Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 04 Sep 2015 17:02:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Two Indigenous Solar Engineers Changed Their Village in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/two-indigenous-solar-engineers-changed-their-village-in-chile/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:56:27 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142243 Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Liliana Terán, left, and her cousin Luisa, members of the Atacameño indigenous people, are grassroots solar engineers trained at the Barefoot College in northwest India. By installing solar panels in their northern Chilean village, Caspana, they have changed their own lives and those of their fellow villagers. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
CASPANA, Chile , Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Liliana and Luisa Terán, two indigenous women from northern Chile who travelled to India for training in installing solar panels, have not only changed their own future but that of Caspana, their remote village nestled in a stunning valley in the Atacama desert.

“It was hard for people to accept what we learned in India,” Liliana Terán told IPS. “At first they rejected it, because we’re women. But they gradually got excited about, and now they respect us.”

Her cousin, Luisa, said that before they travelled to Asia, there were more than 200 people interested in solar energy in the village. But when they found out that it was Liliana and Luisa who would install and maintain the solar panels and batteries, the list of people plunged to 30.

“In this village there is a council of elders that makes the decisions. It’s a group which I will never belong to,” said Luisa, with a sigh that reflected that her decision to never join them guarantees her freedom.

Luisa, 43, practices sports and is a single mother of an adopted daughter. She has a small farm and is a craftswoman, making replicas of rock paintings. After graduating from secondary school in Calama, the capital of the municipality, 85 km from her village, she took several courses, including a few in pedagogy.

Liliana, 45, is a married mother of four and a grandmother of four. She works on her family farm and cleans the village shelter. She also completed secondary school and has taken courses on tourism because she believes it is an activity complementary to agriculture that will help stanch the exodus of people from the village.

But these soft-spoken indigenous women with skin weathered from the desert sun and a life of sacrifice are in charge of giving Caspana at least part of the energy autonomy that the village needs in order to survive.

Caspana – meaning “children of the hollow” in the Kunza tongue, which disappeared in the late 19th century – is located 3,300 metres above sea level in the El Alto Loa valley. It officially has 400 inhabitants, although only 150 of them are here all week, while the others return on the weekends, Luisa explained.

They belong to the Atacameño people, also known as Atacama, Kunza or Apatama, who today live in northern Chile and northwest Argentina.

“Every year, around 10 families leave Caspana, mainly so their children can study or so that young people can get jobs,” she said.

Up to 2013, the village only had one electric generator that gave each household two and a half hours of power in the evening. When the generator broke down, a frequent occurrence, the village went dark.

Today the generator is only a back-up system for the 127 houses that have an autonomous supply of three hours a day of electricity, thanks to the solar panels installed by the two cousins.

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The indigenous village of Caspana lies 3,300 metres above sea level in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The 400 inhabitants depend on small-scale farming for a living, as a stone marker at the entrance to the village proudly declares. Now, thanks to the efforts of two local women, they have electricity in their homes, generated by solar panels, which have now become part of the landscape. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Each home has a 12 volt solar panel, a 12 volt battery, a four amp LED lamp, and an eight amp control box.

The equipment was donated in March 2013 by the Italian company Enel Green Power. It was also responsible, along with the National Women’s Service (SERNAM) and the Energy Ministry’s regional office, for the training received by the two women at the Barefoot College in India.

On its website, the Barefoot College describes itself as “a non-governmental organisation that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable.”

So far, 700 women from 49 countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America – as well as thousands of women from India – have taken the course to become “Barefoot solar engineers”.

They are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of solar panels in their villages for a minimum of five years. Another task they assume is to open a rural electronics workshop, where they keep the spare parts they need and make repairs, and which operates as a mini power plant with a potential of 320 watts per hour.

In March 2012 the two cousins travelled to the village of Tilonia in the northwest Indian state of Rajasthan, where the Barefoot College is located.

They did not go alone. Travelling with them were Elena Achú and Elvira Urrelo, who belong to the Quechua indigenous community, and Nicolasa Yufla, an Aymara Indian. They all live in other villages of the Atacama desert, in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta.

“We saw an ad that said they were looking for women between the ages of 35 and 40 to receive training in India. I was really interested, but when they told me it was for six months, I hesitated. That was a long time to be away from my family!” Luisa said.

Encouraged by her sister, who took care of her daughter, she decided to undertake the journey, but without telling anyone what she was going to do.

The conditions they found in Tilonia were not what they had been led to expect, they said. They slept on thin mattresses on hard wooden beds, the bedrooms were full of bugs, they couldn’t heat water to wash themselves, and the food was completely different from what they were used to.

“I knew what I was getting into, but it took me three months anyway to adapt, mainly to the food and the intense heat,” she said.

She remembered, laughing, that she had stomach problems much of the time. “It was too much fried food,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight because for the entire six months I basically only ate rice.”

Looking at Liliana, she burst into laughter, saying “She also only ate rice, but she put on weight!”

Liliana said that when she got back to Chile her family welcomed her with an ‘asado’ (barbecue), ‘empanadas’ (meat and vegetable patties or pies) and ‘sopaipillas’ (fried pockets of dough).

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

The primary school in Caspana, 1,400 km north of Santiago. Two indigenous cousins who were trained as solar engineers got the municipal authorities to provide solar panels for lighting in public buildings and on the village’s few streets, while they installed panels in 127 of the village’s homes. Credit: Mariana Jarroud/IPS

“But I only wanted to sit down and eat ‘cazuela’ (traditional stew made with meat, potatoes and pumpkin) and steak,” she said.

On their return, they both began to implement what they had learned. Charging a small sum of 45 dollars, they installed the solar panel kit in homes in the village, which are made of stone with mud roofs.

The community now pays them some 75 dollars each a month for maintenance, every two months, of the 127 panels that they have installed in the village.

“We take this seriously,” said Luisa. “For example, we asked Enel not to just give us the most basic materials, but to provide us with everything necessary for proper installation.”

“Some of the batteries were bad, more than 10 of them, and we asked them to change them. But they said no, that that was the extent of their involvement in this,” she said. The company made them sign a document stating that their working agreement was completed.

“So now there are over 40 homes waiting for solar power,” she added. “We wanted to increase the capacity of the batteries, so the panels could be used to power a refrigerator, for example. But the most urgent thing now is to install panels in the 40 homes that still need them.”

But, she said, there are people in this village who cannot afford to buy a solar kit, which means they will have to be donations.

Despite the challenges, they say they are happy, that they now know they play an important role in the village. And they say that despite the difficulties, and the extreme poverty they saw in India, they would do it again.

“I’m really satisfied and content, people appreciate us, they appreciate what we do,” said Liliana.

“Many of the elders had to see the first panel installed before they were convinced that this worked, that it can help us and that it was worth it. And today you can see the results: there’s a waiting list,” she added.

Luisa believes that she and her cousin have helped changed the way people see women in Caspana, because the “patriarchs” of the council of elders themselves have admitted that few men would have dared to travel so far to learn something to help the community. “We helped somewhat to boost respect for women,” she said.

And after seeing their work, the local government of Calama, the municipality of which Caspana forms a part, responded to their request for support in installing solar panels to provide public lighting, and now the basic public services, such as the health post, have solar energy.

“When I’m painting, sometimes a neighbour comes to sit with me. And after a while, they ask me about our trip. And I relive it, I tell them all about it. I know this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Luisa.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Who Will Pay the Price for Australia’s Climate Change Policies?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/who-will-pay-the-price-for-australias-climate-change-policies/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 21:43:34 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142239 Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 but aggressive coal mining could hamper those plans. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

Rowan Foley has spent many years as a ranger and park manager, caring for Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park Aboriginal lands in the spiritual heart of Australia’s Red Centre in the Northern Territory. He has been observing the effects of soaring temperatures and extreme weather events on his people, residing in some of the hottest regions of the country.

“There are hotter and more frequent fires. Salt water intrusion is leading to less fresh water. This is impacting on indigenous traditional owners of the land, who have contributed the least to global warming,” says Foley, who belongs to the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala people, Traditional Owners of Fraser Island and Hervey Bay in the state of Queensland.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts [of climate change] are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities." -- Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia
Australia, the driest inhabited continent, is on an average likely to experience more global warming than the rest of the world. Increasing drought, floods, heatwaves and bushfires are already impacting on the country’s environment and economy, further disadvantaging Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the most vulnerable in remote and island communities.

“The Coconut Islands in the Torres Strait are under threat from sea level rise. [For Indigenous people], their culture and heritage are tied to the island and they would have nowhere to go. We are also seeing spikes in heat related deaths,” says Kellie Caught, climate change national manager for the World Wildlife Fund-Australia.

Deaths from heatwaves are projected to double over the next 40 years in Australian cities and sea levels are projected to continue to rise through the 21st century at a rate faster than over the past four decades, according to a recent report by the independent organisation Climate Council.

To support the sustainable development of Aboriginal lands by combining traditional practices and business needs, Foley launched the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, a national not-for-profit company, in partnership with Caritas Australia, five years ago.

For thousands of years, Indigenous people have traditionally managed the land in the savannah regions of tropical northern Australia by making small fires in winter. This prevents uncontrolled late-season fires from destroying the land and also reduces the amount of carbon produced by wildfires in the atmosphere.

The Fund has set up a programme whereby farmers and land managers undertake carbon farming, which allows them to earn carbon credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or capture carbon in vegetation and soils.

These credits are then sold to organisations and businesses wishing to offset their own emissions. Payment for carbon credits is helping create sustainable livelihoods in remote communities.

“Carbon farming is an agribusiness and we urgently need a development package to support this industry,” says Foley, the Fund’s general manager.

Similarly, civil society advocates say that being one of the sunniest and windiest countries in the world, Australia has huge potential for solar power and wind energy.

But the country’s Liberal-National coalition has slashed renewable energy targets and repealed carbon and mining taxes.

“Our government has gone to extreme lengths to repeal or undermine climate and clean energy policy,” Tom Swann, a researcher with the Canberra-based The Australia Institute, told IPS. “If Australia succeeds in its plans to double its exports in the next 10 years, the world loses in its plans to tackle climate change.

“More coal mines mean lower coal prices, less renewable energy and more climate impacts. Indeed, meeting the two-degrees centigrade target, to which Australia has signed up, means 95 percent of Australia’s coal must stay in the ground, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he can think of ‘few things more damaging to our future’,” Swann added.

Coal is Australia's second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second-largest export, generating over 200 billion dollars in foreign sales. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Coal is Australia’s second largest export and this year it is forecast to generate 346 billion Australian dollars (253 billion U.S. dollars) in foreign sales, according to Australia’s Department of Industry and Science. Australia exports 80 percent of the coal it mines and currently meets three-quarters of the country’s electricity needs from burning coal.

A survey by The Climate Institute released on Aug. 10 showed 84 percent of Australians prefer solar amongst their top three energy sources, followed by wind at 69 percent.

Australia has set a target to cut emissions by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to a 19 percent cut on 2000 levels).

WWF’s Caught says, “The Australian Government’s pollution reduction target is woefully inadequate and not consistent with limiting warming below two degrees centigrade. If all countries matched Australia’s targets the world would be on track for a 3-4 degree centigrade warming. The target puts Australia at the back of the pack on international action.”

The United States and the European Union proposals will mean emission reductions of around 2.8 percent a year whereas Australia’s proposals will yield a 1.8 percent reduction, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Environment groups argue that it is economically feasible for Australia to move to a low carbon economy.

“The Government’s draft 2030 target is estimated to reduce GDP growth by 0.2-0.3 percent over the next 15 years,” Caught told IPS.

“With a stronger 45 percent target, it would only reduce growth by 0.5-0.7 per cent over the same time. Our GDP would make up that small difference in growth in just a few months.”

Community sector organisations are especially concerned that people experiencing poverty and inequality will be hardest hit by sea level rise inundating low-lying coastal areas, reducing crop yields and forcing migration of millions of people; and they would be the least able to adapt.

“Australia’s target does not reflect any recognition that the impacts are already being felt by our Indigenous people and Pacific Island neighbours nor the sense of urgency that grips so many of these communities,” says Negaya Chorley, head of advocacy at Caritas Australia, an international aid and development agency of the Catholic Church.

“Given this denialism, our government is in no way ready or prepared to take in and support people and whole communities that will be forced to migrate due to the impacts of climate change.”

World Health Organisation (WHO) figures estimate a third of the global burden of disease is caused by environmental factors and children under five bear more than 40 percent of that burden, even though they represent just 10 percent of the world’s population. They are more at risk from waterborne diseases and more likely to be impacted by air pollution.

Save the Children Campaigns Manager, Tim Norton, told IPS, “Wealthier nations such as Australia must scale up its contribution to international climate finance, such as The Green Climate Fund, to 400 million Australian dollars [285 million U.S. dollars], independent of its aid budget.

“This provides the best opportunity for Australia to actively contribute to mitigating the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities in the developing world. It also allows nations to transition to low-emission clean economies without the need of fossil fuels.”

Australia scores highest with 26.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) emissions per capita, contributing 1.3 percent of global emissions, according to 2011 data from the WRI, even though it has a relatively small population of 23.8 million people.

