 +0000 Carin Smaller The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

The land by Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

By Carin Smaller
GENEVA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

When the Korean company Daewoo attempted to acquire half the arable land of Madagascar for free, it unleashed a tsunami of investor interest in agricultural land, popularised as the ‘land grab’.

In the last 10 years there have been more than 1,000 large-scale foreign investments in agricultural land, covering almost 38 million hectares of landequivalent to eight times the size of Britain. Investor interest in farmland was triggered, in 2008, by a confluence of the biofuels boom, global food crisis, a sharp spike in oil prices and the financial crisis.There are over 800 million people in the world who do not have enough food to eat. Seventy five per cent of those people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Many of these farmland investments have created untold problems, particularly related to land rights, social unrest, and in some cases political instability. Many projects have failed or investors have simply given up, either for lack of finance, inexperience, difficult environmental conditions, or unrealistic assumptions about the crops and locations they chose.

And yet many developing countries desperately need investment in agriculture. There are over 800 million people in the world who do not have enough food to eat. Seventy five per cent of those people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Without increased investment in agriculture they will not be able to improve food security nor reduce poverty.

Improving the legal and policy environment in developing countries would do much to improve the situation. The most important step to ensuring positive impacts of foreign investment is the ongoing development of domestic laws and regulations. However, many states do not have all the necessary domestic laws in place and end up negotiating contracts.

Given this reality, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has recently created a practical guide to help governments in developing countries negotiate contracts with investors to reduce the harmful effects and maximise the benefits of farmland investments.

It is the first attempt to create a model contract for developing countries to attract investment for agricultural production, while at the same time promoting the needs of the poor and protecting the environment. It is based on a three-year investigation of 80 farmland contracts and is unique in that it was drafted by a team of lawyers, social scientists and environmentalists.

This model contract does not create a blueprint. Each contract will necessarily be different, depending on the size of the project, the domestic legal systems, and the country’s needs and realities. Deciding what to include in each contract is the job of the parties both before and during the negotiations.

Nonetheless, we believe there are three factors that are critical for success.

First is the process of preparing for negotiations. This involves identifying suitable and available land (both from an environmental and a land rights perspective). It requires meaningful consultations with and consent by communities living on and around the proposed project site. It is important for investors to assess the feasibility of the project to ensure it is commercially viable.

This assessment should be presented to the governments with a business plan. In this preparatory phase, investors also need to examine the potential social and environmental impacts and prepare a plan for how to manage and mitigate those impacts.

Second is turning investor promises into binding commitments. A major complaint from governments and communities is that investors make big promises to create jobs, to build factories, and to bring new technology; and that these promises rarely materialise.

Promises can be incorporated into the contract to make them legally binding. But they must remain realistic and achievable to avoid setting up the project for failure from the outset.

The third step is turning the contract into reality after it has been signed. A contract is not an endpoint: it is only the start of a long-term relationship between the investor, government and communities.

Implementing and enforcing the contract is a much tougher challenge. It requires regular reporting by the investors on how they are implementing their promises and managing the social and environmental impacts. It requires monitoring and evaluation by governments.

And finally, all steps taken around a potential investment should be open and transparent to minimise the risk of corruption and ensure greater acceptance.

Improving the legal and policy frameworks for investment will help governments maximise the benefits and minimise the risks associated with investment in farmland and water. They will support efforts to strengthen food security and achieve sustainable rural development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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War Knocks on Door of Youth Centre in Zwara Fri, 05 Dec 2014 09:05:05 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZWARA, Libya, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

“The house belonged to a former member of the secret services of [Muammar] Gaddafi so we decided to squat it for the local youth in Zwara [an Amazigh enclave 120 km west of Tripoli, on the border with Tunisia],” Fadel Farhad, an electrician who combines his work with the local militia, tells IPS.It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

The centre is called “Tifinagh” after the name given to the Amazigh alphabet. Also called Berbers, the Amazigh are native inhabitants of North Africa.

The arrival of the Arabs in the region in the seventh century was the beginning of a slow yet gradual process of Arabisation which was sharply boosted during the four decades in which Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011) remained in power. Unofficial estimates put the number of Amazighs in this country at around 600,000 – about 10 percent of the total population

Like most of the youngsters at the centre, Farhad knows he can be mobilised at any time. The latest attack on Zwara took place less than a kilometre from here a little over a week ago, when an airstrike hit a warehouse killing two Libyans and six sub-Saharan migrants.

Three years after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital.

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

“Here in Zwara we rely on around 5000 men grouped into different militias,” Younis, a militia fighter who prefers not to give his full name, tells IPS. “We never wanted this to happen but the problem is that all our enemies are fighting on Tobruk´s side,” adds the 30-year-old by the pickups lining up at the entrance of the building.

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The polarisation of the conflict in Libya has pushed several Amazigh militias to fight sporadically alongside the coalition led by Misrata, which includes Islamist groups among its ranks.

However, the atmosphere in this squat house seems at odds with religious orthodoxy of any kind, with an unlikely fusion between Amazigh traditional music and death metal blasting from two loudspeakers. This is the work of 30-year-old Bondok Hassem, a well-known local musician who is also an Amazigh language teacher as well as one of the commanders of the Tamazgha militia.

“Both Misrata and Tobruk are striving to become the alpha male in this war. We are all fully aware that, whoever wins this war, they will attack us immediately afterwards so we are forced to defend our land by any means necessary,” laments Hassem between sips of boja, the local firewater.

But can it be international partnerships that hamper an already difficult agreement between both sides?

Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France are backing Tobruk and Misrata relies mainly on Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile, NATO officials are seemingly torn between wanting to stay out of the war, and watching anxiously as the violence goes out of control. Today, most of the diplomatic missions have left Tripoli, except for those of Italy and Hungary.

A fragile balance

Moussa Harim is among the Amazigh who seem to feel not too uncomfortable siding with the government in Tripoli. Born in Jadu, in the Amazigh stronghold of the Nafusa mountain range – 100 km south of Tripoli – Harim was exiled in France during Gaddafi’s time but he became Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2012.

Although he admits that Islamists pose a real threat, he clarifies that in Misrata there are also people “from all walks of life and very diverse affiliations, communists included.”

It is the geographical location itself which, according to Harim, inexorably pushes the Libyan Amazigh towards Misrata.

“Except for a small enclave in the east, our people live in the west of the country, and a majority of them here, in Tripoli,” the senior official tells IPS.

But there are discordant voices, like that of Fathi Ben Khalifa. A native of Zwara and a political dissident for decades, Ben Khalifa was the president of the World Amazigh Congress between 2011 and 2013.

The Congress is an international organisation based in Paris since 1995 that aims to protect the Amazigh identity. Today Ben Khalifa remains as an executive member of this umbrella organisation for this North African people.

“This is not our war, it’s just a conflict between Arab nationalists and Islamists, none of which will ever recognise our rights,” Ben Khalifa tells IPS over the phone from Morocco. Although the senior political activist defends the right of his people to defend themselves from outside aggressions, he gives a deadline to take a clearer position:

“If Libya´s Constitution – to be released on December 24 – does not grant our legitimate rights, then it will be the time to take up arms,” Ben Khalifa bluntly claims.

At dusk, and after another day marked by exhausting shifts at checkpoints and patrols around the city, the local militiamen cool down after swapping their rifles for a harmonica and a guitar at the squat house. This time they play the songs of Matloub Lounes, a singer from Kabylia, Algeria´s Amazigh stronghold.

“I can´t hardly wait for the war to end. I´ll burn my uniform and get back to my work,” says Anwar Darir, an Amazigh language teacher since 2011. That was the year in which Gaddafi was killed, yet a solution to the conflict among Libyans is still nowhere near.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Native Villagers in Honduras Bet on Food Security – and Win Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:13:27 +0000 Thelma Mejia The now clean, orderly village of Las Vegas de Tepemechin de Pueblo Nuevo, in the northern Honduran municipality of Victoria. The streets and houses of this Tolupan indigenous community used to be full of mud, manure and garbage, but there is not a single bag of rubbish to be seen now and the houses are painted shiny white. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The now clean, orderly village of Las Vegas de Tepemechin de Pueblo Nuevo, in the northern Honduran municipality of Victoria. The streets and houses of this Tolupan indigenous community used to be full of mud, manure and garbage, but there is not a single bag of rubbish to be seen now and the houses are painted shiny white. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
VICTORIA, Honduras , Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The town’s dynamic mayor, Sandro Martínez, assumed the commitment of turning the Honduran municipality of Victoria into a model of food and nutritional security and environmental protection by means of municipal public policies based on broad social and community participation and international development aid.

The initiative began to be put into practice four months ago. It was inspired by what the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) achieved in the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, a village located 15 km from the centre of Victoria.

In that tribe – as the Tolupan refer to each one of their communities – whose official name is Las Vegas de Tepemechín de Pueblo Nuevo, population 750, 29 children overcame malnutrition thanks to a comprehensive food security plan implemented over the last two years.“My aim with Promusan is to change people’s lives, make Victoria a green municipality; we are the least polluted part of the entire department. Food security is my priority, we want to have health and education; we want to be a model municipality in Honduras.” – Mayor Sandro Martínez

“I’m proud of this village, of what they have managed to do in such a short time,” the mayor told Tierramérica. “I grew up near the Tolupan and now that I’m mayor, they are a priority for me. I want to extend this experience throughout the entire municipality of Victoria.

“They have been empowered so much by their experience that one day I went there to cut sugarcane and I left the stalks in the street. I was so surprised when a boy came up and said ‘No Mr. Mayor, we don’t dump garbage here!’ That day I understood that everything they say about this village is true,” he added.

The tribe’s achievements are based on the use of good practices in agriculture and the development of a nutritious diet. They now grow their own food, and hunger has become a thing of the past.

Pueblo Nuevo is now a model of food security and nutrition in the eyes of local and international bodies, thanks to the local indigenous community’s efforts to improve their quality of life, and to their new level of organisation and discipline.

The swift transformations have included: clean houses, which families no longer share with their animals, the use of organic fertiliser, the abandonment of the slash-and-burn technique to clear fields for planting, purified drinking water, family gardens and reliable production of staple crops like maize and beans.

“We have shown that we indigenous people are not lazy,” a member of the local Tolupan community, Rosalío Murillo, told Tierramérica. “The people from FAO taught us how to manage the soil, without the need to slash and burn, and how to live orderly, clean lives, instead of living with our animals [in the huts]. We have improved all of that now.”

Similar remarks were made by other members of the community.

The Tolupan live in the mountains of the northern department or province of Yoro and in the central department of Francisco Morazán. They are one of the few indigenous communities in this country who have preserved their native language, Tol.

Mayor Sandro Martínez, meeting at the city government building in Victoria, in the Honduran department of Yoro, with part of the team in charge of Promusan, to share their experience with Tierramérica. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Mayor Sandro Martínez, meeting at the city government building in Victoria, in the Honduran department of Yoro, with part of the team in charge of Promusan, to share their experience with Tierramérica. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The population of the country is 90 percent mestizo or mixed-race, eight percent indigenous and Garifuna, and two percent white, according to official statistics.

The people of Pueblo Nuevo are so proud of what they have achieved that they want to publish a book to tell their story.

“This is important,” another villager, Narciso ‘Chicho’ Garay, told Tierramérica. “They say next year we’ll have electricity, and I ask myself, and I tell my fellow villagers, that electricity can be good but it can also be bad. Bad because if we only sit around watching movies, it won’t help us at all, we’ll slide backwards, but if we know how to use it, it can lead us to development – not to become rich, maybe, but to live a decent life. The book should show all of this.”

The municipality of Victoria is home to 29,840 people, including 14,000 Tolupan Indians.

As a result of the Pueblo Nuevo success story, the mayor’s office did not hesitate to accept the FAO-SPFS proposal to implement the Municipal Food and Nutritional Security Programme (Promusan) as a public policy.

Promusan is a FAO-SPFS initiative being carried out in 73 of the 298 municipalities of this Central American country, where the U.N. agency identified serious food security problems.

The programme is financed by the municipal governments and the FAO, which has support from Canada. In Victoria, Promusan has already chalked up significant accomplishments by bringing together the community, health and educational institutions, the local government and international development cooperation agencies that are working in different villages.

That was explained by César Alfaro, a FAO technician who leads Promusan. The idea, he told Tierramérica, is to transfer the methodology used by SPFS and other agencies and institutions that work in the area to rural development, environmental and food and nutritional security projects.

One example of this is the Pedro P. Amaya public secondary school with an agricultural orientation which, due to the almost nonexistent support from the state, survives thanks to the hard work of the teachers and the people of Victoria themselves, who have seen the students applying theory in practice, teaching sustainable agricultural techniques to local farmers.

“I used to think agriculture was just about using the machete and hoe, but now I know that’s not true,” Josué Cruz, a student, told Tierramérica.

“I learned to help farmers improve the soil and their crops,” said the student, who is about to graduate from the school with a certificate as a forestry technician. “Here in our school we run our own farm and we even have a water harvester that FAO gave us to irrigate our crops.”

Victoria is a municipality rich in minerals like gold, lead, iron, silver and zinc, and wood that can be logged as well. In addition, it will soon have a nearby hydroelectric dam, “but one that respects the environment,” the mayor pointed out.

“My aim with Promusan is to change people’s lives, make Victoria a green municipality; we are the least polluted part of the entire department. Food security is my priority, we want to have health and education; we want to be a model municipality in Honduras,” Martínez said.

To that end, he is concluding an assessment to identify the most pressing needs, and he has brought together cooperation agencies to avoid duplication of efforts and to outline areas of action “to not just create projects and throw funding around any which way.”

For the first time, two Tolupan Indians are involved in the work in the city government. FAO’s Elvín Soler told Tierramérica, “they’re working with a strategic plan, they keep a log of their activities, and everyone wants to follow the Pueblo Nuevo model.”

Many things in Victoria have changed: more people now pay their taxes as they see the returns in roads, piped water and other improvements, while the mayor, who was reelected for a second four-year term that began this year, said he does not want to “rest on my laurels.”

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Climate Justice Is the Only Way to Solve Our Climate Crisis Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:13:54 +0000 Jagoda Munic Jagoda Munic

Jagoda Munic

By Jagoda Munic
LIMA, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

In November, the world’s top climate scientists issued their latest warning that the climate crisis is rapidly worsening on a number of fronts, and that we must stop our climate-polluting way of producing energy if we are to stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Science says that the risk of runaway climate change draws ever closer. Indeed, we are already witnessing the consequences of climate change: more frequent floods, storms, droughts and rising seas are already causing devastation.Our governments’ inaction is obvious: they have failed to create a strong and equitable climate agreement at the U.N. for 20 years and their baby steps in Lima do not take us in the right direction.