A 2015 poll conducted by the Lowy Institute of International Policy recorded the third consecutive rise in Australians’ concern about global warming, with 63 percent saying the government should commit to significant emissions reductions so that other countries will be encouraged to do the same at the Conference of States Parties (COP-21) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris this December.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Strong Words, But Little Action at Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/strong-words-but-little-action-at-arctic-summit/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 17:08:47 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142214 The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

The one-day summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) held in Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 31 failed to make commitments to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming. Credit: Leehi Yona/IPS

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

After a one-day summit in the U.S. Arctic’s biggest city, leaders from the world’s northern countries acknowledged that climate change is seriously disrupting the Arctic ecosystem, yet left without committing themselves to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming.

The Aug. 31 summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, was organised by the U.S. State Department and attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States.

Political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who urged Arctic nations to take bolder action as the summit ended, came out with strong words, but stakeholders from civil society and scientific groups said the outcome came short of the tangible action needed.“This statement (from the one-day GLACIER Arctic summit] unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels” – Ellie Johnston, World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive

The summit attracted the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which criticised Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

All participating countries signed a joint statement on climate change and its impact on the Arctic, after the initial reluctance of Canada and Russia, which eventually added their names.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” the statement read, before going on to describe the wide range of impacts felt by Arctic communities’ landscapes, culture and well-being.

“As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”

However, the statement lacked concrete commitments, even on crucial topics like fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, leaving climate experts with the feeling that it could have been more ambitious or have offered more specific, tangible commitments on the part of countries.

“I appreciate the rhetoric and depth of acknowledgement of the climate crisis,” the World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, told IPS. “Yet this statement unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

“This is particularly relevant as nations and companies jockey for access to drilling in our historically icy Arctic seas which have now become more accessible because of warming,” she said. “Drilling for fossil fuels leads to more warming, which leads to more drilling. This is one feedback loop we can stop.”

Oil and gas companies were encouraged – but not required –to voluntarily take on more stringent policies and join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, an initiative to help companies reduce their emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed participants – members from indigenous communities, government representatives, scientists, and non-governmental organizations – at the opening of the summit. “The Arctic is in many ways a thermostat,” he said. “We already see [it] having a profound impact on the rest of the planet.”

Kerry also attempted to drum up action ahead of the COP21 United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December, urging governments to “try to come up with a truly ambitious and truly global climate agreement.”

He added that the Paris conference “is not the end of the road […] Our hope is that everyone can leave this conference today with a heightened sense of urgency and a better understanding of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the harmful impacts of climate change.”

In a closing address to summit participants, President Obama repeatedly said “we are not doing enough.” He outlined the stark impacts of a future with business-as-usual climate change: thawing permafrost, forest fires and dangerous feedback loops. “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair … any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that is not fit to lead,” he stated.

However, neither Kerry nor Obama acknowledged, as many environmental groups have pointed out, that the United States’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment falls nearly halfway short of what the country must do in order to stay within the Paris conference goal of a 2oC warming limit.

While participants emphasised engagement from affected communities, the summit itself did not manifest engagement with those communities: less than one-third of the panellists and presenters were either indigenous or female, and only one woman of colour was present.

“It would have been nice to hear more from indigenous women or women of colour,” Princess Daazrhaii, member of the Gwich’in Nation and strong advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told IPS. “The Arctic is more diverse than what I felt like was represented at the conference.”

“As life-givers and as mothers, many of us nurse our children. We know for a fact that women in the Arctic are more susceptible to the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are bound to the air we breathe. Violence against women is another issue that I feel gets exacerbated when there are threats to our ecosystem.”

All individuals talked to appreciated the conference’s emphasis on climate change as a significant problem, yet all of them also expressed a desire for the United States – and governments around the world – to do more.

“[Climate change] is what brings human beings together,” Daazrhaii said. “We’re all in this together. And we have to work on this together.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Local Development, the Key to Legitimising Amazon Hydropower Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/local-development-the-key-to-legitimising-amazon-hydropower-dams/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:23:00 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142206 The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

The Altamira water treatment plant is practically inactive because the sewer pipes installed 10 months ago in this city of 140,000 people have not been connected to the homes and businesses. Altamira is 50 km from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil’s Amazon jungle region. Credit. Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

In the case of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil, the projects aimed at mitigating the social impacts have been delayed. But in other cases, infrastructure such as hospitals and water and sewage pipes could improve the image of the hydropower plants on Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rivers, turning them into a factor of effective local development.

Under construction since 2011 on the Xingú river, Belo Monte has dedicated an unprecedented amount of funds to compensating for the impacts of the dam, through its Basic Environmental Project (PBA), which has a budget of 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate.

To that is added a novel 140-million-dollar Sustainable Regional Development Plan (PDRS), aimed at driving public policies and improving the lives of the population of the dam’s area of influence, made up of 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará.

These funds amount to 12.8 percent of the cost of the giant dam on the middle stretch of the Xingú river, one of the Amazon river’s major tributaries. If distributed per person, each one of the slightly more than 400,000 inhabitants of these 11 municipalities would receive 2,500 dollars.

But the funds invested by the company building the Belo Monte hydropower plant, Norte Energía, have not silenced the complaints and protests which, although they have come from small groups, undermine the claim that hydropower dams are the best energy solution for this electricity-hungry country.

“The slow pace at which the company carries out its compensatory actions is inverse to the speed at which it is building the hydropower plant,” complained the Altamira Defence Forum, an umbrella group of 22 organisations opposed to the dam.

The most visible delay has involved sanitation works in Altamira, the main city in the area surrounding the dam, home to one-third of the local population. Installed 10 months ago, the sewage and water pipes are not yet functioning, leaving the water and wastewater treatment plants partially idle.

The problem is that the pipes were not connected to the local homes and businesses, a task that has been caught up in stalled negotiations between Norte Energía, the city government and the Pará sanitation company, even after the company expressed a willingness to shoulder the costs.

“In addition, the storm drainage system was left out of the plans; the city government didn’t include it in the requirements and conditions set for the company,” the head of the Live, Produce and Preserve Foundation, João Batista Pereira, told IPS.

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of one of the 18 big turbines that will generate electricity in the main Belo Monte plant, ready to be inserted into one of the big circular metal holes built in the giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The lack of storm drains is especially destructive for cities in the Amazon rainforest, where torrential rains are frequent.

The works and services included in the PBA respond to requirements of the Brazilian Environment Institute, the national environmental authority. Incompliance with these requisites could supposedly bring work on the dam to a halt. But the rules are subject to flexible interpretations, as recent experience has shown.

Pereira is one of the leaders of the PDRS, a “democratic and participative” programme where decisions on investments are reached by an administrative committee made up of 15 members of society and 15 representatives of the municipal, state and national governments.

The projects can be proposed by any local organisation that operates in the four areas covered by the plan: land tenure regularisation and environmental affairs, infrastructure, sustainable production, and social inclusion.

In these areas and some projects that the company finances, such as the Cacauway chocolate factory that processes the growing local production of cacao, the PDRS is distinct from the PBA, which addresses the immediate needs of people affected by the dam, such as indigenous people, fisherpersons or families displaced by the reservoirs.

The PBA’s activities were defined by the environmental impact study produced by researchers prior to the dam concession tender. Hospitals and clinics were built or refurbished to compensate the municipalities for the rise in demand for health services, while 4,100 housing units were built for relocated families.

These are responses to the immediate needs of affected individuals, groups or institutions, without integral or lasting planning. The only one responsible for implementation is the company holding the concession, even though they involve tasks that pertain to the public sector.

“The confusion between public and private is natural,” José Anchieta, the director of socioenvironmental affairs in Norte Energía, told IPS.

The delay in compensatory programmes generated chaos, the Altamira Defence Forum complains. Many of the initiatives were supposed to be carried out prior to construction of the hydropower plant.

The hospitals and health clinics were not delivered by Norte Energía until now, when construction of the dam is winding down. But they were most needed two years ago, when the floating migrant worker population in the region peaked as a result of work on the dam. The same is true for schools and urban development works.

This mistiming led to serious problems for the local indigenous population. The institutions protecting this segment of the population were not strengthened. On the contrary, the local presence of the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI), the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs, was weakened during the construction of the dam, and the overall absence of the state was accentuated.

From 2010 to 2012 an “emergency plan” distributed processed foods and other goods to indigenous villages. This led to an abrupt change in habits, driving up child malnutrition and infant mortality among indigenous communities, which only recently began to be provided with housing, schools and equipment and inputs to enable them to return to agricultural production.

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bridge under construction on a road at the entrance to the city of Altamira, in Brazil’s Amazon region. The delay in building the bridge has hindered the reurbanisation of the low-lying parts of the city that will be partially flooded when the Belo Monte dam reservoir is filled. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The PBA and PDRS also have different timeframes. The former is to end before the reservoirs are filled, which is to be completed by the end of this year. The latter, meanwhile, involves a 20-year action plan.

The company’s social programmes are also “an important sphere of debate, definition of projects and redefinition of public policies, which should become permanent by being transformed into an institute or foundation,” said Pereira, defending “the adoption of their democratic administration by other development agencies.”

The question is of concern to Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which has financed 78 percent of the cost of the construction of Belo Monte.

Besides providing a team to accompany the PDRS, it promoted a study to organise its projects and ideas in an “initiatives file” and a Territorial Development Agenda (TDA) in the Xingú basin.

But this planning and promotion effort to bring about real development has come late, when it is difficult to neutralise the negative effects, which will stand in the way of the construction of new hydropower dams in the Amazon, even with the promise of a TDA.

Belo Monte has also highlighted the dilemmas and challenges of power generation, currently dramatised by severe drought in much of Brazil.

Belo Monte, which will be the second-largest hydropower plant in Brazil and the third-largest in the world, producing 11,233 MW, will aggravate the seasonal drop in hydropower in the second half of each year, once it becomes fully operational in 2019.

That is because the Xingú has the biggest seasonal variation in flow. From 19,816 cubic metres per second in April, the month with the strongest flow, it plummets to 1,065 cubic metres in September, the height of the dry season. This was the average between 1931 and 2003, according to the state-run Eletrobras, Latin America’s biggest power utility company.

There is probably no worse choice of river for building a run-of-the-river power station, whose reservoirs do not accumulate water for the dry months. Belo Monte will represent 12 percent of the country’s total hydropower generation, which means the effect of the plunge in electricity will be enormous, fuelling demand for energy from the dirtier and most costly thermal plants.

One alternative would have been a reservoir 2.5 times bigger, which would have flooded two indigenous territories – something that is banned by the constitution.

Another would have been the construction of four to six dams upstream, to regularise the water flow in the river, as projected by the original plan in the 1980s which was ruled out due to the outcry against it.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez

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Activists Criticise Offshore Drilling as Obama Prepares for Arctic Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/activists-criticise-offshore-drilling-as-obama-prepares-for-arctic-summit/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:06:23 +0000 Leehi Yona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142194 Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is melting the Arctic’s ice, and will be on the agenda of the one-day GLACIER summit in Alaska on Aug. 31. Photo credit: Patrick Kelley/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Leehi Yona
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

A one-day summit taking place here on Aug. 31 hopes to bring Arctic nations together in support of climate action against a backdrop of criticism of offshore oil drilling in the region.

The meeting on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, is being organised by the U.S. State Department and will be attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to address the conference.

The conference comes at a time of significant changes to the ever-shifting Arctic: this year’s forest fires in Alaska reached record highs, blazing so rapidly that many were left unmanaged. Last week, thousands of walruses hauled up on Alaskan shores as the ice they depend on as habitat disappeared.“Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities” – Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska

“The evidence for climate change in the Arctic is visible from space as we observed declining sea ice and melting glaciers, and in the lived lives of Arctic residents who see coastlines eroding from sea level rise and reduced access to traditional foods from the land and sea,” said Ross Virginia, Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College and co-lead scholar of the Fulbright Arctic Initiative.

“These changes will be more evident to the rest of us,” he added. “The challenge is to learn from the Arctic and to work with the Arctic to adapt and prevent further climate change.”

The GLACIER summit is also taking place at a time of great public focus on the issue of climate change. Critiques of Arctic drilling, as well as the upcoming United Nations climate change negotiations in December in Paris, have helped bring global warming to the political forefront.

“In visiting the U.S. Arctic, President Obama is clearly demonstrating that the United States is an Arctic nation with a stake in the region’s future,” said Margaret Williams, Managing Director of U.S. Arctic Programs at the World Wildlife Fund. “This trip provides the President with the perfect opportunity to define his vision of how all nations should work in unison to manage and conserve our shared Arctic resources.”

The conference has drawn the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which both praise the conference’s potential for ambitious leadership but also criticise Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

“The President needs to align his energy policy with his climate policy and put an end to Shell’s drilling for unburnable oil in the Arctic,” Turnbull said.

Dan Ritzman, Associate Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign, stressed that the drilling decision “went against science, common sense, and the will of the people.” Many environmental groups pointed to the irresponsibility of drilling in the Arctic, one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change.

A senior State Department official responded to this criticism on Aug. 28 by stating that many “citizens of Alaska, and in particular, Alaskan natives” desire more drilling in an effort to develop their communities.

However, indigenous activists rejected the official statement. Carl Wassilie, a Yu’pik activist with ShellNo Alaska, said: “Arctic drilling is a violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Obama and Shell are bypassing many laws designed to protect our coast and our communities. Obama needs to start listening to the peoples of the Arctic who oppose Arctic drilling.”