Around the world people and communities are paying the cost of our governments’ continued inaction with their livelihoods and lives and this trend is likely to increase significantly in the future.

Good energy, bad energy

The fact is – our current energy system – the way we produce, distribute and consume energy – is unsustainable, unjust and harming communities, workers, the environment and the climate. Emissions from energy are a key driver of climate change and the system is failing to provide for the basic energy needs of billions of people in the global South.

The world’s main sources of energy like oil, gas and coal are devastating communities, their land, their air and their water. And so are other energy sources like nuclear power, industrial agrofuels and biomass, mega-dams and waste-to-energy incineration. None of these destructive energy sources have a role in our energy future.

There are real solutions to the climate crisis. They include stopping fossil fuels, building sustainable, community-based energy systems, steep reductions in carbon emissions, transforming our food systems, and stopping deforestation.

Surely, a climate-safe, sustainable energy system which meets the basic energy needs of everyone and respects the rights and different ways of life of communities around the world is possible: An energy system where energy production and use support a safe and clean environment, and healthy, thriving local economies that provide safe, decent and secure jobs and livelihoods. Such an energy system would be based on democracy and respect for human rights.

To make this happen we urgently need to invest in locally-appropriate, climate-safe, affordable and low impact energy for all, and reduce energy dependence so that people don’t need much energy to meet their basic needs and live a good life.

We also need to end new destructive energy projects and phase out existing destructive energy sources and we need to tackle the trade and investment rules that prioritise corporations’ needs over those of people and the environment.

So the goals are set, and it is time to act immediately towards a transition period in which the rights of affected communities and workers are respected and their needs provided for during the transition.

Climate politics at odds with climate science

So how are our governments tackling the issue? In the 20 years of the U.N. negotiations on climate change, we haven’t stopped climate change, nor even slowed it down.

Proposals on the table, negotiated by our governments, now are mostly empty false solutions, including expanded carbon markets, and a risky method called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), which will not prevent climate change, and will impact and endanger poor and indigenous communities while earning money for big corporations.

Our governments’ inaction is obvious: they have failed to create a strong and equitable climate agreement at the U.N. for 20 years and their baby steps in Lima do not take us in the right direction. The reason is that, unfortunately, the U.N. climate negotiations are massively compromised because the corporate polluters who fund and create dirty energy are in the negotiating halls and have our governments in their pockets.

Major corporations and polluters are lobbying to undermine the chances of achieving climate justice via the UNFCCC. Much of this influence is exerted in the member states before governments come to the climate negotiations, but the negotiations are also attended by hundreds of lobbyists from the corporate sector trying to ensure that any agreement promotes the interests of big business before people’s interests and climate justice.

If we want any concrete agreement that would ensure the stopping of climate change for the benefit of all, we must stop the corporate takeover of U.N. climate negotiations by those corporate polluters.

There is also an issue of historic responsibility. The world’s richest, developed countries are responsible for the majority of historical carbon emissions, while hosting only 15 percent of the world’s population.

They emitted the biggest share of the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere today, way more than their fair share. They must urgently make the deepest emission cuts and provide the most money if countries are to fairly share the responsibility of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Of course, tackling climate change and avoiding catastrophic climate change necessitates action by all countries. But the responsibility of countries to take action must reflect their historical responsibility for creating the problem and their capacity to act.

While the emissions of industrialising countries like China, India, South Africa and Brazil are rapidly increasing, these nations made a much smaller contribution to the climate problem overall than the rich developed countries, and their per capita emissions are still much lower.

Industrialised countries’ governments are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe and their positions at global climate talks are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites and multinational corporations. These interests, tied to the economic sectors responsible for pollution or profiting from false solutions to the climate crisis like carbon trading and fossil fuels, are the key forces behind global inaction.

This year in Lima there are big plans to expand carbon markets. Friends of the Earth International argues that carbon markets are a false solution to climate change that let rich countries off the hook and do not address the climate crisis. Expanding carbon markets will make climate change worse and cause further harm to people around the world while bringing huge profits to polluters.

The U.N. climate talks are supposed to be making progress on implementing the agreement that world governments made in 1992 to stop man-made and dangerous climate change. The agreement recognises that rich countries have done the most to cause the problem of climate change and should take the lead in solving it, as well as provide funds to poorer countries as repayment of their climate debt.

But developed countries’ governments have done very little to deliver on these commitments and time is running out. What’s more, rich countries continue to further diminish their responsibilities to tackle climate change and dismantle the whole framework for binding reductions of greenhouse gases, without which we have no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

What needs to happen in the climate talks?

Within the U.N., rich developed countries must meet their historical responsibility by committing to urgent and deep emissions cuts in line with science and justice and without false solutions such as carbon trading, offsetting and other loopholes.

They must also repay their climate debt to poorer countries in the developing world so that they too can tackle climate change. This means transferring adequate public finance and technology to developing countries so that they too can build low-carbon and truly sustainable economies, adapt to climate change and receive compensation for irreparable loss and damage. This will help ensure a safe climate, more secure livelihoods, more jobs, and clean affordable energy for all.

For now, the U.N. talks are still heading in the wrong direction, with weak non-binding pledges and insufficient finance from developed countries, and huge reliance on false solutions like carbon trading and REDD.

Unfortunately, if the U.N. climate negotiations continue in the same manner, any deal on the table at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris next year will fall far short of what is required by science and climate justice.

To achieve a binding and justice-based agreement based on the cuts needed, as science tells us, our governments must listen to those impacted by climate change, not to corporations, which, by definition aim at more profits, not a safer climate.

Movement building and climate justice

Preventing the climate crisis and the potential collapse of life-supporting ecosystems on a global level, requires long-term thinking, brave leaders and a mass movement. We have to challenge the corporate influence over our governments and exert real democratic control over the energy transition so that the needs and interests of people and the planet take priority over private profit.

And at the heart of this movement we need climate justice – action on climate change that is radical, that challenges the system that has led to the climate catastrophe, and that fights for fair solutions that will benefit all people, not just the few.

It is already happening. In September we saw massive mobilizations around the world, with hundreds of thousands of people marching and actions across every continent, including 400,000 people on the streets of New York.

And at the latest U.N. talks in Lima, we see people from all walks of life – indigenous people, social movements, youth, farmers, women’s movements – from across Peru, Latin America, and around the world joining together in the People’s Summit to collectively articulate the peoples’ demands and the peoples’ solutions to climate change.

But we need to grow much bigger and much stronger. We are calling on people to join the global movement for climate justice, which is gaining power and integrating actions at local, national and U.N. level. The solution to the climate crisis is achievable and it is in our hands.

This article originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Led by INTERPOL, U.N. Tracks Environmental Criminals Fri, 28 Nov 2014 19:19:48 +0000 Thalif Deen A carpenter organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in Cuba's Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A carpenter organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in Cuba's Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Thalif Deen

A coalition of international organisations, led by INTERPOL and backed by the United Nations, is pursuing a growing new brand of criminals – primarily accused of serious environmental crimes – who have mostly escaped the long arm of the law.

Described as a worldwide operation, it is the first of its kind targeting individuals wanted for a wide range of crimes, including logging, poaching and trafficking in animals declared endangered species.

Widespread poaching, particularly in central Africa, has resulted in the loss of at least 60 percent of elephants in that region during the last decade.

Last week, INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organisation, released photographs of nine fugitives charged with these crimes – and who are on the run.

The individuals targeted include, among others, Feisal Mohamed Ali, alleged to be the leader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya, according to the U.N. Daily News.

The international coalition is seeking help from the public for information that could help track down the nine suspects whose cases have been singled out for the initial phase of the investigations.

Rob Parry-Jones, manager of international policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told IPS, “It sends a strong message that environmental crime is not merely an animal being illegally shot here or a tree illegally felled there. Environmental crime is highly organised crime and can have devastating impacts.”

He said INTERPOL’s response is something that WWF has wanted for some time. “It is also something that enforcement agencies have wanted for some time.”

The political platform and enabling environment for INTERPOL and other institutions to undertake the necessary research, and to be in a position to release such findings, is a welcome advance from a few years back when WWF and TRAFFIC first started their campaign to raise the political profile of wildlife crime, Parry-Jones said.

TRAFFIC (Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) is a wildlife trade monitoring network supported by WWF.

Code-named INFRA-Terra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest), the global operation is supported by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) – which is a collaborative effort of the Secretariat of the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), along with INTERPOL, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation.

In a press statement last week, Ben Janse van Rensburg, chief of enforcement support for CITES, said, “This first operation represents a big step forward against wildlife criminal networks.”

He said countries are increasingly treating wildlife crime as a serious offence, and “we will leave no stone unturned to locate and arrest these criminals to ensure they are brought to justice.”

Nathalie Frey, deputy political director at Greenpeace International, told IPS her organisation strongly supports the INTERPOL initiative to strengthen law enforcement against environmental crimes.

“Whilst INTERPOL has been looking more closely into environmental crimes for a number of years, this is the first time we have seen them reach out to the public appealing for further information and leads,” she said.

By giving environmental criminals a name and a face, she said, “it shows that law enforcement agencies are finally starting to take crimes such as illegal logging and fishing as seriously as murder or theft.”

WWF’s Parry-Jones told IPS that addressing environmental crimes effectively across international borders requires legal frameworks that can talk with each other.

Dual criminality where crimes of this scale are recognised in countries’ legal frameworks as serious crimes — a penalty of four-plus year’s imprisonment — brings the crimes within the scope of the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), enabling international law enforcement cooperation and mutual legal assistance, he said.

The nature of the crimes illustrates the links with other forms of transnational crime, including people trafficking and arms smuggling, and reinforces the argument over the past few years, both by WWF and TRAFFIC, that environmental crime is a cross-sectoral issue and a serious crime, he added.

Greenpeace’s Frey told IPS environmental crime is “big business”, and at an estimated 70-213 billion dollars per year, the earnings are almost on a par with other criminal activities such as drugs and arms trafficking. That estimate includes logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, illegal fisheries, illegal mining and dumping of toxic waste.

Behind these perpetrators, she pointed out, are large networks of criminal activities, with corruption often permeating the whole supply chain of valuable commodities such as timber or fish.

Illegal logging, for example, is rife in many timber-producing countries, and is one of the main culprits for wiping out vast areas of forest that are often home to endangered species.

“Consumer markets are still awash with illegal wood despite regulations to ban the trade,” Frey said.

This, she said, is reflected in the staggering figures released by INTERPOL that illegal logging accounts for 50-90 percent of forestry in key tropical producer countries.

“Whilst we strongly welcome INTERPOL’s initiative to track down offenders and crack down on corruption it is very important that CITES [the U.N. convention to regulate international trade in endangered species] takes much greater action to encourage its parties to step up enforcement and controls,” Frey said.

She singled out the example of Afrormosia, a valuable tropical hardwood found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This species is under threat and has been listed as requiring special trade regulation under CITES, yet a blind eye continues to be turned to many cases of illegal trade.

Industrial loggers have a free pass to harvest Afrormosia in the country, despite illegal logging estimated to be almost 90 percent, she said.

CITES is supposed to verify legality, yet hundreds of CITES permits were unaccounted for. Traceability in the country is also non-existent, Frey added.

By allowing the continued trade of species that have been illegally harvested, CITES fails to protect species from extinction, and its lack of controls and weaknesses only serve to fuel environmental crimes, she declared.

According to the U.N. Daily News, wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries.

The extent of the response required to effectively address the threat is often beyond the sole remit of environmental or wildlife law enforcement agencies, or even of one country or region alone, it said.

Last June, the joint U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP)-INTERPOL Environmental Crime Crisis report, pointed to an increased awareness of, and response to, the growing global threat.

It called for concerted action aimed at strengthening action against the organised criminal networks profiting from the trade.

According to the report, one terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between 38 and 56 million dollars per year from the illegal trade in charcoal.

“Wildlife and forest crime also play a serious role in threat finance to organized crime and non-State armed groups, including terrorist organizations,” it said.

Ivory provides income to militia groups in the DRC and the Central African Republic. And it also provides funds to gangs operating in Sudan, Chad and Niger.

Last week, Uganda complained the loss of about 3,000 pounds of ivory from the vaults of its state-run wildlife protection agency.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Indigenous Community Beats Drought and Malnutrition in Honduras Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:02:20 +0000 Thelma Mejia The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PUEBLO NUEVO, Honduras , Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

In the heart of the Pijol mountains in the northern Honduran province of Yoro, the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo has a lot to celebrate: famine is no longer a problem for them, and their youngest children were rescued from the grip of child malnutrition.

The Tolupan indigenous people in Pueblo Nuevo are no longer suffering from the drought that hit much of the country this year, severely affecting the production of staple crops like beans and maize, as a result of climate change and the global El Niño weather phenomenon.

For the last two years, the Tolupan of Pueblo Nuevo have had food reserves that they store in a community warehouse. The “black Junes” are a thing of the past, the villagers told this IPS reporter who spent a day with them.

“From June to August, things were always really hard, we didn’t have enough food, we had to eat roots. It was a time of subsistence, we always said: black June is on its way,” said the leader of the tribe, 27-year-old Tomás Cruz, a schoolteacher.“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage - that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us.” -- Estanisla Reyes

“But today we can smile and say: black June is gone. Now we have food for our children, who had serious malnutrition problems here because there wasn’t enough food,” he added.

The transformation was brought about with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), with funding from Canada. The programme employs proven technologies such as improved crop varieties and low-cost irrigation and drainage systems to bolster food security and nutrition in critical areas.

An assessment by the SPFS identified serious malnutrition problems in 73 of Honduras’ 298 municipalities.

Pueblo Nuevo and six other Tolupan communities in the municipality of Victoria in Yoro were among the villages with severe nutritional and food security problems.

In the seven tribes, as the Tolupan refer to their settlements, 217 cases of malnutrition were detected among children under five. The other six communities are El Comunal, San Juancito, Piedra Blanca, Guanchías, El Portillo and Buenos Aires.

But Pueblo Nuevo was the model community, because in two years it managed to eliminate malnutrition among its children. Pueblo Nuevo, home to 750 people, is a new settlement created after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, claiming 20,000 lives and causing severe damage to infrastructure and the economy.

According to official figures, one out of four children under five in Honduras suffers from chronic malnutrition, equivalent to 240,000 of the over 800,000 children under five in this country of 8.4 million people.

The population of the country is 90 percent mestizo or mixed-race, two percent white, three percent Garifuna and six percent indigenous, according to official statistics.

Becoming a model community

César Alfaro, the SPFS-FAO expert working in the area, told IPS that Pueblo Nuevo’s experience was a success because the tribe understood that they had to change their way of life, implementing good practices in cropping, hygiene and food security.

The villagers, for their part, said Alfaro’s support was key to the community’s transformation.