One of the aims of the GLACIER conference is to be a stepping stone towards COP21, the U.N. climate change conference to be held in Paris in December. COP21 hopes to usher in a binding, ambitious agreement on climate change.

Observers said that GLACIER may be an important moment on the road to Paris because it hopes to bring together a small subset of countries – including China, Canada, India, Japan, Russia, the United States and many European nations – which together account for the overwhelming majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Some suggested that the conference could be a moment for these polluting countries to step up their carbon emission reduction commitments.

“On climate change, President Obama has been good, but not good enough,” according to marine biologist Richard Steiner. “The U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by about 30 percent in the next 15 years is about half of what is urgently needed.”

Steiner said: “It is like we are on a sinking boat, taking on two gallons of water a minute, and we are bailing 1 gallon a minute. We are still sinking. We urgently need a U.S. and global commitment at the Paris climate summit of at least 60 percent carbon reduction by 2030. Otherwise, we’re sunk.”

With these challenges ahead, the GLACIER summit has high expectations for international cooperation on climate change. Among the diversity of opinions, one clear message has rung out – the need to engage young people in Arctic climate change discussions

“A real priority should be engaging youth at all aspects of the climate problem – education, research, leadership and activism,” said Virginia. “It is vital that they are ‘at the table’ and that they help shape the questions to be addressed by policy-makers. After all, they have the most at stake.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Plant in Chile Opens South America’s Doors to Geothermal Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/plant-in-chile-opens-south-americas-doors-to-geothermal-energy/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 15:44:20 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142140 The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio geyser field in the northern Chilean region of Antofagasta. Geothermal energy comes from the earth’s internal heat, and the steam is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
OLLAGÜE, Chile, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Chile, a land of volcanoes and geysers, has started building South America’s first geothermal plant, which would open a door to this kind of renewable energy in this country that depends largely on fossil fuels.

The Cerro Pabellón geothermal project is “immensely important for the Chilean state, which started geothermal exploration and drilling over 40 years ago,” but no initiative had taken concrete shape until now, Marcelo Tokman, general manager of the state oil company, ENAP, told IPS.

Located in the rural municipality of Ollagüe, 1,380 km north of Santiago, in the Andes highlands in the region of Antofagasta, Cerro Pabellón “will not only be the first geothermal plant in Chile and South America, but will also be the first in the world to be built at 4,500 metres above sea level,” Tokman added.

The Italian company Enel Green Power has a 51 percent stake in the project and ENAP owns 49 percent. The plant consists of two units of 24 MW each for a total gross installed capacity of 48 MW in the first phase, but with the advantage of being able to generate electricity around-the-clock.

That makes it equivalent, in terms of annual generating capacity, to a 200-MW solar or wind power plant.

The first stage would enter into operation in the first quarter of 2017 and a year later another 24 MW would be added. But the plant could be generating around 100 MW in the medium term, on 136 hectares of land.

Tokman said that once the plant is fully operational, it will be able to produce some 340 megatwatt-hours (MWh) a year that would go into the national power grid and would meet the consumption needs of 154,000 households in this country of 17.6 million people.

He also said it would avoid over 155,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, by reducing fossil fuel consumption.

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, has a large part of Chile’s geothermal potential and is the location of the first South American plant to tap into this source of energy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sixty million dollars were invested in the exploratory phase, and an estimated 320 million dollars more will go into the plant and the construction of a 73-km power line.

Geothermal energy is obtained by tapping underground reservoirs of heat, generally near volcanoes, geysers or other hotspots on the surface of the earth. If well-managed, the geothermal reservoirs can produce clean energy indefinitely. The steam generated is delivered to a turbine, which powers a generator.

Advances in South America

Brazil has the world’s two largest freshwater reserves: the Guarani and Alter do Chão aquifers. But it does not have geothermal potential, according to a 1984 study, which is currently being revised. Geothermal energy is included in an agreement with Germany to search for alternative sources.

Six South American countries form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity with virgin territory for geothermal exploration: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

In 1988, Argentina built Copahue I, an experimental geothermal plant constructed with Japanese capital, which supplied 0.67 MW but stopped operating. Currently, the country’s energy projects include the construction of the Copahue II geothermal plant in the hot springs of Copahue in the southern province of Neuquén, which would generate 100 MW.

In Peru, a preliminary study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Energy and Mines found in 2013 that the country has 3,000 MWh of geothermal potential. But so far there are no plans for geothermal plants.

In February, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that starting in 2019 the country would begin to export electricity to neighbouring countries, from the Laguna Colorada geothermal plant. The project, financed by Japan, will consist of two stages, of 50 MW each.

The Philippines is home to three of the world’s 10 biggest geothermal plants, followed by the United States and Indonesia, with two each, and Italy, Mexico and Iceland, with one each.

Studies indicate that Chile is one of the countries with the greatest geothermal potential in Latin America.

This long, narrow country, which forms part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, stretches 4,270 km along the Andes mountains, the earth’s largest volcanic chain.

Environmentalists say geothermal energy has a relatively low impact, as long as questions of scale and location are respected.

“Geothermal is an unconventional renewable energy source to the extent that it is carried out in accordance with territorial and cultural needs. The energy source in and of itself does not guarantee social and environmental sustainability,” land surveyor Lucio Cuenca, director of the Santiago-based Latin American Observatory on Environmental Conflicts, told IPS.

Respecting these parameters, geothermal energy “is a very good alternative for this country,” he said.

In the case of the Cerro Pabellón plant, the surrounding communities form part of the Alto El Loa nature reserve, made up of the villages and communities of Caspana, Ayquina, Turi, Chiu Chiu, Cupo, Valle de Lasana, Taira and Ollagüe, which have a combined total population of just over 1,000, most of them Atacameño and Quechua indigenous people.

The Alto El Loa Indigenous Peoples Council got ENAP and ENEL to sign a series of agreements for the implementation of social development projects in the local communities in compensation for the impact of the geothermal project, and especially the power line.

For the inhabitants of Alto El Loa, scattered in remote areas in the Atacama desert, if the project is sustainable and benefits their communities, it will be a positive thing. But they say they are concerned that their way of life may not be respected.

“I would like to see more help, and if this is a good thing, then it’s welcome,” Luisa Terán, a member of the Atacameño indigenous group from the village of Caspana, told IPS. “Sometimes we feel a bit neglected and isolated.

“But it has to come with respect for our traditions, and it is our elders who are demanding that most strongly,” she added.

Others, however, reject the project as “anti-natural” and “violent” towards the local habitat.

“If you hurt the earth, she will in one way or another get back at you,” tourist guide Víctor Arque, of San Pedro de Atacama, a highlands village 290 km from Ollagüe, told IPS. “It can’t be possible to drill kilometres below ground without something happening.”

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

A photo taken at dawn in the middle of the steam from the El Tatio geysers in northern Chile, where this clean, unlimited source of energy will begin to be harnessed with the construction of the Cerro Pabellón geothermal plant in the rural municipality of Ollagüe. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The El Tatio precedent

Chile was a pioneer in research on geothermal potential. The first exploration was carried out in 1907 in El Tatio, a geyser field located some 200 km from Cerro Pabellón and 4,300 metres above sea level. This country was the third to explore geothermal energy, after the United States and Russia.

Two wells were drilled in that area in 1931, and in the late 1960s the government carried out more systematic exploration, which was later abandoned.

In 2008, the Geotérmica del Norte company, which belonged to the Italian consortium ENEL, began exploration in Quebrada del Zoquete, a few km from El Tatio, using the equipment already installed in the geyser field.

In September 2009, a 60-metre high column of steam shot up from one of the wells where the company was extracting and reinjecting geothermal fluids. The anomaly, caused by a failed valve, lasted more than three weeks and led to the government’s cancellation of the permit for further operations.

Tokman, energy minister at the time, remembered the incident. “Fortunately all of the safeguards had been taken to demand different instruments of measurement for the project, to ensure that the reservoir was deeper and distinct from the reservoir in the El Tatio geyser field,” he said.

Cuenca said the mistake was “having restarted a geothermal programme in Chile doing everything that shouldn’t be done: that is, interfering in a place where there are indigenous communities, an area with a high tourist and economic value, simply to take advantage of the infrastructure that was already installed there.”

Experts warn that geothermal power is not a panacea for Chile’s energy deficit, because if there is one thing this country has learned, it is that a diversified energy mix is essential.

But if Chile’s potential is confirmed, Cerro Pabellón could open the door to geothermal development not only in this country but in South America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Native Protest Camp in Argentine Capital Fights for Land and Visibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:00:27 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/native-protest-camp-in-argentine-capital-fights-for-land-and-visibility/feed/ 0 Zimbabwe’s Forest Carbon Programme Not All It Seemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 10:47:42 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141986 Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.

It all comes down to the question of land and of whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land.

Even where they do “own” land, say researchers, these communities often find themselves competing with other players driven by different economic considerations, nullifying the very ideals being pushed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

“Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected … multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers” – Ian Scones
Despite the country’s agrarian reform programme, under which land was redistributed to millions of landless local communities, the state remains the biggest landowner, raising questions about community empowerment and the ownership of forests.

With researchers pointing to a spike in the demand for land based not only on rural population growth but also on people reportedly moving to rural areas, there is no doubt that any increase in the rural population brings with it increased demand for natural resources.

“The demand on natural resources for land is growing year on year at a rate which is not sustainable,” says Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, and this will mean reforestation in the millions, with these trees being planted on plots that do not belong to local communities at a time when some farmers are decimating forest cover by using firewood to cure their tobacco.

The promise held out by REDD+ was that through reforestation and by reducing emissions, communities would then have access to or earn certified emission reduction credits to be sold to or traded with the worst polluters to meet their own emission reduction targets, yet it is clear that like any economic transaction, those who owns the means of production profit most.

Land is still owned either by the state or big business, with little cascading to the “bottom billion” as some economists have called the world’s poor, and landowners and the rich industrialised countries benefit at the expense of rural communities.

According to Ian Scoones, co-editor with Melissa Leach of a recently published book titled Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa, “carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected.”

Scoones says that “multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects is not straightforward.”

On Zimbabwe’s REDD+ project, which has covered 1.4 million hectares under Carbon Green Africa, Scoones says that “as notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they [rural communities] should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource and economic priorities.”

Civil society organisations (CSOs) here argue that this explains why rural communities get the shorter end of the stick.

Meanwhile, a recent brief from Zimbabwe’s climate ministry noted that “rich countries have barely kept the promise” of meeting their pledges, casting doubts on whether rural communities will in fact trade any anticipated carbon credits for cash.

The rural poor could well be saying “show us the money” by 2020, the year targeted in Cancun, Mexico, for emission reduction pledges.

Climate and environment ministry officials agree that land ownership under REDD+ has remained a sticking point in its dialogue with CSOs on how local communities may derive premium dividend from forest carbon projects.

“CSOs represent the interests of local communities and lack of safeguards has made this issue an area of divergence between governments and CSOs,” says Veronica Gundu, acting deputy director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“They (CSOs) are pushing for clarity on land ownership and the benefits to the local communities because they view the current regime of implementation to be beneficial only to the project implementers and leaving out the locals,” Gundu told IPS.

However, Wentzel of Carbon Green Africa which is implementing Zimbabwe’s sole REDD+ project in the Zambezi valley, told IPS: “As it stands the people of these districts are the rightful beneficiaries of revenue generated from their natural resources even if they are not titled land owners.”

Edited by Phil Harris 

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Making the World’s Indigenous Visible in the SDGshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/making-the-worlds-indigenous-visible-in-the-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-the-worlds-indigenous-visible-in-the-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/making-the-worlds-indigenous-visible-in-the-sdgs/#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 23:36:26 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141893 Chief Wilton Littlechild, Advisor to the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), addresses a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

Chief Wilton Littlechild, Advisor to the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), addresses a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2015 (IPS)

As the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples approaches on Sunday, Aug. 9, concerns are growing that they will not fully benefit from the newly drafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a policy brief on the SDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda, the Indigenous Peoples Major Group said that there was a failure to recognise indigenous peoples as distinct groups under the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which resulted in the absence of targeted measures to address their specific situations related to poverty and severely limited favorable outcomes."Disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples are related to dispossession and exacerbated by powerlessness and poverty." -- Roberto Mukaro Borrero

They added that there was also culturally-blind implementation of the MDGs resulting in “inappropriate development programmes for indigenous peoples including discriminatory actions related to education, health and basic services.”

Any project not including the participation of Indigenous Peoples is making their needs invisible. The lack of dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and their participation in any process constitutes the main barrier,” Sandra del Pino, Regional Advisor on Cultural Diversity at the World Health Organization (WHO) for The Americas, told IPS.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples living in more than 70 countries. They continue to be among the world’s most marginalised population groups, according to the WHO. The need for more participation and inclusion of Indigenous communities and their perspectives is one of the main purposes of the international day.

The health status of indigenous communities varies significantly from that of non-indigenous population groups in countries all over the world, which is one reason why health is the main theme of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“The focus of this international day is to analyse how indigenous people have access to health services, what are the causes of exclusion, and how we can contribute to reduce those gaps existing in child and maternal health, nutrition, communicable diseases, etc.,” says del Pino.