“When we got here [to Pueblo Nuevo] nobody wanted to come,” Alfaro said. “The teachers said they couldn’t hold a celebration because there was manure everywhere. The indigenous villagers lived in chaos, they slept with the livestock in the middle of all the filth.”

But Pueblo Nuevo is now a clean village, the locals have improved their wattle- and-daub huts, the walls are shiny and white, they divided their living spaces with the animals on one side and the kitchen with ecological stoves on the other, and they even have separate bedrooms.

Located 200 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa, the village is an example of teamwork. Each indigenous hut now has a family garden, a chicken coop, and clean water, purified at a treatment plant run by the community.

The malnourished children were put on good diets, under close medical supervision, and their parents now have basic knowledge and awareness about food, nutrition and the environment, which they are proud to talk about.

One of the mothers, Estanisla Reyes, 37, told IPS that her five-year-old daughter Angeline Nicole, the youngest of her three children, had malnutrition problems in the past.

“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage – that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us,” she said, smiling.

She and her husband built the walls of their new kitchen, which forms part of the house, unlike their old kitchen, working 12 hours a day for 15 days. “My husband made the mix, and I brought the water, and polished the walls – many families worked like that,” she said proudly.

Another mother, Adela Maradiaga, said “our lives changed. I came in as a volunteer because I’m from another tribe. I was surprised when I found out that my daughter was also malnourished. Then the Pueblo Nuevo tribe accepted me, and with the food we grow in our garden, our children are nourished and we are too.” She added that her children no longer have stomach troubles or a cough.

In Pueblo Nuevo they are also proud that they don’t have to hire themselves out to work, or sell their livestock to ranchers or merchants in the area to eat. “We used to pawn our things, but now we sell them maize, beans, fruit and avocados,” said Narciso “Chicho” Garay.

The tribe no longer uses the slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, and they now use organic fertiliser and recycle their garbage. They have a community savings fund where they deposit part of their earnings, which has made it possible to have clean drinking water and provisions.

They managed to improve the yield per hectare of beans from 600 to 1,800 kg, and of maize from 900 to 3,000 kg, and now they know that a family of six needs 2,400 to 2,800 kg of maize a year, for example.

Sandro Martínez, the mayor of Victoria, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the changes in Pueblo Nuevo, because he was born and grew up near the Tolupan indigenous people and did not hesitate to ask FAO to bring its food security programme to the native villages.

“A famine in those villages in 2010 prompted me to look for help, and we found it. It wasn’t easy to start working with the Tolupan community; the success lies in respecting their way of government represented by the leader of the tribe, as well as their cosmovision. Now they say they’re rich because they no longer have to work for a boss,” he told IPS.

There are seven indigenous groups in Honduras: the Lenca, Pech, Tolupan, Chorti, Tawahka and Misquito, besides the Garífunas, who are the descendants of slaves intermixed with native populations. The Tolupan number 18,000 divided into 31 tribes, governed by a chief who leads a council that makes the decisions.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Democratising the Fight against Malnutrition Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:07:43 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu Women play an important role in guaranteeing sufficient food supply for their families. They are among the stakeholders whose voice needs to be heard in the debate on nutrition. Credit: FIAN International

Women play an important role in guaranteeing sufficient food supply for their families. They are among the stakeholders whose voice needs to be heard in the debate on nutrition. Credit: FIAN International

By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

There is a new dimension to the issue of malnutrition – governments, civil society and the private sector have started to come together around a common nutrition agenda.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the launch of the “Zero Hunger Challenge” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June 2012 opened the way for new stakeholders to work together in tackling malnutrition.

These new stakeholders include civil society organisations and their presence was felt at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) held from Nov. 19 to 21 in Rome."Malnutrition can only be addressed “in the context of vibrant and flourishing local food systems that are deeply ecologically rooted, environmentally sound and culturally and socially appropriate … food sovereignty is a fundamental precondition to ensure food security and guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition” – Declaration of the Civil Society Organisations’ Forum to ICN2

More than half of the world’s population is adversely affected by malnutrition according to FAO. Worldwide, 200 million children suffer from under-nutrition while two billion women and children suffer from anaemia and other types of nutrition deficiencies.

Addressing ICN2, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said that “the time is now for bold action to shoulder the challenge of Zero Hunger and ensure adequate nutrition for all.” More than 20 years after the first Conference on Nutrition (ICN), held in 1992, ICN2 marked “the beginning of our renewed effort,” he added.

But the difference this time was that the private sector and civil society organisations were included in ICN2 and the process leading to it, from web consultations and pre-conference events to roundtables, plenary and side events.

“This civil society meeting is historical,” said Flavio Valente, Secretary-General of FIAN International, an organisation advocating for the right to adequate food. “It is the first time that civil society constituencies have worked with FAO, WHO and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to discuss nutrition.”

This gave the opportunity to social movements, “including a vast array of stakeholders such as peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, pastoralists, landless people and urban poor to have their voices heard and be able to discuss with NGOs, academics and nutritionists,” Valente explained.

According to a Concept Note on the participation of non-State actors in ICN2, evidence shows that encouraging participants enables greater transparency, inclusion and plurality in policy discussion, which leads to a greater sense of ownership and consensus.

As such, “the preparation for the ICN2 was a first step in building alliances between civil society organisations (CSOs)  and social movements involved in working with food, nutrition, health and agriculture,” Valente told IPS.

This means that “governments have already started to listen to our joint demands and proposals, in particular those related to the governance of food and nutrition,” he explained.

A powerful Declaration submitted by the CSO Forum on the final day of ICN2 called for a commitment to “developing a coherent, accountable and participatory governance mechanism, safeguarded against undue corporate influence … based on principles of human rights, social justice, transparency and democracy, and directly engaging civil society, in particular the populations and communities which are most affected by different forms of malnutrition.”

According to Valente, malnutrition is the result of political decisions and public policies that do not guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.

In this context, the CSOs stated that “food is the expression of values, cultures, social relations and people’s self-determination, and … the act of feeding oneself and others embodies our sovereignty, ownership and empowerment.”

Malnutrition, they said, can only be addressed “in the context of vibrant and flourishing local food systems that are deeply ecologically rooted, environmentally sound and culturally and socially appropriate. We are convinced that food sovereignty is a fundamental precondition to ensure food security and guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.”

At a high-level meeting in April last year on the United Nations’ vision for a post-2015 strategy against world hunger, the FAO Director-General said that since the world produces enough food to feed everyone, emphasis needs to be placed on access to food and to adequate nutrition at the local level. “We need food systems to be more efficient and equitable,” he said.

However, Valente told IPS that CSOs believe that one of the main obstacles to making progress in terms of addressing nutrition-related problems “has been the refusal of States to recognise several of the root causes of malnutrition in all its forms.”

“This makes it very difficult to elaborate global and national public policies that effectively tackle the structural issues and therefore could be able to not only treat but also prevent new cases of malnutrition.”

What needs to be addressed, he said, are not only the “symptoms of malnutrition”, but also resource grabbing, the unsustainable dominant food system, the agro-industrial model and bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that significantly limit the policy space of national governments on food and nutrition-related issues.

But, according to Valente, “things are changing” – civil society organisations have organised around food and nutrition issues, the food sovereignty movement has grown in resistance since the 1980s and societies are now demanding action from their governments in an organised way.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Up Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shale Oil Fuels Indigenous Conflict in Argentina Tue, 18 Nov 2014 16:57:06 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CAMPO MARIPE, Argentina, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

The boom in unconventional fossil fuels has revived indigenous conflicts in southwest Argentina. Twenty-two Mapuche communities who live on top of Vaca Muerta, the geological formation where the reserves are located, complain that they were not consulted about the use of their ancestral lands, both “above and below ground.”

Albino Campo, ”logko” or chief of the Campo Maripe Mapuche community, is critical of the term “superficiary” – one to whom a right of surface occupation is granted – which was used in the oil contracts to describe the people living on the land, with whom the oil companies are negotiating.

“We are the owners of the surface, and of what is above and below as well. That is the ‘mapu’ (earth). It’s not hollow below ground; there is another people below,” he told IPS.

Nor is it hollow for the oil companies, although the two conceptions are very different.

Three thousand metres below Campo Maripe lies one of the world’s biggest reserves of shale gas and oil.

The land that the community used for grazing is now part of the Loma Campana oilfield, operated by the state-run YPF oil company in partnership with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“More or less 160 wells have been drilled here,” Campo said. “When they reach 500 wells, we won’t have any land for our animals. They stole what is ours.”“The company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.” – Mapuche leader Jorge Nahuel

Because of the urgent need to boost production, YPF started a year ago to make roads and drill wells in the Campo Campana oilfield in the southern Patagonian province of Neuquén.

The Mapuche chief and his sister Mabel Campo showed IPS what their lands had turned into, with the intense noise and dust from the trucks continuously going back and forth to and from the oilfield.

They carry machinery, drill pipes and the products used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a highly criticised technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas and oil trapped in the underground rocks.

“They say fracking and everything aboveground doesn’t pollute…maybe it’ll be a while but we’ll start seeing cancer, skin cancer, because of all the pollution, and we’ll also die of thirst because there won’t be any water to drink,” said Mabel Campo.

YPF argues that it negotiated with the provincial government to open up the oilfield, because it is the government that holds title to the land.

However, “we try to have the best possible relations with any superficiary or pseudo superficiary or occupant, in the areas where we work, Mapuches or not,” YPF-Neuquén’s manager of institutional relations, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

The families of Campo Maripe have not obtained title to their land yet, but they did score one major victory.

After protests that included chaining themselves to oil derricks, they got the provincial government to recognise them legally as a community in October.

“Registration as a legal entity leaves behind the official stance of denying the Mapuche indigenous identity, and now the consultation process will have to be carried out for any activity that affects the territory,” Micaela Gomiz, with the Observatory of Human Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Patagonia (ODHPI), stated in a communiqué released by that organisation.

According to ODHIP, as of 2013 there were 347 Mapuche people charged with “usurpation” and trespassing on land, including 80 lawsuits filed in Neuquén and 60 cases in the neighbouring province of Río Negro.

In the case of Vaca Muerta, Jorge Nahuel, spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, told IPS that the local indigenous communities were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Argentina ratified 25 years ago.

Convention 169 requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

“What the state should do before granting concessions to land is to reach an agreement with the community over whether or not it is willing to accept such an enormous change of lifestyle,” he said.

Furthermore, said Nahuel, “the company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.”

The Mapuche leader said similar violations are committed in the soy and mining industries. “Indigenous people are seen as just another element of nature and as such they are trampled on,” he complained.

In this South American country of 42 million, nearly one million people identified themselves as indigenous in the last census, carried out in 2010. Most of them belong to the Mapuche and Colla communities, and live in Neuquén and two other provinces.

Nahuel noted that of nearly 70 Neuquén indigenous communities, only 10 percent hold legal title to their land.

“The logic followed by the state is that the weaker the documentation of land tenure, the greater the legal security enjoyed by the company,” he said. “It’s a perverse logic because what they basically believe is that by keeping us without land titles for decades, it will be easier for the companies to invade our territory.”

Some have cast doubt on the real interests of the Mapuche.

Luis Sapag, a lawmaker of the Neuquén Popular Movement, triggered the controversy last year when he remarked that “some of them have been doing good business…YPF didn’t go to the Mapuches’ land to set up shop….some Mapuches went to put their houses where YPF was operating, to get this movement started.”

“Until Loma Campana was developed, there were never any demands or complaints from a Mapuche community,” said YPF Neuquén’s manager of unconventional resources, Pablo Bizzotto, during a visit by IPS and correspondents from other international news outlets to the oilfield in the southwestern province of Neuquén.

Nahuel compared that reasoning to “the arguments used by the state when it invaded Mapuche territory, saying this was a desert, we got here, and then indigenous people showed up making demands and claims.

“They’re using the same logic here – first they raze a territory, and then they say: ‘But what is it that you’re demanding? We hadn’t even seen you people before’,” he said.

Nahuel said the production of shale gas and oil, an industry in which Argentina is becoming a global leader, poses “a much greater threat” than the production of conventional fossil fuels, which he said “already left pollution way down in the soil, and among all of the Mapuche families in the area.”

“It is an industry that has a major environmental and social – and even worse for us, cultural – impact, because it breaks down community life and destroys the collective relationship that we have with this territory, and has turned us into ‘superficiaries’ for the industry,” Nahuel said.

He added that as the drilling moves ahead, the conflicts will increase.

He said the country’s new law on fossil fuels, in effect since Oct. 31, will aggravate the problems because “it serves the corporations by ensuring them the right to produce for 50 years.”

The logko, Campo, said: “When YPF pulls out there will be no future left for the Mapuche people. What they are leaving us here is only pollution and death.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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G20 Seeks to Streamline Private Investment in Infrastructure Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:00:43 +0000 Carey L. Biron Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

Water pouring through the sluice gates at Gariep Dam in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Industrialised countries have agreed to collaborate on a new programme aimed at funnelling significant private-sector investment into global infrastructure projects, particularly in developing countries.

The Global Infrastructure Initiative, agreed to Sunday by governments of the Group of 20 (G20) countries, will not actually be funding new projects. But it will seek to create investment environments that are more conducive to major foreign investors, and to assist in connecting governments with financiers.In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

The initiative’s work will be overseen at a secretariat in Australia, the host of this weekend’s G20 summit and a government that has made infrastructure investment a key priority. This office, known as the Global Infrastructure Hub, will foster collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as multilateral banks.

“With a four-year mandate, the Hub will work internationally to help countries improve their general investment climates, reduce barriers to investment, grow their project pipelines and help match investors with projects,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey said Sunday in a joint statement. “This will help improve how infrastructure markets work.”

Some estimate the undertaking could mobilise some two trillion dollars in new infrastructure investment over the next decade and a half. This would be available to be put into electrical grids, roads and bridges, ports and other major projects.

The G20 has emerged as the leading multilateral grouping tasked with promoting economic collaboration. Together, its membership accounts for some 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

With the broad aim of prompting global economic growth, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will work to motivate major institutional investors – banks, pension funds and others – to provide long-term capital to the world’s mounting infrastructure deficits. In developing countries alone these needs could require up to a trillion dollars a year of additional investment, though currently governments are spending just half that amount.

In recent years, the private sector has turned away from infrastructure in developing countries and emerging economies. Between 2012 and last year alone, such investments declined by nearly 20 percent, to 150 billion dollars, according to the World Bank.

“This new initiative very positively reflects a clear-eyed reading of the evidence that there are infrastructure logjams and obstacles in both the developing and developed world,” Scott Morris, a senior associate at the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank, told IPS. “From a donor perspective, this indicates better listening to what these countries are actually asking for.”