“Children born into indigenous families often live in remote areas where governments do not invest in basic social services such as health care, quality education, justice and participation, and indigenous peoples are at particular risk of not being registered at birth and of being denied identity documents.”

Health is defined in WHO’s Constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”, which is similar to the values behind traditional healing systems in Indigenous communities. According to WHO estimates, at least 80 percent of the population in developing countries relies on these traditional healing systems as their primary source of care.

“Many factors have an impact on indigenous populations’ health, including geographic barriers, language, and lack of education,” Del Pino told IPS.

“However, of all the barriers faced by indigenous peoples, it is perhaps the cultural barriers that present the most complicated challenge. This is because there is little understanding of the social and cultural factors deriving from the knowledge, attitudes, and practices in health of the indigenous peoples.”

Roberto Mukaro Borrero, an indigenous Taino leader and representative of the International Indian Treaty Council and the United Confederation of Taino People, told IPS that in order  to create more understanding, there needs to be an increased focus on cooperative and informed partnership building among traditional healers, non-traditional health professionals, health service agencies, organisations, and communities. 

“These partnerships should recognise the clear relationship between the social disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Peoples and their current status of health,” Borrero said. “Disadvantages faced by indigenous peoples are related to dispossession and exacerbated by powerlessness and poverty.”

“Governments must implement the commitments made to indigenous peoples within international agreements such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, among others,” said Borrero.

“These agreements were developed to improve the well-being of indigenous peoples around the world; however, political will including adequate resource allocation is a pre-requisite to success.”

Climate change and environmental hazards also have a disproportionate impact on the health of indigenous peoples.

“In many cases indigenous communities are more exposed to these disasters because they live in most vulnerable and isolated areas,” Del Pino said.

“Another cause of Indigenous peoples being among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change is their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources. For example, in the Amazon, the effects of climate change include deforestation and forest fragmentation, and consequently, more carbon released into the atmosphere, exacerbating and creating further changes.”

She added, “Droughts in 2005 resulted in fires in the western Amazon region. This is likely to occur again as rainforest is replaced by savannas, thus having a huge effect on the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples in the region. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by vulnerable indigenous communities.”

“The inclusion of target 17.18 of the SDGs –  to improve the quality, coverage and availability of disaggregated data –  is in response to one of the lessons commonly drawn from the MDGs: the need for the SDGs to make visible the most vulnerable populations,” Del Pino said.

It is an essential component to meet the objective of “no one should be left behind” and “no target should be met, unless met for all groups” in the new post-2015 agenda, she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Belo Monte Dam Marks a Before and After for Energy Projects in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/belo-monte-dam-marks-a-before-and-after-for-energy-projects-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 20:20:19 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141821 A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A street in the Jatobá neighbourhood, the first of the five settlements built by the company Norte Energía to resettle families displaced from the city of Altamira by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the northern state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Paulo de Oliveira drives a taxi in the northern Brazilian city of Altamira, but only when he is out of work in what he considers his true profession: operator of heavy vehicles like trucks, mixers or tractor loaders.

For the past few months he has been driving a friend’s taxi at night, while waiting for a job on the construction site of the Belo Monte dam – a giant hydroelectric plant on the Xingú river in the Amazon rainforest which has given rise to sharply divided opinions in Brazil.

Oliveira, whose small stature contrasts with the enormous vehicles he drives, has lived in many different parts of the Amazon jungle. “I started in the Air Force, a civilian among military personnel, building airports, barracks and roads in Itaituba, Jacareacanga, Oriximiná, Humaitá and other municipalities,” he told IPS.

His sister’s death in a traffic accident brought him back to Altamira, where he became a garimpeiro or informal miner. “I was buried once in a tunnel 10 metres below ground,” he said.

He survived this and other risks and earned a lot of money mining gold and ferrying miners – who paid him a fortune – in a taxi back and forth from the city to the illegal mine. “But I spent it all on women,” he confessed.

He then moved to Manaus, the Amazon region’s capital of two million people, to work on the construction of the monumental bridge over the Negro river. After that he headed to Porto Velho, near the border with Bolivia. But he had a feeling that something would go wrong at the Jirau hydropower construction site and quit after a few months.

Just a few days later, in March 2011, the workers rioted, setting fire to 60 buses and almost all of the lodgings for 16,000 employees, and bringing to a halt construction on the Jirau dam and another nearby large hydropower plant, Santo Antônio, both of which are on the Madeira river.

After bouncing between jobs on different construction sites, at the age of 50 Oliveira found himself back in Altamira, a city of 140,000 people located 55 km from Belo Monte, where he already worked in 2013 and is trying to get a job again. But things are difficult, because the amount of work there is in decline, as construction of the cement structures is winding up.

And it is possible that workers like him, specialised in heavy construction, no longer have a future in building large hydroelectric dams. The controversy triggered by Belo Monte will make it hard for the country to carry out similar projects after this.

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A bridge being built in a neighbourhood of the northern Amazon city of Altamira, because a small local river floods during rainy season. Works like these form part of the basic environmental plan designed to mitigate and compensate the impacts of the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, 55 km away. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The final assessment of the Belo Monte experience will determine the fate of the government’s plans to harness the energy of the Amazon rivers, the only ones that still have a strong enough flow to offer large-scale hydropower potential, which has been exhausted on rivers elsewhere in Brazil.

A study by the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute states that if the government’s construction plans for the 2005-2030 period are implemented, the hydropower dams in the Amazon will account for 67.5 percent of the new power generation in this country of 203 million people.

The next project of this magnitude, the São Luiz dam on the Tapajós river to the west of the Xingú river, is facing an apparently insurmountable obstacle: it would flood indigenous territory, which is protected by the constitution.

Belo Monte, whose original plan was modified to avoid flooding indigenous land, has drawn fierce criticism for affecting the way of life of native and riverbank communities. The public prosecutor’s office accuses the company that is building the dam, Norte Energía, of ethnocide and of failing to live up to requirements regarding indigenous communities, who in protest occupied and damaged some of the dam’s installations on several occasions.

São Luiz, designed to generate 8,040 MW, and other hydropower dams planned on the Tapajós river, are facing potentially more effective resistance, led by a large indigenous community that lives in the river basin – the Munduruku, who number around 12,000.

Just over 6,000 indigenous people belonging to nine different ethnic groups live in the Belo Monte area of influence, with nearly half of them living in towns and cities, Francisco Brasil de Moraes, in charge of the middle stretch of the Xingú river in Brazil’s national indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS.

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Francisco Assis Cardoso (dark tank top, centre), in his new supermarket. The young entrepreneur opened the grocery store and a pharmacy in Jatobá, the new neighbourhood in the city of Altamira where his entire family was relocated due to the construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Another battle, for local development, has had less international repercussions than the indigenous question. But it could also be decisive when it comes to overcoming resistance to future hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

Norte Energía, a consortium of 10 public and private companies and investment funds, has channeled some 1.1 billion dollars into activities aimed at mitigating and compensating for social and environmental impacts in 11 municipalities surrounding the megaproject.

This sum, unprecedented in a project of this kind, is equivalent to 12 percent of the total investment.

The company resettled 4,100 families displaced from their homes by the construction project and reservoir, and indemnified thousands more. It rebuilt part of Altamira and the town of Vitoria de Xingú, including basic sanitation works, and built or remodeled six hospitals, 30 health centres and 270 classrooms.

Nevertheless, complaints have rained down from all sides.

Norte Energía installed modern water and sewage treatment plants, and sewers and water networks in Altamira. But there was a 10-month delay before an agreement was signed in June to connect the water and sewer networks to the housing units, which the local government will administer and the company will finance.

And it will take even longer for the city council to create a municipal sanitation company and for the service to begin to operate.

“My family was promised three houses, because we have two married sons,” said José de Ribamar do Nascimento, 62, resettled in the neighbourhood of Jatobá, on the north side of Altamira, the first one built for families relocated from areas to be flooded by the reservoir. “But then they took away our right to two of them, maybe because I was unable to protest, since I’m ill.”

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A water treatment station built in Altamira by Norte Energía, the consortium building the Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not yet operating, because the sewage network installed in the city is not connected to the buildings. Urban sanitation is one part of the development works which the company was required to provide. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Each 63-square-metre housing unit has three bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom, and is built on 300 square metres of land in a neat new housing development with paved streets.

Nascimento, who has prostate cancer, has a hard time walking and survives on a small pension. But he is confident that the future will be more promising for the local population, thanks to the jobs generated by the hydropower plant.

“We live much better here,” said his wife, 61-year-old Anerita Trindade. “Our old house would get cut off by the water when it rained; we had to wade through the water, on little walkways made of rotten boards. Sometimes there’s no water or transportation to get downtown, but now we’re on dry land.”

The move especially benefited Francisco Assis Cardoso, who at the age of 32 has become the leading shopkeeper in Jatobá. His family of four siblings was assigned five houses in a row. That enabled him to build a supermarket and a pharmacy together with his mother. “I worked in a pharmacy, it’s what I know how to do,” he said.

But Norte Energía has been criticised for delays in providing the promised schools, buses and health posts in the five new neighbourhoods, and for what many say was an unfair distribution of new housing.

A Plan for Sustainable Regional Development of the Xingú aims to go beyond compensation for relocation and other impacts of the dams. Together, society and governments choose projects that are financed with contributions from Norte Energía.

The Territorial Development Agenda was drafted on the basis of studies and consultations with a team hired by the government’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development, which financed 80 percent of the construction of the Belo Monte dam.

A third challenge for Belo Monte is to effectively combat criticism from voices within the power industry itself, who are opposed to run-of-the-river hydroelectric plants, where water flows in and out quickly, the reservoirs are small, and during the dry season the power generation is low.

Belo Monte will generate on average only 40 percent of its 11,233 MW of installed capacity. To avoid flooding indigenous lands, it reduced the size of the reservoir to 478 square kilometres – 39 percent of what was envisaged in the original plan drawn up in the 1980s.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:54:39 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141672 A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
LIVERPOOL, England, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the curators.

“Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour,” they add.

Presented in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, the exhibition uses photographs, film, personal testimony and other means to show “stories of hardship” that include sexual servitude and child bondage. It also profiles the activists working to mend “broken lives”.“Museums [in Liverpool, Nantes, Guadeloupe and Bordeaux ] hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability”

The display occupies a temporary exposition space at the museum, which has a permanent section devoted to the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the legacy of racism.

Along with the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in the French city of Nantes and the recently opened Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe, the Liverpool museum is one of too few national institutions focused on raising awareness about slavery, observers say.

But it has provided a “vital source of inspiration” to permanent exhibitions on the slave trade in places such as Bordeaux, southwest France, according to the city’s mayor Alain Juppé. Here, the Musée d’Aquitaine hosts a comprehensive division called ‘Bordeaux, Trans-Atlantic Trading and Slavery’ – with detailed, unequivocal information.

These museums hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability.

“We try to overtly encourage the public to get involved in the fight for human rights,” Fleming told IPS in an interview. “We’ve often said at the Slavery Museum that we want people to go away fired up with the desire to fight racism.

“You can’t dictate to people what they’re going to think or how they’re going to respond and react,” he continued. “But you can create an atmosphere, and the atmosphere at the Slavery Museum is clearly anti-racist. We hope people will leave thinking: I didn’t know all those terrible things had happened and I’m leaving converted.”

Despite Liverpool’s undeniable history as a major slaving port in the 18th century, not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. There have been swastikas painted on the walls of the museum in the past, as bigots reject the institution’s aims.

“Some people come full of knowledge and full of attitude already, and I don’t imagine that we affect these people. But we’re looking for people in the middle, who might not have thought about this,” Fleming said.

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

He described a visit to the museum by a group of English schoolchildren who initially did not comprehend photographs depicting African youngsters whose hands had been cut off by colonialists.

When they were given explanations about the images, the schoolchildren “switched on to the idea that people can behave abominably, based on nothing but ethnicity,” he said.

Fleming visits social justice exhibitions around the world and gives information about the museum’s work, he said. As a keynote speaker, he recently delivered an address about the role of museums at a conference in Liverpool titled ‘Mobilising Memory: Creating African Atlantic Identities’.

The meeting – organised by the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and a new UK-based body called the Institute for Black Atlantic Research – took place at Liverpool Hope University at the end of June.

It began a few days after a white gunman killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the U.S. state of South Carolina.

The murders, among numerous incidents of brutality against African Americans over the past year, sparked a sense of urgency at the conference as well as heightened the discussion about activism – and especially the part that writers, artists and scholars play in preserving and “activating” memory in the struggle for social justice and human rights.

“Artists, and by extension museums, have what some people have called a ‘burden of representation’, and they have to deal with that,” said James Smalls, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Many times, artists automatically are expected to speak on behalf of their ethnic group or community, and some have chosen to embrace that while others try to be exempt,” he added.

Claire Garcia, a professor at Colorado College, said that for a number of academics “there is no necessary link between scholarship and activism” in what are considered scholarly fields.

Such thinkers make the point that scholarship should be “theoretical” and “universal,” and not political or focused on “the specific plights of one group,” she said. However, this standpoint – “when it is disconnected from the embattled humanity” of some ethnic groups – can create further problems.