Still, Morris notes, it remains unclear what exactly the Global Infrastructure Initiative’s outcomes will be.

“The G20 clearly intends to prioritise infrastructure investment,” he says, “but it’s hard to get a sense of where the priorities are.”

Lucrative opportunity

The Global Infrastructure Initiative is the latest in a string of major new infrastructure-related programmes announced at the multilateral level in recent weeks.

In early October, the World Bank announced a project called the Global Infrastructure Facility, which appears to have a mandate very similar to the new G20 initiative. At the end of the month, the Chinese government announced the creation of a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Many have suggested that the World Bank and G20 announcements were motivated by China’s forceful entry onto this stage. As yet, however, there is little clarity on the G20 project’s strategy.

“With so many discreet initiatives suddenly underway, I wonder if the new G20 project doesn’t cause confusion,” Morris says.

“Right now it’s very difficult to see any division in responsibilities between the G20 and World Bank infrastructure projects. The striking difference between them both and the AIIB is that the Chinese are offering actual capital for investment.”

The idea for the new initiative reportedly came from a business advisory body to the G20, known as the Business 20 (B20). The B20 says it “fully supports” the new Global Infrastructure Initiative.

“The Global Infrastructure Initiative is a critical step in addressing the global growth and employment challenge, and the business community strongly endorses the commitments of the G20 to increase quality investment in infrastructure,” Richard Goyder, the B20 chair, said Monday.

“The B20 estimates that improving project preparation, structuring and delivery could increase infrastructure capacity by [roughly] 20 trillion dollars by 2030.”

Goyder pledged that the business sector would “look to be heavily involved in supporting” the new projects.

Poison pill?

Yet if global business is excited at the prospect of trillions of dollars’ worth of new investment opportunities, civil society is expressing concern that it remains unclear how, or whether, the Global Infrastructure Initiative will impose rules on the new projects to minimise their potential social or environmental impacts.

“Private investment in infrastructure is crucial for closing the infrastructure funding gap and meeting human needs, and the G20 initiative is an important move by governments to catalyse that private investment,” Lise Johnson, the head of investment law and policy at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment at Columbia University, told IPS.

“It is key, however, that the initiative and the infrastructure hub develop procedures and practices not only to promote development of infrastructure, but to ensure that projects are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for host countries and communities.”

Prominent multilateral safeguards policies such as those used by the World Bank are typically not applied to public-private partnerships, which will likely make up a significant focus of the G20’s new infrastructure push. Further, regulatory constraints could be too politically thorny for the G20 to forge new agreement.

“In the 2013 assessment of the G20’s infrastructure initiative by the G20 Development Working Group, only one item of the whole infrastructure agenda ‘stalled’ – and that was the work on environmental safeguards,” Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a think tank, told IPS.

“I’ve always gotten the feedback from the G20 that such policies are matters of national sovereignty.”

The G20 is now hoping that trillions of dollars in infrastructure spending will create up to 10 million jobs over the next 15 years, spurring global economic growth. Yet Alexander questions whether this spending will be a “magic bullet” or a “poison pill”.

“Some of us are old enough to remember how recklessly the petrodollars of the 1970s and 1980s were spent – especially on infrastructure … Then, reckless lenders tried to turn a quick profit without regard to the social, environmental and financial consequences, including unpayable debts,” she says.

“Seeing the devastation wrought by poorly conceived infrastructure, many of us worked to create systems of transparency, safeguards and recourse at the multilateral development banks – systems that are now considered too time-consuming, expensive and imperialistic.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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How a Small Tribe Turned Tragedy into Opportunity Thu, 13 Nov 2014 11:59:20 +0000 Malini Shankar An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

An Irula couple fishes in the creeks of the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
PICHAVARAM, India, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

When the Asian tsunami washed over several Indian Ocean Rim countries on Boxing Day 2004, it left a trail of destruction in its wake, including a death toll that touched 230,000.

Millions lost their jobs, food security and traditional livelihoods and many have spent the last decade trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But for a small tribe in southern India, the tsunami didn’t bring devastation; instead, it brought hope.

Numbering some 25,000 people, the Irulas have long inhabited the Nilgiri Mountains in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and have traditionally earned a living by ridding the farmland of rats and snakes, often supplementing their meagre income by working as daily wage agricultural labourers in the fields.

“If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes." -- Nagamuthu, an Irula tribesman and tsunami survivors
Now, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami, the Irulas in Tamil Nadu are a living example of how sustainable disaster management can alleviate poverty, while simultaneously preserving an ancient way of life.

Prior to 2004, the Irula people laboured under extremely exploitative conditions, earning no more than 3,000 rupees (about 50 dollars) each month. Nutrition levels were poor, and the community suffered from inadequate housing and sanitation facilities.

But when the giant waves receded and NGOs and aid workers flocked to India’s southern coast to rebuild the flattened, sodden landscape, the Irulas received more than just a hand-out.

They were finally included on the government’s List of Scheduled Tribes, largely thanks to the efforts of a government official named G.S. Bedi from the tsunami-ravaged coastal district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu.

Inclusion on the list enabled the community to become legal beneficiaries of state-sponsored developmental schemes like the Forest Rights Act and other sustainable fisheries initiatives, thereby improving their access to better housing, and bringing greater food and livelihood security.

More importantly, community members say, the post-tsunami period has marked a kind of revival among Irulas, who are availing themselves of sustainable livelihood schemes to conserve their environment while also increasing their wages.

Bioshields conservation – the way forward for sustainable development

Under the aegis of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Irulas are now part of a major livelihood scheme that has boosted monthly earnings seven-fold, to roughly 21,000 rupees or about 350 dollars in the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest of Tamil Nadu where their traditional homes are located.

Some 180 Irula families are directly benefitting from training programmes and subsidies granted to their tribal cooperatives, also known as self-help groups.

Members of the tribe are sharpening their skills at fishing, sustainable aquaculture and crab fattening, gradually moving further and further away from a life of veritable servitude to big landowners.

Perhaps most importantly, Irulas are incorporating mangrove protection and conservation into their daily lives, a step they see as necessary to the long-term survival of the entire community.

Indeed, it was the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, located close to the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, that spared the community massive loss of life during the tsunami, protecting some 4,500 Irulas, or 900 families, from the full impact of the waves.

Snuggled between the Vellar estuary in the north and Coleroon estuary in the south, the Pichavaram forest spans some 1,100 hectares, its complex root system and inter-tidal ecosystem offering a sturdy barrier against seawater intrusion, waves and flooding.

According to statistics provided by Dr. Sivakumar, a marine biologist with the MSSRF in Chennai, the unlucky few who perished in the tsunami were those who were caught outside of the ecosystem’s protective embrace – some seven people from the Kannagi Nagar and Pillumedu villages, as well as 64 people who were stranded on the MGR Thittu, both located on sandbars devoid of mangroves.

The experience opened many tribal members’ eyes to the inestimable value of mangroves and their own vulnerability to the vagaries of the sea, sparking a grassroots-level conservation effort under the provisions of India’s Forest Rights Act.

“Until we were enlisted in the Scheduled Tribes List we did not know our rights, we were neither successful as hunter-gatherers nor as daily wage agricultural labourers,” says 55-year-old Pichakanna, an Irula tribal man who has happily exchanged agricultural employment for fishing and aquaculture activities that allow him to participate in mangrove conservation efforts in Tamil Nadu.

His salary now comes from prawn farming in the biodiverse mangrove forests, he tells IPS.