The concept of museums standing for “social justice” is controversial as well because the issue is seen differently in various parts of the world. The line between “objectifying and educating” also gives cause for debate.

Fleming said that National Museums Liverpool, for example, would not have put on the contentious show “Exhibit B” – which featured live Black performers in a “human zoo” installation; the work was apparently aimed at condemning racism and slavery but instead drew protests in London, Paris and other cities in 2014.

“Personally I loathe all that stuff, so my vote would be ‘no’ to anything similar,” Fleming told IPS. “And that’s not because it’s controversial and difficult but because it’s degrading and humiliating. There are all sorts of issues with it, and I’ve thought about that quite a lot.”

He and other scholars say that they are deeply conscious of who is doing the “story-telling” of history, and this is an issue that also affects museums.

Several participants at the CAAR conference criticised certain displays at the International Slavery Museum, wondering about the intended audience, and who had selected the exhibits, for instance.

A section that showed famous individuals of African descent seemed superficial in its glossy presentation of people such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and well-known athletes and entertainers.

Fleming said that museums often face disapproval for both going too far and not going “far enough”. But taking a disinterested stand does not seem to be the answer, because “the world is full of ‘faux-neutral’ museums”, he said.

The most relevant and interesting museums can be those that have a “moral compass”, but they need help as they can “do very little by themselves,” Fleming told IPS. The institutions that he directs often work with non-governmental organisations that bring their own expertise and point of view to the exhibitions, he explained.

Apart from slavery, individual museums around the world have focused on the Holocaust, on apartheid, on genocide in countries such as Cambodia, and on the atrocities committed during dictatorships in regions such as Latin America.

“Some countries don’t want museums to change,” said Fleming. “But in Liverpool, we’re not just there for tourism.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale   

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the argument that its initiatives to squelch indigenous resistance amount to ethnocide.

“This will be an innovative legal process in Brazil,” said Wilson Matos da Silva, who has a direct interest in this “pioneer legal proceeding” as a Guaraní indigenous lawyer who has written about the issue in publications in Dourados, the city in western Brazil where he lives.

“Brazil has no legislation on ethnocide, a neologism used as an analogy to genocide, which is classified by a 1956 law,” said the defender of indigenous causes. “The object of the crime isn’t life, it is culture – but the objective is the same: destroying a people.

“Ethnocide only occurs when there is omission on the part of the state, which means it can be implicated in an eventual lawsuit,” added Matos da Silva.

The issue has been debated for some time now, especially among anthropologists, in international forums and courts. The novel development in Brazil is that it will now reach the courts, “a laudable initiative” that could set an important legal precedent, the lawyer said in a telephone interview with Tierramérica.

Belo Monte has been the target of numerous complaints and lawsuits that sought to halt the construction process. The company has been accused of failing to live up to the measures required by the government’s environmental authority to mitigate or compensate for impacts caused by the hydropower complex on the Xingú River which will generate 11,233 MW, making it the third –largest of its kind in the world.

The 22 lawsuits brought by the public prosecutor’s office failed to halt work on the dam. But they managed to secure compliance with several environmental requisites, such as the purchase of land for the Juruna Indigenous Community of Kilometre 17 on the Trans-Amazonian highway, who were exposed to the bustle and chaos of the construction project because they lived in a small area near the dam.

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In a Jun. 29 report, the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) said the conditions were not in place for the government to issue the final operating permit to allow Belo Monte to fill its reservoirs and begin generating electricity in early 2016.

ISA, which is active in the Xingú basin, said that many of the 40 initial requisites set before the concession was put up to tender in 2010, as well as the 31 conditions related to indigenous rights, have not yet been fulfilled.

Protection of indigenous territories is one of the conditions that have not been met, as reflected in the increase of illegal logging and poaching by outsiders, it said.

Norte Energía argues that it has invested 68 million dollars to benefit the roughly 3,000 people in 34 villages in the 11 indigenous territories in the Belo Monte zone of influence.

The programme aimed at providing social development in the local area has included the construction of 711 housing units and the donation of 366 boats, 578 boat motors, 42 land vehicles, 98 electrical generators, and 2.1 million litres of fuel and lubricants, as of April 2015.

In addition, teachers were trained as part of the indigenous education programme.

“But indigenous communities are unhappy because the plan was only partially carried out: of the 34 basic health units that were promised, not a single one is yet operating,” complained Francisco Brasil de Moraes, the coordinator for FUNAI – the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs – along the middle stretch of the Xingú River.

Nor is the project for productive activities, a local priority as it is aimed at enhancing food security and generating income, moving forward, he added. Technical assistance for improving agriculture is needed, and few of the 34 community manioc flour houses, where the staple food is processed and produced, are operating.

Another indispensable measure, the Indigenous Lands Protection Plan, which foresees the installation of operating centres and watch towers, has not been taken up by Norte Energía and “FUNAI does not have the resources to shoulder the burden of this territorial management,” Moraes told Tierramérica.

But the actions that prompted the accusation of ethnocide occurred, or started to occur, before the projects making up the Basic Environmental-Indigenous Component Plan were launched.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For 24 months, up to September 2012, Norte Energia carried out an Emergency Plan, distributing donations of necessary goods to the 34 villages, at a monthly cost of 9,600 dollars per village.

That fuelled consumption of manufactured and processed foods such as soft drinks, which have hurt people’s health, increased child malnutrition, and undermined food security among the indigenous communities by encouraging the neglect of farming, fishing and hunting, the ISA report states.

“Norte Energía established a relationship with the indigenous people that involved coopting the only outspoken opponents of the dam, and making their leaders come frequently to the city (of Altamira) to ask for more and more things at the company headquarters,” Marcelo Salazar, ISA’s assistant coordinator in the Xingú River basin, told Tierramérica.

In addition, villages were divided and the authority of local leaders was weakened by the company’s activities in the area, according to the public prosecutor’s office.

But Norte Energía told Tierramérica in a written response from the press department that “the so-called Emergency Plan was proposed by FUNAI,” which also set the amount of monthly spending at 30,000 reals.

The funds went towards “the promotion of ethno-development,” and included the donation of farm equipment and materials, the construction of landing strips and the upgrading of 470 km of roads leading to the villages, the company said.

Strengthening FUNAI by hiring 23 officials on Norte Energía’s payroll and purchasing computers and vehicles was another of the Emergency Plan’s aims, the company reported.

But the emphasis on providing material goods such as boats, vehicles and infrastructure forms part of a business mindset that is irreconcilable with a sustainable development vision, say critics like Sonia Magalhães, a professor of sociology at the Federal University of Pará, who also accuses Belo Monte of ethnocide.

“Their culture has been attacked, a colonial practice whose objective is domination and the destruction of a culture, which is a complex and dynamic whole,” she told Tierramérica, referring to the Emergency Plan.

“The Xingú River forms part of the world vision of the Juruna and Arara Indians in a way that we are not able to understand – it is a reference to time, space and the sacred, which are under attack” from the construction of the dam, she said.

Indifferent to this debate, Giliard Juruna, a leader of a 16-family Juruna indigenous village, is visiting Altamira, the closest city to Belo Monte, with new requests.

“We got speedboats, a pickup truck and 15 houses for everyone,” he told Tierramérica. “But things run out, and it was very little compared to what is possible.”

“We also asked for speedboats for fishing, although the water is murky and dirty, we don’t have sanitation, we have schools but we don’t have bilingual teachers,” he said, adding that they were seeking “a sustainability project” involving fish farming, cacao and manioc production, a manioc flour house, and a truck.

“We have customers for our products, but we don’t have any means of transport, because we won’t be able to use boats anymore,” he said.

The diversion of part of the waters of the Xingú River to generate electricity in Belo Monte will significantly reduce the water flow at the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where his village is situated.

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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New Census Paints Grim Picture of Inequality in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-census-paints-grim-picture-of-inequality-in-india/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 19:55:45 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141579 An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

An elderly Indian couple sits outside their ‘home’, a barebones dwelling constructed from plastic sheeting and scrap material. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Despite being Asia’s third-largest economy, positioning itself as a major geopolitical player under a new nationalist government, India’s first ever Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) paints a grim picture of poverty and deprivation despite billions of dollars being funneled into state-sponsored welfare schemes.

The survey, carried out in 640 districts under the aegis of the Rural Development Ministry, provides comprehensive data on a raft of socio-economic indicators like occupation, education, religion, caste/tribe status, employment, income, assets, housing and land owned in individual as well as household categories.

"This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long." -- Dalit activist Paul Divakar
Of the 179 million households covered, nearly half are rural.

Of these rural households, over 21.53 percent belong to a Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST), the traditionally oppressed classes for whom the Indian constitution provides special provisions to promote and protect their social, educational and economic interests.

More than 60 percent of the surveyed rural households qualified as “deprived” on 14 parameters. In over 51.8 percent of rural families, the main income earners barely manage to keep their kitchen fires burning by working as manual or casual labourers making less than 80 dollars per month (four dollars a day).

Further, just 20 percent of rural households own a vehicle, and only 11 percent own something as basic as a refrigerator.

The census also gives a glimpse of rural India weighed down by landlessness and a lack of non-farm jobs.

Across the country, 56 percent of households don’t own any land. Few households have a regular job and an insignificant number are taxpayers. Only 7.3 percent of households who fall into the scheduled castes category, and only 9.7 percent of all rural households in total, have a family member with a salaried job.

About 30 percent of those surveyed list themselves as cultivators, and manual casual labour is the primary source of income for 51.14 percent of households. Just about 14 percent have non-farm jobs, with the government, public or private sector.

The statistics are even bleaker for scheduled castes and tribal households: despite decades of affirmative action, only 3.96 percent of rural SC households and 4.38 percent of ST households are employed in the government sector.

This plummets to 2.42 percent for scheduled castes and 1.48 per cent for tribal communities in the private sector. Fewer than five percent of rural households pay income tax. Even among rich states, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, this number hovers around the five percent mark.

“The census is an eye-opener. It clearly demonstrates that the benefits of high economic growth have not percolated down to large sections of the population despite billions being funneled into schemes for poverty-alleviation, ‘education for all’ and job-generation,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research

What is most disconcerting, according to Kumari, is that the census figures not only highlight rampant poverty but also generational poverty.

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India’s latest census reveals a land of paradox, where the largest population of the world’s poor live in ragged huts, side-by-side with enormous skyscrapers. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

“Despite over six decades of independence, millions still continue to languish in depressing poverty, deprived of most social benefits like job security, education and a roof over their heads. Policy makers and economists have been keeping their eyes closed. Government after government is guilty of this criminal neglect of the disempowered,” she added.

Activists point out that despite state-mentored flagship schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the education for all movement aimed at achieving universal elementary education, 23.52 percent rural families have no literate adult above 25 years.

Fewer than 10 percent in India advance beyond the higher secondary level in school and just 3.41 percent of rural households have a family member who is at least a graduate.

A state-by-state breakdown of the latest census shows that nearly every second rural resident (47.5 percent of the rural population) in the northwest state of Rajasthan – the largest in the country by land area – is illiterate.

Meanwhile, states like West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh account for over 180 million of the over 300 million illiterate people in rural India.

Similarly, housing for all remains a chimera despite the existence of Indira Awaas Yojana, one of the biggest and most comprehensive rural housing programmes ever taken up in the country, which has been in operation since 1985.

The scheme aims to provide subsidies and cash-assistance to the poor to construct their own houses. Yet three out of 10 families, according to the SECC, live in one-room houses, while 22 million households (roughly 100 million persons or four times the population of Australia) live in homes constructed from grass, bamboo, plastic or polythene, with nothing but thatched or tin roofs standing between them and the elements.

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Tall commercial buildings tower over informal settlements in India’s largest cities. Tens of millions of people in this country of 1.2 billion live in destitution. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The eastern and central States of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have the poorest indicators for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, but even in more developed southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, family incomes are low and dependence on casual manual labour is high.

The countryside remains unable to find jobs that can pull families out of poverty while agriculture remains at subsistence levels, with low mechanisation, limited irrigation facilities and little access to credit.

The alarming and all-pervasive poverty, say activists, should alert policy makers to framing more inclusive policies effectively implemented on ground zero.

“This is a wake-up call for urgent action on the policy front as the backward castes have been neglected for far too long,” Dalit activist Paul Divakar told IPS.

“The SECC demonstrates that economic development of this demographic is not the government’s priority. These sections continue to lag behind on most human development indices because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development related to their social identity.

“A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Economists opine that for a country like India, which holds the paradoxical distinction of being a rising economy as well as hosting the largest number of the world’s poor, policies need to be especially nuanced for growth to be equitable.

“Of India’s 1.2-billion-strong population, a whopping 60 percent are of working age,” according to Kumari of the Centre for Social Research. “Yet only a small percentage has been absorbed into the formal workforce. Rural poverty is an outcome of low productivity, which leads to low incomes.

“We need to create an ecosystem for faster growth of productive jobs outside the agrarian sector. Social protection schemes need to be universalised,” she concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Earthquakes Don’t Kill, Buildings Do – Or Is It Inequity?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/earthquakes-dont-kill-buildings-do-or-is-it-inequity/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 13:40:48 +0000 Robert Stefanicki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141545 70-year-old Chiute Tamang, his wife, daughter and son-in-law lost their house when the earth shook on Apr 25, 2015 in Nepal. They now lives a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

70-year-old Chiute Tamang, his wife, daughter and son-in-law lost their house when the earth shook on Apr 25, 2015 in Nepal. They now lives a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

By Robert Stefanicki
KATHMANDU, Jul 12 2015 (IPS)

70-year-old Chiute Tamang was working in his field when the earth shook on Apr 25. He grabbed a tree. His wife and daughter were inside the house at the time, but managed to run out. In the blink of an eye, the building turned into a heap of stones. They were the lucky ones.

“Earthquakes don’t kill, buildings do” – this otherwise common knowledge – had just reached Nepal. Almost all the victims were buried in the rubble of their houses made by untrained masons of stones barely stuck together with mud. It is a very popular method, because it is the cheapest – stones and mud are free, bricks and cement cost.

In Ramche, Chiute’s village scattered over the terraced hills of district Dhading, 38 km northwest of Kathmandu, 168 houses out of a total 181 are no longer inhabitable.”Only time will tell if, in the process of planning reconstruction, the government of Nepal will use an opportunity to find out why the Tamangs are so vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities”

According to the latest government report, the disaster damaged 607,212 buildings in 16 districts. Of them, 63 percent in areas dominated by Tamangs – the largest and the most destitute group among the Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples of the Himalayan region – although they constitute less than six percent (1.35 million) of Nepal’s population.

”Earthquakes don’t kill, inequity does” – out of 8,844 people who died in the earthquake, 3,012 were Tamangs. Over 50 percent of the victims belonged to the marginalised communities. More than half the victims were women.

Ramche is a Tamang village. Some of the people own small plots of land on which they grow corn and potatoes of walnut size, but crops can feed the farmers’ family only for two to three months. For the rest of the year they live on contracted labour.

The residents of Ramche admit they are very poor. Why? Because, their answer goes, their fathers were poor, as well as the fathers of their fathers. They accept this as a judgment of fate and do not feel discriminated against, only showing how inequity is grown into the tissue of the society, the result of concerted exploitation for centuries.

This brawny hill tribe has always provided a labour reserve pool for the rulers of Kathmandu. In the past, Tamangs were prevented from joining the administration and the military. Even today they may man the barricades but have little role in the upper hierarchy of the armed forces or police, and are unrepresented in the country´s national affairs.

Being Buddhists did not immunise Tamangs from the caste system evolved by ruling Hindus. Those who wield power belong to Brahmin, Newars and Chhetri people and these “well-born” elites look down on the Tamangs.

In the blink of an eye, houses turned into heaps of stones when the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

In the blink of an eye, houses turned into heaps of stones when the Apr. 25, 2015 earthquake hit Nepal. Credit: Robert Stefanicki/IPS

Economic deprivation has increased the influx of indigent peasants to the job markets of Kathmandu, where they make up half of the porters and the majority of three-wheeler tempo (”taxi”) drivers. Prison surveys have shown that a disproportionate number of Tamangs are behind bars for criminal offences.

They have never counted on any government’s help, and this time is no different. After the earthquake, the residents of Ramche helped each other, cooked meals together and joined hands to raise themselves up from the rubble. With a little help from NGOs, the situation was brought under control.

One week after the disaster, the residents of Ramche were given blankets, tarpaulins and mosquito nets funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

Today, the whole village is queuing at the barracks where ADRA, the Nepalese NGO, is handing out big plastic water jars with the blue logo of the European Union and “sanitary kits”: a few tubes of toothpaste, toothbrushes, water purification tablets, sanitary napkins and birth control pills. A young female activist tirelessly explains to one villager after another how to use these items.

Chiute Tamang’s family spent the first three days after they lost their house in a flimsy hut cobbled together with a few pieces of wood. Then made a tent of tarpaulin, where they moved together with goats, their most valuable asset. Livestock, the old man explains, must not be left outside at night because it could fall prey to tigers or leopards.

After one week, Chiute borrowed some money, bought materials and with the help of his neighbours put a house together for himself, his wife, their youngest daughter and her husband.

It has a simple design – a one-room cabin made of a wooden skeleton encased in corrugated iron, the floor covered with oilcloth, and equipped with simple beds, cupboards and a gas cooker.

”Even if this collapses,” says Chiute ironically, “at the worst, the corrugated sheet would pin us down, not stones.”

Construction took two weeks, because the wood had to be brought from a distance. When the house was already standing, the government finally sent some relief – any Nepalese family who lost a house is entitled to a 15,000 rupee (150 dollars) loan. Chiute could pay off half the loan.

Another Ramche resident, 29-year-old Deepak Bhutel, received 180,000 rupees but he had been less fortunate – his wife and 18-month-old daughter lost their lives under the rubble of their stone house.

The amount would be enough to buy a sturdy house, certain to survive any future earthquake but Deepak, together with his older and now only daughter, says he is also going to end up in a corrugated iron-clad cabin. Having lived from hand to mouth all his life, he says he does not want to spend all his wealth on the house.

Only time will tell if, in the process of planning reconstruction, the government of Nepal will use an opportunity to find out why the Tamangs are so vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities.

Past mistakes should not be repeated, warned Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel, former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission, quoted by ‘Nepali Times’.

Pokhrel recalled the example of the Tamangs displaced when the reservoir in Makwanpur was built in the early 1980s. Around 500 families whose lands were acquired by the authorities did not want cash compensation but resettlement elsewhere.

“But the government gave them money anyway, and very few bought land with that,” said Pokhrel. “Soon, the money was gone and they were destitute.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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On Kenya’s Coast, a Struggle for the Sacredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/on-kenyas-coast-a-struggle-for-the-sacred/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:58:31 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141260 In addition to being the caretakers of sacred forests, the Mijikenda community in southern Kenya practice agriculture and engage in livestock rearing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

In addition to being the caretakers of sacred forests, the Mijikenda community in southern Kenya practice agriculture and engage in livestock rearing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
KAYA KINONDO, Kenya, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Travel into the heart of Kenya’s southern Coast Province, nearly 500 km from the capital city of Nairobi, and you will come across one of the planet’s most curious World Heritage Sites: the remains of several fortified villages, revered by the indigenous Mijikenda people as the sacred abodes of their ancestors.

"If you have evil intentions within this forest, a curse will befall you and we believe that you may not even come out alive.” -- Rashid Bakari, a member of Kenya's Mijikenda community
Known locally as ‘kaya’, these forested sites date back to the 16th century, when a migration of pastoral communities from present-day Somalia is believed to have led to the creation of several villages covering roughly 200 km across this province’s low-lying hills.

Having thrived for centuries, developing their own language and customs, the kayas began to disintegrate around the early 20th century as famine and fighting took hold.

Today, although uninhabited, the kayas continue to be worshipped as repositories of ancient beliefs and practices.

Thanks to careful nurturing by the Mijikenda people, the groves and graves in the kayas are all that remains of what was once an extensive coastal lowland forest.

But they are under threat.

The discovery in the last three years of large deposits of rare earth minerals in this region has marked the kaya forests out as targets for extraction, development and displacement of the indigenous population.

As property developers and resource explorers eye these ancient lands, locals are squaring off for a fight in what the World Bank has called one of the fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.

‘Bound to our forests’

Mnyenze Abdalla Ali, a representative of the Kaya Kinondo Council of Elders, which represents a kaya forest in Kwale County at the southern-most tip of the province, tells IPS that the Mijikenda people “consider themselves culturally and spiritually bound to their forests.”

Numbering some 1.9 million people, according to the most recent census, the Mijikenda community comprises nine distinct tribes who nevertheless share a language and culture.

Each tribe has its own unique kaya, which simply refers to ‘home’ or to a village built in a forest clearing, Ali explains.

Because the forests are believed to hold the secrets and spirits of ancestors passed, the community is vigilant about their protection. According to one resident of Kaya Kinondo, Hamisi Juma, “Nothing can be taken out of the forest – not even a fallen twig can be used as firewood in our homes.”

She tells IPS that forest debris is only used during rituals and traditional ceremonies, “when we slaughter goats and use twigs to lit the fire. This happens within the forest and only for the purposes of the ritual.”

As a result, some 50 kayas spread throughout Kwale County, Mombasa County and Kilifi County in the Coast Province are home to an exceptionally high level of biodiversity.

Kenya’s own ministry of environment, water and natural resources has declared the region a biodiversity hotspot and pledged to allocate the necessary funds and resources to its protection.

But it is more than just a rich ecological belt.

The local community carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The local community carefully tends to the outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is home to rare plant and bird species. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

When the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) decided to add the kaya forests to its prestigious World Heritage List of over 1,000 protected sites back in 2008, it referred to the area as “an outstanding example of traditional human settlement […] which is representative of a unique interaction with the environment.”

UNESCO also noted that the kaya represent a “fundamental source of the Mijikenda people’s sense of ‘being-in-the-world’ and of place within the cultural landscape of contemporary Kenya.”

Furthermore, the forests are highly prized as a repository of medicinal plants and herbs, according to Eunice Adhiambo, project manager at Ujamaa Centre, a non-governmental organisation founded on the philosophy of “building social capital, not capital accumulation” as put forward by Tanzania’s first independent leader, Julius Nyerere.

Dedicated to empowering exploited communities in Kenya, the Ujamaa Centre supports the Mijikenda’s struggle to preserve these “unblemished and very unique landscapes”, Adhiambo tells IPS.

“Although kaya forests constitute about five percent of the remaining closed-canopy forest cover of Kenya’s coast, 35 percent of the highest conservation-value sites are found here,” she adds.

“If developers have their way,” she says, “we will lose so much of the richness that Mother Nature has given us. We have the responsibility of conserving this gift because we cannot buy it anywhere.”

But not all residents of this country of 20 million people share this view – particularly not economists, investors and policymakers keen to realise a forecasted economic growth rate increase from 5.4 percent in 2014 to six or seven percent over the 2015-2017 period.

Rare earth minerals – a tempting opportunity

Kenya’s profile as a potential top rare earth minerals producer rose significantly when, in 2012, mineral explorer Cortec Mining Kenya Ltd. announced it had found deposits worth 62.4 billion dollars.

At the time, the mineral exploration company planned to sink between 160 million and 200 million dollars into a drilling operation at its Mrima Hill prospect, also home to kaya forests.

The corporation projected initial output of 2,900 to 3,600 tonnes of niobium, an element used in high-temperature alloys for special kinds of steel, such as is used in the production of gas pipelines, cars and jet engines.

Experts estimated the deposit at Mrima Hill to be the sixth largest in the world, with a mine life of 16-18 years.

Fully exploited, it would put Kenya among the ranks of the major niobium exporters; in 2012, Brazil accounted for 95 percent of the world’s combined annual niobium production of 100,000 tonnes, while Canada followed at a distant second place.

As environmental groups and civil society organisations concerned about the impact of mining on sensitive ecological and cultural sites mounted a huge challenge, the government revoked an initial 21-year license granted to the company – though it did not cite environmental causes for its decision.

In early 2015, the government upheld a court decision to revoke the license, and announced plans to bring mineral exploration under state control.

On Mar. 20, Mining Minister Najib Balala stated in a press release, “Not […] Cortec or any other company will be allowed to do exploration at Mrima. It will be handled on behalf of the people of Kenya and especially the people of Mrima and Kwale County as a whole.”

This news has not, however, been met with much optimism from indigenous communities, who continue to view Kenya’s ambitious economic development agenda with trepidation.

Both the extractive and real estate sectors have emerged as major drivers of the country’s growth in the coming decade, and deposits of rare earth minerals could be a huge boon for the country.

Ernst & Young say demand for rare earth minerals is rising, with their market share estimated at between four and six billion dollars in 2015.

While China currently meets 90 percent of global demand, Kenya – along with other African nations like Somalia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia – could crack the Asian giant’s monopoly.

In addition, discoveries of oil and natural gas in 2013 in Turkana County, on Kenya’s border with South Sudan, together with news that explorers had tapped into titanium deposits along the 500-km coastline, re-ignited fears of massive encroachment and destruction of kaya forests.

According to Kenya’s 2015 National Economic Survey, “The overall value of mineral production rose by 6.1 percent to stand at KSh 20.9 billion [about 212 million U.S. dollars] from KSh 19.8 billion [201 million U.S. dollars] in 2013, mainly on account of production of Titanium ore.”

The Ujamaa Centre says that some indigenous communities are beginning to give in to the pressures of extractive industries and the lure of quick money from real estate developers.

Kaya Chivara, located in Kilifi County, for instance, is completely degraded as a result of human encroachment, while others – particularly those in mineral-rich Kwale Country – are at high risk.

“Imminent niobium extraction will certainly degrade the forest,” Ujamaa’s Adhiambo predicts, stressing that the Mijikenda people are now poised to play a major role in halting any potentially destructive development.

‘A curse or a blessing’

So far, despite developers of all stripes hungering after the land – with some property developers even buying up tracts that encroach into protected areas – Kaya Kinondo remains in safe hands.

Some kaya forests, particularly in Kilifi County in Kenya’s Coast Province, have been heavily degraded due to extractive industries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some kaya forests, particularly in Kilifi County in Kenya’s Coast Province, have been heavily degraded due to extractive industries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The Council of Elders has been vigilant about protection of the forest, and the community has fallen back on their belief in powerful rituals to ward off bad omens.