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, chairman of the MSSRF, believes that “by conserving mangrove forests [we are] protecting the most productive coastal ecosystem that guarantees […] livelihood and ecological security.

“Bioshields are an indispensable part of Disaster Risk Resilience,” he adds.

This union between job creation and disaster management has been a stroke of unprecedented good fortune for the Irula people.

Thirty-three-year-old Nagamuthu, an Irula member whose parents – hailing from the Pichavaram forests – survived the tsunami, tells IPS, “If we were not included in the [Scheduled Tribes] List we would never have benefited from [development] schemes. We would have remained hunter-gatherers, eating rats and hunting snakes.

“Now we have developed a mangrove plantation on forest land granted to us by the government, and the Forest Rights Act has also given us fishing rights in the Protected Area of the Pichavaram Mangroves.”

Such developments are crucial at a time when mangroves are disappearing fast. According to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times greater than the average rates of forest loss.”

By 2050, South Asia could lose as much as 35 percent of its mangroves that existed in 2000. Emissions resulting from such losses make up about a fifth of deforestation-related global carbon emissions, the report says.

Irulas now harvest minor forest produce from the rich waters around the mangroves, such as clusters of natural pearl oysters, which are very high in protein, for their own consumption.

“We have also learnt the skill of crab trapping, and we have installed crab fattening devices close to our homes deep in the mangrove creeks,” Nagamuthu tells IPS. “This has helped us carve out a sustainable livelihood.”

Tribe members have also been taught to dig canals in the eco-friendly ‘fish bone’ pattern that helps bring tidal creeks directly to their doorstep, where they can catch fresh fish for breakfast.

This canal system, now recommended by the Government of India, also helps in decreasing soil salinity, prevents mangrove degradation, and improves fish yields.

This, in turn, has improved livelihood security. Coupled with the acquisition of new and improved equipment – such as nets, boats, oars, engines, hooks and traps – many fisher families have completely turned their lives around.

Residents of villagers such as Killai, Pillumedu, Kannaginagar, Kalaingar, Vadakku, T.S. Pettai, and Pichavaram have now created a community fund that gathers 30 percent of each families’ monthly income; the savings have been used to construct a village temple, a school and drinking water facilities for 900 families from some seven villages.

Pichakanna, who is now the village elder for the newly established MGR Nagar Township, tells IPS proudly that the community fund has also helped establish an ‘early warning helpline’, which uses voice SMS technology to inform fisherfolk about wave height and wind direction, as well as provide six-hourly weather forecasts and early warnings of approaching cyclones.

A voice SMS broadcast aimed at women also passes on information about health and hygiene, maternity benefits and minimum wages.

While heads of states and development experts fly around the world to discuss the post-2015 ‘sustainable development’ agenda, here in Pichavaram, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life – and they are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuses Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:09:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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They Say the Land is ‘Uninhabited’ but Indigenous Communities Disagree Thu, 30 Oct 2014 05:10:11 +0000 Amantha Perera Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO/BALI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Disregarding the rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands is costing companies millions of dollars each year, and costing communities themselves their lives.

A new paper by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released on Oct. 30 found that a significant portion of forests and reserves in emerging markets is being allocated to commercial operations through concessions, ignoring indigenous communities who have lived on them for generations.

“The granting of concessions without the knowledge or approval of people directly affected by them is obviously a human rights issue of grave concern. But it may also have a real financial impact, and this impact concerns more than just those companies with ground-level operations,” the paper said.

“Most of the time [indigenous communities] are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support." -- Aleta Baun, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize
It noted that indigenous communities inhabit over 99 percent of lands used by commercial entities through concessions. In some instances, large portions of national land are being divested through concessions.

The figure was 40 percent of all land extent in Peru and 30 percent in Indonesia. With Indonesia’s total land extent covering some 1.8 million square km, the portion of land under concession works out to around 500,000 sq km.

“In most cases governments feel that it is easier and simpler to work when they don’t get the indigenous communities involved,” Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at RRI, told IPS.

But while companies and governments enter into agreements on lands as if they were not inhabited, when work begins on commercial projects it invariably collides head-on with communities who call the same land their traditional home.

The financial damage resulting from such confrontations can run into millions. A recent paper by the U.S. National Academy of Science noted that one company reported a loss of 100 million dollars during a single year, due to stoppages forced by company-community conflict. The company was not named in the report.

“An economy wide valuation of ‘environmental, social and governance risks’ across the Australian Stock Market in 2012 by Credit Suisse identified 21.4 billion Australian dollars in negative share-price valuation impact,” the paper, entitled ‘Conflict Translates Environmental and Social Risk into Business Costs’, claimed.

RRI’s Ogden said that despite such losses, the global trend still was to sideline indigenous communities when entering into concession agreements. “They remain invisible in most of these contracts.”

Such invisibility on paper can be deadly on the ground. In South Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, serious violence erupted between police and activists during a protest that took place a fortnight ago, Mina Setra, deputy secretary general of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told IPS.

Such violent altercations are not rare. Earlier this year research by Global Witness, an organisation working on environmental rights, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed.

During the period under review, according to the report, 41 people were killed in the Philippines because of opposition to mining interests. And in 2012 alone, 68 percent of all land-related murders in Brazil were connected to disputes over deforestation in the Amazon.

The report said that activists facing prosecution lacked local as well as international networks that were tailor-made to assist them.

“The problem we are facing is that there is still no recognition for indigenous peoples’ rights,” AMAN’s Setra said.

For almost four years AMAN and other environmental organisations lobbied the Indonesian parliament to adapt a law that would recognise the rights of indigenous communities. It was to be passed this month, when the government changed, bringing fresh officials into power.

“Now we are back to zero,” Setra said.

RRI’s Ogden said there were signs that some global companies were taking note of the rights of indigenous communities to their land, but AMAN’s Setra said that till there was legal recognition of such rights, commercial agreements were unlikely to include them.

“The companies keep asking us under what terms such communities can be recognized and we have no effective answer until there is a law,” Setra said.

For activists, working in that gray area could turn deadly.

Take the case of Aleta Baun, the Indonesian activist from West Timor, the Indonesia portion of the island of Timor, who in 2000 launched a campaign to stop mining operations that were affecting the lives of her Molo tribe members. She has been waylaid, stabbed and threatened with death and rape.

“Most of the time you are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support,” said the 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

In the Paracatu municipality of Brazil, the country’s largest gold mining operation run by a company called Kinross with a total investment of over 570 million dollars has been repeatedly interrupted since 2008 due to conflicts with traditional communities.

The parties signed a new agreement in 2010 that allowed operations to resume in 2011.

In Peru, two dam projects on the Ene-Tambo River have been abandoned after prolonged protests and legal action by the indigenous Ashaninka community, who claim that the projects could displace between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

In 2008 the Tata group pulled out a 350-million-dollar investment from the Indian state of West Bengal, where it intended to produce its signature Nano car, after protests by local communities.

The RRI report said that community rights to forests and other natural reserves were increasingly becoming a factor for commercial operations.

“As we have examined this problem, we have come to think of local populations as a kind of ‘unrecognized counterparty’ to concession agreements. We found that communities often used legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances with concessionaires. This suggests that local communities’ rights over an area have appreciable legal weight, even if government bodies and concessionaires haven’t attributed them much import in the terms of their agreements.”

Ogden said that more data was needed to clearly establish community rights over natural reserves.

Until then, indigenous peoples are left facing gigantic commercial entities in a David-and-Goliath scenario that shows no sign of improving in their favour.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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