Mijikendas say that two pillars govern the spirit of the kaya forests: either a curse or a blessing.

Rashid Bakari, a kaya guide who works with youth from the community to bring visitors into the forests, tells IPS, “If you have evil intentions within this forest, a curse will befall you and we believe that you may not even come out alive.”

For those who do not subscribe to his convictions, the Kenyan constitution is also proving to be a source of protection, with Article 44 providing for community participation in the resolution of disputes over customary land.

The Ujamaa Collective, which works to enhance popular participation in socio-economic processes and supports community based decision-making and governance, believes the government must be held accountable to these clauses.

Adhiambo also tells IPS that her organisation is “encouraging communities to work with the local governments to help them preserve what is left of their natural heritage.”

She says that community discussions with Josephat Chirema of the County Assembly Committee of Culture and Development has borne fruit, with the committee member promising to introduce debate in the Kwale County Assembly to establish and obtain detailed information about kayas – and the need to work with indigenous communities for their preservation.

Now, caretakers of several other kayas are working closely with the Kaya Kinondo Council of Elders, for lessons on how to salvage what is left of their hallowed heritage.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Smart Phones New Tool to Capture Human Rights Violationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:31:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141263 Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

The widespread use of digital technology – including satellite imagery, body cameras and smart phones – is fast becoming a new tool in monitoring and capturing human rights violations worldwide.

Singling out the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Christof Heyns says: “We have all seen how the actions of police officers and others who use excessive force are captured on cell phones and lead to action against the perpetrators.”“We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen.'" -- Christof Heyns

Billions of people around the world now carry a powerful weapon to capture such events in their pockets, he said.

“The fact that this is well-known can be a significant deterrent to abuses,” Heyns said, in a report to the 29th session of the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began its three-week session in Geneva June 15.

Heyns said the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

In his report, Heyns urged the U.N. system and other international human rights bodies to “catch up” with rapidly developing innovations in human rights fact-finding and investigations.

“The digital age presents challenges that can only be met through the smart use of digital tools,” he said.

Javier El-Hage, General Counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS that HRF can corroborate the special rapporteur’s findings that ICTs, like cellphone cameras or even satellite imagery, play a key role in documenting extrajudicial executions.

From democratic societies like Germany or the United States where ‘civilian witnesses’ documenting instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions create an effective check on law enforcement abuse, to societies under competitive authoritarian regimes like Kazakhstan or Venezuela where witnesses themselves can face extrajudicial execution for filming police brutality, ICTs play a huge role in documenting this egregious type of human rights violation, he said.

“Even in North Korea, the world’s most repressive and tightly closed society, satellite imagery has long helped determine the exact location and population estimates of prison camps, and recently helped uncover a disturbing case of executions by firing squad, where executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns.”

In his report, Heyns told the Human Rights Council the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

He said various organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger.

“New information tools can also empower human rights investigations and help to foster accountability where people have lost their lives or were seriously injured,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The use of other video technologies, ranging from CCTV cameras to body-worn “cop cams”, can further contribute to filling information gaps.

Resources such as satellite imagery to verify such videos, or sometime to show evidence of violations themselves, is also an important dimension, he noted.

But despite the many advantages offered by ICTs, Heyns said it would be short-sighted not to see the risks as well.

“Those with the power to violate human rights can easily use peoples’ emails and other communications to target them and also to violate their privacy,” he said.

The fact that people can use social media to organise spontaneous protests can lead authorities to perceive a threat – and to over-react.

Moreover, there is a danger that what is not captured on video is not taken seriously. “We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen,’” he stressed.

El-Hage told IPS his Foundation also agrees with the special rapporteur that ICTs are a double-edged sword because through them governments can “easily access the emails and other communications” of law-abiding citizens, especially political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders, “to target them and violate their privacy.”

HRF has recently denounced the cases of targeted surveillance and persecution against pro-democracy activists Hisham Almiraat in Morocco and Waleed Abu AlKhair in Saudi Arabia, and was among the organisations that submitted a white paper to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to inform his own report on the way ‘encryption’ and ‘anonymity’ can protect both the rights to privacy and free speech.

In his report, Heyns also cautioned that not all communities, and not all parts of the world, are equally connected, and draws special attention to the fact that “the ones that not connected are often in special need of protection.”

“There is still a long way to go for all of us to understand fully how we can use these evolving and exciting but in some ways also scary new tools to their best effect,” Heyn said pointing out that not all parts of the international human rights community are fully aware of the power and pitfalls of digital fact-finding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: G7 Makes Commitment on Climate … to Climate Chaoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-g7-makes-commitment-on-climate-to-climate-chaos/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 07:07:19 +0000 Lucy Cadena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141083 Is the G7 commitment to an energy transition that aims to gradually  phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change just hot air? Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

Is the G7 commitment to an energy transition that aims to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change just hot air? Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5

By Lucy Cadena
LONDON, Jun 11 2015 (IPS)

One of the promises made by the leaders of the world’s seven richest nations when they met at Schloss Elmau in Germany earlier this week was an energy transition over the next decades, aiming to gradually phase out fossil fuel emissions this century to avoid the worst of climate change.

Let us be clear: a target of zero fossil fuels by 2100 puts us on track for warming on an unmanageable scale. The only commitment made by the G7 this week was a commitment to climate chaos.

Putting our faith in as-yet-underdeveloped technology fixes such as ‘carbon capture and storage’ and ‘geo-engineering’ to save us in the next 85 years, while the solutions to the climate crisis – renewable technology and community energy systems – exist here and now, is senseless.“The only way to avoid the worst of climate change is to act now, with urgency and ambition. Not by 2100, nor 2050. We need real commitment to real solutions – and the best place the G7 can start is by taking its money – public money – out of dirty energy”

The only way to avoid the worst of climate change is to act now, with urgency and ambition. Not by 2100, nor 2050. We need real commitment to real solutions – and the best place the G7 can start is by taking its money – public money – out of dirty energy.

While the G7 gathered on Jun. 7 and 8, this was the message from people from around the world, who are calling for a ban on all new dirty energy projects and an end to the financing of dirty energy.

The G7’s role in upholding the current dirty energy system is not limited to the subsidies they pour into fossil fuels daily.

G7 countries also directly finance – and profit from – dirty energy projects, particularly in the global South, and in regions where poverty and limited energy access devastate families.

These include projects affecting communities deeply reliant on clean air, water, and land that is polluted and stolen from them, projects among populations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and projects where people face harassment and human rights violations for speaking out.

France

Last week, France, host of the 30 November-11 December 2015 Paris climate summit – the U.N. gathering to set the agenda for global climate commitments in the next decades – announced that two of the summit’s key sponsors will be EDF and ENGIE (formerly GDF-Suez).

The French state holds 84 percent and 33.3 percent of shares in these companies respectively. Both are involved in the construction of several very controversial, polluting projects across the world.

EDF is currently planning the destructive Mphanda Nkuwa mega-dam on the Zambezi River in Mozambique, in the face of fierce opposition from local communities and environmental organisations.

A letter from civil society reminds French President François Hollande that these and other projects place EDF and ENGIE among the top 50 companies that contribute the most to global climate change.

With 46 coal-fired power plants between them, EDF and ENGIE are responsible for emitting 151 million tonnes of CO₂ a year – which amounts to about half the total of France’s overall emissions.

Italy

The Italian state owns a considerable number of shares – almost one-third – in oil and gas company ENI. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, last year alone ENI reported 349 oil spills in the Niger Delta from its own operations.

The figure is remarkable – almost unbelievable. Each spill triggers a human and ecological crisis. The scale of the devastation and ENI’s failure to safeguard communities and ecosystems begs the question: is this sheer incompetence, recklessness, or simply utter indifference to the welfare of local communities?

Japan

Japan, the next offender on the G7 list, is the number one public financier of coal plants globally among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.

Japan has 24 coal-powered projects either under construction or planned, many of them in Indonesia, Vietnam and India, where the more vulnerable local populations live under the cloud of plants’ toxic emissions.

Emissions of deadly sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal plants are currently highest in Indonesia, where the planned Batang coal power plant is set to become the largest ever Japanese-financed plant in Southeast Asia.

United States

A report by Oil Change International indicates that the United States government alone provides 5.1 billion dollars in national subsidies to fossil fuel exploration each year – that’s 5.1 billion dollars into seeking out new sources of civilisation-destroying energy sources.

Canada

Likewise, Canada’s expanding oil sector (caused by the growth in dirty tar sands production, known as ‘the biggest industrial project on Earth’) continues to reap the benefits of massive national subsidies.

United Kingdom

The U.K. government spent 300 times more supporting dirty energy overseas than it contributed towards renewable energy projects during its last term.

The 2012-2013 annual report of UK Export Finance, the country’s export credit agency, announced spending on projects such as a 147 million pounds (228 million dollars) guarantee to support oil and gas exploration by Petrobras in Brazil and 15 million pounds (23 million dollars) in guarantees to a loan for a gas power project in the Philippines.

Domestically, the government is prioritising drilling for new oil and gas, which will require huge subsidies. Hailing carbon-emitting gas as a ‘bridge fuel’ towards a cleaner energy system, the government is delaying investment in renewables to push fracking onto a population that vehemently opposes the dash for gas.

Germany

Meanwhile, Germany – the host of the G7 meeting – has been much lauded for its ‘Energiewende’ (‘Energy Revolution’), with a rapidly increasing use of renewable energy compensating for its nuclear phase-out in recent years.

However, German euros still make their way into the dirty energy machine – through sizeable tax exemptions afforded to fossil fuel producers’ exploration activities – allowing such companies to go further and dig deeper to uncover more carbon that needs to stay in the ground.

G7 Must Catch Up

The G7 countries have done the most to cause climate change. According to the Climate Equity Reference Calculator, they are responsible for 70 percent of historical carbon emissions, while hosting only 10 percent of the global population.

A commitment to a phase-out of fossil fuels in eight decades’ time is not a commitment. It is an easy promise for a politician, who probably will not even be in power in the next decade, to make. It is an easy promise for a rich nation, whose citizens are not the most vulnerable, to make.

G7 societies have grown rich by exploiting the human and natural world. They owe an enormous ‘climate debt’ to developing nations – yet they can barely scrape together the money they promised to the developing world via the Green Climate Fund.

Whether it’s an oil spill in Nigeria, a mega-dam in Mozambique or a coal plant in Java, the sources of our publicly-owned dirty energy are always sites of ecological and social devastation.

Access to energy is a right, but it should not come at the cost of other people’s rights – to clean air and drinking water, to land and food sovereignty, and to sustainable societies.

The international movement for climate justice is building, and will keep up pressure on governments to take money out of dirty energy and reinvest it in democratic renewable solutions that benefit everyone.

The global shift towards a just energy transformation has long been under way. Now, it’s snowballing. People from around the world are showing the way and implementing community-owned renewable energy solutions.

There is a hunger for change, despite continued inaction from governments. G7 leaders, take note: you are trailing far behind and have a lot of catching up to do!

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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Native Communities in Mexico Demand to be Consulted on Wind Farmshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/native-communities-in-mexico-demand-to-be-consulted-on-wind-farms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-communities-in-mexico-demand-to-be-consulted-on-wind-farms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/native-communities-in-mexico-demand-to-be-consulted-on-wind-farms/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 07:32:40 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140947 A wind park in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where local communities and indigenous people are fighting the installation of wind turbines in their territory. Credit: Courtesy of the International Service for Peace (SIPAZ)

A wind park in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where local communities and indigenous people are fighting the installation of wind turbines in their territory. Credit: Courtesy of the International Service for Peace (SIPAZ)

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

“It hurts us that our land is affected, and the environmental impacts are not even measured. Wind farm projects affect streams and hurt the flora,” said Zapotec Indian Isabel Jiménez, who is taking part in the struggle against the installation of a wind park in southern Mexico.

The 42-year-old healer says the turbines endanger medicinal plants, which are essential for her traditional healing work in the city of Juchitán in the state of Oaxaca, 720 km south of the capital.

“We are right, we know the truth,” Jiménez told IPS. “That’s why we are resisting this, and exercising our rights.”

The Zapotec indigenous woman is one of the leaders of the opposition to the Energía Eólica del Sur (Wind Energy of the South) company’s plans to build a wind park in the area to generate 396 MW that would feed into regional power grids.

Jiménez belongs to the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo Juchiteco – the Juchiteco People’s Assembly – founded in February 2013 to protect the rights of native communities in the face of the introduction of wind farms in their territories.

They are protesting the ecological, social and economic damage caused by wind parks.“They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads. We don’t want any more wind turbines; they have to respect our territory because it is the last land we have left.” – Isabel Jiménez

In addition, they are complaining about incompliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which requires prior, free and informed consent, and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which have been ratified by Mexico.

In November an inter-institutional technical committee made up of delegates of local, state and federal governments began a consultation process with regard to the wind park, and decided to conclude the informative phase in April despite the objections raised by local communities, and move on to the deliberative phase to discuss the viewpoints of the different parties.

Local inhabitants worry that the procedure followed will be used as a model for future projects forming part of the country’s energy reform, whose legal framework was enacted in August 2014, opening up electricity generation and sales, including renewables, as well as oil and gas extraction, refining, distribution and retailing, to participation by the domestic and foreign private sectors.

“The problem is that there has been no consultation process to obtain free, prior and informed consent,” Antonio López, a lawyer with the non-governmental Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project (PRODESC), told IPS. “They are trying to speed up these processes, and the conditions are created to hold a certain kind of consultation process favourable to the projects.”

PRODESC advises local communities in the area in defence of their rights.

On Apr. 24, Zapotec communities filed a lawsuit in federal court against the consultation process that was carried out. The ruling is expected to be handed down shortly.

Juchitán is located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a windy narrow land bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca where a large proportion of the country’s wind energy projects are being developed.

The isthmus, which is 200 km wide, is now home to 21 wind farms, including 12 in Juchitán, according to the Mexican Wind Energy Association.

Renewable energies, not including large hydropower dams, account for seven percent of electricity generation in Mexico. Wind power generates 2,551 MW a year, and the plan is to scale that up to 15,000 MW by 2020.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, there are 11 million indigenous people, distributed in 54 different communities, in this country of 120 million people. But that figure is considered an underestimate because it only includes people over five who speak a native language.

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is mainly inhabited by Zapotec, Huave, Zoque, Mixe and Chontal Indians.

“There have been many problems with the application of the consultation process, such as a lack of information and attacks on community leaders and rights defenders,” Andrea Cerami, a lawyer with the defence and public policies section of the non-governmental Mexican Centre for Environmental Law (CEMDA), told IPS.

He said that when a state plans infrastructure works or other projects in native territories without due consultation, it violates the rights of communities, which are protected by international treaties and national laws.

Mexico’s laws on fossil fuels and the power industry, which form part of the country’s energy reform, stipulate that local communities must be consulted. But the law on fossil fuels does not offer a way out for the owners of land, who must reach an agreement with the public or private companies in question or accept an eventual court verdict.

Civil society organisations complain that the planned energy projects would overlap rural indigenous territories – a source of conflict that makes properly conducted consultation processes essential.

Since January, Rarámuri indigenous communities in the northern state of Sinaloa have blocked the construction of a gas pipeline between Sinaloa and the U.S. state of Texas across the border, until a consultation process is carried out to obtain their free, prior and informed consent.

The Yaqui Indians in the northern state of Sonora are likewise fighting the Acueducto Independencia, a pipeline that has carried water from Sonora to the northern city of Hermosillo since March 2013, despite several victories in court by the native communities.

In Oaxaca, Mixe indigenous groups had to go to federal court to see their right to consultation enforced before the National Water Commission, with respect to the use of wells on their land.

“They threaten us, they insult us, they spy on us, they block our roads,” complained Jiménez, who has practiced traditional healing since 1993. “We don’t want any more wind turbines; they have to respect our territory because it is the last land we have left.”

Energía Eólica del Sur has a history of conflicts. Until 2013 the company was named Mareña Renovables, which tried to build a 396 MW wind farm in the town of San Dionisio del Mar, on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

But the wind park, with a projected investment of 1.2 billion dollars, including 75 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), has been stalled since 2013 as a result of court verdicts in favour of the local communities that would have been affected. As a result, Energía Eólica del Sur decided to move to Juchitán.

In December 2012 the international Indian Law Resource Center filed a complaint on behalf of 225 inhabitants of seven indigenous communities with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (ICIM), regarding the loan.

The complaint seeks damages given the absence of adequate consultation with the communities at the start of the project and the lack of measures in its design and execution aimed at avoiding negative impacts.

In September 2013, the IBD’s Panel of the Compliance Review Phase admitted the complaint. It has been investigating the case since December 2014, in order to draw up a report and proceed to oversee compliance with its provisions.

“This is an opportunity to make sure people are informed in the future,” López said. “We want to give the legal system a chance to respect human rights.”

Cerami, whose organisation, CEMDA, advises the Yaqui Indians in their struggle, said the consultation process helps defuse conflicts.

“Already existing social and environmental conflicts can be exacerbated, and they can escalate in intensity and trigger other kinds of actions,” he said. “The consultation is a mechanism for dialogue that should favour broad participation and help parties with different interests reach understandings.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Voices Ignored in Financing Panamanian Dam Projecthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/indigenous-voices-ignored-in-financing-panamanian-dam-project/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-voices-ignored-in-financing-panamanian-dam-project http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/indigenous-voices-ignored-in-financing-panamanian-dam-project/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 07:38:18 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140922 By Kwame Buist
AMSTERDAM, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the impact of a hydroelectric project in Panama were not consulted despite national and international human rights obligations to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, according to a just-released report.

Acting on behalf of communities in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous territory, the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M-10) had filed a complaint with the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) of the Dutch FMO and German DEG development banks alleging that the Barro Blanco dam project which the banks were financing would lead to the flooding of the communities’ homes, schools, and religious, archaeological and cultural sites.

The two banks were accused of failing to adequately assess the risks to indigenous rights and the environment before approving a 50 million dollar loan to GENISA, the project’s developer.

The independent panel’s report, released May 29, found that the “lenders should have sought greater clarity on whether there was consent to the project from the appropriate indigenous authorities prior to project approval,” adding that “the lenders have not taken the resistance of the affected communities seriously enough.”

“We did not give our consent to this project before it was approved, and it does not have our consent today,” said Manolo Miranda, a representative of the M-10.  “We demand that the government, GENISA and the banks respect our rights and stop this project.”

According to the ICM’s report, “significant issues related to social and environmental impact and, in particular, issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples were not completely assessed.”

The environmental and social action plan (ESAP) accompanying the project “contains no provision on land acquisition and resettlement and nothing on biodiversity and natural resources management. Neither does it contain any reference to issues related to cultural heritage.”

Ana María Mondragón, a lawyer at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), said: “This failure constitutes a violation of international standards regarding the obligation to elaborate adequate and comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments before implementing any development project, in order to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent, information and effective participation of the potentially affected community.”

In February this year, the Panamanian government provisionally suspended construction of the Barro Blanco dam and subsequently convened a dialogue table with the Ngöbe-Buglé, with the facilitation of the United Nations, to discuss the future of the project.

The Barro Blanco project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism, a system under the Kyoto Protocol that allows the crediting of emission reductions from greenhouse gas abatement projects in developing countries.

“As climate finance flows are expected to flow through various channels in the future, the lessons of Barro Blanco must be taken very seriously,” said Pierre-Jean Brasier, network coordinator at Carbon Market Watch. “To prevent that future climate mitigation projects have negative impacts, a strong institutional safeguard system that respects all human rights is required.”

The ICM will monitor the banks’ implementation of corrective actions and recommendations, while M-10 said that it expects FMO and DEG to withdrawal their investment from the project and ask that the Dutch and German governments show a public commitment to ensuring the rights of the affected Ngöbe-Buglé.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Australia’s ‘Stolen Generations’ Not a Closed Chapterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/australias-stolen-generations-not-a-closed-chapter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=australias-stolen-generations-not-a-closed-chapter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/australias-stolen-generations-not-a-closed-chapter/#comments Sat, 30 May 2015 09:35:32 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140877 An Aboriginal activist shouts slogans during a march in Brisbane, Australia, to stop the cycle of ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

An Aboriginal activist shouts slogans during a march in Brisbane, Australia, to stop the cycle of ‘stolen generations’ of Aboriginal children. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
BRISBANE, May 30 2015 (IPS)

Every year since 1998, Australia has marked ‘National Sorry Day’ on May 26, a day to remember the tens of thousands of indigenous children who, between the 1890s and 1970s, were forcibly removed from their communities by government authorities and placed into the care of white families or institutions to be assimilated into settler society.

‘National Sorry Day’ was set up following publication in 1997 of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report, the result of the first national inquiry which collected testimonies of ‘stolen’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and criticised the racist policies that allowed their systematic separation from their families.

The report played a central role in highlighting the plight of the so-called ‘stolen generations’ but it took a further 11 years until the government formally apologised for this ‘blemished chapter’ in Australia’s history. Only in 2008 did then Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd take the unprecedented step.“If you listen to someone from the older age group of stolen generations and the younger ones, the essence of what they say is the same. They never met mother, they never met grandma. They feel they don’t belong anywhere. How they feel inside is the same” - Auntie Hazel, founding member of Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR)

“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations (…) we say sorry,” he said on that occasion, before going on to envision a future in which “Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.”

Despite the apology, indigenous activists maintain that the ‘stolen generations’ is hardly an isolated chapter, let alone a closed one. “From the first few weeks of the invasion in the 1780s, they started removing our children and breaking down our families,” Sam Watson, a prominent Aboriginal leader and activist, told IPS. “And there are more children being removed now than ever before,” he added.

A recent report by the Government Productivity Commission, titled ‘Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage’, corroborates Watson’s interpretation. Indigenous children in out-of-home-care numbered 5,059 in June 2004 and 14,991 in June 2014. Barely five percent of the population under 17 is indigenous and yet, the report shows, 35 percent of all children removed are Aboriginal and Strait Islanders.

Mary Moore is founder of the Legislative Ethics Commission and has followed many cases of indigenous and non-indigenous child removal. She calls Australia the ‘child-stealing capital of the world’.

Many jobs depend on this ingrained practice and laws are passed to legitimise it, she says. “Removal and adoption are counter-intuitive strategies,” she told IPS. “They ignore the damaging lifelong consequences on children and they are far more costly than supporting families to remain united.”

Authorities justify removals in the name of ‘child protection’ and point to a context of ‘neglect’ and possible ‘risk’ as justifying factors. But the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander minority, overly represented at the bottom of most socio-economic indices, wants to know whose ‘neglect’ and racist policies have contributed to the widespread poverty, soaring incarceration numbers or high mental illness rates affecting their communities.

Although federal government talks of “closing the gap in indigenous disadvantage”, critics say that, often enough, in order to end ongoing state of neglect of Aboriginal communities, the only gap to bridge is between government’s promises and its actions.

In February 2015, at a speech marking the anniversary of the 2008 national apology, former Prime Minister Rudd, while not ignoring the staggering 400 percent increase in removal of indigenous children since 1998, called the crisis a “new type of stolen generation” rather than an unresolved and continuing crisis.

For Auntie Hazel, a founding member of the grassroots pressure group Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), there is no difference between what happened then and what happens now. “If you listen to someone from the older age group of stolen generations and the younger ones, the essence of what they say is the same,” she told IPS.

“They never met mother, they never met grandma. They feel they don’t belong anywhere. How they feel inside is the same,” she said.

GMAR was founded in New South Wales (NWS) in January 2014. NSW has the worst track record in child removals explains Auntie Hazel and GMAR was a way to say “enough is enough”. Just a year later, it had grown into a nationwide movement made up of self-organising charters throughout Australia’s affected communities.

The National Aboriginal Strategic Alliance to Bring the Children Home (NASA) now brings together GMAR and other like-minded groups. Protests, round-tables, marches and sit-ins have taken place across Australia and an international solidarity network is growing rapidly.

“We are all one and fighting for the same thing,” said Auntie Hazel. “It’s only when the little ones can nurture their spirit inside that they can become proud Aboriginal people.”

Ultimately, GMAR seeks to achieve self-determination in the care and protection of indigenous children and end the “power and control” that governments hold over the indigenous minority.

At the moment, many in the community complain, children are taken away with worrying ease, sometimes on the basis of unfounded and unchecked hearsay.

Anyone, Auntie Hazel explained, can call a hotline anonymously and say things about you. “Then maybe one day your child spends the lunch money on sweets so the teacher, a mandatory reporter, tells the Department of Community and Social Services (DOCS) that the child had no money for food. And so on until there is a case against you and you just don’t know.”

One of GMAR’s proposals to end this cycle is the establishment of an ‘Aboriginal expert committee’. Made up of health specialists, the committee will work with families deemed “at risk” by the DOCS before the children are removed.

Such a committee would have spared Albert Hartnett, one of GMAR’s male members, much anguish. In 2012 his 18-month-old daughter Stella was removed without warning. “DOCS officials escorted by police officers knocked on my door one Friday morning,” he recalls, still emotionally shaken.

“They said the child was at risk. They asked me ‘where is the dog?’ but I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. We had no dog.” Although DOCS did not find any of the “risks” mentioned in their documents, such as dog excrement on the floor, they still took the child.

Friday removals are a practice being fought by GMAR because it puts DOCS at an advantage by leaving families without support for a whole weekend. “They tell you ‘you are an unsuitable parent’ and it is easy to fall into a downward spiral,” Hartnett said.

With no faith in the system, Hartnett attended the consultations the following Monday and in the evening received a surprise phone call from DOCS asking to assess his home. “It happened backwards,” the father of five told IPS. “First they took the child and then they came to assess.” The child was restored to the family but everyone, said Hartnett, has remained scarred by the experience.

“After the [2008] apology,” Auntie Hazel told IPS, “our community felt disempowered. We were suffering in silence.”

The truth was out about removals and instead “government stigmatised us,” Hartnett told IPS, referring to the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention when, citing unfounded allegations of child abuse, federal government seized control of a number of indigenous communities.

Olivia Nigro, a social justice campaigner and researcher for GMAR told IPS that in this context, what GMAR has achieved is mobilisation from within. “GMAR has galvanised families in affected communities. It has really generated the political confidence to talk about this issue and demand redress for the people.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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